OTTAWA -- If the Conservative government can't get its planned reforms to the Canadian Senate passed as soon as possible it will simply move to abolish the chamber altogether, says Steven Fletcher, the minister of state for democratic reform.

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This article was published 19/12/2008 (4569 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA -- If the Conservative government can't get its planned reforms to the Canadian Senate passed as soon as possible it will simply move to abolish the chamber altogether, says Steven Fletcher, the minister of state for democratic reform.

Fletcher says he will introduce legislation to introduce eight-year term limits for senators, and a process to elect senators, as soon as the budget and economic issues are dealt with and issued a warning to any parliamentarians planning to block the reforms.

"If we don't get those reforms in a reasonable amount of time we will look to abolish it," said Fletcher.

But Manitoba Liberal Senator Sharon Carstairs says that's just a lot of hot air because the government needs the approval of the provinces to make any major changes to the Senate.

"They cannot, in my view, even introduce fixed terms without the approval of the provinces," said Carstairs. "Both Ontario and Quebec have said they will take them to court over this."

The bills will be similar in nature to the ones introduced in the last parliament that failed to get through a committee review before the election.

The two biggest provinces say a significant change to the Senate can only be done with a formal constitutional amendment which requires the approval of at least seven provinces which represent 50 per cent of the population. That means at least Ontario or Quebec would need to approve the reforms.

Reforming the senate was one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's election promises in both 2006 and 2008 and he has battled with and criticized the Senate repeatedly over the last three years.

He has also refused to fill any vacancies in the upper chamber, saying he wanted to wait until he could implement elections. But with 18 vacancies, and the threat his government could be toppled by the opposition, Harper is going to fill the vacancies in an announcement expected Monday.

The decision was blasted by opponents as a flip-flop on Harper's election promise. Fletcher defended the decision.

"There are so many vacancies the Senate is essentially not able to function," said Fletcher.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca