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Manitoba pushes Senate abolition

Swan prods PM to start discussions

Manitoba's justice minister says it's time for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to meet with provincial and territorial leaders to discuss abolishing the Senate.

Andrew Swan, who is also minister responsible for constitutional affairs, made the comment Tuesday as the province became an intervener in a federal government reference to the Supreme Court on Senate reform. The Harper government is seeking advice from the high court on which reforms it may be able to take unilaterally. It says it wants, at the very least, to make the upper chamber a more democratic institution.

Premier Greg Selinger has supported the federal government's approach, but his government is now calling on Ottawa to launch constitutional talks while awaiting the court's decision, which could take several months.

"It's Manitoba's position the time has come to abolish the Senate," Swan said. "We'd like the federal government to start doing that because they have to consult the provinces and get unanimous consent.

"We think it is now time for the feds to start that discussion and move ahead and let's see if we can get rid of (an institution) that has long since worn out its usefulness."

The Canadian Senate's future has again become a popular topic of debate with its unfolding expenses scandal.

Several years ago, a Manitoba all-party task force determined the Senate was unnecessary. The task force concluded if the Senate continued to exist, its members should at least be elected.

Swan couldn't say what level of support there is among provinces and territories for Senate abolition, but he said it was important to begin discussing the issue.

He noted Saskatchewan has also said the upper chamber must go.

"I know there will be some other provinces that will stand with us on wanting to have those discussions and getting rid of an archaic institution that few Canadians have any confidence in these days," he said.

Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister questioned the timing of the government's renewed enthusiasm for Senate abolition.

He said it appeared the government wanted to distract the public from its own problems, including the hot water t Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson has landed in over an email he sent to a staffer in which he referred to "the ignorance of do-good white people."

"I think there's some evidence here that this is just an attempt to distract from the real issues that Manitobans are most concerned about today," Pallister said.

Meanwhile, James Allum, the NDP MLA for Fort Garry-Riverview, has sponsored a private member's resolution in the legislature calling for Senate abolition.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 28, 2013 B3

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