Nunavut's Senator will not step down after promising to support 8-year term limits

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Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson will not resign after eight years in the Senate of Canada, despite his commitment to support Senate reform when he was appointed.

Patterson will have represented the territory in the Senate for eight years in September.

He was appointed by former prime minister Stephen Harper alongside 8 other senators in September of 2009. At the time, Harper was pursuing Senate reform, including setting term limits and electing senators, and said that those appointed would serve a limited, eight-year term.

However, after a Supreme Court reference deemed Senate reform needed to be done through a constitutional amendment, with support from seven provinces representing fifty per cent of the population — reform never materialized. 

"When that law wasn't changed then it became another story," Patterson said. "What I am finding out now is that there a lot of work to do. I've got projects that I'm involved with that I want to see through."

Patterson, 68, says he does not have plans to retire before the mandated retirement age of 75.

MLA asks for Senate elections in Nunavut​

Appointing a potential successor for Patterson, should he choose to step down after eight years, was front and centre in the Nunavut legislature Tuesday, when Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Paul Okalik took the opportunity to ask Premier Peter Taptuna to push for elections to appoint Nunavut's next senator.

The call came on the heels of remarks by Conservative Senator Lynn Beyak, who last week called staff of the residential school system "well-intentioned," and Patterson said nothing public in reaction.

"Even though the Senator of Nunavut heard about that, he didn't rebut that statement. It seems like he is not representing us in Nunavut," Okalik said in the legislature in Inuktitut.

"I cannot respond to everything every senator says, or I'd spend all my time doing that," Patterson told CBC. "I don't always agree with what my fellow senators say, but when remarks are false and directed to Nunavut I am quick to respond."

When reminded that many Nunavummiut have a history with residential schools, Patterson said he had sat in on Truth and Reconciliation hearings in the territory and was "very much aware" that the comments were hurtful.

He said he sits on the Senate committee on Aboriginal Peoples with Beyak and supported the committee chair in drafting a public statement denouncing her views.

Many Nunavummiut not eligible to become senators

Patterson said his private member's bill to remove the requirement that a senator own $4,000 worth of land is currently in the Senate.

The bill proposes repealing a paragraph of the Constitution Act that the 2014 Supreme Court reference deemed Parliament could change without a constitutional amendment.

He says the law means only 20 per cent of Nunavummiut are eligible to become senators because most of the population lives in rented apartments or public housing.

"I think the application process will be accessible to all when time comes to appoint my successor. I'd like to see the law changed by the time that happens."