The Senate and C-377 as Rorschach test

The red chamber amends a bill


So the Senate has amended C-377, Russ Hiebert’s bill on union disclosure, and sent it back to the House for consideration. Mr. Hiebert is displeased. And, despite this being a private member’s bill, the Prime Minister’s Office has been moved to issue a statement.

We continue to support union transparency and the principles of the bill, which will be returned to the House as part of the normal process.

As per Parliamentary convention, we expect that the Senate will respect the will of the House of Commons should the Bill be returned to the Senate.

A Conservative source tells the Canadian Press that the bill will now be reintroduced as a government bill. In that case, Mr. Harper might claim the convention of supporting the legislation proposed by one’s party (although Conservative senators might then point to the platform promise of free votes on all but matters related to the budget and main estimates).

Otherwise, there will probably be some debate now as to what “convention” the PMO might wish to see applied here. The Senate’s official “fact sheet” on the legislative process explains that “If a bill introduced in the House of Commons and was amended in the Senate, a message about the amendments is sent to the Commons, asking for their agreement. If the Senate and the House of Commons do not agree on the contents of a bill, they may propose amendments until they reach agreement. Once the two Houses agree on a final version, the bill is granted Royal Assent by the Queen or one of her Canadian representatives (usually the Governor General or a deputy), making it law.” The House of Commons guide to practice and procedure explains likewise.

Of the bills amended by the Senate since 1960, several have been subject to such negotiation—note, for instance, the back-and-forth over the Federal Accountability Act in 2006.

Of course, the Prime Minister’s Office might have a clearer democratic principle to assert here if the Prime Minister had expressed outrage in 2010 when Conservative senators outright defeated and killed an NDP MP’s bill. At the time, Mr. Harper said the bill was flawed. Several Conservative senators would seem to now feel likewise about C-377.

(For added irony, it is being noted that the Senate’s amendments to C-377 mirror the amendments that were forced onto Brent Rathgeber’s bill.)

Regardless of one’s views on the original bill and the amendments now proposed, the basic question remains: Should a chamber of political appointees be able to obstruct the work of elected MPs?

I am of the opinion that it should not be. (And, further, I am of the opinion that an elected Senate is, at best, unnecessary and, at worst, an unnecessary mess.) Some might point to the situation of C-377 and say that here is the Senate doing what we need it to do: offering sober second thought for the purposes of possibly improving a possibly problematic piece of legislation. To which I would say, this much is sort of a nice idea, but it does not justify the fundamental nature of the Senate’s existence. But what if the Senate hadn’t been here to make these amendments? What if this bill had been allowed to become law without this instance of sober second thought? Well, then Mr. Hiebert and all of the MPs who supported his bill would have to be responsible for whatever ensued. And maybe problems and court challenges would have resulted, but such is life and democracy.


The Senate and C-377 as Rorschach test

  1. LOL what difference would it make if they were elected? The US frequently has gridlock because the two bodies disagree.

    If the Senate was abolished…..the bill would be law by now.

  2. They say that a near-death experience really focuses the mind. Good on the Senators for flexing their independance muscle.

  3. It is well known and obvious that with a majority, time allocation, and the whip-to-death style of the current Conservative government anything no matter how objectionable can be forced into law. Even Conservative MPs with objections are being muzzled. I like the fact that there is at least some process that can force reasonable objections to the otherwise totally unaccountable process we are living with (other than of course future elections).

    • Yes, but instead of appointed Conservative senators, we should have appointed progressive senators. That would be much more democratic.

  4. Granted it requires an over-heated imagination … but … imagine,
    if you will, that the nation actually chose to elect an NDP gummint
    … how much deference could we reasonably expect from the current
    Senate structure ? Huh ?

    • Actually, the nation did choose to elect an NDP government last time. It’s just that because of massive electoral fraud, most of us were fooled into thinking that the Conservatives won. This is a very underreported story in the corporate-controlleed MSM. Luckily, the Council of Canadians is there for us, standing up for the truth.

      • Council of Canadians stand up for us…are you for real? More like grandstanding for themselves….

  5. “I am of the opinion that it should not be” – when the House of Commons actually studies a bill, learns about its problems and tries to fix it, instead of just passing a crap piece of private members’ business that is poorly constructed and bound to be struck down in the courts, just because it’s the partisan thing to do – then I would be of the opinion that the Senate should not strike down legislation passed in the House of Commons. Until then, I’m happy the Senate actually did its job today.

  6. Some of us think it’s better for problems to be prevented as opposed to fixed after they start affecting people, Aaron. A pity you’re not one.

  7. Until such time as we abolish or reform the Senate, it should function in the manner it’s supposed to, and that’s provide sober second thought on legislation. That being said, I do think Aaron hits the nail on the head in regards to the issues surrounding the Senate. The issue is the process, not the outcome (the outcome being whether something is politically appealing to various partisan interests). It’s been interesting watching some conservatives on Twitter say they’re leaning more towards abolition in light of the decision to amend C-377. Rationally, one shouldn’t have their opinion changed on the Senate based on outcomes, if they either a) were comfortable with the process in the first place or b) felt the process needed to change. Would the same people be looking to burn the place down if an elected Senate had amended the Bill? Does Betty Unger get a pass for being a Senator in waiting?

  8. I’m forced to wonder how the Conservatives would feel about unfettered government power if they were in opposition? I seem to remember Stephen Harper was against it at the time.