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If scandal has set the train rolling to abolishing the Senate, then Prince Edward Island is the little province that won't.
At least, it won't without the truck and trade of a constitutional negotiation that would give it something else: the guarantee of more seats in the House of Commons.
"I would be a fool to give up any of the influence that we have in Ottawa, and I'm not going to allow that to happen," Premier Robert Ghiz said in an interview.
Two events this week will shape the prospects of abolishing the Senate any time soon. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Canada will start three days of hearings over what, and whom, it would take to radically change it. On Friday, premiers will meet in Toronto, and after Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall introduced a resolution to abolish the federal Red Chamber last Wednesday, the subject will garner chatter.
In both places, it seems likely, brakes will be applied to the movement for abolishing the Senate. If anything, the path to an elected Senate, torturous constitutional talks and all, is probably easier than abolition. Mr. Ghiz thinks so.
He knows the Senate is wildly unpopular. The expenses scandal has been high profile in the province Senator Mike Duffy is supposed to represent. But the PEI Premier insists that won't get him to budge on abolition, unless the province gets a quid pro quo. Perhaps, he said, that could be a guarantee of a base level of seats in the Commons.
The Constitution guarantees PEI four MPs and four senators. "I look at it like this: If you take the upper house and the lower house, Prince Edward Island has eight members," Mr. Ghiz said. "If the upper chamber goes, we're down to four. And we know in the House of Commons, the [number of] seats are increasing, therefore our influence is diminishing."
Here's what that would mean: new constitutional talks that would guarantee more seats for PEI in the Commons. Every province would have a veto in abolition talks, in Mr. Ghiz's opinion, and some might raise other issues. That would make abolition an unlikely prospect.
Does it matter if Mr. Ghiz digs in his heels? Very likely.
The Supreme Court will soon answer that question. PEI and many other provinces will argue that abolishing the Senate requires the approval of all 10 provinces. In a recent ruling, the Quebec Court of Appeal agreed.
The real arbiter is the Supreme Court, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government is sending lawyers there this week to argue Ottawa can hold elections for senators without provincial approval, or abolish the Senate with the approval of seven provinces that together have more than 50 per cent of the country's population – the so-called 7/50 formula.
But few legal experts expect them to win. It seems hard to beat the Quebec Court of Appeal's reasoning. It said electing senators amounts to changing the "method of selecting senators," which the Constitution states can be done only with the 7/50 formula. And because the Constitution says some amendments require the approval of all 10 provinces, plus both the Commons and the Senate, abolishing the Senate also requires the approval of all 10 provinces.
If the Supreme Court finds it takes all provinces to abolish the Senate, there are several, including Quebec, that might stand in the way. Some abolition advocates, such as federal Tourism Minister Maxime Bernier, have floated the idea of a referendum – presumably as a means of using the public's dislike of the Senate to apply political pressure to the premiers.
"And my position would not change," Mr. Ghiz said.
Mr. Ghiz said he'd like an elected Senate. Preferably a Triple-E Senate, with equal seats for all provinces, but he knows that's a non-starter for Ontario and Quebec. He'd be okay with electing the current number of senators for each province. That would probably require the approval of just seven provinces. But it is Western provinces, which have fewer senators per person than Atlantic provinces, that don't like the current breakdown. Can anyone imagine Mr. Harper making a Senate-reform deal without them?
Maybe, Mr. Ghiz said, there's some other idea. Either way, it requires a first ministers conference, he said. It's Mr. Harper's priority, not the premiers': "I think the real question is, does the Prime Minister have the political will to sit down with the provinces to have these discussions?"
Campbell Clark is a columnist in The Globe's Ottawa bureau.