Liberals move to ‘end partisanship’ in the Senate

The Liberal government has announced it will create a new process for appointing senators, ending the tradition of partisan appointments to the Upper Chamber.

Minister of Democratic Institutions, Maryam Monsef, and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Dominic LeBlanc, made the announcement in Ottawa on Thursday morning. Monsef said the Canadian Constitution will not need to be re-opened in order to put this process in place.

The governor general’s ability to make appointments and the prime minister’s prerogative to advise the governor general will remain in place, she told reporters.

Here’s how the process is expected to work:

  • An independent advisory board consisting of five members will be established. Three will be from the federal level, and two of the members will be ad-hoc picks from the province or territory where the Senate vacancy is being filled.
  • The advisory board will access potential nominees based on “merit-based” criteria. Monsef said candidates must demonstrate a record “of leadership and achievement.” They must possess “outstanding and proven” personal qualities in terms of “public life, ethics and integrity.” They must also bring a perspective to the Senate “that is clearly independent and non-partisan” and must have a working knowledge of the Senate and how it operates.
  • The board will provide the prime minister with a non-binding shortlist of 5 nominees for each vacancy to be filled.
  • Individual Canadians will be able to apply for appointment to the Senate

Five senators are expected to be appointed “early in the new year,” the ministers said, filling two vacancies in Ontario, two in Manitoba and one in Quebec.

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WATCH: Panel to pick senators expected to ‘carry out duties in non-partisan fashion’

This will be part of a “transitional phase” that will end in 2016, Monsef noted, and a permanent process will be in place to fill the rest of the vacancies later in the year.

“In the recent election Canadians were clear that the status quo is not an option,” the minister said, adding that the new process fulfills her government’s pledge to end partisanship in the Senate.

“Despite much good work done by individual senators, the effectiveness of the Senate has been hampered by its reputation as a partisan institution,” Monsef said. “This brings real change to the Senate for the first time in decades.”

LeBlanc also confirmed on Thursday morning that the new Speaker of the Senate will be Liberal George Furey.

READ MORE: British Columbia says ‘no thanks’ to new Senate appointments process

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Outgoing Speaker speaks out

Meanwhile, outgoing Senate speaker and Conservative Senator Leo Housakos released an open letter defending the Upper Chamber and the work being done by his colleagues and him. Housakos wrote that although the appointments process has been controversial, there are myriad benefits to having non-elected representatives on Parliament Hill.

“The appointment process for the Senate ensures diversity and attracts candidates who would not necessarily enter politics, but can provide invaluable contributions. For instance, while a record 25 per cent of the Members of Parliament elected in our recent election are women, Canadians may be surprised to know that 37 per cent of Senators are women.”

Housakos, who earlier this week denied reports that he was the source of several leaks of the auditor general’s recent report into senators’ expenses, also pointed out that having a fixed term allow senators to “accumulate more knowledge and experience for the complex task of reviewing national laws and public policies.” As many are appointed later in their lives, he added, they come to the Senate with a wealth of life experience and expertise.

“Legislative bodies should be judged on their merits and our Senate has passed this test,” Housakos concluded. “It has actively contributed to the prosperous and stable democracy that Canada has enjoyed for almost 150 years.”

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