New Brunswick

Senator John Wallace caucus resignation called 'positive step'

New Brunswick Senator John Wallace's resignation from the federal Conservative caucus could lead to positive change for the contentious upper house, says a Saint John political scientist.

Political scientist says Wallace's decision to sit as Independent should benefit 'uncertain system'

New Brunswick Senator John Wallace's resignation from the federal Conservative caucus could lead to positive change for the beleaguered upper house, says a political scientist.

Wallace, who was appointed to the Senate in 2008 by former prime minister Stephen Harper, will remain in the Senate and sit as an Independent.

In a letter made public Wednesday, Wallace said he was quitting the Tory caucus over "differences that I consider to be irreconcilable" between himself and Conservative Senate Leader Claud ​Carignan, and other Conservative Senate Caucus members.

J.P. Lewis, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, says Wallace's actions, seemingly on principle, are rare in federal politics.

"It's very difficult to succeed, at least in elected politics, as non-partisan or Independent," Lewis said Friday on Information Morning Saint John.

"So if there is going to be independence, the Senate would be the place, because they're not accountable to people through a vote."

Wallace told CBC News Conservative Senators were expected to vote in lockstep with their House of Commons colleagues, an idea he says goes against the very reason the Senate was created.

You need the individual actors to find ways to change the institution … and I think Senators saying they are going to leave the party caucus or start acting independently is one way that can happen.- J.P. Lewis, political scientist

Lewis says much of the news coming out of the Senate has been an embarrassment to the institution, leaving political figures such as Wallace with little choice but to push back.

"I would say it's a positive step now on the part of our system, where there's been a lot of uncertainty," Lewis said.

"It's troubling to hear if they're coming under the same type of party discipline that members of the House are, and members of the House of Commons are complaining about the same thing."

Wallace said he has been frustrated by partisanship in the Senate for a long time, and that he endorses Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's plan to use an arm's-length advisory committee to appoint non-partisan senators.

He said the Fathers of Confederation wanted the Senate to be "thoroughly independent" so it could "dispassionately" examine bills free of the "unremitting consideration of short-term political objectives."

With Wallace's new status, there are now 46 Conservatives, 29 independent Liberals, eight Independents, and 22 vacancies in the Senate.

Lewis says system-wide reform in the Red Chamber will be difficult to achieve, but in the meantime, smaller, piecemeal changes can make a difference.

"You need the individual actors to find ways to change the institution … and I think Senators saying they are going to leave the party caucus, or start acting independently, is one way that can happen."

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