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Two ways Albertans can help Harper reform the Senate Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 06 February 2006

Suddenly, Alberta’s Senate appointees actually matter.

The province’s squad of six “progressives” in Parliament’s upper chamber are the last defence of the bygone Trudeau, Chretien and Martin regimes against the new government.

Think of it as Nightmare on Wellington Street. The ghost of Pierre Trudeau arises from its unquiet grave, enters the Centre Block late at night, and strangles Stephen Harper.

Though not elected, the Liberal-dominated Senate can veto any legislation sent up from the House of Commons.

This could fatally harm the new minority government, which can count on at most two years to prove that Conservatives govern better.

The power of delay is now deadly, and Dan Hays and Tommy Banks intend to use it.

Hays, the new Opposition leader in the Senate, said last Wednesday his task is to represent the 15% of Albertans who voted Liberal.

Senator Banks chimed in, “To be rude, you can't get rid of me. The prime minister can't get rid of me. That's the whole point of the Senate -- it's not subject to the whims of the day.”

Whims like ditching Kyoto, which presumably Banks will continue to spearhead in the Senate.

Both gentlemen are quite mistaken. Section 22 of the Constitution states explicitly that they are there to represent their province, not partisan minorities, or the rejected delusions of defeated prime ministers.

Banks has six years left in the Senate, Hays and Joyce Fairbairn (another Trudeau appointee) nine years.
Last year they were joined by three Martin appointees for Alberta, Grant Mitchell (20 years to go), Claudette Tardif (16 years left) and Elaine McCoy (15 years).

You might recall the last three bypassed four newly elected Alberta nominees -- three Conservatives, Bert Brown (with 312,041 votes), Betty Unger (311,984 votes), Cliff Breitkreuz (241,308 votes), and myself (independent, 238,761 votes).

Harper has said he will appoint only electees, and will decide methods of selection with the provinces. In the meantime, he has three Senate vacancies in the East, and the right of appointing eight “extraordinary” senators, two each from the West, Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic.

Because only Alberta has nominees in place, he could appoint the two front-runners (Brown and Unger) for the western division, and tell other provinces that electees will be appointed as candidates and openings become available.

But there are two easy ways Albertans can help Harper reform the Senate.

The first could be a resolution from our Legislature -- introduced by any member of any party -- appealing to appointed senators to either retire or run for election, as Conservative Senator Pat Carney has offered to do in B.C.

I’d like to see which Alberta MLA would vote against it.

A unanimous provincial resolution would strip all six Alberta senators of any political right to obstruct the Harper government, which took all 28 Alberta seats on January 23.

The second helpful act would be for the Alberta government (the provincial cabinet) to invite the senators to come and consult formally on how best to serve Alberta’s interests in Parliament.

If they accepted this invitation, they would not get in Harper’s way. And if they refused, it would only emphasize that they speak for nobody, serve no legitimate political purpose, and should get out of the way.

- Link Byfield

Link Byfield is chairman of the Edmonton-based Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, and an Alberta senator-elect.
"Just Between Us" is a feature service of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy. The purpose of the Citizens Centre is to enhance freedom and democracy by enabling ordinary citizens to become active and effective on important issues outside the normal processes of party politics.

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