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Canada's Conservative Party of Canada leader Pierre Poilievre speaks as Parliament's Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, on May 1.Blair Gable/Reuters

One of Justin Trudeau’s first big moves after winning the Liberal leadership was to boot his party’s senators from caucus in early 2014. The move seemed bold, even inspired. It was meant to be a major step toward a then-discredited Senate’s rehabilitation and help the new Liberal chief establish his political image as a postpartisan reformer.

Under prime minister Stephen Harper, the Senate had been mired in an expenses scandal that had left Canadians more disgusted than ever with the upper chamber, long decried as a den of patronage filled with languid political hacks.

Mr. Trudeau seized on the scandal (which had entangled mostly Conservative senators who stood accused of improperly claiming living and travel expenses) by announcing that Liberal members of the upper chamber would no longer be allowed to sit with MPs in the party caucus, ending almost 150 years of political tradition and functioning.

“The Senate must be non-partisan. Composed merely of thoughtful individuals representing the varied values, perspectives and identities of this great country [and] independent from any particular political brand,” Mr. Trudeau said then in announcing that, as prime minister, he would “put in place an open, transparent [and] non-partisan” process for appointing senators.

Since becoming Prime Minister in 2015, Mr. Trudeau has named 81 senators – of whom 70 still sit in the upper chamber – based on the recommendations made by the Independent Advisory Board on Senate Appointments, whose members are named by the government.

The vast majority of Trudeau appointees belong to three formations: the 41-member Independent Senators Group, or ISG; the 17-member Canadian Senators Group (CSG); and the 14-member Progressive Senate Group (PSG). There are also seven non-affiliated senators and three government representatives.

There are still 13 Conservative senators in the upper chamber, who remain members of their party’s caucus and form the Official Opposition in the Senate. As such, they are allotted privileges and resources that members of the other Senate groupings do not enjoy. But the Conservative benches are thinning rapidly as Senators appointed by Mr. Harper reach the mandatory retirement age of 75. By late 2025, when the next federal election is scheduled, there will be barely half a dozen Tories in the upper chamber.

This raises serious questions about how the Senate would operate under a future Conservative government led by Pierre Poilievre. With only a sprinkling of Tory senators, a future Poilievre government could see its legislative agenda stalled, if not derailed entirely, by a Senate stacked with a huge majority of Trudeau appointees for years to come.

This, at least, is what Conservative Senate Leader Don Plett recently implied after government representative Marc Gold tabled a motion last month that would change Senate rules to extend equal privileges to the ISG, CSG and PSG. During a debate on the motion, Mr. Gold insisted the new rules are intended to “level [the] playing field” and fulfill “an electoral commitment by this government” to “cement” Mr. Trudeau’s reforms.

Mr. Plett demurred. “Are you trying to entrench this ridiculous structure that Justin Trudeau created in the Senate just before the election because you know the Liberals will be wiped out?” the Manitoba Senator asked. “Is this motion the first part of the plan to build a Senate that will try to stop the common-sense changes that Pierre Poilievre and his team will bring to Canada?”

While the Senate appointments process implemented by Mr. Trudeau may be non-partisan in name, no one can deny that the Prime Minister has overwhelmingly named like-minded individuals to the upper chamber who have, in turn, voted overwhelmingly for government-sponsored legislation. This, not its supposed non-partisanship, is the main reason the Senate has largely disappeared from the public consciousness in recent years.

That could change. After all, there is nothing to prevent future Liberal opposition in the House of Commons from turning to Mr. Trudeau’s Senate appointees to frustrate a Tory government’s ability to get legislation through Parliament. The temptation to do so will be great. And the rule changes Mr. Gold has proposed will make it much easier for ISG and PSG members to delay government bills.

Former Tory prime minster Brian Mulroney faced a hostile Liberal-controlled Senate and was forced to call an early election in 1988 after Senate stonewalling threatened passage of the Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement. He waged a down-to-the-wire battle with Liberal senators over the goods and services tax.

Would it be déjà vu all over again for a future Tory government? Mr. Poilievre has promised to cancel the federal carbon tax, reimpose consecutive sentences for serial murderers and repeal Liberal environmental assessment legislation. Would Mr. Trudeau’s Senate appointees bow to the will of an elected Tory majority in the House?

The true test of Mr. Trudeau’s “independent” Senate may be yet to come.

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