Politics

Senators frustrated with secretive decision to drop 'independent' titles

The Senate's administrative committee quietly decided last month to rename "independent" senators as "non-affiliated" in a move that has caused backlash from legislators in the Red Chamber who say they were not consulted about the change.

Changes weren't meant to offend just to make paperwork easier, says Tory Senator Leo Housakos

Conservative Senator Leo Housakos says changing "independent" senators designation to "non-affiliated" was done to make paperwork easier and was not an abuse of power. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Senate's administrative committee quietly decided last month to rename "independent" senators as "non-affiliated" in a move that has upset some legislators in the Red Chamber who say they were not consulted about the change.

The move was made by the Senate's Internal Economy, Budget and Administration Committee last month, at a public meeting.

To outsiders, the change may seem insignificant, but for some senators, the move is seen as an insult, and is even being described as an "abuse of power" by some.

Senator Pierrette Ringuette has asked the Senate Speaker to look into the issue, and wants her "independent" status returned as quickly as possible.

"Nobody contacted us, nobody asked us. This is my privilege to designate how I want to stand in the Senate. I'm an independent," Ringuette said. 

The senator from New Brunswick explained that she only discovered the change when searching the Senate's website earlier this week.

Some of her colleagues were also caught off guard, including Senator John Wallace.

"It's a serious concern of all the independent senators I've talked to," Wallace told CBC News. "I think it's entirely wrong, and I want that designation changed."

Changes weren't 'designed to offend' 

On Thursday, the committee chair, Conservative Senator Leo Housakos, defended the committee's actions.

Speaking on the floor of the Red Chamber, Housakos apologized, saying "I want to make it clear that the changes have in no way, shape, or form been designed to offend anybody." 

A statement from Housakos's office and Deputy Chair Jane Cordy further explains the decision was partly based on a need to make filling out paperwork easier when the committee adopted a new model of disclosure for senators and senators' attendance "for clarity and uniformity across all of our online platforms."

But Ringuette believes political pushback against changes made by the new government is a key factor in the word play.

"There's a core group of Tory senators, and a few Liberals...that maybe feel threatened by the fact that we are independent senators." she said. "The current process put in place by Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau, appointing independent senators, maybe they feel threatened by that. But that's not an excuse to abuse their power."

Wallace, who left the Conservative caucus last November, described apparent hostility toward himself and his fellow independent senators. 

"We've been running into these issues, where the political partisan caucuses are creating issues, let's put it that way, for the independent senators." 

In March, Trudeau appointed seven new senators, who are now sitting as independents.

Ringuette raised her complaint as a point of privilege on Thursday, with the Speaker expected to rule on the issue sometime next week.