Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Friendly fire erupts as Tory senators balk at Harper's term-limit plan

Re-appointed Conservative senator Fabian Manning is escorted into the Red Chamber during a Parliament Hill swearing-in ceremony on June 7, 2011.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

A Conservative senator is blasting his caucus colleagues for opposing Prime Minister Stephen Harper's plans to reform the Red Chamber.

"Every senator in this caucus needs to decide where their loyalty should be and must be," Bert Brown wrote his Senate colleagues Wednesday.

"The answer is simple; our loyalty is to the man who brought us here, the man who has wanted Senate reform since he entered politics, the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper."

Story continues below advertisement

The Harper government is considering changes to its plans to introduce legislation in the Senate that would permit the election of senators, provided provincial premiers agree, and would impose term limits on new and existing senators.

The government still plans to proceed with the legislation, but the Conservatives are moving toward introducing the bills in the House of Commons first.

Some senators appointed by Mr. Harper appear to object to the initial plan to limit senators to a single eight-year term, saying a longer tenure would ensure greater independence. Negotiations over what the actual term limit should be have grown heated, despite an apparent compromise that would set the limit at nine years.

According to Mr. Brown's letter, "[Democratic Reform]Minister [Tim]Uppal was showered with complaints about Senate elections and a nine-year term" during a meeting Tuesday of the Conservative Senate caucus.

Mr. Brown reminded his colleagues the Prime Minister had appointed a raft of Conservative senators in order to ensure that his plans for Senate reform overcome Liberal opposition.

If Conservative senators oppose the legislation it could fail to clear the Senate, in which case it would not become law.

The Harper appointments "were there to get a majority vote for reform," Mr. Brown reminded the Conservative caucus.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Brown was appointed to the Senate in 2007 after earlier senatorial elections in Alberta. He is a staunch advocate of Senate reform.

In a memorandum to supporters, Mr. Harper's office acknowledged reports of "internal opposition" to Senate reform.

But it affirmed "we will reintroduce legislation, for review, study, and passage by Parliament, to limit term lengths and to encourage provinces and territories to hold elections for Senate nominees."

Most premiers oppose the Conservative plans to permit senatorial elections with provincial consent. Quebec is threatening to take the government to court if the legislation passes.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said the controversy simply reflects the "confusion" within Conservative ranks over the legislation, which he said should be referred to the Supreme Court first in any case to determine if it is constitutional.

"There is a real problem with the way the government is proceeding," he told reporters outside the House of Commons.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Brown reminded his colleagues the Prime Minister had appointed a raft of Conservative senators in order to ensure that his plans for Senate reform overcame Liberal opposition.

If Conservative senators oppose the legislation, it could fail to clear the Red Chamber and become law.

The Harper appointments "were there to get a majority vote for reform," Mr. Brown reminded the Conservative caucus.

Mr. Brown was appointed to the Senate in 2007, after earlier senatorial elections in Alberta. He is a staunch advocate of Senate reform.

Most premiers oppose the Conservative plans to permit senatorial elections with provincial consent. Quebec is threatening to take the government to court if the legislation passes.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said the controversy simply reflects the "confusion" within Conservative ranks over the legislation, which he said should be referred to the Supreme Court first in any case to determine if it is constitutional.

"There is a real problem with the way the government is proceeding," he told reporters outside the House of Commons.

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Authors
Writer-at-large

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.