Harper’s stacked Senate defeats elected Commons bill .. it ought to be a constitutional crisis, but ..Nov 18th, 2010 | By Counterweights Editors | Category: Key Current Issues
Not quite eight weeks ago, an article posted here raised the question: “Would the emerging new raw-patronage Conservative majority in the still unreformed and unelected Senate of Canada actually defeat even a private member’s bill duly passed by a clear majority of MPs in the elected Canadian House of Commons?” (See “More ironies of Canadian history — could Harper’s stacked Senate trigger an election at last?”)
As amazing, in some ways amusing, and even constitutionally troubling as the case may be, we now know that the answer to this question is yes. (See, eg: “NDP outraged as Senate kills climate change bill”; “Edmonton MP disappointed with the Senate’s latest decision”; “Tory senators kill climate bill passed by House”; “Senate kills climate-change bill ahead of UN talks”; “Canada Senate Kills Climate Change Bill”; and “Canada senate kills climate bill ahead of UN summit.”)
Perhaps the most elegant response we’ve stumbled across has come from Aaron Wherry at Macleans.ca. In a very economical item archly entitled “Today’s constitutional crisis,” Mr. Wherry simply reported that “Conservative senators called a snap vote last night [ie on the evening of Tuesday, November 16, 2010] and defeated Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act, that was passed by the House in May.”
Aaron Wherry then quoted PM Harper in an earlier incarnation: “‘We don’t believe an unelected body should in anyway be blocking an elected body,’ he told a news conference in Calgary … ‘We are looking for the opportunity to elect senators, but if at some point it becomes clear some senators are not going to be elected, the government will name senators to ensure that the elected will of the House of Commons and the people of Canada is reflected in the Senate.’”
Perhaps PM Harper’s most outrageous and/or hilarious response to the rank hypocrisy in all this (to say nothing of the, in principle at any rate, potential constitutional crisis) is captured in two recent articles from the Winnipeg Free Press: “Harper uses outrage over unelected Tory senators to promote Senate reform” (talk about Orwellian “Doublethink”) ; and (even harder to cite with anything resembling a straight face): “Harper government tries to speed passage of Senate term-limit bill … The Harper government is asking for opposition support to speed approval of a bill that would limit senators to eight-year terms … The move appears aimed at capitalizing on opposition outrage over the defeat of a climate-change bill by Conservative senators this week.”
After it had asked: “Would the emerging new raw-patronage Conservative majority in the still unreformed and unelected Senate of Canada actually defeat even a private member’s bill duly passed by a clear majority of MPs in the elected Canadian House of Commons?”, the article posted on this site not quite eight weeks ago raised an additional question: “And what would be the practical political consequences if it did — in the next Canadian federal election say?”
We would like to be able to report that all this is the absolute last straw for PM Harper and his new Conservative Party of Canada. We would like to be able to confidently predict that in the next election, whenever it may come, Mr. Harper and his party will pay dearly for the now utterly appalling travesty of his alleged Senate reform policy, and his now utterly undeniable practical contempt for what he himself has pretended to deeply respect as “the elected will of the House of Commons and the people of Canada.”
Alas, the real world of Canadian federal politics remains more complex, morally ambiguous — and even, we feel bound to agree, more tragically twisted — than it ought to be. Despite Stephen Harper’s intermittent populist democratic rhetoric out of office, we remain light years away from the kind of much-needed democratic reform that veteran Ottawa observer Lawrence Martin alluded to just last month.
What has just happened in the unreformed Senate of Canada just strengthens Mr. Martin’s conclusions: “As has been seen and has been said, our democratic system is a sham … an antiquated system, an elected dictatorship that drives away voters and occasions serial abuse of power … The new frontier is a new democracy, a grand reform that brings our system into the 21st century, that ends one-man rule, creates an elected Senate, introduces real checks and balances. Such a grand remake might require constitutional change. … The mere thought of it brings out all kinds of nervous Nellies who dream small. But it might be time to show that kind of courage.”
(We would only add, not “might be,” but very definitely “is”! And there is also one thing we are altogether certain of now: Stephen Harper will never lead anything like the real democratic reform our 19th century relic of a Canadian political system increasingly desperately needs.)
We would again like to thank Graeme MacKay for his generous policy on the use of his editorial cartoons. CLICK HERE for more of his excellent material.