Senate changes definition of a ‘caucus,’ ending Liberal, Conservative duopoly

Will be interesting to see how this evolves and how many caucuses, and their respective focuses, emerge:

The Senate has just voted for a major shake-up of how members of the Red Chamber align themselves by allowing nine or more members to form a caucus, a substantial break from tradition that has historically seen the place organized along party lines.

Members of the Senate adopted a key recommendation of the modernization committee’s report — released last fall — which removes the requirement that a caucus only be formed by those who are members of a political party registered under the Canada Elections Act.

Thus, in theory, there could now be a proliferation of caucuses along regional lines, something that has been favoured by Peter Harder, the government’s representative in the Senate, in the past for organizational purposes.

There could also be the creation of more narrowly-focused caucus groups, like senators who support environmental causes, or the military, an Indigenous or women’s caucus. The possibilities are nearly endless as long as there are at least nine senators who agree to band together, and their group is created for parliamentary and/or political purposes, requirements that are not overly stringent. (A senator, however, cannot be a member of more than one caucus.)

The change is a personal victory for Harder, and his reform agenda, as he has sought to dislodge the Conservative and Liberal duopoly in the Senate.

“I think it’s a victory for the Senate. This is the first major, permanent adjustment to the Senate rules and procedures coming out of the modernization committee,” Harder said in an interview with CBC News. “I just think its important for senators to be given the framework … to form affinities [and] I don’t have a road map or expectations or a design here.”

Harder said regional caucuses could form but he isn’t pushing for that type of division now, adding the process will “play out organically.”

When asked if there was demand by senators within the chamber to form new caucuses, Harder said yes. “Why else would it have been accepted by the Senate?”

The motion directs the Senate rules committee to now formalize the changes, and then requests the internal economy committee — which effectively governs the chamber and adjudicates complaints — to draw-up budgets for these prospective new caucuses, to help hire staff for “secretariats” and pursue research projects. The motion was adopted by a voice vote, so it is not clear how much support it had from the existing parties.

Source: Senate changes definition of a ‘caucus,’ ending Liberal, Conservative duopoly – Politics – CBC News

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Government looks to counter what Harder calls Conservatives’ ‘coordinated’ stall tactics in Senate and House @TheHillTimes

Bill C-6 appears to the “poster child” for these delaying tactics:

One of the examples of legislative slowdown that Sen. Harder cited is Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act.

The legislation addresses promises made by the Liberals during the last election campaign to amend parts of the previous Conservative government’s Bill C-24.

The legislation has had a slow slog through the Senate. It’s been before the Upper Chamber since it passed the House of Commons without amendments on June 17, 2016, and was debated eight times at second reading between September and December 2016.

As of deadline, it had received six days of debate at third reading. Amendments are being put forward, with at least two amendments passing by deadline, meaning the bill will have to return to the House.

The bill it is repealing, Bill C-24 spent four days total in the Senate, between first reading and royal assent.

Sen. Harder said both approaches are wrong, and the holdup on this and other bills have impacts on Canadians, or “want-to-be-Canadians,” in the case of Bill C-6.

“Our legislative agenda is very much tied to bringing what the government feels are important matters of conclusion to the Canadian public,” said Sen. Harder.

“All senators have a duty to review Government legislation, but also to decide in a reasonable timeframe, putting aside partisan gamesmanship and focusing on public policy,” Mr. Harder said in the paper. He also argued that the future reputation of the Senate does rely in part its ability to process government business.

“The final weeks of each Senate sitting—in June and December—are quite chaotic, as the Senate pulls out all the procedural stops to expedite government legislation, trying to do in two weeks what it could have done in two months. Government bills should not be rushed through the Chamber in extremis following a successful round of horse-trading,” Sen. Harder wrote.

Now, with six weeks to go until the scheduled end of the sitting, Sen. Harder in the interview, wouldn’t commit to not using time allocation in the remainder of the session to get things passed.

While the discussion paper is anticipated to go to the Senate Modernization Committee for further consideration, Sen. Harder said he’s hoping to work with the Senate leadership and all Senators to either find an agreeable approach to manage debate on bills, or to try out his proposal of a business committee on an experimental basis to get through to the summer.

“That’s all open to discussions amongst leaders and I hope that we can find some middle ground as to how to move forward,” Sen. Harder said.

Source: Government looks to counter what Harder calls Conservatives’ ‘coordinated’ stall tactics in Senate and House – The Hill Times

In response to John Ibbitson’s article and my retweet (To truly reinvent itself, the Senate must first prove its value), Senator Housakos and I engaged in a long Twitter debate where he placed the blame on the Independent Senators Group and tried to argue that the delays were not excessive and reflected the need for debate. In our back and forth, over the time required, we compared C-6 with both its predecessor, C-24 (2014) and C-14, assisted dying, dealing with a more complex and controversial issue.

C-6 has been in the Senate for 298 days and counting, C-14 took 31 days, C-24 16 days. Table below provides details.

C-6 2016 C-14 (assisted dying) 2016 C-24 2014
Committee Pre-Study

17 May 2016

03 Jun 2014

First Reading

17 Jun 2016

31 May 2016

16 Jun 2014

Second Reading

15 Dec 2016

03 Jun 2016

17 Jun 2014

Committee

07 Mar 2017

07 Jun 2016

18 Jun 2014

Third Reading Ongoing

15 Jun 2016

19 Jun 2014

Royal Assent

17 Jun 2016

19 Jun 2014

Total number of days 298 (11 April 2016)

31

16

And an op-ed by former Senator Hugh Segal on the need for equal treatment of all three groups: independents, conservatives and liberals:

The Senate must move past partisan paralysis