Saturday, June 18, 2016

Until It Has Had Its Say

Chantal Hebert writes this morning that the battle over Bill C-14 signals a new source of opposition for any Canadian government -- the Senate:

The legislative discussion over bill C-14 is over but the debate over the role of a more independent Senate in the larger parliamentary scheme of things has only just begun. It is already eliciting some diametrically opposed views as to the way forward.

There are two clearly different views about how the Senate should function:

At one extreme, there are those who would invest a more independent upper house with the mission of perfecting the work of their elected colleagues. In their book, a decrease in partisan attachment increases the moral authority of the senate, to the point that it should use the powers vested in it by the Constitution to the fullest — even when it means going against the will of the House of Commons.

But power is intoxicating. Its fumes are addictive. Almost every governing party eventually succumbs to the delusion of believing itself infallible and invincible. The cure usually involves a voter-imposed spell in opposition rehab.

And there's the rub. The Senate is unelected. Recognizing that fact, a majority of senators sent the bill back to the House, with its most controversial clause, "reasonably foreseeable," in tact.

The second theory of how the Senate should operate is also intriguing:

At the other extreme, there are those who feel that a still unelected but more independent Senate is ultimately even less accountable than its previous partisan version. No particular party is responsible for its actions. They argue such a Senate should be content to play the role of if not silent at least always compliant partner to the elected majority in the Commons.

Except that under the current electoral system, a majority government does not de facto speak for a majority of voters, it just speaks for more of them than any other of its opposition rivals.

I suspect this version of how the Senate works will go the way of the Dodo -- thanks to the Mike Duffy trial. The days are gone when the PMO can call the tune and have senators do its bidding.

In fact, the Senate will no longer do any government's bidding -- until it has had its say. 


Dana said...

It would be very good if the Senate were a house of sober second thought peopled by men and women of integrity, wisdom and experience who took seriously the task of examining proposed legislation with an eye to assuring regional, ethnic, gender, linguistic inequities were mitigated to whatever extent possible.

It would be very good if the elected Parliament and government of the day paid reasonable attention to the concerns raised by such a Senate and attempted to address those concerns to whatever extent possible.

It would be very good if I had a big pot of gold and could fly.

As long as elected politicians appoint Senators my pot of gold and wings are aspirational only.

Rural said...

I certainly subscribe to the former description rather than the latter, Owen. If the Senate does its job and sends flawed legislation back to the house more often perhaps the government (and for that matter the opposition) will be more careful in writing their bills. Perhaps the might even start considering other points of views and consider reasonable amendments BEFORE sending said bills to the upper chamber..... sorry I was dreaming there for a bit!

Owen Gray said...

The Senate and the Supreme Court are vital checks on the House of Commons, Rural. It's true that the House is the only elected body. But that doesn't mean that it is infallible.

Owen Gray said...

That's one of life's axioms, Dana. Politics is more aspirational than inspirational.

UU4077 said...

Judges are unelected and I think most Canadians prefer it that way. Maybe we can restore confidence in an unelected Senate majority f there are no party affiliations.

Owen Gray said...

I agree, UU4077. If senators are genuinely independent, Canadians may accord that body some respect.