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Hypocrisy Has a New Definition in Senate Defeat

November 17, 2010

OK, I thought I was just going to read a little news, have my coffee and get back to work. I was fine until I saw this on twitter:

@stephen_taylor Speaking of unelected… @elizabethmay has an opinion about all of thishttp://bit.ly/a1VIQK #cdnpoli

Of course I have to stand up to defend Elizabeth, so I go and read what she said just to see what Taylor’s yabbering about.  He’s seems concerned about her lack of electoral support but I hope he comes out tomorrow with a more pertinent response to todays news, because it strikes at the core of everything Conservatives hold dear.  And it is a crisis of democracy such as we have not seen since the proroguation of parliament.  And no, I’m not kidding.

Here’s what happened.

The Senate has defeated bill C-311 which was passed by the house.  That’s enough right there, it doesn’t even matter what the bill is about.  The Senate has apparently never defeated a bill passed by the house. Which is why many people, mostly Conservatives!, complain that it is an effectual and pointless body.  Personally, I think there is a place for the Senate, but if they are unelected they shouldn’t be overriding bills with broad support.  If they are elected you need to someone construct it so it is not a hyperpartisan chamber that bogs down government like in the US.  But the thing is that the biggest proponents of fixing the senate are Conservatives who constantly complain about how the previously Liberal dominated senate might override the will of the Canadian people.  Today, just months after the Conservatives finally regained control of the Senate by making enough appointments (which they said they would never do) they take the unprecedented and mindblowingly hypocritical step of using it to defeat a bill supported by parliament.  Something the Liberal senate never actually did!

Anyone? Anyone? Is anyone else angry about this?

Now, to make matters worse, the bill was a climate change bill meant to require government to plan how to meet its own emission reductions targets.  That’s right, not to set draconian targets, but to require that plans be made about how to meet the targets that have already been set.

Canadians support reducing emissions, they value the environment and they are ashamed of Canada’s worsening image on this important issue.  Now we have something else to be ashamed of, we are losing our democracy and are ruled by people with no sense of shame and no principles whatsoever.

Can someone explain this to me? Just yesterday Andrew Coyne wrote a very depressing treatise on his opinion of politics in Ottawa and his disappointment with the Conservatives.  That was written before today’s defeat in the Senate, I don’t know if that’s what he was referring to, but if it wasn’t someone may want to give him a call and keep him away from all sharp implements and sleeping pills.  How can a Triple-E Senate reforming Reformer stand for this? How can an old Progressive Conservative Tory stand for the hypocrisy, the spending and the complete abandonment of all principles in the pursuit of power and ideology?

How does this move even make any sense? Won’t it anger everybody?  I would think even polluting industries would want to appear to be doing something to help the environment.  They certainly don’t want to appear be manipulating unelected, antiquated bodies of government to achieve goals that are against the interests of Canadians and eroding our democracy? What is going on here exactly? And can we have an election about it? Like, now?

Update: So apparently the bill did in fact go beyond the cautious current Conservative policy on climate change. So the Conservatives seem to see this as a simple matter of their people in the Senate taking a chance to defeat something that they couldn’t stop from passing in the House due to their minority.  Technically, this is how the Senate can function in a minority parliament.  This is of course betrays all kinds of principles since the current PM can stack the senate as much as they like whether they have a majority or not.  Further, the senate is supposed to be a more non-partisan place that doesn’t try to overrule the House except in extraordinary circumstances, this is not one of them.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt permalink
    November 17, 2010 11:48 am

    Answer me this… what happened to the bill about having an elected senate in Canada in the first place? I thought there was one going through the house awhile back. Am I mistaken there?

  2. November 17, 2010 11:56 am

    Matt, frankly I have no idea, that sounds like a good thing for people to debate. Is that relevant in some way to what happened today? The fact is, that given the senate is not elected they should feel very wary of overriding parliament rather than debating and giving advice to parliament. And they always have until now.

  3. R. Mowat permalink
    November 17, 2010 2:58 pm

    It’s relevance is that for two years Harper refrained from appointing unelected Senators, while trying to get bipartisan agreement to reform the Senate, to introduce term limits and elections. The Senate fought like hell against him.

    So then he switched it up. Flooded all the vacant positions with his partisans (as every PM has done before) and instructed the Senate to proceed with his agenda.

    The win is twofold: it stimulates support for Senate reform among the (now minority) Liberals in the Senate, and allows Harper greater legislative control.

