Trudeau says appoint better senators, forget reforming upper chamber

ORLEANS, Ont. – Liberal leadership front-runner Justin Trudeau says there’s nothing wrong with Canada’s scandal-plagued Senate that couldn’t be fixed by appointing higher calibre senators.

The Montreal MP favours limiting senators to 12-year terms but, other than that, sees no need to overhaul the much-maligned chamber.

He rules out the election of senators as a “terrible idea” that would lead to parliamentary gridlock and exacerbate the under-representation of western provinces.

Rather, Trudeau says the obvious fix is to “demand better” of those appointed to the Senate.

He says the recent series of controversies that have befallen the upper chamber are largely the result of bad choices by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in appointing senators.

The Senate’s already tarnished reputation has been sullied by allegations of senators abusing their taxpayer-funded housing allowances and by the arrest last week of Conservative Sen. Patrick Brazeau, who was charged with sexual assault and assault.

Brazeau and fellow Harper appointee Mike Duffy are among three senators whose expense claims are being examined by an outside auditor amid allegations that they improperly claimed an allowance meant to compensate senators who keep a secondary residence in Ottawa. The third under investigation is Liberal Mac Harb, who was appointed by former prime minister Jean Chretien.

Trudeau, who won an upset victory over Brazeau in a charity boxing match last year, declined to comment specifically on the controversies swirling around his one-time pugilistic adversary.

But in general, he said recent scandals “are a reflection of an institution that we haven’t taken proper care of and that the prime minister has gone out of his way to fill with people who, perhaps, aren’t focused on serving Canadians with the best of their ability the way they should be.”

“It needs to be fixed by demanding better of the people that we choose to appoint to the Senate. That’s the answer for me,” he said after a pep talk late Monday to several hundred Liberal supporters at a pub near Ottawa.

Trudeau defended the Senate as a necessary “counterpoint” to the elected House of Commons and praised most senators for doing “extraordinary work.”

Harper’s government has repeatedly introduced bills to impose a nine-year term limit and promote the creation of provincial processes for electing nominees who would then be appointed to the Senate. After numerous false starts, the government has finally asked the Supreme Court to advise whether such reforms can be implemented by Parliament alone, as the government maintains, or would require a constitutional amendment approved by at least seven provinces with 50 per cent of the population.

The court has also been asked to clarify which constitutional amending formula — seven/50 or unanimity — would be required to abolish the chamber altogether.

Trudeau turned thumbs down on electing senators, without first changing the gross under-representation of western provinces or establishing a deadlock breaking mechanism between two elected parliamentary chambers.

“I think an elected Senate is a terrible idea,” he said.

“If you all of sudden have a legitimate Senate that exercises the full extent of its powers — as opposed to one that understands that it’s less legitimate than the House of Commons because it’s not elected — you’re transforming our system in very, very negative ways.

“Not to mention that all of sudden Alberta with only six senators who are elected is much weaker than Quebec, that has 24 senators that would be elected. It would unbalance so many things that we just have to focus on making it a better quality Senate rather than trying to change the Senate.”




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Trudeau says appoint better senators, forget reforming upper chamber

  1. I completely agree with JT. The Senate has its place and you can’t put garbage in and expect anything other than garbage out. Make it stronger; insist on high calibre appointments.

      • Yes, both Liberals and Conservatives have made senate appointments that are less than stellar; I did not intent for this to be a partisan statement at all. I still believe in the Senate and a need for good work from the senators. There are many amazing Canadians whose work would benefit all Canadians, not just whatever team happens to have won the most recent election. A poll reported in the Globe and Mail today says that 32% of Canadians would like the Senate abolished; that leaves quite a nice majority who understand it should stay.

        • The implication seems to be that 68% of Canadians think the Senate should stay as is. The article I found on the poll (interesting titled “Canadians growing ever wearier of Senate shenanigans, poll suggests”) does not state anything like that and is in fact very short on details.

          Perhaps you can point us to something that goes into the details of the poll so that we see just what Canadians are thinking?

          “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” also applies to polls.

