POLITICS

Trudeau Poised To Unveil Advisory Board For Senate Nominees

12/02/2015 09:09 EST | Updated 12/02/2016 05:12 EST
OTTAWA — The Trudeau government is poised to unveil the process by which it hopes to restore the maligned, scandal-plagued Senate to its intended role as an independent chamber of sober second thought.

The Canadian Press has learned the government will announce Thursday the creation of a non-partisan advisory body to recommend worthy nominees for appointment to the upper house.

The process will include consultations with provinces, which will be invited to make recommendations for Senate nominees if they choose.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to create the advisory body two years ago, when he kicked all Liberal senators out of his party's caucus.

"The Senate needs to change. We need to end the partisan nature of the Senate."

The objective is to appoint new senators based on merit, rather than party affiliation.

Eventually, the process is intended to end partisanship in the Senate, which Trudeau believes has eroded the chamber's independence and senators' ability to dispassionately scrutinize legislation passed by the elected House of Commons.

"The status quo is not an option," the Liberal election platform stated. "The Senate needs to change. We need to end the partisan nature of the Senate."

canada senate

Overlooking the seat of the Canadian Senate on Parliament Hill, Ottawa. (Getty)

Trudeau is also poised to appoint a new Speaker in the Senate, replacing Conservative Leo Housakos who was appointed by former prime minister Stephen Harper.

He will also eventually have to appoint a government leader or representative in the Senate to introduce and shepherd government legislation through the upper house. However, since the Senate will not have any legislation to consider for at least another few months, that decision is not considered urgent.

Senate currently dominated by Tories

Getting the appointment process going is a more pressing concern because the Senate is currently dominated by Conservatives, some of whom may be only too happy to throw up roadblocks to Liberal legislation. However, there are 22 vacancies in the chamber which, once filled, would rob the Conservatives of their majority control of the chamber.

Harper's last Senate appointment was in March 2013 — when the scandal over improper expenses claimed by some senators began to engulf his government.

He had spent three decades championing an elected Senate but threw in the towel last year following a Supreme Court ruling that reforming the Senate would require a constitutional amendment approved by at least seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population. The top court set an even higher bar of unanimous provincial consent for Harper's fallback position — abolishing the Senate altogether.

Last spring, Harper formalized his refusal to appoint senators, announcing a moratorium which he said was aimed at pressuring the provinces to either come up with their own reform proposals or conclude that abolition was the only answer.

Reform part of campaign pledge

Trudeau maintained during the election campaign that his approach to Senate reform was the only practical solution, one that would deliver real change without requiring a constitutional amendment.

The Constitution specifies that it's the job of the governor general to appoint senators. By convention, the governor general acts only on the advice of the prime minister.

Liberal insiders, backed up by a number of constitutional experts, say there's nothing in the Constitution or in the top court's ruling that prevents the prime minister from consulting with whomever he chooses about Senate appointments, provided that he does not legally fetter his own discretion.

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