‘Harper proving NDP’s case’

Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian - Photo contributed
Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian
— image credit: Photo contributed

The federal New Democratic Party thinks Canada should scrap the Senate.

And Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his party continue to provide more reasons why that should happen soon, says Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian.

In recent weeks the residency qualifications of Conservative senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin and Liberal Mac Harb have been called into question.

On Thursday, Harper removed Brazeau from the Conservative caucus after he was put in jail while police investigated reports of domestic violence.

“The poor character of the people he has chosen has done more to tarnish the reputation of the Senate than anything before this,” said Julian from Ottawa on Friday.

“What he has done very effectively is he is making the case for abolishing this very archaic institution and for stopping what the Conservatives have been doing all along which is making this a partisan chamber. It’s just absurd.”

On Jan. 31, with many critics challenging its constitutionality, Harper sent the Conservative government’s Senate reform bill to the Supreme Court of Canada for its opinion.

“What he’s trying to do is override the provinces and basically say we’re going to decide how to proceed with this and push it through without the [proper] consultation,” said Julian.

He said Duffy, a former national television commentator, is pretending to be a Prince Edward Island resident while living in Ottawa, and Wallin, a former national news television anchor, is trying to avoid being a Saskatchewan resident even though the rules call for her to live there.

“They’re more than an embarrassment. It just shows how not to have a 19th-century appointed body play a role in a democratic system,” said Julian.

The New Democrats advocate abolishing the Senate—whose members are appointed by the Governor General on the Prime Minister’s recommendations—because it’s unrepresentative of Canada.

“You have to have elected people accountable to the public and we don’t have that at all,” said Julian.

By invoking closure on debate on important bills in the House of Commons and stacking the Senate with Conservative patronage appointments, Harper is not showing respect for democratic principles, said Julian. The result is shoddy legislation being rammed through that gets exposed either when it’s challenged in court or comes under scrutiny of third-party organizations.

“Often it seems to be written on the back of a napkin,” said Julian.

While the original intent of the Senate was to act as a check and balance for the federal government it hasn’t worked that way, said Julian. Not invoking closure, giving the parliamentary budget officer and the auditor-general more teeth and adhering to or strengthening parliamentary rules would do the job better than the Senate.

“I would suggest the checks and balances start with the House of Commons,” said Julian.

Burnaby-Douglas MP Kennedy Stewart, a former Simon Fraser University political scientist, said the original Senate, formed before Canada became a nation, was effective.

“At one point it would have done more because a lot of the industrialists and property owners would have been members of the upper houses and have much more control,” said Stewart.

He pointed out on occasion the Senate comes up with notable bills, but not enough to justify the power it has through patronage appointments to block House of Commons legislation.

“”That’s what’s most distressing. That’s what we’re increasingly hearing from Canadians, who are these guys and why are they blocking passing of legislation passed in the House of Commons?” said Stewart.

He noted that in the case of Brazeau, if he’s convicted, depending on the charge and length of sentence, it may not be legally possible to kick the 38-year-old out of his Senate seat.

“You’re stuck with these folks,” said Stewart.

The Burnaby-Dougas MP says the checks and balances system would be strengthened by having more proportional representation in the House of Commons.

“That would weaken the powers of the prime minister which are way too strong now,” said Stewart. “There’s a huge concentration power in the prime minister’s hands. The senate is an inadequate check.”

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