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Alberta Senate nominee elections


Alberta Senate nominee elections

The Senate chamber.

Alberta is the only Canadian province to elect nominees for appointment to the Senate of Canada in a process known as an Alberta Senate nominee election. These elections are non-binding as the appointment of senators is the jurisdiction of the federal government. The elections, however, are held under the auspices of the Alberta's Senatorial Selection Act of 1987, which was passed in response to a proposal under the Meech Lake Accord that would have required the federal government to appoint senators from lists provided by provincial governments.

After the failure of the Meech Lake and subsequent Charlottetown Accords, the federal government continued its traditional practice of appointing senators of its own volition. In 1998, the federal government of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien filled two vacancies in Alberta before an election could be held. The pro-Senate reform government of Ralph Klein amended the act in 1998 to hold elections for Senate nominees in advance of vacancies.

The amended Senatorial Selection Act looks six years ahead to see how many Alberta vacancies will exist in the Senate due to the mandatory retirement of senators at the age of 75. From 1998 onward, Senate nominees are elected for six year terms as a protest to push for senate reform. Whenever a vacancy arises in the senate from Alberta, the Albertan government formally requests that the Prime Minister advise the Governor General to appoint the Albertan nominees.

In May 2008, the government of Saskatchewan announced plans to hold similar elections.[1]


  • Controversy 1
  • Elections 2
  • Notes 3
  • External links 4


Senate reform is popular in Western Canada, where the provinces are under-represented in the House of Commons due to representation by population. However, nationally, Alberta's Senate elections are controversial.

Although Stan Waters, elected in the first Senate election of 1989, was appointed to the Senate by then-Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn, on the advice of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, in 1990, subsequently elected Senate nominees were not appointed until 2007 when another Conservative government was in power. Waters died in September 1991 and was replaced with the unelected Ron Ghitter, who wasn't even running in the senate election, meaning an elected senator sat for only 15 months. Moreover, former Prime Minister Paul Martin said he would not recommend for appointment any nominees elected in this fashion because he does not support "piecemeal" Senate reform. Detractors of the Senate nominee election argue that it is a waste of time and money without federal co-operation, although proponents blame federal arrogance for causing the Senate elections to seem useless and argue that Alberta should be given credit for embarrassing the prime minister and refusing to allow the issue of Senate reform to be relegated to the back-burner. The cost of the election is estimated at $3 million by the Albertan government.

Although the Alberta Liberal Party did run a candidate in the 1989 Senatorial election when an appointment was guaranteed, it has since refused to run any candidates in the 1998 and 2004 elections because that would have contradicted the policy of its federal counterpart. The Alberta New Democrats have never supported or contested Senate elections and refused to run candidates in this election - the federal NDP currently calls for the Senate's complete abolition.

In 2004, Bert Brown, Betty Unger and Cliff Breitkreuz, nominated by the Progressive Conservatives, and Link Byfield, an independent, won the election. The federal Liberal government then in office vowed to ignore the results.

All six incumbents initially rejected calls to resign in order to make room for an "elected" appointment. The current prime minister still has the option of directly advising the monarch to make additional appointments for Senators from Alberta, although that has only been done once before (in 1990 by then-Prime Minister Mulroney who used this prerogative to ensure the passage of the Goods and Services Tax). Such a move would also require the appointment of an equal number of additional Senators for Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime Provinces (although there would be nothing to stop the prime minister from balancing out the appointments by, say, ensuring that all of the "unelected" appointments were days away from turning 75).

Current Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper supports elected Senators. On April 17, 2007 veteran Liberal Senator Dan Hays announced he would retire from the Senate by the end of June. The next day, Harper announced that Bert Brown would fill Hays' seat.[2]

Then-Premier [3] The Government said the move would save Albertans the cost of the election.[4] The announcement came two days after the federal government introduced Senate election legislation and urged the other provinces to follow Alberta's lead in Senate reform.[5] Reaction from the incumbent senators-in-waiting was mixed. Independent Link Byfield panned the decision and has stated he would refuse an appointment without a new mandate. Betty Unger stated the term limits should be respected and fresh elections should be called that fall,[5] though she was ultimately appointed without new elections in 2012. All three incumbents and other pundits agreed that the move was made to help the Progressive Conservatives avoid an election loss to the Wildrose Alliance.[5]



  1. ^ Bill Curry; Brian Laghi (2008-05-19). "Saskatchewan plans to elect senators".  
  2. ^ "Harper appoints Albertan senator-in-waiting". CBC News Online. 2007-04-18. 
  3. ^ Jason Fekete (April 29, 2010). "Alberta to forego new round of Senate nominee elections: Stelmach". Calgary Herald. 
  4. ^ "Alberta continues to lead on Senate reform". Government of Alberta. April 29, 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c Jason Fekete (April 29, 2010). "Senators-in-waiting slam Alberta extension". Calgary Herald. 

External links

  • Alberta Department of Intergovernmental, International and Aboriginal Relations - Senate Nominee Elections
  • Elections Alberta - Senate Nominee Results
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