OP ED The Trudeau Senate Reality Check by Wes McLean, MLA Victoria-Tobique, New Brunswick Trudeau Senate Reality Check

wes macleanEarly on in Martin Scorcese’s 2006 film “The Departed”, Massachuesetts State Police Captain Oliver Queenan, played by Martin Sheen, tells the young aspirant, Billy Costigan, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, “We deal in deception here. What we do not deal in is self-deception.” We are deceiving ourselves if we believe that the Liberal Senate ouster is anything close to meaningful Senate reform.

Justin Trudeau’s decision to remove Senators from the National Liberal Caucus does nothing to reform the upper house, and it will have no practical effect. These “independent” Senators have largerly agreed to sit as the Liberal Senate Caucus, and will presumably echo positions similar to Trudeau’s. The only actual difference is their inability to attend the weekly national caucus meetings.

The Liberal Leader portrays these dismissals from caucus as a method of depolitizing the Senate. Nothing could be further from the truth. This same Leader who criticizes the Prime Minister for supposedly controlling Conservative Senators has used a heavy-handed tactic to dismiss these Liberal appointees. It was dictatorial, and perhaps a foreshadowing of a style that he would use in government. With an Auditor General’s report in the offing, it remains to be seen if he is pre-emtively distancing himself from any wrong-doing which the report could expose.

Let’s get real. The Senate is indeed a political institution, and will remain so. The only way the Senate can be de-politicized is by abolition. Whether selected by the Prime Minister, a blue-chip panel, or by election, politics cannot be removed from any legislative body. To believe otherwise is to deny reality.

Trudeau’s model of selection is also troubling. In effect, a panel of “eminent Canadians” will select other eminent Canadians to sit in the Senate and make decisions for the masses. In other words, our betters will bestow upon us the great wisdom of their peers. That would be an inspirational and progressive idea, in the 19th century.

The Liberals portray this new selection method as a means of improving the calibre of appointees. But questions must be posed: Could they do better? Could they guarantee that their appointees, selected by this new, esteemed, apolitical, clairvoyant panel, would never file an improper expense? Could they predict the future? The honest answer to all these questions is no.

The reality is that every group has an agenda. Be they senior civil servants, academics, and anyone else who is not a politician. Quite often those agendas are political, but the difference is that these interests do not face the voters. Those agendas would manifest themselves in their appointments, regardless of how they are framed. The remaining fact is, Canadians would have no choice, and would in fact be further removed from the process; at present, the Prime Minister has been before the voters of the nation, and is accountable for the appointments he or she makes. Trudeau’s new model allows him to obtain the desired result, with a comfortable distance from any Senator who behaves badly.

A vibrant, healthy 21st century Canada cannot abide a legislative body whose members are not selected by the people. Trudeau’s model is impressive only in its abruptness. The long-term Liberal Senate reform plan is regressive. The Senate must either be elected or abolished. No other scenario is acceptable in a democratic state.

Wes McLean is a New Brunswick MLA, and worked for the Conservatives on Parliament Hill from 2004 to 2010.

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  1. Well isn’t that quaint. A Conservative talking about the Prime-Minister being accountable before the voters, when there’s trails of documents leading back to the PMO, and the Prime-Minister swears adamantly he knew absolutely nothing about the secret payoffs senators, and efforts to keep it hush. The Prime-Minister is not accountable to anyone, until he gets caught.

    So far Trudeau has taken steps to reform the senate… the Prime-Minister has done nothing, except dodge questions and refuse media outlets which won’t follow the script his office gives them. It is time for a change, and it’s time to overthrow the hubris that is the Conservative Party of Canada.

  2. Harvey Danger, where do you stand with McGuinty’s gas plant fiasco? 90 thousand (federal) verses a billion (provincial).

  3. The Cons sure are ticked that Trudeau is seen to be acting, albeit in a small way, to reform the senate. Removing Liberal senators from the Liberal caucus allows them to vote on issues without having to blindly follow party policy. It’s a small step in the right direction.
    @ Eric. What do McGuinty and gas plants have to do with senate reform?

  4. Furtz, they are spelled the same….

    Not blindly follow party policy? Let’s wait and see.

  5. @ Eric. Huh? Okey-dokey then.
    The Liberal senators are now independent senators. They can now vote on bills however they want without being punished by the Liberal caucus. It’s pretty simple if you think about it, Eric.

  6. Quaint indeed, Harvey.

    Mr. McLean finds Justin Trudeau’s model for selection for the Senate “troubling” because “a panel of ’eminent Canadians’ will select other eminent Canadians to sit in the Senate and make decisions for the masses. In other words, our betters will bestow upon us the great wisdom of their peers.”

    Well, hello. Who would Mr. McLean wish to make such selections and decisions instead—the mediocre and our inferiors, who will bestow on us the great ignorance of their peers?

    Mr. McLean’s byline says he “worked for the Conservatives on Parliament Hill from 2004 to 2010.” Ah, OK. He has drunk well from the pool of mediocrity and ignorance, not to mention resentment.

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