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Politics Trudeau’s shakeup sows confusion in the Senate over who owns the Liberal brand

James Cowan reacts to media as he is followed from meeting by other newly declared Independent Senators on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wed., January 29, 2014.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Justin Trudeau left no wiggle room.

"There are no more Liberal senators," he declared Wednesday morning, after kicking out those who made up half his caucus, leaving only Members of Parliament. "Let me be perfectly clear – the only way to be a part of the Liberal caucus is to be put there by the people of Canada."

Perfectly clear language, but the day's events revealed more than a few people who disagree with the decree. Mr. Trudeau can kick them out of his caucus meeting but doesn't, it seems, have a monopoly on the Liberal brand.

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Mr. Trudeau spoke to the press after telling the senators personally – an announcement that, by all accounts, blindsided them.

After a closed-door meeting, though, the not-Liberal senators walked out of their meeting and declared themselves a caucus nonetheless. They'd meet as the Senate Liberal Caucus, just not with Mr. Trudeau and MPs. Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella, a Conservative, then ruled that they were allowed to call themselves Liberals in the Red Chamber – since there were at least five of them, and they were members of a party recognized by Elections Canada, it was fair game, he ruled.

The senators "are no longer members of this caucus, and as such, are independent Senators," Mr. Trudeau wrote to the speaker, but he rejected that argument.

Nonetheless, parliamentarians couldn't settle on a name for the exiled senators on Wednesday.

"We all are members of the Liberal Party of Canada, and we're all senators, so we're Liberal senators," Senator Joseph Day, appointed by Jean Chretien in 2001, said.

"I will remain an independent Liberal senator. You can do that," Senator Jim Munson told reporters, adding: "There may be senators who feel much more comfortable now sitting as an independent, independent senator, without any hyphens or names to it."

"We're calling ourselves Liberal senators," added Senator Marie-P. Charette Poulin, appointed in 1995, said after what she called an "interesting day."

"I'm still a Liberal senator, not independent. I'm still a Liberal senator, but now we work within our own Liberal Senate Caucus," said Mobina Jaffer, a B.C. senator appointed in 2001.

"For the time being, I'm a Liberal senator in the Senate caucus," another Chretien appointee, Senator Pierrette Ringuette, said. Senator Wilfred P. Moore agreed ("We're all still Liberal senators") as did Jane Cordy ("We will be sitting as Liberal Senators").

The certainty, however, didn't extend to all the exiled senators.

"We haven't formally stated [a name]," Senator David Smith, who has chaired several Liberal election campaigns, said. "We'll be like the Liberal caucus, but probably the Independent Liberal Caucus. This hasn't been totally finalized yet."

Senator Nick Sibbeston, of the Northwest Territories, also appeared to hear Mr. Trudeau's message, releasing a statement welcoming his new status as an "independent senator."

It was all confusing to even the longest-tenured senator, Anne Cools, who wasn't in the caucus before Wednesday's announcement but was appointed by Mr. Trudeau's father, Pierre Trudeau, as a Liberal. She has since called herself an "independent Liberal," but has formally been an independent.

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It was her impression Mr. Trudeau had the power to say who used his party brand.

"I was always under the impression the leader has to anoint you before you can claim to be a member of the party in one of the houses," Ms. Cools said, later adding: "I just find the whole thing puzzling and very odd."

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