May 25th, 2024

Senate can be a powerful tool for Alberta


By Letter to the Editor on October 7, 2021.

Editor:
True and lasting reform may be a long way off still but we are taking steps in the right direction
This year, I reached a point in my career and life where I knew I wanted to do more, for Alberta and all Canadians.
And so I decided to channel decades of governance experience with Western Canadian agriculture organizations, and running my own grain farm business, into something a little bit different: federal politics.
To some of my friends and family, this seemed like an odd choice, especially as the Canadian Senate has faced much criticism and a troubled reputation over the last decade.
Many Albertans of voting age probably remember spending scandals associated with Canadian Senators in their lifetimes. They probably also recall calls for major reform to the Senate, as well as calls from Federal leaders for its complete abolishment.
In light of this, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to many Albertans to see a 2018 Nanos study show that nearly half of Canadians had negative impressions of the Canadian Senate.
But I am not one of them.
In my governance roles in the national agriculture world in the last two decades, most recently serving as Chair of the Grain Growers of Canada, I have served as a liaison between Canadian farmers and all levels of government – including the Senate. Through this experience I have witnessed firsthand the ability of the Senate to effectively work to make changes happen.
For example, in 2018 I was part of a coalition of agriculture organizations pushing to reform the Transportation Modernization Act (Bill C-49), which had not been amended in almost 50 years despite the major changes without our industry over that time. That bill was passed largely because our coalition had the support of pro-active members of the Senate who had taken the time to really understand the needs of our industry and why this Bill was critical to the future of our export programs.
Another example is Bill C-208, which was introduced in 2020 to reduce the impact of tax implications for transferring small businesses within families. Again, several agriculture groups that I was part of had worked closely with the Senate in advance to showcase how much the proposed higher tax rates for farm family transfers would affect Canadian farmers, and this made all the difference. A good cross-section of senators took the time to really understand our perspective and potential impacts to the Canadian economy and as a result voted in favour of the Bill, rushing it through before an election was called.
Before my work in governance, I also didn’t fully understand the power of the Canadian Senate. I didn’t know senators had access to tools to help develop deep understanding of important issues for Canadians, that they could call emergency debates, that all Bills must go through three rounds of review in the Senate before becoming law. I also didn’t know Senators could introduce their own Bills or that at each sitting, Senators bring forward issues that are relevant to Canadians but aren’t on the agenda for the day. The Senate has much more power and resources than I ever imagined.
And now, especially, I feel optimistic about the Canadian Senate and specifically, Alberta’s role within in.
Alberta is allotted six Senate seats, currently there is one vacancy, and with the upcoming resignation of Senator Doug Black in late October we will have two Senate seats available. Alberta, since 1989, has had five senators who were elected by Albertans appointed to the Senate. Most recently in 2013 Senators Doug Black and Scott Tannas, were both appointed after being elected by Albertans.
Our representation diversified after 2015, when Prime Minister Trudeau established the Independent Advisory Board for Senate – an attempt to make the body more diverse and effective in representing Canadians from all walks of life.
Since then 52 new senators have been appointed through this independent process. (Last June, I submitted my application through this advisory board.)
In the upcoming Alberta election on Oct. 18, Albertans will vote for three Senate nominees who may be summoned to the Senate of Canada.
These are all positive developments.
The Senate is not perfect. I don’t think there’s much disagreement right now of the importance of having a non-partisan and richly diverse Canadian Senate. I strongly believe that the Senate needs to show fair representation from all walks of life in Canada.
The agriculture industry – a true cornerstone of the Canadian economy – must be represented. So, too, should Alberta’s rich and diverse heritage.
True and lasting reform may be a long way off still. But we are taking steps in the right direction.
And now all Albertans have a role to play. Like most governing bodies, the Canadian Senate only works when it has the right people powering it – and that is everyone’s responsibility.
Which is why, as we approach the Alberta election this fall, I urge all Albertans to believe in the power and potential of the Canadian Senate and to ensure that you are voting with hope and optimism in your heart – for our province, our future generations, and our great democracy.
Jeff Nielsen
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Southern Albertan

….a reminder of how we have amazing women from Alberta who are Senators, Paula Simons, from the Independent Senators Group and the most recent, Karen Sorensen who is non-affiliated, and, Patti LaBoucane-Benson, also non-affiliated. The men, Douglas Black is from the CSG (Conservative), as is Scott Tannas. Jason Kenney was not happy with Karen Sorensen’s appointment, despite her being an excellent choice.
Just because there is a vote for Senators in Alberta does not mean that any would be selected. An elected Senate would mean opening up the Constitution, which is not going to happen. Hopefully the appointees for Alberta will be progressive choices, much more likely from Trudeau as compared to Harper. I voted already, only for Duncan Kinney, not expecting him to be appointed, but because I considered it to be a poke in the eye for Jason Kenney. 🙂