This week in Ottawa all attention has been focused on the various meetings the Prime Minister has been having with Opposition leaders and various provincial premiers before the December 5th Throne Speech. And honestly, rightfully so; that is where a lot of what we’ll see in this minority Parliament is being fleshed out and where some of the fault lines may be. It’s not the only thing that many Ottawa watchers are keeping an eye on. It was just last week that I pointed to one of those things; the Senate and it’s make up. It’s hard not to notice just how different the Canadian Senate looks today than it did back at this time in 2015. It’s a night and day change and the changes just seem to keep coming.
In that piece that I wrote last week, I pointed to another thing that needed to be watched in regard to the Senate; the future of the Senate Liberals. What would become of this group of Senators as they barely had official party status in the Red Chamber and its leader Senator Joseph Day getting ready to retire in January 2020? It was an open question, one of serious consequence in a divide Senate where no group has a majority of the seats. Well this morning we got an answer, and it’s one that I don’t think many saw coming:
Welcome to the world Progressive Senate Group. With their announcement today, the Senate Liberals have formed their own new group, the PSG (as a Paris Saint-Germain fan, I’ll easily remember that acronym). The group says that this is simply not a name change but a whole new group, but the fact that this new group is completely made up of the former Liberal senators make that a bit harder to wash with the public. To join this group, a senator needs to “support progressive politics and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and are committed to advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.” They are also saying that they will not be whipping votes to support a Liberal government. Their members are also free to take part in partisan activities, something that the Independent Senate Group wouldn’t allow and now both the Canadian Senate Group and the PSG are allowing. That is an interesting new twist on this.
But for me the other twist on this that is interesting yet confusing is the timing of this announcement and the make up of the group. Creating the PSG was probably a way for this group to continue in the future, but by not bringing any new senators onboard to join this group puts them in the exact same spot they were in as the Senate Liberals. Senator Day will still be retiring in January and if no one else joins them, they will still lose official party status. Furthermore, making this announcement now with no new senators coming onboard, it really undercuts the claims that this is a whole new group and not just the old Senate Liberals under a new banner. Furthermore, I would argue that fact will actually make it more difficult to recruit any new senators to keep them afloat. All told, it’s not a terrible mistake but it makes me wonder what the rush was to do this now instead of trying to find other senators to sign up to this idea and then launching it as a larger group. We’ll see if we hear more about why that didn’t happen at a later date.
In the meantime, it can’t go without being noticed that with this move there are officially no Liberals in the Senate of Canada for the first time since Confederation. Let that sink in for a moment, and then think of what this all looks like now. As of now, here are the seat totals in the Senate of Canada:
- 50 ISG
- 25 Conservative
- 11 CSG
- 9 Progressives
- 5 “non-affiliated”
- 5 vacancies to be filled
Compare that to four years ago in 2015, when it basically was the Conservatives, the Liberals and a sprinkling of Independents. That’s what our Senate looked like for the better part of 150 years, so to see it here now is definitely a shock and a big change. And with that Senate in flux in a way we’ve never seen, we head into a minority House of Commons too. It remains to be seen what effect this new look Senate will have on things but it’s something we’ll have to keep an eye on. Interesting times ahead for sure, as the Red Chamber has taken on a whole new look and we have surely seen the passing of an era. If that’s for the better or the worse, we’ll see as we go ahead.