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There is a new target for lobbyists looking to get the changes they want in government legislation: the newly powerful senators free to move amendments to tinker with, or transform, legislation.

That’s a byproduct of the still-evolving changes to the Red Chamber made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and it is a signal of a shift in power: Now, individual unelected senators are more influential as legislators than most backbench MPs.

That’s why lobbyists have rushed to meet senators. In the first three months of 2018, lobbyists have so far reported meeting 204 times with senators, more than twice as many meetings with senators as the same period in 2014, or in 2015, in the days before Mr. Trudeau started appointing independents.

There’s a lot of lobbying around two bills immersed in big-money commercial interests: the legalization of marijuana and an omnibus transportation bill.

Once, senators voted along party lines to approve or defeat legislation, but the Red Chamber is now dominated by independents, and every senator is cast as a free agent. It’s not only that they can decide for themselves whether to vote yea or nay on a bill – they can put forward amendments to strip out individual measures that might be opposed by a group, a union or a company.

Those amendments aren’t always fundamental matters that call for the chamber of sober second thought to step in, such as drafting mistakes or unconstitutional measures. Senators are willing to tinker with the finicky policy decisions in government bills.

On Tuesday, the Senate transportation committee just adopted 17 amendments to the government’s omnibus transportation bill, and sent them for a vote of the full chamber. One amendment fiddled with a measure in the proposed passenger bill of rights that would require airlines to allow passengers to deplane if their flight waits three hours on the tarmac – reducing the time to 90 minutes.

It’s possible that the Senate measure is better – but unelected senators shouldn’t be quibbling with the elected Commons over policy. The Constitution allows that, but it’s not healthy democracy.

The Senate needs to find some principles of restraint, not just about when it’s okay to defeat government legislation, but when it’s appropriate to amend it.

It’s not only independent senators who are unchained. Conservatives and Senate Liberals – former Liberal senators no longer in the party caucus with MPs – feel freer to move amendments, and vote against bills.

Last week, Conservative senators – from the party that once railed against the unelected chamber – threatened to defeat the bill to legalize marijuana. That’s a bill that was part of the election platform of the elected majority government, and was passed through the Commons. This week, senators of all stripes picked at the threads of another major bill.

So far, there’s been a democratic fail-safe on Senate amendments: If the Commons rejects Senate amendments and strips them out of the bill, the Senate accepts the Commons version. But with senators threatening to defeat government bills and rewriting the details of policy in amendments, the unelected chamber seems to be forgetting that restraint is expected from it.

And though the problems were triggered by Mr. Trudeau’s appointment of independent senators, they’ve been fuelled by other forces.

In a nearly empty chamber Tuesday night, Senator André Pratte, a highly respected former journalist, gave a speech decrying the “angry partisanship” in the Senate. The bitter factionalism is twisting Senate work, and causing pointless delays, he said, as one group uses procedural tactics, like ringing the bells for a vote for an hour, just to spite another. There’s a proposal to televise Senate sessions starting this fall, and Mr. Pratte warned Canadians won’t like what they see.

Mr. Pratte didn’t really describe the factions. But there’s an opposition caucus of 33 Conservatives who see their task as opposing the government legislation and helping their leader get elected. There’s a block of 11 so-called Senate Liberals, some of whom are still bitter that Mr. Trudeau ejected them from the Liberal caucus in 2014. Many want to help the independent-senator experiment fail.

More than that: Many delight in using Mr. Trudeau’s own rhetoric against him. The PM argued that senators should do more than rubber-stamp government legislation.

That might give them some licence. But not to slip the bonds of an unelected body. Canadians don’t want this chamber to become a new power centre in Canadian democracy.

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