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Senate Tories extend olive branch

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OTTAWA—Conservative senators don’t plan to be an ideological roadblock to the Liberal government’s legislative agenda.

Sen. Claude Carignan, the Conservative leader in the upper chamber, says his senators will look for ways to improve legislation coming from the House of Commons and won’t abuse their majority status in the upper chamber to thwart Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s program.

The Conservatives hold 47 seats in the Senate—making them the largest caucus in the 105-seat chamber.

Some longtime Conservatives, who remember what it was like when Stephen Harper first formed government in 2006 and faced a Liberal-dominated Senate, have suggested they won’t make Trudeau’s life easy.

But Carignan said that wasn’t the intention of the Conservative senators following a meeting earlier this month, where they elected him leader and chose the rest of their leadership after returning to the opposition benches for the first time in almost a decade.

“We don’t want to obstruct and [be] an ideological opposition,” he noted.

“We don’t want to play this game.

“We will play our role to improve, to study and we will not abuse the situation,” Carignan pledged.

Trudeau severed formal parliamentary ties to the Senate last year when he dropped all senators from the Liberal national caucus.

The decision has meant the Liberals—now in government—have no formal representative in the upper chamber.

The party has not said whether Trudeau will anoint a sitting senator to the job, appoint someone to one of the 22 vacant seats, or simply leave the situation as it is.

House leader Dominic LeBlanc, the Liberal point man on dealing with the Senate, repeatedly has said the government wants to work with the Senate in a more non-partisan way.

Ministers, he told reporters last week, still will have to appear before Senate committees to explain and defend legislation, and work with senators who propose amendments “to improve legislation.”

Carignan said that message is playing well with his Senate colleagues.

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