Yesterday’s Senate Budget Debate – The “Good Parts” Version


 

You might want to get comfy before hitting the jump, because as promised/threatened, ITQ  will now subject her readers to a sampling from the anguished rhetoric that echoed through the Red Chamber yesterday afternoon. First, though, a bit of good news for those who were worried that the more contentious non-budgetary provisions would be shoved roughly under the rug without further scrutiny:

Hon. James Cowan (Leader of the Opposition), for Senator Tardif, pursuant to notice of earlier this day, moved:
That, notwithstanding any rules or usual practices, and without affecting any consideration or progress made by the Senate with respect to Bill C-10, the Budget Implementation Act, 2009, the following committees be separately authorized to examine and report on the following elements contained in that bill:

(a) The Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment, and Natural Resources: those elements dealing with the Navigable Waters Protection Act (Part 7);

(b) The Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade, and Commerce: those elements dealing with the Competition Act (Part 12);

(c) The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights: those elements dealing with equitable compensation (Part 11); and

(d) The Standing Senate Committee on National Finance: all other elements of the bill, in particular those dealing with employment insurance; and

That each committee present its final report no later than June 11, 2009.

He said: Honourable senators, I have spoken at least twice today on issues relating to the budget implementation bill. We disagree profoundly with the approach that the government has taken. We suspect that as a result of the studies that will be undertaken by the committees if this motion is approved, as I hope it will be, there will be many other issues that will arise which will be unintended by the government, some of which will be good and some of which will be bad.

My intervention tonight will simply be to urge honourable senators to support this reference. We believe that the committees are the proper place to conduct these studies. In a perfect world these studies would have been conducted before the bill was considered, but this is not a perfect world. We have done what we have done with regret and we look forward to the studies of these committees.

We look forward to the opportunities that the committees will afford to Canadians from coast to coast to coast to come and present their views on various aspects of the budget implementation bill that were not considered either in the House of Commons or here in the Senate. I look forward to the results of their deliberations.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

(Motion agreed to.)

And now — the speeches, most of which were delivered in response to Senator Lowell Murray’s motion to amend the budget to remove all non-stimulus measures from the bill. Although ultimately unsuccessful, Murray’s motion provided senators from all but one caucus* the chance to give voice to the deep frustration that they felt at being forced to stand down from their constitutional duty to exercise parliamentary due diligence.

*With the exception of Senator di Nino, who moved the motion to adopt, only one Conservative senator spoke during the debate, and that was to take issue with a statement made by a member of the opposition, and not to address the larger issue.

After the jump, the highlights – and watch for that surprise shoutout to ITQ:

Lowell Murray:  […]Honourable senators, I did not deny, as any one honourable senator would have the right to do, the unanimous consent required to receive the report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance on this bill, and I did not deny the further unanimous consent that was required to proceed with third reading. I respect the fact that Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition have made a determination of what they believe their duty to be on this matter, and it would not have served any purpose whatever to delay them in the process.

That is not, of course, to say that I agree with what they are doing and what I suppose they are about to do for reasons that I do not think I have to elaborate at any great length.

Let me say, however, that it is never a happy day, still less an edifying day, when parliamentarians succumb to political blackmail. Parliamentarians who so succumb will find, as parliamentarians before them have found, that the appetite of the blackmailer is not only voracious, it is insatiable. There is no end to it. I very much fear that we are on a slippery slope leading to parliamentary irrelevance.

If I had a message to send to Michael Ignatieff, the message would be: Stephen Harper has your number.

[…]

Hon. Tommy Banks: I am sorry we imposed this, honourable senators, but I cannot help thanking Senator Murray on behalf of all of us for aggregating the motions into one; otherwise, we would be here well into next week.

However, I will impose myself on honourable senators in order to assuage my guilt. I have said here on two occasions that I would certainly vote against this bill if it appeared before us in its present form. I do not think I am telling unforgivable tales out of school if I say I have said that in other places as well.

It is only a fool, however, who does not change his mind, and there have been intervening circumstances that have been discovered by Senator Mitchell and by the Senate committee which changed the landscape in which consideration has been given to this bill.

