Six senators fed up with partisanship form new ‘working group’
OTTAWA – Fed up with party politics in the Senate, six independent senators are teaming up and going out on their own to push for change from within the upper chamber.
“Partisanship that has been blindly one-sided and lacked impartiality has seriously eroded the credibility and reputation of the Senate,” wrote the group in a release issued Thursday morning.
They call themselves a “working group,” not a caucus.
The group includes four ex-Conservatives (Sen. Jacques Demers, Sen. Diane Bellemare, Sen. Michel Rivard, Sen. John Wallace) and one former Liberal (Sen. Pierrette Ringuette). Bellemare and Rivard just announced they were leaving the Conservative Senate caucus earlier in the week.
The other member of the group is Sen. Elaine McCoy, who identifies herself as an Independent Progressive-Conservative.
The statement from the group calls the existing rules and practices of the Senate “archaic.”
“No question something is wrong here and has to be corrected,” said Senator Wallace, who walked away from the Conservative caucus Nov. 18, 2015.
“Each of us, when we were appointed to the Senate, we swore our oath as senators. We did it on an individual basis, we didn’t swear oath and allegiance to a political party.”
Wallace felt the Senate became a rubber stamp for the Conservative government, even when flawed legislation came across their desks.
He recalled the debate over Bill C-525, a bill that would require a majority secret ballot vote by employees before bargaining units in federally regulated public service unions can be certified or decertified.
“During the committee hearings it was clear the bill was flawed, it was technically flawed – and yet it was passed,” said Wallace
“That to me was representative of a lot that was going on.”
Bellemare, who walked away from the Conservative caucus Tuesday, said she believes she could better serve Canadians by throwing off the shackles of a political party.
“If we cannot change it (the Senate) from the outside … We have to change it from the inside,” she said.
The newly independent senator is hopeful that when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appoints a new batch of people to the Red Chamber, it will lead to real change in the Upper Chamber.
According to the group’s release, the six senators have made three main commitments:
- Carrying out their Senate duties and obligations, including their review and revisions to legislation received from the House of Commons, on an entirely independent, non-partisan basis as was originally intended by the Founders of Confederation
- Ensuring rights of equality for all Senators in the performance of their diverse Senate duties, regardless of their political or non-political affiliation
- Restoring the reputation and public confidence in the Senate as a necessary and vital institution within our Canadian parliamentary system.
Demers left the Tory caucus last December to sit as an independent. He said the partisan politics got to be too much.
“There’s a few people who want to run their show, so let them run it,” he told reporters this week.
Pressed to name names, Demers would only tell reporters, “I’m not going to mention names, there’s not 10 of them. I’m pretty sure you guys are smart enough to know who they are.”
The former hockey coach noted that Sen. Rivard, who is also joining this new group of independent Senators, is just months away from retirement and his recent departure from the Conservative fold could be seen as a sign he feels the same frustrations.
“Is he trying to pass a message because he has three months left? It could have been easy for him to say ‘well i’m leaving in three months so I’m doing to stay where I am.'”
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