The official caucus of independent senators could soon wield a majority as Prime Minster Justin Trudeau named two more senators on Monday.
Beverley Busson, Canada’s first female RCMP commissioner, and Saskatchewan business leader Marty Klyne were appointed Monday as independent senators.
Mr. Klyne is Cree Métis and a former publisher of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and Regina Leader-Post, as well as a former president of the Saskatchewan Gaming Corp.
Neither Ms. Busson nor Mr. Klyne have said whether they would join a caucus in the Senate. However, Mr. Trudeau’s appointments have tended to declare themselves as members of the Independent Senators Group, which currently has 47 members. Should it grow to 49, it would hold more than 50 per cent of the 96 seats that are filled.
The 105-seat Senate is on track to have nine vacancies by the end of the week, as Liberal Senator Art Eggleton, a former Liberal cabinet minister, will reach the mandatory retirement age of 75 on Saturday.
Senators who are not officially aligned with either the Liberal or Conservative parties already make up a majority in the chamber.
The Conservative Party is the Official Opposition, with 31 senators, followed by 11 Senators – soon to be 10 – who sit as Liberals but who do not sit in caucus with Liberal MPs. Six senators describe themselves as “non-affiliated.” That includes three independent senators who sit as representatives of the government in the Senate.
The decision to appoint senators who will sit as independents, rather than as a member of the governing party, was a campaign promise of the Liberal Party aimed at reducing partisanship in the chamber. The fact that those independent senators now wield a majority highlights the considerable change that has occurred in the three years since Mr. Trudeau became Prime Minister in 2015.
Questions have been raised, however, as to their degree of independence. An analysis conducted last year by the CBC found senators appointed by Mr. Trudeau voted with the government 94.5 per cent of the time, which was higher than the 78.5-per-cent result for senators who sit as Liberals.
Larry Smith, the Conservative Leader in the Senate, said senators will always have a connection to the Prime Minister who appointed them. However, he said these independent senators could become more unpredictable over time.
“The issue is, when you’re branded as independent, who are you really accountable to? It’s great to say ‘all Canadians.’ But I’m not sure that really holds, because you can’t be everything to everybody," he said.
Senator Yuen Pau Woo, who heads the Independent Senators Group, praised the quality of Monday’s appointments and said he believes the move toward independents is working. He also stressed that his group doesn’t tell its members how to vote.
“A majority doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to,” he said.
Peter Harder, the Government Leader in the Senate, was the first of Mr. Trudeau’s independent senators. The former senior public servant is hoping the shifting makeup will help him get legislation passed.
“The independent appointments have brought added energy and credibility to the effort to have a less partisan, more independent Senate,” he said.
The new appointments come as the Senate prepares to debate Bill C-69, the Liberal government’s controversial legislation aimed at overhauling the approval process for large natural resources projects.