New Brunswick senator says elected senate illegal

A New Brunswick senator says the provincial government would be breaking the law if it follows through on a throne speech promise to allow senators to be elected.

Premier David Alward announced in Wednesday's throne speech that his government will introduce legislation to go ahead with a public vote by next spring's municipal elections.

"Your government believes New Brunswickers should have a say in who represents them in the Senate of Canada," he said.

"By selecting our Senator nominees, the Upper House of the Canadian Parliament will gain further legitimacy and, as a result, become more effective. It will help ensure decisions of the federal Parliament are balanced to protect the interest of all Canadians, no matter where they live."

But Senator Pierrette Ringuette contends that would be in defiance of the Canadian Constitution.

"You cannot change the major institutions — the House of Commons or Senate —without having the consent of seven provinces, which constitute also 50 per cent of the population," said Ringuette, who served as the MLA for Madawaska-South and the Member of Parliament for Madawaska-Victoria.

She called the proposed move "very distressing."

"It's another unfortunate event where we have another Canadian politician that is breaking the fundamental law of the land."

The federal government tabled legislation this summer that proposes provinces would voluntarily hold elections for Senate nominees and those appointed to the upper chamber would be limited to a nine-year term.

Ottawa cannot force the provinces and territories to hold Senate elections without changing the Constitution. As a result, the government is proposing a voluntary scheme.

Provinces and territories that hold elections would see their nominees appointed when vacancies arise.

Some provinces have already threatened to take Prime Minister Stephen Harper to court if he goes ahead with his plan for an elected Senate without proper approval, said Ringuette.

"They will bring the Canadian government, actually, Mr. Harper to court for breaking the fundamental law of the land," she said. "Now this is serious stuff."

Ringuette said she's not opposed to the idea of electing senators, but it would have to be done in the proper way.

"I believe, not only in New Brunswick, I believe across the country that there is some dissatisfaction in the way that the Senate currently operates and I don't disagree with that."

"However, in our Constitution there is a way to do that and if Mr. Harper was really serious and sincere in regards to this institution, he would call a federal-provincial meeting and discuss with the provincial premiers the standards and what needs to be done," she said.

"I'm not saying electing senators is not the right way to proceed. What I'm saying is, that what he's doing right now is not the right way to do it."

The federal government has tried before to reform the Senate but previous bills, introduced in both the upper and lower chambers, moved slowly in the minority Parliaments and died on the order paper when elections were called.

Harper now has a majority in both the Commons and the Senate.

Some provinces have expressed concern about the costs, and some are opposed to the House of Commons pushing through reforms without their approval.

Quebec has indicated court battles could be looming over the Conservatives' plan, and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty wants the Senate abolished, not reformed.