Expect a weekend full of concern trolling about the Senate not having passed C-14 before Monday’s Supreme Court-imposed deadline, and people shaking their head or clutching their pearls that the Senate chamber is not sitting on Monday. I fully expect a pundit or three to wonder aloud why the Senate isn’t sitting Monday, and demands that senators do their jobs like they’re paid to do. And if you hear anyone say something boneheaded like that, smack them upside the head and remind them that the bill is at committee, which will be sitting Monday and Tuesday, and there’s no point in the full Senate sitting on Monday to pass the bill when it’s at committee, and no, they’re not going to rush that process any more than they already are. Meanwhile, if there’s anyone to blame for it not passing on time, it’s the House of Commons, and the Liberals playing stupid games with the debate schedule and not bringing forward the bill for debate so that votes could happen more expeditiously (and yes, their attempts to control that debate calendar with tactics like Motion 6 failed spectacularly before our eyes, but that doesn’t explain why they didn’t bring the bill forward on subsequent days either). If people think that the Senate should just rubber-stamp a bill like this one without any actual debate or scrutiny, well, they need to take a remedial civics course because that’s not why the Senate exists. And yes, this is exactly the kind of situation for why we have the Senate, where a bill that is constitutionally dubious is going to get a more thorough hearing than it did in the Commons, and we are likely to see some more substantive debate on its merits and particularities so that even if it does pass in its dubious state, there is a parliamentary record that the courts can then use in their deliberations when the matter inevitably comes before them.
Add to that, this is a case where we are likely to see amendments that will head back to the House of Commons, which put the whole timetable into question. Part of what is going to be at issue is where the votes will lie in the Senate for which amendments – the ones from the more socially conservative who want greater restrictions, or those who want to see at minimum the “reasonably foreseeable death” criteria struck out in favour of the language in the Carter decision. I suspect the latter will have the more votes and we will see those amendments head to the Commons, where we will see if the government decides to dig in its heels or not given that it’s a criticism that has fairly broad support in the Commons about the bill. It also gives the government a bit more political cover in that the Senate is “forcing” them to adopt those measures – particularly that the Senate is much more independent and the Liberals have given up any levers therein to try and bully through bills – so they can insulate themselves from criticism that they have gone too far. I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s why the ministers keep insisting that they are open to amendments when they rejected them all in the Commons – because putting the blame on the Senate is the next best thing to putting the blame on the courts. If they do decide to dig in their heels and we reach an impasse between the chambers, there is always the possibility of a conference between them, which Kady O’Malley has dug up the procedural details for here:
For those wondering, here's how a Senate/House showdown works, via O'B/B (1/2) pic.twitter.com/IRShruFXlq
— kady o'malley (@kady) June 3, 2016
White hot parliamentary chamber on chamber action (2/2): pic.twitter.com/27Kbrk9PXW
— kady o'malley (@kady) June 3, 2016
If you missed the second reading debates in the Senate, they’re available here, and they are absolutely substantive and far beyond anything we heard in the House of Commons, and dealt with the real substance of the bill rather than the usual “This is deeply personal/what about palliative care?/conscience rights, conscience rights, conscience rights” narrative that we heard ad nauseum.