01/29/2015 04:30 EST | Updated 03/30/2015 05:59 EDT

Senate Speaker Pierre-Claude Nolin To Put Non-Partisan Stamp On Role

OTTAWA - The new Speaker of the Senate is signalling his intent to put a firmly non-partisan, collaborative stamp on the position, a move welcomed by the chamber as an auditor general's report into their expenses looms.

Pierre-Claude Nolin held a two-hour, closed-door meeting Tuesday with senators of all stripes to seek their input on how he should conduct himself.

Senators who were at the meeting said Nolin mused about whether he should attend Conservative caucus meetings, and committed himself to being the impartial promoter of the entire institution.

That message resonated with many senators, who are concerned with the ongoing probe into their expenses being conducted by the auditor general. Some worry that the auditor general's office doesn't have a good grasp of the work of the Senate.

Michael Ferguson's report is expected sometime in the spring.

That uneasiness seemed to surface Wednesday night as Ferguson and three other agents of Parliament testified at a Senate committee on a completely unrelated legislative matter — a private member's bill.

"It's no secret that you and your department are heavily involved right now in the affairs of the Senate through your audit, and you're here this evening, asking senators to make a decision in a certain fashion on legislation," said Alberta Conservative Sen. Scott Tannas.

"I'm curious if you could ... tell us about the thought process that brought you to feel that you, and we, would be comfortable with your presence here."

Independent Sen. Elaine McCoy said she was encouraged by the approach to the Speaker's position expressed by Nolin.

"One would expect some suggestions from the auditor general, but one would hope that they are sufficiently considered, coming from a base of knowledge," said McCoy.

"Certainly the initial questioning, and the manner in which the auditor general even approached the task, indicated a complete lack of understanding of the role."

Nolin is a Conservative senator from Quebec with deep roots in the Progressive Conservative part of the family. But he's also been one of the most independent-minded senators, sometimes taking different positions from the rest of the Conservative caucus in the past.

Nolin noted during the meeting that he is a loyal party member, and contributes financially every year. But he also said he wants to represent all of the senators and work collaboratively. Last year, he put forward a motion to strike a committee to look at modernizing the Senate, and is keen to examine all aspects of the chamber's operations.

Conservative Sen. Michael MacDonald said he's supportive of any bid to bring positive, forward-thinking change to the institution.

"He wants to put his stamp on the office. I understand that," MacDonald said of Nolin.

"I think he wants to reassure Canadians that the Senate is a valuable institution and does valuable work, and I certainly support that."

Reflections on the role of the Senate have gathered steam since the height of the expenses scandal, which embroiled four prominent senators and subjected the upper chamber to an unprecented level of public scrutiny.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau made a decision last year to eject senators from the party caucus.

Liberal Sen. Pierrette Ringette has a motion before the Senate for a separate committee that would look at reducing partisanship in the upper house.

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