Do we want the Senate defeating bills passed by the House?

by Aaron Wherry

Greg Fingas considers the ramifications of the Senate (potentially) defeating the sports betting bill.

It’s been glaringly obvious to those of us paying attention that the Cons have set up plenty of means to keep dictating the terms of Canadian politics from beyond the political grave – with the most obvious being their continued stacking of the Senate which will put at least a formal roadblock in the way of any future government for many years to come.

As a result, any opposition party with an ounce of foresight would know better than to send the message that unelected Senators should consider themselves free to overrule elected Members of Parliament – particularly when a bill has been passed unanimously among the representatives chosen by Canadian voters.

Depending on the eventual fate of Senate reform, it could take two consecutive election victories by either the New Democrats or Liberals to replace the Conservative majority in the Senate. And even—especially?—if the Senate moves toward some kind of elected body, a future showdown between it and a sitting government should be up for consideration now. (The NDP seems already, if quietly, to be thinking about this.)




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Do we want the Senate defeating bills passed by the House?

  1. I don’t believe that there is a right or a wrong on this issue, only opinion. I don’t personally like the idea of unelected senators being able to defeat legislation passed in the House of Commons. I believe it sets a dangerous precedent and one can only imagine the havoc that could be created down the road if the Liberals or NDP had a house majority with the Conservatives controlling the senate.

    Mind you, I am one of the few who also does not like the idea of an elected Senate….Obviously I differ from most Conservatives in this respect and in fact I would rather follow the NDP on this one and see an abolished Senate before I would an elected one, but again that is just me. Curious to hear some other views on this subject.

    • I agree that an elected Senate might as well be an abolished Senate. I would, however, very much like to institute some rules around the appointment of Senators. If we are going for sober second-thinkers, we shouldn’t allow party hacks (of whatever party!) to become Senators.

      • Just elect the sons of bitches! Use a ranked ballot system that is used in Australia for the elections. As well, for tie-breakers, allow the PM to have joint sittings of both houses but no more than 2x per year and not on damn omnibus bills!

        • Don’t mind the first election, even. It’s the re-election I’m absolutely opposed to. Because then what they do the whole time completely changes to “what will look good” instead of “what is right”

  2. Well that was their original purpose….to keep an eye on the riff raff in the lower house, and make sure they didn’t get carried away. A colonial version of the House of Lords when there were no Lords to be found.

    I’ve always thought we should abolish the Senate. It’s not needed.

    • I am giving you a thumbs up to that comment.

      • And we should take a screenshot of this exchange. It may never happen again in this, or any, lifetime.

        • LOL

          Actually Canadians could probably agree on a lot of things if we got the damn partisanship out of it.

          • I agree with that last comment, but not abolishing the Senate :) There are times when the MPs let partisan nonsense, popular opinion, or sheer stupidity take over. I don’t know if that happened in this particular case, but a unanimous vote in this particular parliament makes me suspicious rather than assured it was the right move.
            I agree with GFMD that, now that the Senators are also engaging in partisan nonsense to the exclusion of “sober, second thought” it is near impossible to tell if a rule against Senators voting down a bill approved by MPs is a good and necessary thing or not. I will say that if such a rule is enacted, we might as well abolish the Senate–thereby throwing the baby out with the bathwater and doing absolutely nothing to hold our representatives to the standards of average adulthood.

          • Senators misbehave quite as much as MPs. The solution is to step on the misbehavior, not keep two bodies going…..one of the bodies has been irrelevant for years, and the situation hasn’t improved over time.

          • “…..one of the bodies has been irrelevant for years” and the other is the Senate.

      • Heh. SMOOCH!

  3. Let the senate try to kill bills passed by democratically elected representatives. It will just hasten its demise.

    The senate has been corrupted with patronage appointments since Confederation. It has always been a waste of space. Anything it can do, Parliamentary committees made up of elected MPs can do better.

    The best way to tackle the democratic deficit is to bring in ranked ballots (Instant Runoff Voting) to ensure MPs are democratically elected; then put them to work in committees to bring about some checks and balances to the system (and an actual institution of second sober thought.)

    • Canadian Senate – The Home of the taskless thanks.

    • like the idea of ranked ballots. would like to see them used for Senate elections as they are in Australia for a very useful and elected Australian upper chamber.
      If people are going to ask for proportional representation, I like the ranked ballot method of PR much better as it gives an elected candidate a tougher road to victory and more democratic legitimacy than first past the post. Good posting.

