How dumb is Justin Trudeau’s Senate stunt? Let us count the ways.
There are ten.
One: it won’t really fool anyone. To great fanfare, the Liberal leader announced Wednesday morning “there are no more Liberal Senators.” A couple hours later, 32 Senators emerged from a meeting to declare that (a) they are still Senators and (b) they are still Liberals. Recalling the musician Prince, the legislators formerly known as “Liberal Senators” would heretofore be known as “Senate Liberals.” Seem like a big change to you? Us neither.
Two: it doesn’t really address the key problem – they’re still unelected. In fact, Trudeau’s Red Chamber caper arguably makes the problem worse: under his plan, unelected Senators will now be appointed by other unelected people, in the way Orders of Canada are handed out (you know, using the same sterling process that saw the Order bestowed upon Conrad Black, Alan Eagleson and David Ahenakew). Before, at least, there was a vestige of democratic accountability in Senate appointments. Trudeau’s move eliminates it.
Three: the Constitution contemplates a bicameral legislature, with the government being called to account by the Opposition. At different times in our history, when there has been a huge majority in the House – in the Brian Mulroney era, in the Jean Chretien era – opposition party Senators fostered debate, and thereby democracy. Trudeau’s tour de force ends all that in the Upper Chamber.
Four: what seems bold and visionary in opposition is rarely so when in government. When Trudeau is Prime Minister – as he may be, one day – he’d better get ready for the sort of gridlock Barack Obama was decrying in this week’s State of the Union address. There will be no more Liberal Senators to whip: they’ll be independents, and they will be working hard to live up to their name. Guaranteed.
Five: the Senate scandal(s) ain’t dead. If the Liberal leader hopes that his excellent Senate adventure will insulate him from coming expense probes, he’s been smoking something stronger than cannabis. Ask Stephen Harper: expelling Mike Duffy and Co. did nothing to mollify the RCMP or the media. If Trudeau did what he did for scandal inoculation, it’ll be remembered as one of the most cynical political moves in a generation.
Six: it was cruel and callous. In the “Senate Liberal” caucus, there are many hard-working and decent people. Jimmy Munson. Percy Downe. Romeo Dallaire. Lillian Dyck. Marie Poulin. What Trudeau did was recklessly smear some remarkable Canadians with scandal. It was unfair and unwarranted, and it won’t soon be forgotten by many, many Liberals.
Seven: it was done without any consultation with party members whatsoever. The only people in on the decision, ironically enough, were a puny group of unelected advisors – who thereafter fanned out to offer “exclusives” to the media about their super-important role in remaking Canadian history. For a guy who promised no more top-down decision-making, the Senate gimmick was about as top-down as it gets.
Eight: it was a whiplash-inducing reversal. Late last year, the NDP offered up an identical proposal in the House. The Liberals, Trudeau included, sniffed that it was “unconstitutional” and voted it down. What changed? We can only speculate myriad horrors await in the Auditor-General’s Senate expenses probe. They must be very big.
Nine: it cements the view that Trudeau does policy on the fly. Like the Summer lost to marijuana at the expense of any other policy. Like the ruminations about understanding the feelings of the Boston bombers, or admiring the Chinese dictatorship. All of it increasingly suggests Trudeau is making it up as he goes along. Not good.
Ten: in politics, all that matters is loyalty and trust. This week, Justin Trudeau merrily shredded both, and he broke faith with people who literally kept the Liberal Party of Canada alive when he was still in nappies.
This week, Justin Trudeau looked like a participant in a Model Parliament.
Not a Prime Minister.