With 24 hours to consider Justin Trudeau’s decision to remove all his Liberal senators from caucus, and have them sit as independents, here’s a roundup of what pundits are saying.
Here at Macleans.ca
Emmett Macfarlane, assistant professor of political science at the University of Waterloo
Nothing about Trudeau’s announcements raise significant constitutional concerns, in my view.
Politically, however, the announcement has already made waves. I have seen some suggest that independent senators are unworkable – that they somehow go against the whole idea of responsible government and that Senate committees, etc. will be unworkable. This is, to be blunt, nonsense. While I agree a non-partisan Parliament would be a tricky thing to operate, the idea that there cannot be a functional Senate opposition composed of independent members is a misrepresentation of how the institution works.
It’s a bit of a botched Schrödinger experiment, in sum. The box has been opened, but there is some disagreement about whether the cat lives or dies. And neither Trudeau nor Cowan seems to believe it’s anywhere in between. Perhaps they should consult.
Trudeau repeatedly said that the Tory bid to elect senators would require opening up the Constitution and embarking on a decade of negotiations with the provinces, something he refuses to contemplate. He also said the NDP preference for abolishing the Senate is equally impractical, because it would also require major constitutional reform.
So he positions the new Liberal model—a Senate made up of members detached from the parties in the House—as more practical. In fact, the idea has been floating around for some months.
The Globe and Mail
The Trudeau plan is partly a good idea. But it’s also more than that – and less, too. Mr. Trudeau is proposing a way of reforming the Senate without having to amend the Constitution, but his end run has its limits, and what’s more, it may end up taking the country, and Parliament, to unintended destinations.
Lori Turnbull, Associate Professor of Political Science at Dalhousie University
One of the most striking ironies of this announcement is this: While Mr. Trudeau’s decision is meant to curb the power of the Prime Minister, Mr. Trudeau himself has never seemed so “powerful.” By his own account, he told Senators of his decision just this Wednesday morning, immediately before he told MPs and the rest of us. There was no prior consultation with Senators, and so no warning of the bomb he was about to drop. Mr. Trudeau did this because he can. He’s the leader. But this large and in-charge style of “leadership” is more commonly associated with Stephen Harper.
…Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s boldly populist gesture sweeping the Senate’s 32 Liberals out of his caucus — with the aim of curbing Senate partisanship and patronage, and reaffirming its intended role as a chamber of sober second thought — is calculated to play well with the public. Or at least that fraction of it that still holds out hope that the Senate can be reformed.
Tim Harper, national affairs columnist
Even Trudeau concedes he has gone as far as he could pending the court guidance.
Harper the reformer has lost credibility on the Senate issue, but as a majority prime minister, that will be forgotten once he hears from the court.
Only when that court guidance comes back will we really be in the realm of Senate reform, and, in the meantime, there are still 32 unelected, unaccountable senators roaming the red-carpeted chamber, whether they call themselves independents, independent Liberals, Liberal independents or the Marx Brothers.
The National Post
Trudeau’s gambit is a political masterstroke for three reasons. It makes him look (finally) like a man of action, not just words. It steals the spotlight on the senate issue from NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. And it puts Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the defensive about the fate of his Senate caucus.
Just like that — zap! — men and women who have spent their entire lives in the Liberal party, working for Liberal goals, campaigning to elect Liberal members — are no longer Liberals once they enter the Senate doors. They might be Liberals when they go to bed, might be Liberals when they wake the next morning, might be Liberals over coffee, but once inside the Senate their Liberalness disappears and they are magically independent.
Mr. Trudeau hasn’t explained how that can possibly happen.
John Ivison, national columnist
The NDP, as is their lot in life, were left to complain that this was all their idea in the first place.
But no politician should ever apologize for stealing a good policy idea. And it is a good idea. It is a brave idea, courageous even, which is usually enough to start political antennae tingling in veterans whose modus operandi is to never do anything for the first time.
Chris Hall, national affairs editor
But even amidst the partisan ridicule, Trudeau accomplished something.
For a politician who’s frequently criticized for having no ideas, the Senate proposal firmly positions the Liberals between the Conservatives’ elect-or-bust approach to Senate reform, and the NDP’s bust-up the Senate altogether.
Licia Corbella, editorial page editor
So, now that the dust is settling, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this so-called “bold bombshell” was really just a mirage, and as we all moved closer to examine this shiny new object, it dissipated into nothingness.
The Chronicle Herald
At best, Trudeau’s intervention may prove short-lived, given that future reforms, or for that matter future party leaders, have the potential to reverse his position.
But in the absence of a dramatic position for the Liberal party — compared with the Conservatives’ push for an elected Senate and the NDP’s promise to abolish it — Trudeau’s reform model will provide an immediate improvement via the removal of the party yoke from a sizable portion of the Senate membership.
Winnipeg Free Press
Missing, as well, from Trudeau’s plan are details about exactly how an independent Senate would be appointed. Who would sit in judgment of potential senators? Would citizens apply for the job or, like the Nobel Prize, would they have to be nominated? Would the premiers get any say in the matter?
Notwithstanding the impractical or missing details of Trudeau’s Senate policy, this is still fascinating stuff, if only for the fact that, once again, Trudeau has thrown out the old playbook and introduced an entirely new tack.
Bold move. Game changer. Inspired. And other such hyperbole to explain Justin Trudeau booting all Liberal senators from the Liberal caucus.
Ignore it all. Confusing mess is more like it.