Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Justin Trudeau's Liberal Senators MagicTrick - Leaves Them Still In Palm of Hand

Ironically, it was Conservative Senators, not the Liberals, who've shown true senatorial grit of late by demonstrating independence

Justin Trudeau - magician?
Bill Tieleman's 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday February 4, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

"I'm not a former Liberal. I'm a Liberal. And I'm a Liberal senator. I think not a lot will change." 

- Senator James Cowan, "ex-Liberal" Senate leader, Jan. 29 
Justin Trudeau's unilateral "ejection" of 32 Liberal senators last week is like a magician making a readily visible coin suddenly disappear before an astonished audience.

Yet moments later the coin is miraculously back, and right in the palm of his hand.
Liberal senators will be no different.
While many media and academic observers have been impressed with the tactic's "boldness" or its "simplicity" -- including now ex-Liberal Senator Jim Munson's hyperbolic claim Trudeau had "set" his senators "free" from supposed $135,000 a year serfdom -- the reality is far less noble
Already it's clear that the "free" Liberals are demonstrating their "independence" by continuing to have James Cowan as their Senate leader and Munson as opposition whip.
Trudeau claims that "there are no more Liberal senators" despite most of the 32 he ejected continuing to call themselves Liberals, work together as Liberals and pledge to support the Liberal cause.
(Perhaps the "senators formerly known as Liberal" will follow the lead of rock star Prince when he temporarily dropped his name and replaced it with a stylized symbol? A giant red letter L could identify the "free" Grits.)
Trudeau reasoned that now the former Liberal senators could be "independent" from the party that appointed them and even challenged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to do the same.
"Join us in making senators independent of political parties and end partisanship in the Senate," Trudeau said.
An ironic twist
But in an ironic twist, it was in fact Conservative senators who demonstrated in 2013 what true independence means, when 16 of them voted to radically amend Bill C-377, a Conservative private members bill passed by Tory Members of Parliament but sent back "gutted," in the words of its sponsor, South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale MP Russ Hiebert.
C-377 was vigorously opposed by Canadian labour, including -- full disclosure -- unions that are among my clients, but it was then-Conservative Senator Hugh Segal who led a successful insurrection against the legislation.
The point isn't the content of C-377, but that 16 Conservative senators stood up in public to thwart Harper and his cabinet and show their displeasure.
Now that's independence! And it was demonstrated by challenging a far more powerful opponent -- the prime minister -- than the leader of Parliament's third party.
And when he had an earlier chance, Trudeau voted against an NDP resolution in the House of Commons on Oct. 23 that called on senators to be made independent.  
It was left last week to B.C. senator and recent ex-Liberal Larry Campbell to bring his forensic skills as Vancouver's former coroner and start the post-mortem on Trudeau's tactic.
"I think it's a brave move on the part of Justin. I don't know that it’s a smart move," Campbell said.
When it comes to tricks, sometimes the magic just wears off. 


1 comment:

scotty on denman said...

As far as I'm aware, the Sovereign doesn't need to have parliamentary confidence in the Senate, only in the Commons where (money) bills either become legislated law by simple majority or, failing that, trigger the search for any group of members that will convincingly commit to passing bills; if none is found in the parliament extant, it is dissolved and an election is called to replace it. The Senate doesn't fall; nor is it dissolved; nor, of course, are its members replaced by election, that being one of its central flaws, along with unequal apportionment of seats to the provinces.

Bills have occasionally failed to pass in the Senate, triggering a variety of consequences: incessant bell-ringing (a bill can be stopped when Senators protest by refusing to show up in sufficient numbers to allow a vote); there have been Senatorial sit-ins or camp-ins (wasn't that Liberal Senator Jaques Hebert?); or, by far the most controversial solution for a bunged-up bill, the blatant stacking of the Senate with numbers of appointees sufficient to overcome the impasse and whose loyalty is expected be to the one who appointed them. These patronage appointments have a strongly personalized element, picked as they are by the single personage of the PM, usually a reward for outstanding, partisan service (reinforcing the personal element); strict loyalty is supposedly owed to the PM by such 'top-up' appointees for at least as long as that PM holds office. This type of Senator is probably the least 'independent' of all members in either House and they can regard it as a matter of 'personal honour'. They can also shoehorn their way into even higher honourable territory by imagining they've been instrumental in averting one of the Senate's many so-called "Constitutional crises".

It would seem that because the government doesn't fall if a bill fails to pass in the Senate, Senators should enjoy much more 'independence' than other parliamentarians, particularly those appointees whose benefactor is no longer sitting in the Commons: their personal obligation has thus been paid. Every Senator will say that because they aren't legitimized by being elected of a constituency, their responsibility must therefore be to honour the fundamental purpose of parliament, that is, timely legislation, by which they mean speedy, unquestioning, partisan loyalty and perfunctory 'rubber-stamping'.

For all the priestly triple-E in Reformacon theology, Harper's done nothing to reform the Senate, conserving it instead for ritual stagecraft whenever a diversion is needed---appointing crooks, parliamentary interference and trite judicial queries don't count; only an Amendment will do and that has never been on deck. What we see nowadays is theatre.

Justin's unilateral "freeing" risked embarrassment when the supposedly "former Liberal" Senators refused to leave home---yes, with all the 'independence' of a twenty-something brat still living with his parents.

The MagicTrick is one-upping Harper's nothing with a zero.