This week is the final constituency week where MPs are back in their home ridings before returning to Ottawa on Monday, May 28th for what will be the longest uninterrupted sitting for this year as debate will likely be extended well into the late evening hours with possibly more sitting days to be added. The reason for extended debate and possibly more sitting days is to get bills through the House and into the Senate prior to the summer recess. After that all eyes will be on the Senate for more reasons than usual.
If you have been following our Canadian Senate you may know that a recent effort has been underway by the Liberal Government to appoint Senators who are considered “Independent” as they are not political members of the Government's Liberal caucus. More recently Senators have also been appointed by the Prime Minister with the benefit of being selected by a panel of appointees who in theory are selecting citizens without political considerations being part of the criteria. These recent Senate reform efforts have also resulted in a number of Senators who were formerly affiliated with party caucuses to resign and also sit as Independent members of the Senate. The end result is that there are now more independent senators and a different structure in place from a political perspective than had existed previously.
Why is this relevant? To give an example one of the most controversial bills in recent Parliamentary history is Bill C-14 “Medical Assistance in dying”. This is the bill that the Government has been using parliamentary tools such as time allocation in order to limit debate and fast track through the House of Commons. It should be noted that Supreme Court imposed an early June deadline for the passage of this Bill and at the same time many Parliamentarians, including many who support the bill, feel that the language of the bill is fundamentally flawed and should not be rushed as a result. Currently it does not appear that the Liberal Government will significantly extend debate nor accept amendments from the opposition benches. Thus in the very near future Bill C-14 will likely receive third reading in the House of Commons and end up in the Canadian Senate.
The Senate, as many will know, is often referred to as the chamber of “sober second thought”. As many believe that the Senate should be abolished, this is one of those occasions where Senate supporters can legitimately argue that the existence of the Senate is precisely for situations such as these where a bill with potentially flawed language that has been rushed through the House of Commons can be addressed prior to receiving Royal Assent and becoming law. The question to be asked by Canadians is what will happen to Bill C-14 once it hits the Senate?
By all accounts the efforts of Senate reform to move towards a more independent of Government institution will be fully tested with this bill. If the Government is able to have Bill C-14 move swiftly through the Senate unchanged many will likely suggest the reform efforts have failed. However if a more independent Senate defies the Government and significantly delays or amends Bill C-14, this could have significant effects on governance given that Members of Parliament are elected and Senators remain appointed and un-elected with the power to potentially delay or amend a bill passed by a democratically elected House. In the event this occurred the bill would then be sent back to the House of Commons to either find consent or continued disagreement.
For as much attention as the recent elbowing incident from the Prime Minister received in reality how the Senate responds to Bill C-14 is a far more important subject that Canadians should be paying attention to. This is a topic I will be providing an update on and I welcome your comments and questions at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament elect for Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.