OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s new Liberal government said on Thursday it would set up a non-partisan process to advise on appointments to the country’s unelected Senate in a move to reform the scandal-plagued institution.
Canada’s Parliament includes both an elected House of Commons and the Senate, whose members are appointed until age 75. There have been calls for its abolition in recent years after a number of senators were accused of abusing their expense accounts.
The Senate is dubbed the chamber of “sober, second thought,” but there is the unwritten convention that it not defeat important government legislation, particularly on confidence matters such as the budget, raising questions as to its usefulness.
The Liberal Party, elected to power in October, last year expelled senators from their parliamentary caucus to try to make the Senate less partisan.
The government on Thursday said that under the new appointment process, an independent advisory board will use merit-based criteria to present Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with a list of five people for him to choose from to fill each Senate vacancy.
One consequence of Trudeau’s having expelled the Liberal Senators from his caucus is the challenge of who will introduce government legislation to ensure it can pass both houses and become law.
Dominic LeBlanc, leader of the government in the House of Commons, said that one of Trudeau’s first Senate appointees would be named the government’s representative in the Senate, filling the role traditionally filled by the leader of the government in the Senate.
The Liberal plan ran into quick opposition, with British Columbia Premier Christy Clark tweeting that her province would not participate in the process to appoint senators.
The federal plan envisaged having provincial participation on the advisory board, but Clark said Thursday’s changes did not address the province’s concerns. “Senate has never represented BC’s interests at the national level,” she said in her tweet.
Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Alan Crosby