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Speech in Senate Chamber: Justin Trudeau's Removal of Liberal Senators from Caucus, 2014

Business of the Senate

The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, before proceeding to Senators' Statements, there is some house business to deal with. As Speaker, I have received a letter from Mr. Justin Trudeau, M.P., Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, which reads as follows:

January 29, 2014

Dear Speaker Kinsella:

I am writing to inform you that I have taken the decision as Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, that Senators, who were previously members of the Liberal National Parliamentary Caucus, are no longer members of this Caucus, and as such, are independent Senators. I have informed these Senators of this decision today.

This decision is about ensuring that Canadians have a Parliament that works better for them. I believe that this is best achieved through a reformed Senate without partisanship and patronage.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Justin Trudeau

Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada

Honourable senators, I have asked that copies of this letter be circulated. I also ask for your permission to table this correspondence. Is it agreed?

. . .

Hon. Anne C. Cools: Honourable senators, I am having a little difficulty grasping what is happening here, and I should like to appeal for some help.

I said earlier in interviews that I thought all senators should be allowed a few minutes or a day to think things through to try to understand what is really occurring here. As colleagues know, I am not one to act hastily. What is happening here is so unusual and without any precedent that I know of. I think that these events should be approached with caution. Some time should be taken to make these decisions and to communicate them. It would do us all well to take some time to reflect.

Honourable senators I have always understood the importance of party systems in the day-to-day functioning of Parliament. I have always understood that the word "caucus" in the instance of the two houses of Parliament means the members of a known, established party who are members of the Senate. In other words, members of the Liberal Party who are members of the Senate are the Liberal caucus.

Something is being turned on its head. The leader of the third party in the House of Commons, Mr. Justin Trudeau, has taken the freedom unto himself and, I would conclude from that, the authority, and the power as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, to write to the Speaker to inform him that he has taken a decision as Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.

This is very important. He uses the words "... who were previously members of the Liberal National Parliamentary Caucus...." Well, they are not really "previously".

There is something very wrong here, colleagues, because if the Liberals here are saying that because they are members of the Liberal Party of Canada they can continue to be as this new Liberal caucus that is in conflict with the letter from Mr. Trudeau.

I am not sure what the rubric is that we are operating under right now. Does anybody know? Where are we on the Order Paper?

We are on a point of order? I'm glad.

Your Honour, you have been asked to resolve and rule on this matter. Well, good luck. Your Honour, I have always understood that, as Speaker, you should steer a wide berth around party matters. I will encourage you to do that.

Even if we have here the formation of a new party happening before our very eyes, I am tempted to argue that this is not a point of order. But I shall not go there.

Honourable senators, very clearly, party caucuses rely on the leadership of the national party, whether it is the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party. The only solution that I can see to this problem, Your Honour, is that perhaps we should invite Mr. Justin Trudeau here to come and explain what he meant as the Leader of the Liberal Party. We have a claim before us for continuing and continued membership of the Liberal Party. It is very interesting. I don't know how this will be sorted out, and I didn't expect that Senator Cowan would proceed so quickly. I wonder what the reason is for the haste.

Mr. Justin Trudeau says here "Liberal National Parliamentary Caucus," so he has widened his scope from the House of Commons to both houses. I think we have to find out if Mr. Justin Trudeau speaks for the Liberal Party of Canada in this letter.

Honourable senators, anything that is produced so hastily cannot be well thought through, unless perhaps this was a plan hatched and incubated for a considerable period of time unknown to me. I don't get the impression that has happened, because every Liberal caucus member here was taken by surprise earlier today. I think every member of the Senate was, too.

I do not know if Mr. Trudeau's whole letter has been read into the record, but it is clearly on the letterhead of the Liberal Party of Canada. It is very clear, and is dated January 29, which is today. It says "Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada"; so the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada has spoken and has said there are no Liberal party members of the Senate. This is what he seems to be saying.

He says here Liberal senators "... are no longer members of this Caucus, and... are independent senators." He is clear that they are not members of the Liberal parliamentary caucus, not House of Commons caucus, but of the two houses.

I think we should slow this down a bit, colleagues —

An Hon. Senator: Oh, oh!

Senator Cools: I beg your pardon? You're welcome to speak, Senator Dawson; any time you want, you can speak once I yield the floor.

Colleagues, this whole matter is disturbing. I think it should be approached in a much more measured way than it is being approached. I don't understand the rush. From what I can see, no one here has put the members here. I felt a lot of sympathy and a high degree of pain and concern for these Liberal senators today. It's a terrible thing for human beings to dedicate their life to the service of a political party and from one moment to the other to find the rug pulled out from under them.

I am very respectful of this because I have had the undoubted privilege of serving in caucuses, and I know a lot about how party caucuses function.

I don't see any way to resolve this issue other than through the mouth of Mr. Trudeau.

. . .

Hon. Wilfred P. Moore: Briefly, speaking to the point of order, I wish all in attendance here today to know that I am a member of the Liberal Party of Canada, and I wish to be a member of the Senate Liberal caucus.

