Alberta Senate nominee elections

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The Senate chamber.

Alberta was, between 1989 and 2012, 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 were non-binding, as the appointment of Senators remained the responsibility of the Governor General of Canada on the advice of the Prime Minister. The process ultimately resulted in ten[1] elected nominees, five of whom were appointed to the Senate. The legislation enabling Senate nominee elections expired in 2016, but two elected Senators (Doug Black and Scott Tannas) still hold their seats.


Senate nominee elections were initially held under the auspices of 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 provincial government of Ralph Klein then amended the act to hold elections for Senate nominees in advance of vacancies. The amended Senatorial Selection Act required the government to predict how many Alberta vacancies may exist in the Senate (due to the mandatory retirement of Senators at the age of 75) in the next six years.

From 1998 onward, Senate nominees were elected for six-year terms as a protest to push for Senate reform. Whenever a vacancy arose in the Senate from Alberta, the Alberta government formally requested that the Prime Minister advise the Governor General to appoint the nominee. This request was only sometimes heeded: Stephen Harper and Brian Mulroney recommended elected nominees for appointment, while Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, and Justin Trudeau did not. No vacancies occurred during the Kim Campbell government.

In May 2008, the government of Saskatchewan announced plans to hold similar elections,[2] passing a law allowing for elections the following year. However, in 2013 the province abandoned its plans before holding any such elections, repealing the law and instead calling for the Senate to be abolished.[3]

The New Democratic Party formed government in Alberta after the 2015 election, and due to its long-standing policy supporting Senate abolition, allowed the Senatorial Selection Act to expire in 2016.[4] Since taking office in 2015, the Trudeau government at the federal level has formalized a new selection process for the Senate, which does not accommodate provincial Senate elections.[5] Jason Kenney, leader of the opposition United Conservative Party, has promised to restore Senate elections if his party wins the 2019 provincial election.[6]

List of Senate nominee elections[edit]


No political party contested all four of Alberta's Senate nominee elections. In 1989 and 1998, all of the seats up for election were won by the Reform Party of Alberta, a provincial counterpart to the Reform Party of Canada which was set up solely to run candidates in Senate nominee elections. It disbanded in 2004.

The candidate of the governing Progressive Conservatives, Bert Brown, placed third in the inaugural election in 1989. This led the party to tacitly endorse the Reform candidates in 1998 rather than field its own. However, Progressive Conservatives would win most of the seats up for election in 2004 and 2012.

Although the Alberta Liberal Party did run a candidate in the 1989 Senatorial election when an appointment was guaranteed, it 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 consistently called for the Senate's complete abolition.[7]

The Alberta Alliance and its successor, the Wildrose Party, contested the 2004 and 2012 elections, but failed to win any seats.

All four elections were contested by independent candidates, with Link Byfield winning the last Senator-in-waiting seat up for grabs in 2004 (although he was never appointed to the Senate). The 2012 nominee election was also contested by one candidate from the Evergreen Party of Alberta.

Debate and controversies[edit]

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.

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.

Former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper supported the election of 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.[8]

Then-Premier Ed Stelmach announced on April 29, 2010, that it was extending the terms of the three senators-in-waiting elected in 2004 beyond November 22, 2010, to December 2, 2013, unless elections were called earlier.[9] The Government said the move would save Albertans the cost of the election.[10] 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.[11] 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,[11] 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.[11]

Senate nominee election results[edit]

Nominees elected[edit]

Election Nominee Nominating party Appointed Prime Minister Senate caucus Served until
1989 Stan Waters     Reform Green tickY Jun 11, 1990     Brian Mulroney     Reform Sept 25, 1991
1998 Bert Brown Reform Red XN
Ted Morton Reform Red XN
2004 Bert Brown Progressive Conservative Green tickY Jul 10, 2007     Stephen Harper Conservative Mar 22, 2013
Betty Unger Progressive Conservative Green tickY Jan 6, 2012     Stephen Harper Conservative Aug 20, 2018
Cliff Breitkreuz Progressive Conservative Red XN
Link Byfield Independent Red XN
2012 Doug Black Progressive Conservative Green tickY Jan 25, 2013     Stephen Harper Conservative (2013-2016) Incumbent
Independent Senators Group (2016–present)
Scott Tannas Progressive Conservative Green tickY Mar 25, 2013     Stephen Harper Conservative Incumbent
Mike Shaikh Progressive Conservative Red XN

Results by Party[edit]

Party 1989 1998 2004 2012
Votes % Elected Votes % Elected Votes % Elected Votes % Elected
      Progressive Conservative 127,638 20.5% 0 / 1 1,276,224 58.6% 3 / 5 1,089,093 40.5% 3 / 3
Reform 259,292 41.7% 1 / 1 606,892 68.1% 2 / 2
Liberal 139,809 22.5% 0 / 1
Alliance / Wildrose 500,284 23.0% 0 / 3 847,470 31.5% 0 / 3
Evergreen 149,844 5.6% 0 / 1
Independent 94,874 15.3% 0 / 3 284,691 31.9% 0 / 2 399,833 18.4% 1 / 2 604,393 22.5% 0 / 6


  1. ^ Only 9 individuals were elected; Bert Brown was elected twice.
  2. ^ Bill Curry; Brian Laghi (2008-05-19). "Saskatchewan plans to elect senators". The Globe and Mail.
  3. ^ Graham, Jennifer (November 6, 2013). "Saskatchewan passes motion calling for Senate abolition, repeals law for electing nominees". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2018-09-12.
  4. ^ Cournoyer, Dave (December 13, 2016). "Senatorial Selection Act | – Alberta Politics". Retrieved 2018-09-12.
  5. ^ "Trudeau's Senate appointments plan backed by advice from Justice Dept. | CBC News". CBC. Oct 28, 2015. Retrieved 2018-09-12.
  6. ^ Bennett, Dean (February 14, 2019). "UCP's Jason Kenney pitches fixed vote date, changes to tax rules ahead of spring election". Global News. Retrieved February 26, 2019. He said the UCP would also bring back elections for so-called senators-in-waiting and impose a $30,000 limit on how much an individual can contribute to a political action committee.
  7. ^ Fedio, Chloe (11 June 2015). "NDP Leader Tom Mulcair says he'll seek mandate for Senate abolition". CBC News. Retrieved 17 October 2015.
  8. ^ "Harper appoints Albertan senator-in-waiting". CBC News Online. 2007-04-18.
  9. ^ Jason Fekete (April 29, 2010). "Alberta to forego new round of Senate nominee elections: Stelmach". Calgary Herald. Archived from the original on 2010-05-01.
  10. ^ "Alberta continues to lead on Senate reform". Government of Alberta. April 29, 2010. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011.
  11. ^ a b c Jason Fekete (April 29, 2010). "Senators-in-waiting slam Alberta extension". Calgary Herald. Archived from the original on April 26, 2014.

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