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Mulcair, Wall find common ground in call for Senate abolition

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair speaks to reporters in the rotunda of the Saskatchewan Legislature in Regina on Sept. 9, 2013.

MICHAEL BELL/THE CANADIAN PRESS

They are an odd couple in Canadian politics, but the Premier of Saskatchewan and the Leader of the federal NDP are standing together in their call for an end to a Senate mired in scandal.

Brad Wall, the Leader of the right-leaning Saskatchewan Party, and Thomas Mulcair have had rancorous public disagreements about issues like resource development. But during their first-ever face-to-face meeting, the two men agreed Monday that the unelected chamber has more than outlived its usefulness.

Mr. Mulcair visited Mr. Wall at Saskatchewan's legislature in Regina in advance of an NDP caucus meeting this week in Saskatoon. Part of the discussion centred on spending irregularities in the Red Chamber and anger being expressed by Canadians, Mr. Wall told reporters after the meeting.

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The Saskatchewan Premier said he stands with the NDP in its call for abolition.

"Are we really just going to accept the fact that we have an appointed body, women and men, mostly party fundraisers … or party operatives, that they actually have real power to veto legislation or change legislation that's been passed by the duly elected House of Commons in 2013?" Mr. Wall asked.

"Even if we go to a half-reformed Senate, a few senators elected in a few provinces," said Mr. Wall, "they will still be part of a parliamentary caucus, their votes will be whipped, so to speak. And so rather than be able to speak for their province, they are going to have to check with their party Whip. And that doesn't make sense either."

Mr. Mulcair, whose party has long favoured abolition of the Senate, agreed.

"We live in a democracy," he said. "It's a fundamental principle in a democracy that laws are made by people who have been elected by the public. The Senate is a failed institution."

Members of the Saskatchewan Party recently voted 86 per cent in favour of doing away with the Red Chamber, and Saskatchewan MLAs could vote this fall on a motion calling for abolition.

Among the senators who have been asked to pay back money improperly claimed as expenses is Pamela Wallin, a former journalist from Saskatchewan who was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and whose celebrity has helped raised funds for the federal Conservatives.

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Both Mr. Wall and Mr. Mulcair made it clear that there are some subjects about which they will continue to profoundly disagree – including the importance of the creation of the Keystone XL pipeline to carry Canadian crude to the southern United States.

Just last March, Mr. Wall accused the NDP Leader of leaving a "path of destruction for the energy sector" and of betraying his country's interests after Mr. Mulcair told politicians in Washington that the federal Conservative government was paying mere lip service to is environmental responsibility.

But both politicians have a stake in showcasing a willingness to scale partisan walls and put the war of words behind them.

The meeting was requested by Mr. Mulcair to demonstrate that he is federal leader who can meet eye to eye with premiers of any stripe. And, in accepting the request, Mr. Wall showed he is not bound by the interests of the Conservatives in Ottawa.

"Politics is about building relationships and he is applying to be the prime minister of Canada," Mr. Wall said. "I think building a relationship either with the Leader of the Opposition federally and someone who might be the prime minister is important for Saskatchewan."

The New Democrats are holding their annual end-of summer caucus in Saskatoon because the redistribution of federal ridings will create more strictly urban seats that they believe they have a good shot of winning in the next federal election.

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Mr. Mulcair suggested to reporters that his party could take as many as half of ridings in this province when the country goes to a vote in 2015. Mr. Wall could not let that go unchallenged.

"I doubt it," he said, suggesting positions taken by the provincial NDP cousin hurt its federal relative. It's not Mr. Mulcair's fault, said Mr. Wall, but in Saskatchewan the New Democratic Party "is not a great brand right now."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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