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Senate reform: Harper says issue clearly now in the hands of the provinces

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MONTREAL - Prime Minister Stephen Harper reiterated Thursday that the Supreme Court ruling on Senate reform means the issue is clearly now in the hands of the provinces.

The court ruled last week that Ottawa needs the approval of at least seven provinces with 50 per cent of Canada's population to impose term limits on senators or create a consultative election process to choose senators.

It also said the consent of all the provinces and the Senate is required to abolish the upper chamber.

Asked in Montreal whether he intends to try to convince the provinces of the merits of his plans, or just ditch them altogether, Harper replied: "That's not the case at all. One has to understand the entire situation regarding the Constititution."

"The reality about the law on regional vetoes is that the federal government can't initiate a constitutional amendment according to the Supreme Court decision.

"Now it is the provinces that have all the power when it comes to initiating that."

In fact, the court did not restrict the federal government's ability to initiate Senate reform; it simply said Harper couldn't unilaterally impose his reforms but would need to win substantial provincial approval for them.

Harper went on Thursday to say the government would react to any serious proposals from the provinces.

"If the provinces don't want to reform the Senate, then I think the Senate as is should be abolished," he said. "But it is the provinces that have to make these decisions."

Harper was in Montreal to make an announcement aimed at fighting autism and Alzheimer's disease.

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