B.C.'s Yuen Pau Woo named leader of Independent senators, soon to be Senate's largest bloc

One of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's first picks for the Senate has been named leader of the growing bloc of Independent senators.

Woo voted with government representative in the Senate 100% of the time last sitting

Malaysian-born Yuen Pau Woo is a former president of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and currently senior fellow in public policy at the Asian Institute of Research at the University of British Columbia. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

One of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's first picks for the Senate has been named leader of the growing bloc of Independent senators.

Yuen Pau Woo, the only candidate in the race to replace outgoing "facilitator" Elaine McCoy of Alberta, was elected to the position by members of the Independent Senators Group (ISG) Monday. He ran on a joint ticket with Quebec Independent Sen. Raymonde Saint-Germain, who will serve as a his deputy facilitator.

"I am honoured to be entrusted with this responsibility and delighted to be working in tandem with Sen. Saint-Germain," Woo said in a statement Monday. "We believe that a strong, coherent and unified group will enhance the ability of members to be effective independent senators, especially on our core function of legislative review."

Raymonde Saint-Germain, a former ombudsman in Quebec, has been elected "deputy facilitator" of the Independent Senators Group (ISG). (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Woo sponsored the government's budget bill in the Senate last spring, steering it through a chamber that has become increasingly unpredictable. Some senators sought to split off the government's proposed infrastructure bank, and stop the Liberal government from levying an automatic yearly increase to the alcohol excise duty. Both efforts failed.

Prior to joining the Senate, Woo was a senior fellow in public policy at the Asian Institute of Research at the University of British Columbia, and is the former president of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

He has long been a supporter of closer trade ties between Canada and China.

But his opposition to a motion that would have condemned China for its incursions in the South China Sea prompted some Conservatives to brand him an apologist for the authoritarian regime. Woo strenuously denied those accusations in an interview with CBC News last week.

Voted with government 100% of the time

In addition to his vocal support for the budget, Woo has been friendly to government legislation on the whole. Woo voted with the government's representative in the Senate, Peter Harder, 100 per cent of the time during the last sitting, according to an analysis compiled by CBC News.

Saint-Germain, appointed alongside Woo to the Senate last November, is a former senior public servant and ombudsperson for Quebec. She voted with Harder 95.8 per cent of the time.

The ISG — composed of recently named Trudeau appointees and others who left the Liberal and Conservative caucuses — is poised to become the largest bloc of senators this fall, when it leapfrogs over the opposition Conservatives.

The current make up of the Senate is 36 Conservatives, 35 members of the ISG, 16 Liberals and eight non-affiliated members who sit outside of all Senate groups. After a series of retirements and high-profile resignations,10 new senators will be named this fall.

Despite being appointed by a Liberal prime minister, those new senators are expected to join the ranks of the ISG. Trudeau booted Liberals from the national Liberal caucus at the height of the Senate expenses scandal in 2014.

Woo has said, as leader, he will fight for space on Senate committees for Independent senators. He will also push for more money to help staff the ISG secretariat, a group of staff that support the work of Independent senators.


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.


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