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Politics

11 Canadian senators form new group to represent regional interests

WATCH: Eleven Canadian senators have formed a new group within the Red Chamber. They intend to represent the unique interests of all regions across the country. They're calling themselves the Canadian Senators Group. Mike Le Couteur explains their goals.

Eleven Canadian senators have broken away from their affiliated groups and caucuses to form a new group focused on promoting regional interests.

In a press release Monday morning, the Canadian Senators Group (CSG) noted that part of the founding goal for the Senate was that it be able to represent the regional interests of members from across the country, saying that ensuring those voices are heard now will help the Red Chamber’s work remain relevant.

READ MORE: Trudeau’s Senate reforms should be made permanent, senator says

“Members of the CSG want to see this founding principle maintained and respected so that the will of the majority does not always trump regional interests,” the group said in its press release.

“United in their approach to thorough research and comprehensive review of legislation, close consultation with Canadians and rigorous, but at all times respectful, debate, CSG senators are free to take positions and vote on legislation independently of personal political affiliations and each other.”

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Senators Doug Black, Robert Black, Larry Campbell, Stephen Greene, Diane Griffin, Elaine McCoy, David Richards, Scott Tannas, Josée Verner, Pamela Wallin and Vern White are now members of the CSG.

LISTEN: Senator Doug Black joins Danielle Smith to discuss the formation and goal of the Canadian Senators Group

They noted in the release that they would welcome others who wish to join in the coming weeks.

Of those joining the new group, five represent Alberta, B.C. or Saskatchewan, two represent Ontario and one represents Quebec. Three represent Atlantic provinces.

Senators Doug Black, Greene, Tannas and White quit the Conservative caucus in the Senate to join the new group.

Senators Robert Black, Campbell, Griffin, McCoy, Richards, Verner and Wallin sat as Independent senators.

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Tannas will be serving as interim facilitator of the group.

As for the why of the decision, Global News spoke with White to ask about his choice to leave the Conservative caucus.

“I decided to go with a group led by Senator Tannis [sic] after considering the opportunity to focus energy on areas of concern that pertain to people in my region,” he said. “They are concerned about the addictions issues, in particular opioids and the crisis that resulted and the gangs problem and what is going to be done to combat them.”

He added that he hopes being part of an independent group will let him spend more time and energy on those concerns.

“I feel having separation from government or opposition will give me that freedom,” White said. “Hopefully I am right.”

READ MORE: Independent Senator Andre Pratte announces resignation amid federal election

It’s been a busy couple of weeks in the Senate as several resignations and changes made headlines.

Sen. Andre Pratte, appointed in 2016 as an Independent by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, announced his resignation after polls closed on Oct. 21, saying in a statement that “there can come a time when we realize that we simply to [sic] do not have the skills and motivation required to accomplish the task we have been entrusted with.”
What’s the point of the Senate if the government rejects amendments to important bills?
What’s the point of the Senate if the government rejects amendments to important bills?

Days later, on Oct. 31, Sen. Larry Smith announced he would not seek re-election as the leader of the opposition party in the Senate.

In a statement explaining his decision, Smith said the Senate plays an important role in representing the voices of citizens who find fault with the choices of the government, and that should remain its responsibility “regardless of which political caucus has the responsibility.”

“I intend to refocus my contributions to the chamber through policy and legislative matters in policy areas consistent with my own communities of interest and background in business. I look forward to continue working with our caucus as a conservative senator,” he said.

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“In a country too often seen [as] a collection of dispersed and divided interests, it’s important that people have the means to express their vision for the future of this great country in Parliament.  Canada would be poorly served by diminishing the role of official Opposition in the Senate Chamber,” he wrote.

“I look forward to a future where the Senate Conservative caucus reaffirms our dedication to this task. And the willingness of the Senate to see our role endure and thrive. Anything less than that will weaken our democracy.”

Smith’s office said he will be staying on as a member of the Conservative caucus.

How Canadians can apply to become a senator
How Canadians can apply to become a senator

How best to modernize the Senate has been a question that has gripped political leaders in recent years.

Polls have found most Canadians want to see the chamber either abolished or reformed, and reformation was a key pledge for Trudeau in the 2015 campaign.

After winning a majority government in that election, Trudeau created a new process for appointing senators that he argued would make the process less partisan given that appointments in the past have been highly partisan and seen high-level party supporters appointed to the roles.

Senators make roughly $140,000 per year — about double the median household income in Canada — and have access to a wide range of expenses and allowances for things like travel and housing.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has vowed to return to the old partisan process of appointing senators to political caucuses.

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But Trudeau’s new process has come under heavy questioning given his office has admitted to using a partisan database called Liberalist to vet prospective senators. The database, which Trudeau’s office admitted to also using on judicial appointment nominees, tracks whether a candidate has ever been a member of the Liberal Party, whether they have told election campaign volunteers about their support for the party and whether they have put up party lawn signs.

The Prime Minister’s Office has said it is “normal and appropriate” to do so.

But it has said the database was not being used to sort out or reward candidates based on their political affiliations.

With files from Global’s Mike Le Couteur.