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By John Ibbitson (@JohnIbbitson)
A new campaign aimed at ensuring gender parity in the Senate could also ensure that the Senate skews in favour of progressive causes, and against conservative ones.
In the coming days, Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef will announce the makeup of a new advisory board tasked with drawing up shortlists of nominees for Senate vacancies.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will make the final choices from those shortlists. The new senators will sit as independents.
A group of more than 80 prominent women, including former prime minister Kim Campbell, sent a letter last month urging Mr. Trudeau to appoint only women when filling the current 22 Senate vacancies. They also recommended that these women come from indigenous or minority linguistic or ethnic backgrounds, whenever possible.
The letter fits nicely with the departmental mandate given to the advisory board, which reads, in part: "Nominees will be considered with a view to achieving gender balance in the Senate. Priority consideration will be given to nominees who represent Aboriginal peoples and linguistic, minority and ethnic communities, with a view to ensuring representation of those communities in the Senate consistent with the Senate's role in minority representation."
There's nothing wrong with any of this. The Senate has traditionally been stuffed with white, male party loyalists. Merit-based appointees biased in favour of women and minorities will improve the quality of the Red Chamber's deliberation and more accurately reflect the reality of today's Canada. As Mr. Trudeau might put it: Because it's 2016.
But experience suggests that women candidates from indigenous or ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to support a progressive rather than a conservative agenda. Not in every case, by any means, but on the whole. The new senators may sit as independents, but they are likely more often than not to tilt in favour of redistributive and other interventionist policies favoured by the Liberals and NDP, and away from the low-tax, deregulated, law-and-order agenda of the Conservatives.
Again, nothing wrong with that. At least it's a step up from filling the Senate with party bagmen. But let's not kid ourselves: Whether male or female, these new rules favour a certain kind of senator, who will sit as an independent, but who will incline to the current government's agenda.
SEVENTEEN STORIES YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED OVER THE HOLIDAYS
By Chris Hannay (@channay)
In no particular order...
1. Canada is pressing ahead with a controversial $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, even as it criticizes the country for a mass execution.
2. Canadians are not optimistic about the state of the economy heading into 2016. A Nanos poll found 44 per cent of respondents said they thought the economy would worsen in the new year, and only 19 per cent thought it would get better.
3. Liberals are planning to push ahead with changing how Canadians vote, and will not hold a referendum on changes.
4. Conservatives say that if electoral reform doesn't get a referendum, they may try to block it in the Senate.
5. The Liberals needed extra time to bring over 10,000 Syrian refugees.
6. Las Vegas, long walks and shopping for books: what Stephen Harper has been up to.
7. Get to know Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef.
8. Get to know Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan.
10. Justin Trudeau may have been invited to give a keynote speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
11. Friends are praising Seamus O'Regan, a Liberal MP from Newfoundland and Labrador and a former CTV host, for going public with a drinking problem.
13. And more on one of Ms. Notley's new top aides, Anne McGrath, who managed the recent federal NDP campaign. (for subscribers)
14. Federal Liberals are expecting to move soon on changing government advertising rules to cut down on any perceptions of bias.
15. Tech startups are asking Ottawa not to raise taxes on stock options.
16. CBC's Power and Politics still does not have a permanent host, though Rosemary Barton has applied for the job.
17. And do you write dates as year/month/day, month/day/year, day/month/year or, uh, something else? A new MP's private member's bill is trying to set a standard.
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WHAT EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT
"But in the case involving retroactive legislation, Bill Clennett need not worry about public disfavour. He has played an important role in bringing to light what looks to be yet another abuse of power by our previous rulers. It's good he survived Mr. Chrétien's throttling."
– Lawrence Martin on access to information.
Nik Nanos (Globe and Mail): "Right now it looks like the Trudeau Liberals are feeding rather than tempering expectations – which if one looks at the foe they just defeated is a risky strategy." (for subscribers)
Konrad Yakabuski (Globe and Mail): "The most bizarre U.S. presidential race in my lifetime, and probably yours, is about to get real."
Andrew Perez (Edmonton Journal): "Unfortunately, for New Democrats, a looming party squabble over whether Mulcair remains leader or exits stage right, masks a far greater threat to Canada's NDP – that is, its very relevance in a majority Parliament dominated by a decidedly progressive Liberal government."
Andrew Coyne (Postmedia): "So I think there is merit in NDP MP Nathan Cullen's compromise suggestion: that the voters be called upon to pass judgment on any reform after they have had a chance to see it in operation, that is after at least one election has been held under the new rules, and the resulting Parliament has sat for a while. The requirement could be built into the implementing legislation. They might then choose between two knowns, rather than a known and an unknown."
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