The federal government will seek clarification from the Supreme Court on its powers to reform or abolish the Senate, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform confirmed Friday afternoon in Ottawa.
Tim Uppal tried to blame the opposition parties for delaying the legislation, which was first introduced in June 2011, but hasn't been debated for nearly a year.
A key piece of the Conservative Party's platform going back to the days of its predecessor, the Reform Party, Senate reform has stalled amid resistance from senators and some of the provinces.
There are also questions about whether the majority of the provinces have to agree to the reform, something required for constitutional change. The federal government maintains such changes are relatively minor and can be done with the approval of Parliament alone.
The government's Senate reform bill, C-7, would limit senators' terms to nine years and allow the provinces to hold elections to choose senators. The Governor General would then, on the advice of the prime minister, appoint senators who had been selected through provincial elections.
The court is being asked whether the Senate Reform Act is constitutional, as well as about the constitutional amending procedure for changes to the net worth and property qualifications for Senate nominees, which were designed at the time of Confederation.
"It is clear that action is needed to compel reform," Uppal said.
"This reference is actually going to move Senate reform forward and at an accelerated pace, and lay the groundwork for further reform as well."
But it's expected the court will take between 10 months and two years to consider the questions, Senator Claude Carignan said.
Liberal MP Stéphane Dion, who was minister of intergovernmental affairs for seven years, said that argument makes no sense.
"It's completely ridiculous that we go to the Supreme Court to speed up the parliamentary debate. With this government able to rush any bill they want? As they have done through the year?" Dion said.
Dion pointed out a number of problems that have to be tackled for the reform to happen, including a way to resolve disputes between two equal, elected chambers.
"It would create a stalemate like you have in the United States," Dion said.
The biggest issue, he says, is the difficulty in getting the provincial governments to agree to the number of senators allowed for each province.
"If the premier of Quebec, the premier of Alberta, the premier of P.E.I., the premier of Ontario and so on, agree about 'I will give you this many senators, you will take this number of senators,' I'm telling you, in two weeks, we will solve the other problems," Dion said.
NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen accused the government of stalling the legislation on purpose, saying the Conservatives may just be hitting "the delay button."
"While they talk about Senate reform, they continue to stuff the Senate with every friend and patronage appointment they can find. So they are wanting for credibility on the issue of Senate reform," Cullen said.
The NDP wants the Senate abolished.
Also on HuffPost:
7. Strong, Stable Majority Government
Majority governments are by definition strong and stable, so this talking point essentially means nothing. Do the Tories really think they'll win another majority by reminding us they already have one?
6. The NDP's Illegal Union Donations
Curious about the questionable campaign fundraising done by Tory ministers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/tag/peter-penashue">Peter Penashue</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/dean-del-mastro">Dean Del Mastro</a>? Well the Conservatives have an answer for you. The NDP is much, much worse. While the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/08/27/ndp-union-sponsorship-donations-returned-elections-canada_n_1834802.html">New Democrats did pay back nearly $350,000 in sponsorship money from unions</a> after Elections Canada found the party guilty of violating campaign finance laws, that doesn't give the Tories the right to ignore legitimate questions about their own fundraising practices. Then again, why answer questions when you can just blame the other guy?
5. Alexandre Boulerice's Separatist Past
When NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice asks the government something in question period he usually already knows the Tories' answer. 'Remember when you were a separatist?' <a href="http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Politics/2012/06/08/19854701.html">Boulerice has long since admitted he used to sympathize with separatists</a> and it's time for the Tories (we're looking at you Pierre Poilievre) to let this one go.
4. Liberals Are The Only Ones To Be Found Guilty Of Misleading Robocalls
Instead of answering questions about allegations of misleading robocalls during the 2011 election, the Tories generally pivot and remind people the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/08/24/liberal-robocall-fine-guelph-crtc_n_1827915.html">Liberals are the only party that has actually been found guilty of phone-call shenanigans</a>. While this is true, it doesn't erase the fact that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/robocalls-scandal">Elections Canada's investigation seems to have a fair bit to do with the CPC</a>. Canadians deserve to know what really happened on election day, but the Tories seem content to remind us of their rival's misdeeds. Let's hope all that ends in 2013.
3. No Money Has Been Spent On The F-35 Acquisition
No answer regarding the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/f-35">now-scuttled acquisition of the F-35</a> is complete without reminding the audience that no money has been spent on the purchase. Well, as long as you don't count <a href="http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/06/05/opposition-parties-hammer-conservative-government-over-f-35-press-conference-that-cost-taxpayers-47000/">all the cash spent on the flashy press conference in 2010 when Peter MacKay got to sit in the cockpit</a> right? Wouldn't it be more accurate to say plenty of money has been spent trying to replace Canada's ageing CF-18s, it's just that none of it has actually been on new planes? The Tories aren't fooling anyone here. It's time to admit mistakes were made.
2. One Of The Strongest Economies In The Developed World
Concerned about a housing bubble? Worried about Canada's shift toward a more resource-based economy? Put those fears to rest, things are much worse everywhere else. At least, that's what the Tories keep telling us. But are they really? Two problems: 1. Were the Tories responsible for the relative stability of Canada's banking system after the crash? Not so much. The <a href="http://m.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/top-business-stories/ban-on-bank-mergers-helped-canada-withstand-crash-imf-says/article4600686/?service=mobile">IMF has credited regulations introduced by former Liberal finance minister Paul Martin in the 1990s</a>. 2. Things are now <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/12/01/canada-us-economy-gdp_n_2220164.html">better in the U.S., at least in terms of GDP growth, than they are here</a>. The U.S.'s GDP grew nearly 5 times faster than Canada's in the third quarter of 2012. It's time for the Tories to admit that while Canada weathered the economic crisis well, the country now faces new problems that will require new solutions and not more tired talking points.
1. Job-Killing Carbon Tax
Even though the <a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/09/21/a-rough-guide-to-the-conservatives-carbon-tax-farce/">NDP has never proposed a carbon tax</a>, the Tories continue to hammer this talking point home every chance they get. Got a question about the F-35? Remind them about the carbon tax. Allegations of misleading robocalls? Did we tell you about the carbon tax? The phrase has become such a predictable refrain that it has <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/11/08/conservative-ad-carbon-tax-video_n_2092524.html">inspired one of the most dangerous drinking games in Ottawa's history</a>. Let's hope this one evaporates in 2013.