OTTAWA — The man representing the Liberal government in the Senate is stepping down at the end of the year.
Sen. Peter Harder, who shepherded government legislation in the Senate as it began its transition into a more independent and less partisan chamber of sober second thought, says he will remain a member of the upper house he joined in April 2016, representing Ontario.
“This is a period of significant change and modernization in the institution,” Harder told reporters in Ottawa Friday.
“I felt that it was important, for change to go forward in this Parliament, to have a refreshment of leadership, to build on what has happened in the past Parliament and come at this task with fresh eyes and vigour,” he said.
“I don’t do this out of frustration or in the face of a problem,” he said.
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Harder is a former senior public servant who led the team that helped the Liberals transition into power after they won the 2015 election.
He was the first senator Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recommended for appointment through a new arm’s-length advisory body aimed at finding senators based on merit, rather than patronage.
His dual role as a nominally Independent senator who still handled the Liberal government’s business has come under criticism from the remaining Conservative senators, but he said Friday he thinks that helping the Senate continue down the path to greater independence is his greatest achievement.
“It’s the accomplishment of an institution that has, I think, by any objective measure, achieved a less partisan, more independent reputation,” he said.
“It’s an institution that has become more transparent and publicly accountable, and it’s an institution that has played its role as a complementary chamber to the elected House of Commons very effectively,” he said.
Harder noted the House of Commons accepted at least some of the amendments the Senate put forward on 29 of the 88 bills the Liberal government managed to bring into law through its mandate — figures he often cites to support his argument that the upper chamber is performing well.
Harder said he has not yet decided whether he will join any of the groups that Independent senators have been forming.
He said he also looks forward to being able to express an opinion as an Independent senator that is not seen through the lens of his role as the government’s representative in the upper chamber.
Sen. Grant Mitchell, who has been the government’s liaison in the Senate since May 2016 — keeping tabs on senators’ views on government legislation, like a whip without the power of party discipline — is also stepping down from that role while remaining a senator.
His timeline is less certain, as he will stay on until Trudeau names a replacement for Harder.
Mitchell said in a statement Friday that he has enjoyed playing a key role in bringing changes to the parliamentary system, which he noted that many have described as the most successful form of government in the world, and therefore resilient throughout changes.
“It has lasted, evolved, and responded to social and other change for hundreds of years,” Mitchell, who was appointed to the Senate in 2005 on the advice of former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin.
“The reforms we are witnessing are necessary, positive and historic,” said Mitchell, now an Independent senator who is not affiliated with any group.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2019.