Justin Trudeau’s unilateral Senate reform

Senators no longer welcome in the Liberal caucus
Justin Trudeau in Toronto March 27, 2013 to visit the Green Zone at Ryerson University and speak at the Empire Cllub at the Royal York. Peter Bregg

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has just now announced that Liberal senators will no longer be members of the Liberal caucus. Here is the statement from his office.

“Canadians expect their leaders to be open and honest with them, and they expect us to come forward with practical solutions that address problems directly. The Senate, through extreme patronage and partisanship, has become an institution that poorly serves the interests of Canadians.

“Paired with patronage, the pervasive issue of partisanship and control in the Senate is a deeply negative force. We need immediate action to address this. That is why, as of today, the National Liberal Caucus will only include elected Members of Parliament, and not Senators. This action will immediately mean that each of the 32 current Liberal Senators will become independent of the Liberal Caucus.

“This is about doing the right thing for Canadians and our institutions. I believe that Canadians are rightly seeking an effective institution that debates the difficult issues they are facing today. Equally, I believe that Canadians have no desire to re-open the Constitution. I am taking action today with these reforms, and I hope to earn the opportunity to go further as Prime Minister.

“That is why I am also announcing today that if I am elected Prime Minister, I will put in place an open, transparent and non-partisan appointment process for Senators. This process will be developed working with experts and informed by other non-partisan appointment processes, such as that of the Supreme Court Justices and Order of Canada recipients.

“Further, as the majority party in the Senate, immediate and comprehensive change is in Conservative hands. I’m calling on the Prime Minister to do the right thing and join us in ending patronage and partisanship in the Senate. All he needs is the judgment and will to get it done.

“Taken together, these steps represent the most significant and concrete actions to reform the Senate in its history. At our best, Liberals are relentless reformers. When public institutions fail to serve the public interest, we take bold steps to change them. These proposals will bring real, positive change for Canadians.”

The NDP suggested last fall that senators should not sit with party caucuses. (The New Democrats then put a motion before the House calling, in part, for senators to sit outside party caucuses, but the Liberals argued it was unconstitutional for the House to pass such a motion and thus voted against it.)

Last May, Greg Sorbara, a former Liberal cabinet minister in Ontario, proposed an independent process and a chamber of independents. (Jean Rodrigue-Pare has proposed a bi-partisan appointment process. And here, as noted on Twitter, is Progressive Conservative Senator Elaine McCoy arguing for an independent selection process—though one that would’ve had the Governor General acting on the advice of someone other than the Prime Minister.)

Seven senators were already listed as independent, but that total now becomes 39 independents against 57 Conservatives, at least unless or until the independents decide to form their own arrangement. The 32 formerly Liberal senators might not be able to sit with the Liberal caucus, but they are entirely free to form their own caucus.

Also potentially relevant to this discussion: It was six months ago that the Prime Minister decided that the Government Leader in the Senate would no longer be a member of the cabinet.