REGINA, Saskatchewan (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper took aim at the scandal-plagued upper Senate chamber on Friday, saying he would not make any more appointments to an institution that has caused him major trouble.
The Senate’s woes embroiled key Harper allies and could hurt the chances of the ruling Conservatives in an election set for October. Harper, in power since early 2006, is seeking a rare fourth consecutive term in office.
Harper has long said he wants to reform or abolish the 105-seat chamber on the grounds that it is outdated and ineffective. Eliminating the chamber would need the agreement of all Canada’s 10 provinces, who are split over what to do.
“We will have a moratorium on further Senate appointments,” said Harper, who has not named any senators for the last two years. There are currently 22 Senate vacancies.
The official opposition left-leaning New Democrats, who recent polls show have a chance of winning power in October, have long called for the Senate to be abolished.
“Harper had ten years to fix the Senate. He failed,” the party said in a statement.
Last month, an official probe revealed that members of the Senate improperly spent almost C$1 million ($770,000) in just two years.
Mike Duffy, a former television journalist who became a popular Conservative party fundraiser once in the Senate, is currently on trial for fraud and bribery. Duffy was suspended along with two other Harper appointees after questions about their expenses came to light.
The moratium will force the provinces to either come up with a reform plan or see the Senate abolished by attrition, Harper told reporters in western Canada, where the Senate is particularly disdained, and where he needs support to stay in office.
Harper’s government is already embroiled in a constitutional court battle over his refusal to appoint any senators.
An April opinion poll by Angus Reid found that about 41 percent of Canadians would support abolishing the chamber, Another 45 percent want it reformed, while 14 percent thought it should be left as it is.
The Senate must approve legislation passed by the lower House of Commons in order for it to become law.
Last year Canada’s Supreme Court ruled reform would require a constitutional amendment approved by at least seven provinces with 50 percent of the population, while abolition would require unanimous provincial consent.
Additional reporting by Randall Palmer and David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Andrea Hopkins in Toronto