    A similar tactic is at work with taxpayer-funded partisan work. As you’ll recall, the cause of the first Proroguing “crisis” was that Harper wanted to cancel taxpayer-funded subsidies to political parties. It failed. So now the Conservatives are using as much of that taxpayer-funded subsidy as they can. They are the number one users of the, so-called, ten-centers for very aggressive partisan messages.

    Again, the win is twofold: it stimulates support for elimination of taxpayer-funded subsidies among the Liberals and other parties, and it allows Harper to easily (and freely) get his message out.

    If the Liberals and NDP would like to make changes to the Senate or to these taxpayer-funded subsidies, I believe the Conservatives would wholeheartedly embrace the overture.

    • November 17, 2010 3:39 pm

      Well thank you R.Mowat, you don’t say if you approve of this Conservative approach so I won’t assume that you do but your reply demonstrates the cynicsm and lack of respect that the current government has Democracy. I agree with your analysis that part of the subtext of these maneuvers is to use the system in extreme ways to create outrage about the very mechanisms being used. This is an offensive and destructive approach to governing. Our democracy is meant to be founded on discussion and debate. You convince your opponent of the strength of your opinion. The strategy you outline is more in line with terrorism where you use a part of the system that you want to undermine and turn it into a weapon in order to get your victim to destroy it of their own free will. The Senate has its place and there are various ways it could be reformed.

      The Liberals have not been onside discussing that, I agree, but abusing its flaws to defeat needed legislation that the majority of parliament supports is not the right approach. Your comments on voter-based subsidies to political parties is even more disturbing as this is an essential part of a vibrant democracy that encourages multiple points of view outside the status quo. I would be willing to even adjusting the funding based on need so that the Cons and Libs would get less of it but basing it on votes is essential for parties like the Greens party. I would actually like it raised higher.

      • R. Mowat permalink
        November 18, 2010 11:10 am

        It’d be nice if Parliament worked according to the ideal you describe. But all parties, not just the government, are engaging in this type of “legislative terrorism.”

        Multiple points of view in a democracy is nice, sure. But as you said: “You convince your opponent of the strength of your opinion.” If the Greens have a strong case, they should be able to convince their supporters to donate money to them. If they can’t even convince their supporters to give them money, I’m not sure why taxpayers should be funding them.

  4. November 18, 2010 1:21 pm

    R. Mowat:
    ” If they can’t even convince their supporters to give them money, I’m not sure why taxpayers should be funding them.”

    So parties that appeal only to poor people are not democratically valid then? I’m not saying this is the Green party, they do raise money and probably should be able to raise more. But if you set up a system where the parties only receive funding from the people who support them then you are giving people who have more money in our society a bigger democratic voice than those without money. This is going to happen regardless of what we do, why not use government to dampen the affect a bit so that politics is ONLY about money?

  5. R. Mowat permalink
    November 18, 2010 3:12 pm

    But think about what is actually happening with these subsidies – they are not just going to small parties, they go to ALL parties. In fact, the Conservative party receives the most money. Isn’t the millions the Conservative party is getting subsidized just canceling out that of the Greens or the NDP, or whoever?

    All the parties get these tax dollars, and they all hire some partisans to walk the corridors of Parliament. Now there are just more people on all sides yelling at each other. We aren’t hearing any new voices at all.

    Is that really contributing to a greater democracy?

    • November 19, 2010 11:46 pm

      Well, I’d have two responses to that. First, I don’t think it cancels out because the difference between zero and a million dollars is much more important than the difference between 3 million and four million dollars (making numbers out of thing air here). This is the difference between being able to run ads and travel the country or not. I think that’s better than nothing.

      Second, even better would be to have a regressive party funding mechanism that ratchets it back once contributions to a party hit a certain level. I don’t claim to know how this should work but it is conceivable you could have a set of cutoffs such that parties can raise money on their own and do better even though they get less subsidy but small parties wouldn’t get penalized for their smaller amount of donations below some level. Does that make sense? Probably not.

      Ok, three responses. Wouldn’t it be even better, if parties didn’t live or die based on how much money people were willing to give them out of pocket but by the strength of their ideas and support at the ballot box? So, no private or corporate donations to parties, full, equal public funding. With part of the funding above a base amount scaled based on electoral support (or on a much higher number of signatures for new parties) as well as a cutoff as we have now that makes it very hard to set up parties just to defraud the system, you need 5% national support for example.

      ya, I know…crazy idealism

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