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Senate Reform Bill Tabled In The House of Commons

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GOVERNOR GENERAL
Governor-General David Johnston speaks in the Senate chambers in Ottawa. (CP) | AP

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's quest to reform the Senate began again in earnest Tuesday, with his new bill for term limits and support for Senate elections bolstered by the Conservative government's majority mandate.

But the proposed Senate Reform Act, introduced by junior democratic reform minister Tim Uppal, is already expected to face opposition outside of Ottawa and perhaps even within the red chamber.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest has promised to go to the courts if the provinces aren't consulted and don't provide their consent for any changes to the Senate. Other provinces, including Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia, have said they would prefer its abolition.

Uppal has said he will not let that opposition or court cases stand in the way of implementing the reforms. This is the fourth time the Conservatives have attempted to bring forward reforms, but the first within the context of a majority government.

At the same time, some Conservative senators have expressed reservations about the reforms. In its news release on the legislation, the government included a quote from a Tory senator who would be impacted by a proposed new nine-year term limit.

"As a senator, I am well aware of the importance of the Senate in our parliamentary system," said Senator Claude Carignan.

"The Senate Reform Act, announced today in the House of Commons, builds on our Government’s long-standing commitment to transform the Senate into a renewed institution based on democratic principles."

The legislation would limit senators appointed after October 2008 to one nine-year term. If a senator leaves before the end of the term and comes back later, he or she is still only entitled to a cumulative nine-year appointment. The maximum age for a senator of 75 will remain the same.

The Conservative government points out that Parliament unilaterally changed the age restriction in 1965 through an amendment to the Constitution. Before then, senators were appointed for life.

The other part of the bill provides a framework for provinces interested in starting up Senate elections.

Based on the Alberta model, it sets out the basic parameters for a Senate vote. For example, elections would most likely be linked to municipal or provincial election periods.

The prime minister would be obliged to consider the elected senators from the provinces, but ultimately would still make the final decision on appointments.

Provinces wouldn't have to follow the exact framework or even have an election at all, but the government said it wants to signal its support for provinces who come up with their own systems. A backbencher in the B.C. Liberal government recently tabled a bill to introduce Senate elections there, which Premier Christy Clark is supporting.

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