Halifax MP Megan Leslie says senators are so unimportant, she can’t even name all the ones from Nova Scotia. She doubts most people could.

“I am hard pressed to actually name the senators from Nova Scotia,” she said Monday in the House of Commons.

“I am a member of Parliament for the province of Nova Scotia and I cannot tell you their names.

“They are non-existent in our province. They are not out there meeting with people. They are not out there talking about issues. I don’t know what they do.”

The New Democrat made her comments during debate on the government’s Senate reform bill. Leslie’s position, and that of the NDP, is that the Senate should be flat-out abolished.

Leslie did go on to praise local senators James Cowan, Donald Oliver and Jane Cordy for their community work.

(Told that Leslie knew his name, Cowan responded: “Oh good, that Christmas card wasn’t in vain then.” He also suggested she consult Google for the names of all nine Nova Scotia senators.)

In a later interview, The Chronicle Herald asked Leslie to name Nova Scotia’s nine senators, who are all either Conservatives or Liberals. She got as far as six, with a couple of half-names such as “a MacDonald” — in this case, Senator Michael MacDonald, a Conservative.

The pop quiz was somewhat skewed because by this time News 95.7 radio host Jordi Morgan had already sent Leslie a Wikipedia article listing the senators.

The name recognition issue might extend both ways. Whether an unintentional slip or a subtle dig, a couple of senators contacted Monday referred to the Halifax MP as “Leslie Megan.”

Leslie’s main point was that while many senators might be good and intelligent people, they toe the party line instead of sticking up for their regions. Regional advocacy was the original intention of the upper house of Parliament.

“They cannot put their party allegiance aside,” she said. “They are doing what the centre is telling them to do, and they are not standing up for Nova Scotia.”

Sen. Kelvin Ogilvie, a Conservative, remarked that Leslie wasn’t allowing reality to interfere with her campaign to kill the Senate.

Ogilvie said senators are closely involved in their communities but less well-known than elected MPs because senators are supposed to focus on analytical committee work and avoid political ground wars.
“That means that you don’t have to eat every rubber chicken that is going in your constituency or kiss every baby that’s born,” he said. “You can use that time to actually analyze very substantive issues.”

As for senators standing against their parties, Ogilvie asked when Leslie ever voted against the NDP. Senator. Gerald Comeau asked the same question.

Comeau, a Conservative, said many regional concerns are raised in caucus meetings. He said the influence of most senators would be exerted before legislation was even introduced, and having to publicly oppose your party would signal a failure to explain your case at the caucus level.

As for the value of the Senate, Cowan noted that earlier Monday he and his Liberal colleagues had introduced legislation to amend the government’s omnibus crime bill. The amendments were originally brought up in the House of Commons but the government voted them down, only realizing when it was too late that they were necessary.

Cowan noted several examples of problems in legislation that passed through the House of Commons only to be caught in the Senate.

But Cowan, Ogilvie and Comeau all said they favour some degree of Senate reform, ranging from term limits to an elected Senate.