Elected Conservative Senator Doug Black to sit as an Independent

One of the only elected members of the Senate is leaving the Conservative caucus to sit as an Independent, a move that has prompted a call for his resignation by a top-ranking Tory senator.

'I think he should resign as a senator,' top-ranking Tory says of former colleague

Elected Conservative Senator Doug Black announced Thursday he will leave the Tory caucus and sit as an Independent. (dougblack.ca)

One of the few elected members of the Senate is leaving the Conservative caucus to sit as an independent — a move that has prompted a call for his resignation by a top-ranking Tory senator.

Senator Doug Black, who was picked by Albertans as their preferred choice for an appointment in a special 2012 election, will cross the floor and sit with the growing contingent of non-aligned members of the Red Chamber.

"I was elected by Albertans to ensure my voice and actions effectively represent the interests of our province. I believe that the best way for me to continue working towards creating a more accountable and effective Senate, while also better representing Albertans, is to sit as an Independent senator," Black said Thursday.

"I will be able to approach every file that crosses my desk without having to think 'OK what are the Conservative talking points' on this," Black said in an interview with CBC News.

Black joins a number of other Stephen Harper-appointed senators who have jumped from the Conservative ship, including Jacques Demers, John Wallace, Michel Rivard and Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu.

Senator Don Plett, the Conservative whip in the Senate, said in an interview with CBC News that Black's floor-crossing is a betrayal to the people of Alberta.

"Doug Black has on numerous occasions talked and boasted about the fact that he is one of the few people in the Senate that has been elected by Albertans. They elected him very clearly as a Conservative. They have been deprived of having a Conservative senator represent them. I think he should resign as a senator and if he wants to run again then he can run again," Plett said.

Conservative Senator Don Plett says his former caucus colleague should resign from the Red Chamber. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Plett, a Manitoba senator, said Black has had a poor attendance in the Senate, and, as whip, he has had to remind Black to show up for work. He said Black's decision to sit as an Independent could be motivated by a desire to free himself from leadership and the pressures of being part of a recognized caucus.

"Now, he won't have to face me or any other whip. He is not wanting to be accountable. He is wanting to do his own thing."

Plett said Black was largely absent from the Senate's debate on physician-assisted dying during the last sitting of Parliament.

"His absence was entirely unauthorized but he chose not to be there for a good portion of that," he said.

'No push back' from Albertans

Black said he has heard no criticism from the people of Alberta.

"I have seen no push back. Albertans are saying 'Look, Doug, you're doing a heck of a job for us as senator,'" Black said. "It's a tough decision, and a decision that I consulted widely on. People are saying, 'Absolutely, Doug, this is the move forward. Albertans are very progressive, they're very, very independent and they're can-do. To us, badges don't really matter.'"

Black said he understood why Plett isn't happy about his decision to leave the Conservative caucus.

"He has one less person to whip. His job has now become four or five per cent easier."

Senator Scott Tannas, who was elected alongside Black by Alberta voters, said Thursday has was disappointed by the move but supported his colleague.

"His positive attitude and voice of reason will be missed by many of his caucus colleagues, including me," Tannas said in a statement. "Doug Black came to Ottawa to make a difference. He remains a principled Conservative who believes — as I do — that more gets done when people work in a spirit of respect and co-operation."

Black's floor-crossing has whittled the Conservative caucus down to 41 members.

There are 24 Independent senators (officially called "non-affiliated"), 21 Liberal senators and 19 vacancies. A further four senators will face mandatory retirement in the next six months.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he will fill all of the vacancies this year, and all the senators will be appointed as Independents as part of his push to root out partisanship in the chamber.


John Paul Tasker

Senior writer

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.