Peter Harder, Grant Mitchell stepping down from government roles in Senate

Senator Peter Harder (left) and Senator Grant Mitchell are stepping down from their roles as government representatives in the Senate.
Senator Peter Harder (left) and Senator Grant Mitchell are stepping down from their roles as government representatives in the Senate. THE CANADIAN PRESS

Sen. Peter Harder is stepping down as the government’s representative in the upper chamber.

As well, Sen. Grant Mitchell will be leaving his role as government liaison.

Global News first reported that Harder would be stepping down on Friday morning and the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement shortly after publication saying that both Harder and Mitchell would be leaving their roles.

READ MORE: Independent senators seeking reforms to thwart attempts to stall legislation

The move comes amid ongoing reforms to the Senate by the Liberal government and by various groups of independent senators within the chamber.

Harder issued a statement explaining his decision on Friday.

“The start of a new Parliament is the best time to welcome a new face in the role of Government Representative,” he said.

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“With the Senate now well advanced on the path to becoming the more independent and less partisan institution we are seeking to achieve, it simply made sense for me to pick this moment: a new cabinet has been sworn in; new Senate groups are emerging along non-partisan lines; and new leadership teams are joining the negotiating table.”

Harder and Mitchell will be staying on as senators.

“Senator Harder and Senator Mitchell led the Senate through a historic period of modernization,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the statement from his office. “They played a vital role examining legislation and advocating for a transparent and accountable Senate that works for all Canadians. I thank them for their outstanding work and service.”

Both roles will be filled with replacements.

Harder was appointed in 2016 by Trudeau and was the first appointee under the new selection process put in place by the Liberals, through which Canadians can submit applications to be considered for the role of senator.

As government representative, he was tasked mainly with moving government legislation through the Senate.

His role also included putting in place reforms to how the Senate actually operates with the goal of making it less partisan.

Mitchell has been a senator since 2005 but became government liaison in 2016.

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In that role, he was effectively the point person for handling outreach about government business in that chamber and liaising with other senators ahead of votes.

Canadian senators promise better representation
Canadian senators promise better representation

Partisanship in the Senate has been a concern over successive governments, which previously appointed senators into partisan caucuses.

Trudeau ejected senators from the Liberal caucus in 2015 and while for several years there remained senators who called themselves Liberals, that group has since lost official status in the Senate when it fell below nine members.

There are now 51 members of the Independent Senators Group, 24 Conservatives, 13 members of the Canadian Senators Group, and 12 unaffiliated members. But the question of how best to continue reforms remains in play.

Earlier this week, the Independent Senators Group indicated its members wanted to look at changing Senate rules to prevent what they called obstructionist tactics used by the Conservatives to stall government legislation.

Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, leader of the ISG, described the push as aiming to cut down on “the amount of dilatory practices, waste of time and gamesmanship, partisan gamesmanship, that has slowed down and which has obstructed the work of the Senate,” such as cases of procedural maneuvering rather than substantive debate.

Conservative senators have rejected accusations of obstructing legislation.

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