How might an independent Senate work?

The Maclean's Ottawa bureau gives a weekly audio debrief on Canadian politics


Each week, the Maclean’s Ottawa bureau sits down with Cormac MacSweeney to discuss the headlines of the week. This week, front of mind is the Trudeau government’s first fiscal plan—set to be unveiled on March 22. We already know the Liberals are going to post a large deficit, as high as $30 billion. Here to give the opposition perspective is Conservative MP Tony Clement, a former Treasury Board president.

After that, Cormac sits down with Maclean’s Ottawa Bureau Chief John Geddes to talk about the political salesmanship necessary for the Liberals to convince voters that the new government is on the right track.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has partially filled a mounting list of Senate vacancies. Trudeau announced the appointment of seven new senators—a group that includes a judge, a Paralympian and a former journalist—and laid down an expectation that they’d be independent-minded during their time in the upper chamber. Rob Walsh, a former House of Commons law clerk, joins the show to articulate the challenges he sees in an independent Senate.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair could face the risk of losing his job at an upcoming party leadership review, thanks to rumblings from a growing number of disgruntled New Democrats. Cormac spoke with former NDP MP Jamie Nicholls about renewal within the NDP.

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The full episode

Part 1. Bill Morneau readies his first budget.

Minister of Finance Bill Morneau laces up his budget shoes at the Kiwanis Boys & Girls Club in Toronto at an appearance to talk about the upcoming release of the federal budget, Friday, March 18, 2016. (Galit Rodan/CP)

(Galit Rodan/CP)

Tony Clement was, until few months ago, the president of the Treasury Board in former prime minister Stephen Harper’s final cabinet. In that role, Clement oversaw the federal government’s fiscal operations, and he’s well-versed in the machinery of government. Clement tells Cormac MacSweeney that he’ll be looking at the size of the deficit laid out in Bill Morneau’s first budget. He’ll also keep an eye on the revenue projections, and the overall plan to get back to balance. If the Liberals play it wrong, says Clement, Canada is “careening off a fiscal cliff.”

Part 2. How to sell a deficit.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau speaks at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Toronto on Wednesday, January 13, 2016. The dimming economy is not the only challenge facing Morneau as he puts together his first federal budget. (Peter Power/CP)

(Peter Power/CP)

Maclean’s Ottawa bureau chief John Geddes is the proud owner of a collection of books you won’t find on the typical bookshelf: federal budget plans. Geddes maintains a library of budgets dating back to 1993, and he covered the last federal Liberal government to table a deficit. Since those days, the voting public has tended to view deficits negatively. But during the election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sold deficits as necessary—and even a positive thing. Can the Liberals pull off that ambitious pitch to voters? Geddes gives his view.

Part 3. How will an independent Senate work?

(Photograph by Blair Gable)

(Photograph by Blair Gable)

Seven new senators will soon take their seats in the Red Chamber, appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with the expectation that they’ll think independently of each other as they go about their work. That attempt at culture change is one of Trudeau’s key promises on Senate reform. But Conservatives still sit in their own caucus, and Senate Liberals—who aren’t part of the Liberal parliamentary caucus—largely remain on the same team. That’s in addition to another group of senators who recently formed their own “non-partisan” group in the chamber. How will the Senate work together to get things done? Rob Walsh, a former House of Commons law clerk, offers his thoughts on the Senate’s future.

Part 4. Tom Mulcair prepares his defence.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair speaks to reporters in the foyer on Parliament Hill, shortly after addressing his caucus, on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015, in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/CP)

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair speaks to reporters in the foyer on Parliament Hill, shortly after addressing his caucus, on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015, in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/CP)

Ian Capstick, an Ottawa-based consultant and longtime New Democrat, launched a recent wave of speculation about NDP Leader Tom Mulcair’s future when he told The Hill Times that Mulcair faces “the fight of his life” at an upcoming leadership review. Mulcair’s week got worse when 37 Quebec-based party activists called for renewal within their party. That group includes former MP Jamie Nicholls, who spoke to Cormac about what’s next for the NDP.


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