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Tories move to revamp Red Chamber with term limits for senators

The Tories tabled a bill to reform the Senate on June 21, 2011.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Stephen Harper's controversial Senate-reform legislation has been introduced in the House of Commons, calling for nine-year term limits for senators appointed after 2008.

The Senate Reform Act also provides a "voluntary framework" for provinces to elect Senators – or "select nominees for the Senate."

The Prime Minister will then decide from the list who to appoint to the Red Chamber. Mr. Harper's reforms are meant to avoid a messy constitutional battle.

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The issue of Senate reform, however, has proved difficult for the Prime Minister, who has long campaigned to make it more accountable. Given The Tories' majority in the Commons, which was won in the May 2 election, and their majority in the Senate, it appeared the reforms would sail through.

But that has not been the case. There has been push-back from some senators in his own caucus, who balked at the idea of term limits and elections.

And it appears that the government has compromised slightly on term limits. The proposed legislation calls for nine-year limits as opposed to an eight-year limit that was originally proposed by the Prime Minister and his ministers.

In addition, the limits would only apply to the senators appointed by Mr. Harper after Oct.. 2008 – ones who had agreed to his reforms upon their appointments.

The legislation was introduced in the Commons – not in the Senate, as originally planned – because of the seeming intransigence of the senators. It will pass more easily first through the Commons before hitting any bumps at the Senate stage.

The weight of elected MPs passing it first may put pressure on appointed senators to agree to it – or at least that may be the hope of the government.

Background information accompanying the bill Tuesday lays out how the so-called Senate Nominee Selection process would work for the provinces.

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"It would not require provinces and territories to implement consultation processes but would strongly encourage them to do so," according to the background document. "It also demonstrates support for those provinces that have already undertaken legislation to establish such democratic processes."

The background document also says the act would not be "binding on the Prime Minister or the Governor General when making appointments to the Senate. However, it would require the Prime Minister to consider the recommended names from a list of elected Senate nominees when recommending Senate appointments."

As for the issue of term limits, the backgrounder notes that the Constitution Act can be amended by Parliament in relation to the Senate. So, it proposes that it be amended so that senators' terms be limited to nine years from a possible 45 years – senators now have to be a at least 30 years old to be appointed and they serve until they are 75.

Senators appointed before October 14, 2008, however, would not be affected by this legislation.

Those who were summoned to the chamber after that will remain "a senator for one term, which expires nine years after the coming in force of this Act," the document says.

And if a senator's nine-year term is interrupted – to run for office as an MP in a federal election, for example – the senator may be reappointed, but only "for the remaining portion of the nine-year term."

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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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