405px-Senate_CandaAlberta Senator Doug Black’s recent announcement that he has left the Conservative caucus to sit as a non-affiliated Senator is both disappointing and misleading. It implies that Senators who remain members of a political caucus are less effective Senators. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Being a member of the Conservative caucus provides me with the opportunity to regularly hear from my colleagues across the province and across the country. Once a week, when Parliament is sitting, we meet first as an Alberta caucus and then again as a national caucus. These meetings provide me with a vital update from other Conservative parliamentarians on issues facing Albertans right across the province, and facing Canadians across the country. Debate and discussion always ensue, giving us an invaluable opportunity to hear differing perspectives on the issues at hand. Senator Black’s casual disregard for this is disingenuous.

Granted, his talking points sound good: Senator Black wants to be a free agent – free from party discipline and free to vote according to what he thinks is best for Albertans. He stated that he liked the collegial attitude demonstrated in the deliberations over assisted suicide where Senators of all stripes debated respectfully and voted freely. Therefore, he claims that in order to be an ongoing contributor to this kind of environment, he is no longer going to sit as a Conservative.

The problem with this thinking is self-evident: According to his own testimony, Senator Black already had that freedom while a member of the Conservative caucus. The Senate was already functioning this way. And not just on Bill C-14, but on every Bill that has been introduced into the Senate in the last year. Check the voting records: You will not see Conservative Senators voting as a block on anything.

Albertans should not be fooled by the rhetoric. In spite choosing to run as a Conservative and in spite of being elected by Albertans on that basis, Senator Black has had a change of heart. There was nothing in the public interest which obliged him to make this decision. It would appear to have been mere self-interest.

By all appearances, he had been contemplating crossing the aisle for some time. He was notably cozy with the Liberal government’s new Leader in the Senate; he was largely absent from the Senate’s debate on physician-assisted dying; and he was ambivalent about confirming his Senate attendance with the caucus Whip. He had already been operating independently of caucus and his announcement merely made it official.

But contrary to the popular mantra, lone wolves are not what Canada’s parliamentary system needs – especially in the Senate. Senator Black is now accountable to no one. He’s not accountable to Albertans, because he will not face the electorate in Alberta again. He’s not accountable to a political party because he just left it. He’s not accountable to a caucus because he doesn’t belong to one. Senator Black is only accountable to Senator Black, and I don’t believe this is in the best interests of Albertans.

As Senator Black said himself in media interviews, he and other independent Senators are in “uncharted territory”. They don’t know where they are going and they won’t know when they get there. But by some incomprehensible logic, they believe going alone is better.

In my view, history will show the Prime Minister’s experiment with so-called Senate reform to be anything but. Unplugging Senators from political parties sets them adrift with no checks and balances. They are accountable to no one. Albertans, and all Canadians, deserve better.

– Betty Unger, Alberta Senator