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Selinger lauds judicial consult

Top court asked to clarify Senate reform

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Premier Greg Selinger says Ottawa is taking a sensible approach in asking the Supreme Court for guidance in determining which Senate reforms are possible without provincial approval.

"I think having a reference to the Supreme Court will clarify what is possible. I think that is very useful," the premier said Thursday.

Selinger added, however, no province or region within the country should feel worse off as a result of any reforms, and he is confident the court will take that into account as it reviews the role of the upper chamber and how the constitution was constructed.

"There is a regional role for the Senate and any reform has to respect the needs of different regions in this country to have a voice at the federal level," he said.

The Harper government is turning to the high court for help in determining which reforms it may be able to take unilaterally -- without a prolonged constitutional debate. It wants, at the very least, to make the chamber a more democratic institution.

Among the points it wants the Supreme Court to weigh in on is whether Parliament can impose term limits on senators and whether it can, in fact, abolish the Senate without the approval of all the provinces.

Several years ago, a Manitoba all-party task force determined the Senate was unnecessary. If the red chamber did continue to exist, it should be elected, the task force concluded.

"Manitoba's position, an all-party position, is quite clear, but any help that the Supreme Court can provide in clarifying the questions and what's possible, we think, will be useful," Selinger said on Thursday.

Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan has called for the abolishment of the Senate. Selinger's own NDP is on record as calling for the same.

Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister said given the recent conduct of a small number of senators, there appears to be "an increased public appetite" for changes to the Senate.

Like Selinger, Pallister said the feds are taking a logical approach by asking the Supreme Court to set parameters on what Ottawa can accomplish on its own.

"It would seem that it would be pointless for the government to proceed with some type of initiative or agenda that was ultimately going to be thrown out by the courts," he said.

"So obviously a prior ruling to ascertain what makes sense and what's in the purview of the federal government to do on its own would seem logical."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 2, 2013 A12

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