REGINA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced a moratorium on Senate appointments.
Harper says it is clear that Canadians are not happy with an unelected, unaccountable upper house and his government will not do anything to entrench the status quo.
Harper has not made any appointments to the 105-seat Senate in the last 2.5 years and there are 22 vacancies
“The government is not going to take any actions going forward that would do anything to further entrench that unelected, unaccountable Senate,” he said Friday at a news conference in Regina.
“It will be our policy to formalize that. We will have a moratorium on further Senate appointments.”
He said leaving seats open will save money and that not making appointments since 2013 has already brought Senate expenses down by $6 million.
He also hopes the moratorium will push the provinces to come to an agreement about what to do with the controversial institution.
“It will force the provinces … to either come up with a plan of comprehensive reform or to conclude that the only way to deal with the status quo is abolition.”
However, the Supreme Court has already made it clear that allowing vacancies to pile up can’t go on indefinitely since it would amount to abolition by stealth.
The Senate has been engulfed in scandal for almost three years over improperly claimed expenses. Three senators— Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb (now retired) — have been charged with fraud and another, Pamela Wallin, is under RCMP investigation.
A scathing audit last month flagged 30 more current and former senators who’ve made dubious expense claims, nine of them serious enough to warrant asking the RCMP to investigate.
The upper house has also been embarrassed by allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct by several senators, the most recent involving Conservative Sen. Don Meredith.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who favours abolition, said he fully supports the prime minister’s move.
“It will be up to premiers … to respond to this now.”
The prime minister threw in the towel last year on his three-decade crusade for an elected Senate after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that reforming the chamber would require a constitutional amendment approved by at least seven provinces with 50 per cent of the population.
The top court set the bar even higher for abolition. Getting rid of the Senate altogether, the court advised, would require unanimous provincial consent.
At the time, Harper said the court had essentially pronounced “that significant reform and abolition are off the table.”
Harper’s main opponents have plans for the upper chamber: NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is vowing to abolish the Senate, despite the constitutional hurdles; Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has booted senators from his party’s caucus and is promising, if elected, to create an independent advisory body to recommend non-partisan nominees to the Senate.