OTTAWA — The Conservative-dominated Senate is taking the first step towards accommodating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's desire for a more independent, less partisan upper house.
Sen. Claude Carignan, the Conservative leader in the Senate, has introduced a motion that would authorize inviting cabinet ministers to take part in the daily question period in the red chamber.
Carignan says that would allow senators to directly grill ministers about their departments and would allow Conservative senators from the Atlantic provinces to pose questions pertaining to their region — something Tories in the House of Commons can't do because they won no seats in Atlantic Canada.
Until now, it has been the government leader in the Senate who fields questions from other senators each day, on behalf of the government.
Conservative Senate Leader Sen. Claude Carignan (The Canadian Press)
However, in a bid to reduce partisanship in the Senate, Trudeau kicked all senators out of the Liberal caucus two years ago.
There is consequently no government leader in the Senate at the moment, although a government "representative" is to be eventually chosen from among the first five senators named under Trudeau's newly launched appointment process.
The government is creating an arm's-length advisory board to recommend non-partisan nominees for Senate appointments.
Government House leader Dominic LeBlanc has said the Senate will have to reform its rules and procedures, all of which are geared to having a governing party caucus and an opposition party caucus, to reflect the less partisan nature of the Senate envisioned by Trudeau. LeBlanc has himself suggested that inviting ministers to answer questions in the Senate could be one way to adjust the rules.
Carignan says holding the government to account is an important part of the work of any legislative chamber, including the Senate.
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