Politics

Tom Mulcair could get help from at least 2 senators if NDP wins election

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair can count on at least two senators to help him out in the Red Chamber, in the event the NDP wins the election.

An NDP government would have to work with the Senate, whether it likes it or not

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair may want to abolish the Senate, but if he is elected to form a government, he'll still have to work with it to pass legislation. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair can count on at least two senators to help him out in the Red Chamber, in the event the NDP wins the election.  

Earlier this week in an interview on Les Coulisses du Pouvoir, Mulcair said he would not have a problem getting NDP legislation through the Senate, despite not having senators of his own. While Mulcair and his advisers have refused to name names, CBC News has spoken to two senators who say they are willing to help.

"I've made it clear to the NDP that I would be more than willing to introduce a bill or second a bill and to try and make sure that it was received fairly and gets the due credit that it should have," said British Columbia Senator Larry Campbell.

"I don't think you need a leader of the government, for instance. I don't think you need a leader of the opposition. We have that, and it has been historical, but I don't think you need that."

Ontario Senator Nancy Ruth also told CBC News she would be ready to assist in any way, but declined to be interviewed for this story.  

What an NDP win would mean for the troubled Senate is of great interest to parliamentary scholars, but so far, no one has had many answers regarding how things would unfold, especially after Mulcair has gone to such lengths to hurl insults at the Red Chamber and those appointed to work there.

"They do nothing of use to this country and there's a reason for that, it's undemocratic," Mulcair has said. The NDP leader has also been adamant that he will not appoint a single senator.

'We have years of legislation that we can agree on before we even get down to 'Let's get rid of the Senate.'"- Senator Larry Campbell

That kind of talk doesn't faze Campbell.

"When elections are on sometimes people play pretty fast and loose with facts and figures. The answer to Mr. Mulcair is this — the Constitution says there will be a Senate," he said.

"We need to get together, we need to talk. We have years of legislation that we can agree on before we even get down to 'Let's get rid of the Senate.' If that's the most important thing that you got going, then we got some problems."

Ontario Senator Jim Munson is rooting for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and doesn't expect Mulcair to ask him for any help.

"I think first of all Tom Mulcair has to reconsider some of his outrageous thoughts and some of his thinking. He's trying to make points in these shallow comments about abolishing the Senate without sitting back and seeing that we have a Constitution in this country," said Munson.

Even so, Munson said his primary role as a senator is to review legislation. "If I like it and it's in the interest of Canadians, I will support it."

Regardless of what Campbell, Ruth and other senators would or could do in the event of an NDP victory, there would likely be limits.

Who would answer for the NDP during Senate question period and who would argue for the government in a debate?

Mulcair has said he would not appoint senators, but the NDP has refused to say whether he would pick his own Senate Speaker.  

If we are going to be a truly independent House we should appoint our own Speaker and have our own vote like you do have in the House of Commons.–Senator Jim Munson

Campbell said he'd be happy to keep Conservative Senator Leo Housakos on the job.  Munson said he has also worked well with Housakos. But both Campbell and Munson said the time has come for the Senate to elect its own Speaker, regardless of the outcome on Oct. 19.

"I think at the end of the day, if we are going to be a truly independent House we should appoint our own Speaker and have our own vote, like you do have in the House of Commons," Munson said.

"To have Tom Mulcair walk into the Senate and say, 'Hmm, who should I get as Speaker?' I'm not sure I'd have very positive thoughts about that sort of thing."

When the Supreme Court of Canada set the ground rules for abolishing the Senate in 2014, it became clear that abolition would be a near impossible political task. The court also decided that abolition cannot occur by attrition.

If Mulcair wins the election, Campbell said he would advise the NDP leader to adopt a proposal from Trudeau.

"I would suggest to him that this might be something to try, set up a totally impartial body to choose senators.… I believe that a good idea is a good idea, and I'd steal it from anybody," said Campbell.

He added that the Senate doesn't exist to thwart government and, in his point of view, it should be far less partisan.

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