Government to encourage election of senators

Tue Jun 21, 2011 2:57pm EDT
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Conservative government introduced legislation on Tuesday to encourage the election of senators and limit their terms, despite threats by Quebec to launch a court challenge.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has tried unsuccessfully in the past to reform the unelected Senate but now has a majority in both houses of Parliament and should be able to get the legislation passed.

The prime minister currently appoints senators, and the new bill would provide a voluntary framework for provinces to "select" nominees for the Senate by holding votes for them. The prime minister would be required to consider these nominees when deciding whom to appoint.

This complicated way of changing the rules is designed to avoid having to amend the Constitution, which can be a long and divisive exercise.

The bill would also limit the term of new senators to a maximum of nine years -- currently they may stay till age 75.

"This bill is an important step in making the Senate more representative of Canada and Canadians in the 21st century," said Tim Uppal, the junior minister in charge of democratic reform.

The French-speaking province of Quebec has insisted that these changes cannot he made by Parliament alone and must be done by amending the Constitution with the approval of at least seven provinces representing at least half the Canadian population.

The Senate is considered the chamber of "sober second thought" and though virtually the equal of the House of Commons in theory, in practice it does not dare to turn down financial legislation and most other bills.

Some Liberal members of Parliament have said that if some senators are elected while others are not, that would cause confusion as to whether the Senate would then have the authority to take a more active role, as the U.S. Senate does.

(Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Rob Wilson)

<p>Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 15, 2011. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>