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B.C. Liberals stall private member's bill praised by federal Conservatives

Then-P.C. party president Gerry St. Germain, now a Senator and slated to retire, speaking in 1993.

The Canadian Press/The Canadian Press

B.C.'s Liberal government is pushing the pause button on proposed legislation to elect senators that drew praise from the federal Conservatives, with the government house leader saying the private member's bill needs more work.

When MLA John Les, a former solicitor general, tabled his bill last month, he predicted speedy passage that would allow an election this fall to replace Senator Gerry St. Germain, who turns 75 in November, thus hitting the retirement age.

Premier Christy Clark, through a spokesperson, also indicated her continued support for the bill.

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But Liberal House Leader Rich Coleman is ruling out quick action. "I don't expect the bill to be considered this spring as there is still [some]drafting work and consultation that needs to occur," he said in an e-mailed statement.

He was unavailable for further comment and did not reply to e-mailed questions from The Globe and Mail seeking elaboration. Mr. Les, parliamentary secretary to the Premier, did not return calls.

John Horgan, the opposition house leader, said that, given Mr. Coleman's statement, the earliest the bill could come before the legislature would be in a fall sitting expected to start in October.

The NDP MLA said the Liberals may have advanced the idea to win support in the riding of Chilliwack-Hope, now facing one of two ongoing by-elections. BC Conservatives are mounting a strong effort to win the seat, riding rising support in the polls for their party.

"Mr. Coleman, if he wanted to move this, could move it," Mr. Horgan said.

Mr. Horgan said it was telling that the government advanced the legislation as a private member's bill instead of a government bill. "It would have been brought forward through the legislative process by the government house leader, who hasn't mentioned it to me once in the last month," he said.

Mr. Horgan said he had asked Mr. Coleman why the bill wasn't a government bill. "He said, 'Because it's a private member's bill.' He was quite dismissive of it, so I don't think Coleman himself thinks it's a good idea."

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Mr. Les's bill appeared designed, in part, to woo supporters of the BC Conservatives, a centre-right party that is drawing support away from the Liberal government, threatening its re-election next May.

Conservative Leader John Cummins said Friday he was not surprised at the Senate-election twist, given the "certain amount of confusion" he said currently appears typical within the Liberal government.

Mr. Cummins, who supports the election of senators, said the Les bill had technical flaws. "It's that lack of thought and careful consideration that is a hallmark of this government. You shouldn't be surprised that they would screw up a Senate bill," he said.

The former Conservative MP said he expected the Liberal hesitation would be disappointing to the federal government, which has been enthusiastic about provinces electing senators for the Prime Minister to appoint. When the plan was announced, federal Heritage Minister James Moore – lead federal minister for the province – and Tim Uppal, federal Minister of State for Democratic Reform, issued a statement applauding the proposal.

"This backing off on the commitment may cause a little upset in Ottawa," Mr. Cummins said.

But Mr. Cummins also said he doubted Senate elections would have wooed BC Conservatives away from the party because most are more energized by economic policy. "I don't think that anything the Premier is going to do with regard to an elected Senate is going to convince them to turn around and suddenly vote Liberal," he said.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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