Canadians may elect Senate

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada and MP for Calgary Southwest, Alberta.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has proposed a bill that would allow Canadians to vote for Senators. Such a change requires an amendment the constitution, however, the government believes that Harper's proposal bypasses the need for constitutional change.

Traditionally, the Prime Minister advised the Governor General on who to appoint to the upper house. The Senate reform bill, however, would allow citizens in a province or territory to vote in a preferential ballot which would advise the Prime Minister on whom to recommend for appointment to the Senate.

Senators would campaign like any other politician. Voters in their province that has a Senate vacancy would cast ballots for their favorite candidate at the same time as a vote in a general election.

The only provinces that actually has had Senate elections are Alberta and British Columbia. In 1989, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney appointed Stan Waters to the Senate after he was elected in an Alberta-wide vote to fill a vacancy in the upper house.

Alberta Premier designate Ed Stelmach says he agrees with Harper's proposal.

"I believe what Prime Minister Harper is doing is opening up consultation in terms of how to bring about Senate reform and we're going to work with him," said Stelmach in Edmonton, the capital of Alberta. "We have been supportive of Senate reform for many, many years and will continue to do so. I'm awaiting the details of his proposals."

"This bill will allow us to move to a new era in Canadian democracy," Harper told the Conservative Party at their last meeting before Christmas break, which was held publicly.

"For the first time, it will let the prime minister give Canadians the decision on who represents them in the upper house."

"Imagine that. After a century and a half, democracy will finally come to the Senate of Canada," Harper said in a speech to members of the Conservative Party. "If need be, we'll use a plurality (first-past-the-post) voting system at first, and then move to a preferential system of proportional representation," Harper said.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Harper has already introduced a bill which will attempt to limit the terms of senators to eight years. The 105-member Senate is currently dominated by the Liberals.

"Many Albertans I'm sure will share my view that it will not be good for the province to have an elected Senate as long as we don't have a constitutional change on the number of senators by province," Liberal leader Stephane Dion said.

If the bill fails, Harper is expected to campaign on the issue in the next federal election, which is expected next year.

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