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Re-appointed Conservative senator Fabian Manning is escorted into the Red Chamber during a Parliament Hill swearing-in ceremony on June 7, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Re-appointed Conservative senator Fabian Manning is escorted into the Red Chamber during a Parliament Hill swearing-in ceremony on June 7, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Breaking Ranks

Friendly fire erupts as Tory senators balk at Harper's term-limit plan Add to ...

A Conservative senator is blasting his caucus colleagues for opposing Prime Minister Stephen Harper's plans to reform the Red Chamber.

"Every senator in this caucus needs to decide where their loyalty should be and must be," Bert Brown wrote his Senate colleagues Wednesday.

"The answer is simple; our loyalty is to the man who brought us here, the man who has wanted Senate reform since he entered politics, the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper."

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The Harper government is considering changes to its plans to introduce legislation in the Senate that would permit the election of senators, provided provincial premiers agree, and would impose term limits on new and existing senators.

The government still plans to proceed with the legislation, but the Conservatives are moving toward introducing the bills in the House of Commons first.

Some senators appointed by Mr. Harper appear to object to the initial plan to limit senators to a single eight-year term, saying a longer tenure would ensure greater independence. Negotiations over what the actual term limit should be have grown heated, despite an apparent compromise that would set the limit at nine years.

According to Mr. Brown's letter, "[Democratic Reform]Minister [Tim]Uppal was showered with complaints about Senate elections and a nine-year term" during a meeting Tuesday of the Conservative Senate caucus.

Mr. Brown reminded his colleagues the Prime Minister had appointed a raft of Conservative senators in order to ensure that his plans for Senate reform overcome Liberal opposition.

If Conservative senators oppose the legislation it could fail to clear the Senate, in which case it would not become law.

The Harper appointments "were there to get a majority vote for reform," Mr. Brown reminded the Conservative caucus.

Mr. Brown was appointed to the Senate in 2007 after earlier senatorial elections in Alberta. He is a staunch advocate of Senate reform.

In a memorandum to supporters, Mr. Harper's office acknowledged reports of "internal opposition" to Senate reform.

But it affirmed "we will reintroduce legislation, for review, study, and passage by Parliament, to limit term lengths and to encourage provinces and territories to hold elections for Senate nominees."

Most premiers oppose the Conservative plans to permit senatorial elections with provincial consent. Quebec is threatening to take the government to court if the legislation passes.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said the controversy simply reflects the "confusion" within Conservative ranks over the legislation, which he said should be referred to the Supreme Court first in any case to determine if it is constitutional.

"There is a real problem with the way the government is proceeding," he told reporters outside the House of Commons.

Mr. Brown reminded his colleagues the Prime Minister had appointed a raft of Conservative senators in order to ensure that his plans for Senate reform overcame Liberal opposition.

If Conservative senators oppose the legislation, it could fail to clear the Red Chamber and become law.

The Harper appointments "were there to get a majority vote for reform," Mr. Brown reminded the Conservative caucus.

Mr. Brown was appointed to the Senate in 2007, after earlier senatorial elections in Alberta. He is a staunch advocate of Senate reform.

Most premiers oppose the Conservative plans to permit senatorial elections with provincial consent. Quebec is threatening to take the government to court if the legislation passes.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said the controversy simply reflects the "confusion" within Conservative ranks over the legislation, which he said should be referred to the Supreme Court first in any case to determine if it is constitutional.

"There is a real problem with the way the government is proceeding," he told reporters outside the House of Commons.

Follow us on Twitter: @JohnIbbitson, @janetaber1

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