EXCLUSIVE: Senate backroom deal secures bigger budgets for Liberals and Tories
Please note: This post has been updated to include corrections to budget figures, as well as comments from Jacqui Delaney, spokesperson for the Senate committee, and remarks made by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in 2014.This post also removes a sentence regarding supplemental salary for the whip and his or her staff.
OTTAWA — A new backroom deal has made sure the new government leader in the Senate will get a smaller piece of the pie.
Global News has learned the Conservative-dominated Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration changed the Senate administrative rules in January, giving both the current Tories and Senate Liberals bigger operating budgets and making sure they don’t lose precious taxpayer money they use in their office.
It is cash the Independent Liberals currently sitting in Senate would have lost since they were booted out of the Liberal Party caucus and are no longer the opposition in the Senate.
The budgets are meant to cover expenses related to the operation of a caucus.
Under the old rules, budgets were based on the two-party system; the governing party received $1,263,000 while the opposition got $985,800 per year.
The new rules divide up money based on caucus size. With 44 members the Conservatives will get $1,275,000 and with 27 members the Independent Liberals will get $1,060,000.
“Well of course we were making sure there was money for us because we need money to operate our offices, to do our job,” contends Senate Liberals leader James Cowan. “That’s what we’re here for.”
By comparison, it looks like a lot less money will flow to the yet to be appointed government leader in the Senate. That person will qualify for an office budget of $250,000. But, it doesn’t appear they will be accessing a larger pool of money that is being made available by the Senate and would pay for the operation of a party caucus.
Jacqui Delaney, spokesperson for the committee, says an additional $425,000 would be available to the new government leader in the Senate, to support the work of a deputy leader and whip.
However, that seems unlikely. Government House leader Dominic LeBlanc told a Senate committee Wednesday. “We’re hesitating to appoint a whip,” he told the committee. “Because the whip implies a discipline on voting.”
A government whip ordinarily ensures members of a party caucus vote along party lines, but LeBlanc said that would seem to contradict the Liberal government’s aim of reducing partisanship in the Senate. When he removed Liberal Senators from his party’s Parliamentary caucus in 2014, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau noted:
“The Senate was once referred to as a place of sober, second thought. It has become obvious that the party structure within the Senate interferes with these responsibilities.”
The comments by Dominic Leblanc in front of the Senate committee reinforce the notion that it does not seem likely there will be a government caucus in the Senate.
Changes to the budgets came at a Jan. 13 meeting of the Standing Committee on Internal Economy. A month later, LeBlanc and the Minister for Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef met with senators to provide guidance about what will happen to the government in the Senate.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Conservative Senator Larry Smith, who was part of the committee that passed the new rules. “There’s a certain fluidity and things can move forward and things can change.”
When asked whether it could be seen as the old guard trying to hold on to the money, Independent Liberal Senator Larry Campbell told Global News: “That’s your problem, not mine.”
Pressed that some Canadians might also see it that way, Campbell conceded “they might.”
Delaney said the Senate has been transparent about these changes, since they were were proactively disclosed, however one Senator – a member of the Standing Committee who was in that Jan. 13 meeting when the monies were allocated – expressed shock when approached by Global News with a question about it, having assumed these changes had not been made public.
The upper chamber is undergoing major changes with 23 vacancies. The Liberal government has said those Senators will be named by an independent advisory board.
As a result, the 150-year-old institution is attempting to quickly adapt to the new realities created when Liberal leader Justin Trudeau jettisoned his Liberal Senators from his party’s caucus at the height of the expense scandal January 2014.
However, the newly-elected Liberals must figure out how to usher legislation through the chamber of sober second thought while at the same time avoiding partisanship.
In a statement defending the changes to budgets the chair and deputy chair of the Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration Senators Leo Housakos and Jane Cordy wrote:
“This independence, for both caucuses, means relying less and less, if at all, on our cousins in the House of Commons in the areas of research and briefing notes. This naturally adds more to our operational needs and budgets.”
WATCH: More coverage of the Senate
© 2016 Shaw Media