  4. I think a Liberal senate at least once stopped a Liberal bill (quite rightly, it affected newspapers ability to print stories and their freedom of expression). I also recall the CPC in senate acting to kill an environmental reporting bill before it could even be voted on. Before Harper and the CPCs I probably would have said it’s a tough call and the senate should use their powers only rarely and with good reason or face public wrath, now that we’ve seen how fragile our system of government can be I just don’t know.

  5. Of course the Liberal spin machine tries to make this strictly about the CPC, and conveniently ignores the fact that many Liberals in the Senate are also voting to defeat the bill.

    There is a very very simple solution to ensuring that Harper doesn’t appoint any more Senators, and that’s to have provincial Senate elections. The opposition parties have also done everything in their power to thwart any Senate reform bills tabled by the CPC.

    Oh the joys of being in opposition: constantly clamoring for Change while constantly voting against it.

    • Actually, that wouldn’t stop harper from appointing senators….

      • Harper’s appointed every Senator that’s been elected. He’s said he’ll continue to do so. You can make things up if you want, but the truth is the truth.

        • History shows Harper will break his word for slight advantage, for no advantage at all, or because it’s Tuesday.

        • That’s impressive – he’s appointed two Alberta conservatives who were “elected”. Meanwhile he’s appointed many more senators who were soundly rejected by voters, and then used those senators to defeat legislation passed by elected MPs. Never mind that he vowed never to appoint unelected senators.
          Harper’s commitment to appointing elected senators is no more meaningful than his commitment to fixed election dates.

          • I’d point out that the Senator’s appointed by Jean Chretien are also voting against the legislation, so trying to make this a partisan thing is a mug’s game. I’d also point out that Harper has appointed 2 more elected Senator’s than every single PM before him COMBINED.

            As for the alternatives, Mulcair will abolish the Senate because it would stand in his way of radically transforming country. Meanwhile Trudeau Junior hasn’t said a word about it, which to me indicates he plans on carrying on the status quo as Liberals always have an rejecting any elected Senators in favour of partisan back-room party operatives.

            Again, you can speculate as to how deep Harper’s commitment to appointing elected Senator’s is, but thus far his record on that front is impeccable.

          • Reading comprehension problems, not-rick, or are you just unable to figure out who is being referred to in the post you’re commenting on?

            any opposition party with an ounce of foresight would know better
            than to send the message that unelected Senators should consider
            themselves free to overrule elected Members of Parliament

            Yes, he has an impeccable record of appointing conservative senators, whether they’ve been elected or rejected by voters. If he had any interest in seeing voters wishes represented in the Senate he wouldn’t have appointed Conservatives(many of whom had already been rejected by Quebec voters) in every single one of 13 seats for a province in which 1 in 5 voters supported Conservatives. This after vowing not to appoint unelected senators.

  6. I think that the federal NDP if it ever comes to power should first eliminate the senate by reducing the terms to one month and not appointing replacements. Then it should use the members of the Order of Canada as a body to select senators representing provinces from outside their company. Following governments could evaluate the process and act accordingly. The people could show their approval during federal elections to the House of Commons.

    • Why do members of the Order of Canada get to appoint the new Senators ?
      Why not Plumbers ? They would be more reflective of average Canadians.

      • Why would you want plumbers appointing senators?

        Would you want senators picking your plumber?

  7. Fingas’ argument is entirely nonsense. The Commons passed a bad bill because they didn’t do their due diligence, and when the Senate actually did their jobs, they didn’t like what they heard. If they kill the bill, it is not because they are somehow undermining democracy – rather, it’s an indictment that MPs didn’t do their own jobs in the first place. I wrote more about the entire affair here:
    http://www.routineproceedings.com/2012/11/10/sober-second-thought-is-not-an-attack-on-democracy/

    • I’m with you, and while it’s disappointing that harper uses the Senate to place his partisan hack friends, I still think we need that so-called “sober second thought” that we occasionally get from the Senate. My mind is blank, but I believe there was a bill that got through the HoC a few years back and the MPs had missed some glaring issue in it that the Senate was able to stop and send back. Can someone help me on this? Can’t remember what it was, but not too long ago.

