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Manitoba down a senator for a year… and counting

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OTTAWA — The federal government has short-changed Manitoba for more than a year, leaving a Senate seat unfilled as the Liberals enact unprecedented spending and legislation that curtails civil liberties.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/03/2022 (336 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — The federal government has short-changed Manitoba for more than a year, leaving a Senate seat unfilled as the Liberals enact unprecedented spending and legislation that curtails civil liberties.

“For a province like Manitoba, having the full slate of senators in their seats could be important,” said University of Waterloo political scientist Emmett Macfarlane.

“To take over a year to fill a particular seat is less than ideal.”

Murray Sinclair left the senate in January 2021 and hasn't been replaced. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files) Winnipeg Free Press 2021

In November 2020, Justice Murray Sinclair announced he’d step down from the Red Chamber, effective Jan. 31, 2021.

Thirteen months later, there is still no application deadline for any Manitoban who wants to fill his spot. The arm’s-length body that reviews applications from the public and suggest names to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau still hasn’t been set up.

“The government of Canada is working to establish the independent advisory board for Senate appointments, for Manitoba and other jurisdictions,” wrote Privy Council spokesman Stéphane Shank, who said more information will come “in due course.”

Macfarlane, a leading expert in Canadian governance, said that leaves Manitoba with less of a voice to weigh in on matters such as climate change policies and reforms to environmental regulations.

The Senate exists to ensure the national legislature reflects regional and minority concerns, unlike the House of Commons which represents Canadians on a per capita basis.

That’s why Manitoba has six Senate seats, instead of the three it would hold under a proportionate formula.

Macfarlane said, in recent years, senators have returned to focusing on regional issues, as they had in the first decades of Confederation.

The Red Chamber drifted away from its regional lens after the Second World War, when premiers took on more of a role in negotiating with Ottawa and political parties used seats as patronage appointments for retiring staff and failed electoral candidates.

In 2016, Trudeau started appointing senators with no party membership, instead allowing senator to form their own blocs not linked to party caucuses.

Many of those groups explicitly call for representing regional concerns, as well as Indigenous and minority issues.

It’s through that lens the Senate has vetted large pandemic spending, as well as vaccine mandates and the recent use of the federal Emergencies Act.

“Now there’s an opportunity for individual senators to really represent their province or their region, in a way that is unencumbered from party discipline,” Macfarlane said.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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