Here’s the real point, though: In perhaps a surprise move following the 2015 election, the Prime Minister chose to set aside historical patterns of predominantly filling Senate seats with party faithful, and he also removed Liberal senators from the Liberal caucus.
Instead, through an independent selection process, he selected a group of independent senators, with each one being asked by the PM to do only one thing: to work towards a more independent and less partisan Senate — nothing more; no mention at all of supporting his election platform or anything else, and nothing since.
Indeed, most, if not all, of the independent senators appointed since 2015 would not have accepted a political appointment. I certainly would not have. It was independence that attracted me here — the freedom to make up our own minds and vote as we see fit as opposed to taking instructions from anyone.
There has been, I know, discomfort about this from some of my colleagues in this place, and I know that the notion of a more independent Senate is a bit threatening in a change-resistant environment. It is uncomfortable, I suspect, to fill the institution under threat of change, even if that is change for the better.
Now I will take on the question of fake independent senators.
First, obviously the PM might not have made this change in appointing independent senators at all. He could have followed the crowd that went before him and appointed a majority of explicit party loyalists, as his predecessors did. He certainly would have had a happier, larger and more powerful Liberal caucus in the Senate, and I dare say this might have sat well with those in the balance of the Senate.
There was a more direct and easier route to the continuation of a partisan Senate. To his credit, the Prime Minister, likely guided by the Supreme Court, set out to build a more independent and less partisan Senate. I emphasize “less” because no one is talking about a non-partisan Senate.
The PM likely not only had an unhappy group of former Liberals in the Senate, but he had a group of independently minded senators. Early independent appointees, including Senator Lankin, weighed in on amendments to medical assistance in dying. Senator Pratte led the charge against the inclusion of the federal Infrastructure Bank in a budget bill and brought everyone else along with him — probably not the sort of partisan gesture I’m hearing about earlier. Senator Pratte, a Liberal in sheep’s clothing? I think not.
Senator Pate has consistently defended the rights of Indigenous and other persons incarcerated in prisons, and especially solitary confinement. How is that working for the PM? Her work on mandatory minimum sentences and segregation is groundbreaking, admirable and entirely independent.
Senator Omidvar, a champion of immigration and refugees, has taken on the government on a number of bills, including some parts of Bill C-45 which would see non-permanent residents treated inequitably in the justice system. I’m not seeing our colleague Senator D. Black here, so I’m not going to commend his work on Bill C-69 in his absence.
This is only a partial series of examples of a more policy-focused, less partisan and more independent Senate at work. But look around beyond this group to the broader group of ISG senators in this place and ask yourselves how many of us would have been on the traditional Liberal faithful list? How many of us would have agreed to leave our jobs behind as senior leaders in a number of sectors if it was for the purpose of taking orders from the Prime Minister’s Office? Very few, probably none.
Now, you know all of this. Indeed, you continue to make the case that it is otherwise. I know there would be more comfort with the old duopoly, with senators from the Liberal world and the Conservative world sharing power, but that’s not what we have right now.
Now let’s go back to the substance of Senator Ringuette’s motion, and I thank you for your indulgence.