Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No lineup expected for city hearings

senate reform

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The Senate reform hearings that are being largely ignored by Manitobans arrive in Winnipeg on Saturday. It's unlikely the public will need to line up to get in.

The session at the Manitoba Legislative Building, talking about how to reform Canada's upper chamber, will be the biggest in a month of province-wide meetings that have been sparsely attended at best.

Despite low numbers -- only six people in total for this week in Brandon, Dauphin and Russell -- presenters still brought something to the table, NDP MLA and committee chairwoman Erna Braun said.

"The quality of the presentations has really been quite wonderful. There's a lot of information to consider."

Alberta senator-elect Link Byfield, chairman of Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, said he's flying into the city to share what he's learned. Byfield was for 18 years editor and publisher of Alberta Report.

He is one of four Senate nominees elected in 2004 under Alberta's system of choosing senators rather than through appointment by the prime minister.

Byfield said in an interview he wants to tell the committee that picking senators during a provincial election, their names included on a ballot, is crucial to good government.

"It will actually change the way we govern ourselves," Byfield said. "We want to assure them, to urge them, to look beyond the rhetoric."

Included in 20 speakers are former Tory MP and host of CJOB's Manitoba Gardener, Dorothy Dobbie, and Darlene Dziewit, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour.

Also on hand will be writer and business manager Mark Rash, a private citizen who's developed his own way of reforming the Senate.

Rash said he believes senators should be elected through their region and be given more legislative clout on topics such as cultural issues, something that can only be done by rewriting Canada's constitution.

That won't be easy, but it would give the Senate more responsibility outside of the House of Commons.

"You don't throw the baby out with the bath water," Rash said.

"You bring it up to code.

"Right now we're just taking a bread stick and twisting it into a pretzel to accommodate political reality."

The committee's report is due in June.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 20, 2009 A12

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