Roundup: Say no to written guidelines

In the pages of the Hill Times, recently retired Liberal Senator George Baker opined that he thinks the Senate needs written guidelines to restrict how bills can be amended or defeated. Currently, there is the constitutional provision for an unlimited veto, and a general principle followed by senators that they don’t defeat (government) bills unless it’s a Very Serious Matter because they know they’re not elected and don’t have a democratic mandate to do so. And as much as I appreciate the learned wisdom of Senator Baker (and his retirement is a tremendous loss for the institution), I’m going to solidly disagree with him on this one.

For one, our institutions in their Westminster model are predicated on their flexibility, which allows for a great deal of evolution and adaptability, and adding too many written guidelines to hem in powers – powers that were given to the institution for a reason – rankles a bit because there will always be situation for which those powers may become necessary to use. Too many guidelines, especially when it comes to amendment or veto powers for a body for whom that is their entire purpose, takes away their power and ability to do the jobs that they are there to do in the first place. As with the constant demands for a Cabinet manual to spell out the powers of the Governor General, it’s the first step in removing discretionary power, and giving political actors (especially prime ministers) ways to go around the other constitutional actors, be they the Senate or the Governor General, which is something that should worry every Canadian. As well, codifying those powers opens up the possibility of litigation, and you can bet that our friends at Democracy Watch are salivating for any chance at all to start suing the Senate based on their not living up to whatever guidelines are drawn up, thus further imperilling the exercise of parliamentary privilege and the separation of powers between Parliament and the courts. So no, I don’t think written guidelines are needed, nor would they be helpful. At least not from where I’m sitting.

Meanwhile the Senate’s Internal Economy Committee members published an open letter to Senator Peter Harder in response to his Policy Options op-ed on independent oversight for the Senate. Suffice to say, they weren’t fans. (My own response to Harder can be found here).

Good reads:

  • In case you missed the furore, Gerry Ritz called Catherine McKenna “Climate Barbie” over Twitter, later apologised, and it took Andrew Scheer 24 hours to denounce it.
  • More Liberal MPs are pushing back against the proposed tax changes.
  • Trade experts say that a year-end deadline for NAFTA renegotiations looks increasingly unlikely.
  • One of the conditions that military planners have been evaluating with a possible “interim” Super Hornet purchase is resale value for when we’re done with them.
  • As the M-103 hearings at the Heritage committee get underway, here is a look at where Sharia law is already practiced in Canada.
  • The Privacy Commissioner warns Canadians travelling to the US that border guards there have the legal authority to search cellphones and computers.
  • The government launched a last-minute appeal of the Federal Court of Appeal decision that would restore the citizenship of the children of Russian spies.
  • Here’s a look at the government plans to secure our elections from foreign and cyber-threats.
  • Here’s another look at Senator Yuen Pau Woo, who is running to lead the Independent Senators Group.
  • Senator Lynn Beyak is off all Senate committees after she was temporarily assigned to new committee duties and then swiftly pulled off again.
  • After months spent attacking Liberal “cash for access” fundraisers, Andrew Scheer won’t disclose his own private fundraisers.
  • Nathan Cullen endorsed Jagmeet Singh and said it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t have a seat, while Muclair made a point of saying how important that was.
  • The head of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in the 1990s evaluates the recent splitting of INAC into two ministries.
  • Colby Cosh marks the demise of the attempt to end Daylight Savings in Alberta, while Andrew Coyne thinks we should abolish all time zones (which is insane).
  • Chantal Hébert wonders if Andrew Scheer isn’t fighting a losing battle on the proposed tax changes.

Odds and ends:

It looks like Conservative MP Dianne Watts will resign her seat to run for the leadership of the BC Liberal Party.

Incoming GG Julie Payette met with the Queen at Balmoral Castle yesterday, and it was adorable, as one might expect.