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Licia Corbella: Trudeau’s Senate reform is just a mirage

Now that federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has turfed all Liberal senators from his caucus, he has only four members who represent ridings west of Ontario.

Now that federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has turfed all Liberal senators from his caucus, he has only four members who represent ridings west of Ontario.

As a result of his decision Wednesday, Trudeau will have no Albertans in his caucus, only one MP from Saskatchewan, another from Manitoba and two from Vancouver. Of the 32 Liberal senators whom he claims will be independent, there were seven westerners.

Now when Trudeau presides over his 35 other Liberal MPs, and the vilified oilsands come up for discussion, he will have no caucus member who will speak up for Alberta. How does this improve democracy?

As is typical of the Parliament Hill bubble, this news was initially described as “a bombshell,” “stunning” and “revolutionary.” But as the day wore on, and some sober second thought set in, even shell-shocked Liberal senators were saying they didn’t expect much to change.

So, while Trudeau was bandying his move as “the most meaningful action possible without opening the Constitution,” his now-independent senators were contradicting him.

According to Alberta Senator Grant Mitchell, former Liberal senators like him have officially called themselves the “Senate Liberal Caucus.”

The Senate Liberal Caucus voted Wednesday to keep everything the same. They reappointed James Cowan as leader of the Opposition in the Senate, reappointed Joan Fraser as deputy leader and reappointed Jim Munson as the whip for the Senate Liberal Caucus.

When asked why independent senators would need a whip, if they didn’t expect to follow party lines on legislative votes, Mitchell replied: “That’s a good point ... maybe we shouldn’t call it that any more.” Sheesh.

So, now that the dust is settling, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this so-called “bold bombshell” was really just a mirage, and as we all moved closer to examine this shiny new object, it dissipated into nothingness.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what the Senate Liberal Caucus leader said: “We have agreed that we will style ourselves as the Liberal Senate Caucus,” said Cowan, who added they will all remain Liberal party members and friends with elected Liberal MPs. “I think not a lot will change,” he added.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the whole thing sound silly in question period.

“I gather the change announced by the leader today is that unelected Liberal senators will become unelected senators who happen to be Liberal,” quipped Harper in the Commons. Harper added that Canadians want an elected Senate, not “a better unelected Senate.”

Former Reform party leader Preston Manning said Trudeau’s announcement leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

“In one sense, it’s a step in the right direction but is it a genuine step or is it a phoney or false step?” asked Manning, who has long advocated for Senate reform.

Manning wondered if the auditor general’s upcoming report into senate expenses has spurred Trudeau to “cut them loose before they become a bigger liability.” Manning also wondered how independent the senators will be and how long they can maintain that independence.

“Will their voting patterns in the Senate be any different?” Manning asked. “I think people will be watching to see if this is an actual genuine independence or if this is just a PR move.”

Trudeau also said that if he becomes prime minister, he would never appoint a senator. Instead, he would set up an independent body of appointed people to appoint senators.

Somehow, having an unaccountable appointed body appointing unaccountable senators is preferable to an elected prime minister doing so? I’m not making this up! At least the current Senate scandal involving Harper appointees has led to serious blow-back on the prime minister.

This initiative is just another example of how Trudeau acts before thinking things through. Not only would such an initiative be negative for the country, but it’s rendered his party an eastern rump.


Licia Corbella is the editorial page editor at the Calgary Herald.