Premier Christy Clark wasted no time rejecting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plan to reform the Canadian Senate through an independent panel to appoint new senators.
“B.C. will not participate in the process outlined today to appoint senators,” Clark said in a statement released Thursday. “Our position has not changed; the Senate should be fixed or folded but we should not be distracted by it.”
Trudeau delivered this week on a promise to fill the 22 current Senate vacancies via a five-member independent advisory board, starting with five appointments in the new year. Three of the five panel members are to be chosen by Ottawa, with two temporary provincial or territorial members named for each appointment.
“Today’s changes do not address what’s been wrong with the Senate since the beginning,” Clark said. “It has never been designed to represent British Columbians or our interests at the national level.”
B.C.’s objection is that it has always been under-represented, compared to provinces that joined confederation earlier. Constitutional change would be required to replace a regional formula where Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes and the West have 24 seats each.
That translates to six seats each for B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, while Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have 10 each, despite relatively tiny populations. Currently, B.C. has one senator for each 775,000 people, the lowest representation in Canada.
B.C. currently has five senators, with former Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell and former Liberal Party vice-president Mobina Jaffer appointed as Liberals. Conservative appointments are Nancy Greene Raine, Yonah Martin and Richard Neufeld, a former B.C. Liberal energy minister.
B.C. has had a vacancy since the retirement of former Conservative MP Gerry St. Germain, who reached the Senate’s mandatory retirement age of 75 in 2012.
Senate reform was a key part of the recent federal election campaign, after a string of resignations, suspensions and prosecutions of senators including Liberal Mac Harb and Conservatives Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau. Harb and Duffy are facing charges of fraud and breach of trust over alleged misuse of expense allowances.
Trudeau expelled all Liberal senators from the party caucus before the election. The Conservatives hold a majority in the Senate, which could allow them to hold up Liberal legislation.