On January 29th, 2014, Justin Trudeau, federal Liberal Party leader emerged from a meeting with his Senate caucus members and announced that these 32 senators would no longer be Liberal senators; that they would no longer be a part of the National Liberal Caucus – which is typically composed of both elected Liberal members of parliament and appointed Liberal senators. Instead senators would now sit as independents in the Upper Chamber, would not attend the weekly Liberal caucus meetings and would not be allowed to help party fundraising efforts. Funnily enough though, these senators would still be members of the Liberal party- there was no getting around that!
Mr. Trudeau justified his surprising decision saying that he wants the Senate to be a non-partisan House of parliament, independent of the prime minister’s (and supposedly other party leaders’) reach, to remove party politics from the troubled Upper Chamber.
“If the Senate serves a purpose at all,” Mr. Trudeau said, “it is to act as a check on the extraordinary power of the prime minister and his office, especially in a majority government” and that party structures “interferes with this responsibility.”
Of course, we know from previousposts on the Senate, that Mr. Harper’s government has been trying to reform the Senate and is now awaiting a response to the government’s reference case from the Supreme Court of Canada to determine how and whether the government can make its proposed changes. At the same time, Mr. Harper has increased the number of Conservative senators by filling vacancies via appointment.
Canada’s government is a federal system. That is, we have more than one level of government, in fact, we have a national (or federal government) uniting the country and 13 provincial & territorial governments which are governed individually. We also have local governments in municipalities and towns, which deal with (you guessed it) local issues.
As such, each level has its own set of powers or areas of legislative jurisdiction for which it is responsible.
Along with senators, cabinet ministers, and really, the governor general, the prime minister acting on behalf of the government also appoints judges to various levels of the judicial system through the Governor In Council process (which we will get into at another time). The most important of these judicial appointments are the ones to the Supreme Court of Canada, the highest court of the land, the final court of appeal and the interpreter of the Constitution.
By why all the fuss with this appointment? What makes this one any different than previous appointments? That is what we will be talking about in this post. Continue reading →