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Politics Saskatchewan passes motion calling for Senate abolition, repeals law for electing nominees

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

PETER POWER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Saskatchewan has repealed legislation that would have allowed for the election of Senate nominees and passed a motion calling for the abolition of the Red Chamber.

Premier Brad Wall said the Senate has "failed the test of being effective."

"You know in rural Saskatchewan when a building is falling down, sometimes you can't save it, sometimes you've got to knock it down completely and rebuild," Wall said Wednesday after the votes.

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"And there are members of our caucus, I think, that are interested in the possibility there. But the point is you have to abolish it first before you can rebuild it."

The Premier said many senators have done great work, but he argued there are problems with the nature of the institution. Senators may tow a political party line in Ottawa and that may not be in the best interest of the province they represent, said Wall.

"It's the way it is. And if that's the way it is – and it's intractable in that way – it needs to go," he said.

The law was passed in 2009 and allows for elections to choose names to be put forward to the prime minister for Senate consideration. However, no election was ever held in Saskatchewan.

The motion is largely symbolic and is not a proposed constitutional amendment.

Wall said the province could consider a constitutional motion in the future, but he wants to hear what Canada's highest court has to say first. The federal government has asked the Supreme Court of Canada to give its opinion on how to achieve change in the Red Chamber, an opinion that might not come for another year.

The Premier has said he believes most people in Saskatchewan agree that the Senate no longer serves any useful purpose and is not worth the $100-million in taxpayer money spent on it each year.

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Wall had been a proponent of Senate reform, but said this spring that he no longer believes meaningful reform is possible.

Nova Scotia and Manitoba have also said the Senate should be scrapped.

"We don't see the need to retain the Senate in its present form. We think it should be abolished and all the political parties in Manitoba support that," Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said Wednesday.

Saskatchewan New Democrats, who have long pushed for an end to the upper chamber, supported the vote to repeal the Senate Election Act and the motion in favour of abolishing the Senate.

"It's a good thing for Saskatchewan and I hope this is part of a bigger discussion that we'll have in the country about the right steps to take on abolishing the Senate," Saskatchewan NDP Leader Cam Broten said Wednesday.

"Now it's about the discussions that need to occur with other provinces and widening the political support in other provinces for this type of initiative. I think Canadians are there and it's not simply because we're outraged by current scandals.

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"I think Canadians really do want the most democratic institution that we can have when we think of the federal government and abolition is the right way to go."

Wall tried get his provincial and territorial counterparts on board at a premier's summit in July, but the effort fell flat.

He said the motion passed Wednesday is simply a statement of Saskatchewan's official position on the Senate, not a push to other provinces.

"We're not renting a campaign bus. We're not going across the country to campaign for the abolition of the Senate, but we're making our case known and in an unequivocal way, I think, with this motion," said Wall.

"We have other issues that are more important."

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