QJPolitics: Why trash a good thing? The Senate works!

It’s not long until Parliament resumes sitting in Ottawa. After a 31-day delay by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the legislative agenda is being reset with a Speech from the Throne — to set the government’s course for the next two years.

Yet the opposition in the House of Commons has been preparing for the return just as much, as they plan to hit hard and fast at the institution down the hall they feel is decrepit and has seen its day — the Senate.

At the end of August, a letter to New Democratic Party (NDP) supporters from leader Thomas Mulcair criticized the Senate and reminded potential NDP donors that they’re “leading the fight” against it. There has always been some support to remove the Senate but it really wasn’t until the Senate spending scandals involving Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau, and Mac Harb, did support truly grow.

Yet, there are many who believe the Senate still has purpose. Can it continue to play the role of a sober second thought to the House of Commons? Generally the belief is that the Senate has potential, but needs reform..

However I don’t want to address Senate accountability again, since I have before. This last week just confirmed that both chambers have their bad eggs. The latest is Dean Del Mastro, Member of Parliament for Peterborough.

Instead, if the Senate is judged on its merits as a law making institution, it’s clearly the more competent body that exists in Parliament. When browsing through the bills introduced by the Senate, it’s evident they are addressing some of the most important Canadian issues. Those issues are addressed in bill S-2, Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, S-11, Safe Food for Canadians Act, and S-5 Financial System Review Act.

Although S-4, Safer Railways Act was passed in March 2012, it hasn’t been fully implemented toward preventing catastrophes like that in Lac-Mégantic.

Despite being an unelected body — which many consider a bad thing — they are a group that creates comprehensive legislation in tune with the issues of Canadians. And generally, this legislation is superior in quality to that introduced in the House of Commons.

Some reform is required in the Senate and I suggest it starts with the power to resurrect legislation. The recent prorogation killed all Senate bills that had not been finished. While there’s a mechanism to revive bills from the House of Commons, work must now start from scratch on former bills like S-6, First Nations Elections Act, and S-10, Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act.

Furthermore, the level of scrutiny towards legislation is higher in the Senate. One former journalist I met on the train informed me that before my time, there was a banking bill that passed through the House easily only to be sent back because it was riddled with errors and problems. Unfortunately, from time to time this still happens.

If it’s reform we need, let’s make sure we don’t damage our most important institution in the process. Instead, we can make it work even better.


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