Trudeau appoints 7 new senators

Mar 18, 2016 | News

Jeremy Appel

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made his first Senate appointments March 18, recommending seven candidates to the Governor General.

The new senators – all officially independent – hail from Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.

They are:

  • Murray Sinclair, chair of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission and first Aboriginal judge appointed in Manitoba
  • Paralympian Chantal Petitclerc (Que.)
  • Raymonde Gagne, former president of Universite de Saint-Boniface (Man.)
  • Frances Lankin, a former Ontario NDP cabinet minister
  • Peter Harder, a long-time bureaucrat who led Trudeau’s transition team, will also serve as the government leader in the Senate (Ont.)
  • Ratna Omidvar, executive director of Ryerson University’s Global Diversity Exchange (Ont.)
  • La Presse journalist Andre Pratte (Que.)

“The Government today is taking further concrete steps to follow through on its commitment to reform the Senate, restore public trust and bring an end to partisanship in the appointment process,” said Trudeau in a Friday morning news release.

According to the Constitution, the Governor General appoints individual senators upon the prime minister’s advice.

Nelson Wiseman, co-director of the University of Toronto’s Canadian Studies program, told Humber News that Trudeau’s appointments are consistent with his vow to usher in an era of Senate consensus building.

“There will still be partisanship in the Senate,” he clarified. “You’ve got a Conservative caucus and still have a Liberal caucus. Both of them have fragmented somewhat as people left to sit as independents.“

But, Wiseman added, almost none of the new appointees have prior connections with the Trudeau government. The single exception is Peter Harder.

Wiseman said he was surprised to see Harder, the career bureaucrat in charge of Trudeau’s transition team, named government leader.

“On reflection, it seems to make a lot of sense, because he knows how government operates, whereas all these other appointees are brand new. The government does need someone to introduce and shepherd its legislation through the Senate.”

Joanna Smith of the Toronto Star’s Ottawa Bureau told Humber News that Trudeau didn’t initially want to appoint a government leader, but was forced to by convention.

“The Conservatives are asking questions about whether this process really amounted in completely non-partisan appointments,” said Smith. “However, there’s a difference between capital-P partisanship and people with certain ideology leanings.”

A prime minister will naturally appoint people who share their general worldview, she added.

Seventeen vacancies remain in the upper chamber.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper stopped appointing senators after the fallout of the Mike Duffy expense scandal in 2013. Duffy is awaiting a verdict in his trial for multiple counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

Trudeau booted all Liberal senators from his caucus in 2014, a surprise move meant to demonstrate his seriousness about Senate reform. They, along with the seven new senators, sit as Independent Liberals.