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No new Senate appointments: Harper

Prime Minister Steven Harper shakes hands and speaks with firefighters and first responders at the La Ronge, Sask., fire hall on Friday. (Liam Richards / The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Steven Harper shakes hands and speaks with firefighters and first responders at the La Ronge, Sask., fire hall on Friday. (Liam Richards / The Canadian Press)

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/7/2015 (1399 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he will not appoint a single new senator unless the provinces get together to figure out a way to make the upper chamber elected and accountable to the Canadian people.

For more than a year, including during the recent release of an audit of senate expenses that identified 30 senators who had made ineligible claims for travel and hospitality, Harper has ignored calls for him to move on Senate reform saying the Supreme Court said it requires constitutional reform and nobody is interested in that.

But Friday afternoon, in a press conference in Regina with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, Harper said he’s now putting pressure on the premiers to work on a plan for reform, or barring that, a plan to abolish it.

“We will have a moratorium on further senate appointments,” Harper said, standing next to Wall who has been the most vocal premier about the need to abolish the Senate.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/7/2015 (1399 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he will not appoint a single new senator unless the provinces get together to figure out a way to make the upper chamber elected and accountable to the Canadian people.

For more than a year, including during the recent release of an audit of senate expenses that identified 30 senators who had made ineligible claims for travel and hospitality, Harper has ignored calls for him to move on Senate reform saying the Supreme Court said it requires constitutional reform and nobody is interested in that.

But Friday afternoon, in a press conference in Regina with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, Harper said he’s now putting pressure on the premiers to work on a plan for reform, or barring that, a plan to abolish it.

"We will have a moratorium on further senate appointments," Harper said, standing next to Wall who has been the most vocal premier about the need to abolish the Senate.

"They’ve got a chance. The ball is in their court."

He said he won’t appoint any new senators as long as legislation can still be passed and the vacancies in the Senate won’t cause a problem for that for many years. He noted the Senate already saves $6 million a year because of the 22 vacancies and those savings will only grow. And Canadians don’t care that there are vacancies in the Senate, he added.

"The vacancies will continue to rise and other than some voices to the Senate and some people wanting to be appointed to the Senate nobody is going to complain," he said.

Harper pledged 11 years ago to never appoint an unelected Senator but after he was elected Prime Minister in 2006, he immediately appointed Quebec lawyer Michael Fortier to the Senate and to cabinet. He has appointed a total of 59 senators in total since 2006, only three of whom were elected in Alberta Senate elections. The rest were appointees including a long list of Conservative staff, party officials, failed candidates, and fundraisers.

Harper hasn’t appointed any senators since 2013, when the expense scandal in the Senate engulfed his government. Harper had some half-hearted attempts to make some Senate reforms on his own but eventually asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on what could be done by the federal government alone. In April 2014 the high court ruled to abolish the Senate Harper needed the agreement of all 10 provinces and to make substantive reforms like elections and term limits, he’d need a constitutional amendment which requires approval of at least seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population or more.

The provinces have never agreed about the way forward. Quebec and Ontario don’t want it abolished. The Manitoba government has long advocated for abolition and in 2013 passed a resolution asking Harper to gather premiers to make a plan to move on that.

Brad Wall backed Harper’s call for an appointment moratorium Friday.

Manitoba Conservative Senator Don Plett declined to comment and Manitoba Liberal Maria Chaput’s spokeswoman said Chaput wanted to wait until next week to comment.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said earlier Friday any action on the Senate should not divert attention from Canada’s struggling economy.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Harper is talking about the Senate now to distract from poor economic news and said he simply doesn’t believe Harper won’t appoint more people to the Senate.

"Mr. Harper has made this promise before," said Trudeau. "He broke it 59 times."

Trudeau advocates for an independent appointments process and non-partisan Senators as reforms that can be made without constitutional talks.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair advocates for abolition.

-with files from Bruce Owen

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History

Updated on Friday, July 24, 2015 at 3:46 PM CDT: Adds additional background information

4:27 PM: Write-thru

4:32 PM: Adds sidebar, video

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