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Trudeau boots senators from caucus

Justin Trudeau is sweeping Liberal senators out of his party's caucus in a bid to show he's serious about cleaning up the scandal-plagued upper house.

The surprise move — announced today after he informed the 32 Liberal senators — is aimed at reducing partisanship in the Senate and restoring its intended role as an independent chamber of sober second thought.

The Liberal leader said extreme patronage and partisanship are at the root of the Senate expenses scandal, which has engulfed the red chamber for more than a year.

"The Senate is broken and needs to be fixed," he said.

He argued that making Liberal senators independent of the party's parliamentary caucus is a first, concrete step towards reducing partisanship. And he challenged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to similarly set free the 57 Conservative senators.

"If the Senate serves a purpose at all, it is to act as a check on the extraordinary power of the prime minister and his office, especially in a majority government," Trudeau said.

"The party structure in the Senate interferes with this responsibility. Taken together with patronage (appointments), partisanship within the Senate is a powerful, negative force. It reinforces the prime minister's power instead of checking it.

"At best, this renders the Senate redundant. At worst — and under Mr. Harper we have seen it at its worst — it amplifies the prime minister's power."

If elected prime minister, Trudeau said he'd go further. He'd appoint only independent senators after employing an open, transparent process, with public input, for nominating worthy candidates — much the way recipients of the Order of Canada are chosen.

The Harper government has asked the Supreme Court of Canada to advise whether it can unilaterally impose term limits and set up a process for "consultative elections" of Senate nominees. Most provinces maintain such reforms require a constitutional amendment approved by at least seven provinces with 50 per cent of the country's population.

It has also asked the top court to advise whether outright abolition of the Senate would require the approval of seven provinces or unanimity.

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