While I cannot bring myself to vote for it, neither will I vote against it, so I will abstain.

In saying that, I want to state that a victory will have been achieved here today and a defeat will have been sustained here today. It is not a victory by a political party or a sustainment of a defeat of a political party. It is a victory of the ministers of the Crown over Parliament. That is what is happening here today. It is not far removed from the question over which Charles I lost his head. It is not far removed from Runnymede in 1215. It is not hard to imagine John saying: “What is this all about? Do you not understand that I rule this place and that my ministers rule this place? What is this nonsense about me having to ask permission to collect money and determine how to spend it, all of this Parliament business to which you are subjecting me?”

We are back to that now. In this case, the ministers of the Crown have said to both houses of Parliament, “We are the Crown, we will decide what will happen and you will rubber stamp it in both houses. Do not ask any questions, do not study it and do not dare stick anything in our eye.”

When we all vote in favour of this bill, which I guess will happen, except for a few of us — as I have said, I will abstain — that is what will happen here today. Parliament will have lost today, which I very much regret.

[…]

Hon. Elaine McCoy: Honourable senators, I rise to put my voice on the record in addition to that of my esteemed colleague Senator Murray. My esteemed colleague from Alberta, Senator Banks, I acknowledge, has expressed many of the sentiments that I would have.

I will say, however, that the motion in amendment before the chamber gives honourable senators a way out.

I was intrigued that, just by chance — I am sure this was not planned — a bill came before us today in regard to create a national cemetery. Indeed, Senator Banks rose and pointed out that the inauguration ceremony of that national cemetery here in Ottawa was performed before the bill even got to the Senate of Canada, on the assumption that it would pass and become the law of Canada. He said that this is the kind of disrespect the House of Commons has developed for the Senate of Canada. It is also the disrespect that the Government of Canada has developed for the Senate of Canada, the government being the Prime Minister and the cabinet.

Honourable senators, the reason they have lost respect is the Senate of Canada rolls over and plays dead. I believe in the sincerity of those of us who have spoken passionately today in committee meetings and in private meetings before now about the non-stimulus travesty that has been pushed forward in Bill C-10 to the detriment of Canadians. I believe honourable senators want to do the right thing. However, we are letting that opportunity pass by if we vote in favour of Bill C-10 today. […]

Those things for which we say the Senate stands tall and proud — standing up for the regions, standing up for minorities, standing up for women and giving a voice to Canadians — are what is at risk today.

I support the motion to sever the non-stimulus portions of the bill and send the bill back to the House of Commons. Let them call for Royal Assent in that form, or send it back to the Senate immediately; but let it be on their heads, not on mine.

Honourable senators, rather than talking about the ends justifying the means, rather than not calling the bluff of the court jester, the Prime Minister of Canada, here is your opportunity to do the honourable thing on behalf of Canadians.

[…]

Hon. Norman K. Atkins: […] We are in a terrible situation. I agree with what Senator Banks, Senator McCoy and Senator Mitchell have said. With the new 18 members who are here, and the number of us who have been here for a long time, we have to think how important this place is, and consider whether we are being taken for granted. It does not really matter what happens in the other place; as long as it passes there and comes here, no one pays attention to what members of this place think. I think that situation is a dangerous proposition for members of the Senate, and this bill is only one more example.

I appreciate the difficulties that the Liberal opposition has in dealing with this situation, but I agree with Senator Murray: This is the time to be bold and take a chance.

I think the government is playing dare with us and with the Liberal opposition. The time will come when honourable senators will have to stand up and be counted. Therefore, I support Senator Murray’s proposition, and I will abstain on the main vote.

Hon. Joan Fraser: Honourable senators, I agree with Senator Murray, but what we face here is an exercise in blackmail.

My problem has been that the victims are not we, in this chamber; the hostages in this exercise in blackmail are the most vulnerable of Canadians, who are now feeling and will increasingly feel as the months wear by, the bite of the worst economic straits we have faced in 70 years.

