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Trudeau's Senate Decision - Canadian Politics 101

Saturday, February 01, 2014   by: Mac Headrick

 

With great knowledge also comes the obligation to share and help educate those less blessed. No, the above is not some saying from a brilliant historical scholar. I actually just made it up. I had to start today’s column somewhere. Consider the following as a brief university quality course: Politics 101 - Professor Mac at your service. 

This past Wednesday, Justin Trudeau kicked 32 Liberal Senators out of the Liberal caucus. This decision is a perfect example of typical Canadian politics in action. 

Now before I go any further I believe it is necessary to provide an extensive background about Canada’s political structure. Normally this would be the material of a university political course. I am able to accomplish this in three sentences. Are you ready? I assume you have paper and pen in hand. 

There are those who stand for the right spectrum of political thought; they are Conservatives. Some Canadians stand for the left spectrum of political philosophy; they are referred to as NDP supporters. Then there are Canadians who stand for nothing; and these people are known as Liberals. 

Now before you dismiss the above analysis take a moment to reflect upon the advantages of standing for nothing. Successful political parties have to be flexible. Not that this has to do without any boundaries or specific beliefs. But at some point you would have to outline policy or things you stand for. That is easy to do… just steal ideas from your opponents, change them slightly, and present them as your own. Now supporting the Conservative or NDP party’s is hard work. You have to believe and support your point of view. Frankly, it takes a lot of effort. To support the Liberal Party well, you just have to believe in their message. Immediately below I am going to present the Liberal campaign in the next federal election. 

“Canada is a great country; we feel your pain; we will solve all your problems; now time for a group hug”. 

Keep in mind the concept of “nothingness” and stealing of ideas while I break down Justin Trudeau’s expulsion of 32 Liberal Senators from the Liberal caucus. At the start of the day this past Wednesday there were 32 Liberal Senators. At the end of the day they had been replaced by 32 Senate Liberals. This idea had been proposed by the NDP back in October 2013. The 32 Senate Liberals still are card carrying members of the Liberal Party. They still keep their annual 130,000 dollar salary and benefits. They publicly announced they would still support the Liberal Party. 

Well what has changed? Do you remember the shock and amazement before Christmas when the Senate actually held meetings on a Friday? Senators normally do not work Fridays. They also take all the breaks elected Parliamentarians do. Guess what? Now they don’t have to show up on Wednesdays. Justin Trudeau accomplished something I didn’t think possible. The Canadian Senate has always been a place were party supporters go to do little at a 90 – 100 million dollars a year. Now the Liberal Senators…oh, excuse me, the Senate Liberals will have less to do. 

Justin Trudeau’s decision is all about taking an idea and turning it into nothing. Now I could end my column here but I would be remiss in not explaining why Trudeau’s expulsion of the Liberal Senators was a very smart move. In Canadian politics you can do nothing but benefit greatly if you create the impression of significant accomplishment. Listed below are the four major benefits of Justin Trudeau’s political move. 

  1. The Senate scandal has dominated Canadian politics for the past year. The Liberal leader has been missing in action in parliament for two reasons. First, the Liberal Senators though not as vilified as the Conservative Senators haven’t escaped entirely. Also there is a reason the Liberal Party prefers their leader not to be in the House of Commons. You do not want Justin debating in the same room as Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair. Having a nice smile and wavy hair isn’t enough to sustain a leader in an unscripted environment as question period. On Wednesday Justin Trudeau became a player in the Senate debate. What did he actually accomplish? It doesn’t matter he is now a potential leader of substance to his followers.
  2. There is a Senate audit of Liberal Senators, oh excuse me, and make that Senate Liberals to be released in the near future. What do you believe the results will show? It doesn’t matter now. If the report is bad news, well the Liberal leader has taken decisive action. How can any bad behaviour of Liberal Senators reflect badly on the elected Liberal Party when Liberal Senators do not exist?
  3. Finally, as I stated above, supporting the Conservatives or the NDP takes far too much intellectual effort. I know there are many Liberal supporters out there that desperately want to believe in Justin Trudeau. They feel a little embarrassed because at the same they wish to present themselves as intelligent, substantial political thinkers. This dilemma has been solved. Justin Trudeau is no longer a political “lite”. He is now a decisive leader, not afraid to make tough decisions. Remember, think perception not reality. 
  4. The significance of Trudeau’s decision has special meaning in the province of Quebec. The day after the last federal election I wrote how fortunate the NDP were that the Conservatives got a majority. The NDP had at least four years to try to hang onto their seats. Quebec elected NDP candidates that, for example, did not show up in their respective riding during the campaign. They traveled to Las Vegas to party instead. They elected a teenager whose life experience at the time was working at McDonalds and having a part time job at a golf course. My point is Quebec didn’t like the Conservatives or the Liberal leadership then, thus they supported the NDP. How safe do you think the majority of the NDP seats in Quebec are? Justin Trudeau, Quebec’s favourite son traveled to Ottawa as a boy. Perhaps he has now become a man. 