    • I’d note first that your comment is based largely on an assessment as to whether the bill is “good” or “bad”, with no consideration as to who ought to make that call.

      But I’d also note that there were other options available to the Senate – such as amending the bill to ensure it got more review in the House of Commons rather than voting it down. Which would make for a far more reasonable compromise in ensuring the sober second thought by elected officials that you seem to want – rather than the precedent for pure obstruction set by killing the bill outright.

      • What precedent? It’s the Senate’s legitimate constitutional power to vote down bills. They have done it before, and they will do so again when necessary because that’s their job. And maybe the Commons needs an object lesson like this in order to wake up and do their jobs properly the first time.
        As for amending this bill, it’s a single clause. There’s not really a lot to amend, especially when the very premise is under dispute by law enforcement and experts in organised crime. I’m not sure where one would find room in there for “compromise,” so perhaps you need to acquaint yourself with the facts of this bill rather than making generalised pronouncements.

        • Again, plenty of adjectives, not much analysis. Indeed, the core question is the legitimacy of the Senate’s exercise of power, and I’d strongly take issue with the view that the mere existence of some theoretical means to override democratic mechanisms implies that it should be used: e.g. if “faithless electors” overturned the result of a U.S. presidential election based on popular and expected electoral college votes, would you be similarly eager to declare that’s why the electoral college system exists, and the voters should merely “do their jobs properly the first time” to avoid that outcome?

          • The Senate’s legitimacy comes from the constitution. Just like the Supreme Court’s, which also can override democratic decisions when necessary and they’re not elected either. They’re given these powers for a reason – because sometimes the democratically elected members get it wrong. An election does not magically bestow the powers of infallibility. (And your “faithless electors” example is a specious comparison, for the record).

          • The Court doesn’t simply “override democratic decisions” arbitrarily; they intepret the law.

            The Senate has no more mandate to override democratic decisions than the GG has a mandate to appoint whomever he or she chooses as senators, privy-councillors, judges, cabinet ministers and PM despite having the constitutional power to do so.

    • passing a bill with little discussion is bad but probably not enough to justify not passing it.

  8. The only thing to ‘elect’ is the date of termination of so-called ‘senators’.
    For those who call the Senate a ‘regional parliament for regional population equity’, you’re asking for Affirmative Action. Just keep making babies and someday you’ll have the weight you require in Parliament.
    There is a nice museum of dinosaurs in Drumheller, AB. Let them add a wing called The Senate.

  9. Or, they could simply eliminate the Retired Political Hacks Home.

    • i for one have no problem cutting back on salaries a bit and making them tied to performance and attendance!

  10. If the bill sucks? Yes. Yes we do.

    If the FPTP system winds up electing a bunch of reactionary Klansman type who pass a bill saying that black people are no longer allowed to vote, do we really need to wait until the Supreme Court smacks it down on charter grounds?

    Let those in the senate, who represent the history of governments the Canadian people have elected, take it out before it ever becomes a law and gets challenged.

    If the Conservatives have stacked the senate it’s because the Canadian people have elected them multiple times (and because Martin was a dithering idiot). That was our choice.. it is also our penance.

  11. This is the reason why Harper isn’t interested in pushing bill C-7 which is a very modest Senate Reform bill. He fears his own Senators because once the upper chamber has an inkling of legitimacy, Harper has no moral or other form of control over his appointments. Senators, are not easily corralled like stooge MPs. They cannot be removed easily from a caucus like an MP and so the whip doesn’t frighten them.
    My hope is that the Senate keeps defeating house bills so that Harper and his clan realize that if the Senate is going to be that powerful, it might as well be elected.
    People in Canada, don’t realize that having so much power concentrated in a tiny group of people inside the PRime Minister’s office is very unhealthy for democracy (if you can call Canada a democracy). Our PM is really an elected King and he can engage in many electoral frauds to keep his crown. Having a legitimate Senate, is crucial to the governance of this nation into posterity.
    As for gridlock or the fear of such, please understand that a simple majority should be required to pass a bill in the Senate (unlock the U.S where a super-majority is required). As well, rules should be passed to allow a PM to hold joint sittings of both houses where a 60% combined vote would pass a bill. This would help ensure primacy of the house. This would be similar to the Australian method of bicameralism.
    It should be demanded that Senators are elected using a ranking system of proportional representation (preferential ballot system) that is similar to Australian Senate elections.

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