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.