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British Columbians could vote for federal senators under bill introduced at Legislature today

Mar 07 2012

British Columbians could log on to the Internet and vote for their own federal senators later this year, under a bill introduced in the legislature Tuesday.

The province would be split into six senatorial districts — including one for Vancouver Island — with the names of winning candidates submitted to the Canadian government for appointment to the Senate, said Liberal MLA John Les, who introduced the bill.

"This is important legislation," Les said. "It enhances democracy in Canada. It gives the public a role in selecting senators, in this case replacing a process that I think most people would find quite repugnant, which is simply having people selected by the Prime Minister."

Most of the voting would be done on the Internet, and B.C.'s chief electoral officer has been asked to find a safe way to create an online voting system, said Les. If that's not possible by the first election, then the province would use mail-in ballots, he said.

It's hoped the federal government would reimburse B.C. for the cost of holding such elections, said Les.

Federal minister of state for democratic reform, Tim Uppal, said he supports B.C.'s bill and called moving to elected senators "the right thing to do."

If passed, Les said, the first election could occur in November, when B.C. Sen. Gerry St. Germain is expected to retire.

The bill contains a campaign spending limit of $300,000, and allows nominees to run as independents or members of political parties.

Les introduced the Senate election bill to the legislature Tuesday as a private members' bill, which rarely passes into law. But he insisted he has "broad support" in government caucus.

Premier Christy Clark supports the bill, and is keen to see more private members' bills, such as Les's, passed into law, a spokesperson in her office said.

Clark has said the Senate should be abolished, but if that isn't constitutionally possible, then there should at least be provincial participation in appointments.

This is the second time Les has pushed for elected senators. His first bill, last June, didn't make it through the legislature before summer break.

Alberta has held senatorial elections since 1989, resulting in three appointments.

The Opposition NDP said it doesn't support the idea.

"I don't believe we'll be supporting a bill designed to perpetuate an institution that is absolutely opposed to the interests of British Columbians," said NDP House leader John Horgan.

"Our party position is abolition, and that's where we are at."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's senate reform bill, which would limit senate terms to nine years and establish voluntary election guidelines for provinces, remains before the House of Commons.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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