Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tories seek top court's opinions on Senate

Term limits, elections being considered

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OTTAWA -- The Conservative government is asking the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of its Senate reform proposals, amid pressure from the provinces, the opposition and even some of its own senators.

The justices are being asked to consider a range of questions on points including Senate term limits, elections, and how one would abolish the whole place. The Supreme Court could take up to two years to provide an opinion.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper first introduced proposals for reforming the Senate in 2006 when the Conservatives came to power.

At the time, the Liberals had the majority in the upper chamber and said they would vote down the legislation unless the government got a Supreme Court opinion first.

The Tories refused and proceeded with more announcements about Senate reform.

Even after achieving a majority in both the Commons and the Senate, the Conservatives did not push the legislation through as they have for other contentious bills. Some Conservative senators groused about the reforms, questioning their constitutionality.

Quebec, meanwhile, made its own reference to the Quebec Court of Appeals on the federal reform package.

Tim Uppal, minister of state for democratic reform, said Friday the government decided it was time to gain some clarity on the issue.

"Despite our efforts to advance change through comprehensive debate in the House of Commons, it is clear that action is needed to compel reform," Uppal told reporters Friday.

"We believe the clarity achieved as a result of the reference will allow debate to proceed on the basis of the merits of reform, rather than the process for reform."

Liberal MP Stéphane Dion called it "ridiculous" that the government is blaming the opposition for holding up its bills in a majority government. He said the government is likely going to hear its bills are unconstitutional.

"The Senate doesn't belong to Parliament, it belongs to the Canadian federation.

"So changing the character of the Senate requires the approval of the partners in the federation," said Dion.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2013 A20

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