Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Anna Esselment (University of Waterloo)
Revolution in the Red Chamber? Evaluating the Impact of the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments: Jason VandenBeukel (University of Toronto), Christopher Cochrane (University of Toronto), Jean-François Godbout (Université de Montréal) Abstract: Canada’s Senate has been undergoing a process of profound institutional transformation in recent years. The expulsion of all Liberal senators from the party caucus and the creation of an Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments has led to a chamber that is now dominated by independents with no formal links to the Liberal government. These new appointments have formed an Independent Senators Group (ISG), which will soon become the majority caucus in the Senate. What has been the impact of these changes, and, in particular, to what degree have they achieved the stated goals of increasing the independence and ideological diversity of senators?
We address these questions by drawing on new sources of data about votes and speech in the House of Commons and the Senate. From the voting record, we use Social Network Analysis and spatial voting analysis to situate the voting behaviour of senators in relation to their counterparts in the House; from the digitized Hansard (www.lipad.ca), we use Wordfish, Wordscores, and leading distributed vector representations of words to situate parliamentarians in terms of their speech patterns. In effect, we capture the degree to which parliamentarians vote and speak alike on the same issues. We focus primarily on the the 41st and 42nd Parliaments (2011-2018). This period covers the expulsion of the Liberal senators from their caucus in early 2014, and thus will reveal what impact their expulsion had on their relative ideological position. This paper provide direct empirical analyses of an institutional reform of ongoing significance
How Unelected Legislators Attend to Public Opinion: Evidence from the Postreform Canadian Senate: John R. McAndrews (University of Toronto), Peter Loewen (University of Toronto) Abstract: By design, the Canadian Senate is insulated from public opinion: at least to the extent that senators’ job security does not depend on their re-election. At the same time, many see the Senate as providing a voice for political minorities in the federal policy making process—including historically marginalized and underrepresented groups, such as women, ethnocultural minorities, and Indigenous peoples. In this project, we use an innovative research design to investigate how senators choose to learn about Canadian public opinion. We make three main findings: (1) overall, senators pay the most attention to provincial distributions of public opinion; (2) Conservative senators are more likely than independent senators to pay attention to partisan distributions of public opinion; and (3) non-white senators are more likely than white senators to pay attention to ethnicity-based distributions of public opinion. The study offers insight into the new appointments process for the Canadian Senate and the decision making of unelected legislative institutions more broadly.
On Trudeau’s ‘Independent’ Senate: Rubber Stamp or Partner in Legislative Dialogue?: Devin Penner (Trent University) Abstract: With “Independent” Senators now forming a majority in Canada’s second chamber, it seems like an opportune moment to start assessing the implications of Justin Trudeau’s reforms to the Senate appointment process. How do we characterize the emerging relationship between the House of Commons and the newly “independent” Senate? This paper critically adapts Hogg and Thornton’s theory of the “dialogue” between courts and legislatures to answer this question. Examining the quantitative and qualitative changes in the “dialogue” between the House of Commons and Senate since 2015, it argues that the independent Senate more closely reflects the original ideal of “sober second thought,” but some important questions remain about the practical significance of Trudeau’s reforms.