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Politics Independent senator’s $15,000 poll finds many Canadians view the Senate as a pointless waste of money

An independent senator is facing criticism for spending more than $15,000 from her office budget on a poll that found many Canadians view the Senate as ineffective and a waste of money.

Independent Senator Donna Dasko, a nationally recognized pollster who was appointed to the Senate in June, 2018, commissioned the Nanos Research survey and released the findings this week.

The poll included a wide range of questions about the Senate. For example, it asked Canadians for their thoughts on the changes to the appointment process brought in under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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“I was surprised to see how extensive the view was in favour of the changes,” Ms. Dasko told The Globe and Mail. “That’s what really struck me. At the same time, the negative views of the senators still outweigh the positive, so there’s definitely a lot of work left to do in changing perceptions about the Senate.”

The head of the Independent Senators Group, Senator Yuen Pau Woo, promoted the poll results online Thursday.

“The overwhelming support of Canadians for a less-partisan Senate is reassuring,” he wrote on Twitter, calling on Mr. Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to respond “in advance of the fall election.”

However, Conservative Senator Leo Housakos said the polling contract is a “shameful” and inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars and he intends to formally challenge the expense.

Since the 2015 election, Mr. Trudeau has appointed senators based on advice from an independent advisory board and new senators tend to sit as independents who are not active in political parties.

The survey found that 77 per cent of Canadians said the new appointment process should continue. Only three per cent said a future government should return to the previous way of appointing senators.

It also found that 46 per cent of Canadians hold negative impressions of senators, compared with 37 per cent who hold positive impressions.

The results provide detailed responses as to why some Canadians view senators in a negative light.

For instance, participants were asked to say what words came to mind when they think of the Senate.

Among the top responses: ineffective/pointless, waste of money, outdated, corruption/not trustworthy and full of old people/old men.

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Some of the more positive responses included balance of power/second thought on laws and that it does important work.

Ms. Dasko said the survey cost $13,350 plus HST.

In a news release, Ms. Dasko stated that “Conservative Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer has vowed to scrap the independent selection process and return to a partisan Senate if elected.”

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Mr. Housakos, the Conservative senator, said the survey is a “completely unacceptable” use of Ms. Dasko’s taxpayer-funded office budget. He said he will be asking the Senate committee on internal economy, budgets and administration to look into whether the poll violates Senate rules on using office budgets for partisan purposes.

“I was stunned,” Mr. Housakos said. “We don’t have the right to use our financial resources of our budget in order to conduct politics. This is a case where you have a senator, appointed by Justin Trudeau, conducting a poll in order to validate Justin Trudeau’s political narrative vis-à-vis the Senate. This is exactly what we have here and it’s shameful.”

In a followup interview, Ms. Dasko said she completely rejects Mr. Housakos’s concerns.

“This is a perfectly legitimate public-policy issue,” she said. As for the accusations of partisanship, Ms. Dasko said her reference to Mr. Scheer in the news release was to provide context and that the Conservative Leader was not mentioned in the polling questions.

“I did not ask people in the poll what party they are voting for. There is nothing in the poll that had any mention of [Mr. Scheer] or anything like that at all, so I categorically reject [Mr. Housakos’s] comments completely," she said.

The hybrid phone and online survey of 1,000 Canadian adults was conducted between March 29 and April 1 this year as part of an omnibus survey. The margin of error for a random survey of 1,000 Canadians is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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