Provinces will have to pay the cost of senate elections, according to the federal minister of state for democratic reform.
Tim Uppal was in Charlottetown Monday for meetings with provincial government officials and members of the public to discuss senate reform.
In an interview with The Guardian, Uppal said the federal government believes provinces should follow Alberta’s model of senate elections and hold them concurrently with provincial or municipal elections.
“You’re not recreating or paying for the whole structure of an election. You’re adding a ballot, which, yes there’s a cost to it. But the costs are considerably less than a full-out election,” Uppal said.
“The cost of that, like in Alberta, would be with the provinces.”
The Harper government introduced legislation in the House of Commons last year proposing a system for provinces and territories to establish elections for their senators. The prime minister and governor general would have to consider those elected, but would not be bound to appoint them when vacancies arrive. The bill also proposes to limit senators to a single nine-year term.
Alberta became the first to hold elections for three senate nominees during its recent provincial election. British Columbia and Saskatchewan have also made moves in this direction.
New Brunswick Premier David Alward announced last year he would join the train and introduce senate nominee elections as well. At the time it was believed other Atlantic provinces would feel compelled to follow suit.
But so far none has shown interest.
P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz has said he is not opposed to senate elections, but does not want to pay for them.
“We're dealing with our own financial situation in the province,” he said in a March interview with The Guardian.
“I do have an issue with the provinces running it – these are federal senators, they're not provincial senators.”
Ghiz also said the notion of senate reform is at the bottom of his priority list for P.E.I. However in his speech from the throne this spring, he did announce he would send it to a legislative committee for review, “to engage Islanders on whether Prince Edward Island should pursue election of its senate representatives.”
Uppal said he is supportive of this approach as a way to engage the community on the issue.
But he said the federal government will be moving forward on the issue because it believes Canadians are in favour of it.
The Senate Reform Act is currently in second reading in Parliament, but has been stalled from quicker progress by the Opposition NDP and Liberals.
“I’ve asked that they stop stalling it and let it come to a vote,” Uppal said.
“At the end of the day, travelling across the country, Canadians support term limits for senators and having a voice in the senate in the sense of senate elections.”