Thursday, January 30, 2014

Justin Trudeau's Daring Senate Gambit

I must admit Justin Trudeau's move to boot the Liberal senators from his caucus caught me by surprise, and it is certainly a bold one. 

Justin Trudeau has dissolved a vital bond between senators and the Liberal Party that appointed them, expelling dozens of members of his caucus in a dramatic attempt to reshape the Senate without a constitutional debate. 

It makes Trudeau look more decisive, it steals some of Tom Mulcair's thunder on the Senate issue, as well as the original idea. It might help shield the Liberals a bit from an upcoming audit of Senate expenses. And it places Stephen Harper in a difficult situation.

Not just because it helps keep the Senate in the headlines, when Harper for obvious reasons would rather bury it.

But also because it leaves Great Leader still blabbing about Senate reform while presiding over the House of Patronage.

In Mr. Harper’s eyes, independence won’t make an unelected Senate better. In Question Period, as he ridiculed Liberal claims of new independence, he suggested that following the government’s will is the appropriate course for Tory senators. “Conservative senators are not trying to pretend they are anything other than senators who support the elected government of Canadians,” he said. 

The problem, however, is that, without more fundamental reform, his Conservative appointees in the Senate will outlast his government, and Canadians don’t like funding well-paid rubber-stampers anyway. The fact that those salaries and expense accounts go to loyal party operatives is, for most Canadians, an extra insult: This low-value, high-priced perk goes to their friends. The Prime Minister has been left to argue that the only fix for that is more sweeping reform that he might not be able to muster.

Or still feeding his turkeys....

Or course, for the move to be truly effective, some Liberal senators are going to have to put their heads before their hearts.

After Mr. Trudeau delivered the news, the senators met behind closed doors and emerged to say they would stick together as a Senate Liberal Caucus.

“I’m still a Liberal senator, not independent,” Senator Mobina Jaffer said. “I’m still a Liberal. I’ve always been a Liberal. I’ve been a Liberal for 38 years.... I can absolutely campaign. It doesn’t stop me doing anything any other Liberal would do.”

Because if they don't they will make both Justin and themselves look ridiculous.

The move could also demoralize some party workers and organizers. And more ominously it could lead Stephen Harper to up the ante by staging a divisive referendum that could tear the country apart.

But for now it's a great branding strategy.

Alex Marland, a political science professor at Memorial University, said Trudeau’s move Wednesday to boot 32 Senators from the Liberal caucus in the name of independence is timed to make an impression on Canadians that will reach beyond Ottawa. Put bluntly: “The Senate has been in the news so often that his announcement matters,” Marland said.

Complex debates over Senate abolition and reform have gone largely unnoticed by average Canadians, he continued. In contrast, Trudeau’s simple – if untested – solution to Senate partisanship is easily digestible for the vast majority of Canadians who aren’t paying attention to the House of Commons.

And strangely enough, in the long run it could also help the NDP. By convincing Tom Mulcair that he can't simply rely on his performance in the House of Commons.

The NDP leader has seen his personal popularity grow in the polls with his strong performance in Question Period during the height of the Senate scandal. But his precision skewering of Harper’s Conservatives has not been enough to elevate him or his party from third-place status.

Now, with Trudeau’s budding reputation as an iconoclast, Mulcair must make an impression outside of Ottawa if he hopes to be a contender for the Prime Minister’s chair. 

Marland puts it bluntly: “The House isn’t enough.”

So there, something for both progressive parties, which should keep all my friends happy.

And nothing for the control freak Harper which makes me really happy eh?

Yup. The Senate story just became even more interesting.

So ring the bell of boldness.

And let the bout begin...

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  1. Anonymous8:33 AM

    This appears to be a gimmick on the part of an indecisive Justin. A few months ago he said he could not do exactly what he just did. Those Senators are all still crony hacks and they always will be. This is what is referred to as lipstick on a pig and it will wear off quickly.

    1. So give us a link to some proof about what Justin said a few months ago !

    2. Anonymous9:27 AM

      Mulcair was quick to note on Wednesday that Trudeau actually voted against an NDP motion last October that called on both Liberals and Tories to cut their senators loose.

  2. I think JT gave it pretty good to the faltering Mansbridge as well last night on the National.

  3. e.a.f.3:11 AM

    it was a good decision on his part. distances himself and the party from any fallout from the audit, hey they aren't liberal senators, we set them free. J"T sends a message to Canadians, especially younger Canadians, that he is open to change. For some that is all that matters. What we now have isn't working. Abolishing the senate isn't going to work and might not be a good idea.

    You quoted Mobina Jaffer. However, on the news she also said she was o.k. with J.T.'s decision because now she was also a B.C. senator and could vote for B.C. Now as one living in B.C. it truly would be nice if a senator from B.C. actually did something which benefited B.C. and not the political party they belonged to.