Politics

With two new Senate appointments, Trudeau has now appointed half of the upper house

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has named two new senators to the upper house — senior provincial public servants with experience working on Indigenous files.

Trudeau has tapped two senior provincial servants for New Brunswick, Saskatchewan vacancies

Judith Keating (left) will represent New Brunswick. William Brent Cotter (right) will fill one of the Saskatchewan seats. (Financial and Consumer Services Tribunal/University of Saskatchewan)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has named two new senators to the upper house — senior provincial public servants with experience working on Indigenous files.

Trudeau has now appointed 52 senators since taking office in 2015 — an unusually large number in such a short period of time. Former prime minister Stephen Harper let vacancies in the place pile up as the 2013-15 expenses scandal raged on.

Judith Keating will represent New Brunswick. William Brent Cotter will fill one of the Saskatchewan seats. The Senate is now closer to gender parity, with 48 women and 52 men in the chamber (five seats remain vacant).

Trudeau has moved to rid the Senate of partisan politics — part of a push to reconstitute the chamber as a body composed largely of Independent senators.

Like the 50 senators Trudeau appointed before today, the two new picks are expected to sit as members of the Independent Senators Group or as non-affiliated senators. There are now five different caucuses and groups in the Senate — and the Liberal/Conservative duopoly that once defined the chamber is defunct.

Keating is a leading legal and constitutional expert and was the first woman to serve as deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney general of New Brunswick. (A deputy minister is the top bureaucrat in a government department.)

She worked as a chief legal adviser to both Progressive Conservative and Liberal premiers. She chaired the province's working group on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

A pioneering woman in the legal field, Keating was the founder and first president of New Brunswick's Women in Law and editor-in-chief of the Solicitor's Journal of the Canadian Bar Association. Keating is an expert in administrative law, constitutional law and legislative interpretation.

Cotter, another lawyer, is described by the Prime Minister's Office as one of Saskatchewan's "foremost legal ethicists."

Like Keating, Cotter served as his province's deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney general. He currently chairs the Government of Saskatchewan's Public Complaints Commission, a governmental body that hears complaints about alleged municipal police misconduct.

Cotter is also a member of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada Advisory Committee on Implementation of Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action.

"Judith Keating and W. Brent Cotter have led exceptional careers in service of their provinces. Their dedication to Canada's regional, cultural and linguistic diversity will make them important voices for their communities, and help the Senate better serve all Canadians," Trudeau said in a statement.

Keating and Cotter applied to be senators. Under reforms introduced by the Trudeau government, an independent appointments board compiles a list of eligible people to help the prime minister make his picks for the appointed chamber.

These appointments come on the same day Marc Gold, Trudeau's representative in the Senate, tapped two former Independent senators to sit as members of government caucus.

Manitoba Sen. Raymonde Gagné will be the deputy government representative or "legislative deputy," the second in command. Alberta Sen. Patti LaBoucane-Benson, a Métis, will be the government's liaison or whip — the person tasked with counting votes to make sure a government bill will pass through the Senate.

LaBoucane-Benson is the first Indigenous woman to hold a leadership position of this sort in the Red Chamber.

While described as "unaffiliated," the three representatives will be crucial to seeing the Liberal government's legislative agenda through the upper house.

Unlike the situation in years past, the government leader doesn't have a caucus of senators to rely on to see that government bills are passed. The new contingent of Independent senators also has been much more willing to amend bills, which has slowed down the pace of the legislative process.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

J.P. Tasker is a senior writer in the CBC's parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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