Nunavut senator says he won’t quit after promised eight-year limit
“The promised Senate reforms have not materialized, so I’m not intending to step down”
Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson said March 14 that he won’t resign his seat this fall despite a promise he made in 2009 to quit the Senate after eight years.
Patterson, who was sworn in to the Senate on Sept. 15, 2009, is one of nine Conservative senators who Stephen Harper, then the prime minister, named to the Red Chamber in the late summer of that year.
All of those senators promised to serve only eight years, a period equal to the length of a term limit for senators that Harper wanted to legislate as part of a proposed Senate reform package.
But the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2014, that under the Constitution, the federal government cannot change the Senate without obtaining the consent of at least seven provinces with at least 50 per cent of the population.
Because the legislated eight-year term limit fizzled, Patterson told Nunatsiaq News he intends to remain in the position for as long as current rules allow.
“The current rules say that one must retire at 75,” Patterson said March 14 from Calgary.
“I turned 68 last December, so God willing, and with continued support with a lot of stakeholders in Nunavut, I’m looking forward to more progress in my job representing Nunavut in Ottawa.”
That means Patterson can legally remain in the Senate until his 75th birthday, in December 2023.
“I said I would step down in the term limit that would be proposed in the legislation, and said I was also open to the idea of holding the election [to the Senate] if that reform agenda is implemented,” Patterson said.
“The promised Senate reforms have not materialized, so I’m not intending to step down. I feel there’s a lot more work to do. I’m a member of three Senate committees, one of which just released a report on Inuit housing,” he said.
In the Nunavut legislative assembly March 13, Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Paul Okalik drew attention to Patterson’s 2009 promise by tabling a clipping of a Nunatsiaq Online article published Sept. 25, 2009.
The article reported on Patterson’s Senate appointment and quoted Patterson as saying he planned to step down after eight years.
Okalik raised the issue with Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna March 14 during question period.
Okalik asked if the Nunavut government supports the idea of holding elections to fill Nunavut’s seat in the senate, assuming Patterson were to resign after eight years.
Taptuna said Patterson has represented Nunavut as the territory’s senator “on the expectation that the prime minister was going to change the legislation, and have senators stay for eight years, then go to elections.”
“As far as I understand Mr. Speaker, I had no correspondence, no indication, no phone call from the prime minister at this point,” Taptuna answered.
“So I can’t speak to something I have no authority over. It’s a federal appointee.”
Okalik then suggested Nunavut could send a better representative to the Senate by means of an election.
“Can the premier urge [the federal government] to get an elected senator for Nunavut?”
But Taptuna said that as territorial premier he has “no say in selecting or even appointing senators.”
“If I do have a conversation with the prime minister, certainly I will bring that out,” he said, adding that Nunavut would have to change its own elections law to conform to “whatever legislation the federal government may put in place for senate reform.”
When told after question period March 14 that Patterson has no desire to give up his seat this September, Okalik said, “that’s rather unfortunate.”
“To have a senator appointed by a government that was voted out is not the most ideal condition because we need our voice to be heard,” he told Nunatsiaq News.
“I feel that the current senator has served his purpose, and we need to move on and elect our own senator.”
The push for better representation through an elected senate “has to come from somewhere,” Okalik added, “so that’s why I’m asking our government lead the charge.”