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

FILE - Nathan Cullen speaks to media in Smithers, B.C., Friday, February 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
More calls come in for Cullen’s removal as NDP candidate

Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs demand Cullen’s removal. Ellis says, There’s no place in B.C. for racism

Martin Holzbauer, independent, Nicole Halbauer, BC NDP, and Ellis Ross, BC Liberal Party, are the candidates for the Skeena riding in the upcoming provincial election. (Terrace Standard/BC NDP)
Skeena candidates talk northwest education

Online learning access and early childhood education were common themes

Stikine provincial election candidates (clockwise from top left): Nathan Cullen, NDP; Darcy Repen, Rural BC Party; Rod Taylor, Christian Heritage; and Gordon Sebastian, BC Liberals.
‘Where is Annita McPhee?’: Cullen under fire from opening salvo of all-candidates forum

Four Stikine candidates spar during online debate from Prestige Hudson Bay Lodge in Smithers

David Block, director of development services for the City of Terrace, explains City staff’s new approach to bylaw and official community plan amendments associated with the proposed inland port development. (Jake Wray/Terrace Standard)
City of Terrace changes approach to inland port development process

Keith Estates Neighbourhood Concept Plan to be dealt with separately

Martin Holzbauer, independent candidate for the Skeena riding in the Oct. 24 provincial election, is seen here outside the Terrace Standard office on Oct. 1. (Jake Wray/Terrace Standard)
Learn more about Skeena’s independent candidate

Martin Holzbauer says he wants to bring a unique point of view to the race

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry answers questions during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. sees record-breaking daily COVID infections with 499 new cases over weekend

Two people, both in the Lower Mainland, died due to the virus over the weekend

(Pixabay)
Wave of racist emails ‘unleashed’ on B.C. researchers investigating racism in health care

The team has received close to 600 calls and emails since the investigation started in July

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

A B.C. man decided to create a website to help people find family doctors accepting patients. Because Victoria is considered high-demand, clinic openings can’t be posted publicly. (Unsplash)
Vancouver Island man starts website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

Nanaimo man started project to help people find family physicians accepting patients

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Most Read