|Print Version||Senate & Other Democratic Institutions|
The latest interesting twist in the Senate’s proceedings with respect to suspensions is the Conservative majority’s strategic shift to ‘Government Business’. Originally, Senator Carignan had placed three motions on the order paper in his own name. Yesterday, a new motion was introduced, claiming that the Conservatives now acted on behalf of the government. Any pretense of independence was dropped.
The move to government business has an immediate benefit from the Conservatives’ point of view, because our rules allow them to put closure on government, but not other, business. The Speaker had ruled their earlier attempt to limit debate out of order, essentially on the grounds that the government should not be allowed to control the Senate’s business unless that business pertained to the government’s agenda. Now, with the new motion declared to be government business, closure is both inevitable and imminent.
However, this strategic shift raises other implications. The whole purpose behind special rules for government business is ensuring that the Senate has the power to delay but not to veto an elected government’s agenda. The rules specifically state that government business takes priority over all else, and that the government’s representative in the Senate can take steps to facilitate its timely progress through the Upper House. All that is as it should be … our job as senators is to provide sober second thoughts, not to prevail as a rival governmental authority.
However, one must ask, is the business of disciplining three senators a legitimate item for government business? Or is it more properly the business of the Senate itself, as even Senator Carignan originally conceded?
Technically speaking, in our parliamentary system, the term ‘government’ is reserved for the Prime Minister, his cabinet and the civil service … collectively, they form the executive branch. The legislative branch (i.e., the House of Commons and the Senate) are designed to ensure that the executive branch does not abuse its power. This arrangement is how the United Kingdom, and now Canada, has created a series of checks and balances to preserve the executive branch’s accountability to the people.
By declaring themselves agents of the government on an internal Senate matter, however, the Conservative majority has in essence asserted the executive branch’s authority to control the Senate. Gone is any notion of independent review, and any kind of check or balance on the power of the executive branch to do whatever it pleases. If anything we’ve heard over the past two weeks about how the executive branch is enforcing blind obedience is in the least bit close to the truth, we should all be very worried indeed.
This whole debate regarding unseemly conduct on the part of three senators has escalated way beyond what sanctions should be imposed, and what due process should be followed in order to determine appropriate sanctions. It is now attacking the very heart of our democratic institutions.
Posted On Nov 05 09:52AM
Harper can't reform the Senate, so he devises ways to try and control it. It's no surprise.
What is a surprise is that Senators -- who do not require his favour to do their job, even Conservative Senators -- would continue to do his bidding, even after his mask has slipped and he is clearly prepared to throw his own to the wolves when his power is at stake (ala Mr. Wright).
I'm so happy to see many brave Senators standing up for what's right, including some Conservative, Liberal and Independent Senators. History will be more level headed when judging these hearings than the masses and mainstream media are at present.
Good for you, Senator, for keeping your eye on the big picture and doing the messy work of democracy -- even if it slows things down, even if it means letting lesser Senators keep their posts until they have a chance for a fair hearing and process -- even if the end result will be the same in the long run.
If we don't have fair rules in our governance we are left with little to value. Then it will just be about who you know or who you've done favours for. This isn't an easy thing to message when so many just want the Senate itself reprimanded.
You've stuck your neck out here, and history will reward you for it.
Posted On Nov 02 06:24AM
Its good to see you back, we need all the input we can get from the few independent individuals there are in the Senate and the House!
There are those of us who start to wonder if much of the current 'scandal' over what is in the grand scheme of things a miniscule amount of money (would not even pay the PMO advertising buget for more than a few days?) is not a deliberate move by some to bring that institution into disrepute in order to make abolition more palatable in the public eye. Something which would as you say remove one of those checks (which admittedly is not working too well right now) upon executive power!