As I see it this past Wednesday’s announcement was all about nothing. That doesn’t matter in Canadian politics. This event was a perfect example of Canadian political reality. Perception matters more than substance. It also gave Liberal supporters a reason to believe.

 

 

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Javaman 2/1/2014 8:40:45 AM Report

If Harper wants to guarantee a win in the next election he would be smart to put forth a motion to ABOLISH the senate....the very thing Canadians seem to want. That would be a bold move that would at least earn him some brownie points with voters.
Unless he does that...Justin Trudeau will be the next PM with a minority government.IMHO only of course.
mac headrick 2/1/2014 8:50:04 AM Report

Javaman getting rid of the Senate would be difficult. Often doing the right thing does require some effort.

Justin is taking the easy way out. Change Liberal Senators to Senate Liberals. Do nothing but give your base support the illusion of doing something.

It is the Liberal way.
BIG BROTHER 2/1/2014 9:43:05 AM Report

Not to go into too much detail, getting rid of the Senate would be a huge step backwards for Canadian Democracy.

The Senate, as Trudeau has rightly shown, should be an independent governing body. The beauty is in their independence. Along comes an upstart party, the Conservatives. A relatively new group. Even the Conservative Senators already sitting, they aren't Harper Conservatives and he therefore can't trust them. He proceeds to appoint no less than 59 of his own people, basically demanding loyalty from them. Proof of this is in the Duffy, Wallin, Brazeau affair. These Senators ran to Harper to protect them from accountability. This would never and should never have happened if they didn't have the sense of loyalty between them. And Harper responded by stepping up with cash for Duffy, at least. Based on Harper's approach, few are surprised by this. But, in previous governments, this would have been unheard of. A sitting Senator looking to his PM for protection from their improper spending would have been chastised by that PM before allowing himself to be implicated.

In fairness to Trudeau, Mulcair did propose some sort of Senate reform, but did so with the idea of opening the Constitution, an approach which requires much energy and co-operation from all provinces, Quebec notwithstanding.
T-rat 2/1/2014 11:14:32 AM Report

Sorry Mac, but in Canadian Politics 101, you fail the course, but hopefully that's because your tongue was firmly planted in your cheek, as you wrote.

Canadians in general have long said abolish the senate, not knowing the complexity of trying to shut down the place. The recent spending scandals only served to further reinforce the opinions of the abolishionists.

Of late, it has become increasingly evident that what Canadians really dislike is that the senate is being used by prime ministers as a reward system for past political service and favours (the virtual trough). And a number of concerned Canadians agree that there may be some merit in maintaining the "upper chamber", this closeted group of sober second thought but first there has to be senate reform. And what really leaves a bad taste in their mouths is the political partisanship between Liberal senators, or Conservative senators and their respective political parties. There is always an extension in the upper chamber of the party in power. And that is what a lot of Canadians want abolished. Sever those political ties. And this appears to be what Mr. Trudeau has taken the first step in doing by sending those senators with Liberal party ties back to the senate, and at arms length from his elected caucus.

I know that you only consider that a "perception" but I can tell you that I, for one Canadian am glad to see there is a leader in the House of Commons who is not only perceptive but decisive.

