New Democrat Leader Thomas Mulcair is once again taking his party’s Senate abolition campaign on the road.
The Official Opposition leader will visit four provinces this week as part of the NDP’s ongoing push to, as the campaign says, “roll up the red carpet” on the Senate.
As questions continue to swirl about Senate spending, the NDP – who has no senators – has seized the opportunity to reiterate its long-standing position on abolition, though Mr. Mulcair on Monday declined to specify how, precisely, he’d expect to pull off the feat.
“It’s hard to be a place of sober second thought when you’re drunk with entitlement and power… it’s time to abolish the Senate once and for all,” Mr. Mulcair said during a rally-like appearance at Parliament Hill Monday, in front of four fellow NDP MPs and cheering party supporters and staff.
The tour formally began Aug. 8 in PEI. It picks up again this week, when Mr. Mulcair will visit Halifax, the Greater Toronto Area, Montreal and several communities in British Columbia.
His comments come two weeks after the latest development in the Senate expense controversy – the release of an audit into the expenses of Pamela Wallin, who has now been asked to repay a total of $138,969 in expenses. Ms. Wallin and fellow former Conservatives Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau have all been ordered to repay claims. Senator Mac Harb, a former Liberal, has also been ordered to repay housing claims, though he’s fighting the order. In another case, former Liberal senator Raymond Lavigne was denied early parole this month after being convicted in 2011 of fraud for travel expenses.
The RCMP have been called in to investigate Mr. Brazeau, Mr. Duffy, Mr. Harb and Ms. Wallin, though no charges have been laid. All four have been audited by the Senate. They are all still senators but no longer sit in their party caucuses, a move the Liberals and Conservatives have relied on to try and distance themselves from the audits.
The scandals have turned Canadians’ eyes to the “unelected, unaccountable, undemocratic and under-investigation Senate” and stirred support for abolition, Mr. Mulcair said, noting the Senate will cost taxpayers $92.5-million this year.
“The unelected bagmen, defeated candidates and party hacks that now fill the Senate have so little useful impact on the way this country is run, we won’t even notice when they’re gone,” Mr. Mulcair said Monday.
He noted it was the Conservative-dominated Senate that, in 2010, killed a climate change bill sponsored by the NDP that had passed a vote in the House of Commons, saying it’s “not just undemocratic. It’s anti-democratic.”
“Unelected party hacks have no place writing or rewriting the laws of this country. It’s as simple as that,” Mr. Mulcair said Monday.
Mr. Mulcair did not, however, illustrate specifically how he planned on doing away with the Senate. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said through his office that the Senate must either change “or, like the old Upper Houses of our provinces, vanish.” But the rules on how it can change are murky. The Conservatives have turned to the Supreme Court for an opinion on what powers Parliament and the Prime Minister have to change the Senate, including abolition.
Mr. Mulcair hopes to meet with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall next month, when Mr. Mulcair is in Saskatchewan for a caucus “strategy session.” Mr. Wall is also pushing for Senate abolition, and has said he expects such a move would require the consent of at least some of the provinces. He expects to push through a declaration this fall, and has pledged to push other provinces to formally adopt their own positions on getting rid of the Senate.
In the meantime, Mr. Harper said last week he has “no immediate plans” to make any further appointments to the Senate, where his party has a majority. He has also said this month he will delay the return of the House of Commons in preparation for a new Throne Speech – a move that will, in effect, delay the return of Question Period. Mr. Mulcair has attacked Mr. Harper for “hiding” from Question Period, due in part to the Senate spending scandal.