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New rules strengthen the powers of independent groups in the Senate

Photo: Sean Kilpatrick The Canadian Press The vast majority of Canadian senators voted in favor of sweeping changes earlier this month.

Simon Hopkins – The Canadian Press in Ottawa

Posted at 8:56 a.m.

  • Canada

Canada's upper house has adopted a new set of rules that the Liberal government says will further strengthen the independence of the Senate.

The vast majority of senators voted in in favor of sweeping changes earlier this month.

But the conservatives — whose numbers have fallen to just 13 seats — say the government is trying to weaken their position in the Senate and paralyze future conservative governments.

The new rules give more power to each of the groups recognized by the Senate modernization law adopted by Parliament in 2022.

Rather than emulating the dual roles of the government and opposition in the House of Commons, the Senate now grants other groups similar powers and a additional speaking time during debates.

Leaders of recognized groups, three of which now outnumber Conservatives, can now postpone votes on bills and sit on committees to question witnesses.

That means the official opposition will have less time to make speeches and ask questions.

“In the Westminster Parliament, the government's role is to propose things. The role of the opposition is to challenge the government,” said Conservative Senator Denise Batters.

“What is the role of these other (groups) ? »

A necessary evolution

Senator Pierrette Ringuette, former appointed Liberal MP by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and who now sits on the Independent Senators Group, declared that nothing had changed for the Conservatives.

“They have not lost any power,” she said.

They have the same political tools — but other groups now have access too, she added.

Senator Scott Tannas, who was a conservative senator and who now heads the Canadian Senators Group, believes that the changes to the rules are a necessary development.

“There will be several groups in the Senate for a long time to come, not just the government and opposition”, he stressed.

Greater independence from political parties and colleagues in the House of Commons has led to a better alignment and better productivity, argued Mr. Tannas.

“Since 2015, approximately 27% of government laws have been amended by the Senate, compared to 7% in the previous era,” he said.

Mr. Tannas does not think he will use his new powers very often.

The head of the third, newer entity, the Senate Progressive Group, has said that the rule changes will prevent future conservative governments from reversing the reforms that have reshaped the institution.

According to him, it is fairer for large groups to have the same capacity to fulfill their duties as senators, declared Senator Pierre Dalphond.

“If there is a moment when (the opposition) wants to postpone a vote, (it ) will not hesitate to do so, he maintained. But if someone else postpones the vote, that's bad ? I don't understand. »

Changes initiated by Trudeau

In 2014, when he was Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau expelled Liberal senators from his caucus

He also instituted a new process for appointing senators. Rather than choosing outright partisans, he approves the composition of an independent advisory committee and follows their advice on appointments — a process that conservatives say nevertheless led to the arrival of progressive-leaning senators.

Only three senators now hold government-related positions: the senior representative, Senator Marc Gold, who forced a vote on the rule changes, his deputy, and a third senator described as a “government liaison.”

Partly because former Prime Minister Stephen Harper left a large number of Senate seats vacant at the end of his term, and partly because of the mandatory retirement age for senators, the number of Conservatives has diminished.

Even if the Conservatives win the federal election and control the House of Commons, it may be a long time before partisan Conservatives gain a majority in the Senate .

And even if they could propose their own changes to the rules, it is unclear whether the Senate, in its modern composition, would support this approach.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116