It started with a bunch of headlines about how it was do-or-die day for the marijuana bill in the Senate. Apparently, nobody can canvas vote numbers any longer, so there was the suggestion that it was going to be close, and that that it could be defeated. The Government Leader in the Senate – err, “government representative” even went before the cameras to play up the drama of not knowing the votes. As context, a number of senators were travelling on committee business, and there was a scramble to get them back to town in order to ensure they could vote on the bill (and while CBC gave the headline that it was the “government” scrambling, that would imply that it was actually government staffers doing the calling, not the ISG’s coordinators, as it actually was). The bill eventually passed Second Reading, and it wasn’t even a close vote.
With a new captive audience, reporters who don’t normally tune into the Senate got the Conservative senators’ greatest hits of over the top, ridiculous denunciations of the bill, and the usual canards as though this was just inventing marijuana rather than controlling something that some twenty percent of youths (and the 45-to-65 crowd as well) have used in the past year. Senator Boivenu got so emotional that he called the bill a “piece of shit” that won’t “protect people.” And on it went. From a press event in New Brunswick, Trudeau said that Senators are supposed to improve bills, not defeat them, though to be clear, they do have an absolute veto for a reason, and they refrain from using it unless it’s a dire circumstance because they know that they don’t have a democratic mandate. This bill, however, doesn’t really come close to qualifying as a reason to defeat a government bill (though I’m not sure all of the senators have the memo about using their mandate sparingly).
Since 1980, the Senate has only defeated three government bills, and in each time it was at third reading, which means that they let them go through committee before deciding to defeat them. In two of those cases, it was Charter rights at play, and the budget implementation bill in 1993 included some cuts to programmes and “streamlining” or boards and tribunals that were a straw too far even for some Progressive Conservative senators that they voted against their own government. This particular bill doesn’t rise to either of those particular tests. As for what would happen if it were to be defeated, well, the government can’t introduce the same bill twice in a single session. The way around that? Prorogue and reintroduce it. It would only delay, which may in fact hurt the Conservatives in the end.
Three government bills were defeated in the Senate at 3rd reading on tied votes in the past 30 years: Abortion (1991), a budget implementation bill (1993), and the Pearson Airport privatization agreement bill (1996)
— Peter Price (@PeterPrice6) March 22, 2018