P.E.I. deserves every Senate seat to be filled

Premier Robert Ghiz seems to have given up on calling for fair representation for the province

Published on July 31, 2014

Premier Robert Ghiz

©Guardian photo

Prince Edward Island is always hearing from political junkies in other provinces how we’re over-represented in government. Why does a tiny sandbar with fewer people than a Toronto city block have four members of Parliament and four senators speaking on our behalf on matters of national concern?

Those who nitpick about these paltry numbers are rarely our neighbours of Newfoundland and Labrador (seven MPs and six senators), New Brunswick (10 MPs and 10 senators) or Nova Scotia (11 MPs and 10 senators). Rather they tend to come from the more populous provinces of Alberta (28 MPs and six senators) or Ontario (106 MPs and 24 senators), who, it has to be said, come off looking a little petty griping about our eight representatives in Ottawa.

Those quibblers can rest easy these days, knowing that the Island doesn’t just have fewer senators giving bills sober second thought these days. We have half as many as we did this time last year. And no sign of recouping them any time soon.

First Mike Duffy took a medical leave from the Senate in October, less than a month before his Red Chamber colleagues voted to suspend him while the RCMP investigated him. Earlier this month, RCMP revealed they had laid 31 charges against P.E.I.’s beleaguered senator, meaning Mr. Duffy’s return to Parliament Hill is not imminent, if ever.

Meanwhile, Sen. Catherine Callbeck turned 75 last week, marking her mandatory retirement from the Red Chamber.

This leaves the province with two senators working on our behalf in Ottawa: Percy Downe and Libbe Hubley.

When P.E.I. may expect to see our senatorial ranks filled out to the four we’re constitutionally guaranteed to have, is anybody’s guess. P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz told The Guardian he’s done asking for another representative, noting that Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants to reform or abolish the Senate and has not met with the provinces on any topic — let alone Senate vacancies — since 2009.

Premier Ghiz said, “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.”

This is the same premier who expressed concerns P.E.I.’s eight Ottawa seats would be in peril when the spectre of Maritime Union arose in 2012. This topic came about by none other than Mike Duffy, who argued co-operation among the Maritime provinces would lead to greater economic stability for the region.

Then, Ghiz told The Guardian the idea of such a merger was “preposterous” and noted it would threaten our right to four MPs and four Senators. Now, he seems to be saying those four Senate seats don’t appear to be worth fighting for.

That’s a disappointing turn of events for Islanders who are so very dependent on the federal government for jobs, grants and transfer payments. If we roll over and let Ottawa ignore these two vacancies, how will we ever convince those who, like Mr. Harper, want to see the Senate reformed or abolished, that every seat counts?

Mr. Ghiz has not shown an unwillingness to back down on topics the prime minister seems uninterested in before. Criticisms over the federal government’s handling of employment insurance, Service Canada job cuts and Veterans Affairs office closures have all had public airings without the need for a first ministers’ meeting. Why should Mr. Ghiz shy away from calling for two more senators?

Every single Senate seat is important, deserving of more than a shrug and an excuse from our premier.