CALGARY – The founder of the federal Reform party says all Canadians should be embarrassed by the shenanigans within the Senate but he still believes the upper chamber can be salvaged if it makes some key changes.
Preston Manning, a longtime champion of Senate reform, on Thursday joined the debate around ongoing efforts to suspend, without pay, senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau over an expense scandal.
“I think everybody should be embarrassed by it. It’s an embarrassment to the Senate. It’s an embarrassment to the Parliament. It’s an embarrassment to the party and it should be an embarrassment to the national media,” Manning told reporters in Calgary where he was holding a one-day symposium on Senate reform through his Manning Foundation for Democratic Education.
“In politics this idea that you’re innocent until you’re proven guilty is a fiction. My view is that they should either resign or be removed and, then, if a subsequent investigation proves they were innocent of these charges, they should be reinstated.
“I think their presence there just discredits them.”
Manning said he is hopeful the scandal will prove to be a “silver lining.”
“If anybody needed more evidence that the Senate has to be changed, well, what’s happened the past couple of months has provided that. Hopefully this interest in the Senate will still move along the Senate-reform agenda.”
Pierre Poilievre, the federal minister responsible for democratic reform, told the conference that abolition of the Senate would be preferable to the status quo.
A federal bill which would create Senate elections and set term limits without seeking provincial approval will be subject to hearings by the Supreme Court.
“The court will provide Canadians with a legal instruction manual on how to reform or abolish the Senate and, once Canadians have a chance to see that manual, they can decide which option to pursue,” said Poilievre.
“I think the passage of time has become an enormous frustration for Canadians and Senate reformers. It’s been 146 years without change and people are coming to the conclusion that we must either change the Senate or abolish it.”
Poilievre said if the Supreme Court rejects the reform bill, then it will be up to the provinces to make changes.
“The provinces have to pursue abolition. If that’s the option, we believe seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population have the power to pursue abolition, and we would not stand in their way if they should so decide.”
Manning’s push for a Triple-E Senate — equal, elected and effective — became a central plank of Reform policy when the party was formed in the late 1980s. He doesn’t think the upper chamber is beyond salvaging, but he welcomes an abolition debate.
“I think it will create even more pressure, particularly on the senators that this is a real option,” Manning said.
“If you people (senators) don’t yourselves start to champion Senate reform from within, then somebody is going to stand up in a provincial legislature one of these days and move the constitutional amendment that will put you out of business.”