Mulroney Gets Queen’s Permission to Expand Senate By Eight Seats
OTTAWA (AP) _ Using an obscure constitutional provision, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney received permission Thursday from Queen Elizabeth II to appoint eight partisan senators to help push through a controversial tax.
The new lawmakers, who serve until age 75, bring the Senate to 112 seats and give Mulroney’s Conservative Party a majority in both the Senate and House of Commons.
The new members were sworn into office by the Senate clerk late Thursday, but will not take their seats until the chamber resumes work next week.
An opposition leader called Mulroney’s move ″an abuse of power″ and legal challenges loom. The only other similar request was in 1873, but the appeal was not granted.
The nation’s 1867 Constitution allows the British monarch to add four or eight members to the Senate on a request by the governor-general, the Canadian representative to the Commonwealth.
Mulroney used the measure as a last resort to save the 7 percent goods and services tax, stalled in the Liberal-dominated Senate. The Commons, dominated by Conservatives, supported the tax.
The proposed consumption tax would replace a 13 percent tax paid by manufacturers. Some basics, such as groceries, would be exempt from the tax, but it would affect even such services as a haircut.
Mulroney said the debate goes beyond the tax proposal to the principle of whether the elected Commons should prevail over the appointed Senate.
″The consequences for our parliamentary system are enormous,″ he said. ″What is at stake is one of the principles of our freedom. ″
John Haslam, a spokesman for the queen, said Elizabeth, as the constitutional monarch of the former British colony, followed the provisions of the Canadian Constitution in making the decision.
But even with the additional seats, the fate of the tax could rest on the votes of a handful of Independents.
Before Mulroney’s move, the Liberals held 52 seats and the Conservatives 46, with one Reform Party representative, four Independents and one Independent Liberal.
Over the last two months, Mulroney has filled 15 Senate vacancies with Conservative loyalists to narrow the gap.
Liberal leader Jean Chretien warned the public will not back Mulroney, whose popularity has dipped sharply in polls.
″When you are 15 percent in the polls and taking an abuse of power and stacking the Senate, he might find that he will not go very far politically with that,″ he said.
And Liberal Senate leader Allan MacEachen promised that the fight against the tax will intensify.
″It leaves me in an even more agressive mood,″ MacEachen said. ″We’ll continue the battle ... (But) unless all the Independents vote with us, we can’t defeat it.″
Also, legal challenges are threatened.
British Columbia has said it will contest Ottawa’s ability to create the extra Senate seats, Ontario has said it may join that campaign. Alberta has promised a separate challenge on some aspects of the tax.