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If Canada must have senators, Clark supports electing them

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said she supports Prime Minister Stephen Harper's proposal to have Canadian senators elected, but would prefer the senate to be abolished.

"If we're going to continue to have a senate, and I recognize it is very, very difficult to amend the constitution, then I think it should be elected so at least it's legitimate," Clark said this morning after being sworn in as an MLA and shortly before first taking her seat in the legislature.

Harper is prepared to introduce bills that would limit the terms for senators and allow for future senators to be elected.

When the issue came up three years ago, various political thinkers, including former Liberal leader Gordon Gibson and commentator Norman Spector, warned that a more legitimate senate would harm B.C.'s interests, The Tyee reported.

The province has six of 105 senate seats, despite having 13 percent of Canada's population. While a senator from New Brunswick represents 75,000 people, one from B.C. represents some 710,000 people, almost 10 times as many.

"Once you elect somebody, you give them authority, you give them legitimacy," then NDP house leader Mike Farnworth said at the time. "Once you get elected, you have a mandate."

Former Senator Pat Carney said, "A pre-condition is more equality in senate numbers . . . You can't have an elected senate if we only have six."

"It's not the best of all the options," said Clark when The Tyee asked about B.C.'s low representation in the senate. "The best of the options is to abolish the senate, but it's not a real option for this country because of the way constitutional reform works.

"The second best option is to make sure British Columbia's senators are truly representing British Columbia, and I think the best way to do that is to elect them."

Clark was expected to make her first speech since returning to the legislature shortly after 11 a.m. in response to a private members' bill supporting ship building in British Columbia.

Update, 11:50: Clark made that first speech in favour of a motion introduced by West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan: "Be it resolved that this House support the efforts of our federally-qualified marine contractor in acquiring contracts for building large vessels for the Canadian Navy and Coast Guard, recognizing that capitalizing on the $33 billion National Ship Procurement Strategy will expand British Columbia’s economy and shipbuilding expertise."

Members on both sides of the house spoke in favour of the motion. None of the three cabinet ministers Clark beat to win the Liberal leadership -- Kevin Falcon, George Abbott and Mike de Jong -- were in the house for the premier's speech. Nor was NDP leader Adrian Dix.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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