How to spend a year not doing anything on Senate reform, while demanding change

Why don't the Conservatives just pass their bill?

Punctuating a back-and-forth with the NDP over the Senate yesterday, Peter Van Loan offered a stirring call to move forward with the government’s Senate reform legislation.

Mr. Speaker, the question was put to Canadians in 2006 when we proposed an elected Senate, in 2008 when we proposed an elected Senate and in 2011 when we proposed an elected Senate.

None of those times did the NDP support it, but Canadians did. They elected a government committed to delivering Senate reform. We brought forward legislation on Senate reform and the NDP has blocked it every step of the way.

What is the real agenda of the NDP? Appointing its own senators, that is the agenda of the NDP.

The first part was a response to Charlie Angus’ suggestion that a referendum be held on the future of the Senate. The third part was apparently a reference to the coalition agreement signed by the Liberals and NDP in 2008 that would’ve allowed for Senate appointments (as well as all other appointments).

The trouble here is the second part. The Conservatives are fond of the idea that the New Democrats have held up the legislation—Bill C-7—by standing to speak to the bill each time it is brought before the House. Technically, C-7 can’t be brought to a vote until debate collapses. Thing is, if the Conservatives wanted to have a vote on it, they could do so almost immediately. They’d just have to use their majority in the House to pass a motion of time allocation. Just like they have done 28 times already in this Parliament.

So why not use time allocation to compel a vote? I asked Tim Uppal’s office that question last month and the only words I received in response were, “We are committed to moving reform forward.”

The Globe’s John Ibbitson suggested last August that to use time allocation to move along legislation related to reforming Parliament would be “unconscionable.” Maybe the Conservatives feel likewise. But then, if they admitted as much publicly, it might raise questions about those 28 times they’ve already used time allocation.

As Ibbitson wrote in August, the Conservatives could just keep bringing the bill before the House for as many hours as it took for each New Democrat to have his or her turn to speak. But, according to Ibbitson, the Prime Minister doesn’t want to do that because some Conservative senators don’t agree with the bill’s term limits.

Meanwhile, of course, the Conservatives have asked the Supreme Court to provide a reference on Senate reform. And it’s now been exactly one year since C-7 was brought to the House for debate.