IN THE NEWS ~ Senate debate coming to doorstep near you

Barbara Yaffe, Vancouver Sun (Final) Canada & World, Page B3

Don't be surprised if a New Democrat shows up on your doorstep this summer for a tête à tête about killing the Senate.

B.C. MP Peter Julian says British Columbians have the best reason in the country for junking the upper chamber. The province has the worst per-capita representation in the Senate, accounting for just six of the 102 seats compared to 10 for tiny New Brunswick.

NDPers in B.C. are mobilizing to visit voters at home, to talk up the abolition option pitched last month by NDP leader Tom Mulcair.

The party also is organizing mailouts and sponsoring a "roll up the red carpet" petition that calls on Ottawa "to abolish the unelected, unaccountable Senate once and for all."

Julian, who represents Burnaby-New Westminster, says, "I have not encountered a single person in my riding who is defending the Senate. Not even one!"

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, stated her own preference for abolition on becoming Liberal leader in 2011, telling reporters: "We don't really need a Senate."

In her first face-to-face with Stephen Harper, she advanced her view that B.C. ought to have a proper complement of 10 senators.

Clark has said, only if abolition is not possible would she favour an alternative of electing senators.

But an elected Senate would be the worst possible option for B.C., conferring greater legitimacy on an institution that badly shortchanges British Columbians on representation.

B.C.'s government has already tabled - but not yet passed - legislation to allow for Senate elections.

The move doubtless was a concession to Harper who has promoted a plan to appoint future senators from lists of candidates elected in their own provinces, and to impose term limits on senators.

The PM is awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on a reference his government made last year on the legality of reforming or abolishing the upper house.

It's widely assumed that deep-sixing the $92 million a year body, would require constitutional change, based on agreement of seven provinces with 50 per cent of the population, or perhaps all 10 provinces.

The issue has become more prominent following a spring spending scandal involving one Liberal and three Conservative senators, all forced to quit their respective caucuses to sit as Independents.

Despite embracing Senate reform since 2006, Harper has continued appointing senators - 59 at last count.

At present, three seats are vacant - in B.C., Manitoba and Ontario.

Julian, sipping coffee at a Kerrisdale café, told me he believes "we've reached the stage where you have growing public support across the country for abolition. So, we believe the provinces would do the right thing."

He noted Conservative Premier Brad Wall, in Saskatchewan, supports the abolition option, as do NDP Premiers Greg Selinger, in Manitoba, and Darryl Dexter, in Nova Scotia.

The NDP has no members in the Senate since it never elected a prime minister or had the advantage of patronage largesse.

The federal party wants to deploy Senate abolition as a wedge issue in an election anticipated in 2015.

Julian says he knows of several NDPers - Stanley Knowles and Lorne Nystrom among them - who've been invited to become senators but said no, in keeping with the party's longstanding position.

Lillian Dyck, an aboriginal neuroscientist from Saskatchewan appointed by Paul Martin in 2005, sat as an "Independent New Democrat" until 2009, when she joined the Liberals. The NDP refused her entry into their caucus.

New Democrats would be smart to spotlight the Senate issue in B.C., lighting a match here in hopes of having the flames spread east.


[email protected] ILLUS: Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press Files / NDP MP Peter Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster) says British Columbians have the best reason for junking the Senate: The province has the worst per-capita upper-chamber representation.

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