Canada's Trudeau pushes back as unelected Senate delays budget bill

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pushed back on Monday against a move by the unelected Senate to block his government’s budget bill, reminding the upper house it has no place interfering with the nation’s finances.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on after he paddled a kayak to mark World Environment Day on the Niagara River, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada June 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Senate scrutiny over the government’s budget has become a major irritant to Trudeau, whose attempt to reform the unpopular chamber has made it more independent just as Trudeau needed legislation passed to counter a refreshed opposition.

In 2014, while in opposition, Trudeau expelled all 32 Liberal senators from his party amid an expenses scandal and to curb partisanship that had become “a deeply negative force”, he said at the time.

Since then, he has appointed “independent” senators to the upper house and has no formal leverage to get new appointees or the old Liberal senators to back the government’s legislation.

Senators have responded with a raft of proposed amendments to Liberal bills. Last week, a Globe and Mail editorial said “Trudeau’s FrankenSenate” is more powerful than ever thanks to the misguided reform attempt.

“We respect tremendously the hard work that senators are doing to examine and make recommendations around bills, but we certainly expect that budget bills passed in this House of Commons be passed by the Senate,” Trudeau told parliament.

Senator Andre Pratte, a Trudeau appointee, has balked at the government’s much-touted infrastructure bank, saying it needed more scrutiny. His move to split the budget bill into two parts creates a potential roadblock for the legislation, which the government wants passed before the parliament rises for the summer.

“We will not pick and choose measures, nor will we stand idly by while procedural games are played with the government’s core economic agenda,” Annie Donolo, Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s spokeswoman, said in an email.

Pratte, appointed in 2016, said while senators would like to see more scrutiny of the infrastructure bank, he believes they will eventually “yield to the will of the elected house”.

But he said the more active Senate is a positive development, even if Trudeau did not anticipate such an outcome when he attempted to reform the place.

“I think (the budget dispute) will have served a purpose anyhow,” Pratte said. “We are suggesting more amendments than in the past; I think that’s a good thing.”

Nearly a third of Canadians believe the Senate should be abolished, according to an April Angus Reid poll, down from half of Canadians in 2013, when several senators were embroiled in the expense claims scandal.

Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by James Dalgleish