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This article was published 23/8/2017 (844 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — A leading parliamentary scholar says Manitoba remains short-changed in the Senate until Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fills the province’s last Red Chamber seat. Ottawa, however, remains evasive about how it plans to do so.
"For a comparatively small province like Manitoba, it’s important to have those voices," said David Smith, a visiting scholar at Ryerson University in Toronto. The Saskatchewan professor’s research has made him a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the country’s highest academic accolade.
Smith said Manitoba has been entitled to six Senate seats since 1905 as "a deliberate, precise attempt" to avoid smaller provinces from being "swamped" by others in Parliament. But the province hasn’t had six seats filled since 2013.
Trudeau entered office in autumn 2015 with four Manitoba vacancies, months before a fifth senator retired. He soon launched an advisory process in which Canadians over 30 can apply for Senate seats and bureaucrats present a short list to the PM.
Trudeau filled two of Manitoba’s vacancies in April 2016 and appointed three Manitobans to fill the remaining seats in October 2016. Prospective senator Harvey Chochinov declined the role in February, citing personal reasons. Six months later, Ottawa’s had nothing to show for replacing him.
This month, the Privy Council refused to say whether it would pull from 145 Manitobans who applied last summer, or kick off another months-long application process, claiming announcements "will be made in due course."
Smith says writings from the time of Confederation suggest the Senate deliberately gave seats to other provinces out of concern Ontario would dwarf other voices. He notes the province made up 43 per cent of Canada’s population in 1867 and still accounts for one-third today.
"Contrary to what people see, or at least what they express, that the Senate’s a bunch of patronage hacks that are sitting on their duff and doing nothing — it’s just not true," Smith said, noting the Senate has increasingly shaped legislation since Trudeau removed Liberal appointees from party command.
Conservative Sen. Don Plett said his fellow four senators — all of whom Trudeau appointed — have pushed on Manitoba issues, such as Churchill’s rail-line woes and sex discrimination in the Indian Act’s lineage provisions.
Though Plett often clashes ideologically with his Manitoba colleagues, he says Trudeau needs to pick a sixth one soon to make sure Manitoba gets a fair deal in future budgets and grants.
"Without a doubt, it has taken far too long and I think the prime minister is showing his utter lack of regard," Plett said, adding Trudeau should simply pick from last year’s short list.
"Trudeau has thumbed his nose at Manitoba for quite some time," he said, accusing the prime minister of favouring his voter base in Ontario and Quebec. The PMO did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.
Parliamentary bureau chief
In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"