Leader of new breakaway Senate group warns of Wexit frustrations

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TORONTO – The leader of a new breakaway group of senators claims Wexit is “something we need to be concerned about.”

Sen. Scott Tannas, a former Conservative from Alberta, was announced Monday as the Canadian Senators Group (CSG) interim leader. The CSG is made up of two former Tories and nine former members of the Independent Senators Group (ISG).

“This is not a few broken-down cowboys in a coffee shop,” Tannas told CTV’s Power Play in response to a question about Wexit.

“These are business people, the unemployed, young and old who have a real feeling. Albertans and Westerners are looking for action on the issues that matter to them in terms of their employment and wellbeing.”

Tannas denied that the new CSG was a response to Western frustrations.

“Although I do have to say what happened in the spring with (bills) C-69 and C-48 certainly started the reflection for me,” he said. “A lot of that did come from the acrimonious spring session. But for me it’s a forward looking endeavour.”

Bill C-69 overhauls the impact assessment process for major energy projects like pipelines and C-48 prohibits oil tankers from stopping at ports along British Columbia’s north coast.

A press release from CSG describes the new caucus as "like-minded senators who are determined to maintain a high standard for the review of legislation and committee studies."

Despite the "like-minded" nature of the CSG caucus, the 11 senators will be "free to take positions and vote on legislation independently of personal political affiliations and each other," the press release said.

“What unites our little group is our approach to the work and our responsibilities as senators from particular regions and in fact every region across the country is represented in our group…and we hope more will join us,” Tannas said.

“Our group is about funding an independent research bureau that will serve our group, provide us with facts.

“We’re not going to try to sell each other behind closed doors and come to a group position. We will be debating each other in many instances.”

Another stated goal of the CSG is to reinforce the principle of the Senate as a haven for regional representation in government. Unlike the House of Commons, where seat counts are based on population, the Senate affords equal representation to Western Canada, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes, plus a handful of seats for Newfoundland and Labrador and the territories.

Though not mentioned in the press release, a source tells CTV News that the independent senators defected in part because they were unhappy with the leadership of the ISG and wanted more independence.

The ISG was created in 2016 after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau abolished the Liberal caucus in the Senate, pledging to create a more independent deliberative body.

“The issue that we need to be on guard for in the Senate always is the tyranny of the majority over the interests of minorities and at the expense of the regions,” Tannas said.

“Right now there is one place where independent senators, approved and appointed under the Trudeau methodology, go and that’s to the Independent Senators Group. And they are a large group approaching the majority.

“We all share the view that more groups are needed. We are across the spectrum politically so politics is not what unites us.

“What we want to do is to charge our duties in a transparent way through debate in the senate and by getting good solid research to begin with that allows us to make individual decisions that will not be the same, I’d be surprised if they’ll ever be uniform.”

The founding members of the CSG are senators Doug Black (AB), Robert Black (ON), Larry W. Campbell (BC), Stephen Greene (NS), Diane F. Griffin (PE), Elaine McCoy (AB), David Richards (NB), Scott Tannas (AB), Josée Verner (QC), Pamela Wallin (SK) and Vernon White (ON).