4 min

Reflections on an absolute veto

With the Senate using its powers to stall private member's bills the government doesn’t like (first C-311, now the bill that would help Nortel pensioners, and soon the bill on bilingualism in the Supreme Court), I’m becoming a bit torn on this debate. On the one hand, yes, the Senate has every right to veto bills – it’s why it’s the Chamber of Sober Second Thought. And with some bills, there may be just cause enough  (the one on the Supreme Court has some pretty compelling arguments against it). In other cases, it’s unprecedented for opposition parties to use their numbers in a minority government to force their own agenda rather than simply express non-confidence in the government and try to replace it.

But there are a couple of key considerations here that we really need be careful not to gloss over. One of them is study – that the Senate can veto a bill after careful consideration and study. With C-311, this clearly didn’t happen. With the Supreme Court bill, it appears the Conservatives are willing to talk it to death, but C-311 was the more egregious example. The other consideration is the independence of senators. Currently, there is a considerable portion of the Conservative caucus in the Senate that actually believes they can be whipped, and that they are beholden to Harper. They aren’t, but they don’t have enough experience yet to know that, or to learn how to push back. That will come in time – especially after a leadership contest. But it is nevertheless a mitigating factor as people line up to condemn the upper chamber wholesale for what largely boils down to the confusion between populism and a system of Responsible Government.

On a not wholly unrelated note, this brilliant column by Andrew Potter challenges the oft-heard phrase that our democracy is broken, and reminds us that our system of democracy is working just fine, and reminds us of what our system of Responsible Government does – and when he brings in the fact that most of our MPs don’t even know that holding the government to account is part of their mandate, it gives one the foreboding sense that we really need to get people on board with political education in this country.

Just before question period, Libby Davies gave a member’s statement about cellphone towers in residential areas.

Michael Ignatieff got QP off to a start by asking about the environment commissioner’s report, to which Harper responded that he’s always open to suggestions about the environment – but not just emissions targets picked out of thin air. Larry Bagnell followed up by asking about development plans for a protected area in the North;  Shelly Glover assured him that the two were not mutually exclusive. Gilles Duceppe and Pierre Paquette asked about climate change and negotiations going on in Cancun, which Jack Layton also followed up on, before returning to the environment commissioner’s report.

For round two, Siobhan Coady asked about family care versus Conservative “waste,” and Marcel Proulx kept up the attack on ministerial spending. Raynald Blais asked about high tides and extreme weather incidents related to climate change, and Maria Mourani about the G20 police actions and the Ontario ombudsman’s report. Vic Toews responded by telling her that if anyone had any complaints about individual officers they should take it up with the appropriate authorities – which is a bit difficult when the police obscured their identities before violating those civil liberties. Jean-Claude D’Amours asked about the auditor general’s findings on helicopter procurement, while Dominic LeBlanc returned to the topic of F-35 fighter procurement.

From there, questions moved to tax cuts for banks, funds for ports and gateways in Quebec, copyright, more questions on the G20 police action, something about limousines at Pearson airport, cellphone towers and the HST.

Sartorially speaking, snaps go out to Lisa Raitt for her well-cut black leather jacket. The style citation goes to Carolyn Bennett, whose deep-blue jacket and skirt were too bulky. I was also unsure about the leopard print collar and belt on Candice Hoeppner’s black dress. The Megan Leslie outfit watch reports a pumpkin sweater over a grey top and trousers, which worked well for her.

Following QP were the votes, where the Liberal bill on restoring the census passed second reading, and Bill C-389 on trans rights passed report stage. Not surprisingly, Postmedia’s reporter missed the point of Bill C-389, and repeats Charles McVety’s myths about the bill without challenging them.

And while Parliament is still going through the C-389 process, the Canadian Forces now has a manual for how to treat trans service personnel and rules for their comportment (such as dressing for their target gender).

On the G20 file, Toronto police Chief Bill Blair says the secretive Public Works Protection Act is being misunderstood. Vic Toews, the public safety minister, claims he didn’t even know about it. And the RCMP say it wasn't given many details on the PWPA, and that they didn’t have any use for it – that was mostly Toronto police.

Aaron Wherry lists what the government says its priorities are.

Albertans wait longer for healthcare than any other province? Surely their free-market values would have fixed all their problems by now!

And finally, while the prime minister once again wows his party and the media with his rock skillz at his party’s Xmas party, Susan Delacourt reminds us that Paul Martin tried to be a rock star too, and look how well that ended…
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