Montreal – Significant institutional and cultural changes have occurred in the Senate as a result of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to establish a nonpartisan process for selecting senators. But more work remains to be done to cement the renewal, says a new study from the Institute for Research on Public Policy.
Now the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments proposes candidates from pools of interested Canadians who apply. Since March 2016, nearly all the new senators have joined the Independent Senators Group, which now holds 58 of the 105 Senate seats. This has led to a second chamber that is less partisan and more independent, concludes Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba.
Although the Independent Senators Group has become the dominant presence in the Senate, it is not a caucus that accepts direction from the government. “Whether intended or not, Trudeau’s changes have meant that the Senate has become a curb on prime ministerial power and on majority power in the House of Commons,” he says.
Thomas notes that procedures and resource allocations have been modified to reflect these changes. As a result, a new culture is developing that is more collegial and constructive than the often adversarial way of the past. Leadership has become more dispersed, shared and horizontal — relying on “soft power” techniques such as consultation, persuasion and negotiation.
Thomas concludes that some changes are necessary to anchor the renewal. These include establishing a business committee to plan and organize the chamber’s work, and enshrining criteria in the Senate’s rules to guide it in determining whether to delay, amend or defeat a government bill.
The Institute for Research on Public Policy is an independent, national, bilingual, not-for-profit organization based in Montreal. To receive updates from the IRPP, please subscribe to our e‑mail list.
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