Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Creeping conventional wisdom on the Senate

There seems to be a bit of conventional wisdom creeping into discussions about legislation on Parliament Hill and the role of the Senate. As we know, as a matter of practice (and from years of Conservative braying), the Senate is unelected and it has no legitimacy to block legislation from the House of Commons. If a bill passes the Commons, it should pass the Senate. Consider this CP report yesterday on the census and an apparent quote attributed to Ralph Goodale:
Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale acknowledged it will be an uphill fight to get the bill through the Commons and then through the Senate, where the Tories are on the cusp of a clear majority.
It's not clear that Goodale said the latter part or whether it was a descriptive add on in the report meant to amplify why there might be delay. A private member's bill will be difficult to push through quickly in time to save the long form census, that's true. And the Senate does take time to do its work, also adding to the time constraints on an urgent matter. But passage has nothing to do with the Conservatives being on the cusp of a majority there (and Goodale's not the House Leader anymore, as an aside).

It was seen yesterday as well in a report on the stimulus debate, with respect to a Bloc bill on EI benefits that's to be voted upon Wednesday:
Because of the party numbers in the Senate, the Bloc bill is unlikely to become law even if it survives Wednesday’s vote...
So what are we saying here? That parties now have to marshal enough support in the Senate to get a bill into law? Since when is it becoming conventional wisdom that the Senate has legitimacy to block the will of the House of Commons? It doesn't and it's a little surprising to see that view creeping into our everyday discourse as if it's a truth.