Why the Senate is unpredictable — and its independents not so independent: Éric Grenier

Good detailed analysis, including voting records of individual senators, by Grenier:

The Senate is gumming up the work of the Liberal government, slowing the process that turns bills into law because the government cannot reliably count on a majority of senators lining up behind it, according to an analysis of votes in the upper chamber.

But the numbers also show this isn’t due to the independent senators named to the Red Chamber by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In fact, these independent senators have voted closely with the government — more often than the “Senate Liberals” cut loose from the party in 2014.

The Senate is currently divided into three groupings: Conservatives, Liberals and an Independent Senators Group (ISG). There are also a few non-affiliated senators, including Peter Harder, the government representative responsible for guiding the government’s agenda through the Senate.

The Conservative senators form part of the party’s parliamentary caucus, along with Conservative MPs from the House of Commons. But the Liberal senators were ejected from that caucus in 2014 by Trudeau, a move aimed at reducing partisanship in the upper chamber.

Though they still caucus together in the Senate, they no longer co-ordinate with their colleagues in the House.

The ISG is formed of senators who left their former Conservative or Liberal caucuses, as well as those put in the Senate by Trudeau as part of the government’s pledge to appoint non-partisan senators nominated by an independent commission.

As the opposition in the Senate, the Conservatives have voted against the government’s position the most often, siding with Harder in just 25 per cent of all 48 recorded votes held since Harder took office. (This includes votes on both government and non-government bills and motions.)

But the swing votes in the Senate have not been the gaggle of independents, but rather the Senate Liberals, who have voted with Harder only 78.5 per cent of the time.

Votes in the Senate

The independents, by comparison, have been much more co-operative. Independents appointed by Trudeau’s predecessors voted with Harder 88 per cent of the time, while independents named by the prime minister have stood with Harder in 94.5 per cent of recorded votes.

This makes Trudeau’s independents — as a bloc — the most reliable votes that Harder can count upon in the Senate.

Senate Liberal swing votes

This bloc is not large enough for Harder to easily steer the government’s legislation through the Senate.

With 98 senators — excluding Speaker George Furey and Jacques Demers, who has been away due to poor health — Harder needs 49 votes to pass legislation when all senators are in the chamber.

In addition to himself, Harder can count on the support of his deputy, Diane Bellemare, and government liaison Grant Mitchell. The independents named by Trudeau increase his vote total to 29.

Adding the six independent senators appointed by past prime ministers who frequently vote with the government bumps that number to 35 — still short of a majority.

So in order to pass legislation, Harder needs most of the votes from the 18 Liberals, making them the Senate’s decisive swing votes.

Source: Why the Senate is unpredictable — and its independents not so independent – Politics – CBC News

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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