New senators reinvigorate red chamber

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Prince Edward Island will have to wait a little while longer before its vacant Senate seat is finally filled. Unfortunately, by the time an appointment might be announced, it could two years since Catherine Callbeck was forced into mandatory retirement on her 75th birthday in late July 2014.

That’s a long time for this province to be under-represented in the upper chamber. The situation was further exacerbated with the two-year suspension handed Sen. Mike Duffy following the Senate expenses scandal.

Sen. Duffy was re-instated when former prime minister Stephen Harper called the federal election last August. The end of that parliament resulted in the return of four banished senators but for most of the past year, Sen. Duffy has been busy fighting 31 criminal charges of fraud, breach or trust and bribery.

His prolonged absence from the Senate essentially left P.E.I. with two members in the red chamber – Percy Downe from Charlottetown and Libbe Hubley of Kensington.

Mr. Duffy’s future depends on a judge’s decision – which could come as early as April 21. If Mr. Duffy is found guilty of criminal charges, he will be forced out of the red chamber and the new independent advisory board for senate appointments will have another spot to fill for P.E.I.

Should Mr. Duffy be found not guilty, he would likely return to the Senate as an independent. He left the Conservative caucus - much to the relief of Mr. Harper - as his legal troubles spiraled out of control.

Questions about his residency plagued Mr. Duffy since his controversial appointment eight years ago. Those issues should not be a problem for our new senator this year. The process, for applicants to be considered by the new advisory board, is clear - a nominee must be a resident from the province for which she or he is appointed.

When it comes time to consider P.E.I. nominees, two Islanders will join the advisory board for those discussions.

It’s somewhat amusing to hear hypocritical Conservative critics attack the seven new senators appointed last week to fill vacancies in Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario. Tories wasted little time dismissing the new appointments, “regardless of the merits of those appointed, because they were still appointed from secret short lists, created by an unelected, unaccountable board that reports to the prime minister," Tory MPs Scott Reid and Blake Richards said in a joint statement.

They must have suffered a memory lapse about the previous seven years under Mr. Harper and his largely partisan orgy of 59 appointments to the upper chamber.

Mr. Harper had not appointed a new senator since 2013, the year the upper chamber found itself mired in a spending scandal, mostly involving his appointees. It was the same year the Supreme Court clarified procedures needed to abolish or reform the senate.

Mr. Trudeau is moving forward, taking steps to follow through on a commitment to reform the senate, restore public trust, and bring an end to partisanship in the selection process.

Last week’s appointments were a good start.

Organizations: Supreme Court

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Manitoba Quebec Ontario

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