Monday, March 3, 2008

Was the Senate bullied?

In the last election the Conservatives championed themselves as being tough on crime and punishment. They originally planned to bring their law and order agenda into effect with five different pieces of legislation, most notably raising the age of consent and minimum sentences for gun crimes. Three of the bills died in the Senate when the government prorogued parliament to kick of the fall session. The five pieces of legislation were repackaged into omnibus bill C-2.

The Liberals are against some of the fine details of the law, however they don't want to be seen as weak on crime. Bill C-2 breezed through parliament when they choose to abstain from the vote. They could take comfort that the Senate could stall the legislation until an election.

The Conservatives wanted to make sure that their legislation made it through the Senate. They brought forth a confidence motion imposing a March 1st deadline to pass the legislation. The Liberals walked out on the vote and the motion passed easily. The demand would have passed without Liberal support because it also had support from the Bloc. The interpretation of the motion that an election could be called if the Senate did not comply was never challenged. At the very least a second confidence motion may have had to be tabled to confirm the Senate's non-compliance constituted a loss of confidence in the house.

Instead the Senate scrambled into action. Extra time was put in to make sure all of the due diligence required by the Senate took place on the relatively short time table. Last week the legislation was passed by a 19-16 vote with 31 abstentions. The yea side were all Conservative Senators. The nays consisted of a mixture of Progressive Conservatives, Independents and Liberals. Thirty Liberals abstained as well as one in-dependant.

The vote shows a very disturbing prescedent for the future of the Senate. The Senate took orders from the House of Commons on how to handle a piece of legislation. The abstention votes indicate the Senate was willing to let legislation pass that they felt needed improvements because it served the best interest interest of their party. The image of a Senate with the role of fine tuning legislation to best serve the country has forever been tarnished. Harper has produced a case to demonstrate the uselessness of the Senate. With very little objection, the argument to abolish or reform the Senate has become stronger.

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