Senator Batters leads a fight for democracy, from her unelected seat

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It is rather an odd position for someone who has never been elected and stands to keep her job for a total of 33 years without a single review by anyone. Senator Denise Batters is scheduled to retire on June 18, 2045.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on November 22, 2021.

OTTAWA—The internal fight in the Conservative Party has once again shone a light into the dark places of the Chamber of Sober Second thought.

And the illumination is sobering.

Senator Denise Batters is supposedly leading a fight for democracy.

It is rather an odd position for someone who has never been elected and stands to keep her job for a total of 33 years without a single review by anyone. Batters is scheduled to retire on June 18, 2045.

Meanwhile, she is using all her efforts to secure the firing of her leader, who has actually gone through a convention and an election, where his right to a seat in Parliament was affirmed.

Of course, the majority of attention is focussed on Batters’ petition to oust Erin O’Toole.

But for the past eight years in the Senate, she has been using to same bully pulpit for an anti-Liberal political agenda.

Three years ago, Batters was forced to apologize when she attacked parliamentary secretary Omar Alghabra for speaking out against Saudi Arabia because he was born there. Most of her tweets are littered with claims that the governing Liberals are sticking it to the west.

Like any Canadian, Batters has the right to speak out. But to use her voice as a Senator to engage in partisan fights is a misuse of her nomination.

In the case of the Tories, being dumped from caucus will not likely stop her campaign.

However, it will dampen the enthusiasm of followers, as expulsion from caucus is not a great route to re-election.

When Justin Trudeau fired two ministers, he was accused by the opposition of being a misogynist by the very people who are now attacking Batters.

Tories are getting a lick of their own stick, and it has nothing to do with being against women.

Other Conservative caucus members will close ranks. Batters’ petition may actually reinforce O’Toole’s position as most members close ranks to support him.

Even the anti-vaxxers in the Conservative caucus have to tread carefully, as they would have little success in running in the next election as Independents. Exile from caucus is a death sentence for most politicians.

But Batters does not need to worry about re-election. And that brings me to the issue of term limits.

Does it make sense to name a partisan politician to a 32-year tenure in the Parliament of Canada without any checks or balances on their use of the Senate as a personal bully pulpit?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau abolished the Liberal Senate caucus in an effort to take politics out of the place. In the short term, it seems to have been a successful move. But in the long term, the decision could have grave repercussions in the case of a constitutional crisis.

The prime minister could have accomplished the same goal by ensuring that Senate appointments be made for a fixed term.

When Jean Chrétien was in power, he imposed de facto term limits by generally appointing older, wiser Canadians who were already inching toward their 75th birthday.

He was also keen to name those who would serve less than six years and therefore be ineligible for a partial Senate pension.

The length of some Senate appointments, and eligibility for lucrative pensions, was the subject of much criticism so Chrétien found a deft way to solve the problem without having to amend the Constitution.

Batters’ campaign is going to serve as a reminder that partisan work in the Senate can have a poisonous effect on the body politic.

But even though she was tossed from the caucus, there is nothing stopping her from continuing a taxpayer-funded campaign against her party’s leader.

It is very easy for someone who has a guaranteed job for the next 24 years to launch a political attack that costs her nothing.

Batters can also work to consolidate disaffection with the current leader, again on the taxpayers’ dime.

But O’Toole has his own weapons, including the legislation that allows his caucus to expel recalcitrant members by a vote of 20 per cent of the caucus.

When Trudeau expelled two caucus members, Tories attacked him for doing it personally, without a vote of caucus approval. They also claimed the firings were based on misogyny.

O’Toole also fired Batters directly, without the benefit of a caucus vote.

Potential dissidents have been threatened with expulsion if they follow Batters.

Nobody played the misogyny card in this firing. Instead, all eyes are on the unelected status of a Senator who campaigns against her own party at public expense.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.