Even before Senator Mitchell extracted the information that has so shaken us all — and I do congratulate him for that — I lay awake more nights than I would like to think worrying about the price that would be paid no matter what we did in this chamber. […]

I do not know much about Stephen Harper. I am not privileged to be — I will use that word ironically — in his inner circle, but one thing I have observed so far about Mr. Harper is that when he says he will do something, no matter how ill advised that thing may be, he usually does it. He gives new meaning to the definition of stubbornness. I, for one, am not willing to play that game of chicken at the very likely price of help for those Canadians who need it most.

There are many things in this bill that we know are objectionable, and I suspect that in a truly non-partisan way, the committees that study the subject matter will find other things that need correction, because that is what committees do. In a 500-page bill, it is not possible that there should be no flaws at all. Some of the things can be corrected. Pay equity, for example, can be corrected in a new parliament by simply revoking this iniquitous — in my view — bill.

In the meantime, I have concluded that I owe my vote to the most vulnerable. I shall abstain on Senator Murray’s motion and I shall — as Senator Mitchell put it — not vote for this budget, but vote to allow this budget to pass.

[…]

Hon. Mac Harb: Honourable senators, I like what Senator Murray has proposed. It would be a historic moment for this Parliament, for this house, to stand up for what it should be, a place where we can have true debate and true discussion. […]

My suggestion for this Parliament, for this house, for this Senate, is not to be explicitly complicit in this. It is not a precedent; a number of times this government has bullied not only the House of Commons but the Senate as well. This bullying is ultimately a shameful thing and a shameful precedent in the history of this Parliament — in the history of this Senate.

Honourable senators, we were appointed to the Senate of Canada to speak out on issues that are not popular, on issues that are controversial, on issues that the House of Commons may or may not wish to debate properly. We were put in this Parliament, in this Senate, to debate important issues that are controversial, not to duck away every time pressure comes from the other side. No, honourable senators, this is your moment as senators.

I served in the House of Commons for 16 years and a reporter once asked me: What is the difference between being on the government side and being on the opposition side? Without even thinking, I said: On the government side they do not have to think because the government does all of the thinking for them; On the opposition side they have to think.

Honourable senators, please think. Think because you are independent here as members of this chamber. They cannot remove you until the age of 75. Speak out. Do you hear me? Speak out for what is right and for what is correct, over and over again, as Senator Murray has said, as Senator McCoy has said, as my colleague from Newfoundland and Labrador said, as Senator Banks has said and as Senator Atkins has. I will vote with these honourable senators in solidarity. Lack of respect for this Parliament must be stopped. We have to stand up for what is right.

Hon. Sharon Carstairs: Honourable senators, this is not a good day for the Senate of Canada and not a particularly good day for this senator because of feeling pulled in many directions over Bill C-10. It would be easy to side with the amendment that has been introduced by the Honourable Senator Murray, which would remove the sections that need much more work and retain all of the sections that honourable senators support. Let us do the quick fix.

However, what would be the effect of that amendment? The bill would be sent back to the other place, where it would be rejected and sent back to this place. We could insist on the amendment in this place and send it back again to the other place, where it would be rejected and sent here once more. Meanwhile, time passes. […]

Honourable senators, let me conclude with this: It is very clear to me that the Prime Minister of this country, despite the appointments of 18 very fine people, has no respect for the Senate of Canada. He has none.

Senator LeBreton: That is not true.

Senator Carstairs: If he had his preferred option, I believe he would abolish it.

Senator LeBreton: That is not true, either.

Senator Carstairs: However, I do not want to give the Prime Minister any more ammunition with which to criticize this chamber — not one more piece of ammunition. I believe that if we reject a budget bill, that is exactly what he will do, and I will not give him that satisfaction. […]

Hon. Marcel Prud’homme: […]When I arrived in the Senate, the first thing I saw was the many Latin inscriptions over the doors of the Speaker’s Chamber. One of them translates as “nothing that rushes headlong and is hurried is well ordered.” This inscription was good motivation for my life. It means to stay calm and we will do what we can do.

