Marchand says Trudeau’s Senate decision a ‘major move’

Making Liberal senators independent is a first, concrete step toward reducing partisanship, Trudeau argued

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

Cam Fortems – Kamloops This Week

A surprise move recently by Justin Trudeau to kick Liberal senators out of the federal caucus, making them independent, is being lauded by a longtime member of the red chamber and a TRU political scientist.

“It’s a major move,” said Len Marchand, a former city MP, cabinet minister and B.C. senator. “It caught us old Liberal members by surprise.”

Liberal Leader Trudeau held a news conference on Parliament Hill, saying extreme patronage and partisanship are at the root of the Senate expenses scandal, which has engulfed the upper chamber for more than a year.

“The Senate is broken and needs to be fixed,’’ he said.

Making Liberal senators independent of the party’s parliamentary caucus is a first, concrete step toward reducing partisanship, Trudeau argued as he challenged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to similarly set free the 57 Conservative senators.

But, Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo (Conservative) MP Cathy McLeod said the timing of the announcement — before an auditor- general’s report on Senate expenses is due to be released — is suspicious.

Since being elected, Harper has appointed dozens of senators — despite a pledge eight years ago to not appoint them. He is now engulfed in an expenses scandal involving Conservative senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau.

Liberal members have also been implicated.

McLeod said the party continues to promote an elected Senate, pointing to the government’s referral to the Supreme Court of Canada of a way to elect senators in accordance with the Constitution.

She prefers the idea of an elected Senate to making senators free of party affiliation.

“I have a big concern,” she said of Trudeau’s move. “We would use an unelected body to appoint unelected members who could amend legislation from a duly elected House of Commons.”

Trudeau has suggested an independent panel appoint senators, similar to the way people are appointed to the Order of Canada.

Thompson Rivers University political scientist Derek Cook said the Senate scandal “is not going away.

“It’s a good idea to distance himself from the Senate. It puts the prime minister in an embarrassing position.”

While senators have always been partisan, Cook said what’s changed under the Harper government is amount of control over senators from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

“The PMO has been directing them. That’s come out in the scandal.”

McLeod also questioned how independent the newly freed senators are from the Liberal party. They remain party members.

“They can’t go to one meeting,” she said of a ban by Trudeau on Liberal senators attending a weekly caucus meeting.

“They’re still identifying themselves as Liberals.”

 

— with files from Canadian Press