A senator and a professor once on the advisory committee for appointments agree Justin Trudeau did something right: he made the Senate slightly better.
Days ago, Trudeau-appointed Senator David Richards and said the Liberals’ Bill C-10 needed “a stake through the heart” and he would “always and forever stand against any bill that subjects freedom of expression to the doldrums of government oversight.”
Trudeau has appointed 52 Senators to the 105-seat chamber and 12 vacancies remain. However, they all sit independently.
Scott Tannas, an Alberta senator appointed by Stephen Harper, told Western Standard Trudeau cut senators out of the Liberal caucus to distance his party from the expense claims scandal that brought criticism to Conservatives Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau and Liberal Mac Harb.
“It was actually a brilliant solution. It hurt a lot of people’s feelings, but at the end of the day, it had completely extricated them from anything. And there was a witch hunt that was forming up and everybody recognized it,” Tannas said in an interview.
Trudeau chooses senators from five options given to him by an independent advisory panel. The latest three appointments were made June 22: Hassan Yussuff, former president of the Canadian Labour Congress; Bernadette Clement, mayor of Cornwall, Ontario; and James Quinn, CEO of Port Saint John.
Although Clement ran as a Liberal candidate in 2011 and 2015, Tannas said Trudeau can legitimately claim Senators are now there based on merit.
“To the guy’s credit, the people he has put into the Senate are accomplished Canadians. He’s been true to everything in terms of there have been very few senators appointed that had any overt Liberal ties,” Tannas said.
“Over the years, all the way back to Confederation…the promise was, well, if you go in there [in a federal election] and you lose, we’ll put you in the Senate.”
Tannas won an Alberta Senate-in-waiting election in 2012, and Harper put him in the Upper House in 2013. Tannas said the Senate only amended “2% of bills that went through” in those days, but not anymore.
“It is a different place. And there’s evidence of that. We’ve amended a bunch of bills…including some substantive ones. I think our amendment rate is something like 28% of all bills.”
The founder of Western Financial Group in private life, Richards then founded the Canadian Senators Group (CSG) in 2019.
“Our difference is, we don’t take common political positions on any bill,” Tannas said of his caucus. “It’s research. It’s around comportment in the chamber. We are folks (who) believe in respect and no sharp exchanges.”
University of Moncton political science professor Donald Savoie was on the advisory committee that recommended Richards. In an interview with Western Standard, Savoie said Trudeau’s innovation of the selection process was the most significant reform the Senate has had.
“I said it’s an important reform, not because it goes far enough, only because it’s the only one other than forcing them to retire at the age of 75,” Savoie explained.
“It’s a very minor step in the right direction, but it is a step.”
Savoie remains unsatisfied with the Upper House, despite the improvement.
“The fathers of Confederation had it wrong on this basic law. Any federal system that’s worth its weight has an effective Upper House that speaks on behalf of the regions. What we have now is a Parliament that can only speak effectively on behalf of Ontario or Quebec.”
Savoie liked Preston Manning’s ideas for the Senate.
“My preference would have been for the 1980’s Triple-E,” Savoie said, referring to the acronym for equal, elected, and effective senate . “It would require a constitutional amendment. And all that to say, Good luck with that.”
In October, Alberta will hold another Senator-in-waiting election to coincide with civic election day.
Lee Harding is a Saskatchewan-based correspondent for Western Standard.
Lee Harding is the Senior Saskatchewan Contributor for the Western Standard and Saskatchewan Standard based in the Regina Bureau.
He has served as the Saskatchewan Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
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