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Independent Senate gives smaller provinces bigger voice

Senator Peter Harder talks Senate renewal in Newfoundland and Labrador.

An increasingly independent Senate is providing a stronger voice to smaller provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador, says Government Representative in the Senate Peter Harder.

“The Senate was created to give Canadians in smaller provinces protection against larger numbers who live in bigger provinces,” Senator Harder told students at Memorial University in St. John’s on Tuesday. “I can honestly say we’re closer to reaching that ideal than perhaps we ever have.”

Sen. Harder made the comments as part of a two-day swing through parts of Atlantic Canada, where he is meeting with students, business groups and Indigenous organizations, among others.

Senator Peter Harder speaks to a political science class at Memorial University in St. John’s on March 26, 2019.

Sen. Harder noted that, prior to the current Government’s commitment to appointing only independent Senators, members of the upper chamber almost exclusively supported bills along party lines, leading Canadians in regions to believe their views weren’t being fully heard within Parliament.

Newly appointed Senators no longer sit with established parties in the House of Commons and can vote more freely, although Conservatives continue to sit in a national caucus.

“New Senators are not beholden to a party or a leader in the House of Commons. They’re not directed how to vote and can speak up on behalf of regional interests and minority groups.”

Sen. Harder raised the example of Bill C-69, Canada’s new environmental assessment bill, which is being vigorously debated by Canadians across the nation, including the regions, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador.

“I’m not sure that kind of comprehensive debate would have happened in the old system.”

Sen. Harder also pledged to the St John’s Board of Trade, during a roundtable discussion, that the Government is willing to listen to concerns about the bill.

Senator Peter Harder meets with members of the St. John’s Board of Trade on March 26, 2019.

“We have heard from many Canadians on this bill, including many in the regions,” said Sen. Harder. “We are listening and, if need be, we will provide amendments.”

Sen. Harder also took the opportunity Tuesday to call on his Senate colleagues to move quickly to establish a new and effective committee aimed at overseeing Senators’ spending. The system that some Senators want to create lacks credibility, he said, because it does not include outside members.

“Some Senators would prefer that we police ourselves, but I don’t believe the public will support that,” said Sen. Harder.

Independent Senate gives smaller provinces bigger voice