Canada’s political system appears to be at a crossroads of sorts. There seems to be a power struggle going on between the House of Commons and the Senate for primacy.
But which of the two really rules the land, some are asking after a routine Senate vote on the second of three readings on the government’s cannabis bill, C- 45, became a dramatic showdown with Conservative senators manoeuvring to kill the bill outright. They failed, and the bill has now moved on to various committees for review and possible amendments before a third reading in June.
It has long been a tradition that the Senate is not supposed to kill government bills — passed in the House of Commons — that represent the will of the majority of voters, as the cannabis bill surely does. The legalization of recreational cannabis was a major campaign promise by Justin Trudeau and helped to sweep him and the Liberals to power with a majority government. Up to 68 percent of Canadians support the legalization of recreational pot — medicinal cannabis is already legal. But this past week, unelected Tory senators did their best — or worst, depending on your view — to kill the C-45 legislation.
That the Senate needs to be reformed is an understatement. And there are legitimate attempts being made to do just that. Prime Minister Trudeau has been appointing new senators as Independents, meaning they don’t have to vote according to any party line. But some are saying because they were appointed by a Liberal PM, they would never vote against a Liberal bill. Conservative senators, meanwhile, claim nobody is “whipping” them, but voted against C-45, anyway, while senators who still affiliate themselves with Liberals voted in favour.
Well, yes, at least, for many Canadians who are looking at the Senate for the first time. In truth, the vast majority of Canadians haven’t paid a lot of attention to the Senate in the past. So, senators have been able to collect paycheques with very little accountability, inflated expense accounts notwithstanding (another story).
What Canadians are discovering now is that the Senate really does have supremacy in Canada, and that in the future, Independent senators may, in fact, rule the land. Indeed, they rule now.
But is that what people are voting for when they go to the polls? Of course not. The Senate is the last thing on their minds.
It all raises a question: why vote at all if an unelected group of senators will decide which bills pass and don’t pass? In fact, why not reform the House of Commons to simply a body that makes recommendations to the Senate?
Yes, that last question is absurd, isn’t it? The only people who want the Senate to have supremacy are certain senators and perhaps those current voters who oppose C-45. Those voters should remember, though, that it works both way: a supreme Senate filled with Liberal-leaning Independent senators could kill every bill passed by future Tory governments.
So, should Canada keep working to make serious reforms in the Senate, such as stripping it of the power to pass or kill bills? Or should Canada simply excise the Senate as some sort of useless appendage from days of antiquity?
An informal poll I have been conducting on the subject indicates people are split: half want to abolish the Senate, half want to reform it. But nobody has voted for the third option, which is keeping the status quo.
Clearly, something has to change to better reflect the will of the people.