Alberta Senator Scott Tannas said his new group of senators will aim to work closely with Canada’s premiers in an effort to make sure regional issues are well represented in Ottawa.
When the Senate resumes sitting next month, Mr. Tannas will be the leader of a new group in the chamber called the Canadian Senators Group. The group was first announced in November following the federal election campaign and the Senate sat for four days in December to approve routine spending legislation. But next month is when senators expect to start discussions about how new groupings will function in the Senate.
There are no longer any senators sitting as Liberals in the 105-seat chamber as a result of recent retirements. The Independent Senators Group (ISG) is the largest group, with 51 members; it is followed by 23 Conservatives; 13 members of the Canadian Senators Group (CSG); 11 non-affiliated senators; and seven vacancies.
There are no common policy issues among the CSG’s members. Instead, the senators agree on two things: a focus on regional issues and a plan to pool their office budgets to create a new research bureau that will support their regional focus.
“The objective is to be the best briefed guys and gals in the Senate, and if we can do that and have a sharp regional focus to go along with what we’re doing, I think we’ll be a success,” Mr. Tannas told The Globe and Mail in an interview.
He said debate over controversial bills on resource development in the previous Parliament highlighted the need for a stronger regional focus in the Senate.
The House of Commons resumes sitting today, while the Senate resumes the following week.
A replacement for the key job of government representative in the Senate was announced on Friday. Quebec Independent Senator Marc Gold, a former law professor who was appointed to the Senate in 2016, will replace non-affiliated Senator Peter Harder. Mr. Harder recently stepped down, saying it was time for someone else to do the job.
The position involves answering questions in the Senate on behalf of the government and working with the Prime Minister’s Office to gather cabinet feedback on potential amendments to bills that are under review in the Senate.
Mr. Tannas was born in Alberta and elected as a nominee in the province’s 2012 election to select Senate candidates. Then-prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed him to the Senate in 2013 based on that provincial election.
Mr. Tannas praised Alberta Premier Jason Kenney for making an effort to meet with Alberta senators when the Premier visits Ottawa.
“To me, that’s a sign of activism and active federalism by Premier Kenney and it’s one that we think is a good model,” he said.
“My own sense is the Quebec senators, through their various pipelines and relationships, and potentially connections into the provincial parties, do a much better job than senators from other provinces in connecting to their provincial people and their provincial issues. ... I want to do everything I can to help replicate that.”
While all senators and MPs would argue they already represent their regions on Parliament Hill, Mr. Tannas said that by making that the focus of the group, it will produce research that is more relevant and less partisan.
ISG Senator Peter Boehm said he’s happy to stay in the larger group of independent senators. He said it’s possible more senators may choose to form smaller groups rather than work through the ISG.
“I think it’s too early to tell,” said Mr. Boehm, an Ontario senator who was a former senior federal public servant and diplomat. "I know, obviously, all of the members of that group. They come in with different perspectives and a wish to conduct business a little bit differently.”
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