[Translation]

Hon. Fernand Robichaud: Honourable senators, I would like to speak to the point of order raised by the Honourable Leader of the Government. I too want to declare that I am a member of the Liberal Party of Canada and that I wish to be a member of the Senate Liberal caucus.

[English]

Hon. Serge Joyal: I seldom rise on points of order, but today I will rise, because I feel personally called upon to take a stand.

Honourable senators, I remember very well when a similar question was raised some years ago during the discussion of the merger between the former Progressive Conservative Party and the Alliance Reform Party, and a certain number of members of the previous Progressive Conservative Party took a stand of remaining sitting on their own. There were very eminent senators among them. I will mention one, former Senator Lowell Murray, who commanded respect on all sides of the house, as did former Senator St. Germain, whom I admire personally, with his commitment to the support and enhancement of the rights of the Native people. I could go on about the eminent qualities of those senators.

Following that, the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament was called upon to review the rules pertaining to the recognition of parties in the Senate. It is following discussion issuing from that situation that we came about — and you will find it in your Rules of the Senate under Appendix I: Terminology. If you go to the terminology section of the Rules of the Senate, I ask the honourable senators to look at the words "Recognized party." For the sake of this institution, and I repeat, for the sake of this institution only, a "Recognized party," and I read, honourable senators, is:

"A caucus consisting of at least five Senators who are members of the same political party. The party must have initially been registered under the Canada Elections Act to qualify for this status and have never fallen subsequently below five Senators. Each recognized party has a leader in the Senate."

Then you can go on to the other items of the terminology to know who the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate is, who qualifies, and so on.

The issue here today is "party." I repeat:

"The party must have initially been registered under the Canada Elections Act..."

That is the situation of the Liberal Party of Canada, and a caucus consists of at least five senators who are members of the same political party.

I hold a membership card with the Liberal Party of Canada, and there is a procedure in that party to expel me from that party. There are conditions; there is a procedure. Unless this procedure is initiated against me personally in the case that I have broken the rules or the conditions for my membership in that party, I claim that under section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is the right of association, I have the right to be a member of the association if I fulfill all the conditions, I pay my dues, I recognize the leaders, and so on. You can go into the constitution of the party.

So I claim, Your Honour, that as long as my status as a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party of Canada is in good standing with that party, I can stand here and claim that I am a member of that party, and if five of us have that status, then we can claim that we will be a recognized party under the present Rules of the Senate.

Senator Moore: We need two more.

Hon. Terry M. Mercer: Mr. Speaker, I want you to know that I have been a member of the Liberal Party since 1968, and I remain a member of the Liberal Party, a member in good standing. I am a proud supporter of the Liberal Party and a proud supporter of our leader, Justin Trudeau, but I am also a very proud member of the Senate Liberal caucus, and I want that on the record.

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: Senator Joyal raised a good point when he said they must be members in good standing of the Liberal Party of Canada and that there must be at least five of them.

Mr. Trudeau's letter clearly stipulates that they will no longer be members of the national Liberal caucus and that they will henceforth be independent senators. The President of the Liberal Party of Canada was copied on the letter.

I am not familiar with the constitution of the Liberal Party of Canada, but when the leader says that these people will no longer be Liberals —

[English]

Senator Cowan: He doesn't say that.

Senator Fraser: He does not say that.

Senator Mercer: Vote where you sit then.

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: — and he even sends a copy of the letter to the President of the Liberal Party of Canada... He sent it to the President of the Liberal Party of Canada!

To ensure that everything is in good order, over the next few hours I would like to ensure that the senators have chosen a designation, to determine whether the party has at least five members in order to be a recognized party. Then I would like to know how many are members — some senators may have changed their minds — because if they are sitting as independent senators —

[English]

Senator Mitchell: Did your caucus vote for you?

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: — there will also be financial consequences and consequences with regard to the rules and committee membership. I am not asking that membership cards be submitted at this very moment, but over the next few hours, I would like to have that information and present the Clerk with confirmation as to which senators wish to sit as a Liberal in the Senate, for the sake of clarity.

Senator Joyal: Honourable senators, I will do my best to answer the question from the Leader of the Government in the Senate based on the information that I have.

I understand why the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Justin Trudeau, sent that letter to the president of the party, given that in the Liberal Party constitution, there is a body called the parliamentary caucus.

Accordingly, senators who are no longer members of the parliamentary caucus are no longer governed by the provisions of the party constitution that pertain to the status of the parliamentary caucus in the party's decision-making bodies. However, this does not prevent an individual from being a member of the Liberal Party of Canada. We are no longer members of a party body called the "parliamentary caucus," but we remain supporters of the party like everyone else, because the leader does not have the power to expel a member from the party without a formal procedure and without cause.

One does not remain a member of the Liberal Party of Canada at the leader's whim. We have the right to be a member of the Liberal Party of Canada if we pay our dues, meet all of the eligibility requirements and continue to meet them. Certain tribunals have already ruled on this matter. That is why I referred to section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Insofar as senators were members of the parliamentary caucus, they will no longer be members from now on and, accordingly, the status that they had in that regard in the party constitution will no longer apply. The leader alone decides on the membership of the parliamentary caucus, and he alone determines who is a member and under what conditions one can be a member of the parliamentary caucus or be expelled from it.

