The article focuses on an obscure series of details in the latest budget implementation bill that recognize that our Senate is no longer organized the way it used to be.
First off, since Justin Trudeau disowned all of the previously appointed Liberal senators prior to the 2015 election, there is no longer a Leader of the Government in the Senate at all.
And because the prime minister has appointed every new senator since 2015 as an independent, after nearly 7 years of Liberal rule, the number of partisan senators – all Conservatives – has been reduced to 16.
Although most of the Trudeau appointees sat together at first, the independents are now themselves divided into an Independent Senators Group (41), a Progressive Senate Group (14), and a Canadian Senators Group (12).
The Liberals are also – inexcusably, in my view – 15 senators behind in filling vacancies.
As Tumilty explains, the budget implementation bill will legitimize the existence of the independent Senate groups, and provide funding to support their leaders.
So the first of the two stories should be disappointing to Canadians of every political stripe.
Like the Conservatives before them, the Trudeau Liberals are using the budget implementation bill to deal with government business that is only tangentially linked to the budget.
Efforts to effect significant change in the Senate deserve the full attention of Parliament (and, by extension, Canadians); they should not be tucked into the sort of omnibus bill that the Liberals had promised to avoid during the 2015 election.
The second story is actually good news.
Setting aside the unconvincing accusations of some of the remaining Conservative senators – who refuse to accept that Senate appointees could choose to either support, or simply not oppose, government legislation on its merits – once the budget implementation bill passes, the Trudeau government will have all but permanently altered the composition of a critical element of our parliamentary system for the better.
The current Senate is working better than it has in years. Indeed, even the Conservatives know this implicitly, seeing as they have benefited from it.
Consider how many times the opposition has criticized the Liberals for failing to pass legislation in a timely manner.
Much of that slow-down has been caused by independent senators insisting on doing their due diligence and proposing substantive legislative amendments.
The increase in lobbying that has targeted independent senators’ offices also indicates that the private sector does not believe that the Senate is in the pocket of the government.
So the Senate is keeping the government honest, and offering meaningful, non-partisan, amendments to legislation, just as it is supposed to.
If you put the two stories together – the Liberals are undermining the spirit of democracy in order to make our democracy more effective – you are left with what I take to be an excellent example of one of the tragedies of contemporary Canadian politics.
We are currently led by a government that arrived with a well-intentioned commitment to restore Canadians’ faith in liberal democratic rule.
Seven years later, even this fresh, youthful, idealistic cohort of legislators has been worn down by the intensity and mercilessness of our political process.
I don’t have a solution to offer other than to encourage all of us to view those who take the plunge into politics with greater empathy, and to recognize and reward those who choose to treat their opponents – and all of their fellow Canadians – with a dignified civility reflective of the seriousness of their jobs.
We have created a system that seems to celebrate eating its own, and no one benefits from that.
On the Senate, see this report by the University of Waterloo’s Emmett Macfarlane.
To be notified of my next post, follow me on Twitter @achapnick.
You can subscribe to my newsletter at https://buttondown.email/achapnick.