One would have to be naïve to think that the sitting senators who were cast out of the Liberal caucus are going to suddenly become anything less than Liberals but at least now we can look at them not as senator Liberals but as independent senators, Liberal or otherwise. And they can individually decide what political beliefs they want to follow, if any at all.
realitycheck 2/1/2014 11:22:32 AM Report

Senators are supposed to be an independent body, to take a sobre second look at legislation passed by the Commons. If Senators take part in their party's caucus, sitting alongside Members of Parliament on a weekly basis, how can anyone say they are independent when studying legislation? All Trudeau has done is remove the Liberal Senators from caucus. Mac, as you say yourself, he simply has changed Liberal Senators to Senate Liberals. But where you belittle the move, I see it as a good one. It may not be the abolition or change to elected status, the one I prefer, many want but it is at least a start. If the Conservatives would also turn their Senators loose, with power over them no longer being vested in the prime minister, we actually might have an independent Senate. There still would be ideological differences but at least it would be their own.
fatafr 2/1/2014 11:27:29 AM Report

let's remind ourselves what justin trudeau said about the former liberal senator, Mac Harb, before he resigned in shame from the senate.

trudeau clearly states, “For me, there’s a real difference between what Mac Harb is going through and what Senators Duffy and Wallin seem to have on their plate.” But once the dust settles, Trudeau will welcome the Chretien appointee back with open arms. In a statement released Sunday evening, someone than described Trudeau’s position on Harb as a “lapse in judgement".

In my opinion, Justin Trudeau's complete persona is a lack of judgement. He has stood for nothing that matters to Canadians for the entire time that he has been canonized as the so called leader of the 3rd party, the federal liberal party.
Yes, Mac, what happened Wednesday with trudeau's announcement was most definitely much to do about nothing. And, yes, you are right, unfortunately, perception does seem to matter more than substance. It's never been more evident then with the arrival of the former supply teacher; the messiah that has been sent to take the federal liberals to the promised land, the House of Commons in Ottawa.
It should be very interesting times in federal politics leading up to the 2015 elections. I do believe that trudeau's liberals will gain seats, mostly at the expense of the NDP. Harper has made so many gaffs that he has contributed immensely to aiding trudeau's climb in the polls. In fact, I believe Harper would do his Party a lot of good if he simply stepped down as leader.
Of course, his ego will not let him do that.
Let us hope that when Canadians go to the polls, perception falls by the wayside. Fortunately, teen age girls under 18 years of age can not vote.
Enjoy the Super Bowl tomorrow everyone. Mac, my prediction, Broncos 28- Seahawks 24.    
Oldie Goldie 2/1/2014 1:21:44 PM Report

I think Trudeau's move was brilliant.

Now the Senators that were Liberal Senators are now truly Independent---that's the way it should be.

Harper still tells all his Conservative Senators how to vote--but he said they should be Independent but he won't let them be because he wants total control.

A rookie trumped a veteran and Harper is still trying to figure out his next move but it looks like he is going to do nothing about the Senate and he will suffer for that at the next Election.

His last election promise was to make changes in the Senate.

At least Trudeau is trying to change the Senate but Harper isn't helping.

Please don't tell me that the Opposition is preventing Harper from making Senate Changes.

He has a Majority--but until then he could follow Trudeau's move and make the present Conservative Senators Independent then the whole Senate will have changed somewhat !
debo 2/1/2014 1:25:31 PM Report

While signing in to read your latest offering Mac, I inadvertently brought up the "thumbnail bio" that Sootoday offers of you.

Firstly, let me say I don't believe you wrote it because you are a pretty factual guy ... so I assume someone other than yourself put it on your page.

If you are 54 and graduated Collegiate in 1969 that would make you 9 at graduation.

Also, you might ask them to clean up their spelling of the Sault "Steelors".

Again, I do not ascribe these errors to you ... But Sootoday owes a regular contributor such as yourself better service.
mac headrick 2/1/2014 2:56:16 PM Report

T-rat I actually cannot fail the course as I wrote it and am the Professor.

But that aside you made the following points.

"Canadians in general have long said abolish the senate, not knowing the complexity of trying to shut down the place. The recent spending scandals only served to further reinforce the opinions of the abolishionists."

