The first step in electing a B.C. senator was taken in the legislature last week as Chilliwack MLA John Les introduced a private member’s bill that sets out the mechanics of the process.
Senators are currently appointed, but Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to introduce legislation this month that allows provinces to elect senators, and ends the life-terms of their appointments.
A senate vacancy will open up next year as B.C. Senator Gerry St. Germain, 75, is expected to retire.
“If there is an opportunity in the month ahead to have a senator elected, maybe that’s something that should be done,” Les said, explaining why he introduced the bill.
The Senate Nominee Election Act sets out the electoral process to create a list of senate-nominees, who have the backing of 1,000 eligible voters. The candidates must also register as independents or as affiliates of any political party registered with the federal or provincial government.
Les said his bill is “an attempt to democratize the senate” which plays a role in shaping the laws of the nation.
“It begs the question, ‘Why shouldn’t they be elected?’,” he said. “I think by far the majority of people would prefer to elect a senate.”
Many would like to see the senate abolished, he agreed, but that would take a constitutional amendment and “that ain’t gonna happen,” he said.
Premier Christy Clark supports the bill, as does NDP Leader Adrian Dix, although he favors abolishing the senate altogether.
In 1990, Albertan Stan Waters became the first elected senator in Canada, but he died a year later. Four senate-nominees were elected by Albertans in 2004, but none so far have been appointed to the senate.
Saskatchewan is also looking at electing senators, but it wants the federal government to pay the estimated $6-million cost.
Meanwhile, Harper stirred up controversy last week by appointing three defeated Conservative candidates to the senate.
Les said his bill will likely come back to the legislature for second reading in the fall, or it might be replaced by a government bill.
But even if that happens, the Chilliwack MLAs said his bill at least starts the debate in B.C. for what could become a significant milestone in the history of the province.
“It’s always a good feeling to bring something forward that has some merit, and engages people’s attention and interest,” he said.