POLITICS

Senate Speaker Pierre Claude Nolin To Colleagues: Don't Be 'Blinded' By Partisan Politics

12/04/2014 03:43 EST | Updated 12/04/2014 04:59 EST
CP

OTTAWA — The new Speaker of the Senate Pierre Claude Nolin says his colleagues need to better understand their role and not be "blinded" by partisan politics.

Nolin, who was elevated to the Senate's top job last month, made the comments during a meeting with reporters Thursday.

The Speaker said he doesn't have a problem with partisanship but "I have a problem with partisanship when the partisanship blinds your possibility to express your judgment properly."

Nolin, a senator from Quebec who was appointed by former prime minister Brian Mulroney in 1993, said it took him more than 21 years to fully understand and appreciate the role of the upper house. The Supreme Court's reference on Senate reform last April was a game-changer, Nolin said. But he doubted whether many of his colleagues took the time to read it.

Nolin read out parts of the Supreme Court decision noting that the fathers of Confederation wanted to create an absolutely independent body that would review legislation from the House of Commons with impartiality. And by appointing senators rather than electing them, they sought to ensure members of the upper chamber would not be tied to partisan concerns and short-term political objectives. "That's major," Nolin said. "Have my colleagues — have you — stopped to think what that means for the independence in the Senate?" he asked.

"I don't want to judge and pass a judgment on decisions that are taken by my colleagues but I want them to properly understand that they have a role to play... and that they can do it," he said. "If they want to do it, it's up to them."

Lori Turnbull, an associate professor at the School of Public Policy and Administration at Carleton University, told HuffPost that senators are appointed until age 75 to ensure that very independence.

"Once you get there you should be able to do what you want and vote how you want, and you don't have to worry about being dismissed because you have more job security than the guy who appointed you," she said.

Nolin also questioned whether the Senate should be defeating legislation passed by the elected members in the House of Commons. The Conservative majority in the upper chamber defeated an NDP private member's bill, the Climate Change Accountability Act, in 2010 after it was passed by the Commons when Harper had a minority government.

The new Speaker of the Senate is widely regarded as an independent thinker. A proponent of marijuana decriminalization, he voted against the Conservative government's omnibus crime bill in 2012. He has also been known to mentor new Harper-appointed senators, such as Jacques Demers, about their roles and responsibilities in the chamber.

After Nolin's promotion was announced, the NDP suggested the "progressive" senator on drug policy and crime may have been given the plum job to stop him from influencing other caucus members.

"It's undoubtedly true that Harper wanted him out of Caucus meetings, where he may have been asking pointed questions about the constitutionality of government legislation or whether it's effective,” the NDP said in a release.

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