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Preston Manning questions motivation behind Trudeau's Senate move

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OTTAWA - Canada's godfather of Senate reform is questioning the motives behind Justin Trudeau's decision to kick Liberal senators out of his party's caucus.

Former Reform party leader Preston Manning says it remains to be seen if Trudeau is simply trying to distance the party from a forthcoming auditor general's report on Senate expenses, expected in the coming months.

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Still, Manning calls Trudeau's surprise announcement — made shortly after he told the 32 Liberal senators they were no longer part of the party's caucus — a step in the right direction.

Trudeau says he is trying to rid the Senate of partisanship and restore its intended role as a house of sober second thought to serve as a check on the House of Commons.

Manning questioned just how independent those formerly Liberal senators will actually be if they keep voting together as a bloc and refer to themselves as the Liberal Senate caucus.

He says it would be better if Canadians elected senators and could choose whether or not they wanted independent senators sitting in the upper house.

"A far more solid, independent representative is someone who ran as an independent and got elected as an independent and feels accountable to the public to maintain and stay an independent," Manning said.

"This creation of independence by the fiat of a leader, you can do that on paper and do it on a press release, but there's a lot more solidity to it if the public themselves actually choose to be represented by independents."

Manning is a long-time advocate of Senate reform who is part of a project in which Canadians can vote on the future of the upper chamber.

The options on the website at www.reformorabolish.ca include abolishing the Senate now or by 2025, major or minor reforms and maintaining the status quo.

The Conservative government has asked the Supreme Court of Canada what it would take to reform or abolish the Senate.

The Conservatives argue they don't need the provinces to sign off on their Senate reform proposals, while outright abolition would require the approval of at least seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population.

However, most of the provinces and territories disagree with the Harper government's arguments.

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