I’m not electioneering, says stumping Toews

If the Canadian Senate can’t be reformed, then scrap it, says Treasury Board president Vic Toews.

If the Canadian Senate can’t be reformed, then scrap it, says Treasury Board president Vic Toews.

Conservatives want to elect senators for eight-year terms, according to their platform.

“We want to make the Senate more accountable, more relevant,” said Toews, speaking to media after a luncheon on Monday.

“If that fails, we need to seriously look as to whether we really need a Senate.”

His comments come a week after the Conservatives passed a confidence motion demanding the Senate pass an omnibus crime bill by March 1.

Liberal MPs walked out of the House before the vote.

The bill calls for mandatory sentences for violent crimes and raises the age of consent from 14 to 16.

Despite the successful motion, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office suggests the government could fall if the bill is not passed in the unelected Senate, which the 2006 Conservative platform calls ineffective and undemocratic.

Commentators and opposition MPs believe it’s one in a series of attempts to engineer an election.

The fate of the government is not in the hands of the Senate, said Toews.

“We passed legislation in the House of Commons that is now being stalled by a Liberal-dominated Senate,” he said.

“Prime Minister Harper has said this is a confidence issue, that bill is passed or we will go to the people.”

Toews spoke at a Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce luncheon, covering topics from the Northern Allowance, interprovincial trade pacts, the gun registry and government spending practices.

Several spending announcements were also made Monday.

Small Business and Tourism secretary of state Diane Ablonczy is expected in Whitehorse Friday for a series of appearances and funding announcements.

Two ministers touring the North and opening the purse strings does not imply a pre-election effort, said Toews.

“We’ve been doing this for two years.”

“We will rule as a government until October 2009 unless the Opposition pulls the plug on us.

“These series of announcements are fairly standard. We do this as government ministers right across Canada.”

Toews’ speech detailed his department’s role in improving spending and management habits of the entire federal government.

It’s important the government doesn’t impede private-sector growth or burden families with high taxes, he said.

“We help those who need a hand up, but we encourage them to stand up on their own feet, too,” said Toews.

The Conservative government has reduced the GST by two per cent since coming to power in 2006.

Business and income tax cuts introduced by the Conservatives have reduced the tax burden by $200 billion, according to the party’s website.

Some in the audience wondered how the government can continue with surplus budgets when it mixes massive tax cuts with sluggish economic growth.

“In good times you can make major cuts to government revenues, but when it comes to hard times, like now with thousands of people losing jobs, then what money do you have in the kitty to deal with that?” said Liberal MP Larry Bagnell.

A theme of fiscal prudence doesn’t fit the minority Conservative government, he said.

Government spending on programming rose faster than the GDP in 2007.

“This is the biggest-spending government in history,” said Bagnell.

“Conservative voters assume they want to cut government, but it’s always a surprise.”

To improve spending effectiveness, new and existing government expenditures are undergoing a four-year review, said Toews.

Each department is identifying the lowest five per cent performers for the Treasury Board, which will then determine what programs get cut and which ones stay.

One area where spending will increase in the environment: Ottawa is more interested in the North than ever before because of sovereignty and military issues, said Toews.

The extra attention also shines a light on environmental problems like climate change.

“This is a global issue but the impact of climate change will be much more apparent in the North,” said Toews.

The government is moving towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, he added.