      • Yes. Of course. It’s all the Liberals fault. We musn’t, therefore, bring any unwarranted attention to Comrad Harpers 58 patronage appointments to the Upper Chamber. Or the stream of right wingnut mantras coming from some of the top Ministers in his Cabinet, or the constant barrage of Conservative propoganda splashed throughout the media that they charge to Canadian taxpayers. They’re simply misunderstood. Yes. Of course. LOL

        • Not saying that all CPC appointees are great look at Brazeau and Duffy however for the Liberals to show fake outrage and is at the best laughable

          • Who was showing fake outrage when you posted that? Yours was only the second comment, and I said nothing partisan about it at all!

    • The senate is inherently undemocratic by virtue of the number of senators per province. Example – BC has less senators than NB despite having a population that is 6 times NB’s. The notion of appointees (picked by one person) who serve until age 75 is also inherently undemocratic. Reform it (make it equitable and elected with term limits) or abolish it. Retaining it as is is an affront to democratic values.

      • At least you’re saying let’s make it equitable first before making it elected. That at least makes more sense than Harper’s bizarre: make it even sicker in order to cure it approach. But you still haven’t addressed the problem of gridlock between two rival houses. And making it equitable is going to be an almost insurmountable hurdle to get over…short of some sturdy guarantess to smaller provinces. Perhaps Duffy can can lead the integration push in the maritimes, if they ever let him live there again?

        I agree with JT. It wont work. We don’t need it in a country where we already have strong premiers. If anything it will nail a third leg to the two legged, very wobbly stool we already have – feds vs Provs.

        • Potential gridlock is a valid concern IMO. Just look at the US. For that reason, I’d have no issues with abolishing the Senate. While the alternative of an elected, equitable, semi-effective (i.e. can’t cause gridlock) Senate might be preferable, I’ll concede it’s probably unrealistic.

        • Well, the dream for the West is for a EEE senate, Equal, Elected, Efficient, similar to the Australian Senate. Essentially, the idea is for a regional voice to counterbalance the bloc of urban voters, who largely all have the same interests. Gridlock to prevent one part of the country from overrunning the interests of other parts of the country is rather the point.

          However, that was 20 years ago, and the West has become more numerous and more muscular in that time, so the idea of a EEE senate to balance has lost steam. We also found out we aren’t so different from Ontario after all, and there is more common ground urban voters than we though and so less need to protect ourselves. The memories of NEP and the “West Wants In” are starting to fade.

          But I remain skeptical about an appointed senate. If it is a rubber stamp, why do we need it at all? If it is supposed to be a check on bad legislation, why isn’t it only made up of ex-judges and previously elected poltiicians? (That latter point wouldn’t preclude an elected senate btw).

          But reforming the senate at all will be difficult, and P.E. Trudeau did build a “if you guys want to nuke the senate someday, here’s a way to make it easier” clause into the constitution. Maybe we should take him up on that.

          • Can you elaborate on the senate nuking clause?

  2. What a dull naive person Justin is turning out to be.

    • Oh yes. But then he’s just getting warmed up. LOL

    • Trudeau correctly recognized that the senate is currently stacked against western provinces, and that electing senators without first fixing that issue is most certainly not a good idea. So he gets 2 points for that.

      However, I agree that his notion that appointing higher calibre senators would make the senate acceptable is, at best, naive. A cynic would say that he wants to retain it as is so that a future prime minister Trudeau would have a means to reward loyal Liberals.

      • He should at least say how he would avoid that problem…perhaps by giving up some of the right of the PM to just pick and choose who he likes. But you know, even though flawed it did work most of the time before Harper. Even he has made some good picks when he could be arsed to. I think Trudeau has a point even here. Demand more of our leaders. Perhaps a good step is to have a public process short of formal elections? My personal wish is for no formal party affiliations in the senate. Let them sit as real independents if possible.

        • I don’t mind if the pm has a group or committee that recommends suitable candidates for appointment, but I do think the pm should pick — and that their selection is recognized as saying as much about the pm and it is about the senate choices. We all have every right to look at duffy, wallin and brazeau and make judgements about harper. And if one day Justin Trudeau is pm and he picks solely to keep a partisan edge, then we have every right to make judgements about those choices too.

      • There may always be a partisan taint toward appointments, but surely there are deserving folks who have had stellar careers and can make a difference for Canada without being overly partisan. And I agree with the idea of shorter terms for senators. I note that today, the Trudeau Foundation appointed a roster of mentors that includes Michael Fortier, so sometimes partisanship is overlooked for the greater good.

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