Roundup: Removing a senator over dinner

It started with a dinner invitation. The Prime Minister invited all of the senators who had thus-far sponsored government legislation to dinner to thank them for their contribution and to, presumably, talk about Senate modernization, and how it was taking shape. One of those senators was a sitting Conservative, Senator Stephen Greene, who had sponsored Bill S-4, on a tax agreement between Taiwan and Israel. The Conservative Senate leader, Senator Larry Smith, decided that if Greene was going to dine with the Prime Minister, that he was out of the caucus. Greene said fine – I’m going to be an Independent Reform Senator.

Part of Smith’s impetus for this move is because the Conservatives in the Senate are trying to preserve the Westminster role of opposition in the Upper Chamber, and that’s not a small thing. And there is a push, led by those like the Government Leader – err, “representative,” Peter Harder, to try and do away with the traditional roles of government and opposition, so that you have one big body of independents, which some of us have a problem with.

The other part of the context here is that Greene has been pushing for reforms in the Senate that would do away with partisan caucuses, and this would have been the final straw for Smith.

I will add that I do think that there is a problem with trying to eliminate the roles of government and opposition in the Senate, and I do think it’s problematic that the government is getting independent senators to sponsor legislation – particularly government legislation, and most especially budget bills. Those should be shepherded by ministers, which the Government Leader should be as opposed to this farcical “government representative” nonsense. Co-opting independents in this way has been problematic not only from a procedural and accountability framework (because ministers should be able to answer on behalf of cabinet when they sponsor such bills), but we have had several instances of independent senators sponsoring these bills with the intent to move amendments to them right away, which complicates their role in sponsoring and defending those bills. Part of this is the growing pains associated with the new reality of the Senate, but it’s also a reflection of this stubborn refusal by the PM to properly appoint a Government Leader who is the point of accountability in the Senate under our system of Responsible Government. Harder is not that, and it is a problem, and what happened to Greene is a fracture point in this bigger issue.

Good reads:

  • The Commons paid tribute to Rona Ambrose after QP yesterday. Ambrose says her next adventure will be a children’s book and cross-country tour.
  • It was Auditor General Day yesterday, and there were reports on RCMP mental health, temporary foreign workers, Fresh Water Fish Marketing, and CBSA.
  • Perhaps most concerning from the AG report was the Department of Finance’s unwillingness to turn over data regarding plans to phase out fossil fuel subsidies.
  • Jane Philpott announced new measures being undertaken to combat high drug prices.
  • The Passenger Bill of Rights was tabled, but leaves compensation levels up to the Canadian Transportation Agency, which could be a problem own the road.
  • A number of senators are discussing whether to split the Infrastructure Bank provisions out of the budget implementation bill to give it more study.
  • A speech to Parliament by Chrystia Freeland after the break week will lay the groundwork for the defence policy review and peacekeeping mission.
  • Former Ontario Liberal MPP and minister Madeleine Meilleur has been nominated as the new Official Languages Commissioner, to howls from the opposition.
  • The government is expected to introduce new measures to clamp down on tax amnesty programmes to better combat evasion.
  • Here’s a look at the practice of immigration detention in Canada.
  • Maxime Bernier is alleging that as many as one in five leadership ballots could be discounted for not having proper ID with them.
  • Susan Delacourt reflects on Rona Ambrose’s career, and what can happen to intelligent women being put into cabinet to do grunt work and toe the line.
  • My column this week looks at the tendency for MPs to dump the hard topics onto the Senate, making me wonder why we’re bothering to elect them in the first place.

Odds and ends:

The Aga Khan was in town yesterday to open his Global Centre for Pluralism, in the old War Museum on Sussex Drive.

RCMP Chief Superintendent Jane MacLatchy is the new head of the Parliamentary Protective Service (which is in the midst of a labour dispute).

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