Contributed to The Globe and Mail
Published October 25, 2019
Updated October 26, 2019
André Pratte was an independent senator from 2016 to 2019, and is currently a consultant in media, politics and writing.
As soon as the CBC announced my resignation, right in the middle of election night, a senator friend sent me a brief e-mail expressing surprise: “Why?”
In my letter of resignation, which I sent to the Governor-General on Oct. 10, I wrote: “In any professional career, there can come a time when we don’t have the skills or the motivation needed to carry out the job entrusted to us. After my three-and-a-half years in the Senate of Canada, that’s the conclusion I have arrived at.”
I thought this was clear, but the passage raised further questions. “Does that mean you’re fed up?” a popular Quebec radio host asked me. Well, yes … and no. I wasn’t “fed up” with working alongside high-calibre senators from all parts of the country – hard-working, dedicated people who have only the public good in mind. But yes, I was “fed up” with partisanship in all its forms, which continues to derail debates in the Upper Chamber, even if most of the senators appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are “independent.”
Special qualities are needed – thick skin being chief among them – to navigate the partisan waters without sinking. The Opposition has only one objective, and for some among them, it’s an obsession: to embarrass the government and hinder the legislative process.
The government, meanwhile, just wants to get its bills passed as quickly as possible most of the time, regardless of any improvements that may be suggested by the senators that the prime minister himself appointed, supposedly because of their competence.
In politics, both approaches – fanatical opposition, and executive branch arrogance – are understandable, and perhaps even inevitable. For my part, however, I was resolute in my decision to be completely independent of the political parties, meaning both the Liberal government and the Conservative opposition. More often than not, I found myself stuck between the two camps, unable to present my case to either side, since reason doesn’t count for much when partisan interests are at stake.
Here’s one example: After the Liberals killed the House of Commons committee’s investigation into the SNC-Lavalin affair, Conservative senators tried to relaunch it in the Senate. In my opinion, it was definitely desirable for such an investigation to take place, as long as the approach was rigorous and non-partisan; however, the Tory senators’ efforts reeked of partisanship.
I, together with some of my colleagues, worked out an alternative motion, with our only concern being the public benefit. The result? Criticism from both sides. I was accused by the government of being “selfish” and by the Conservatives of “playing into the government’s hands.” Our motion died on the order paper, a victim of partisan bickering – the same fate was in store for several legislative proposals and motions.
In the next few months, independent senators are going to work hard to advance legal and regulatory changes aimed at freeing the Senate from party discipline and making it more effective – so much time lost to partisan procedural wrangling – but these changes are absolutely essential. I wholeheartedly support my former colleagues in their efforts, and I have great admiration for them. It takes a lot of courage to wage such a battle.
But it’s courage that I don’t have – or at any rate, that I don’t have any more.
I’m not a career politician who snaps a lot of selfies and pats all kinds of people on the back in order to win voters and allies. I am resolutely non-partisan and, most of the time, a loner. I study problems and work toward finding reasonable solutions that I believe to be in the public interest, considering the country as a whole. It may be that I am simply naive, but I have come to the conclusion that there is no real place for this type of approach in the Senate – not yet, anyway. It is less the Senate’s failure than mine.
This is, above all, a personal decision. I am 62. Unlike several senators, I didn’t have a cause that I wanted to bring to the Senate. If I wish to attempt a career change, and invest my efforts in areas where the qualities that I do have are useful, I must seize the opportunity now.
I have learned a lot: about Canada, about politics, and above all, about myself. It’s because I learned all this that I made this decision.
A week ago, I left Parliament Hill with a lump in my throat, filled with a deep sense of failure. I will get over this; I have done it before. But it seems to me that this time, my legs are less sturdy.