Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitoba member applauds 'gutsy guy'

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IT came like a bolt out of the blue, but on sober reflection it makes a lot of sense.

That was the reaction of Manitoba's lone Liberal senator, Maria Chaput, when she and her colleagues were told to take a hike by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau Wednesday morning.

"We're cutting the tie between the political aspect of the Liberal party and the Senate," Chaput said several hours later. "We're not part of the political process anymore."

Chaput said what it means is she will no longer use her position on behalf of the party, such as making phone calls to solicit contributions.

"That will not be done by senators anymore," she said. "What will also happen is that MPs will find out as we go along that we did quite a bit of work. They will have to double their efforts."

Chaput said Trudeau made the only decision he could in the face of widespread Canadian sentiment the upper house should be abolished.

"I thought, 'Wow, gutsy guy,' " she said. "He's got more respect from me than he's ever had. He made the right decision as much as it was painful. We had to get reorganized. It's a weird thing that happened, not being expected, but Liberal senators rallied to do our work in the Senate and looked at how we can do it better now that we are free from political ties."

Chaput said the day began when Liberal senators were called an hour earlier to what they thought would be a national caucus meeting.

"We went there expecting to have the usual Liberal caucus meeting, but nobody was there when we came in."

Minutes later, Trudeau walked alone into the room with a serious look on his face and sat down, Chaput said.

"We started looking at each other. I thought, 'Oh no, is he resigning?' "

Instead, Trudeau read from a prepared statement, essentially telling the assembled Liberal senators they were no longer welcome in his party's caucus. He then walked out of the room without taking questions.

"It was such an emotional moment," Chaput said. "It was hard for him. It was so evident that it took everything he had. It was a moment of history that will never be repeated again."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 30, 2014 A4

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