We didn’t see this one coming. But Justin Trudeau’s move on the Senate proposes an appropriate shakeup of a political body that grinds just about everybody’s gears.
The federal Liberal leader announced Wednesday that all Liberal senators would no longer be members of the Liberal caucus, and would sit as independents in the upper chamber. He challenged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to respond in kind and cut loose his considerable posse of Conservative senators – the Tories currently enjoying a Senate majority.
Characteristic dismissal of the idea from the prime minister is not at all surprising. And it wouldn’t be hard to view Trudeau’s proposal on this as a political stunt – after all, the Liberals having a Senate minority, and third-place standing in the Commons, they have little to lose at the moment. Liberal senators could not swing a contentious, partisan issue.
The description of the Senate’s role as a chamber of sober second thought has lately been used to poke fun at it. But it had meaning once: a main intent of the upper house was as a counterbalance to the powers of the ruling government and prime minister, to review legislation and propose revisions as deemed wise.
Harper, while proclaiming the need for Senate reform, continued stacking the chamber following the usual pattern of patronage, with the understanding that new Conservative members would be expected to simply ape Conservative positions taken in the Commons.
That’s helped put the Senate at cross-purposes with any notion of sober second thought independent of partisanship.
Many Canadians would like to see far more drastic action taken in regard to the Senate. What Trudeau is proposing, he says, is a much-needed change that could be done within the framework of the Constitution. It’s the most practical idea presented so far. It might not ultimately change allegiances, granted, but the point is, senators should not be ordered to follow the government lockstep.