Senators Removed from Liberal Caucus by Trudeau
By Nicole Halseth, News Editor
Every Liberal member of the upper house was expelled from Justin Trudeau’s caucus on 29 January, who has declared that there is now no longer such a thing as a Liberal senator.
The CBC reports that Trudeau “said the former members of the Liberal Senate caucus will sit as Independents, and they will have no formal ties to the Liberal parliamentary machinery apart from through their friendships.” Trudeau also said that “the only way to be a part of the Liberal caucus is to be put there by the people of Canada.” This action will see some key members of the Liberal Party moved outside its “inner circles.” This move was very surprising to Liberal senators and Senate staffers, among others, who had not previously been warned of the decision. Trudeau reportedly told the Liberal senators that “the Senate is broken and needs to be fixed,” when he advised them of his decision.
At a news conference, Trudeau explained that the motivator behind this action was Senate reform. He said that “the Senate was once referred to as a place of sober, second thought. A place that allows for reflective deliberation on legislation, in-depth studies into issues of import to the country, and, to a certain extent, provide a check and balance on the politically driven House of Commons. It has become obvious that the party structure within the Senate interferes with these responsibilities.”
This argument closely mirrors criticism that has emerged over the past few years over the existing Senate system, though there is doubt over how much effect these new changes will actually have on Senate reform. Trudeau also said that he envisioned the Senate becoming non-partisan, with all Senators sitting as Independents to better serve Canadians openly and transparently.
He elaborated that “instead of being separate from political, or electoral concerns, senators now must consider not just what’s best for their country, or their regions, but what’s best for their party…at best, this renders the Senate redundant. At worst — and under Mr. Harper, we have seen it at its worst — it amplifies the prime minister’s power.”
The Conservatives, however, call the move a “smokescreen.” Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative Minister of State responded that Trudeau’s proposed Senate reform would actually damage the system. He said “we are the one party that supports a democratically elected Senate that is accountable to Canadians…not only has the prime minister named to the upper chamber four citizens who were previously elected by citizens in the province of Alberta, the prime minister has also asked the Supreme Court for a legal instruction manual on how we can make all Canadian senators elected. That has to be our goal.”
Prime Minister Harper also responded to the move during question period, saying “I gather the change announced by the leader today is that unelected Liberal senators will become unelected senators who happen to be liberal…what the Liberal Party doesn’t seem to understand is that Canadians are not looking for a better unelected Senate. Canadians believe, for the Senate to be meaningful in the 21st century, it must be elected.”
The NDP also proposed Senate reform in October of last year.
This action follows the Senate scandal that has plagued media for over a year. Though most of the Senators under review are Conservative, the Liberals have been involved through Mac Harb, a former Liberal Senator who was under review for his spending. The Senate’s spending is currently being reviewed by Canada’s auditor-general.