Independent Senators

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I was going to take a short break form the blog today but Senator John Wallace changed my mind. He decided yesterday to leave the Conservative caucus and sit as an independent. Doing so, he endorsed the idea of a non-partisan Senate where, as the Supreme Court wrote, Senators could dispassionately examine legislation and provide ‘sober second thought.’

In itself, the defection of one Senator does not a revolution make but it does indicate the real frustration that some Senators were feeling with the strict control placed over them by the former PM. I’ve watched a number of them and while Senator Wallace always came across as a man with a gentle nature and a sense of humour, he wouldn’t have been my first pick as someone who would assert his independence. I’m a little surprised but not terribly shocked that he is.

But what it really tells me is that the disaffection with the partisan nature of the Senate runs deeper than even I thought. There must be a number of other Senators considering their options this morning and I would be both shocked and surprised if Senator Wallace isn’t joined by a few more of his colleagues as independents in the next week or two.

If he is the first of several or perhaps many, this could go a long way to solving the problem of the Senate in the short term while paving the way for a longer term solution that will see a Senate primarily composed of independents. Some of these may organize themselves in loose caucuses in order to maximize the effectiveness of their resources but, if they operate like the current Senate Liberals, there will be no connection to parties in the House and there will be no whipped votes or penalties for sometimes going their own way.

Right now, there is a certain amount of pressure on the new PM to waver on his Senate promises. A united and aggressive Conservative opposition in the Senate (where they hold a clear majority) could force Mr. Trudeau to appoint pro-Liberal Senators in order to get his legislation passed until such time as his new appointments process is asset up and running. He might get away with it if he appoints a number Senators who are 73 or 74 already. They would face mandatory retirement at 75 at which time they could be replaced using the new process.

But I don’t think Trudeau will do that except in extremis. He seems determined to keep his campaign promises even in the face of strong opposition. If he’ll do that with respect to the bombing mission in Syria, I doubt if the Senate will budge him. Rather, I suspect that Dominic LeBlanc and current Senators are working hard to make sure that John Wallace is only the first of the new independent Conservatives and not the last.

And that’s ten minutes.

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