Six of one, half a dozen of the other

Trudeau's announcement has shaken up the Canadian Senate. | Photo by Charles Barilleaux.

Trudeau’s announcement has shaken up the Canadian Senate. | Photo by Charles Barilleaux.

There are two ways to look at the act of prestidigitation performed last week by Justin Trudeau when he – abracadabra! – expelled the Liberal senators from the Liberal Party of Canada’s caucus. His unexpected announcement surprised almost everybody, including the Liberal senators themselves. This is either a purely politically motivated gesture, or else, a genuine attempt to reform the inner workings of the Red Chamber. But since Canadians’ cynicism towards the political class is at its highest level, we can safely bet that most people will see in it nothing but a political maneuver. Can we blame them? Not really.

Because, after all, let’s be realistic: the move will only have a limited reach and won’t change the Senate’s dynamics very much. Let’s not forget that Mr. Trudeau did not, by waving a magic wand, remove all traces of a deep culture of partisanship encoded in the genes of a great many of the 32 senators expelled from the caucus. It’s one thing to say that they will no longer be members of the Liberal caucus but quite another to imply that the gesture will remove partisanship from the Senate. Just look at how quickly the expelled senators regrouped and claimed to still form the official Opposition in Chambers. On top of this, we cannot help but see in the gesture a grain of superficiality considering that this friendly bunch of senators may not be Liberal senators anymore but are now independent Liberal senators. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Anyway, partisanship is not necessarily just a matter related to loyalty to a caucus. Individuals themselves influence the process. When you look a little more closely at these independent Liberal senators, it’s unlikely that heated debates aligned with party ideology willbe a thing of the past. Many of the senators are staunch Liberals: enduring militants, working hard for the party, some of them former Liberal MPs, one of them a former chief of staff to the Chretien government, one a former director of communications, others key fund-raisers. Trudeau’s announcement will not change any of this.

As a group, they will continue to block the Harper’s government’s way and that of his senators. Partisanship is in their blood and a change in designation ordered by their leader will not change that. In order to really enforce the move, Trudeau could have gone further and forbade the senators from participating in all party activities, such as fundraising and attending conventions.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. | Photo by Alex Guibord.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. | Photo by Alex Guibord.

What is most dismal in this gesture is that it reinforces the already cynical view Canadians have of the Senate and its members. The commentaries Trudeau made as he announced his move implied that the Senate was nothing more than one of the Prime Minister’s office branches. Although there is a grain of truth in this, the situation is not quite as bad as that.

Trudeau would have us believe that the Senate is paralysed and that nothing constructive is going on there because of party ideology. That is too bad. Senators have often come together to present dossiers on matters of prime importance to all Canadians. A quick search through Senate reports reveal an impressive number of them. Not many people are aware of this fact and it should give them some pause before leaping to the conclusion that the Senate is nothing but a cradle for hyper-partisanship.

Translation Monique Kroeger