Monday, August 31, 2009


I mentioned in an earlier post that if Stephen Harper cared in the slightest about ensuring that the Senate didn't stand in the way of the will of Canadians as expressed through the most recent election, then he'd have made sure that his appointees committed to working with all future governments rather than appointing a set of Con hacks. But let's take another look at the implicit assertion that the current makeup of the Senate has affected the passage of government bills in the first place.

Fortunately, we can start with LegisInfo's handy list of bills which passed one chamber but not the other. Since the list doesn't consider bills in the current session which could still pass in the second chamber, the most recent bills listed are ones from the 2nd session of the 39th Parliament - but that timing should only help the Cons' claim since it reflects a Senate composed of a higher proportion of Libs than the present one.

But not surprisingly, the Cons appear to have awfully little to complain about. The bills which passed the House but not the Senate included 8 private members' bills and only 2 government bills - meaning that Jack Layton, Nathan Cullen, Dan McTeague and Nicole Demers have at least as much justification as the Cons for concern about their democratically-passed bills getting bottled up.

So what were the rare examples of government bills which didn't get through the Senate? Bill C-10 from 2007 was rushed through the House of Commons in a single day - resulting in serious issues such as film censorship provisions being completely unaddressed. Let's grant that this counts as maybe the sole relevant example of the Senate delaying the passage of a government bill. But if there was ever a point where the Senate would be justified in putting the brakes on a bill in the interest of some sober second thought, that would have to be it.

Meanwhile, Bill C-29 took nearly eight months to pass in the House of Commons before finally making its way to the Senate on June 17, 2008. Since the Senate only sat for a grand total of two more days before the summer break, it can hardly be blamed for the fact that the bill didn't manage to get any further - particularly when it was the Cons who chose to halt the bill's progress at that point in order to try their luck at the polls.

What about the Cons' bills from the previous session (39th Parliament, Session 1)? There, the list of government bills which passed the House but not the Senate is somewhat longer - but the path taken by those bills once again thoroughly undercuts any claim that the Senate was responsible for holding up bills agreed to by the democratically-elected chamber.

Starting from the top of the list of bills considered last by the Senate...
- Bill C-51 passed the House four days before the Senate's summer break;
- Bill C-22 spent a month and a half in the Senate after taking nearly a year to pass the House of Commons;
- Bill C-33 reached the Senate the last week before the summer after needing 8 months to pass the House of Commons;
- Bill C-23 took a year to pass the House of Commons, and reached the Senate only a week before the summer recess;
- Similar patterns applied to C-10 (introduced May 4, 2006 and only reached the Senate on May 29, 2007) and C-35 (introduced November 23, 2006; reached the Senate June 5, 2007). (Which, as the Libs note is a pattern which the Cons are repeating with more recent bills).
- About the only exception was C-62, which passed through the House on a single day in June 2007 and theoretically could have made it into law if the Senate had acted equally quickly. But based on the fact that the bill still didn't arrive until shortly before the summer recess, that would presumably have required unanimous consent in the Senate, not merely a majority.

And of course, it was again the Cons who pulled the plug on those bills in the Senate by opting for prorogation.

In sum, then, the Cons can point to a grand total of one government bill where delay caused by the current party standings in the Senate could have affected their ability to implement legislation approved by the House. Which hardly seems like a compelling impetus for not just breaking but downright eviscerating what was supposed to have been a firm campaign promise based on the founding principles of the party which first launched Harper into Parliament.

Meanwhile, there's also the future of the Senate to look at. And the fact that Harper has obviously made loyalty his top priority in Senate nominees suggests that it may not be long before exactly the problem which the Cons are falsely claiming to want to solve becomes a reality for the next government.

After all, if the current Con caucus in the Senate sticks together and continues to take orders from Harper or another leader equally determined to press every potential political advantage with no regard for democratic principles, then a Con majority created by the next wave of Harper appointments would figure to have no more regard for the will of the majority of the House of Commons than...well, Harper himself when it's proven inconvenient. And the fact that Harper's current rhetoric ties any talk about democratically-elected governments to his personal "agenda" should provide yet one more hint that when push comes to shove, his appointees will be instructed to put the Cons' political interests ahead of any commitment to respecting the will of the democratically-elected House.

So Harper's patronage appointments look far more likely to create a roadblock to the implementation of legitimate legislation in the future than they are to resolve any meaningful difficulty in getting bills passed now. Which should make it clear that they have nothing to do with "evening out" the legislative process, and everything to do with tightening the Cons' grip on Canada no matter how many of their promises and principles they have to discard in the process.

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