OTTAWA — The prime minister's travelling town hall took him to Quebec City on Thursday where the loudest applause of the night was for a woman who questioned the relevance of the Senate.
"It's ridiculous that a non-elected chamber can actually overturn the decisions taken by the elected House of Commons," the woman told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in French before a crowd gathered at École secondaire De Rochebelle.
She called the upper chamber a "relic of the past" that preserves British colonial influences, adding, "What's even worse, the Senate has become a retirement home for former Liberal and Conservative MPs."
Senators wear a pin, get $125,000 and "they do nothing," she said. Loud applause broke out in the gym venue for her remarks.
Trudeau started his response by saying he would have agreed with her two years ago. But in order to abolish the Senate, the country would have to reopen the Constitution, he said.
Earlier on HuffPost Canada:
"Now I'm not saying that it would be awful to try and improve certain elements of the Constitution," Trudeau said in French. "Rather, what I'm saying is that the political energy that would have to be deployed; and the interminable conversations to which this would lead; and all of the constitutional debates that would absorb all the political oxygen within our system for several years.
"From my point of view, and many others have expressed the same concerns, that perhaps it's better to take that same energy and oxygen and deploy it to deal with issues that are a concern for our citizens on a daily basis rather than dealing with the Canadian Constitution."
Trudeau criticized the previous government for "too much political favourtism," with partisan appointments to the Senate. He lauded his own influence on the institution, saying his decision in 2014 to boot all senators from Liberal caucus was a step towards a more independent Senate.
He acknowledged hiccups and challenges along the way, adding there's room for improvement.
"I know it's much better than what we had beforehand," he said.
A more independent Senate is becoming a double-edged sword of sorts for the governing Liberals. Last summer, there was some brief tension between the two chambers after the House of Commons rejected the Senate's amendments in the budget implementation bill to remove automatic annual increases to alcohol taxes.
I know it's much better than what we had beforehand.Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
And in November, Indigenous senators voiced their displeasure with the government over its reluctance to make sweeping changes to remove sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act. Under a court deadline, the government had introduced the bill in the Senate as a tactic to hopefully expedite its passage.
Standoffs over amendments caused the government to miss that summer deadline.
But now, the Trudeau government is exploring ways to pass more bills, and one strategy is by tweaking its relationship with senators.
Recently, the government's representative, Sen. Peter Harder, was extended an invite to attend a Liberal cabinet retreat for briefings for the first time.
Trudeau is on a six-city, town hall tour across the country. With stops in Sackville, N.S., Hamilton and London, Ont. behind him, the prime minister will wrap his tour with stops in Winnipeg and Edmonton at the end of the month.
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