Saturday, November 10, 2012

On executive decisions

My post yesterday on the Senate's choice to remind Canadians of its existence by blocking a bill passed by the House of Commons has sparked plenty of discussion. But I'll highlight one of the more stunning arguments being made in favour of the Senate's actions.

Here's Dale Smith in his own comments section:
The Senate is almost never going to turn down a budget bill because they’re confidence measures, and the Senate is not a confidence chamber.
And another commenter, James Bowden, in more stark terms:
There is no legitimate constitutional argument why the Senate should not be able to kill this private members’ bill. It is certainly not a matter of confidence and did not require the royal recommendation. The Senate poses no threat to the primacy of the Commons by voting against a frivolous private members’ bill.
So the pro-Senate line is that a private members' bill which happens to win the support of a majority of elected members can be killed without any reason to think twice - just so long it's the result of mere elected MPs debating and voting on a bill on their own, rather than the approval of the executive branch. (And the fact that the bill under discussion didn't receive a lot of debate has everything to do with the reality that very little time is allocated to private members' business compared to government business.)

By that account, the limits of Senatorial authority would be seen to begin and end with a declaration that a bill is a priority for the sitting government (as a budget or confidence measure). Which looks to me to entrench all the more power in the hands of the PMO - even as the Harper Cons have given us nothing but reason to worry about the control our current executive exercises over both MPs as a matter of party discipline, and parliamentary procedures as a matter of preventing inconvenient votes.

Suffice it to say I consider it rather questionable that a constitutional relic intended to limit democratic decision-making from day one should be accepted as a reason to treat the legislative process in the House of Commons as being no more significant in deciding on the fate of a law which meets with the disapproval of a chamber of appointed hacks than a straw poll of the Parliamentary kitchen staff. And if our goal is to make sure that MPs do their jobs better, we'll accomplish far more by asking them to justify their their actions directly than by declaring that we're just fine seeing their work rendered meaningless by unelected Senators.

1 comment:

  1. Of course there's no constitutional argument that the Senate cannot vote down a bill passed by the Commons. That's the bloody problem!

    There is no constitutional argument, but there is a strong moral and ethical argument that an undemocratic and antidemocratic cesspool of superannuated operatives suckling at the public teat as a reward for services rendered shouldn't vote down a bill passed by the Commons. The fact that this was a "frivolous" private member's bill not withstanding, it was still passed UNANIMOUSLY by the Commons.

    One is moved to wonder about the stunted ethical sensibilities of anyone who thinks this travesty is okay simply for the lack of a "constitutional" argument.

    Heck, there's no valid constitutional argument that the Governor General not act unilaterally to jail opposition MPs. After all, the Constitution is very clear that all executive authority is vested in the Crown. That the Crown only acts with the advice of her MInisters and the consent of her Parliament is a matter of convention, not constitution.