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Christy Clark presses Harper to reform - and expand - the Senate

Premier Christy Clark holds a news in Richmond, B.C. on June 10, 2011.

JOHN LEHMANN/JOHN LEHMANN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

British Columbia is being shortchanged in Ottawa, Christy Clark says - and she wants as many as 10 more senators and seven additional MPs for her province to reflect its growing economic muscle.

The rookie Premier is in Ottawa Thursday to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. And she's wading right into the controversial debate over democratic reform.

If she had her way, the Red Chamber would be abolished: "We don't really need a senate," she told The Globe. But if abolition proves too constitutionally difficult, and she recognizes it could, her second choice is to elect senators - with one caveat.

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"We have to address representation in the Senate," she said. "One of the things we are thinking about is whether or not it is possible to address British Columbia's representation in the Senate by adding extra senators."

Noting that she has legal experts looking at this issue already, she added: "Maybe they could add seven or 10 senators for British Columbia without having to change the Constitution."

There are currently six B.C senators and six each from the three other western provinces. "Twenty-four Senators for the entire western Canada? The economic engine for our country?" she scoffed.

"The economy of this nation is moving to the west; slowly but surely it is moving to Western Canada. To entrench an institution where we will forever be vastly under-represented just doesn't make any sense."

Earlier this week, the Harper government introduced legislation calling for nine-year term limits for senators - they can currently sit until they are 75 - and for the provinces to elect a roster of potential senators. Quebec is planning to fight the bill and Ontario's Dalton McGuinty, who favours abolition, has also rejected the Prime Minister's plan.

Another issue for Ms. Clark is under-representation in the House of Commons. There are 36 B.C. MPs right now and she wants to see that number increased to 39. She spoke to the Conservative B.C. caucus at a breakfast Thursday, and she said they heartily agreed with her.

In the last Parliament, the Tories tried to rebalance the House by creating 18 new seats for Ontario, seven for British Columbia and five for Alberta, taking the House of Commons to 338 seats from 308. Though they may tinker with the formula, they are still expected to proceed with the plan.

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Ms. Clark appears to be a pragmatic premier, characterizing her approach to the federal government as "constructive." She said she doesn't want to pick fights, arguing Canadians are tried of that kind of approach.

"If we can elect senators, if we can address British Columbia's representation so that we're better represented in the Senate and then we can elect senators in conjunction with provincial elections - for example, why not create a pool from which the Prime Minister can select, if he's willing to do that?

"I don't know what the problem is," she said. "It seems to be it will only improve people's confidence in government when we stop appointing people and starting electing them."

Her No. 1 priority, however, is job creation in her province. And that is why her talks with the Prime Minister Thursday afternoon will also focus on shipbuilding - she's hoping to ensure her province gets a big piece of the contract to build Canadian combat ships - and the Asia Pacific gateway strategy.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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