06/01/2012 11:51 EDT | Updated 08/01/2012 05:12 EDT

New Brunswick plans Senate elections for 2016

Premier David Alward introduced new legislation on Friday that will allow New Brunswick to be the first eastern Canadian province to hold Senate elections.

Alward tabled the bill in the legislative assembly on Friday, calling the proposal “historic.”

“This bill is historic. We are the first eastern Canadian jurisdiction to introduce a process for the selection of senators. I predict we won't be the last,” Alward said.

The proposed legislation will now be sent to a legislative committee so it can receive public feedback.

Alward said he spoke to Prime Minister Stephen Harper about the new piece of legislation.

“He fully supports New Brunswick's willingness to introduce Senate elections,” Alward said of the prime minister.

“The use of a democratic process to select members of the Federal Parliament's upper house will lead to it becoming an increasingly effective institution. This is particularly important as our representation in the House of Commons continues to diminish in terms of our province's proportion of seats.”

The Harper government has championed the need to reform the Senate into an elected institution.

Alberta is the only province that has held Senate elections.

Saskatchewan has passed a law to allow for Senate elections. However, the provincial government did not put senators on the ballot last November because Ottawa would not offer any financial assistance to offset the costs.

There is also a bill making its way through the British Columbia legislature that would allow for Senate elections.

Election timing

The Senate elections would be held during the municipal elections every four years. But the provincial cabinet could order a Senate race to be held on a different day.

Alward said on Friday, he expects the first Senate election to be held in 2016. New Brunswickers could vote on future senators earlier if Ottawa offered to help cover some of the added costs of holding a Senate election.

The bill sets out a framework where New Brunswick voters would create a list of Senate nominees that would be sent to Ottawa for consideration whenever a vacancy opened up.

New Brunswick has 10 seats in the upper chamber.

Alward’s bill would give the upcoming Electoral Boundaries and Representation Commission the power to divide the province into five senatorial districts.

This would make New Brunswick only the second province, after Quebec, that has defined boundaries for senators.

Political parties

New Brunswick’s political parties would have the opportunity to field two candidates in each senatorial race. But other citizens could run in the election as independent candidates.

The proposed legislation also sets out campaign spending limits of roughly $75,000 on candidates in these races.

If the Senate election is being held in conjunction with a municipal election, the candidates cannot also be running for mayor or council. Similarly, if the election is coinciding with a provincial election, a person could not run to be a MLA and a senator at the same time.

Senators must be 30 to sit in the upper chamber. So under the New Brunswick law, candidates do not need to be 30 when the election is held, however they must turn 30 within the four-year term to qualify to be on the Senate ballot.

An election in a particular senatorial division can be skipped if there are no vacancies expected within four years of an election.

Anyone wishing to donate to a Senate race will have to do without the incentive of a tax donation.