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Politics Three important questions as Trudeau names seven new senators

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question from the audience during televised interview in New York, Thursday March 17, 2016.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

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POLITICS BRIEFING

By Chris Hannay (@channay)

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is appointing seven new senators to fill vacancies in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba – the first new appointments in three years. You can read bios of the seven here. In the meantime, here are three big questions as the Prime Minister makes his stamp on the Red Chamber.

Can the Senate work without parties?

It all started two years ago when Mr. Trudeau kicked senators out of the national Liberal caucus, which now contains only Liberal members of Parliament sitting in the House of Commons. Since then, most senators who were appointed as Liberals have stayed together as a group – for now. Mr. Trudeau has laid out a vision for a Senate composed entirely of 105 independent, non-partisan Canadians who will vet legislation, but the way the chamber works was designed around a party system. Liberals and Conservatives have started to work through a way to allocate office budgets in the new system and how to hold the government to account in Question Period without any government members in the chamber, but deeper questions remain about the parliamentary process. For instance, how should seats on committees be divvied up, if not by the proportion of party representatives in the Senate? "It will take more than rule changes and appointing independent senators to take the partisanship out of the Senate," writes University of Ottawa law professor Adam Dodek. The Northwest Territories and Nunavut – whose territorial legislatures operate without parties as a "consensus government" – may hold a guide.

Will Liberal legislation get passed?

The other consequence of not having a party system is not having a party whip. Mr. Trudeau is appointing Peter Harder, a long-time civil servant and head of his transition team last year, to be the Government Senate Representative, replacing the former role of a Government Senate Leader. The new role's responsibility, the Liberals have said, is to fulfill the parliamentary requirement of having someone in the Senate introduce government bills that have passed in the House of Commons, so they can receive debate among senators and eventually – if passed – royal assent. But the Liberals have been adamant they will not instruct senators on how to vote, and with so many independent minds, it will be interesting to see if any government bills do die in the chamber. Historically, it's been rare for the Senate to reject an important government bill – 1991 abortion legislation being one notable exception – but that could change.

Will the senators stay independent?

Some senators appointed as Liberals and Conservatives have already quit their parties, and six have formed a working group to try to figure out how to make the chamber less partisan. But James Cowan, the leader of the Senate Liberal caucus, told The Globe that nothing is stopping him from trying to woo newly appointed senators to join his party. "If you were appointed a senator tomorrow, you could say 'I am independent when I am appointed and I can continue to function independently, or I can join one of the existing groups' depending upon which group sort of aligns with your own view of the world. Or you can try to form your own group … I will certainly be inviting them to come and have a look at the way we do business and see if it appeals to them," he said.

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WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS MORNING

> A new Angus Reid Institute poll finds that Canadians trust Mr. Trudeau to handle terrorism and security concerns – an area that was supposed to be his weak point.

> Speaking in New York yesterday, Mr. Trudeau said the eligibility age for Old Age Security would hold at 65 – cancelling the planned raise to 67 under Stephen Harper's government – and, on another note, that Bombardier's C Series aircraft were "more fabulous in all ways than just about any other plane on the market."

> More industries – including beekeepers, meat processors and mushroom growers – are asking the Liberal government for the same concessions on temporary foreign workers that it just granted to fish processors.

> A federal Crown corporation that promotes exports is advertising for a new director of business development in the Middle East, as arms sales to the region come under scrutiny.

> Finance Minister Bill Morneau will unveil a new economic advisory council today.

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> Laura Miller, the former Ontario Liberal staffer who has been charged in connection with the gas plants scandal, is back at work with the B.C. Liberals.

> And Jane Taber tells the story of Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, who came to Ottawa through a life of drama and hard work. "I am really a proud person," Ms. Caesar-Chavannes says. "I didn't want to ask [for help], but at the same time I am humble enough to stand on the street corner putting my hand on somebody's garbage so nobody else drives by and takes it."

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WHAT EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT

"Maybe for well-educated elites, the world is flat. They can revel in interconnectedness, move from country to country with their skills, travel widely, speak more than one language, master the Internet, use their talents to get ahead. For them, globalization was a 'rational' response to the modern world. But in almost every Western country (except perhaps Canada, Australia and New Zealand), 'globalization' is under assault." – Jeffrey Simpson (for subscribers).

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Tim Harper (Toronto Star): "The Canadian right and American right were not always comfortable bedfellows, but there were unmistakable and enduring Conservative and Republican links. The Republican Tea Party era leaked north of the border but now Conservatives must run from their brawling, cussing cousins. Can they can run far enough?"

Don Martin (CTV): "There was a certain Shakespearean symmetry in having so many knives plunged into Tom Mulcair's back on the Ides of March."

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