Senate ruling good news for P.E.I., says Ghiz

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on April 25, 2014
Premier Robert Ghiz speaks to reporters following the budget address.
Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

Premier Robert Ghiz says the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling that Ottawa cannot unilaterally reform the country’s Senate is good news for Prince Edward Island.

Ghiz says P.E.I.’s submission to the court argued the federal government cannot make changes without the consent of the provinces.

Canada’s top court agreed.

“This is not only good for this decision, but for other decisions… it shows that a provinces still do have a say, regardless of their size and that was an important component when we look back to the forming of our nation,” Ghiz said.

In a historic, unanimous decision, the Supreme Court advised that the prime minister’s proposals to impose term limits on senators and create a “consultative election” process to choose nominees cannot be done by the federal government alone.

Rather, the court said such reforms would require constitutional amendments, approved by at least seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population — a route fraught with political landmines that Harper had hoped to avoid.

Moreover, the court set the bar even higher for abolishing the Senate, something Harper has threatened to do if his reform agenda is stymied.

Getting rid of the chamber altogether would require the unanimous consent of all 10 provinces, the eight justices said.

Harper sought the top court’s advice after a number of provinces, including P.E.I., strenuously objected to the federal government’s plans to proceed unilaterally with its reform proposals.

Ghiz said Friday he realizes the Senate is not perfect, but that’s not the issue.

Ottawa simply cannot make sweeping changes like reforming or abolishing the Senate without working with the provinces - even the smallest one, he said.

“It was a good decision from Prince Edward Island’s perspective that we can’t be steamrolled. Yes, we may be small, but we still do have a say on important constitutional matters in our country.”

Ghiz did not want to get into the details of the reforms that have been proposed by the Harper government, saying the Red Chamber and its goings on are not one of his priority concerns.

But he also doesn’t believe Senate reform was really one of Harper priorities either.

“The Senate wasn’t really at the top of his agenda, I think it goes back to the old Reform agenda, where Reformers wanted to get rid of the Senate,” the P.E.I. premier said.

“I think it was just something that was more of a distraction than anything else.”

Ghiz said he hopes the feds will now turn their attention to more important issues facing Canadians, like funding for health care and support for post-secondary education.

“Let’s forget about the Senate,” Ghiz said.

“Let’s allow it to do their job and for those Canadians who are upset with the Senate, perhaps pay a little more attention to it and watch who prime ministers are appointing.”

With files from The Canadian Press.