Justin Trudeau's Senate appointments plan backed by advice from justice officials

Liberals say advice from the Justice Department supports the party's plan to put in place a panel to advise Canada's next prime minister on Senate appointments, CBC News has learned.

Senators gather in Ottawa for 3-day meeting as Liberals consider Senate reform

Justin Trudeau promised a Liberal government would create 'a new, non-partisan, merit-based process' to advise the prime minister on Senate appointments. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Liberals say advice from the Justice Department supports the party's plan to put in place a panel to advise Canada's next prime minister on Senate appointments, CBC News has learned.

Prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau will move forward with an ambitious agenda and open Parliament with a speech from the throne before the end of the year, as CBC reported Tuesday.

With 22 vacancies in the 105-seat Senate, future senators will be appointed based on merit with the help of a panel, but the prime minister would still have to make the final call, a senior Liberal source told CBC News.

The new advisory board could be named by year's end, the source said.

Trudeau made a bold move last year when he kicked out Liberal senators from his caucus, effectively forcing them to sit as Independents. He promised a new, non-partisan Senate void of patronage appointments.

When the next session of Parliament opens, Trudeau will be faced with a majority of Conservative senators sitting in opposition and no official government senators to usher legislation through.

"We're on a magical mystery tour here right now," said Independent Senator Jim Munson. 

Munson said senators don't know who would formally introduce government legislation in the Senate, a task usually performed by the leader of the government in the Senate.

Trudeau has not said whether he would make such an appointment, telling reporters a day after his party's majority win that he looked forward to discussing it.

"These are part of the conversations we'll be having with Senate leadership," Trudeau said a week ago.

The office of ex-Liberal Senator James Cowan told CBC News that as of today, Trudeau had not met with the Senate leadership.

Senators are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the prime minister.

Senators '1 big happy family'

A group of senators gathered in Ottawa this week to discuss the future of the beleaguered upper chamber plagued by successive scandals.

Ex-Liberal Senator Paul Massicotte and Conservative Senator Stephen Greene spoke to reporters on Wednesday after wrapping up a three-day meeting.
Senators Paul Massicotte, left, and Stephen Greene speak with reporters after wrapping up a three-day meeting in Ottawa. (CBC)

"Everything was on the table," said Massicotte.

"The purpose was really to say how do we make the Senate more relevant, how do we make it more useful."

Massicotte said approximately 40 senators met to discuss the results of an internal survey that was sent out a couple of months earlier.

"We discussed those issues where we thought we could achieve consensus," he said.

The senators debated abolishing Senate question period, electing their own Speaker and slashing the number of senators sitting on each Senate committee.

Greene said the meetings were unprecedented and helped break down years of toxicity built up between the Conservatives and those senators who used to be Liberals.

"It was very successful, very collegial, very non-partisan," Greene said.

"We're just one big happy family,"  the Conservative senator said.

Neither Massicotte or Green would say what outcome, if any, had been achieved.​

With files from CBC's Julie Van Dusen, Alison Crawford, Susana Mas


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