Politics

Conservative senator says 'we're not getting answers so far' from government representative

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's new point man in the Senate, government representative Peter Harder, isn't answering the questions other senators have, Conservative senator Denise Batters tells CBC Radio's The House.

Government representative in Senate Peter Harder telling senators to 'check the website', Batters says

Senator Peter Harder waits to take his place in the Senate before being officially welcomed as the government's Senate representative. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's new point man in the Senate isn't answering the questions other senators have, says one Conservative senator.

"We're not getting answers so far," from the government's Senate representative Peter Harder, said Denise Batters in an interview on CBC Radio's The House.

Harder, who spent 29 years in the federal public service and managed the Liberal transition to government, will work with Liberal House Leader Dominic Leblanc to ensure legislation gets tabled through the Senate. ​

Batters, who sits on the Senate's internal economy board, is willing to give Harder some time to get used to his new job, but she said Trudeau's delay in naming a government leader in the Senate has led to confusion and frustration during the Senate's question period.

Conservative Senator Denise Batters says the Senate isn't getting answers from the new government representative in the Upper Chamber, Peter Harder. 11:50

"[Harder] is two weeks on the job, so I'll chalk it up to first couple of week jitters and hope that the answers will be more fulsome when we come back this week," she said.

"Right now, we're getting answers like, 'check the website', 'I'll have to take that under advisement', 'I'm not aware of that', 'the Minister in the House gave that answer' and then he doesn't say what the answer is.

"So I'm hopeful that will progress. We need to be able to hold the Liberal government to account in the Senate ... and we need to have answers to the questions we've been waiting on."

Partisanship not a 'dirty word'

Batters took a swing at the non-partisan Senate that is Trudeau's goal, after he appointed seven new senators to sit in the Red Chamber as independents.

"I am one who does not think that partisanship is a dirty word," said Batters, who was appointed as a Conservative senator from Saskatchewan in 2013 by then prime minister Stephen Harper.

"I don't think that just because you have a partisan leaning, and you proudly belong to a political party, that it detracts from any work you may do in other areas."

But Batters said she questions just how independent the new additions to the Senate actually are.

"The head of Prime Minister Trudeau's transition team to government is now the new leader in the Senate," she pointed out.​

"That's not a bad thing, but let's just call it what it is. There may be partisan leanings and that's fine, because we are in a political institution. But let's be honest about it."

Duffy's return to the Senate

Batters also weighed in on Mike Duffy's eventual return to the Senate, saying that she remains "confident in the vote I took on the first occasion to suspend Mr. Duffy without pay" back in 2013.

She echoed sentiments expressed earlier Friday by fellow Conservative Senator Leo Housakos, the chair of the powerful internal economy committee, who said there is "no appetite" among senators to revisit the question of back pay owed to Duffy.

"The matter is closed," Batters said, adding that the focus is now on "modernizing" the Senate.

"I think if there's one positive element in this whole episode, it's the fact that this has been a catalyst for fundamental change in the Senate."

One change that's coming is tightening up disclosures about contracts, Batters said.

"We're working on it right now — a new, proactive quarterly expense disclosure system that would disclose things like contracts," she said.

"Accountability and transparency are the best ways to ensure these kinds of things don't happen."

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