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Renewed Senate Opens Doors for Canadians to Contribute to Sober Second Thought

CALGARY – A renewed and increasingly independent Canadian Senate provides a new outlet for Albertans to have their voices heard in national debates, the Government Representative in the Upper Chamber told Calgarians Wednesday as he kicked off a two-day tour of the province.

Senator Peter Harder, one of the first Independents appointed under the new non-partisan appointment process one year ago, is in Calgary to discuss recent reforms in the Senate — and to get feedback on plans to move ahead with more changes in the near future.

He told business leaders during a roundtable at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday that the fact that several bills have been amended in the Senate shows that second sober thought is working.

“Senators are listening to Canadians, including business leaders, as they review legislation to ensure it’s in the best interest of the country,” he said.

Senator Harder was also scheduled to meet Wednesday with senior officials of the Canada West Foundation and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi as part of his visit to a province which has traditionally been a crucial contributor to Senate reform efforts.

The project to renew the Upper Chamber aims to make the Senate more independent, transparent and accountable, as well as less partisan.

There are currently 42 Independents in the Senate, 39 Tories, 18 Independent Liberals and six vacancies. That includes 27 Independents appointed in the past year under the new merit-based selection process that invites all eligible and interested Canadians to apply.

Independent Senators do not sit in a formal party caucus, allowing them freedom to vote without direction from party leadership in the House of Commons. Block voting based on party loyalty is gradually becoming a thing of the past, he said.

“Independence from the party line makes Senators free agents who are accountable to the regions they represent — not a political party,” Senator Harder said. “Consultations with stakeholders, industry associations and members of civil society will have more meaning as Senators are no longer tied to partisan interests.”

In the past year, several bills have either been amended in the Senate or changed by the government at the suggestion of the Senators, including legislation for medically-assisted dying, consumer protection, gender discrimination under the Indian Act and new provisions for motor vehicle safety. 

Amendments have come as a result of in-depth review at the committee level, including hearing from those affected by the legislation. They have also emerged following rigorous debate inside the Red Chamber.

“Canadians are seeing that this new freedom from party discipline enhances debate — and that helps create better laws,” Senator Harder said.