Trudeau: Senate move 'about doing the right thing'
Published Thursday, January 30, 2014 8:42AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 30, 2014 9:42AM EST
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says while Wednesday’s announcement to remove all 32 Liberal senators from the Liberal caucus might have surprised many, the idea is meant to restore independence to the upper chamber.
“I did anticipate that it was going to take a lot of people by surprise, including our senators,” Trudeau told CTV’s Canada AM. “But this wasn’t about personal relationships. This was about doing the right thing.”
Trudeau said Canadians have said they want to see less partisanship and patronage in the upper chamber, “and I wanted to demonstrate that it can be done without having to open up the Constitution, like the other guys.”
Referring to the Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright scandal, Trudeau said partisanship has been “a real interference” to ensuring that the Senate remain independent of the House of Commons.
“So what I’ve done is remove any sort of link or control by the Liberal Party of Canada over those formerly Liberal senators. And what that means is that the only people who get to sit in the Liberal Party caucus are people who were elected by the people of Canada,” he said.
Asked whether it was difficult to inform the senators of his decision, Trudeau responded, “I didn’t get into politics to do the easy thing; I got into politics to do the right thing.”
Trudeau added his approach makes more sense than the plan of NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who wants to abolish the Senate altogether. Trudeau said that plan would require opening the Constitution, which would force MPs into protracted negotiations and squabbles with the provinces. He said Canadians have “been down that road before” and are not interested in doing it again.
Mulcair himself disputes that idea.
“It’s not that hard to change the Constitution when you find out that an institution no longer serves the same purpose as when it was created,” the New Democrat leader told Canada AM.
“An unelected, undemocratic Senate is a vestige of our British colonial past, a little like the British House of Lords. In a democracy, only elected people should get to make laws,” Mulcair said.
Mulcair wondered why Trudeau would say he didn’t get into politics to do the easy thing, while also saying abolishing the Senate would be too hard. He added that he thought Trudeau’s approach would change nothing.
“What those senators are saying is that they are still going to be senators, and still sitting as Liberals in the Senate. They’re still going to do fundraising for the Liberal Party. They might get away with not attending caucus meetings on Wednesday mornings, but that’s the only real effect here,” Mulcair said.
George Baker, a formerly Liberal senator representing Newfoundland and Labrador, told Canada AM that Trudeau’s plan was “a fantastic announcement.” He stressed that he believed that the Senate was still needed as the “sober second thought of Parliament” but that it was important that the chamber become independent and totally impartial, since senators are meant to be the final word on legislation.
Larry Smith, Conservative senator for Quebec, said though that he still didn’t understand what Trudeau’s move means.
“Is it a strategic move? Is it a ploy or a deflection to get the attention away from the economic platform that Mr. Harper and the Conservatives are doing an excellent job of managing,” he said, sitting at Baker’s side in Ottawa.
Smith said he’s not sure that formerly Liberal senators themselves know what the announcement changes, noting that Senate Opposition Leader James Cowan said Wednesday that Liberal senators would continue to refer to themselves as “the Liberal Senate caucus” and intended to remain loyal members of the Liberal party.
“So the issue is, is it something that has substance,” Smith wondered, “or is it something that is more of a political move?”
Smith added that he and five other Conservative senators met together quietly for two days before the Christmas break to hold a strategic planning session on how to go about reforming the Senate without having to re-open the Constitution.
“Our approach has been a little more quiet, because we’d like to have some substantive, common-sense moves that will help us to move forward towards that objective,” Smith said.