Kathleen Wynne is backing federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s “bold, smart” move to boot all of his party’s senators out of caucus.
The Ontario Premier said Thursday she supports Mr. Trudeau’s stand that senators should be independent of party affiliations.
Given the difficulty in getting a constitutional amendment to reform the Red Chamber, taking more incremental steps is a good way to go, she said.
“The move that Justin Trudeau made, it’s pretty bold and smart,” she said at an unrelated announcement in a Toronto café. “You know, it’s very hard to change the constitution in this country.”
Ms. Wynne supports keeping the chamber of sober second thought, but wants to see unspecified reforms made to it. The Premier has never said exactly what she wants a modified Senate to look like – whether elected, with equal powers to the House of Commons or with a different system of provincial representation than it has now.
“There are many of us who believe the Senate needs to be reformed and I think over time, introducing this element of independence into the Senate, I think it’s very smart,” she said.
But the Premier dodged the question of whether she would continue to treat the recently-booted senators as Liberals or not, and whether they would be invited to the party’s joint federal-provincial caucus meetings.
Instead, she said she would deal with senators of all stripes.
“As the government of Ontario, we’re interested in the positions that all representatives of Ontario take,” she said. “So whether it’s Conservative, NDP or Liberal MPs or whether it’s senators of any party, we’re interested in their positions.”
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said Thursday he also supported Mr. Trudeau's move. Mr. McNeil said it gives the newly independent senators freedom and the ability to vote in the best interests of the people they represent.
There are now eight senators in the province, four of whom were Liberals before they were booted Wednesday from the party.
The Senate has been under increased scrutiny over the last year as a result of an expenses scandal.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has asked the Supreme Court for advice on whether provinces can hold Senate elections, with the winners formally appointed by the prime minister, as a way of establishing a de facto elected Senate without having to re-open the constitution. The Conservative government also asked about term limits on senators and the constitutionality of abolishing the chamber all together.
In a statement Thursday, Conservative Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre accused Mr. Trudeau of trying to make senators “unaccountable” by freeing them from the control of elected party leaders in the Commons.
“Our government will not defend an unelected, unaccountable Senate and that is why we continue to push for real Senate reform, that includes electing senators. If the Senate cannot be reformed, it must be abolished,” he said.
Other premiers, including Robert Ghiz of Prince Edward Island, are in favour of constitutional reform to formally create an elected Senate with powers equal to the Commons and fair representation from all provinces.
Two Prairie premiers – Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall and Manitoba’s Greg Selinger – for their part, want to simply abolish the Senate.
Mr. Trudeau’s move, Ms. Wynne said, would change the course of the debate by adding a different option, specifically that of freeing senators from party whips.
“I think it will change the debate about Senate reform,” she said. “You know, there’s been a conversation about whether he has a position or not, and I think this demonstrates that he thinks about these issues he’s very considered in his responses and I think it’s a very smart move.”
With files from the Canadian Press