Roundup: Harder’s shrouded call for time allocation

Government Leader in the Senate – err, “government representative” Senator Peter Harder is back at it again, reviving his terrible idea of a Senate business committee, and putting out a piece about how great it would be. Just imagine, he says – ensuring that there are fewer gaps between interventions on bills will mean that Canadians can follow the debate more easily! It will safeguard substantive debate! The unspoken issue here is that it won’t let someone, probably the Official Opposition in the Senate, to delay debates.

In other words, Harder not only wants a committee to time allocate all government bills in the Senate, he wants to delegate the authority to do this time allocation to a particular clique who will do the dirty work for him (because as we’ve seen time and again, he’s loathe to do the actual negotiation of debate timetables with the other caucus groups as it is). This should, of course, be concerning to everyone because the Senate doesn’t debate bills like the House of Commons does, nor should it. The way the rules are currently structured maximise the rights of individual senators to speak to any bill or motion before the Senate, and it gives them an opportunity to carefully draft responses to the matter that were just given before them, rather than, as the Commons does, simply have them draft generic speeches that will then be read into the record (unless you’ve got someone adept enough to speak extemporaneously for their allotted time, which happens not at all in the Commons, and very rarely in the Senate). There is no actual demonstrated need for this – there isn’t any kind of crisis of bills not passing the Senate, and the few bills that are being deliberately delayed are either private members’ bills (which Senate rules don’t allow for time allocation), or it’s because the newer senators haven’t learned the procedural tactics that are letting the Conservative senators take as many adjournments on debate as they can. It’s a temporary problem that Harder is misdiagnosing and is looking to wield a sledgehammer to fix, completely unnecessarily.

As I’ve argued before, any gamesmanship that the Conservatives are playing is leaving the Senate vulnerable to arguments like Harder is making to need these kinds of time allocation measures – and they should be aware that they’re making Harder’s arguments for him. But it’s an unnecessary proposal that Harder is making, and one that not only misunderstands how things work in the Senate, but it will have consequences and it will diminish, rather than enhance, the debate. But we have a rich tradition of tinkering with the rules and making things worse off as a result that Harder is playing right into.

Good reads:

  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the design phase of a new Canada Service Corps for youth volunteers. It won’t be open to anti-abortion groups.
  • Trudeau tells The Canadian Press that he thinks that NAFTA can be saved, and that his progressive approach to global policy is helping to stave off bigger problems.
  • Trudeau also had a wide-ranging interview with John Ivison.
  • Coming out of the North Korea talks in Vancouver, Canada is pledging $3.25 million to help enforce sanctions. Paul Wells sets the scene here.
  • The roaring economy could mean that the budget will show smaller deficits than the fall economic update had projected.
  • Some (unnamed) Liberal MPs have drafted up a policy resolution for the next party convention around decriminalizing drugs in the Portugal model.
  • Maclean’s has an interview with Jane Philpott on the issues of Indigenous child welfare ahead of the emergency meeting with provinces and stakeholders.
  • The government has missed their deadline on resettling 1200 Yazidi refugees because of an extended airport closure in Northern Iraq.
  • The government announced that they will finally appoint a new ombudsman to look at the corporate social responsibility of Canadian companies operating abroad.
  • Nearly half of all processed food makers in Canada haven’t cut salt as they were supposed to with the voluntary reduction guidelines.
  • A retired defence lobbyist says that the information that VADM Mark Norman was alleged to have leaked was already known in lobbyist circles.
  • Religious groups met to discuss the new declaration that needs to be signed to access summer jobs funding.
  • Here’s some legal analysis that says that Jason Kenney’s plan to challenge the federal carbon price backstop is unlikely to succeed.
  • Jagmeet Singh got engaged (officially) last night.
  • Susan Delacourt wonders if it’s not time for a new Throne Speech, considering the reset the government apparently needs because of the glacial pace they’re taking.
  • My column looks at Peter Harder attending the Cabinet retreat last week, and what signals came out of that.

Odds and ends:

Australia has launched a WTO complaint against Canadian wine rules discriminating against foreign imports.

One thought on “Roundup: Harder’s shrouded call for time allocation

  1. I usually agree with you on these matters, but I think you’re completely wrong here. If senators are competent parliamentarians (as you say they are), I don’t see what’s stopping them from holding genuine second-reading debates, where speakers actually speak in turn and respond to each other’s points. The House of Lords debates second reading in one day and defines the length of committee and report-stage proceedings on the basis of the bill’s complexity–if senators aren’t capable of doing this without sacrificing speech quality, I don’t see why we’re paying them full salaries and allowing them to retain staff.

    It seems to me that, in the context of the Senate’s current balance of power, there’s a fundamental tradeoff between the opposition’s power to delay bills in the Senate and the majority’s willingness to accept amendments. On the security and intelligence committee bill, the committee’s majority used the protracted nature of proceedings as an excuse for making recommendations rather than amendments. I think that will probably recur in the future if the Conservatives don’t smarten up.

    All that being said, informal arrangements are probably a superior alternative to a business committee, but business committees work pretty well in Scotland, Wales, and New Zealand.

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