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Ottawa says Alberta's senate elections will not give Mike Shaikh an edge when it comes to appointments. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Ottawa says Alberta's senate elections will not give Mike Shaikh an edge when it comes to appointments. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Former Calgary Police Commission chair sets sights on Senate seat Add to ...

The board that has been struck to suggest names of future Canadian senators is not bound to honour the senatorial elections that have been held in Alberta, but the remaining senator-elect in that province says he hopes he is being considered.

There are questions about whether Calgary accountant Mike Shaikh will still officially be in Alberta’s queue for a Senate appointment when Betty Unger, the next Alberta senator to retire, steps down in August, 2018. Mr. Shaikh was the third-place candidate in the 2012 senate elections – the first- and second-place candidates have already been named to the Senate – and the senator-elect terms last six years.

But Mr. Shaikh, a past chair of the Calgary Police Commission whose résumé includes stints on the boards of many corporations and non-profit organizations, says the wishes of Alberta have been made clear.

“I will respect the decision of the Prime Minister because it is the decision of the Prime Minister,” Mr. Shaikh said. Although the advisory board will recommend the names of prominent Canadians who are deemed to be worthy of a Senate appointment, the final decision will ultimately be up to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

But, “I believe the Albertans have spoken for me, over 300,000 people have spoken for me,” Mr. Shaikh said, adding that his extensive professional expertise and community service leave him well-qualified for the job.

The government, however, says Mr. Shaikh’s election will not give him an edge. Senators will be named through “a non-partisan appointments process based on merit criteria, not on an election process,” said a spokesman for Maryam Monsef, the Minister of Democratic Institutions.

Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal government was elected at a time when Canadians’ esteem for the Senate was possibly at its lowest historical ebb.

Mike Duffy, a senator appointed by former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, was – and still is – being tried on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery related to his Senate expenses. Retired Liberal senator Mac Harb is awaiting trial.

And 30 more members of the chamber are being investigated for possible spending improprieties.

Almost two years ago, as Liberal Leader, Mr. Trudeau distanced himself from the problems in the “other House” by releasing all Liberal senators to sit as independents.

Now, as Prime Minister, he is attempting to create more independent senators by obtaining input from the new Senate advisory board, the members of which were named earlier this week.

But Alberta Senator Scott Tannas, who was elected as a Progressive Conservative senator-in-waiting in 2012, said elections are also a good way of obtaining public input on senatorial appointments.

“I’m certain that Albertans would rather vote using their own judgment than have a panel of unelected folks do the choosing or proposing of senators, but that’s the way we Albertans are – we have confidence in our own individual judgment,” Mr. Tannas said in an e-mail.

And “I think it would be difficult to find a more qualified and eminent Albertan than the elected senator-in-waiting Mike Shaikh.”

Even so, Mr. Tannas said he is willing to see what comes out of the advisory-board process.

“It’s been presented as a genuine attempt to support change and renewal for the Senate of Canada, and I’m a big supporter of change and renewal,” he said. “So are the vast majority of my colleagues in the Senate.”

Doug Black, another elected Alberta senator, said through his executive assistant that he believes elections are the best way of filling Senate seats because they create the most accountable representatives. But, like Mr. Tannas, Mr. Black said he is willing to see how the new process unfolds before passing judgment.

Ms. Unger, a long-time advocate for Senate reform, said she really did not expect the Liberal government to take her province’s electoral process into consideration as new senators are appointed.

Former Liberal prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin were willing to overlook the senators-elect in Alberta, including herself, when they were naming people to the Red Chamber, even though that brush-off “outraged” Albertans, Ms. Unger said.

Her major concern with the new process, she said, is that it will create independent senators who are not accountable to the government or to anyone else. “What if they decide to block government legislation? What then?” she asked.

Rather than going halfway toward Senate reform, Ms. Unger said it is time for political leaders to have the courage to open the Constitution and do the full job.

The idea that it is impossible to achieve a constitutional amendment to reform the Senate because it would require the consent of seven provinces representing at least 50 per cent of the population “has been blown out of proportion,” she said.

“Why can’t we? Why can we not fix this archaic institution that is the scorn of most Canadians?”

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