The House

'We're not getting answers' in Senate, says Senator Denise Batters

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's new point man in the Senate isn't answering the questions other senators have, Conservative senator Denise Batters tells The House.
Sen. Mike Duffy leaves the courthouse after being acquitted on all charges Thursday, April 21, 2016 in Ottawa. Duffy has been cleared of all 31 fraud, breach of trust and bribery charges he had been facing in relation to the long-running Senate expense scandal. (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 managed the Liberal transition to government and has spent 29 years in the federal public service, will work with Liberal House Leader Dominic Leblanc to ensure legislation gets 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.

"[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 this 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," Batters said.

"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 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 remained "confident in the vote I took on the first occasion to suspend Mr. Duffy without pay" back in 2013.

She echoed sentiments expressed earlier 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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