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Senior Conservative hints Harper could go nuclear on Senate reform

Prime Minister Stephen Harper gestures before the Speech from the Throne in the Senate chamber on March 3, 2010.


Jason Kenney is suggesting his boss Stephen Harper could do away with the Senate if his Conservative caucus in the Red Chamber doesn't play ball and accept his reforms.

Choosing his words carefully, Mr. Kenney avoided saying the word "abolish." Rather, he said the Prime Minister is prepared to "entertain more dramatic options" if Tory senators continue to balk at his proposal.

The government is expected to introduce its Senate-reform legislation in the House of Commons this week, just before its rises for the summer. A fiery exchange between Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin and the NDP's democratic reform critic, David Christopherson, on CTV's Question Period Sunday showed just how passionate this debate has become.

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Mr. Kenney is not only the Immigration Minister but also chairman of the powerful cabinet operations committee. His words carry some weight around the cabinet table.

"Well the Prime Minister, I think, has said publicly that our preference is a reformed democratic Senate," Mr. Kenney told CTV's Power Play late last week. "But if we don't get that we are prepared to entertain more dramatic options but we prefer not to get into constitutional amendments. Our preference is reform without constitutional amendments."

He noted, too, that Tory senators had agreed with the Prime Minister's vision of reform - an elected Senate and term limits of eight years - when they were appointed to the Red Chamber.

But it appears now that some senators want longer terms. Mr. Harper had initially suggested eight years but has since compromised to nine years.

Still, that isn't good enough. A letter leaked to the media last week shows the frustration on the part of those who want reforms. Alberta Senator Bert Brown, a strong proponent of reform, issued a letter to his caucus colleagues, telling them to smarten up and accept the reforms.

He reminded them who appointed them to their perk-filled jobs: Stephen Harper. Mr. Kenney noted, too, that every senator Mr. Harper appointed "committed to support Senate reform, an elected Senate."

"They knew that Senate term limits were part of our commitment to the public and our platform," Mr. Kenney said in the CTV interview. "So I know that our Senate caucus colleagues ... I'm confident that at the end of the day they will support the government's effort to reform the upper chamber so that ... we meet our commitment to Canadians."

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NDP digs in its heels in labour dispute

As deputy NDP leader Thomas Mulcair vows to fight the Harper government's legislation to end the Canada Post lockout, Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae is planning to meet with both sides of the dispute before he commits to trying to block the bill.

Mr. Mulcair called it "bad faith on the government's part" for threatening to bring in the legislation. Speaking on CTV's Question Period Sunday, he said his party's stand does not reveal a pro-labour bias - rather, it shows a " pro-fairness bias."

Canada Post locked out its workers last week. The workers had been conducting rotating strikes for several days prior, and the government has since filed notice it will legislate an end to the labour dispute.

"Well there's no question that we're going to take this fight very seriously," Mr. Mulcair said. "We're going to use all of the parliamentary procedural aspects that are at our disposal to bring about a fair result."

He would not reveal how long the NDP plans to try to block the government's efforts. The Commons is to rise Thursday for its summer break. Nearly every there is some issue over which the opposition threatens to keep the Commons sitting longer; and nearly ever year that issue is resolved so MPs get to go home on time.

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Mr. Rae, meanwhile, is not saying what his caucus is proposing to do. Instead, he will hear from both sides. "I'm hoping to talk with the parties to the Canada Post dispute this morning," Mr. Rae told The Globe on Monday.

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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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