POLITICS

John Wallace, Independent Senator, Urges Upper Chamber To Embrace Change

12/09/2015 08:30 EST | Updated 12/09/2016 05:12 EST

OTTAWA — A senator who left the Conservative caucus to become an Independent says the upper chamber is marching toward inevitable change and can do it easily, or be dragged there, kicking and screaming.

Sen. John Wallace told the Senate on Wednesday that unreasonable practices and antiquated rules "are slow to die," but "die they must'' if the institution is to meet outside pressure to be less partisan and more independent.

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The Senate Chamber of the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, Canada. (Getty)

"It's inevitable that those types of changes are going to have to be made," Wallace said.

Wallace is pushing his colleagues for an overhaul of how the Senate sets committee memberships. He wants to ensure that independent senators aren't kept off committees by Conservatives and Liberals.

He left the Conservatives last month over what he called "irreconcilable differences'' with his party's leadership over the "roles, responsibilities and independence of Conservative senators,'' including partisan interference in the Senate's traditional role as "a chamber of sober second thought."

The debate Wallace started Wednesday is one of several which senators are involved in as part of existential talks about how the upper chamber will function in uncharted political waters:

— Some senators are calling for an end to the daily question period;

— Conservative Senate leader Claude Carignan is asking the chamber to allow cabinet ministers to field queries from the floor of the Senate as a way to reform question period;

— Conservative Leo Housakos the former Speaker, is asking the new Speaker, George Furey, to find the government in violation of the rules because they have yet to appoint a government leader in the Senate;

— Liberal Sen. Terry Mercer has introduced a bill to have Senate elect its Speaker, rather than leave the appointment in the hands of the prime minister.

"It's inevitable that those types of changes are going to have to be made."

The debates likely won't be wrapped up before the end of the week, when politicians head off for a winter break.

The backdrop to the debates is the ongoing digging by the RCMP into the spending of senators flagged in June's auditor general's report and the Mike Duffy trial, where the Senate's rules and practices are under public scrutiny.

The chamber appears to have little interest in again suspending senators Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau as they did two years ago, when the three were sidelined without pay or privileges for the duration of the session. The suspensions ended when Parliament was dissolved for the October election.

Brazeau and Duffy face criminal charges over their Senate expenses, and Wallin has been under the gaze of the RCMP since 2013 for her travel spending. She has not been charged with any crime, nor have any of the allegations against her been tested in court.

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