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Liberal Senators shelve Harper’s half-baked Senate “reform”

As predicted a few days ago, the mounting provincial opposition to Harper’s proposed Senate reform has emboldened the Liberal-dominated Senate. It hasn’t killed the bill however; it will recommend that the bill be put on hold until the Conservatives check it over with the Supreme Court to see if the provinces objections have merit:

Liberals, who hold a big majority in the upper house, will insist that the Senate not proceed with the bill until the Supreme Court of Canada determines whether it’s constitutional for Parliament to proceed unilaterally, without provincial consent . The Liberal move follows submissions from four provinces Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador insisting that provincial consent is needed to reform the Senate. The four have demanded a halt to both the term-limit bill and another bill, currently before the House of Commons, that would create a process for electing senators. To break the impasse, Mr. Harper’s government would have to agree to refer the matter to the top court.

I see that as being a pretty reasonable request. What’s the problem with making sure with the highest court of the land that you can proceed with this proposed reform to the Senate without needing to get provincial consent to do so?

Of course, this “reform” has less to do with whole-hearted desire to reform the Senate as it has been about Deceivin’ Stephen’s partisan agenda, and he’s not shown yet that he wants to be reasonable. So, I expect to hear more whining and complaining about how the meanie Liberals are thwarting his Senate reform agenda (maybe they’ll make more attack ads!) – which won’t resonate much since several provincial premiers will applaud the Senate’s move as being entirely fair and prudent to do.

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11 comments to Liberal Senators shelve Harper’s half-baked Senate “reform”

  • Marta is right. Abolish the Senate and all this goes away — and about time, too.

  • The only reform the Senate should have  abolishing it… Do we need Two Elelcted  Government to run this country?..while   setting all prvinces on autonomy???    Where the hell this" LEADER " is Going??  Deconstruct Canada ???

  • Gayle

    Aaron – don't be silly. We ALL know Harper has been calling for Senate reform. The problem is this bill is not reform. If he really wanted to reform the senate he would do so properly – through a constitutional amendment. I do not question his desire for change. What I question is the method. This Act is designed only to highlight what he feels is the problem with the senate – the same thing ALW and Jason pointed out – that a liberal senate is blocking a conservative government bill. He is hoping this fact will ignite the electorate and lead him down that path to a majority. 

  • The senate’s history has been to advising and improving legislation, even occasionally blocking what it reads as bad legislation, liberal, conservative or moronic Reform-Alliance-CON… The amendments that are being considered would seriously improve this if it has a potential of going past the ‘wishful thinking for CONs’ phase. As it stands, every 2 elections, the electorate would put in the senate likely exactly what it did in the House of Commons. There’d be no checks or balances for at least four years, just essentially more useless backbencher types nodding in agreement to the wishes of the PM of the day. Certainly CON-ners wouldn’t find that too appealing, would they?

  • ALW has a point: there are times I wish the "blogosphere" existed in / around '93-'94, as I'm sure some of the commentary at the time would have been priceless from all sides.  I'm sure "Libloggers" of the day would have been outraged – OUTRAGED! – that the Tory senators occasionally used their then-majority to slow down le p'tit gars's plans from time to time.  It just so happens that this is the first shoe-is-on-the-other-foot moment in federal politics since the blogs got going.Anyway, speaking for myself I don't really mind if S-4 is referred or not, but I would like to know whether it will be passed by the Libs in the Senate if it is referred, and if it passes constitutional muster.  The G&M story Scott links to suggests the Libs would want further amendments, but it's not clear (a) whether those are the only amendments they want, and (b) whether they'd definitely pass it in any event.If the Libs are going to vote it down regardless, or amend it beyond recognition, then there's little point in referring it as-is to the SCC, and it would be clear that the Libs are, in fact, just looking to delay this for partisan gain.On the other hand, most legislation has a clause saying something like "this Act comes into force on proclomation", or "on a date set by the Governor-in-Council [i.e., cabinet]".  If the Libs are really trying to be more constructive, I wonder if they couldn't pass it with a clause stating that it takes effect only after it survives a reference to the SCC. 

  • "But then, I do not think Harper ever had any intention of seeing this legislation pass. He wanted to use it as a wedge issue. Now he may just use it to complain about the liberal stacked courts…"

    The fact that Harper has been calling for Senate reform since the 1980s is apparently irrelevant here. Why are you Liberals so cynical?

    "The liberals know a little bit about the rule of law, constitutional supremacy and parliamentary process."

    Oh man, where to start?

  • Gayle

    ALW – the liberals know a little bit about the rule of law, constitutional supremacy and parliamentary process. Because of this, they would not have ever introduced such a bill without first consulting the provinces, and considering a reference to the SCC. Your point, however, really supports what I said above – which is that Harper did this for optics, not results. Nice to see you are buying it.

  • ALW

    I don't suppose anyone sees the irony in a bill designed to reform the Senate being blocked by Senators.  Fox guarding the henhouse, indeed.

    And spare me, Scott: if this were a Liberal bill being stalled by a Tory dominated Senate you'd be freaking out about how they're abusing their power, have no accountability, are being partisan etc etc etc.

  • Gayle

    That was quite the insightful comment Aaron.

    This is the right move to make, and the one Harper should have made at the very start. But then, I do not think Harper ever had any intention of seeing this legislation pass. He wanted to use it as a wedge issue. Now he may just use it to complain about the liberal stacked courts…

  • KC

    Personally I would prefer to see this legislation be challenged in the courts (where it would probably be struck down) than have the Liberal dominated Senate do it.  The optics of the former are horrible. 

  • Better Conservative half-baked than Liberal no-baked.

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