Waterloo Region Record

Liberal changes in Senate working well, says review

Senator: Impartial appointmen­ts should be made law


OTTAWA — The Trudeau government’s changes aimed at making the upper chamber a more independen­t place have worked so well that they should be made permanent, the Liberals’ representa­tive in the Senate says.

Sen. Peter Harder is urging parties running in the Oct. 21 election to promise to change the law so that future prime ministers would also use an independen­t, arm’s-length appointmen­t process to name new senators.

“I think Canadians would prefer a Senate that is less partisan, that seeks to improve legislatio­n where appropriat­e, but doesn’t view itself as a challengin­g chamber to the political legitimacy of the House of Commons,” Harder said.

“We should encourage government­s of the future to not only act in that spirit, but also to legislate and make some amendments to the Parliament of Canada Act that entrenches this less partisan, more independen­t Senate.”

The call for a more permanent transforma­tion came in a report that Harder released on Thursday that looks back at how the changes have played out over the past several years and concludes, unsurprisi­ngly, that they were for the better.

“The Senate is serving Canadians with a greater number of contributi­ons to improve federal legislatio­n and public policy, while staying faithful to its original constituti­onal role and thereby renewing public trust,” the report said.

It notes that the House of Commons accepted at least some of the amendments the Senate put forward on 29 of the 88 bills the Liberal government managed to bring into law throughout its mandate.

Other recommenda­tions in the report include bringing in independen­t oversight over expenses, and making sure that independen­t senators and non-partisan parliament­ary groups that form within the Senate get the same rights as those who sit in partisan caucuses.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced the process in 2016 and 50 new independen­t senators chosen outside the PM’s office have been appointed. They do not sit in any party caucus.

One major change to the process allows Canadians to actually apply, or nominate someone, for the job.

The Conservati­ves argue the senators named under the new regime are independen­t in name only, as they tend to vote with the government.

“I am not knocking these senators when I say they are not independen­t,” said Conservati­ve Sen. Don Plett, the opposition whip, adding they were named by a Liberal prime minister on the advice of people he chose.

“But let’s call a spade a spade.”

Trudeau told The Canadian Press last year he would like to enshrine the independen­t appointmen­ts process in legislatio­n before the election, but the Liberals did not end up introducin­g a bill before Parliament wrapped up for the summer.

The Conservati­ves have said they would like to return to the old system where partisan appointmen­ts are handled directly out of the Prime Minister’s Office, while the NDP is sticking with its long-standing call to abolish the Senate.

Emmett Macfarlane, a political-science professor at the University of Waterloo who helped the Liberals design the new appointmen­ts process, said he is not sure the change could be made binding without a constituti­onal amendment.

If it becomes permanent, he said, it will be because future prime ministers decide it is the better way to go.

“Or because they face political pressure not to go back to the old system of patronage appointmen­ts,” Macfarlane said.

He said that if the new system sticks around long enough, it could also evolve into a convention — a generally accepted practice that isn’t codified in law. “Trying to put it in law might be unconstitu­tional.”

 ??  ?? Sen. Peter Harder, the Liberals’ representa­tive in the Senate.
Sen. Peter Harder, the Liberals’ representa­tive in the Senate.

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