Scrapping the Senate bad for P.E.I., local politicians argue

Teresa Wright
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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.

Organizations: Red Chamber, NDP, Red Carpet House of Commons British House of Lords British Parliament Supreme Court

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Ottawa, Saskatchewan Canada

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Recent comments

  • Wannabes
    May 28, 2013 - 10:11

    Byrne and Redmond - politician wannabes! Thankfully neither are elected - scary how short sighted they are!!!!

    • jerry
      May 28, 2013 - 13:29

      Nice to see that Robert lets his 5th floor staffers comment on their lunch break. Are you his Deputy there ''Wannabes'' ? Or did you leave your mother's basement yet ?

  • johnthames
    May 28, 2013 - 09:49

    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." This is complete rubbish, and Ghiz knows it. We would not lose MP's because the Senate is abolished. And seriously, ask yourself, what have our island senators done for PEI? Not much, even if they are fine people, Duffy excluded. And for those that want an elected Senate, please understand we do not need a second dysfunction House of Commons along the same lines as the elected Senate in the US. Very bad idea. Sometimes I really wonder if our leaders have any smarts at all, or if they're operating with different agendas than you and I.

  • rob
    May 28, 2013 - 09:36

    of course they would say this, they all want to be senators too!

  • don
    May 28, 2013 - 08:39

    what about the liberal who was caught same as duffy. but dizzy wants a job after the next election and i wonder if he thinks harper will put him due to him sucking up to harper then dizzy will become a senator.

  • angus
    May 28, 2013 - 08:36

    You'll note it's Island Liberals who want to keep the Senate. Been a patronage appointment for them for years. Tell me one thing they've ever done for PEI when there? And their leader Justin Trudeau only wants to keep it because Quebec holds more seats than the West. Laughable, while we pay for it. Entitiled to their entitlements indeed!

    • J B
      May 28, 2013 - 09:18

      Not surprisingly defences of archaic, elitist institutions call upon the common good. The use of patronage to block reform is not a new one. It goes back to at least medieval times. Royalist sentiments against democratic reformers were always directed at somebody they said they were trying to protect. Or help. The majority will crush you, the king would say. So that the good peasants would protect ( or shelter them) in return. Fast forward to the Canadian Senate debate. And now we have Justin Trudeau supposedly defending Quebec. And Robert Ghiz apparently defending PEI. The Constitution still has enough barriers to protect the king. It takes seven provinces representing two thirds of the population to amend it. These Liberals will say they are defending us. Conveniently they are protecting the people and practices that keep their pedigree, privilege and celebrity in focus for Canadians not paying attention to political issues. Abolishing the Senate would pull Duffy and Harb away from the trough. It would also downplay celebrity, weaken the Liberal Party, focus the country on real issues, and save money we need for health care, jobs, environment, etc. I will vote NDP on the strength of this issue alone. I have only done so twice before in forty years of voting, the last time being Joe Byrne in the last federal election. The key for PEI is to exchange the surrendered Senate seats for a guarantee of 4 MPs, a position I read Mike Redmond is advancing. This is the responsible way forward. It is not proper to advocate the Senate status quo which is essentially what the Liberals are doing. It is over.

  • An Observer
    May 28, 2013 - 08:04


  • Get rid of it
    May 28, 2013 - 07:58

    Get rid of it we as a country cannot afford it other federal jobs are being cut so why not the useless waste of money senate... Ghiz wants it to stay so he can fill his pockets after the next election GET RID OF IT

  • How it is...
    May 28, 2013 - 07:52

    PEI is the most over-governed, over-represented province in the country. We shouldn't have 4 Senators, 4 MPs and 27 MLAs. Cut all those numbers at least in half. Even though we may lose a few MPs, are the ones we have in Parliament really doing anything for us anyway? PEI's already so far in Harper's rear view mirror that I don't think it would make any difference. This is just Ghiz lobbying to keep a future cash cow of a job open for himself.

