Armstrong prefers Senate reform, open to abolition

Andrew Wagstaff
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If efforts fail to make chamber accountable, 'other steps' need consideration

ADVOCATE HARBOUR – He supports reform and is open to abolition, but there is one option Scott Armstrong does not support for the Canadian Senate. It can’t stay the way it is now.

The Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit MP made his position known in an interview following a funding announcement here on Feb. 20, as the unelected upper chamber once again draws scrutiny from many Canadians, this time over questionable expense and residency claims by several Senators.

“I have a problem with the Senate – I always have – because it’s unaccountable,” said Armstrong. “It’s unelected, it’s appointed, and that’s nobody’s fault. That’s the way the Founding Fathers set it up in 1867.”

He said he supports the government’s proposed legislation to reform the Senate – Bill C-7, which would limit senators’ terms to nine years and would allow the provinces to hold elections to choose senators. The government has referred that legislation to the Supreme Court to seek clarification on its powers.

“I think if the Senate was structured properly – if it was elected – it actually could be useful,” he said. “However, it’s a difficult thing to do because, to really have a purely elected Senate, you have to have a constitutional amendment.”

Such an amendment would require approval from at least seven of the 10 provinces, and more than 60 per cent of the population. The last time it was attempted was the failed Charlottetown Accord of 1992.

Senators such as Mike Duffy, Mac Harb and the recently suspended Patrick Brazeau have come under fire recently for claiming living allowance costs for a “second residence” in the Ottawa region, when it appears they do not reside outside the region.

Armstrong made it clear that he believes the problem is with the system, and not the Senators themselves.

“Being up there since 2009, I can tell you there are many hardworking senators,” he said. “There are hardworking people up there doing good work, not just for our sake but on the other side as well, and the independents. They are very dedicated and accomplished people.”

Nevertheless, if reform of the institution cannot be achieved, he said abolition would be a viable option. He referred to Senator High Segal’s recent call for a referendum on the subject.

“If we cannot get legislation we can agree on through that provinces support, then we’re going to have to look at other steps,” said Armstrong. “That’s not the party position, that’s my position. The current stasis of the Senate has to change. It has to be accountable to the taxpayer if we’re going to move forward, and if we can’t get support we’re going to have to take other steps, and that might include abolishment.”

Organizations: Canadian Senate, Supreme Court

Geographic location: ADVOCATE HARBOUR, Ottawa

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