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The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

I have to disagree slightly with Impolitical. I don’t think Jack Layton and the NDP are being used at all by Harper. I think they’re using each other in another partisan attempt to embarrass the Liberals over this motion to hold a referendum to abolish the Senate (which would have no legal standing, since it requires the majority of provinces and the feds to agree to make such a change). I think Jack was well aware that Harper and the Cons would probably support this motion when he put it forward. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a not-so-disguised joint effort – even if not formally talked about by the two of them.

If you’re wondering, I’m rather indifferent to the fate of the Senate. Abolish it, or reform it to make Senators electable – it doesn’t matter to me either way what is proposed. What I do know is that it will be virtually impossible to implement any change with that body, because of the strict constitutional requirements. Where the reform is needed is in the way the House of Commons MP’s are voted on, and I’ll note that in 2005, after the Martin minority government, one of the first things Jack Layton said in his election night speech was that he and the NDP would be pushing for electoral reform – specifically, proportional representation reform for the House of Commons. A laudable goal, but one that has gone almost deathly silent the last couple of years from Jack. If Jack wasn’t playing partisan games, he’d be introducing a motion to bring THAT type of electoral reform up, rather then wasting time over the Senate.

And I’ll repeat again (at the risk of boring my fellow Liberal bloggers and party members yet again with my championed cause) that if Dion and the Liberals want to neutralize this Senate reform issue and being portrayed as anti-electoral reform/anti-democratic and so on, they would be pushing the type of electoral reform Dion has occasionally raised in public chats and interviews but never as official Liberal Party policy: a promise or proposal for said electoral reforms to the House voting, whatever that may be.


14 comments to The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

  • Scott, you cut the nature of the motion short by characterizing it as "partisan".  Conservative Senator Hugh Segal opened the door saying that the House of Commons should table a similar bill to his calling for a referendum on abolishing the Senate.  The door was opened, and the NDP merely took advantage to blow the dust off on of its long standing policies.

    The NDP has a long history of not accepting Senators into its fold.  When Trudeau appointed Eugene Forsey’s, one of the founding members of the LSR, CCF and NDP, Forsey’s sat a Liberal.  When Martin appoint Dycks as an "NDP" senator from Saskatchewan, the NDP did not recognize her as a member of her caucus.

  • Gayle

    Cam – have I said we should not engage in senate reform? I do not think so.

    It IS misleading to claim that the justice bills were delayed in the "liberal dominated" senate – instead of acknowleding the Senate only got the bills a few days before the summer break, and that Parliament was prorogued before it reconvened. It IS misleading to suggest the liberals do not support Senate reform just because they correctly state this reform cannot be accomplished by passing a couple of bills on term limits/elections.

    What I have said is that the way Harper and Layton are going about this is dishonest.

    If the majority of Canadians want to enter into constitutional negotiations then I support that. The problem is that both Harper and Layton are denying that this involves a constitutional amendment.

    That is why I say the referendum should be clear and ask Canadians if they want the PM to instigate constitutional negotations with the provinces – which is the only way we will get reform.

    By the way, the Senate has been clear that they believe the so-called senate reform bills (which, as I have pointed our are a misnomer since they have nothing to do with actual reform) are unconstitutional. They have asked Harper to refer them to the SCC for a ruling on their constitutionality. Harper refused.

  • Gayle…. Is it misleading to point out that the Liberals do have the majority of the seats in the Senate??? Is that some how incorrect??? If it is, please tell me which party has the majority in the Senate. If you have a majority, you do in fact "dominate" that chamber. That’s a fact.

    As for the delay of bills, the Senate does have a long history of delaying certain bills that it doesn’t like (i.e. Senate Reform). Does it do that the majority of the time, no. But does it do it? Yes. The idea that a group of unelected, appointed people can override the elected politicians of this country is just a slap in the face of the democratic will of the people, regardless of the history of the Senate.

    Now in regards to the "need" for Senate reform, please give me a break. There will never be a perfect time for this, and that makes it very much a red herring. The results of any referendum would be extremely useful to any Constitutional Negotiations because then those doing the negotiations would know exactly how the people feel about things. If you were to have a 3 question referendum, why couldn’t we have a run-off referendum after the first one. After that run off, we would have a clearer answer.  The fact that it might "get messy" doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done. Important things are not always easy, and if you are suggesting that only things that are easy should be done, than think of just how many things that we would not have today (i.e. Medicare) if it wasn’t for past politicians doing what was tough and "messy"

  • Gayle

    Cam – just what do you think the majority of Canadians are going to be in favour of? Abolishment? Reform? If there is going to be a referendum, the question must be clear. There are three options here: abolish, reform or maintain. I do not think it is outrageous for me to say there is no way you are going to get a majority choosing one of those options over the other two. The vote will be split. This means constitutional negotiations will NOT be "much easier".

    What about if the majority of Canadians want it abolished, but the province of Ontario votes overwhelmingly for reform? This could be very messy.

    Finally, I am well aware the NDP have been advocating for abolition for a long time. I am not aware they were asking for a referendum before. I certainly was not aware their constitutional expert was going to say it is perfectly OK to ignore the constitution and just let the Senate die.

    If this has nothing to do with trying to attack the Liberals, I guess we will stop hearing the NDP commentators refering to the "Liberal dominated" Senate and making false accusations about how many bills are delayed there. Since I heard both statements from the NDP last night, I somehow do not think that is going to happen.