Therefore, there is a difference in terms of the level of participation in party activities, and I have not recently read the Conservative Party of Canada Constitution, but I am sure that it also recognizes the parliamentary caucus for Conservative members of Parliament and senators. These parties have obviously been involved in government and parliamentary affairs for a long time and these institutions are reflected in the party structure.

[English]

Hon. David P. Smith: I rise today to also put on the record that as of today I am an independent senator who also is a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party of Canada and has been for over 50 years. I was very young when I joined. I want it on the record that from my perspective — and I believe the perspective of most of my colleagues here — we want to ensure that we carry out the Constitution of Canada with regard to this chamber, that Parliament and democracy work and function, and that we play the role of the opposition. We understand that we are outnumbered by two to one by the other side, but to have a proper, functioning, democratic Parliament, you have to have an opposition. We have been doing that and we will continue to do that.

I am kind of disappointed if some of our parliamentary colleagues from the other side want to do something that somehow undermines the legitimacy of an opposition functioning as an opposition.

An Hon. Senator: We don't.

Senator D. Smith: I am glad to hear you don't. It's good to hear that. You can speak to this, brother, in due course.

An Hon. Senator: I will.

Senator D. Smith: I want to be on the record saying that I am not losing sleep over this at all. There are lots of reasons I could give you as to why I am not, but, having said that, we are going to work hard to ensure that parliamentary democracy works in Canada and we are going to play the role of the opposition. We have been doing that and we will continue to do it.

Senator Cowan: I am happy to confirm to the house that I am a member in good standing of the Liberal Party of Canada — a proud member, as I said in my statement.

Senator D. Smith: For 50 years, too!

Senator Cowan: I am also proud to be a member of, and leader of, the Senate Liberal caucus.

Senator Cools: Honourable senators, I am very well acquainted with the recognized party definition as contained in our Senate rule book. I also would like to share with colleagues that some years back we had a senator who came here — a very fine senator, as a matter of fact — and she chose her party designation as NDP.

Senator Dyck: I am still here.

Senator Cools: Yes. I believe that designation was rejected and repudiated by the then Leader of the NDP, Jack Layton, on the grounds that he had no role in the choice.

An Hon. Senator: Shame!

Senator Cools: Colleagues, this is a matter that touches how political parties function, and maybe there are some differences between them, but I have always understood that the choice of a member's party designation in either house of Parliament — in either the Commons or the Senate — involves a decision of the leader of the national party.

An Hon. Senator: No.

Senator Cools: Honourable senators, I have always understood that. I would be happy to admit I am wrong if I am so proved, but I have always understood that the national party leader has that say. As leader of the national party in the House of Commons, the national party leader must sign the nomination papers for candidates who wish to run under the designation of that party. In the Senate, that party leader has to agree to any member of the Senate calling himself or herself a member of the Liberal Party.

Colleagues, perhaps things have changed overnight or maybe there is something strange going on, but I have always understood that the national party leader is the leader for both houses in Parliament, not one or the other, but both. The national leader has the power, and if we don't want him to have that power, we should debate it. The national party leader is empowered in the choice of the party membership in either and both houses. Honourable senators, I have always understood that. I have a suspicion I am not wrong. But, then, when we are into the business of political parties. We are on very slippery ground because parties are informal processes that are not acknowledged or recognized in the Constitution or in formal legal situations. These events are on ground that is so new and untrodden that we should study this in a very serious way.

I have always understood that the national leader of the party, if he forms a majority in the House of Commons, is entitled to go to Her Majesty's representative to say that he has the confidence of the house. I have also understood that the leader of the national party also has the power to determine the members of that party who shall sit in the Senate. I have seen no evidence put here before me that addresses that question.

Honourable senators, Senator Joyal, who knows how highly I respect him, raised the instance of the members who continued to sit as Progressive Conservative Party members. The difference in that situation is that their party ceased to exist and they chose to continue their designation here. That precedent, if it is a precedent, does not apply here because the national Liberal Party of Canada, of which I was a member for donkey's years — and I will tell you that I know a lot about that party; I know it very well. I say to you that the national party leader has a say. To say that the leader does not have a say, is to make a fundamental change in political party systems and their historical right, duty or ability to control the houses. We are breaking new ground here. We should be proceeding very cautiously.

Colleagues, it is quite true, as Senator Joyal has said, that there is a constitutional right of association and for people to associate. That is true to a point. A new group simply cannot spring up and call themselves the Liberal Party of Canada or the Conservative Party of Canada.

The question comes back to the point of party designations here in the Senate. Is it a self-choice to decide that a senator sits in the caucus of the Liberal Party of Canada in the Senate, or is the leader involved in that choice? Mr. Pierre Elliott Trudeau chose me to sit as a Liberal senator here.

Unfortunately, Mr. Trudeau's letter is not clear in this dark area, but there is no doubt that he says that the Liberal senators are now independent senators. So he has disowned them. He has written: "Dear Speaker Kinsella... They are independent senators."

I do not know how this will be resolved.

The remainder of this day's Senate Debates are available here.