The House

In House - A new day in the Senate? Or more of the same?

We asked our in-house panelists — Susan Delacourt of the Toronto Star and iPolitics and La Presse's Joël-Denis Bellavance — to weigh in on the new Senate appointments, and whether they think it's a new day for Canada's embattled Upper House.
The Senate chamber on Parliament Hill is shown in a May 28, 2013 photo. An arbitrator's final, binding ruling on the questionable expense claims of 14 senators is expected to be made public March 22. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday the appointment of seven new senators who will sit as independents to represent the provinces of Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.

The appointments are the first in three years and the result of a new selection process established by Trudeau's Liberals in a bid to transform the scandal-plagued Senate into a more "independent, non-partisan" institution.

Trudeau's pick of four women and three men includes Manitoba's first aboriginal judge, a Paralympic gold medallist, a former provincial NDP cabinet minister, and a journalist.

We asked our In House panelists — Susan Delacourt of the Toronto Star and iPolitics and La Presse's Joël-Denis Bellavance — to weigh in on the new appointments, and whether they think it's a new day for Canada's embattled Upper House.

Chris Hall: 7 new Senators they all say they're independent, what do you make of that claim given the process we went through?

Susan Delacourt: I hope they're independent because I think the biggest problem the Senate has been that the Senate has been operating as a mirror image of the House of Commons. We don't need another mini House of Commons. Hence, some of the concerns about appointing the guy who set up your government to introduce government measures in the Senate. 

I'm going to say, just because we're all into sunny ways right now, that I'm trying to be very optimistic about this. I think the Senate does need a dose of independence but my test will be the first time they disagree with the House of Commons, I'm waiting to see that.

Joël-Denis Bellavance: The cynics will say this is a different process with the same result. You've got a former reporter, former provincial politician, former star of the Olympic games. But I agree with Susan I think this is producing something very different. I talked to Andre Pratt — a former colleague of mine — and he said this is a historic moment because he feels he will be very strongly independent otherwise he would have rejected any appointment from the government if he had to be attached to a caucus.

In general, I think it goes that way — more independent — and the government has 17 more seats to fill in the Senate with independents.

CH: The process was not any more transparent than last time. Why is that? And what has to change for this process to seem less partisan? 

SD: I don't understand. We've gone towards greater transparency in picking Supreme Court judges, I don't know why we couldn't have the same kind of transparency, maybe even hearings for future senators. There are all kinds of ways that transparency can be done in Ottawa. There is no great secrecy, or anything necessary it seems to me around future senators.

JDB: What I like about this process is that the provinces were consulted. Originally, the fathers of Confederation wanted to make it a chamber representing the interests of regions and by consulting provinces, I think we're going to achieve that. 

And, whenever we have our first controversy I think the first person we will want to talk to are one of those independent senators.

CH: How will it work? We have independent Senators, independent Liberals, independent Conservatives. How is this going to function? Who's going to be on committees? How will Peter Harder going to wield effective power here to get things through?

SD: There will be a lot of cat herding.

JDB: That's a good question and I think this needs to be resolved by the internal board of economy of the Senate. How do we rearrange the rules to suit the new reality of an increasing number of independent senators? The rules will have to be modified according to that.

SD: Interesting thing could happen, too, You'll see people grouping around issues like you do in the United States. Coalitions will form around ideas rather than blind partisanship, which could be interesting.

JDB: Something to watch too is whether other Conservative Senators or independent Liberal Senators will want to join the independent groups. If that's the case we will have achieve a quiet revolution in the Senate.

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