    When the NDP start being honest with Canadians about the need for a constitutional amendment, and when they stop misleading Canadians about the liberals’ position on Senate reform, then I might agree with you. Of course, I expect to see pigs flying past my window while Jack is saying all that…

  • Gayle… you obviously misread what I wrote. The reason why I stated that "Basically, if the Canadian people voted in favour of it, then it makes going into the whole messy Constitutional negotiations much easier" is because if there is a positive referendum result in hand before negotiations start, it will be harder for those provincial governments that might disagree with it to go against the expressed will of their populations.

    Plus, if I remember correctly, didn’t a certain Liberal Prime Minister back in the early 80’s threaten a public referendum over repatriating the Constitution and the Charter of Rights??? Oh yeah, that’s right, Mr Trudeau did do that, so I guess that was alright but it’s not alright for other parties to use the same tactic.

    As for this being a tool to hurt the Liberals, come off of it. Really now, the world does not revolve around Stephane Dion and this is something that the NDP has been pushing for since 1932. There has never been an opportunity in Canadian History when the NDP has had another party agreeing with them and supporting this idea, so why wouldn’t the pursue it?

  • mushroom


    I am not pessimistic about electoral reform.  It will probably happen within the next ten years.   However, Senator Smith has recently been appointed co-chair during the election campaign and he will be devising the Grit package in the hustings. 
    I am not sure whether Dion’s decision to bring the old guard back in, Senator Smith and John Rae is a good move for Dion.  You seem to suggest it isn’t and there is a danger that the leader may lose his edge in promoting policies he believes in ie. cap and trade carbon emission, electoral reform etc.

  • Gayle

    "Basically, if the Canadian people voted in favour of it, then it makes going into the whole messy Constitutional negotiations much easier."


    Because it requires more than a mere majority to effect constitutional change, and because while some Canadians may favour abolishing the Senate, I would bet that an equal number of Canadians would favour reform. With a split like that you are not going to be able to achieve anything.

    A referendum is meaningless and serves only as a political tool by which the NDP and Conservatives attempt to harm the liberals. Unfortunately, the only way they are able to get any traction on this issue is to lie about the liberals’ position on senate reform. The Liberals have opposed the Conservative Senate bills because they are unconstitutional, not because they oppose Senate reform. They are simply saying that the Conservatives (and now the NDP) have to start being responsible to the citizens of this country and stop pretending either reform or abolishment can be achieved without a constitutional amendment.

    Last night the NDP (Comartin) said that if the referendum comes out in favour of abolishing the Senate, all that would have to happen is the government stop appointing senators until the Senate disappears through attrition. I was shocked that someone so smart could suggest something so stupid.

    I think the Liberals should propose an amendment to this motion. Rather than a referendum on abolishing the Senate, the referendum should ask if Canadians want the PM to open constitutional negotions with the provinces in order to amend the Constitution regarding either reforming or abolishing the Senate, with the understanding that once these negotiations start they cannot be limited to discussions on the Senate.

    Canadians have the right to understand the true consequences of this movement. The Conservatives and the NDP should start behaving responsibly – if the desire is truly reform/abolishment, then do something effective.

  • Mushroom:

    I disagree with your pessimism. That poll which the Hill Times commissioned a week after the election/referendum showed pluralities in Canada both supported a referendum on electoral reform for the House, and were willing to switch to a form of PR – including Ontario.

    I don’t care whether Senator Smith hates PR or not (rather ironic an unelected Senator is railing against electoral reform for the House) – his opinion shouldn’t stand as the de facto position of the Liberal Party.

  • ALW

    Something has to change with the Senate.  The status quo is ridiculous.

  • mushroom


    Given the attitude of a certain Senator in the Liberal caucus with regards to proportional representation during the MMP campaign, the idea of Dion going on the campaign trail with a similar proposal is difficult at the present moment.  It would have been easier earlier this year, not now.
    Layton never spoke openly on MMP but Olivia did.  So the Dippers did their job in bringing their vote given the referendum result 🙁

    I disagree with Mile 0.  Layton was smart to take on Hugh Segal’s proposal and ran with it.  Give this Red Tory credit and a MMP supporter to boot.  If abolition wins the support of a significant number of Canadians around 50 to 60 per cent, Harper would have to stand up to the Premiers and call for abolition in return for a devolution of federal spending powers.  This may be his legacy, a transplanted Albertans who scrapped the Senate.

    For me, the abolition of the Senate would make electoral reform closer to reality.  It is something the left will demand as a check within a unicameral legislature.  At the same time, a similar referendum abolishing the Queen as a head of state may also pass much easier.

    Thus, I will support and campaign for Senate abolition.      

  • It so obvious isn’t it Scott?  Not a good move for the Dippers though because I think Canadians are smart enough to see through it all.

  • A laudable goal, but one that has gone almost deathly silent the last couple of years from Jack.

    Um…what are you talking about?  Have you really forgotten last February?  The Liberals have absolutely nothing to criticize the NDP on when it comes to electoral reform.

  • Scott… there is one point that needs to be made, and that’s the point about the use of the referendum. To my understanding of the proposal, the whole point of the referendum is not to abolish the Senate in one fowl swoop. The point of it was to get the input of the Canadian people in order to be able to move forward with this idea. Basically, if the Canadian people voted in favour of it, then it makes going into the whole messy Constitutional negotiations much easier. If the Canadian people voted it down, that would be the end of it. Congrats on your award nomination by the way. You already got my vote.

  • […] (Maybe a Citizen’s Assembly on Senate Reform, then a referendum on their decision? Maybe suggesting reforms to the House electoral system instead?).  By presenting another approach to Senate reform, in the form of a parliamentary motion, the […]

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