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If a reform is given, B.C. wants say on any changes to the Red Chamber, justice minister says

The Harper government is seeking direction from the court on how to amend term limits for senators, the democratic selection of Senate nominees, the net worth and property qualifications for senators and the major issue of abolishing the Senate.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

British Columbia's justice minister says Senate reform shouldn't distract Ottawa from a continued focus on the economy, but that if reform is a given the province wants a say on any changes to the Red Chamber.

As the province Friday released a legal submission to the Supreme Court of Canada, the B.C. justice minister balanced a call for reform with a suggestion the Harper keep its priorities straight.

"The senate should be fixed or folded, but the issue shouldn't distract us from the real priorities of growing the economy and creating jobs," Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said in a statement.

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But Ms. Anton added that British Columbians should have a say in any constitutional change which requires provincial consent.

Under B.C. law, a referendum would be required before the legislature can consider constitutional amendments that need provincial approval.

The 42-page factum adds B.C.'s voice to a reckoning by the Supreme Court of Canada as it prepares to consider a reference from the federal government on reforming or abolishing the troubled Red Chamber.

The Harper government is seeking direction from the court on how to amend term limits for senators, the democratic selection of Senate nominees, the net worth and property qualifications for senators and the major issue of abolishing the Senate.

B.C. lines up with most provinces in ruling out Senate reform without agreement from seven of the provinces representing at least 50 per cent of Canada's population. Alberta and Saskatchewan have backed Ottawa's view that the Senate can be abolished without unanimous consent.

"Parliament cannot alter fundamental features and essential characteristics of the Senate without involving the provinces," says the legal submission..

"British Columbia, along with the other provinces, has a key interest in any fundamental change to the institution designed to protect regional interests in the federal legislative process," says the factum.

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"The Constitution recognizes this interest by requiring that the reforms proposed by the Reference Questions , with one exception , be made through the 7/50 Formula."

On specific issues, B.C. says term limits and options for choosing senators cannot be amended by Ottawa without provincial input. "(They) are outside the scope of Parliament's ability to amend unilaterally."

However, the province does say Ottawa can remove the requirement that a senator own $4,000 in property, echoing unanimity on the point to date. B.C. says such a move does not impact the powers of the senate or method of electing senators

The Senate debate comes as various senators face criticism over expenses and calls to repay claimed expenses. Four cases have been referred to the RCMP for investigation.

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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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