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Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo become the first cabinet minister to submit to questioning in the Senate as the upper house adapts to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's plan to create a more independent, less partisan chamber.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It is usually a much quieter Question Period, away from the high-profile headlines of the House and the public scrutiny.

But on Wednesday, the House of Commons came to the Senate for the first time.

Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo became the first cabinet minister to stand in the Red Chamber and face questions about his mandate – an exercise senators hope will continue as the chamber of sober second thought seeks to reinvent itself.

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"I think it's a great opportunity," Mr. Tootoo said before his historic appearance.

It is also a way for senators to stand out, on their terms, after a particularly devastating few years.

"They were all good questions from all sides, and I thought it was a good exercise," James Cowan, leader of the independent Senate Liberals, said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to make the Senate more independent, kicking senators out of Liberal caucus and setting up an advisory board to make non-partisan appointments.

He has yet to name a government leader in the Senate, whose job is to answer for the party in power during the chamber's Question Period. Conservative Senator Claude Carignan said he hopes that, even after one is appointed, the government will continue to send cabinet ministers on a weekly basis.

"The people will understand more what we are doing here, and how knowledgeable we are in our files," Mr. Carignan said.

Next on Mr. Carignan's wish-list: Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland and Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef. "A good list," he said.

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For 30 minutes, Mr. Tootoo took questions from senators on everything from the number of coast guard vessels (117) to aquaculture and lobster stocks.

He was also asked by Senator John Wallace, who recently quit the Conservative caucus to become independent, what he thought of Mr. Trudeau's plan to make the Senate less partisan.

"I understand the role that this Upper House brings to our democracy, and I fully support it," Mr. Tootoo answered. "As far as how this moves forward, that's not my call."

Meanwhile, the Senate's banking, trade and commerce committee held its first meeting to study the decline of the Canadian dollar.

The committee heard from officials at Export Development Canada, the Bank of Canada and Finance Canada, all trying to assuage fears about a falling currency.

"If there is hope that can come to the viewing audience here, from what's going on in the world economy, it's really going to come from the export side of things," said Peter Hall, Export Development Canada's vice-president and chief economist. "Let's not forget that lower commodity prices are having a huge stimulating effect inside of economies that are net users of those commodities. And that's absolutely huge."

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Conservative Senator David Tkachuk, who chairs the committee, said he is trying to make the Senate's work relevant to a broader audience.

"I've always felt that we should be more current, so when there [are] major economic issues, we're going to hold hearings. Not necessarily to produce a report or a study, but to hold hearings to inform Canadians," he said. "The Senate is a great place to do it."

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