  • david macleod
    May 28, 2013 - 07:44

    well let me say you are all a joke and that's no lie all in government and that work for those lazy government 'no one can do the job right you all make me sick 'no more voting for this old boy '

  • Okay....
    May 28, 2013 - 07:31

    We don't need four MP's either. Take the dollars from three MP's and four senators wages and put that into jobs for islanders...and then see what happens. There would be no need for EI, and small businesses would flourish, especially in rural communities. If folks have money, they will spend it...likewise if they are living pay check to pay check they cannot.

    • realllly
      May 28, 2013 - 09:14

      I really hope you're being sarcastic. Lmao no need for EI if we put all the money saved hahahahahhaha. You have no concept of money.

  • Really
    May 28, 2013 - 07:26

    Dear Mr Ghiz; It is way past time to get rid of this Upper house just like all the provinces have done. Yes even PEI had an upper house redundant, I would have to agree that we could do just fine with only one Member of Parliament Right now we have one MP brining home the cheques and 3 others sleeping on our Dollar. We also have way to many M.L.A's Do you really think that the average Islander needs so many Politian's then how is that if we were in Ontario the people of that province do very well if the was proportionate we would only have ONE MLA. as a matter of fact the Island MLA is the most over paid Politian on a per capita biases. So in Closing please abolish the Senate get rid of extra MP's and MLA's Oh! Yes have a good day spending our money on the 2014 party what a joke

  • That Guy From PEI
    May 28, 2013 - 06:35

    Furthermore, If 1 MP is what we get for representation if/when they abolish the senate, then that's what we get. It's the same as PEI, we DO NOT need 23 MLA's on's ridiculous!!! Regular folk need to stop paying for the unnecessary in this country.

    • jerry
      May 28, 2013 - 13:14

      Very well said. I agree with you 110%. Islanders have had enough of this nonsense that comes from our chronic over-governance. We are a tiny island geographically with a tiny population and a tiny tax base. Our system of governance should reflect that reality. Focus our limited resources on social services and infrastructure for citizens, not on political jobs like the 27 MLAs and all their staffers, the 4 MPs and 4 Senators and all their staffers, the 500+ municipal politicians, etc. It is complete and utter insanity.

  • That Guy From PEI
    May 28, 2013 - 06:26

    If Ghiz actually listened to people on PEI, he'd realize that they want to abolish the senate. The only person who wants to keep it is Ghiz, because he'd like to be there someday. Ghiz is as Neo-Conservative as they come

  • Tired of the Bull
    May 28, 2013 - 06:07

    I say scrap it, how does a guy that lives here a month or two a year represent us anyway. Ghiz is just looking for his kick at the senate cash cow when he is booted out of the PEI Govt which will hopefully will be next election.

  • More snoozing
    May 28, 2013 - 04:52

    Should Scrap You to Robert . The way you guys spend our tax paying dollars . Should investigate the pmp and your friends

  • David
    May 28, 2013 - 03:37

    While I may agree that getting rid of the Senate might have some negative effects for PEI. The fact is simple it is to late to save it and if Downe and Callbeck are so opposed to getting rid of it then why didn't suggest reforms months or years ago. Both of these people have been sitting in Senate for several years and NOT ONCE have we ever heard from either one who suggested the Senate needed to be reformed or changed. If they knew it was so much in need of change why didn't they suggest changes years ago. I have to agree with the NDP it is time to get rid of it and spend the $90 million or more in other areas where it can help more then few fat cats who don't want to work. Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin are just the ones we know about that are scamming the public,how many more are doing it and how many more have been doing it for years before.

    May 28, 2013 - 02:45

    It is not just the senate . Arthur Porter watchdog for CSIS ,another Harper appointee ,has been arrested for fraud just before they were about to name a street after him . Imagine if Harper could just go ahead and appoint people that do not even live here to be our voice in the senate with his fine judgement . Oh nuts he has already done that ! What is the Tories vetting process.