The Big Issue
Let's give top billing to Senate reform, if only because Tim Uppal's introduction of his bill so nicely highlighted the problems with the Senate that Stephen Harper has gone out of his way to exacerbate over the past few years:
(S)enators are selected and appointed through a process that is neither formal nor transparent, with no democratic mandate whatsoever from Canadians.Not surprisingly, part of the NDP's response included challenging the Cons' own unelected and illegitimate Senators who blocked climate change legislation which was passed by a majority of elected MPs in the House of Commons. Even less surprisingly, the Cons took no responsibility for having done so.
Taken together, the Senate lacks any essential democratic characteristics. Its effectiveness and legitimacy suffers from the democratic deficit.
Meanwhile, the opposition parties had plenty more to say about the current Senate. David Christopherson highlighted the fact that the Senate's purpose was explicitly anti-democratic, having been based on a desire to ensure "that the unwashed masses did not run amok", and also noted that an elected Senate would likely prove even more partisan than the current version. Christopherson and Stephane Dion agreed on the dangers of gridlock arising out of an elected Senate. Niki Ashton noted that under the Senate's age restrictions, she and nearly 20 other elected NDP MPs would be prohibited from seeking election. Marc-Andre Morin warned that a greater role for the Senate would provide a means for Stephen Harper to govern from beyond the political grave long after voters had definitely rejected his party.
Finally, Alexandrine Latendresse pointed out that the title of the Senate reform bill is explicitly aimed at "the selection of senators", being an issue where provincial consent is constitutionally required. Which will make for a particularly noteworthy observation given the significance the Cons attached to the name of their other bill up for debate...
Once again, the opposition parties presented plenty of strong critiques of the Cons' anti-refugee bill. Philip Toone traced the origins of the international refugee treaties violated by the bill back to the attempts of refugees to flee Nazi Germany. Marie-Claude Morin pointed out how gratuitous restrictions on reunification attack the family unit as a vital source of support for potential immigrants.
But rest assured that the Cons had at least one ace in the hole, as newly-elected MP Costas Menegakis proudly told the opposition that it should ignore the fact that the bill itself attacks refugees alone based on the fact that its title mentions human smugglers. If only the Cons could be counted on to actually apply the standard of debating only the title of any given bill rather than its substance, just think of the private members' bills the opposition could pass under the title of the Praise Be to Our Strong and Glorious Leader Stephen Harper Act.
Joe Comartin questioned the Cons on giving away futile corporate tax breaks which perfectly match their structural deficit, while Guy Caron challenged their insistence on PBO costing of private members' bills while refusing to allow the same for their own legislation (including their plans to trash the Canadian Wheat Board). Bruce Hyer called for a focus on passenger rail, while Olivia Chow introduced her private member's bill on transit and tested the Cons' reaction. Mathieu Ravignat took up the NDP's cause of legislation to prevent floor-crossing. And Andrew Cash kept the pressure on Tony Clement by asking that any additional business e-mails sent from his personal address to escape detection be released.