National Post: Alberta is about to elect who they want to represent them in the Senate. Will Trudeau listen?
Albertans are set to make their voices heard on who they want representing them in the Senate, but it is unclear if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is prepared to listen.
The province is hosting a Senate election on Oct. 18, corresponding with a referendum on Canada’s equalization program and municipal elections being held across the province. There are 13 candidates on the ballot, three associated with the Conservative party, three associated with the People’s Party of Canada and seven independents.
Albertans will vote for up to three senators and Premier Jason Kenney has said he will recommend Trudeau appoint them to the Senate to fill one current vacancy for Alberta, as well as a second vacancy expected when Sen. Doug Black steps down at the end of October.
Under the current rules, senators can serve until they turn 75. If all of the current Alberta senators stay on until that age there will be no further vacancies for 13 years.
But Trudeau is under no legal obligation to respect that election and in July appointed former Banff mayor Karen Sorensen to the Senate. In a statement, Trudeau’s office avoided the question of whether he would appoint the winner of the election and instead touted the Liberals independent advisory board.
“The board evaluates candidates based on public, merit-based criteria, in order to identify Canadians who could make a significant contribution to the work of the Senate. The criteria helps to ensure a high standard of integrity, collaboration and non-partisanship in the Senate,” read a statement from his office.
Constitutionally, senators have to be at least 30 years old and own $4,000 worth of property. The Liberal government’s rules require candidates to have knowledge of the Senate, a strong history of leadership in their field and a record of non-partisanship. The government’s process also looks out for candidates from diverse backgrounds.
Harrison Fleming, Kenney’s press secretary said the Liberals’ process is no substitute for elections.
“Democracy is clearly superior to the supposedly ‘independent’ appointment process that more often than not happens to result in individuals who agree with the prime minister’s agenda being appointed to the Senate,” he said.
One of the Senate candidates, Erika Barootes, was the first president of Alberta’s United Conservative Party. She said the Senate is not representing Alberta well.
“We’re getting away from it being a regional voice and advocating for all Albertans as opposed to the individual that appointed them,” she said. “The best way to fix something is from the inside.”
Barootes points to anti-pipeline and anti-oil tanker legislation that passed through the Senate and hurt Alberta’s energy industry. She said Trudeau’s decision to appoint Sorensen while this election was underway was an insult.
“Many Albertans that I spoke with felt it was a slap to the face that he appointed someone even though we had a clear process in place and asked him to respect us.”
Alberta is the only province that runs Senate elections, five of the previous winners have been appointed to the red chamber, but always under Conservative prime ministers.
Barootes said Alberta’s approach could be a model for other provinces.
“The other provinces can see and we will lead by example by showing how effective senators that are elected and accountable to their constituents can truly be in the Senate.”
Barootes is 35, potentially allowing her to sit in the Senate for 40 years, but she said she has no intention of staying for decades and would want to set up term limits.
Among the other candidates is the province’s former finance minister, Doug Horner, and an independent, Duncan Kinney, who argues the Senate election is merely an attempt to bring out more Conservative-minded supporters for municipal elections.
Sunil Sookram, another independent on the ballot, is a former military reservist and physician. He said he believes his background will allow him to help with important issues like medically assisted dying, foreign affairs and immigration.
“I want to contribute to that national conversation. I lived the immigrant experience and that is the future of Canada: immigrants coming in, assimilating and being successful Canadians, and I have done that.”
Sookram said it would be a mistake for Trudeau to ignore this election, and he should take the opportunity to build a bridge to Alberta.
“There’s a number of issues that are building, Western alienation is real and Albertans feel like they’re left out of the national process.”