Tag Archives: David Carter

Strengthening Canada Reform of Canadas Senate

Once upon a time Alberta MLAs had meaningful ideas about Senate Reform

The introduction of Bill 13, the Alberta Senate Election Act, this week inspired me to pull out an old copy of the Special Select Committee on Senate Reform report, Strengthening Canada, from March 1985. The committee, chaired by Calgary-Currie MLA Dennis Anderson, published a report that led to the creation of the original Senatorial Selection Act in 1989 and subsequent Senate nominee elections in 1989, 1998, 2004 and 2012.

Dennis Andeson

The 1980s were heady times for constitutional debaters and Senate reform advocates in Canada. Dozens of reports from various governments, organizations, and think-tanks studied the idea of reforming Canada’s appointed Upper Chamber.

Unlike today, when the majority of Senators sit as Independents, decades of federal Liberal Party governments had led to the 1980s Senate being overflowing with Liberal partisan appointees.

A motion from Minister of Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs Jim Horsman on November 23, 1983 led to the creation of the committee, which included 7 MLAs from the Progressive Conservative caucus, including Anderson, Calgary-North West MLA Sheila Embury, Highwood MLA Harry Alger, Calgary-Egmont MLA David Carter, Lacombe MLA Ron Moore, Edmonton-Kingsway MLA Carl Paproski, and Innisfail MLA Nigel Pengelly, and Independent former Social Credit MLA Raymond Speaker. The group spent more than a year consulting and studying the issue in Alberta, Canada and abroad.

The motion to create the committee and the 1985 and 1987 motions to hold Senate elections had cross-partisan support – including from the PC, New Democratic Party and Liberals. This is a marked difference from today, where the NDP are advocates of Senate abolition, the Liberals have their banished Senators from their federal caucus, and Conservatives (at least when they are in government) have largely fallen back into supporting the current appointed Senate model.

An advertisement asking for feedback for the committee.

The committee report tabled in the Legislative Assembly in 1985 included a number of recommendations for reforming the Senate that are much more ambitious than anything being presented by Senate election advocates today.

Unlike the unimaginative Senate Election Act, which is a largely farcical exercise, the Special Select Committee on Senate Reform called for wide-ranging constitutional reforms that would reorganize and increase the democratic accountability of the Upper Chamber.

The 1985 report recommended Senators should be elected using a first-past-the-post system and that they should represent constituencies identical to provincial boundaries. Senators would be elected for the life of two provincial legislatures with staggered elections allowing for three to be elected during each provincial election, with each voter being able to vote for three candidates.

The number of Senators would have been dropped to 64 had the committee had its way, with six representing each province and two representing each territory. This would presumably fulfill the “equal” part of the call for a Triple-E Senate (the other Es being effective and elected).

The report also recommended that “the Senate should be organized on a different basis than any other Upper House in the Commonwealth,” including being organized without the recognition of political parties.

The report argued that “if the role of the Senate is to represent the regions (provinces) of the country, it must be structured to represent those regions’ interests rather than the interest of national political parties.” This is somewhat reflective of the current Senate, where the majority of members sit as Independents rather than members of political parties.

The report recommended that traditional opposition and government roles in the Senate be abolished, including the positions of Government Leader and Opposition Leader, and that Senators should physically be seated in provincial delegations regardless of any party allegiances. Each provincial delegation would select a chairman who would should sit at the pleasure of the provincial delegation and participate in a Senate Executive Council, which would, along with the Speaker, determine the order of business of the Senate.

The report also called for the qualifications for candidates to the Senate to be made the same as those for Members of Parliament, removing minimum 30 years old age requirement of and $4,000 property ownership requirement.

It also noted that “the Senate should not be a forum for inter-governmental negotiations.”

Now a quick look at Bill 13, the Senate Election Act

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative

Doug Schweitzer

The Senate Election Act introduced by Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer this week would allow the Senate nominee candidates to be chosen through an election but then, if the Prime Minister decides to appoint the winners, which he is not bound to do, they will be able to serve their time in the Senate until the age of 75 without ever having to face re-election.

The biggest flaw with this bill and Alberta’s previous Senate election laws is that there is no real accountability if these elected Senators never have to face re-election.

Bill 13 is being introduced to replace the Senatorial Selection Act, which expired on December 31, 2016. But the bill is largely an extension of United Conservative Party Premier Jason Kenney‘s campaign against Liberal Party Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ahead of the October 2019 federal election.

The Act introduced this week would have Senate candidates nominated by provincial political parties or as Independent candidate, but list their federal political party affiliation next to their name on the ballot. This is a significant change from the previous Senate nominee elections when candidates were listed under provincial party banners. It is unclear whether the federal political parties will have any say about the candidates who align with them in a provincially-administered Senate election.

Kenney and Schweitzer announced that the next Senate election will take place during the October 17, 2021 municipal elections, which will also be the date of the promised “equalization referendum.” It has been speculated that these events are scheduled on this date in order to boost conservative voter turnout in the municipal elections and fulfill the Conservative Party’s long-time dream of defeating Naheed Nenshi and electing a capital-C conservative into the mayor’s office in Calgary.

year in review 2010: alberta mla edition.

Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman

Raj Sherman (Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark)
The Emergency Room Doctor turned MLA shook the Tory establishment when he went public with his concerns about how the PC government has handled health care. Dr. Sherman saved special criticism for former Health Minister Ron Liepert, who was responsible for the creation of Alberta Health Services. An over-night folk hero to many, Dr. Sherman was suspended from the PC caucus and became the target of a whisper campaign to undermine his credibility, which started with a phone call placed by MLA Fred Horne. Dr Sherman has said he may take legal action against those involved in the smear campaign. In three weeks, Dr. Sherman’s public criticisms of the PCs health care record made him the de-facto leader of the opposition in the last two months of 2010.

Dr. Sherman made this list in 2008, when I described him as “one of the brighter stars in the vast expanse of dim lights in the Alberta Legislature.

Doug Griffiths (PC Battle River-Wainwright)
Thinking out of the box has kept this perennial Parliamentary Assistant away from the cabinet table, where he would likely excel. Doug Griffiths’ appointment as the Parliamentary Assistant for Finance and Enterprise is the latest in a series of lateral moves from his previous roles as parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Solicitor General. After trying to start a public discussion about how a provincial sales tax could reduce government dependency on natural resource revenue, Mr. Griffiths became the target of his own colleagues who shot down his idea at the 2010 PC Party convention and by the Wildrose Alliance, who used Mr. Griffiths’ comments as a fundraising-focused attack campaign. He also hit the road this year as the author of a new book, 13 Ways to Kill your Community.

In last year’s list, I wrote of Mr. Griffiths: “With alternatives to the near 40 year governing PCs gaining support, independent-minded Griffiths may be in a position to decide whether he wants to stay in the backbenches or join something new.

Airdrie-Chestermere MLA Rob Anderson with Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith.

Rob Anderson (Wildrose Airdrie-Chestermere)
First-term PC MLA Rob Anderson‘s floor-crossing from the PCs to the Wildrose in January 2010, along with fellow PC MLA Heather Forsyth, set the tone for Alberta politics in 2010. He may have less political experience than his three fellow Wildrose MLAs (two of which are former PC cabinet ministers), but what he does not have in age or years of experience he makes up in political tenacity. If leader Danielle Smith is unable to win a seat in the next provincial election, Mr. Anderson is in a good position to take over the role.

Ken Kowalski (PC Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock)
Making his third appearance on this list, Assembly Speaker Ken Kowalski celebrated his 31st year as an MLA by micro-managing the communications of and denying a requested increase in funding to the Wildrose Alliance caucus, which grew from one to four MLAs over the past 12 months. Ex-Speakers David Carter and Stan Schumacher criticized his decision to block Wildrose funding and the Calgary Herald even called for his resignation. While unreasonable under these circumstances, Speaker Kowalski allowed for a second (and successful) motion from Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman for an emergency debate on health care during the fall sitting of the Assembly.

Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr

Kent Hehr (Liberal Calgary-Buffalo)
What started as a tongue-in-cheek campaign by Liberal caucus staffers became reality when first-term Liberal MLA Kent Hehr launched his candidacy for Mayor of Calgary. Although he was a popular candidate in a crowded field, Mr. Hehr was unable to create the kind of momentum that launched Naheed Nenshi into contention. Mr. Hehr dropped out of the Mayoral contest when his poll numbers showed he was far behind, but that did not hurt his political credibility as he returned to the Assembly as the Official Opposition Justice Critic.

Dave Taylor (Independent Calgary-Currie)
After an unsuccessful run for the Liberal leadership in 2009, Dave Taylor was not satisfied with the leadership of his rival David Swann and left the Liberal Opposition to sit as an Independent in April 2010. As one of the more effective opposition critics in the Liberal caucus, losing Mr. Taylor likely cost the Official Opposition in media attention and also an MLA who held the support of many of his former talk radio hosts at the popular AM770 and 630CHED stations.

Cindy Ady (PC Calgary-Shaw)
Alberta’s Minister of Parks and Tourism rode the Alberta train as our province’s ambassador to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. While handing out White Cowboy hats and iPod Touches, Minister Ady made sure that Alberta was the topic of discussion for the international media and tourists traveling to the Olympic events in Whistler.

Edmonton-Mill Creek MLA & Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky

Gene Zwozdesky (PC Edmonton-Mill Creek)
Crowned as the “the Wizard of Zwoz” by the media, Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky was responsible for fixing the mess created and mend the fences destroyed by previous Minister Ron Liepert. Minister Zwozdesky has been more open and accessible than his predecessor, but the real challenge will be for him to actually deliver real improvements to a health care system that has been seen constant political interference and restructuring over the past twenty years.

Kyle Fawcett (PC Calgary-North Hill)
On the night of the October municipal election, the backbench Tory MLA who once described Premier Ed Stelmach as “a man of extraordinary vision,” also had a loose twitter finger. As the Purple Revolution swept his city, Mr. Fawcett tweeted that Calgarians had made a “Big Mistake” by electing Naheed Nenshi as Mayor.

Carl Benito (PC Edmonton-Mill Woods)
Where do I start? A broken promise to donate his entire salary to a scholarship fund for students in his constituency and blaming his wife for forgetting to pay his municipal property taxes. Mill Woods, your MLA is a real winner.

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Previous Annual MLA Reviews
Year in Review 2009: Alberta MLA Edition
Year in Review 2008: Alberta MLA Edition