What pundits are saying about Justin Trudeau’s Senate decision

Commentary from the last 24 hours


(Graham Hughes/CP)

With 24 hours to consider Justin Trudeau’s decision to remove all his Liberal senators from caucus, and have them sit as independents, here’s a roundup of what pundits are saying.

Here at Macleans.ca

Emmett Macfarlane, assistant professor of political science at the University of Waterloo

Nothing about Trudeau’s announcements raise significant constitutional concerns, in my view.

Politically, however, the announcement has already made waves. I have seen some suggest that independent senators are unworkable – that they somehow go against the whole idea of responsible government and that Senate committees, etc. will be unworkable. This is, to be blunt, nonsense. While I agree a non-partisan Parliament would be a tricky thing to operate, the idea that there cannot be a functional Senate opposition composed of independent members is a misrepresentation of how the institution works.

Paul Wells, political editor

It’s a bit of a botched Schrödinger experiment, in sum. The box has been opened, but there is some disagreement about whether the cat lives or dies. And neither Trudeau nor Cowan seems to believe it’s anywhere in between. Perhaps they should consult.

John Geddes, Ottawa editor

Trudeau repeatedly said that the Tory bid to elect senators would require opening up the Constitution and embarking on a decade of negotiations with the provinces, something he refuses to contemplate. He also said the NDP preference for abolishing the Senate is equally impractical, because it would also require major constitutional reform.

So he positions the new Liberal model—a Senate made up of members detached from the parties in the House—as more practical. In fact, the idea has been floating around for some months.

The Globe and Mail


The Trudeau plan is partly a good idea. But it’s also more than that – and less, too. Mr. Trudeau is proposing a way of reforming the Senate without having to amend the Constitution, but his end run has its limits, and what’s more, it may end up taking the country, and Parliament, to unintended destinations.

Lori Turnbull, Associate Professor of Political Science at Dalhousie University

One of the most striking ironies of this announcement is this: While Mr. Trudeau’s decision is meant to curb the power of the Prime Minister, Mr. Trudeau himself has never seemed so “powerful.” By his own account, he told Senators of his decision just this Wednesday morning, immediately before he told MPs and the rest of us. There was no prior consultation with Senators, and so no warning of the bomb he was about to drop. Mr. Trudeau did this because he can. He’s the leader. But this large and in-charge style of “leadership” is more commonly associated with Stephen Harper.

Toronto Star


…Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s boldly populist gesture sweeping the Senate’s 32 Liberals out of his caucus — with the aim of curbing Senate partisanship and patronage, and reaffirming its intended role as a chamber of sober second thought — is calculated to play well with the public. Or at least that fraction of it that still holds out hope that the Senate can be reformed.

Tim Harper, national affairs columnist

Even Trudeau concedes he has gone as far as he could pending the court guidance.

Harper the reformer has lost credibility on the Senate issue, but as a majority prime minister, that will be forgotten once he hears from the court.

Only when that court guidance comes back will we really be in the realm of Senate reform, and, in the meantime, there are still 32 unelected, unaccountable senators roaming the red-carpeted chamber, whether they call themselves independents, independent Liberals, Liberal independents or the Marx Brothers.

The National Post

Tasha Kheiriddin, columnist

Trudeau’s gambit is a political masterstroke for three reasons. It makes him look (finally) like a man of action, not just words. It steals the spotlight on the senate issue from NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. And it puts Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the defensive about the fate of his Senate caucus.

Kelly McParland, columnist

Just like that — zap! — men and women who have spent their entire lives in the Liberal party, working for Liberal goals, campaigning to elect Liberal members — are no longer Liberals once they enter the Senate doors. They might be Liberals when they go to bed, might be Liberals when they wake the next morning, might be Liberals over coffee, but once inside the Senate their Liberalness disappears and they are magically independent.

Mr. Trudeau hasn’t explained how that can possibly happen.

John Ivison, national columnist

The NDP, as is their lot in life, were left to complain that this was all their idea in the first place.

But no politician should ever apologize for stealing a good policy idea. And it is a good idea. It is a brave idea, courageous even, which is usually enough to start political antennae tingling in veterans whose modus operandi is to never do anything for the first time.


Chris Hall, national affairs editor

But even amidst the partisan ridicule, Trudeau accomplished something.

For a politician who’s frequently criticized for having no ideas, the Senate proposal firmly positions the Liberals between the Conservatives’ elect-or-bust approach to Senate reform, and the NDP’s bust-up the Senate altogether.

Calgary Herald

Licia Corbella, editorial page editor

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.

The Chronicle Herald

Marilla Stephenson

At best, Trudeau’s intervention may prove short-lived, given that future reforms, or for that matter future party leaders, have the potential to reverse his position.

But in the absence of a dramatic position for the Liberal party — compared with the Conservatives’ push for an elected Senate and the NDP’s promise to abolish it — Trudeau’s reform model will provide an immediate improvement via the removal of the party yoke from a sizable portion of the Senate membership.

Winnipeg Free Press

Dan Lett

Missing, as well, from Trudeau’s plan are details about exactly how an independent Senate would be appointed. Who would sit in judgment of potential senators? Would citizens apply for the job or, like the Nobel Prize, would they have to be nominated? Would the premiers get any say in the matter?

Notwithstanding the impractical or missing details of Trudeau’s Senate policy, this is still fascinating stuff, if only for the fact that, once again, Trudeau has thrown out the old playbook and introduced an entirely new tack.

