In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

Liberal Senators and the Caucus Decision

Posted 2/19/2014 by Grant Mitchell


Mr. Trudeau's decision was to exclude Liberal Senators from his national caucus which will now include only his elected Liberal MPs.

It is the right decision and I support and applaud it. Mr. Trudeau has unleashed "in one fell swoop" a reform process that will make very significant and improved differences in how the Senate operates.

I believe that Mr. Trudeau was motivated by a desire to catalyze the restoration of Senate credibility, acknowledging that the greatest erosion of credibility has been related to increasing partisanship.

The changes will not occur precipitously or many of them even immediately. But already, we Senate Liberals are starting to act and think differently:

1. Before the change, there were inevitably implications for the Liberal Leader and the MP caucus from a position I might want to take. If I took a position that was not held by them or contradicted a position they might hold, there would be two inevitable accusations: that the Leader would be weak because there would be construed a split in caucus and/or that position would be construed as the Leader's position too and then it would be discredited and he would be criticized for "holding" it.

Now, Liberal Senators do not have to consider that problem. We can each take any position we want and it can legitimately be construed as no more than our own position. It cannot be tied to the Leader.

2. We will begin to vote quite independently. There will be no pressure whatsoever on Liberal Senators to take a common position. We may well do more policy discussion and position development in public.

3. While we will still have the person referred to as the "Whip," he or she will have one fewer than the many tasks they had before the change: they will have no reason whatsoever to talk to Liberal Senators about voting together or in any particular way at all. The "Whip" will still have an administrative/management role including ensuring that assignments are made to committees in an orderly fashion, coordinating replacements for those who have to be absent from a committee meeting, ensuring voting attendance, etc.

4. Whereas before we received research material and "bill kits" from the MP caucus (who typically study legislation first), we will have to do more research through our own resources.

5. We will no longer be able to use the Liberal Party website to disclose our expenses but are working on alternative reporting mechanisms right now.

There will be other considerations to make if and when the Liberals form the government. Because the Parliamentary system is premised upon a party system (and that has served the system well — another topic for discussion in another blog), and because an unelected body cannot be regularly defeating the laws passed by elected MPs, there will be a need for a party reflecting government values in the Senate to manage government legislation when it arrives there. The Senate has defeated only 6 government bills since 1945.

However it has, before this government arrived in 2006, frequently amended government bills and many of those amendments were accepted. This is to say that even if there needs to be some concerted voting for government legislation in the Senate there will still be room for independent Senate thinking.

So, as this evolves, it is more and more evident that the change will be significant. I am invigorated by the prospects of truly improving the Senate and making this a time of historic change to this remarkable institution.

Veuillez appuyer ici pour lire ce blogue en français / Please click here to read this blog in French

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