05/29/2013 11:29 EDT | Updated 07/29/2013 05:12 EDT

Kathleen Wynne: Senate Should Be Reformed, Not Abolished

TORONTO - The ongoing scandal over the expenses of some high-profile Canadian senators didn't stop Ontario's new premier Wednesday from saying the province no longer wants to scrap the upper chamber.

Former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty used to dismiss the idea of reforming the Senate and said it should be abolished, but his successor, Kathleen Wynne, said she sees value in maintaining the upper tier of Parliament.

"I actually believe that there is a role for a chamber of sober second thought, but there is always room for reform," Wynne said.

"The discussion of what those reforms should be is an important one, and at the provincial level I would be interested in engaging with my colleagues across the country."

However, Wynne would not commit to putting Senate reform on the agenda for this year's meeting of premiers, which she will host in July in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

"It's not something that I have taken a firm or detailed stand on, but it's certainly something that I'm willing to engage on," she said.

Ontario's New Democrats, who want to abolish the Senate, were caught off guard by Wynne's decision to change the province's position on the issue.

"I was quite surprised that the premier is so out of touch that she thinks the people of this country and of this province want to see the Senate continue to function," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

"It's clear that the Senate is something that people look at with disgust these days, and rightfully so."

The Senate is "unelected, unaccountable and is basically at the trough of Canadians' wallets," added Horwath.

The Progressive Conservatives are in favour of reforming the Senate, but lashed out at Wynne even though she now supports their position.

"I was a little bit surprised that she waded into in because it is something that they're dealing with federally right now," said deputy PC leader Christine Elliott. "I think it'll be interesting to see as time goes on whether her position changes again."

Ironically, McGuinty was actually in the legislature Wednesday, only his second appearance since resigning as premier last fall, and was given a standing ovation after the NDP asked why Wynne was abandoning his "reasonable" position to abolish the Senate.

McGuinty had once said it would be impossible to make any realistic reforms to the Senate, but Wynne said she disagreed with her predecessor, despite the uproar over the living expenses billed by Senator Mike Duffy and others.

"I believe that it is possible to reform the Senate," Wynne told the legislature.

"I believe that the abuses, that the discussion at the federal level, is unacceptable. We need to have that discussion across the country."

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said Wednesday his Saskatchewan Party will hold a referendum to see whether its members think the Senate should be abolished.

If the party supports abolishing the Senate, Wall said he would push the issue at the annual premiers meeting in July and consider moving a constitutional amendment motion in the Saskatchewan legislature this fall.

Ontario and Quebec each have 24 senators in the 105-seat upper chamber, followed by Nova Scotia and New Brunswick at 10 senators each.

British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Newfoundland have six senators each, followed by Prince Edward Island with four. The three territories each have one senator.

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