Justin Trudeau may have kicked senators like Larry Campbell out of the federal Liberal caucus, but the former Vancouver mayor says he's keeping his party membership card and will work to elect Mr. Trudeau prime minister in 2015.
The former Mountie and Vancouver mayor, whose adventures as chief B.C. coroner inspired the TV series Da Vinci's Inquest, says he was ticked off that Mr. Trudeau provided no advance notice of his plan, but has come around to accept that as a political necessity in Ottawa – a leaky town. (He was not at the meeting where Mr. Trudeau disclosed his plans to senators, but rather heard about it from his staff later.)
Mr. Campbell was appointed to the Senate in 2005 by then-prime minister Paul Martin.
How can you be a Liberal senator in light of Mr. Trudeau's announcement?
He can decide who is in caucus. I respect that. He can't decide who is going to be a Liberal. I carry a Liberal card as do the other senators. We have decided we will be the Liberal Senate caucus. Basically, all he said is we will not be meeting as caucus. We're not part of the Liberal caucus. That's fine. Most of us never really considered us part of that anyway. I would have liked a little bit of warning. I would have liked a bit of discussion. But I like the end result and support it as do my colleagues.
Why would you have liked a little bit more notice?
I always like discussion. I always like to be able to talk about things and explore the issues, especially when I am involved. I understand the worry of leaks and the usual Ottawa stuff so I rapidly got over that and looked and thought, You know what? This makes a lot of sense. In all the time the Conservatives have been in power, they wanted to reform the Senate. They have done nothing. How it's all going to play out? I don't think anybody has a game plan, but I think this is a good start.
Will working to elect Mr. Trudeau prime minister in 2015 contradict the intention of his announcement? Are you allowed to be seen in public with Mr. Trudeau?
I would hope so. He doesn't want us involved in fundraising. That's fine. I'm never much on fundraising anyway. It doesn't mean we can't go out and support candidates as I have in all of the elections. People want to make more of this than it really is. This isn't a divorce. This is simply a recognition that how the family looks needs to change or we're going to end up with a Senate, same old, same old. This is one way of doing it without opening the Constitution. Maybe the Conservatives should try it.
How important is that Liberal label to your identity as a senator?
Not that important. It's important to me from the point of view that I have 30 people I can discuss ideas with who come from across Canada. Sometimes there's something going on in another region that I don't understand. As far as a Liberal identity, it's not that important to me.
How do you think the Senate should be reformed?
We need more senators in the West. It's one of the problems I've always had with the elected idea: You can't have an elected Senate where 24 of them are from the East Coast and 24 are from the West, given the population diversities.
Are you optimistic about politicians overcoming the constitutional issues that would allow for more senators?
No. We have to start looking at different ideas and ways of going about it. Justin has started that process. All you have to do is take a look at [Thomas] Mulcair and the Conservatives to see how gobsmacked they were at what I think was a brave and insightful decision. Even [federal Minister of State for Democratic Reform] Pierre Poleyview – or whatever his name is. [Mr. Poilievre] could barely speak.
Are you going to be dinged in the Auditor-General's report? (Federal Auditor-General Michael Ferguson is investigating senator expenses for the past two years.)
I have no reason to think I won't be okay. I've been following the rules and putting everything in, so we'll just have to wait and see.
Do the likes of Mr. Duffy, Ms. Wallin and others make it challenging to hold your head high as a senator?
They haven't made it easy.
This interview has been edited and condensed.