Justin Trudeau’s latest political maneuvering may be far less than meets the eye, but any time a Liberal Leader earns the approval of Preston Manning, the father of the Reform Party’s Triple E Senate proposal, you know that he’s scoring some serious political points.
Manning, who is now the head of a right-wing libertarian think tank called the Manning Institute (how long did it take to come up with that catchy name, I wonder? ), is generally in favour of an elected senate, and rightly pointed out that Trudeau’s half-baked attempt at Senate reform didn’t go nearly far enough, and was basically window dressing. He, nonetheless, gave Trudeau the Younger the faintest of praise imaginable, when he said the golden boy of Canadian politics was taking “a step in the right direction.”
Others in the mainstream media, especially on the right of the political spectrum, were positively gushing over the move. Calling the ejection of 32 Liberal Senators from the Federal Liberal Caucus a “masterstroke” and hailing the political genius of Trudeau’s decision, in supposedly outmaneuvering his foes on the highly corrosive Senate reform issue and putting the Senate reform ball in both Mulcair and Harper’s court.
However, the fact that these Senators will apparently still vote with their counterparts in the House and do their utmost to see Trudeau elected Prime Minister, as well as attend the upcoming Liberal convention in Montreal, would suggest that this is something less than a radical departure from business as usual in the Big Red Machine.
Still, as a political strategy, there’s no denying its value. In one announcement Trudeau made it seem as though he was distancing himself from the growing expense scandal that threatened his party’s new image as the party of financial accountability, and reduced the potential damage that will most likely come out of the Auditor General’s investigation into Senators expenses due out in early February. He created the perception (always as or more important than reality in politics) that he’s deeply concerned with Senate reform.
Let’s not forget that an idealistic young naïf who arrived in Ottawa back in 2002 who once promised never to appoint Senators to the Upper House unless they were elected first. He quickly betrayed his principles after being elected prime minister in 2006 and appointed a staggering 56 unelected Conservative cronies (including Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau). That man’s name? Stephen Harper.
As for the impact that this will have on the opposition parties, that remains to be seen. Tom Mulcair had little trouble defending the position of his party ( the NDP has long held that the Senate should be abolished). After all, the NDP never has, nor ever will, need to expel senators from its caucus because it has none.
The real pressure will be on the Conservative caucus and in particular Stephen Harper, to respond to Trudeau’s attempt to pull the rug out from under his feet. Harper didn’t hesitate to give Wallin, Duffy and Brazeau the boot from his caucus when it was revealed that they were up to their eyeballs in financial and personal scandal. But will he be willing to take this action to the next level, and arguably, it’s logical conclusion, by expelling the rest of the Tory Senators in the increasingly unpopular institution? Thus far, he’s balked at the suggestion, and sent his favourite attack dog Pierre Polievre after JT, with the line that this is all just a ploy to avoid the taint that inevitably will stick to the Grits when Senators in their caucus are implicated in further expense fraud (though he could not provide any proof of this.)
More ridiculous was Harper’s attempt to hide behind his Reference to the Supreme Court, as if getting an opinion from the court on his proposed reforms, is the same and taking concrete measures towards making the Senate elected, effective and equal. This, I suspect, will not fly with Canadian voters who are more and more fed up with the mess in the Senate and want to see it cleaned up now, rather than simply discussed by the Courts.
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