Trudeau to make it harder for future PM to reverse Senate reforms

Trudeau to make it harder for future PM to reverse Senate reforms

Of the 105 current senators, 54 are now independents who have banded together in Independent Senators’ Group

Justin Trudeau says his government hopes to make legal changes that will cement his transformation of the Senate into a more independent, non-partisan chamber, making it harder for a future prime minister to turn back the clock.

The prime minister says his government will amend the Parliament of Canada Act — the law that spells out the powers and privileges of MPs and senators — to better reflect the new reality in the upper house, where most senators now sit as independents unaffiliated with any political party.

“We’re going to try to make it fair,” Trudeau said in a year-end roundtable interview with the Ottawa bureau of The Canadian Press. “We’re going to try to do it before the election.”

Doing it before next fall’s election is critically important for independent senators, who fear Trudeau’s reforms could be easily reversed should the Liberals fail to win re-election.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said that if becomes prime minister, he would revert to the previous practice of making overtly partisan appointments, naming only Conservatives to the upper house.

Trudeau kicked senators out of the Liberal caucus in 2014. Since taking office in 2015, he’s named only senators recommended by an arm’s-length advisory body in a bid to return the Senate to its intended role as an independent chamber of sober second thought.

Of the 105 senators, 54 are now independents who have banded together for greater clout in the Independent Senators’ Group. Another 31 are Conservatives, 10 are Liberal-independents and 10 are unaffiliated. The Conservatives are the only remaining overtly partisan group in the chamber.

READ MORE: Trudeau names four new senators, filling every seat in the Senate

Yet the Parliament of Canada Act recognizes only two partisan caucuses in the Senate: the governing party caucus and the Opposition caucus, both of which are entitled to research funds, dedicated time to debate bills, memberships on committees and a role in the day-to-day decisions about Senate business, such as when to adjourn debate.

Senators have agreed on the fly to some accommodation of the growing ranks of independents, giving them some research funds and committee roles. But the leadership of the ISG has argued that their role must be explicitly spelled out and guaranteed in the Parliament of Canada Act. And, since the change would involve allocating financial resources, they say it can’t be initiated by the Senate, only by the government in the House of Commons.

Sen. Raymonde St. Germain, deputy leader of the ISG, said amending the act is the only way to give independent senators a “permanent voice” and to “secure this essential reform for an independent and non-partisan Senate.”

“The reform that Prime Minister Trudeau very courageously announced and implemented … has to be completed,” she said in an interview. “It won’t come from within the Senate. The only way to complete it, to have it finished, is to amend the Parliament of Canada Act.”

Trudeau said he’s pleased with the way the reformed Senate has operated, even though independent-minded senators are now more prone to amending government bills, which has slowed down the legislative process somewhat and occasionally sparked fears — unrealized thus far — that the Senate could defeat legislation outright.

“Canadians have been able to see the benefits and the thoughtful amendments and engagement they’ve had with bills in a way that I think has been very positive. I think removing partisanship in a significant way from the Senate has been good for our democracy, good for institutions,” he said.

As for Scheer, Trudeau said: ”If he really wants to go back to the kind of partisanship and patronage that we were able to do away with, well, that’s something that he’s going to have to explain.”

Just this week, however, Trudeau appointed two new senators with strong Liberal connections: a former Liberal premier of Yukon, Pat Duncan, and Nova Scotia mental-health expert Stanley Kutcher, who ran for the Liberals in the 2011 election and lost.

“I don’t think that membership in any given political party should ban them from being able to be thoughtful, independent senators who are not answerable to me but answerable to the values they have,” Trudeau said, adding, ”I’m sure we have also appointed people who’ve donated to the NDP or donated to the Conservative party.”

Conservatives have repeatedly questioned just how non-partisan the independent senators really are, noting that most seem to share Trudeau’s values — a charge Trudeau did not deny.

“I’m not going to pick people who are completely offline with where I think my values or many Canadians’ values are,” he said. ”A future prime minister of a different political stripe will certainly be able to appoint people … who might have a slightly different ideological bent. I think that’s going to naturally happen in our system.”

Nevertheless, he said the institution is better for the fact that most senators are not answerable to the prime minister and don’t sit in partisan caucuses “to plot political strategy.”

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria police are seeking home surveillance video and witnesses following a prowling incident in Esquimalt Jan. 20. (Black Press Media file photo)
Esquimalt prowler removes air conditioner, peers into person’s home

VicPD is seeking video footage, witnesses following Jan. 20 incident

SD62 bus driver Kerry Zado said it’s common to see drivers lose their patience and pass by his bus while he’s picking up students during the morning commute. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
School bus driver laments motorists who pass while red lights are flashing

All buses in Sooke School District outfitted with stop sign cameras

A cyclist navigates the shoulder in traffic along Oak Bay Avenue in Victoria. (John Luton Photo)
Oak Bay council supports Fort Street bike lanes

Victoria bike lanes would connect to Cadboro Bay Road

The Victoria Fire Department extinguished a 15 foot tent fire in the 500-block of Ellice Street Jan. 19. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Victoria police investigating after 15-foot flames engulf tent

Flames damage nearby business in 500-block of Ellice Street

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Jan. 19

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Rod Bitten of Union Bay won $500,000 in the Lotto Max draw on Jan. 15. Photo supplied
Vancouver Island electrician gets shocking surprise with $500K Extra win

Rod Bitten has been hard at work with home renovations, which is… Continue reading

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Oyster River Fire Rescue members were called out to a suspicious fire in Black Creek. Two vehicles parked at a private residence were destroyed by fire. Photo courtesy Oyster River Fire Rescue
Suspicious fire destroys two vehicles at Vancouver Island residence

Oyster River Fire Rescue personnel were dispatched to a fire at a… Continue reading

Seven streets in downtown Duncan, including Station Street, will soon have new native names added to their signage. (Submitted graphic)
New Duncan street signs will be in English and Hul’q’umi’num

Seven streets to get additional names in First Nations language

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

A suspect has been arrested in connection with fires at Drinkwater Elementary (pictured) and École Mount Prevost. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Arson suspect arrested after fires at Cowichan Valley schools

Drinkwater Elementary and Mount Prevost schools hit within a week

Most Read