Canadian Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau kicked the party’s Senators out of his caucus today, breaking the news to colleagues at a weekly meeting and saying the body of unelected lawmakers no longer serves the public interest.
The party’s 32 senators will become “independent” from caucus and won’t have fundraising or campaign roles in future elections, Trudeau said in Ottawa.
“The Senate, through extreme patronage and partisanship, has become an institution that poorly serves the interests of Canadians,” Trudeau said. Future Senate appointments by prime ministers should be made on a “non-partisan” basis, he said.
The Senate’s prestige has taken a hit recently after allegations of improper expense claims led to the resignation of Liberal Senator Mac Harb and the suspension in November of three Conservatives appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Harper’s own popularity has suffered since his chief of staff Nigel Wright quit in May and police started investigating the disclosure he paid about C$90,000 ($80,700) to Senator Mike Duffy to cover ineligible housing expense claims.
“If the Senate cannot be reformed it must be abolished,” said Pierre Poilievre, junior minister for democratic reform. He told reporters Harper’s government has been working toward a system of electing future senators, and called Trudeau’s move a “smokescreen” to distract voters from the results of a review of Senate expenses by Canada’s Auditor General.
The New Democratic Party, the largest opposition group in the elected House of Commons, has no Senators and a long-standing position that the body should be abolished. The NDP said in a statement today they support Trudeau’s removal of Senators from partisan activities and caucus meetings.
The Senate was originally designed in part to give the country’s provinces representation in Parliament. Previous abolition efforts have failed because provincial premiers have resisted them. The Conservatives in February asked the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on the exact procedure needed to amend or abolish the Senate.
The Senate’s 105 members include 57 Conservatives, 32 Liberals, seven independents. Nine seats are vacant.