Justin Trudeau probably shocked his Senate caucus colleagues more than the voting public today when he announced he was removing Liberal senators from the Liberal caucus, thereby limiting the caucus to elected members of parliament. For the most part I don't think the public cares one way or another how a senator labels themselves, nor after the Senate scandal do they have much use for any of them.
However, it was a bold move on Trudeau's part and certainly raised his profile in the media for the next few days. But there is one immediate question that comes to mind, why now? Why not make the announcement at the upcoming Liberal policy convention in March?
Why the sudden rush to get this announcement out the door now? If it was a well thought out political maneuver, surely the Liberal brain trust would have anticipated the need to make changes to the party constitution and submitted those proposals in time to be voted on in March.
It has been done in such a rush that no one can figure out how the upper house will work without an official opposition. No one can figure out how the budget will be divided or offices such as the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate staffed. How will Senate committees function? They are made up of representatives based on their party's numbers in the Senate.
Is this a pre-emptive move on Trudeau's part in anticipation of some very negative findings by the Auditor General who is presently auditing a number of senator's expenses? Certainly this move would cover him from having to throw senators out of the caucus just prior to an election. Eventually the dust will settle and the real reason for this move will become evident, but for now Trudeau is in the limelight and he will have the Conservatives scrambling and perhaps the NDP as well.
On a positive note, perhaps the chamber of sober second thought will return to that role and we will see a decrease in the partisanship we have seen there in recent years. What a switch to have senators study legislation strictly on its merits without support being based solely on which party appointed them.
It will also be interesting to see how the Conservative Senate caucus responds. How many of them will decide they would now like to become independent like their former Liberal colleagues? If enough Conservative senators decide to sit as independents it will change the dynamics of getting legislation through the upper house. The government side would be faced with convincing individual senators of the merits of legislation, rather than being able to demand loyalty to pass legislation.
Trudeau has started the ball rolling downhill and it will gather speed over the next few weeks and months, but outside of the immediate publicity and time spent in front of the cameras, how well was this move thought out? What are the long term repercussions, both good and bad? The truth is no one including Trudeau knows and we will only find that out down the road and closer to the next election.
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