Those non-partisan Senators are not getting Trudeau's message


In the House of Commons foyer today, Justin Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, said:

“The Senate must be non-partisan, composed of merely of thoughtful individuals, representing the very values, perspectives and identities of this great country, independent from any particular political brand.”

He said this as he was announcing that the 32 senators who had been part of his national Liberal caucus were getting booted and should now consider themselves independent senators.

The first thing those newly independent senators did was confirm their old leadership, electing Senator James Cowan as leader, Senator Joan Fraser as deputy leader and Senator Jim Munson as whip. Given that a whip’s function in our democracy is, largely, to make sure party members follow the party line, why would a group of independent non-partisan senators need a whip?

Maybe they’re not so independent or, for that matter, non-partisan. Here’s Senator Cowan, speaking to reporters after learning of Trudeau’s decisions:

We have agreed that we will style ourselves as the Liberal Senate Caucus because we all share the values of the Liberal Party of Canada.  We remain proud members of the Liberal Party of Canada.  We are supporters, strong supporters of Mr. Trudeau and his leadership and we’ll continue to do everything we can to ensure that he becomes the Prime Minister.

By any definition, Cowan’s statement is a partisan one. Trudeau had hoped his cast-off senators would make their decisions “independent from any particular political brand” but his faith in his former colleagues to do just that was betrayed within minutes of Trudeau giving those Senators their gift of political freedom. The doors on their cells having swung wide open, the jailed partisans preferred to stay right where they were.

“We all remain proud active members of the Liberal Party of Canada and we will do everything we can in our own way to support Mr. Trudeau and the Liberal team in the next election.  That’s not changed,” Cowan told reporters.

Senator Serge Joyal has been a partisan for 25 years. He was a Liberal MP for a decade and a Senator for the balance. Joyal was not going to be rude about it today but he’ll be damned if Trudeau fils is going to tell him to sit down, shut up and stop being a Liberal.  “I have a membership card. Like any militant we can attend any nomination meeting,” Joyal said.  “We can vote for whoever we want as a candidate.  We can propose policies at the national convention.  We are militants of the Liberal Party.  I’ve been militant for 40 years.  I remain a militant for the Liberal Party.”

So back to the leader.

“The Senate is suffering from two central problems:  partisanship and patronage.  Let’s begin with partisanship. 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, to provide a check and balance on the politically driven House of Commons. It’s become obvious that the party structure within the Senate interferes with these responsibilities,” Trudeau said.

The Liberal Senate Caucus — a group created as a direct result of Trudeau’s decision today — is, by any measure, “a party structure” within the Senate. But Trudeau’s decision to sever ties with this caucus means he can have no control or influence over this group to correct or ameliorate the “patronage and partisanship” problems he has identified. Instead, he has left it to Senators who clearly do not wish to be non-partisan or reject their partisan role in the Senate to carry on — unelected and accountable to no one.



7 thoughts on “Those non-partisan Senators are not getting Trudeau's message”

  1. Well-presented.

    Trudeau has done precisely the opposite of what he claimed.

    Yesterday the Liberal Senators, as members of the Liberal Caucus, took guidance from the elected Leader of the Liberal Party, or could be turfed from that party.

    Today, all turfed, they take no direction from anyone elected. Trudeau the Younger has made the former Liberal Senators even less relevant. Some will resign as a result. Others will wait for his replacement. Still others will stay on to receive their pay and perqs.

    No surprise that his chief adviser is Gerald Butts the former chief adviser for Dalton McGuinty, the Premier who destroyed Ontario (on Butts’ advice?).

  2. You neglected to mention that Trudeau also said that should he become PM he would put in place a mechanism to have Senators selected impartially in future. This is his first step at reforming the Senate in hopes that it can return to the original purpose intended by the Fathers of Confederation. Instead of following Dictator Harper’s hypocritical actions (he appointed 57 of the current senators after saying he would not appoint ANY), he is acting positively to reform the Senate.
    The ball is now in Dictator Harper’s court. He dropped it badly in the House today. He will continue to do so, because all he cares about is his own personal power.
    As for the Liberal Senators, it’s only natural that they would be shocked by Trudeau’s action & react the way they did today. But the issue is not today, but tomorrow. Will Justin be successful at reforming the Senate where Dictator Harper failed?
    PS: David, your Reform/Conservative bias is evident in this story, as usual!

    1. Dictator Harper? Capitalized to boot?

      I thought there were several avenues to remove a PM, including upcoming elections.
      Did he get rid of those as well?

      Name one thing he’s done that would be indicative of an interest in personal power and do nothing for the Country.

    2. “because all he cares about is his own personal power.” Your own bias is evident here. What is more, you have no idea what his motivations are. You should read Paul Well’s latest book about Harper to get some insight. And, no, Justin’s move to try to de-politicize the Senate is full of holes.

  3. Would you look at this – there really is such a thing as “a mad hatters tea party”. Justin just staged one!

  4. LOL, Trudeau’s brainwave is to have non-elected Senators appointed by non-elected Supreme Court justices or non-elected recipients of the Order of Canada. So that’s even one step further removed from accountability than it is now. Trudeau can’t think himself out of a wet paper sack.
    Problem with politicians today is NONE of them are willing to actually do the real dirty work of governing. If Senate reform or abolition is required — and it is — then bloody well open up the constitution and make it so. Not approaching the task directly because the process is “messy” seems like a poor excuse for inaction and just opens the door to empty political posturing.
    And gee Blake…do you see any irony at all in apparently finding fault with David’s alleged Reform bias when it was Reform who were advocating Senate reform back when Trudeau was first learning to comb his beautiful hair?

  5. Just a reminder. Mr. Harper asked the Premiers to get suitable candidates elected as Senators. Only Alberta responded…

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