Senator Irked By How Senate Has No Farmers, Fishers, Or Veterans

Zi-Ann Lum
A guard talks to people touring the Senate chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 24, 2015.

OTTAWA — There are currently 93 senators and a Senate Liberal says it's a problem none of them are farmers, fishers, or veterans.

Sen. Percy Downe released a statement Thursday saying he asked the chair of the independent advisory board for Senate appointments to fill 12 vacancies to "better reflect" Canada's diversity.

"Those voices are missing from the debates," the Senate Liberal told HuffPost Canada. There are "big issues" currently facing the agriculture industry and Canadian veterans and senators need to represent those experiences, he said.

Sen. Percy Downe says the next round of Senate appointments needs to be people who can represent the experiences of farmers, fishers, and veterans.

Downe, like all of his colleagues, was appointed to the Senate and tasked with changing laws and proposing amendments. But when the seats are stacked with 18 lawyers, 13 academics, and many business leaders and journalists, he said some variety is warranted.

"This is a great opportunity for the prime minister to fill some of those gaps," he said from his Charlottetown, P.E.I. home.

Though not a farmer, agriculture community leader Robert Black was appointed to the Senate last month.

'Could be somebody who's 40'

There are some minimum requirements to be considered for a Senate appointment. According to The Constitution Act, you have to own land worth at least $4,000 — and the same amount in personal property value.

Another qualification is that senators have to be at least 30 years old. Having younger voices debating in the chamber is an idea Downe welcomes: "A veteran doesn't mean somebody who's 70. Could be somebody who's 40."

Interior of the Senate chamber in Ottawa.

The Senate has more members who are women (45 per cent) than the House of Commons (27 per cent) — it's the obvious gaps in representation that concern Downe. He said as much back in October.

He's bringing it up again because he's hoping he can raise awareness that Canadians can now apply or be nominated for a Senate appointment.

I don't think they've spent any money yet advertising it. So how do people find out? Sen. Percy Downe

Downe, who was appointed to the Senate by former prime minister Jean Chrétien in 2003, wants the message to travel to the corners of the country. He's skeptical if the government is putting enough resources behind the open call for applications and nominations.

"I don't think they've spent any money yet advertising it. So how do people find out?"

Department has no budget for campaign

The Liberals overhauled the Senate appointment process in December 2015 with the introduction of a five-member advisory board tasked to shortlist candidates. There are five candidates shortlisted for each vacancy.

The Liberal government called the changes a way to make the Senate less partisan and more about "sober, second thought."

Minister of Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould makes an announcement on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 19, 2017.

Democratic Institutions confirmed with HuffPost Canada the department has no budget to promote the open year-round applications and nominations process for Senate vacancies.

The department, headed by Minister Karina Gould (currently on maternity leave), has been tasked by the prime minister to lead on Senate reform "to restore Canadians' trust and participation in our democratic processes."

Gould's press secretary Nicky Cayer doesn't seem too concerned that there's no money for a campaign to blast the open application to communities that aren't represented in the red chamber.

"Our office has been doing outreach to ethnic communities and industry organization​​," Cayer said. She explained any related budgeting is decided by the Privy Council Office.

"We've written to all Parliamentarians to encourage them to reach out to their stakeholders and constituents to encourage them to apply or nominate someone who should be considered."

Cayer said the minister's office has also reached out to the independent Senate appointments board, asking it do its part to inform underrepresented groups about new changes to the application process.

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