Senate vote affront to democracy

The past week in Ottawa was one of mixed results and emotions.
First came a moment of progress and pride as my pension protection bill (C-501) had two hours of hearings before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.
Unfortunately, a few hours later, disappointment sent in when the Harper government used their majority in the unelected and unaccountable Senate to kill a bill that had been passed by a majority of MPs in the democratically-elected House of Commons.
The best four hours of the week, by a wide margin, came during the pair of hearings on C-501. During two separate two-hour sessions, the assembled committee of MPs heard from witnesses ranging from pensioners to economists and bankruptcy experts about the effects of the my bill.
I believe the most effective witnesses were those pensioners and workers who travelled from across Canada to testify about why this bill is so needed.
A witness from our riding, Joe Hanlon of the United Steelworkers Local 2693, which represents many former Buchanan workers, was particularly effective in his testimony. He pointed out C-501 will ensure that termination and severance pay also would be secured as well as pensions, which many MPs tend to forget.
All in all, it was a great week for C-501 and I look forward to the final two hours of testimony this week.
But while I was very happy to see C-501 moving forward, I have to admit to being greatly disappointed by the morally bankrupt actions of the Conservative-dominated Senate just a few hours later.
?For those that don’t already know, the Senate voted down Bill C-311 last Tuesday evening (Nov. 16) without even so much as a debate or committee hearings.
C-311, known as the Climate Change Accountability Act, was tabled by my electoral neighbour and NDP colleague Bruce Hyer and had passed by a majority of MPs in the elected House of Commons back in May.
Unfortunately, C-311 was brought to a snap vote by a Conservative senator and defeated 43-32 with all Conservative senators opposed.
Regardless of how you may feel about the issue of climate change or C-311 in particular, you surely agree the unelected, unaccountable Senate–stacked with failed Conservative and Liberal candidates, fundraisers, and personal friends of the current and past prime ministers–should never overturn a bill that is passed by a majority in the elected and accountable House of Commons.
Once upon a time, the Senate was supposed to provide a “sober second thought” and complement the work of the House of Commons, which traditionally has meant that senators examine bills in greater detail and recommend minor changes to be voted on in the House.
The defeat of C-311 in the Senate on a snap vote, and without any debate whatsoever, may have been the first such time in our country’s history that such an act has occurred.
Researchers are looking but have yet to find such an affront to democracy in our country’s history.
Over the years, Mr. Harper and his Conservatives have spent a great deal of time complaining that the “unelected Liberal Senate” was holding up their agenda. In fact, not so long ago Stephen Harper was quoted as saying he would “never appoint unelected and unaccountable senators” as prime minister.
Unfortunately, since winning power, Mr. Harper has made 35 such appointments—just enough to give him a majority in the unelected Senate. What would he have said three years ago if those darn Liberal senators actually defeated one of his bills like his senators did to C-311?
Congratulations, Mr. Harper. On the issue of the Senate and Senate reform, you now are officially worse than the Liberals. Not an easy feat, but you did it.
So as you can see, it was interesting week in Ottawa. C-501 is moving forward and hope remains that we can get something done to protect the termination, severance, and pensions of workers whose companies enter bankruptcy.
On the flipside, democracy in a broader sense suffered a huge setback at the hands of Mr. Harper’s unelected and unaccountable Conservative senators.
I hope, in the coming weeks, that we can continue to make more progress on C-501 in committee and that Mr. Harper can give his head a shake and try to find out what has happened to those values of accountability and democracy he used to hold so dear.

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