Membership has its privileges?


Trust New Brunswick to tilt at the beast of federal complacency and partisanship. After all, didn’t this province help invent the Senate of Canada? Shouldn’t we, of all this great land’s citizens, now properly tame it, if not actually slay it?

Two senators from this fair province – and from two different parties, no less – prefer door No. 1. But how much luck are they having travelling the high road to reform?

Pierrette Ringuette, who was appointed as a Liberal senator but who has announced that she will quit the Grit caucus and sit as an independent, declared last week that “Canadians have been clear in their desire for a non-partisan Senate. The Senate, as an institution and senators themselves, should be working to remove partisanship from the chamber and with that goal in mind, I believe in taking the proactive approach and sitting as an independent.”

In this, she joins fellow New Brunswicker John Wallace, a former Conservative senator who is now an independent. At the time of his resignation last November, he stipulated in a letter, “Differences that I consider to be irreconcilable exist between myself and Conservative Senate Leader Claude Carignan and other Conservative Senate Caucus members regarding the required Constitutional roles, responsibilities and independence of Conservative Senators. These differences are fundamental to the roles and responsibilities that I have sworn to uphold as a member of the Senate of Canada.”

In an interview with the CBC’s Jacques Poitras, Mr. Wallace said, “I believe in order for the Senate to function as it was intended by the Fathers of Confederation. . .political partisanship, as much as it can be, has to be removed from the Senate,” he told CBC’s Jacques Poitras in New Brunswick. “Others can think otherwise, but I don’t want to find myself constrained by feeling that every time I go against the will of my political leaders, it’s an act of disloyalty.”

Still, as fine and noble as these sentiments ring, when it comes to the Senate of Canada, independence does not necessarily confer any privileges – except, perhaps, those of conscience. In the meantime, just try and get a committee appointment. Go ahead, Mr. Wallace, I dare you.

Since his resignation from the Tory caucus, the good fellow and other independents in the chamber are having a dickens of a time getting a seat on any of the signature quorums that essentially comprise the Senate’s raison d’etre. “The total exclusion of myself and other independent senators from any committee, it’s completely outrageous,” he told the Telegraph-Journal’s Adam Huras not long ago. “It goes right to the heart of the credibility, the reputation and the integrity of the institution. There couldn’t be a clearer example of that problem of irreconcilable difference than what this represents. There is a message that is being sent to me.”

For her part, though her political associations may differ from Mr. Wallace’s, Ms. Ringuette is sympathetic to her colleague’s cause, which is, naturally, also her own. “It’s a sad state of affairs,” she was quoted as saying last week. “You would think that individually and collectively with the events of the last three years that independent spirited senators would rise to the challenge.”

Actually, given those very events of the last three years, I would expect nothing less than the officious, foot-dragging, obstreperous behaviour from the partisan-aligned majority of senators we witness today.

Mr. Wallace’s and Ms. Ringuette’s principled stand, notwithstanding, notions of meaningful reform do not pass frequently through the Upper Chamber’s gilded doors.

Perhaps it’s time to slay the beast, after all.

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