Roundup: Senator Greene’s grievous error

The strange fascination with Senator Stephen Greene’s ouster from caucus has consumed far too much time and attention, and yet things keep cropping up that demand a response. Today it was his op-ed in the National Post describing what happened, and then he dropped this little gem at the end of his piece.

No. Greene is completely and utterly wrong.

The Senate may not be the confidence Chamber – that is rightfully the House of Commons – but that doesn’t mean that the Senate doesn’t play an accountability role because the whole point of Parliament is to hold the government to account. The Senate is part of Parliament. This is elementary civics for a Westminster democracy.

The way in which the Senate exercises its accountability role is different from the Commons, but it exists nevertheless. It’s not a copy of the Commons’ processes either, nor can it be redundant because composition matters. Sober second thought is actually a form of accountability that relies on checking government legislation from a less partisan lens that is removed from the grasping for votes that afflicts most MPs, for whom populist considerations can blind them to bad policy – something the Senate can call out by virtue of the fact that they’re not seeking re-election.

That institutional independence – not seeking re-election, tenured so that they can’t be easily removed by the government of the day, given job security until age 75 so that they’re not compromising themselves in seeking post-Senate employment – it all adds up to the ability to hold the government to account in a way that the House of Commons simply cannot do. That’s why the Senate has the unlimited veto power that it does – because sometimes a government with a majority will pass blatantly unconstitutional legislation because it’s politically popular to do so, but as we all know, populism is not democracy, and the Senate safeguards that principle. That is an accountability function.

That Greene is unable to make that distinction is a problem, and it’s especially a problem because he’s been leading the charge with the modernisation push in the Upper Chamber, and his is a vision that is looking to see partisan caucuses diminishing. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, the ability to have a coherent opposition in the Senate is a key Westminster feature and a guarantor off accountability, which simply cannot be done effectively if the Chamber is a collection of 105 loose fish. That the Senate is more vigorously examining and amending legislation now is not a bad thing, but we are probably at the peak of what we can or should be expecting in terms of activism without senators engaging in overreach. But to think that this isn’t accountability is simply ignorant.

Good reads:

  • During his trip to the Vatican next week, Justin Trudeau is expected to ask the Pope for a formal apology to victims of residential schools.
  • In the wake of the government’s threat to cancel the Super Hornet purchase over Boeing’s Bombardier spat, Boeing suddenly wants to talk; Trudeau remains cryptic.
  • Oh, and Lockheed Martin is licking their chops, hoping that this is their way in for the F-35.
  • The government released the summary of their consultations on amending the old Bill C-51, and hey, most Canadians value their personal privacy. Imagine that.
  • The government is delaying on implementing firearms-marking regulations, because apparently they need more time to draft them.
  • Here’s a good look at the issue of air passenger complaints and why the government’s new bill is unlikely to solve the problem.
  • Trade Commissioners in Canada have been warned not to provide any legal advice or any encouragement for those who would seek to export medical marijuana.
  • The head of the MMIW Inquiry says that she understands the frustrations at the slow pace, but says they’re trying to create a “decolonized,” non-Western process.
  • Here’s a look at how Maxime Bernier’s plans to eliminate healthcare funding in favour of provincial tax points could kill universal healthcare in Canada.
  • The Conservative Party plans to investigate allegations that a Brad Trost supporter was offering incentives for votes.
  • Kevin O’Leary’s short-lived campaign remains over $200,000 in debt, despite the fact that he raised over $1.2 million in a single quarter.
  • Andrew Coyne is unimpressed with the federal carbon tax plan, while Mark Cameron has concerns about how the revenues will be rebated to the provinces.
  • Colby Cosh looks into the problems surrounding the attempt to form the United Conservative Party in Alberta.
  • Andrew Potter muses about a possible return to Afghanistan for Canadian Forces to finish the job they never did.
  • Susan Delacourt muses on the new book Turning Parliament Inside Out (which I plan to hate-read in the near future).

Odds and ends:

Here’s a pretty cool interactive look at the tanker traffic off the BC coast, and what expanding the Kinder Morgan pipeline would mean for it.