Ex-Tory senator doesn't see 'usefulness' of the Senate
A former Conservative senator, whose nomination to the upper chamber once drew considerable controversy, says it's time to do away with the Red Chamber as it's outlived its usefulness.
In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Michael Fortier told host Evan Solomon while he didn't believe in abolishing the Senate when he was a part of it, "if I had to choose today, I would say that I'm probably closer to closing the place down. I just don't see the usefulness."
Fortier, who was never elected, was named to the Senate by Stephen Harper in 2006 to represent Montreal in cabinet.
Four years after resigning from politics, the former Conservative senator is painting an unflattering picture of the Senate once thought to be a place of sober second thought.
"I was very naïve… I thought it would be a different place than the one I found."
"I found it to be extremely partisan… on both sides, including my own. And it was very annoying because these people were trying to be members of parliament and they weren't," Fortier said.
As a senator, Fortier did not attend question period although he served as minister of public works and government services and later as minister of international trade.
The former senator from Montreal said he didn't "necessarily enjoy" his time in the Senate. "It's not something that I like to refer to as a fun passage when I was in Ottawa."
"I would have been there more often had I found it to be a stimulating environment, it just wasn't," Fortier said.
Harper's decision came under heavy scrutiny because he was elected on a platform of accountability and senate reform, saying he would not name anyone to cabinet or the senate who was not elected.
"I think the practice of appointing friends of the regime is clearly not optimal," said Fortier who once worked as Harper's national campaign co-chair before being named to the Senate.
Harper said he expected Fortier to step down and run for a seat in the next general election, which the Senator from Montreal did.
In 2008, Fortier resigned from the Senate to run in the Montreal riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges.
He lost to Bloc Québécois incumbent.
A senate in crisis
In February, amid a series of senate controversies, the federal government referred Harper's plan for Senate reform to the Supreme Court to determine whether it's constitutionally sound or not.
When asked how the prime minister has been handling the crisis, Fortier said he has no doubt Harper is "not happy" but that the prime minister "understands that the buck stops with him."
Fortier went on to say, "I'm sure in some cases he must be disappointed."
Asked if Harper should take responsibility for Senator Patrick Brazeau, who was kicked out of the Conservative caucus after he was charged with assault and sexual assault, Fortier said while the buck does stop with Harper being held responsible for everybody's behaviour is "a stretch."
Fortier said Harper's decision to name him to the Senate was "an exception."
"I lost and he [Harper] said 'we'll never do this again' and he hasn't," Fortier said.
Since 2008, however, Harper has named several more senators to fill vacancies in the upper chamber — a move Fortier defended as necessary because "legislation was dying at the doorstep of the Senate."
"He [Harper] had a mandate, albeit a minority… and he was facing opposition in the Senate. He was faced with an impossible situation and he chose to fill those seats."
"I'm sure it wasn't his preferred route but in an imperfect world, this was probably the best option for him."
For Fortier, the issue around the Senate comes down to its usefulness.
"What are we seeking from our senate?"
"Are we looking for committee-type work and reports only, or are we looking for people to debate real legislation without a partisan slant?," Fortier said.
"If collectively we're saying 'we're seeking nothing', then I think you've got the answer."
First introduced in June 2011, the government's Senate reform legilsation, Bill C-7, would limit senators' terms to nine years and allow the provinces to hold elections to choose senators.
The Governor General would then, on the advice of the prime minister, appoint senators who had been selected through provincial elections.
The NDP maintains it is in favour of abolishing the Senate.