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February 18, 2014

Trudeau Senate Reform

The Canadian Charger

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After years and years of talk about reforming the Senate to make it more relevant to the needs and desires of Canadians, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is the first to actually do something. In an effort to stop the Senate from being a group of political party hacks and sycophants - pigs at the trough, as Mr. Harper's political mentor Preston Manning used to characterize them promoting the Prime Minister's political agenda, Mr. Trudeau has dismissed all Liberal Senators from the party caucus and called upon Prime Minister Harper to do the same. Notwithstanding the whining from Mr. Harper and his ilk, Preston Manning supported Mr. Trudeau's move by saying, "It's a step in the right direction."

Mr. Trudeau reminded Canadians that our founding fathers intended the Senate “to be a place that allows for reflective deliberation on legislation, in-depth studies into issues of import to the country, and, to a certain extent, provide a check and balance on the politically-driven House of Commons.”

He added that it has become obvious that the party structure within the Senate interferes with these responsibilities, and, at best, this renders the Senate redundant.

“At worst — and under Mr Harper we have seen it at its worst — it amplifies the Prime Minister’s power,” Mr. Trudeau said.

And it appears that amplifying his power was at the forefront of Prime Minister Harper's mind as he appointed 59 senators and he became the only Prime Minister in Canada's 147 year history to appoint the same two people twice. And this was all done after promising to appoint no Senators, when he was campaigning for the privilege of governing Canada.

Mr. Trudeau noted that all of these people share one characteristic: “The Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister alone, judged them to be useful to himself, and to his party. Mike Duffy, Pam Wallin, Patrick Brazeau, Irving Gerstein are particularly egregious examples of where that leads.”

Nothing further need be said about the above-mentioned Harper appointees, as their records of “public service” speak for themselves.

No other democracy allows the Prime Minister or any other head of government to offer a lifetime income nearly four times the national average, until the age of 75, followed by an oversized pension, in return for promoting the Prime Minister's political agenda. And the Prime Minister is entitled to buy this service from “public servants” using taxpayers' money. Is it any wonder that the Conservative Party's interests are increasingly portrayed as Canada's interests, and Senators such as Irving Gerstein and Mike Duffy have trouble distinguishing between Conservative Party fundraising and senate business?

Moreover, it appears that Mr. Harper himself has made Conservative Party fundraising his priority - not senate business - otherwise why would the Harper government go to so much trouble to pay back Senator Duffy's housing expenses, were he not one of the Conservative Party's most important fundraisers? Particularly after seeing Mr. Duffy in action in the ongoing senate scandal, does anyone think he has something worthwhile to offer the Canadian taxpayers, to justify his salary and expenses that any other Harper-appointee couldn't provide, at hopefully considerably less cost to Canadian taxpayers.

Mr. Trudeau said that by ending partisanship, we can also end patronage.

“Here’s what I’m going to do about it.

I’m committing today that, if I earn the privilege of serving Canadians as their Prime Minister, I will put in place an open, transparent, non-partisan public process for appointing and confirming Senators.

No more closed doors. No more secretive deliberations. No more announcements the week before Christmas, under the cover of darkness.”

After pointing out that eight years ago Mr. Harper railed against the convention of having the Prime Minister appoint senators, and as Leader of the Opposition, he vowed to change it, Mr. Trudeau said he embraced this archaic process.

“Mr Harper would still have you believe that he is a reformer at heart, despite eight years of hard evidence to the contrary. Canadians elected his party to bring change to this place. Instead, they got a more virulent version of the status quo: a hyper-political, hyper-partisan Senate that is, more than ever, the Prime Minister’s private plaything.”

Mr. Trudeau called upon Prime Minister Harper to publicly commit to be guided in all future Senate  appointments by an open, transparent, non-partisan process, and once appointed, have senators sit independent from the political parties that serve in the House of Commons.

Of course Mr. Harper can't do that because his Conservative Party is already suffering from the loss of two of its best fundraisers in the Senate. Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin are going to be hard to replace: as fundraisers, of course, not as senators.

Notwithstanding the Harper government's feeble attempts to discredit Mr. Trudeau's bold move, the  Canada West Foundation - a think tank that has championed an elected Senate for decades and is based in the prime minister's hometown, Calgary – is endorsing Mr. Trudeau's plan for Senate reform while criticizing Harper's plan to have an elected Senate.

"Moving only to an elected, or single E Senate, legitimizes an institution that is deeply undemocratic,”  Canada West Foundation president Dylan Jones said in a written statement.

"An elected Senate alone will not help the West be heard in Ottawa. In fact, it will diminish its voice."

Mr. Jones said Mr. Trudeau's move, aimed at restoring the Senate to its intended purpose of providing independent, sober second thought, "is a more logical course than the misguided effort to legitimize the chamber through Senate elections.

"It is ironic that this action to (intentionally or unintentionally) address the interests of the West was taken by Trudeau," he observed.

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