Sun Media

Anthony Furey

Bold move. Game changer. Inspired. And other such hyperbole to explain Justin Trudeau booting all Liberal senators from the Liberal caucus.

Ignore it all. Confusing mess is more like it.


What pundits are saying about Justin Trudeau’s Senate decision

  1. Why, look! Another article on Justin! With a dozen pundits commenting!

    So, did Justin’s move work? You betcha.

  2. Has there been heated debate on this in Parliament? Was this viewed solemnly by those who sit opposite? Consternation? No. Laughter actually. Genuine hysterical laughter. See the clip in QP for yourself. Making unelected Liberal senators, unelected senators who happen to be Liberal. A joke to be sure.
    That the Ottawa “elite” media treat this as some epic move is wholly unsurprising. Meanwhile regular folks sitting around the dinner table, concerned about their livelihood, their well being, watch these words games and the self referential media trumpeting these trivialities as if they are truly important, must surely see this display as other-worldly.
    Can this Ottawa media bubble get more insular and out-of-touch? Sadly, fuelled by their passion for their compatriot Justin and their desire to work around the inherent shallowness of their chosen one, this will not be the last such spectacle.
    The two greatest casualties in the next election: 1) Justin, and 2) his media cheerleaders.

    • Nice try.

      If Trudeau’s move is such an innocuous, meaningless development, why are Harper’s faithful commenting so excessively on it. Shouldn’t you just give it the inattention you think it deserves and discuss, say, the government’s wonderful new, more “efficient” services to veterans, instead?

      • Do you really want to apply the standard of a party being worried by the number of “faithful” buzzing around this website? By that measure, the Liberals must be exponentially worried about Justin.
        This gambit of removing the “Liberal” nametags of the senators is pure show. Not unlike the leader himself. Attribute my saying so as a deep seeded concern on the part of the CPC if you wish. I’m fairly certain that the Question period clip of the house in hysterical laughter was not some freakish example of academy award winning acting on a mass scale.

        • It’s not just “this website” that is logging the overreaction of Con sympathizers to Trudeau’s “meaningless” initiative. They seem to be chirping, decrying, and declaiming everywhere the issue comes up in cyberspace.

          Much ado about nothing? Then, why all the noise about it from Harper’s hapless horde? Let’s talk about Fantino’s laudable efforts in Veterans Affairs, instead.

          • I suspect your seeing deep concern, may be the result of a healthy dose of wishful thinking, and looking for that which you want to see. As for “noise” not all is created equal. I didn’t see gasps or fake smiles of concern, but outright hysterical laugher at Justin’s expense. Noise indeed.

          • You’re getting a lot of mileage out of your interpretation of the Kon Klown Korps performance in QP. You buy the the “spontaneity” and “authenticity” of that gong show, do you?

    • So Chuck, the Harper Con to oust the three amigos from caucus was a sham!!!! Indeed this measure was much more of a laugher than the Justin move and as you now imply, a con job. So which is it???? Justin put the Cons between a rock and their own shams.

      • The ouster of individual members of caucus based on conduct is clearly part of a genuine desire to rid unwanted from the party, something all parties do when necessary. This is precisely the opposite. Removing nametags when everyone and their dog knows those members will still be supportive Liberals is a phony show.

        • Chuck, You can’t have it both ways. Of course the Cons want it to interpret the Lib move one way but are you saying that the three amigos as independents vote contrary to the will of the Con Harper. It is so laughable that it would take an idiot to interpret it the way you and the rest of the Cons want the public to do it. But then again Cons are cons and will try to pass off anything in order to show they are always ‘right’. Quit taking the electorate for the fools you think they are.

        • And please explain Marjorie’s expulsion from the caucus. OOPSS, I guess you Cons want us to forget about that one!!!

  3. It is interesting what most of the pundits are missing. Harper is in trouble because his Chief of Staff ordered the Senate Majority Leader to doctor a report on Duffy and what followed. Of course, the Senate Majority Leader should have told Nigel to pound salt, but her impression was that she took direction from her party leader and his designate.

    You might have thought Harper would have learned from this, but no. Harper was the one who directed that the wayward Senators be tossed, when it should have been a Senate matter.

    Trudeau solution eliminates the possibility of the above (at least once he is PM). It may not be everything, but to say it is not an improvement is a vote in support of the status quo.

  4. And poor James Cowan, the Liberal non-Liberal who apparently hasn’t heard that he is no longer the Liberal non-Liberal leader of the non-Liberals ….

  5. Remember when the whole world was in an economic crisis in 2009?Canada was the only country that did well. Justin Trudeau is not intelligent, has no knowledge of the real world, cocky and has no experience. He was unknown until he decided to use his last name and became ambitious wanna be rich and famous.He is using his charm and a people pleaser. If there is an important decision to make and crisis what is he going to do? Well, he will try and use his charm and talk his way out in french. Stephen Harper looks whimpy, weak, dorky, giecky , nerdy etc may not be a great leader but a good one. He makes his moves and decisions for the good of the people and the country. Kinda risky for his political career. It shows he is not into pleasing people nor is he in a popular contest. In conclusion I will choose an economist, experience and intelligence of Harper instead of charm and ambition of Trudeau a wanna be rich and famous. It is not the time to use popularity, charm, ambition and experiment JUSTIN TRUDEAU. Don’t gamble voters go for Harper. Just go back home to mommy Trudeau.

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