National Post (Latest Edition)
Some senators want hybrid system like House of Commons
‘Very eager’ to have options to regular sitting
OTTA WA • The chamber of sober second thought would like more than just a few hours to debate the affairs of the nation.
The Senate took up debate of Bill C4 Wednesday afternoon, with a ticking clock for senators to approve it.
The bill cements the Liberal government’s proposed changes to employment insurance and creates new benefits to replace the expiring Canada Emergency Response Benefit program, while also extending the government’s COVID spending powers until the end of the year.
To get the bill passed quickly, it was expected the Senate would sit late into Wednesday evening.
Leader of the Canadian Senators Group, Sen. Scott Tannas said the government has to stop dropping bills and then expect them to be rushed through the chamber.
“The Senate is once again being asked to forgo its duty to examine legislation in favour of passage of a bill within hours of it being received. This lack of planning and consideration from the government for the entire legislative process is completely unwarranted and unacceptable,” he said in a statement.
Tannas called for the Senate to adopt a hybrid system like the House of Commons and was set to introduce a motion that the government give the Senate at least a week with all other legislation, so it can do a proper review.
Unlike the House of Commons, the Senate has been largely dormant since the pandemic began sitting only to respond to urgent government legislation. Several times this year it has been asked to pass pandemic economic assistance in just a day with limited debate.t he chamber’s committees have been sidelined and there have been no regular sittings.
After using the format for committee work in the spring and summer, the House of Commons returned to full sittings last week with a hybrid model where some MPS are in the chamber and others appear by video conference.
Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, facilitator of the Independent Senators Group, agreed with Tannas that they should adopt a similar system to the House.
“We’re very eager to put in place the mechanisms that will allow the Senate to function as normally as possible, which implies some sort of a hybrid solution, not unlike the House of Commons.”
He said motions to change the chamber’s rules are ready and should be debated in the coming days.
“If we don’t have a mechanism for sittings to be relatively regularized, such as the hybrid model, future bills, we’ ll have a lot of trouble getting passage through the upper chamber,” he said.
Sen. Marc Gold, the government’s representative in the chamber, said staff have done much of the work, and negotiations with the various Senate groups are underway.
“Much progress has already been achieved by the Senate’s administration to make hybrid sittings operationally possible as soon as possible this fall and we are grateful for all their hard work."
Conservative Senate opposition leader, Sen. Don Plett, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has consistently failed to give both the House and Senate a proper amount of time to scrutinize legislation. He said if the prime minister hadn’t prorogued Parliament there wouldn’t be such a rush.
“He decided to go on a six- week holiday. But when he came back then he had obviously forgotten some of his legislation was expiring,” he said.
Plett said after C4 is passed he doesn’t expect there to be any government legislation that urgently needs to pass and he believes the Senate should take its time coming up with a new approach.
“We have made it clear to the government, that we will not fast-track any legislation that isn’t specifically pandemic-related.”
He said the votes have taken hours to accomplish and have featured MPS voting from their cars, their children’s bedrooms or with their dogs in the camera view. He said any hybrid sitting model has to have a clear end date and he eventually wants senators back in Ottawa.
“I want our government to show that this is a shortterm solution.”
There are now four distinct caucuses in the Senate, the Independents are the largest with 44 senators, while the Conservatives are second with 21. The Canadian Senators Group have 13 and the Progressive Senators have 11 members.