Manitoba senator 'still Liberal senator' after mass expulsion

Manitoba's lone Liberal senator is thrilled with Justin Trudeau's decision to kick all 32 Liberal senators out of caucus.

Maria Chaput says she's thrilled with Justin Trudeau's move to create independent senate

Manitoba's lone Liberal senator is thrilled with Justin Trudeau's kicking all 32 Liberal senators out of caucus.

Maria Chaput said the Liberal leader's decision was "gutsy and brave"  and it caught everyone off guard. 

"It was a surprise. We didn't know. We didn't expect it," she said. "But, I must say, I am so very happy with that decision."

Chaput said it shows that Trudeau has listened to Canadians who want Senate reform.

Chaput, who was appointed by former Prime Minister Jean Chretien in 2002, said the Liberal leader's move frees up time senators spent in caucus talking about how to handle issues or bills alongside politicians who have to keep an eye on political repercussions.

"He's cut that tie, so we're free from political party lines because we're not part of those joint caucus meetings," she said.

But Chaput doesn't see it that way.

She said Liberals will still have their own caucus in the Senate, and more.

"We'll still have the status of official opposition in the Senate because we are still 32 Liberal senators," she said. "We're still Liberal senators. We're just not part of Liberal caucus of Canada any more." 

Chaput said Trudeau's announcement Wednesday morning to MP's and senators was emotional.

"I had tears in my eyes because I was looking at Mr. Trudeau and I was seeing how hard it was for him to tell us about his decision."

Chaput said she hopes the Conservatives follow Trudeau's lead to make the Senate truly independent.

'Boldest move in a hundred years'

Winnipeg North MP Kevin Lamoureux said Trudeau has redefined the senate, where other politicians have just talked about it.

"The other political parties, what they want all involve constitutional change," he said. "They can whistle in the dark as long as they like. At the end of the day, Mr. Trudeau's (act) will have a profound impact on the operations of the Senate."

Lamoureux called the Liberal leader's move "bold."

"I believe he has probably accomplished more towards senate reform than any prime minister in the last hundred years and I'm very proud of him."

'Free agents running around'

Manitoba's Attorney General Andrew Swan said the Liberals' move is a small step in the right direction. But it's an about face, since just months ago Liberal MPs voted against a similar NDP motion.

Swan said the bottom line is Trudeau's move Wednesday doesn't change much for senators.

"They're unaccountable to Canadians," he said. "And if you now face the prospect of their being a number of alleged free agents running around not listening to anything Canadians are saying, I don't see how that's an improvement."

Manitoba Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari, fresh off a second place finish and third place finish in two by-elections Monday night, said Trudeau has presented Canadians with a practical solution to the problem of partisanship in the Senate, and he did it with flare.

"Bold, right?" she said with a laugh. "A truly independent Senate is an ideal worth striving for."

'Nothing in the Senate has changed'

Manitoba Conservative senator Don Plett said Trudeau's move was "silly and strange," and in spite of a few moments of confusion in the red chamber Wednesday, has changed nothing.

Plett said the Liberal leader's letter to the speaker of the Senate is clear: all formerly Liberal senators were now 'independent.'

But when Conservatives asked who the opposition was now - which the Liberals have been in the Senate and requires a caucus of at least five people - Plett said things got confusing.

"Well, I think all 32 of them stood up at one point and said 'We are still here .... We are a Liberal Senate caucus.' So what has changed? Nothing."

Plett said after some debate, senators got back to business as usual.

He said Trudeau's 'stunning' announcement was really just a media stunt.

"This is a very immature political move to try to convince people that he is the master of Senate reform when he has done absolutely nothing, nothing at all to change anything in the Senate," he said.