A moratorium will be imposed on new appointments to the Senate, said Friday Prime Minister Stephen Harper during a rare period of questions at a press conference in Regina.
The Prime Minister said that Canadians were clearly dissatisfied with the unelected Senate and not accountable, and that his government will do anything to reinforce the status quo.
It currently has 22 vacancies out of 105 in the Senate, and Mr. Harper did not name any senator for two and a half years.
“The government will take no action to consolidate the unelected Senate and not accountable,” he said.
“It is our position to make this more formal position. We do not intend to appoint more senators in an unelected Senate and unreformed, “he added.
This moratorium will have two advantages, explained Mr Harper. The first is cost reduction. Already, 6 million were saved, mostly because of vacancies in the Senate.
The second advantage will be pushing the provinces to review their position on the abolition or reform of the Upper House. The Canadian Constitution requires the unanimous support of the provinces to make the abolition of the controversial institution. The Prime Minister hoped that the provinces will agree on a plan for the Senate.
“This will force the provinces or to create a complete reform plan is to conclude that the only way to manage the status quo is the abolition,” he said.
The Premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall, who was in Harper sides at a press conference, fully supports the moratorium.
“He will return to Premiers (provinces) to act on it at this point,” he said.
Quebec will be there
The Quebec Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Jean-Marc Fournier, has been openly critical of the moratorium Harper. “Refusing to appoint new senators is not a solution to the current situation. To reform our institutions and improve governance in Canada, we need a dialogue that includes the provinces and the federal government, “he argued in a statement.
He acknowledged “the current malfunctioning of the Senate and the unease that exists about this institution” and said that Quebec would be present at any discussion with the provinces. He reiterated that Quebec wanted Senate reform, “so that the second chamber can effectively play a real role in regional representation”.
“If our partners in the federation wishing to initiate a discussion on Senate reform, Quebec will be present and will assert its other issues. The question of the specificity of Quebec or of the right to opt out with compensation of federal programs, for example, should be part of the talks, “expressed Mr. Fournier.
Prime Minister Harper has more or less thrown in the towel last year, when the Supreme Court of Canada rendered a decision to the effect that a reform would require a constitutional amendment approved by at least seven provinces representing 50% of the population . The bar is even higher for the abolition: the government must obtain the approval of all the premiers and territories. Harper had then said that the court had pronounced the death of the draft reform or abolition.
The Supreme Court has also already ruled that the government can leave Senate vacancies to accumulate indefinitely, since this would amount to a disguised abolition.
The Upper House is mired in scandal for nearly three years, while some of its members are in court or are under investigation for their expenses. Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb (who has retired) have been accused of fraud, and Pamela Wallin is the subject of an RCMP investigation.
A damning audit unveiled last month reported 30 current and former senators who unduly claimed reimbursement of expenses. Nine of them are serious enough case to give the RCMP a mandate to continue the investigation.
Allegations of sexual misconduct also damage the reputation of the Upper House. The latest concern Conservative Senator Don Meredith.
The leader of the New Democratic Party, Thomas Mulcair, has long been in favor of the complete abolition of the Upper House, and reiterated that position Friday. He claimed a mandate to Canadians in the next elections to get there. The Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, drove the senators caucus of his party and he promises to create an independent committee to recommend non-partisan appointments.