For immediate distribution – May 29, 2019
Montreal – A new study from the Institute for Research on Public Policy examines changes in the relationship between the Senate and the government since the new nonpartisan process for selecting senators was put in place in 2016.
Three years later, the Senate has become more independent, with a majority of its members now part of the Independent Senators Group, says author Emmett Macfarlane (University of Waterloo). He finds that, contrary to concerns expressed by some critics, the Senate has successfully navigated changes to its composition and to how it carries out its work, both of which are now less partisan.
Yet there are signs that this greater independence has made the legislative process more complex for the government. “An increasing number of divergent views among independents has made the work of ministers and public servants — tasked with getting legislation through the second chamber — more demanding in certain contexts,” he says. This was evident during the Senate’s review of the bill that led to the legalization of cannabis in 2018.
To help manage this process, the Office of the Government Representative in the Senate, (established in 2015) has played an important role in shepherding legislation through the second chamber, as well as in negotiating timelines and votes, says Macfarlane.
He observes that a more active and independent Senate inevitably creates more work for the government. “The recent decision of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Transport and Communications to recommend against C-48 is illustrative of the surprises that arise in the context of a renewed, more independent Senate,” he added. Macfarlane concludes that the Senate is in a period of transition, and future rule changes may be necessary to cement its evolution.
The Renewed Canadian Senate: Organizational Challenges and Relations with the Government, by Emmett Macfarlane, can be downloaded from the Institute’s website (irpp.org).
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