OTTAWA – The federal government has tapped eminent Canadians from academe, the civil service, medicine, law, arts and sports to advise Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on merit-based appointments to the maligned Senate.
The independent advisory board on Senate appointments will be chaired by Huguette Labelle, a former deputy minister in various federal departments and former chancellor of the University of Ottawa.
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She’ll be joined by two other permanent members: McGill University dean of law Daniel Jutras and former University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera.
The board is to recommend a non-binding short list of five nominees for each vacancy in the upper house, of which there are currently 22.
The government has also named two ad hoc members from each of the three provinces — Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba — whose vacant Senate seats are to be filled first.
Trudeau intends to name a government leader in the Senate from among the first five appointees, whom the government hopes to have in place by the end of February.
Ontario’s ad hoc members are former provincial senior public servant Murray Segal and Dawn Lavell Harvard, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada; Quebec’s are Yves Lamontagne, president of the province’s college of physicians, and one-time Olympic diving gold medallist Sylvie Bernier; Manitoba’s are singer-songwriter Heather Bishop and Susan Lewis, former president of the United Way of Winnipeg.
Provincial governments were invited to recommend names to fill the ad hoc positions but while Ontario and Quebec participated, Manitoba’s NDP government, which supports abolition of the Senate, did not.
Dave Chomiak, the Manitoba government’s House leader, said the province declined because it could not reach an all-party consensus. However, he said Lewis and Bishop are good appointments who will represent the province well.
The advisory board is intended to be the first step towards delivering on Trudeau’s promise to return the scandal-plagued Senate to its intended role as an independent chamber of sober second thought.
But interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose dismissed the new advisory board members as “a committee of appointed people who are unelected who are going to appoint unelected people to the Senate.”
Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef said the calibre of people named to the advisory board is indicative the kind of people Trudeau wants to populate the Senate.
“I believe we’re on the right track in ensuring that … senators are there because of merit and that they will help tone down the partisanship that has hampered the effectiveness of the Senate in the recent past.”
However, the office of Senate Conservative leader Claude Carignan pointed out that chair Labelle and Ontario rep Lavell Harvard were scholars funded by the charitable foundation created in the name of the prime minister’s late father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Moreover, nothing compels Trudeau to pick senators from the short lists of nominees recommended by the advisory board, his office noted.
“The Senate nominations list which the panel creates will remain secret and non-binding, and Prime Minister Trudeau will have carte blanche to appoint senators who don’t appear on any recommended list,” Carignan’s office said.
“Where is the transparent and public process promised by the Liberals? How will these panels ensure that ‘ordinary’ Canadians are appointed to the Senate? Will this process only allow people who are somehow connected to the panel to be appointed?”