I was touched by the speeches of Senator McCoy, Senator Atkins and Senator Murray. I see now that I have also to exercise my intelligence in knowing what this debate is all about today. I will not support Senator Murray’s amendment; I will abstain. […]

I will abstain in order to send this nice message, knowing that the bill will pass. Otherwise, reluctantly, I would have voted for the bill. I always say there is nothing I would prefer better, when my cardiologist is there, than to die trying to convince you standing on my feet, giving you my profound conviction of what Canada is all about, than to stupidly die alone, as I almost did, in my bed.

How much more passion can I give to my belief that the Senate has a role to play? The Senate should not accept being stampeded. It should not accept the insults of the Commoners from the other chamber, not today, because of speeches made by some prominent persons. I listened to the speeches of Senator Cowan, Senator Fraser and others.

Honourable senators, we have to face our responsibility, so the bill will pass, but let us see if we cannot find, some day, a bill that we could feel in our conscience is not in the best interests of Canada and send a message to the other chamber. If they want to face public opinion, all they have to do is pass the bill again and we will bow to their wishes, expressed twice.

Today’s bill may not be the best example to choose, but I do not think I will see one before I leave the Senate. If need be, I will try to have enough health and energy, with a good cardiologist, to find a seat in the other chamber and run for office so that I can repeat what I just said here.

Hon. Terry M. Mercer:[…]I want to talk about several words we have heard around the chamber today. We heard the words “blackmail,” “bully” and “complicit.” I believe we have been blackmailed by a bully. I believe that the bully who runs this government has put us in the box we are in today.

Senator Prud’homme is absolutely right. There will come a day when we will draw that line and we will send a bill back to the House of Commons. Hopefully that day will not come because there will soon be an election, the government will change and good people will finally be running this place.

Senator Comeau: Dream on.

Senator Mercer: However, there is another group of people that I think are complicit in all of this. Someone could say that 413 parliamentarians — 308 there and 105 here — are complicit in what is going on here.

I am sorry that our friend from Maclean’s magazine has left the press gallery. She was here earlier this afternoon. The people who are complicit in this are the media in this country.

Some very eminent former members of the media now sit in this chamber — Senators Munson, Duffy, Corbin, Fraser and Wallin. I have not looked at everyone’s resumé to know if he or she has worked previously as a journalist.

The media are complicit because they have not taken the time to examine the bill in detail. They have not spent time at the Senate Finance Committee and watched the work done by Senator Mitchell. The fact that an appointed Liberal senator from Alberta has found out Mr. Harper’s game is quite wonderful.

The media in this country are complicit because they are not doing their job. They are not being the investigative journalists that we used to have in this country. They are not digging into this bill. They are not finding these things out.

Senator Munson: We are in the Senate.

Senator Mercer: That may be true.

Senator Ringuette: The good ones are all here.

Senator Mercer: I would not say that. I would not say all the ones in here are good.

Along with the problems that Mr. Harper and his cronies have brought to this place, there is another complicit group, and the media need to be called to task. They need to know that they are doing a disservice to the Canadian public by taking as gospel the press releases sent from Langevin Block. It is their job and profession to dig deeper.

The School of Journalism at Carleton University and the University of King’s College in Halifax produce good people, but somewhere between there and here they have lost that drive to do the work that they were trained to do as investigative journalists. It is important that someone in this place draw that fact to their attention.

Honourable senators, I will be voting against the amendments of Senator Murray and Senator McCoy, unfortunately, but I will be supporting this bill. I cannot say that I am supporting the budget. I am supporting the bill because I do want to ensure that the unemployed people of my province have the opportunity to get the extra five weeks of EI. That is the only reason I am voting in favour of Bill C-10.

[…]

Hon. James S. Cowan (Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, I want to say a few words with respect to Senator Murray’s amendment. All of us on this side of the house applaud the intent behind his amendment. That is exactly what we have been pressing for from the very beginning. The government could have saved itself all this grief had they simply proposed a budget with a stimulus package and asked for consent from Parliament. Instead, they chose to load, in what has been described as a dumpster approach to legislative practice, a whole lot of things.

