Alberta Senate nominee elections

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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]


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.[2]

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 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.[3]

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.[4] The Government said the move would save Albertans the cost of the election.[5] 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.[6] 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,[6] 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.[6]


Nominees elected[edit]

Election Nominee Nominating party Appointed Senate caucus Served until
1989 Stan Waters     Reform Green tickY Jun 11, 1990     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 Conservative Mar 22, 2013
Betty Unger Progressive Conservative Green tickY Jan 6, 2012 Conservative Incumbent
Cliff Breitkreuz Progressive Conservative Red XN
Link Byfield Independent Red XN
2012 Doug Black Progressive Conservative Green tickY Jan 25, 2013 Conservative (2013-2016) Incumbent
Independent (2016–present)
Scott Tannas Progressive Conservative Green tickY Mar 25, 2013 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. ^ Bill Curry; Brian Laghi (2008-05-19). "Saskatchewan plans to elect senators". Globe and Mail. 
  2. ^ Fedio, Chloe (11 June 2015). "NDP Leader Tom Mulcair says he'll seek mandate for Senate abolition". CBC News. Retrieved 17 October 2015. 
  3. ^ "Harper appoints Albertan senator-in-waiting". CBC News Online. 2007-04-18. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ "Alberta continues to lead on Senate reform". Government of Alberta. April 29, 2010. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. 
  6. ^ a b c Jason Fekete (April 29, 2010). "Senators-in-waiting slam Alberta extension". Calgary Herald. Archived from the original on April 26, 2014. 

External links[edit]