Peter Harder is stepping down as the government representative in the Senate.
The veteran senior public servant told reporters on Friday that he felt the new Parliament was an opportunity to step aside and allow Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to select a new leadership team for the Senate.
“I don’t do this out of frustration or in the face of a problem. I do this because I think it is important for leadership positions to be renewed from time to time,” he said. “I do think that four years, one Parliament – particularly one that had the degree of change that this has had – is all I could ask of myself.”
Mr. Harder said he intends to continue as an independent senator for Ontario and has no plans to join any of the sub-groups of independents.
The Prime Minister’s Office also announced that Alberta Senator Grant Mitchell is stepping down as government liaison in the Senate. Mr. Harder, Mr. Mitchell and Quebec Senator Diane Bellemare served as a three-person team of government representatives in the Senate. Ms. Bellemare recently announced her departure from that role in order to sit as a member of the Independent Senators Group.
Mr. Harder will continue in his current role until the end of the year. The Prime Minister’s Office said his replacement will be named "in due course.”
Historically, the government leader in the Senate came from the caucus of the governing party and was a member of cabinet.
Mr. Harder is a privy councilor and attended occasional cabinet meetings during his time as the government representative, but he was not a cabinet minister and he continued to sit as a non-affiliated senator.
The fact that the governing Liberals failed to elect any MPs from Alberta or Saskatchewan in October fuelled speculation that Mr. Trudeau could name a senator from one or both of those provinces to cabinet.
However Mr. Harder said that approach would contradict the Prime Minister’s broader efforts to reform the Senate.
“Those who have speculated have pointed to historic precedents in which prime ministers used cabinet positions by senators, but that would run counter to the independent ethos that this Prime Minister has championed,” he said. “So I would view it as undermining his very expectations of a less partisan, more independent Senate.”
Mr. Trudeau’s main Senate reform was to appoint senators who sit as independents. Previous prime ministers appointed senators who sat as members of the governing party and who attended caucus meetings with government MPs.
There are five vacancies in the 105-seat Senate, including one for Saskatchewan. With 76 seats, independents now make up a strong majority of the Senate and have recently divided into sub-groups of independents.
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