We have talked at length today about EI. Undoubtedly, as our Senate committees proceed with their studies, other things will emerge. Some of them will be good; some will be bad. The point is that no one, to this point, has had a fair opportunity to examine them the way they should have done in the other place and the way that we should do here today. No one disagrees with that point of view.

Senator Murray said that, based on his experience, he has no confidence that this government will listen to the results of that study. That may well be, but I can assure Senator Murray that the next government, the Ignatieff Liberal government, will listen to what has to be said.

My colleague Senator Fraser spoke about blackmail.

Senator Segal: Are you saying that Mr. Ignatieff wants to pass this bill quickly?

Senator Cowan: You will have an opportunity to speak afterwards, Senator Segal.

Senator Fraser said an important thing. It is not the people in this chamber or the people in the other chamber that are being blackmailed. It is the people of Canada. It is not just the ordinary people in Canada but the most vulnerable people in Canada. They are the people who are being blackmailed and bullied by this government.

The choice that we have — and I think my colleague Senator Carstairs outlined the legislative process that would be followed — includes doing exactly what Senator Murray has said. We could sever certain sections of the bill and send it back to the other side. The other side would disagree with our recommendations and they would then send it back here, and so the Ping-Pong match would go on. In the meantime, as a result to some extent of the inaction and incompetence of this government, thousands and thousands of Canadians would be losing their jobs. The eligibility that those Canadians would have to receive these EI benefits would be lost. For the reasons that Senator Fraser has put before us, we cannot allow that to happen. Despite the despicable legislative tactics of this government, we have no choice.

For my part, at least, while I applaud the intent of Senator Murray and Senator McCoy, I will abstain from the vote on their motion and will encourage my colleagues to do the same.

From Senate Journals (19):

The question being put on the motion in amendment, it was negatived on the following vote:

YEAS

The Honourable Senators

Atkins, Baker, Harb, McCoy, Murray—5

NAYS

The Honourable Senators

Andreychuk, Brazeau, Brown, Comeau, Di Nino, Dickson, Duffy, Eaton, Eyton, Fortin- Duplessis, Gerstein, Greene, Housakos, Johnson, Keon, Kinsella, Lang, LeBreton, MacDonald, Manning, Martin, Meighen, Mockler, Nancy Ruth, Neufeld, Nolin, Oliver, Raine, Segal, St. Germain , Stratton, Tkachuk, Wallace—33

ABSTENTIONS

The Honourable Senators

Adams, Carstairs, Cook, Corbin, Cowan, De Bané, Dyck, Eggleton, Fraser, Hubley, Jaffer, Lovelace Nicholas, Mercer, Mitchell, Munson, Peterson, Prud’homme, Ringuette, Stollery, Tardif, Zimmer—21

The question then being put on the motion of the Honourable Senator Di Nino, seconded by the Honourable Senator Stratton, for the third reading of Bill C-10, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on January 27, 2009 and related fiscal measures, it was adopted on the following vote:

YEAS

The Honourable Senators

Andreychuk, Brazeau, Brown, Carstairs, Comeau, Corbin, Cowan, De Bané, Di Nino, Dickson, Duffy, Dyck, Eaton, Eggleton, Eyton, Fortin-Duplessis, Fraser, Gerstein, Greene, Housakos, Hubley, Jaffer, Johnson, Keon, Kinsella, Lang, LeBreton, Lovelace Nicholas, MacDonald, Manning, Martin, Meighen, Mercer, Mitchell, Mockler, Munson, Nancy Ruth, Neufeld, Nolin, Oliver, Peterson, Raine, Ringuette, Segal, St. Germain , Stratton, Tardif, Tkachuk, Wallace, Zimmer—50

NAYS

The Honourable Senators

Baker, Cook, Harb, Stollery—4

ABSTENTIONS

The Honourable Senators

Adams, Atkins, McCoy, Murray, Prud’homme—5

Accordingly, Bill C-10 was then read the third time and passed.


 

Comments are closed.