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Alberta takes different stance on Senate reform than other provinces

Photo shows Senator Serge Joyal in the Salon de la Francophonie on Parliament Hill Jan. 15, 2007 with a portrait of Henri III and a bust of Samuel Champlain by Alfred Laliberte. Both works of art were donated by Joyal.

bill grimshaw The Globe and Mail

Alberta is breaking rank from other provinces in the battle over Senate reform, arguing in its Supreme Court submission that the Senate can be abolished without unanimous provincial consent.

The province argues that the Senate could be dissolved with the consent of just seven provinces representing 50 per cent of Canada's population, known as the 7/50 rule. Ontario, Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador have all argued that abolition can only occur with unanimous consent.

"No one province should hold a veto to block important and necessary Senate reform," Alberta Premier Alison Redford said in a written statement.

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Alberta's submission comes as the Supreme Court prepares to, at the federal government's request, rule on how exactly the Senate could be overhauled or dissolved altogether. Provinces had until Friday to submit arguments, which will ultimately be weighed by the court. A ruling is expected next year.

Alberta already elects Senate nominees, and argues that Ottawa has the power to unilaterally set up rules for election of Senate nominees. Other provinces have said such rules would require provincial support. Alberta has, however, said Ottawa can't unilaterally set term limits, a position held by other provinces except Ontario, which believes limits of at least nine years can be set unilaterally.

A Liberal Senator also submitted an argument, and is pushing back against Prime Minister Stephen Harper's proposals for Senate reform.

In his filing to the Supreme Court, Senator Serge Joyal argues that the federal government doesn't have the power to unilaterally make major changes to the Senate, such as term limits.

Mr. Joyal also argues that unanimous consent would be required to abolish the Senate. The federal government's position, and that of Alberta, is that the support of seven provinces, with at least 50 per cent of the population, would be enough to kill the Red Chamber. Manitoba, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut all say unanimous consent is needed.

For Mr. Joyal, though, even unanimous consent wouldn't be enough to kill the Senate, which he calls an "unprecedented objective." It could only be achieved after also "accommodating the interests of the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada."

Several provinces were expected to intervene by Friday's deadline, while B.C. was granted a one-week extension. Ontario, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut have all broadly argued that Ottawa doesn't have the power to make changes on its own.

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Mr. Joyal was appointed to the Senate by Jean Chrétien 16 years ago, and is eligible to serve until 2020. He pushes back strongly against term limits, saying lengthy stays such as his own are "an essential characteristic of the Senate, directly linked to its role of providing sober second thought in reviewing legislation." Term limits would "significantly increase the influence of a Prime Minister over the Senate, which is totally contrary to the original intent of the founders," he adds.

He also argues that Parliament can't unilaterally remove what it has called an "archaic" requirement – that senators must own $4,000 worth of land.

That requirement was put in "to bring to the Senate a stronger sense of responsibility and social reliability" by ensuring only landowners are appointed, Mr. Joyal said.

Alberta took no position on that question in its filing Friday. Other provinces have either abstained or said the federal government is free to do away with the rule.

Oral arguments in the case are set to begin in November.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Josh is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. Before moving to the nation's capital in 2013, he covered provincial affairs in Edmonton and throughout Alberta. He joined the Globe in 2008 in Toronto before returning to his home province in 2010. More


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