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Business of the Senate - Letter from Mr. Justin Trudeau, M.P., Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada


Hon. Serge Joyal: I seldom rise on points of order, but today I will rise, because I feel personally called upon to take a stand.

Honourable senators, I remember very well when a similar question was raised some years ago during the discussion of the merger between the former Progressive Conservative Party and the Alliance Reform Party, and a certain number of members of the previous Progressive Conservative Party took a stand of remaining sitting on their own. There were very eminent senators among them. I will mention one, former Senator Lowell Murray, who commanded respect on all sides of the house, as did former Senator St. Germain, whom I admire personally, with his commitment to the support and enhancement of the rights of the Native people. I could go on about the eminent qualities of those senators.

Following that, the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament was called upon to review the rules pertaining to the recognition of parties in the Senate. It is following discussion issuing from that situation that we came about — and you will find it in your Rules of the Senate under Appendix I: Terminology. If you go to the terminology section of the Rules of the Senate, I ask the honourable senators to look at the words "Recognized party." For the sake of this institution, and I repeat, for the sake of this institution only, a "Recognized party," and I read, honourable senators, is:

"A caucus consisting of at least five Senators who are members of the same political party. The party must have initially been registered under the Canada Elections Act to qualify for this status and have never fallen subsequently below five Senators. Each recognized party has a leader in the Senate."

Then you can go on to the other items of the terminology to know who the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate is, who qualifies, and so on.

The issue here today is "party." I repeat:

"The party must have initially been registered under the Canada Elections Act..."

That is the situation of the Liberal Party of Canada, and a caucus consists of at least five senators who are members of the same political party.

I hold a membership card with the Liberal Party of Canada, and there is a procedure in that party to expel me from that party. There are conditions; there is a procedure. Unless this procedure is initiated against me personally in the case that I have broken the rules or the conditions for my membership in that party, I claim that under section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is the right of association, I have the right to be a member of the association if I fulfill all the conditions, I pay my dues, I recognize the leaders, and so on. You can go into the constitution of the party.

So I claim, Your Honour, that as long as my status as a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party of Canada is in good standing with that party, I can stand here and claim that I am a member of that party, and if five of us have that status, then we can claim that we will be a recognized party under the present Rules of the Senate.

Senator Moore: We need two more.

Hon. Terry M. Mercer: Mr. Speaker, I want you to know that I have been a member of the Liberal Party since 1968, and I remain a member of the Liberal Party, a member in good standing. I am a proud supporter of the Liberal Party and a proud supporter of our leader, Justin Trudeau, but I am also a very proud member of the Senate Liberal caucus, and I want that on the record.

Senator Carignan: Senator Joyal raised a good point when he said they must be members in good standing of the Liberal Party of Canada and that there must be at least five of them.

Mr. Trudeau's letter clearly stipulates that they will no longer be members of the national Liberal caucus and that they will henceforth be independent senators. The President of the Liberal Party of Canada was copied on the letter.

I am not familiar with the constitution of the Liberal Party of Canada, but when the leader says that these people will no longer be Liberals —

Senator Cowan: He doesn't say that.

Senator Fraser: He does not say that.

Senator Mercer: Vote where you sit then.

Senator Carignan: — and he even sends a copy of the letter to the President of the Liberal Party of Canada... He sent it to the President of the Liberal Party of Canada!

To ensure that everything is in good order, over the next few hours I would like to ensure that the senators have chosen a designation, to determine whether the party has at least five members in order to be a recognized party. Then I would like to know how many are members — some senators may have changed their minds — because if they are sitting as independent senators —

Senator Mitchell: Did your caucus vote for you?

Senator Carignan: — there will also be financial consequences and consequences with regard to the rules and committee membership. I am not asking that membership cards be submitted at this very moment, but over the next few hours, I would like to have that information and present the Clerk with confirmation as to which senators wish to sit as a Liberal in the Senate, for the sake of clarity.

Senator Joyal: Honourable senators, I will do my best to answer the question from the Leader of the Government in the Senate based on the information that I have.

I understand why the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Justin Trudeau, sent that letter to the president of the party, given that in the Liberal Party constitution, there is a body called the parliamentary caucus.

Accordingly, senators who are no longer members of the parliamentary caucus are no longer governed by the provisions of the party constitution that pertain to the status of the parliamentary caucus in the party's decision-making bodies. However, this does not prevent an individual from being a member of the Liberal Party of Canada. We are no longer members of a party body called the "parliamentary caucus," but we remain supporters of the party like everyone else, because the leader does not have the power to expel a member from the party without a formal procedure and without cause.

One does not remain a member of the Liberal Party of Canada at the leader's whim. We have the right to be a member of the Liberal Party of Canada if we pay our dues, meet all of the eligibility requirements and continue to meet them. Certain tribunals have already ruled on this matter. That is why I referred to section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Insofar as senators were members of the parliamentary caucus, they will no longer be members from now on and, accordingly, the status that they had in that regard in the party constitution will no longer apply. The leader alone decides on the membership of the parliamentary caucus, and he alone determines who is a member and under what conditions one can be a member of the parliamentary caucus or be expelled from it.

Therefore, there is a difference in terms of the level of participation in party activities, and I have not recently read the Conservative Party of Canada Constitution, but I am sure that it also recognizes the parliamentary caucus for Conservative members of Parliament and senators. These parties have obviously been involved in government and parliamentary affairs for a long time and these institutions are reflected in the party structure.