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Updated: Wed, 26 Feb 2014 12:13:37 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Ex-Liberal senators announce plan for more accountability



James Cowan, flanked by other newly declared Independent senators, speaks following Liberal leader leader Justin Trudeau's announcement to remove senators from the caucus, in Ottawa on Wednesday January 29, 2014. Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press

James Cowan, flanked by other newly declared Independent senators, speaks following Liberal leader leader Justin Trudeau's announcement to remove senators from the caucus, in Ottawa on Wednesday January 29, 2014. Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press

The senators who were evicted from from the Liberal caucus last month are holding a news conference today to unveil plans to hold occasional open caucus meetings and invite Canadians to submit questions to be asked in the Senate question period.

Senator James Cowan, the leader of the Senate Liberal caucus, as the ousted senators call themselves, announced the first open caucus meeting will focus on the issue of missing and aboriginal women.

All votes by members of the Senate Liberal caucus will be free votes, Cowan also said.

Cowan further said his caucus will start a national conversation on what he called equalization, the notion that Canadians in all provinces should be able to access the same basic level of services without facing "wildly different tax bills."

Cowan: 'Doing politics differently'

Cowan said the initiatives are about doing politics differently in the Senate, and make it respond to the needs of Canadians, "rather than the needs of political parties and their leaders."

Asked by a reporter how he is faring since Trudeau expelled him and his colleagues from caucus, Cowan said there is "a real excitement about this independence he's given us." He explained that he and the other ousted senators no longer have to worry about the impact anything they say will have on Liberal MPs. 

Cowan was also asked how an open caucus meeting about missing and murdered aboriginal women would be different than a Senate committee, which is also public. He replied that there is no proper hearing of the issue going on anywhere in the country, pointing out the government has refused to hold an inquiry.

Senator Lillian Dyck conceded there is, in fact, a special House of Commons committee studying the subject of missing and murdered women, but said the committee has had "internal difficulties" and is hampered by the "current government's desire not to have an inquiry."

Kept Liberal name

The 32 senators, tossed from the Liberal fold by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, have formed their own caucus which has been recognized by the Senate speaker as an official opposition.

Trudeau had urged the ejected senators to sit as independents, but they have managed to hold on to the name Liberal by calling themselves the Senate Liberal caucus.

The senators Cowan leads are Liberals in terms of their party membership cards only. Under rules that hadn't been changed, however, a handful attended the Montreal convention as ex-officio delegates. 

At one point in the news conference, Cowan said they are not "former Liberal senators" but, rather, "the Senate Liberal caucus. We are still Liberal senators." At the same time, he said his group does not have to worry about the "electoral considerations" of the Liberal Party anymore.

Members of the Senate Liberal caucus are not allowed to attend Liberal caucus meetings and will no longer have a senior role, or any official role, in the 2015 Liberal election campaign.

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