B.C. missing from senate appointments because of premier's politics, says political expert

None of the seven new senators named today are from B.C. — and that may be due in part to political posturing from Premier Christy Clark, says one expert.

Premier Christy Clark's denouncement of appointment process seen as signal of solidarity to federal supporters

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier Christy Clark speak at the start of a meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 5, 2016. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

None of the seven new senators named by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday are from B.C. — and that may be due in part to political posturing from Premier Christy Clark, says one expert.

Last December, Clark denounced Trudeau's plans for a more independent senate. She took particular issue with the fact that, despite Trudeau's assurances of nonpartisanship, the senators are still appointed rather than elected.

Hamish Telford, a professor of political science at the University of the Fraser Valley, said this can be read as a show of solidarity to her federal allies.

"A lot of Christy Clark's [BC] Liberal supporters on the federal scene are [federal] Conservative supporters, and prior to that, supporters of the Reform Party, which had long advocated for an elected senate," Telford told CBC Early Edition host Rick Cluff.

"[She's saying,] 'Look, it's not my plan, I'm not associated with it, don't tar me with it' — signaling to her supporters that she is on their side when it comes to senate reform."

A 'last-ditch' reform effort

The appointments are the first to use Trudeau's new merit-based approach to senator appointment. Though appointed by the Liberal government, on paper, the new senators all sit independently.

Telford described the changes as a "last-ditch kind of effort" at senate reform — something on which many of Trudeau's predecessors have struggled to make significant progress.

"There's a very tall order here," Telford said, noting that electing senators or abolishing the Senate altogether would require major constitutional amendment.

"The Senate has long had a legitimacy problem in Canadian politics, really almost going back to confederation."

Though B.C. is the third largest province by population, it only has six seats in the 105-seat Senate. One of those seats is currently vacant.

Telford expects that vacancy to be filled eventually, but said the appointment process will be difficult without the participation of the provincial government.

 "That person [whom they eventually appoint] is going to suffer perhaps an additional legitimacy problem to overcome," Telford said.

With files from The Early Edition.

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