Trying to fill Senate seat not priority now: Ghiz

Premier awaits direction from PM on future Red Chamber

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on July 28, 2014

Catherine Callbeck looks over scrapbooks that were compiled and given to her by Janet Warren. Callbeck, who turns 75 on Thursday, officially ends her time in the Canadian Senate that same day. A celebration marking the event takes place Friday from 4 to 7:30 p.m. at Seacow Head Lighthouse, Lighthouse Road, Fernwood. 

©Nancy MacPhee/Journal Pioneer

Prince Edward Island now has only two senators working in the Red Chamber, but Premier Robert Ghiz says he believes it’s a waste of time to try to push for full representation in the Senate.

P.E.I. Senator Catherine Callbeck reached the Senate’s mandatory retirement age of 75 on Friday, creating a vacant P.E.I. Senate seat.

RELATED: Catherine Callbeck looks back fondly on her time in Senate

Meanwhile, suspended Senator Mike Duffy cannot attend Senate meetings or deliberations while he remains suspended.

This leaves P.E.I. with only two remaining senators able to represent the province in the Senate of Canada.

In the past, Ghiz has defended the Senate, stressing his belief in the importance it plays in helping smaller provinces and regions, such as P.E.I. and the Maritimes, to have a voice in Ottawa. But now Ghiz says he does not believe it’s worth spending time pushing Ottawa for Callbeck’s vacant seat to be filled.

“We know that today the current prime minister has been for reforming the Senate or even abolishing the Senate. He’s now got a road map to do that,” Ghiz said, referring to the Supreme Court decision on the Senate delivered in April.

“I’m just waiting to see if he wants to meet with the provinces. If not, I guess it’ll be status quo until there’s a new prime minister.”

The Supreme Court unanimously decided in April that Harper’s proposals to impose term limits on senators and create elections to choose Senate 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.

Abolishing the Senate altogether would require the unanimous consent of all 10 provinces, the Supreme Court decided.

This means the ball is in Harper’s court, Ghiz said, adding that Senate reform, for him, is an ‘afterthought.’

“The Supreme Court of Canada has said that in order to (reform or abolish the Senate) he needs to sit down with the provinces, and we know that he hasn’t,” Ghiz said.

“When I put all those facts out in front, if I spend any time really thinking about the Senate, then I’m wasting my time. So, for me, it’s really about waiting for a new government to come in and finding out what they’re going to do with the Senate, and until then, I’ve got my job to do as premier.”

But not everyone agrees this is a back-burner issue for the province.

Senator Percy Downe believes it is vital that MPs and senators alike carefully review all proposed legislation and budgets for their impact on P.E.I. and Islanders.

“Fewer parliamentarians means less ability to perform this oversight,” Downe said.

twright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa