Tag Archives: Reform Party

Is the sky blue? A Conservative win in Southern Alberta by-election a certainty

Following the death of Conservative Member of Parliament Jim Hillyer on March 23, 2016, Elections Canada has announced that a by-election must be called in the Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner electoral district before September 26, 2016. The earliest a by-election could be held is May 16, 2016.

A map of the electoral district.

A map of the electoral district.

By-elections can produce unexpected results, as we have seen recently in Alberta, but as one of the strongest Conservative voting areas of the country, it is very likely the next MP for this area will be a Conservative. Mr. Hillyer was elected in October 2015 with 68 percent of the vote, ahead of Liberal Glen Allan with 17 percent and New Democrat Erin Weir with 9 percent (not that Erin Weir).

Conservatives partisans in this region of Alberta tend to occupy the social conservative side of that party’s coalition. But that does not necessarily mean they are united.

The author of this blog outside the Creation Science Museum in Bow Island, Alberta.

The author of this blog outside the Creation Science Museum in Bow Island, Alberta.

This electoral district spans the beautiful stretch along Alberta’s southeast boundaries with Saskatchewan and Montana. The large rural district includes the City of Medicine Hat (a city of 63,000 residents), Canadian Forces Base Suffield, the Blood Indian Reserve (the largest and second most populated reserve in Canada), a large community of followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Bow Island Creation Discovery Centre.

The area was represented by Conservative MP LaVar Payne from 2008 to 2015. Former cabinet minister Monte Solberg represented the area as a Reform Party, Canadian Alliance, Democratic Representative Caucus and Conservative MP from 1993 until 2008.

Former Social Credit MP Bud Olson was re-elected as a Liberal MP in 1968 and served as Minister of Agriculture in Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet until his electoral defeat in 1972. The riding became a Progressive Conservative stronghold from 1972 to 1993.

Provincially, the area is currently represented by Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes and Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter of the Wildrose Party and Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner of the New Democratic Party.

The Senate Chamber in Canada's Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.

2016 will mark the end of Senate Elections in Alberta

The Senatorial Selection Act, the law that governs Alberta’s unique Senate nominee elections, expires on Dec. 31, 2016. The longstanding policy of the Alberta New Democratic Party which supports the abolition of the Canadian Senate likely means the Act will be allowed to expire, into the dust of legislative history.

Don Getty Premier of Alberta

Don Getty

Members of the Canadian Senate are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. Alberta is the only province with a general election process to select Senate nominees, which have been held in 1989, 1998, 2004 and 2012.

The Senatorial Selection Act was introduced in 1989, in part to allow the Progressive Conservative government of Don Getty to co-opt the issue of Senate reform, which had become a powerful rallying crying of the populist Reform Party. Reform candidate Stanley Waters won the 1989 election and was appointed to the Senate in 1990 on the advice of then-prime minister Brian Mulroney.

Stan Waters Alberta Senate

Stanley Waters

Only a handful of Alberta’s elected Senators have actually been appointed to the upper chamber, as the election process exists outside of the Constitution and can be ignored by the federal government. Current Conservative Senators Doug Black and Scott Tannas, elected in 2012, and Betty Unger, elected in 2004, were appointed to the Senate on the advice of former prime minister Stephen Harper.

With the exception of the 1989 election, when Liberal Bill Code placed second, only the conservative Reform Party, Progressive Conservative, Alberta Alliance, Social Credit and Wildrose Party, and the environmentalist Evergreen Party have participated in the elections. Progressive candidates have also run as Independents without the backing of their political parties. In 1998, future NDP candidate Guy Desrosiers stood as an Independent Senate candidate (and placed third with 16.7% of the vote).

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

A high-level of rejected, declined and spoiled ballots in the Senate elections suggests that many Albertans are unengaged in this process. More than 178,000 ballots were rejected, spoiled and declined in the 2004 Senate election, amounting to 19 percent of Albertans who showed up to the polls. In 2012, more than 189,000 Senate election ballots were rejected, spoiled and declined, compared to only 7,822 in the provincial general election held the same day.

While the NDP have long supported the abolishment of the Senate, the idea has grown popular in conservative circles in recent years. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has echoed the NDP’s calls for Senate abolishment, and in an odd pre-election maneuver, Mr. Harper tacitly endorsed the abolishment of the Senate if it could not be reformed (this took place after he appointed more than 50 Conservatives to the Senate, including Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin).

Stephen Harper Calgary Stampede

Stephen Harper

new Senate appointment advisory board created by the federal Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after the October 2015 election will review nominated Canadians who meet the criteria of demonstrating a record of leadership in community service or professional expertise, a proven record of ethics and integrity and knowledge of the Senate’s role. It is unclear whether the new advisory board will place future provincially-endorsed elected nominees in higher consideration.

The current Alberta NDP government has not officially announced it will not renew the Senatorial Selection Act, but a speech from now-Premier Rachel Notley in 2009, while she was debating amendments to extend the Act until Dec. 31, 2016, strongly suggests that it will not be renewed again this year:

“…this is a piece of legislation that we can’t support because, quite frankly, it just provides a foundation to continue with what is currently a very ineffective system on the federal level.

As has been previously stated, our view is simply that the Senate should be abolished. It is not something that reflects the democratic makeup of our country. The historical rationale behind appointing a Senate has long since dissipated in terms of sort of the historical political concerns that underlay the initial construction of the Senate. The current elements of the Senate that we would effectively be promoting and encouraging the continuation of are, in my view, quite unacceptable.

Whether we elect our Senators or whether we have elections where the government chooses to appoint our Senators, we’re still dealing with the current situation, which is that the Senate itself does not reflect the national population distribution in that, you know, Alberta has six Senate seats, and New Brunswick, with about one fifth of Alberta’s population, has 10 seats. Eligibility for appointment in the Senate is still based in part on property ownership, and once appointed, Senators just get to hang around there until 75.

Whether we have this legislation or do not have this legislation, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Having had this legislation, we’ve actually, if anything, encouraged the continuation of the Senate. We’ve encouraged buy-in to what is a fundamentally antidemocratic institution.

You know, this was something that came up originally as a means to make a political point when there were substantive discussions around Senate reform a long, long time ago. There have been no meaningful discussions around Senate reform for, I would suggest, about a decade at least.

This piece of legislation will simply give credence to what continues to be a dysfunctional system and one that is costly and one that has long since outlived its purpose. The bill has outlived the purpose, the process in Alberta has outlived the purpose, and frankly the Senate has outlived its purpose. For that reason, we cannot support the bill.”

Five ways to save the Senate of Canada

Save the Canadian Senate

Is the Senate of Canada broken? And if so, is it worth saving? Here are the positions held by Canada’s federal political parties:

1) Abolish the Senate
The New Democratic Party of Canada, the official opposition since 2011, are staunchly in favour of entirely abolishing the Senate of Canada. “Unelected party hacks have no place writing or rewriting the laws of this country. It’s as simple as that,” NDP leader Thomas Mulcair told reporters in August 2013. Saskatchewan’s conservative premier Brad Wall is also in favour of abolishing the Senate.

It is unclear how the NDP would actually implement the abolition of the Senate if the party ever formed government in Ottawa.

2) Elect the Senate
Elected, equal and effective was the Triple-E proposal supported by the now-defunct Reform Party of Canada.  Alberta is the only province to have ever held Senate nominee elections (in 1989, 1998, 2004 and 2012). Typically coinciding with provincial or municipal elections, the Senate elections are a sideshow that have received little attention from the media or the general public. The Senate nominee candidates have run as provincial party candidates. Five elected nominees have been appointed to the Senate by prime ministers since 1990.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s Conservative Party of Canada proposed legislation that could shorten terms in office and move towards provincially elected senators in 2006. The legislation was stalled and  the Conservative have since asked the Supreme Court of Canada for its opinion on the Senate reform proposals.

3) Panel-appointed independent Senate
Liberal Party of Canada leader Justin Trudeau announced this week that he had removed all 32 Liberal senators from the party’s national caucus. The justification for doing so was to make the Senate less partisan and to eliminate patronage. Mr. Trudeau suggested that a non-partisan panel select new appointees to the Senate.

4) Proportional representation Senate
The Green Party of Canada passed a motion at their 2010 convention which supports the election of senators through a system that ensures proportional representation. While the policy is not specific, it could be referring to the electoral system used to elected members to the Australian Senate.

5) The status-quo Senate
In practice, the Governor General makes appointments to the Senate at the recommendation of the Prime Minister. Senators must be citizens of Canada and at least thirty years of age to be eligible for appointment to the Senate. They must maintain residency in the provinces or territories for which they are appointed and can only serve until the age of seventy-five.

While prominent Canadians have been appointed to the Senate, they overshadowed by the long-list of party loyalists who have been rewarded with appointments by various Conservative and Liberal prime ministers. Mr. Harper has appointed 51 of the 96 current senators since the Conservatives formed government in 2006 (there are currently 9 vacancies in the Senate).