MATTHEW CHILLIAK 

On Jan. 29, 2014 Canadian politics took a sudden shift as federal Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau announced that he would be expelling all Liberal senators from his caucus.

While many critics may be right in dismissing the move as an inconsequential publicity stunt, the move has certainly turned up the heat on former Senate reform advocate, and current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper to finally act on his past promises of fixing Canada’s upper chamber.

Back when Harper was not in power, he loved to rally against the Senate as being a broken part of Canada’s governmental apparatus. And it was. In fact, it still is broken is many respects, appearing as an institution mostly filled with appointed partisan political lackeys — 59 of whom have been appointed since Harper took power.

While there are a few senators who do great work, there are also the likes of Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy, Marc Harb and Patrick Brazeau. These individuals had paid their dues in parroting their political party’s talking points and were rewarded handsomely for doing so.

However Trudeau’s move does not necessarily mean he has fixed Canada’s senate problem.

While these senators have been expelled from their caucus, it should be noted that they are still members of the federal Liberal Party and that they will likely still act and vote on legislation as such.

In fact, his move has actually broken the rules of his own party’s constitution which states that its federal caucus is to be comprised of all sitting MPs and senators.

Furthermore, Trudeau’s proposals on reforming how senators are chosen may not bring much to change the process and its inherent problem of lacking democratic oversight.

Trudeau’s proposal is that instead of having the Prime Minister appoint senators, an independent panel of experts would choose senators based on merit and without partisan bias.

While this does sound like an improvement, the issue remains that even this independent panel would have to be appointed by some elected official. Anything short of picking the independent panel randomly by lottery will involve some form of political involvement, and this would surely involve partisanship to some degree.

While some may think that an elected Senate may be the answer, I simply say this: do not go there.

Unless we want to have our Senate and House at each other’s throats and claiming to represent “the people” like our neighbors to the south this is not a good idea.

So, why even bother with a Senate in the first place? While abolishing the Senate outright may be the product of the New Democratic Party’s dreams and constitutionalist nightmares, it is not something that should be disregarded.

Trudeau should be commended for doing something about the Senate though; it is after all much more action than Harper has ever done.

The Senate was originally meant to act as a “house of sober second thought” on the legislation passed in the House of Commons. Instead we have rich political partisans enjoying power that they do not deserve.

  • MasterBaiter

    I would imagine that the NDP would one u Trudeau if they had any presence in the Senate.

    Soon enough the senate will be full of almost 100% Cons. It will officially become, a rubber stamp of blind approval to Harper’s radical upheaval of Canada’s political, economic, and cultural identity.

  • OttoFunk

    Seems fairly obvious to me that this is a preemptive strike by Trudeau to prevent senate scandals that could be linked back to his party. I’m sure Duffy and Wallin aren’t the only ones abusing the system, and Trudeau knows it.

    • MasterBaiter

      Except any misdoings by liberal senators prior to their being kicked out of caucus will still be linked back to his party. It’s not as if people we suddenly forget these senators previously were in te liberal caucus. His motivation goes deeper. He knew he could steal this issue from Harper, and he has.

    • angry foodie

      He might have stolen the issue from Harper, but Harper is the guy who can actually do something about it.

      See what Harper does after he gets the Senate Reference in his hands. Then we can judge Harper’s action on the issue.

    • AbolishIt

      Harper’s original campaign promise before being elected was to not appoint any senators. He has flip flopped and failed in maintaining his stance on the senate. He enjoys the power.

  • Oh

    This article seems to lose its way as it goes on. Why say Trudeau is acting as a leader on this issue, when all he has done is a quick, reactionary move to distance himself from the Senate, without actually doing anything at all.

    If he had any sort of real, practical reforms to offer that would be something… but he doesn’t, so why give kudos?

    • IheartJT

      It’s more than Harper has done.

    • angry foodie

      Harper is the first PM in history to appoint an elected Senator. He has done more to reform the institution than every other PM in history combined, a statement which the facts support.

    • MasterBaiter

      Pierre Trudeau did quite a bit. And the changes to mandatory retirement age was something substantial.

      Appointing 2 elected Conservativewas an easy move. Had he appointed an elected senator from any other party, then we would have something to praise him for.

      Also, Harper rushed to appoint most of his senators because he was scared of losing an election and losing the vacancies. Had he not done so, again, praise would be due.

      Furthermore, Stan Waters, Canada’s first elected senator, was appointed by Mulroney.

    • angry foodie

      Conceded on Walters.

      Trudeau had the freaking Constitution open and all he did was change the mandatory retirement age?!?!?!

      Excuse me for laughing awhile at that one! No one had a greater opportunity than Trudeau to actually change the damn thing. So he made it so the old guys couldn’t die in their seats, bravo.

      Trudeau’s constitutional formula is such that opening and modifying the constitution in of itself is a major pain in the butt. And this is exactly what will have to happen to create meaningful Senate reform.

      Harper has at least put the question to the Supreme Court. He is trying to find a way to reform it without the messy business of re-opening the constitution. In my opinion, this is a lost cause.

      But it is thanks to PE Trudeau that the bluster about Senate reform is more talk than action.

      As far as the supposedly quick appointments go, is there any evidence that a premier contacted Harper showing interest in having an election for vacant Senate seats? Because if there is, I will readily jump on your bandwagon. If not, then your point is moot.

    • MasterBaiter

      PE Trudeau didn’t have an open book on the senate. He changed what he could.

      And harpers appointments came when he was scared of losing his power to appoint the vacancies. The possible coalition in 2008 and the likely election that would have ensued when the coalition inevitably fell apart due to being comprised of 3 parties worried Harper. A BQ/NDP in the senate never mind the already present liberals probably gave him nightmares. So he hurriedly appointed 18 senators. They included many of those steeped in controversy today,.

  • angry foodie

    Most students do not understand politics.

    You can bash Harper all you want, but by appointing Senators who were elected in Alberta along with the Senate Reference to the Supreme Court, he has already done more to reform the Senate than every PM in Canadian history combined.

    He has established a convention where if a province chooses to elect a Senator, he will appoint them. Prove him wrong if you doubt his sincerity; so far only Alberta has proven willing to hold such elections.

    I personally think he could have done more. In my view, allowing the premier of the province to appoint Senators (by election or default) would be a great step in the right direction that would not need a constitutional amendment to get done.

    But the notion that Harper has no interest in reforming the Senate is pure nonsense. He had to get those entitled Liberals out of there first, but now he has a problem with the entitled Conservatives he elected. He removed the Senate majority leader from cabinet and has also distanced himself from the Senate without being as reactionary (and cynical) as Trudeau.

    More needs to be done. This includes, inter alia, clearer rules for spending and spending limits.

    However, the notion that Harper has not done anything to reform the Senate is nonsense. He has done more than any PM in history to reform the moribund institution.

    • JoHo

      You don’t seem to understand that Harper has appointed 59 senators, most of them unelected.

    • angry foodie

      I understand this very well. Harper has appointed 59 Senators. What do you expect him to do, leave the seats vacant?

      A vacancy comes up, he appoints someone. Is what it is. Had a province besides Alberta had someone elected and waiting for the appointment and he appointed a crony instead, you’d have all the reason in the world to attack him for it.

      You can’t fault him for the fact that no province besides Alberta tried to keep him to his word.

      You don’t seem to understand that every Senator in history before Harper was unelected. He is the first to appoint an elected Senator, a fact that cannot be washed away, no matter how hard his critics try.