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Guest blogpost: Senator Elaine McCoy on Harper’s threats of an election over the crime bill

Foreword: Senator Elaine McCoy was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2005. She is a former Alberta cabinet minister in Don Getty’s Progressive Conservative Government, and she sits as a Progressive Conservative Senator, meaning she is independent of the Liberal and Conservative parliamentary caucuses. In her Senate bio, it mentions that Senator McCoy broke new ground as the only member of the Senate of Canada who regularly blogs on her experiences in Ottawa and the political issues of the day. Her blog is called Hullabaloos, and she and her blog are also affiliates of the Progressive Bloggers blogging aggregate. Her guest-column today are her additional thoughts on the efforts of Prime Minister Harper and the Conservatives trying to force the Senate to pass Bill C-2 (the Crime Bill) by March 1 or threatening to call an election over it and viewing it as a motion of non-confidence. The opinions expressed by Senator McCoy are not necessarily the opinions of Scott’s Diatribes.

Anyone who’s used to getting his way by simple fiat is unlikely to enjoy our Parliament’s decision-making process. Based on 700 years of tradition, it’s designed to curb excessive use of the executive power. Not something you’d expect Prime Minister Harper to savour.His latest ultimatum, to call an election unless the Senate passes his crime bill by March 1st, is a case in point. We’re all used to confidence motions in the House of Commons. That’s because you only get to be Prime Minister if a majority of MPs support you. Otherwise, the Governor General will either ask the leader of another party in the Commons to form a Cabinet (i.e., the executive branch of the government) or will dissolve Parliament. Whatever, the Senate has no part to play in this process.

What the Senate does is oversee legislation. We’re sort of a quality control institution. We’re there to provide sober second thought or, as one person said, we’re the pause that refreshes. If the Commons doesn’t want to take our advice, that’s their prerogative. The Senate generally defers to the House of Commons if it insists on getting its own way. Often, negotiations between the two chambers are carried on behind the scenes to see if a consensus position can be found, but in the end the Senate usually steps away from the table after having made its point.

As you might imagine, the Senate performs its role best when it acts independently. Our constitution therefore enshrined the principle that neither of the Houses of Parliament can tell the other what to do. We can suggest, we can attempt to persuade, but we can’t dictate to one another. It’s called separation of powers.

The principle is an important one. Power has been increasingly concentrated in the PMO over the past several decades. It’s a trend that successive prime ministers of every political stripe have perpetuated. Limits on this power are becoming fewer and fewer in practice. The Senate is one of the last bastions of a system of checks and balances to protect Canadians against unwarranted abuses of executive power. We need to be vigilant in preserving that valuable role.


5 comments to Guest blogpost: Senator Elaine McCoy on Harper’s threats of an election over the crime bill

  • Jim Bobby, yes indeed.  I’m flattered to be asked to post on Scott’s DiaTribes … I take it as a real feather in my cap!

    Regarding the Senate, actually the Commons accept quite a few of our suggestions along the way.  So we do make a difference, although we try not to be confrontational about it.  There’s quite enough of that in the elected house, if you ask me.  Interestingly, a friend of mine from Banff took some American guests over to watch QP in the Commons a week or so ago.  Their comment afterwards is worth noting:  "This is democracy?  And we’re running around the world exporting it?  Ye gods …!"

  • Senator, I congratulate you on getting published on Scott’s DiaTribes. You’ll be able to put that in your resume.
    If I get what yer sayin’, it’s that the sober second thought is just by way of advice and the senate never really exercises any power but eventually goes along with whatever the House o’ Comments sends over fer approval.  You just go "tsk, tsk" but you don’t put the kibosh on stuff you don’t like. Sounds to me like the senate ain’t very effective.

    I don’t like ol’ Steve Harpoon threatenin’ to let loose with an election over every little thing. I wouldn’t mind seein’ an election, though. Harper’s been gettin’ a free ride long enough. From what you said about how the senate works and it gives into the Commoners every time, it don’t sound like anything the senate does’ll have any effect on whether or not we get to vote against Harper anytime soon.

    What most Canajuns think about the senate is we don’t like the idea that it ain’t elected democratically and we always hear about some old boy senators down in Arizona or Mexico when they’re s’posed to be in the red chamber sittin’ soberly second-thinkin’.


  • Alison

    Well said Senator McCoy. We need more Senators speaking out  to let the public know how the Senate works and its place in our government.  With our current PM delusions of grandeur, this is more important than ever.

  • annie

    I agree with the Senator.. beside the point..can you imagine what it would be like, with no Senate, and Harper a majority?  This is one perfect example of why we need a Senate

  • rww

    I agree with the Hon. Senator except for the statement: “It’s called separation of powers”. Separation of powers refers to the separation of the executive branch from the legislative branch, not the separation of two legislative chambers. The Americans have separation of powers where the President and Cabinet are not responsible to the legislature. We have responsible government where the Prime Minister and Cabinet are responsible to the legislature and require it’s confidence in order to govern.

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