POLITICS

N.B. Senate election could provoke constitutional crisis

06/04/2012 04:17 EDT | Updated 08/04/2012 05:12 EDT

Former federal Liberal leader Stéphane Dion is arguing that Premier David Alward's plan for Senate elections could provoke a constitutional crisis.

Dion said Alward's Senate election bill, which was unveiled last week, could ignite a constitutional debate over the amount of influence provinces have in the House of Commons and Senate.

New Brunswick has 10 senators, which is a disproportionately high number compared to its small population.

Dion, who is still a Liberal MP, said larger provinces will not be happy about that once Senate elections start.

"Alberta and British Columbia have only six senators out of 105. The very moment this Senate will be elected and powerful, they will be out of their mind. They will say, ‘It doesn't make sense,’” he said.

Dion said larger provinces will demand more Senate seats to reflect their bigger population and since that requires changing the Constitution, he said Canada will have a full-blown constitutional showdown on its hands.

Could begin in 2016

New Brunswick’s proposed bill could see voters pick the province’s Senate nominees starting in 2016.

Alberta already has elected senators and Saskatchewan has also passed a law that would allow for Senate elections.

But New Brunswick would be the first eastern Canadian province to allow voters to pick future Senate appointees.

The Constitution guarantees New Brunswick will have 10 senators, which is the same number of seats the province has in the House of Commons.

When Alward introduced the new bill, the premier said electing senators will guarantee the province continuing clout in Ottawa.

"The way the Senate was designed originally was to ensure that provinces like New Brunswick do have the necessary representation in Ottawa,” he said.