OT­TAWA

By eject­ing Lib­eral sen­a­tors from cau­cus, then ap­point­ing in­de­pen­dents to the up­per cham­ber, Trudeau may have suc­ceeded where decades of ne­go­ti­a­tion did not

Investment Executive - - CONTENTS - BY GORD MC IN TOSH

The long-ma­ligned Se­nate now has power and in­flu­ence.

the se­nate of canada takes up of­fice space in the Cen­tre Block, the East Block and the Vic­to­ria Build­ing (the last of which is just off Par­lia­ment Hill). And in the lob­bies of those three build­ings, you can see some­thing that used to be un­com­mon be­fore Justin Trudeau be­came prime min­is­ter — lob­by­ists on their way to meet sen­a­tors.

That’s be­cause the long-ma­ligned Se­nate is no longer a rub­ber-stamp­ing cham­ber dom­i­nated by the pa­tron­age ap­pointees of what­ever party is con­trol­ling the gov­ern­ment. The Se­nate now has power and in­flu­ence. Hence the pres­ence of lob­by­ists.

These days, a sud­denly in­de­pen­dent Se­nate may be de­picted in the me­dia as a pain in the prime min­is­ter’s pos­te­rior. But those ac­counts don’t re­ally do jus­tice to what is go­ing on these days in the cham­ber of sober sec­ond thought.

Per­haps one day, Trudeau will re­veal whether his de­ci­sion in 2015 to kick Lib­eral sen­a­tors out of the gov­ern­ment cau­cus and ap­point in­de­pen­dents on merit was just a po­lit­i­cal ma­noeu­vre to avoid be­ing pulled into scan­dal or a le­git­i­mate re­form ini­tia­tive.

What­ever the in­ten­tion, Trudeau has done some­thing a cen­tury of con­sti­tu­tion- al ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Ot­tawa and the prov­inces have failed to do. We have a re­formed Se­nate.

For one thing, the Se­nate has emerged as a sec­ond of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion. When the Lib­er­als larded leg­is­la­tion for the Canada In­fra­struc­ture Bank into one gi­ant bud­get om­nibus bill — some­thing they of­ten faulted the Tories for — in­de­pen­dent Se­na­tor An­dré Pratte em­bar­rassed them, likely enough to not do that again.

Sen­a­tors may not have the power to vote down a gov­ern­ment money bill. But a vo­cal Se­nate can be a ma­jor headache if the gov­ern­ment does not hold the bal­ance of power in the up­per cham­ber.

Even Con­ser­va­tive sen­a­tors are get­ting into the spirit of things. Con­ser­va­tive Se­na­tor Claude Carig­nan re­cently did some­thing suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have been loath to do. He in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion in the Se­nate to pro­vide jour­nal­ists with le­gal pro­tec­tion of their sources.

His pri­vate mem­ber’s bill passed in the Se­nate in April and gained ap­proval i n prin­ci­ple i n the House of Com­mons with the gov­ern­ment’s bless­ing just be­fore sum­mer re­cess in June. The Jour­nal­is­tic Sources Pro­tec­tion Act is highly likely to be­come law in the au­tumn.

A key rea­son pri­vate mem­bers’ bills in the Se­nate or the House of Com­mons rarely make it into law is be­cause gov­ern­ments’ leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties are heav­ily in­flu­enced by the Privy Coun­cil. Jour­nal­is­tic pro­tec­tion has never been a pri­or­ity of the civil ser­vice’s man­darins.

Carig­nan’s bill is a case i n which a Con­ser­va­tive se­na­tor forced the gov­ern­ment’s hand. Ex­pect more of that.

All this Se­nate re­form may not be per­ma­nent. An­drew Scheer, the new Con­ser­va­tive leader, said he would re­vert to ap­point­ing party mem­bers to the up­per house on the ba­sis of party loy­alty. That could turn the Se­nate back into what it was.

But the ge­nie may be out of the bot­tle for good. Cana­di­ans may not tol­er­ate a re­turn to what for­mer New Demo­cratic Party leader Ed Broad­bent once called a “happy hunt­ing ground for po­lit­i­cal hacks.”

Scheer also would take some time to gain the up­per hand in the Se­nate. Of the 99 sit­ting sen­a­tors at the sum­mer break, there were 39 Con­ser­va­tives; 34 from the in­de­pen­dent sen­a­tors group; 18 “in­de­pen­dent” Lib­er­als; and eight un­af­fil­i­ated.

The sen­a­tors seem to be en­joy­ing their free­dom, and the idea that our up­per cham­ber will con­tinue to be­come as feisty as its Aus­tralian or Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts is a good bet — with one ex­cep­tion. Cana­dian sen­a­tors are not elected, some­thing that is likely to set off another de­bate in the fu­ture.

Cana­di­ans may be will­ing to tol­er­ate a cham­ber of silent ap­pa­ratchiks fine-tun­ing leg­is­la­tion and vot­ing as they are told. But, at some point, Cana­dian vot­ers will won­der why vo­cal, in­de­pen­dent-minded sen­a­tors in a democ­racy are not elected.

In other words, Trudeau’s ac­tions in 2015 on the Se­nate will have a sec­ond, un­planned out­come — an elected Se­nate. And that cer­tainly would in­tro­duce a new dy­namic into Cana­dian pol­i­tics.

But that is a topic for the fu­ture. In the mean­time, a body that had lost the moral au­thor­ity to gov­ern Cana­di­ans has been, at least par­tially, re­ha­bil­i­tated.

At some point, vot­ers will won­der why in­de­pen­dent sen­a­tors are not elected

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