You can be partisan in the Senate – but don’t film it, new rules say

The Senate is tightening rules on how Senators use the Red Chamber for personal videos and photography, after a Conservative senator posted online a partisan video filmed in the chamber before Christmas.

In the 65-second video posted to YouTube, Saskatchewan Senator Denise Batters accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office of trying to eliminate opposition in the Senate.

Standing on the opposition side of the chamber and speaking directly into the camera, Batters says in the video she was concerned that Senator Peter Harder, the government’s representative in the Senate, wants to do away with an organized official opposition.

“This is Canada, a free, democratic country. We must not allow the Trudeau government to destroy the opposition in a democratic chamber of Parliament, emptying these opposition benches forever,” Batters says, gesturing to the empty chairs behind her.

In a statement to CBC News this week, a spokeswoman for the office of Senate Speaker George Furey said all future requests to reserve the Senate Chamber “will require a detailed description when submitted to the Office of the Usher of the Black Rod.”

The Usher of the Black Rod is the senior official who oversees protocol for the Parliament of Canada.

“Requests from senators to film or photograph will be vetted to ensure that the content produced in the Chamber is not used for partisan messaging,” the spokeswoman added.

Cameras rarely allowed in Senate – for now

When asked in December about filming a partisan message inside the Senate chamber, Batters said in a statement, “The Senate is a partisan, political institution. I have previously made exactly these same comments during debate and in question period in the Senate chamber.”

Later, a spokeswoman for Batters said that while arranging for the video to be shot in the chamber, “no one asked the topic of Senator Batters’ video, nor was the information offered.”

Filming in the Senate is currently strictly controlled by the Speaker, and the chamber remains off-limits to all cameras while in session. Debates can only be heard through an audio webcast on a parliamentary website.

But the Senate is expected to open the upper chamber to television cameras when it moves in the coming months to a temporary location to allow for decade-long renovations to Parliament Hill’s Centre Block.

The temporary location, in Ottawa’s former train station, is being designed to allow for live broadcasting of the Senate’s proceedings.