The above would seem to support my contention doing the right thing is often the most difficult approach.

"I know that you only consider that a "perception" but I can tell you that I, for one Canadian am glad to see there is a leader in the House of Commons who is not only perceptive but decisive."

In my column I gave credit to Justin Trudeau when I stated (number three) that eventhough his decision was meaningless Liberal supporters are desperate to fine any reason to support their party. I rest my case.

mac headrick 2/1/2014 2:57:54 PM Report

T-rat I actually cannot fail the course as I wrote it and am the Professor.

But that aside you made the following points.

"Canadians in general have long said abolish the senate, not knowing the complexity of trying to shut down the place. The recent spending scandals only served to further reinforce the opinions of the abolishionists."

The above would seem to support my contention doing the right thing is often the most difficult approach.

"I know that you only consider that a "perception" but I can tell you that I, for one Canadian am glad to see there is a leader in the House of Commons who is not only perceptive but decisive."

In my column I gave credit to Justin Trudeau when I stated (number three) that eventhough his decision was meaningless Liberal supporters are desperate to find any reason to support their party. I rest my case.

T-rat 2/1/2014 4:44:40 PM Report

Actually Mac, I could possibly agree with you that what Trudeau did might prove "meaningless" in moving the yardsticks on Senate reform, especially if Harper belittles Trudeau's effort, which he is compelled to do since his own strategists didn't come up with it first. It will very difficult for Harper to follow suit because he will have to thus admit that young Trudeau was right.

Where it may well not prove to be "meaningless" will be at the polls come the next election. Canadians just might prefer perception to intransigence.


BIG BROTHER 2/1/2014 5:20:32 PM Report

It is not a coincidence that Duffy and Wallin were the main culprits ib the enate scandal. They were the most recognized by Canadians and that recognition is what made them valuable to Harper. They were used as fundraisers for Harper`s Conservative Party. Their Senate expense account was used to transport them to various fundraisers. Harper was afraid of being connected to a scandal and approved repayment of those expenses, only to find out that returning the ill gotten gain was like returning the stolen goods after being caught. Too late!!

Harper would be afraid to grant the same independence to his Senators, that Trudeau just did. He cannot have the same faith. Some of them (Hugh Segal comes to mind) aren`t Harper people. They were Mulroney, Clark, Campbell appointees and do not subscribe to the Tea Party extreme of Harper. He has to keep them subordinate or face a huge blood-letting.

As far as meaningless....I have coined a saying that I think applies well....Pawn takes queen. With very little effort, Trudeau has rocked the whole system. the move is reminiscent of his father or Chretien. I wouldn`t be surprised if Chretien was the one to advise him to do this. Perception is everything....Harper`s move, cause Trudeau has taken over the `high road.
realitycheck 2/1/2014 6:29:56 PM Report

Sen. Hugh Segal will no longer be a Senator ad he is leaving the Senate to become the master of Massey College at the University of Toronto. Although he was appointed by Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, he sat as a Conservative as he had long been a stalwart of that party. He was one of the more worthy Senators, as was proven when he opposed Prime Minister Harper's throwing out of the rules in his handling of the Senate scandal.
right wing 2/3/2014 9:58:56 AM Report

Mac

I agree with your take on Trudeau's senate move with one exception.
When the audit is done and the results are shown if any one of those senators are implicated it will look like Trudeau did it to distance himself from a scandal.
No two ways about it.
steelworker 2/3/2014 11:07:56 AM Report

The wannabe Emperor has no clothes. If you take the uniforms off a bunch of Nazis are they still Nazis? Or are they now Boy Scouts?
KENNEDY919 2/7/2014 11:20:40 AM Report

Mac

The Senate is the least of our problems even though it represents a costly rubber stamp that could be done away with. The real problem in Ottawa is the power of unelected members of the PMOs office versus the power of elected members of the Legislature. It is the PMO's office that virtually sets the policies and runs the country.
It was Pierre Trudeau who increased the powers of the PMO's office and diluted the democratic process of elected officials working for the people.Stephen Harper has reduced MPS to political pylons who must filter their voice through the PMO's office before it can be heard.
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