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EDITORIAL: Take the bluster out of the Senate


So, Conservatives in the Senate have booted one of their own out of caucus? Bravo, one down, 38 to go.

Nothing against the Conservative Party, just to be clear. But any move toward reducing – ultimately eliminating – partisanship in the Upper Chamber is a good thing.

Some might think it petty of the Conservatives to expel Nova Scotia Senator Stephen Greene for what was described by Conservative Senate leader Larry Smith as treasonous behaviour. Greene’s betrayal was accepting an invitation to a dinner being hosted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Canadians have seen some movement to rid the Senate of the seesaw makeup resulting from Liberal prime ministers stacking it with Liberals, alternating with Conservative prime ministers countering with a barrage of Conservative patronage appointments.

For what it’s worth, while still in opposition, Trudeau made the move to declare Liberals members of the chamber no longer part of the party caucus. And of course it wouldn’t be a stretch to suspect some of those erstwhile Liberals of maintaining a certain affiliation for the party’s values and policies – but you have to start somewhere.

The idea was to re-establish that founding principle of the Senate as a body of sober second thought. In their appraisal of parliamentary bills, if dealt with fairly and objectively, they can sometimes revise and make improvements to legislation, rather than be perceived as a rubber-stamp department.

Or, conversely, a partisan band of senators can hold up legislation simply because it was introduced by the other party.

The Conservatives apparently don’t see the value of an independent Senate. In discussing Greene’s political peccadillos, Smith cited Greene’s support for reforms to the Senate that, in Smith’s view, would “effectively eliminate the Opposition” in the upper chamber.

We have an Opposition in Parliament, and that serves a good, critical service in debating the shape of legislation. It does sometimes, however, descend into bickering, opposing bills for the sake of being contrary. In fact, it’s refreshing when, on occasion, we see wide support for a bill, when the proposed legislation simply can’t be disputed as beneficial to the population.

It would be good, in fact, to see more all-party collaboration on at least some government initiatives, rather than the predictable us-versus-them standoffs.

We would certainly like to see a more rational, objective treatment of issues in the Senate at least, a focus on its role to see that regions and various segments of society are fairly represented and that legislation receives comprehensive, honest review.

It’s interesting to think what the Conservatives have accomplished in sending Greene packing. Let the party expel their recalcitrant Senate members, that’s one way of thinning the ranks.

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