Wrong reform

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On the morning of January 29, Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau made an announcement in the House of Commons that shocked the political community of Canada. In this Wednesday morning massacre, he announced that all 32 Liberal senators would be removed from the party caucus, and would now sit as independents. This was an unexpected move to say the least, one I can’t see being advantageous for the man who wants to become prime minister next year.

The first attack on Trudeau’s announcement came later that day, and from, surprisingly, Tom Mulcair, leader of the Opposition. One would expect that the leader of the NDP, who wants to abolish the Senate altogether, would be happy about any proposal that made changes to that institution.

Mulcair questioned, though, why Trudeau would make such an announcement now, when less than six months ago, he voted against an NDP proposal to remove all Senators from party caucuses. Both Trudeau and former Liberal leader Stephane Dion suggested that the reform disrespects the constitution of Canada, because it makes changes to it. How can Canadians trust someone who doesn’t stay consistent on his ideals in such a small period of time to be the prime minister?

This is far from the only criticism Trudeau received after this bombshell announcement. Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested that the change is merely cosmetic, saying, “the change announced by the leader today is that unelected Liberal senators will become unelected senators who happen to be liberal.”  While these Liberals will not be allowed to call themselves Liberals in the Senate, many will remain members of the Liberal party.

With this change, “unelected Liberal senators will become unelected senators who happen to be liberal.” – Stephen Harper

To make matters worse, removing these senators from party caucus removes a level of accountability expected of them. Over the last year we have heard about many of the problems regarding the Senate’s accountability to Canadians. Independent senators are accountable to no one, since the Senate polices its own members. At least prior to this change they would have to be somewhat responsible to the party’s elected representatives.

Furthermore, independent senators are devoid of most of the power that comes from being in the Canadian Senate. Under Senate rules, independent senators cannot sit on committees. In a single stroke, Trudeau has handed the upper chamber over to the Conservatives, who will continue to remain part of the party caucus despite Trudeau’s pleas to Harper to follow suit.

As if this debacle was not enough, Trudeau also announced: “If I earn the privilege of serving Canadians as their Prime Minister, I will put in place an open, transparent, non-partisan public process for appointing and confirming Senators.” In other words, voting for Justin Trudeau means the process of appointing Senators will become even more undemocratic. Instead of being chosen by the elected Prime Minister, they would be appointed by an appointed committee, which would completely remove Canadian electorate from the process.

Nobody disputes that the way Senators are currently chosen is not the best system. But Trudeau’s proposal does not fix the situation. It was Justin’s father, the late Pierre Trudeau, who put so much red tape around the reform of the Senate that it has taken Stephen Harper eight years just to be able to bring the issue before the Supreme Court.

As the NDP calls for abolition, and the Liberals for a less democratic Senate, we must hope that the Conservatives can call for an elected Senate without the consent of the provinces. Otherwise, we are in for a long struggle to reform an institution that desperately needs reorganization.

 

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