The reason I like Justin Trudeau's move is that it takes a step in the direction of making the Senate less partisan. I don't think there's anyone who argues that it hasn't become a sad, less relevant reflection of an overly partisan House of Commons. Many honourable, smart, dedicated people (and a few more questionable choices) have been appointed to the Senate but, once installed in the Red Chamber, they have then been expected to toe their party’s line. I've always tended to have greater respect for those who occasionally have voted against their party’s position (this goes for MPs and Senators). That's what independence is and that's what we need from a chamber that's supposed to offer sober second thought. So, by removing the Senators from the Liberal caucus, Justin Trudeau is unleashing them to vote, speak and operate as they see fit. Sure, they may still be Liberal party members – that’s a matter of choice -- but, so what? The point is they are free to vote and speak out on issues as they wish.
Most people – and the majority of pundits - feel it would improve democracy if there were more free votes in the House of Commons. Despite that, the media (and many partisans) overhype it whenever a single MP or a handful of independent-minded MPs vote – or even consider voting -- against their party position. (As an aside, I would question the judgement of any MP or partisan who indicated they would always be in full and unequivocal agreement with every position their party or leader espoused. In my view, that's a clear sign of someone handing over the keys to their brain.) It doesn’t make for good television or great newspaper headlines when the news is that people are thinking independently, but it’s far better for democracy.
As Trudeau said, this isn’t the extent of the improvements required when it comes to the Senate. It is, however, a useful, immediately do-able and commendable step. The Conservative government’s Supreme Court reference may lead to some useful reform. And NDP leader Tom Mulcair’s Senate abolition plan may win some favour – even though it would require a constitutional amendment – which is a long-shot. But, let’s face it: even if one supports either of those plans, the reality is that it would be years before either proposal would provoke any real change. If you’re a cynic – which I am not -- one might conclude they are simply stalling tactics.
I think all the party leaders should acknowledge that less partisanship – even achieved in small doses such as Justin Trudeau’s announcement -- is a good step. Instead, partisan instincts provoked those who responded to yesterday's announcement to go into attack mode. It's unfortunate, because a little reflection would have been more in order. (Kudos, however, to long-time Senate reform activist Preston Manning for acknowledging Trudeau's move as a step in the right direction -- even though Manning then echoed some of Pierre Poilievre’s approach and questioned the motivation behind the move.)