© Canadian Press photo
Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz. FILE PHOTO
The Senate spending scandal has many high profile MPs and senators now calling for the Senate to be abolished, but some Prince Edward Island politicians warn such a move could be bad for P.E.I.
Premier Robert Ghiz says he would welcome reforms within the Red Chamber, but says he does not agree with his counterpart in Saskatchewan, Premier Brad Wall, who has said it is time to scrap the Senate.
“I’ve said all along I’m for a Triple-E Senate … elected, equal, effective,” Ghiz said in a recent interview with The Guardian.
Ghiz pointed to a guarantee in the Constitution that gives Prince Edward Island the same number of MPs as it has senators. If the Senate were abolished, that guarantee would also disappear. Given the Island’s small population, P.E.I. would likely lose at least three of its members of Parliament, Ghiz said.
“If the Senate was abolished, we would be down to one member of Parliament, which would really reduce down our representation in Ottawa, so you need to look at all the nuances before you can just, as premier, make a carte blanche comment on that.”
The spending scandal involving four senators, including P.E.I. Senator Mike Duffy, has galvanized the calls from longtime Senate detractors on the merits of scrapping the chamber of sober second thought.
The NDP in Ottawa has launched a campaign called Roll up the Red Carpet, aimed at encouraging support for abolishing the Senate.
Local party representatives are applauding the campaign.
“It is now time for all concerned citizens to act decisively to abolish the Senate and prevent Islanders and Canadians from enduring the waste of precious resources on people that they have had no part in selecting,” said provincial NDP Leader Mike Redmond.
“The Mike Duffy affair and the controversy over the expenses of other senators, including former Liberal Senator Mac Harb, are making it clear that the appointed and unaccountable Senate has outlived its usefulness and should be abolished,” added former NDP candidate and federal council member Joe Byrne.
But Liberal P.E.I. Senator Catherine Callbeck said those calling for abolition do not realize how it would weaken P.E.I.’s representation in Ottawa.
“I think that the senators play a big role here in representing the province on various issues in committees and on the floor of the Senate,” Callbeck said in an interview.
She pointed to the fact the Red Chamber conducts a daily question period where important issues are raised and debated. Senate committees also play an integral role in studying important issues in depth. Their findings are often used to guide important government decisions.
“I think the Senate is a very misunderstood and misinterpreted institution, and it’s difficult for the public to know what we do,” Callbeck said.
“There’s been all kinds of things that the Senate has done. Unfortunately, we don’t tend to get press until something happens like we’re into right now.”
Liberal Senator Percy Downe echoed the concerns of Ghiz and Callbeck, but acknowledged the need for change. He pointed to recent successful reforms in the British House of Lords, which plays a similar role as Canada’s Senate in the British Parliament.
“There’s an undermining of confidence in national institutions … Parliament has to be reformed — the House of Commons and the Senate,” Downe said.
“The question that has to be asked is a consultation with Canadians — what do you want from Parliament? What do you want from the House of Commons? What do you want from the Senate and how do you want it to work?”
The Harper government has asked the Supreme Court for an opinion on whether several potential reforms of the Senate would be constitutional. Those reforms include imposing a fixed term on Senate appointments, repealing the property qualifications to become a senator and abolishing the Senate entirely.