Politics

Peter Harder to step down as Trudeau government's Senate point man at year's end

Peter Harder announced Friday he will step down as the Liberal government's representative in the Senate at the end of this year. He'll continue to sit as an Independent senator.

Former deputy minister, nominated to the Senate in 2016, will continue to sit as an Independent senator

Sen. Peter Harder, shown on Parliament Hill, was nominated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March 2016 when the Liberal leader made the first of a series of appointments to establish a non-partisan and independent Senate. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Peter Harder announced Friday he will step down as the Liberal government's representative in the Senate at the end of this year. He'll continue to sit as an Independent senator.

Harder was nominated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March 2016, when the Liberal leader made the first of a continuing series of appointments meant to establish a non-partisan and independent Senate.

"I believe it was an honour for me to have served in the last Parliament as the government representative in the Senate," Harder told reporters after announcing his decision.

"This is a period of significant change and modernization in the institution. And I felt that it was important, for this change to go forward in this Parliament, to have a refreshment of leadership to build on what has happened in the past Parliament and to come at this task with fresh eyes and vigour."

Previous prime ministers have appointed a "government leader" in the Senate to manage the governing party's caucus in the upper chamber. In the absence of such a caucus — Trudeau formally disassociated the Liberal Party from the Liberals in the Senate in 2013 — Harder was styled as the government's "representative". 

Harder eventually named two deputies — former Conservative senator Diane Bellemare and former Liberal senator Grant Mitchell. Bellemare stepped down earlier this month. Mitchell joined Harder in stepping aside on Friday.

It's not immediately clear who will replace Harder. A statement from the Prime Minister's Office said only that a replacement would be named in "due course."

The government's representative in the Senate, Peter Harder, is stepping down at the end of the year. Harder has served in the role since 2016. After Justin Trudeau cut ties with all Liberal Senators in 2013, he had to find a new way to work with the Upper Chamber, since there were no formal ties to it. 0:59

Harder chaired Trudeau's transition team after the federal election in 2015. He was, at the time, working in the private sector after leaving a long career in the public service.

Harder worked as an aide to several senior Progressive Conservatives in the late 1970s and early 1980s before moving into the public service.

He was named the first executive director of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada and then served as a deputy minister in five different departments, including Industry and Foreign Affairs.

Harder said he believes the Senate has "achieved a less partisan and more independent reputation" over the last four years.

"It's an institution that has become more transparent and publicly accountable. And it's an institution that has played its role as a complementary chamber to the elected House of Commons very effectively," he said on Friday.

"Proof ot that is, in the last Parliament, 88 government bills were reviewed in the Senate ... and in 32 of those bills, the Senate recommended amendments of some sort and in 29 of those 32, the government accepted amendments in whole or in part."

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