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Canada’s Senate Shows New Muscle

[Senators voted 41 to 30 late Wednesday to amend the Trudeau government’s medical assistance in dying legislation by widening access to the service.

The amendment, presented by Liberal Senator Serge Joyal at third reading Wednesday, changes bill C-14’s text on eligibility criteria – a key contentious part of the bill – by removing the term “reasonably foreseeable” natural death, and inserts direct wording from the Supreme Court of Canada’s Carter v. Canada ruling.

Senators voting in favour had expressed concern that the language in the government’s bill limited access to the service to terminally ill patients and restricted it too much by barring those suffering from the same conditions but not about to die.

It came days after Senators studying the bill were told by constitutional expert Peter Hogg that C-14 was unconstitutional because of its restrictive wording surrounding access.] excerpt from the article by Kyle Duggan entitled “Senators Amend Assisted Dying Bill.”

This article appears in a fairly new online magazine ipolitics in which writers are published with a range of views of Canadian politics and current events.  The subject of the government’s effort to write an ‘assisted dying’ bill and the intention of the Senate to amend it has produced comment from readers.

Perhaps the Senate is showing new muscle. The legislation must be compatible with direction from the Supreme Court so amendments are necessary. We are watching a bicameral Parliament at work.

Some people may continue to believe that the Senate is useless or redundant. Jim Roth’s remark (below) that “Senators seem to be confusing “sober second-thought” with impulsive meddling” is analogous to the distinction between ‘addressed ad mail’ and ‘ad mail.’  Jim’s view is a common perception these days.

Jim Roth: (Jim amended his initial post) The amendment(s) proposed by the Senate might be good ones, but the senators should not obstruct parliament except in emergency circumstances

…The elected House of Commons is the democratic body, the Senate is simply an anachronism we find inconvenient to dispose of.

They can do good work by researching, reviewing and making suggestions… but to claim parity with the House of Commons is wrong. What if the Governor General were to show similar hubris and exercise the power to arbitrarily discharge governments?

If this type of behavior continues, Canadians will respond badly to the arrogance of the Senate.

This is precisely what the Senate was designed to do. It was a deliberate decision to structure the Senate as an appointed, independent body as a weight against the elected House to prevent ‘democracy from running amok.’

Built into our representative democracy is suspicion that it cannot be trusted. A scoundrel or a radical idea might ride a wave of populism fuelled by emotion rather than reason. These days, we are highly influenced by American political culture to believe that a vote in an election or a referendum, in which all of our trust should be placed, is wise.

Thankfully, our ancestors were more sceptical.

Dominion Lad replied to Jim Roth:  The Senate is a separate constitutional body, which was the intent of the Fathers of Confederation when they established the structure of the Senate while meeting in Charlottetown in 1864. Most of the conference’s time was taken up with matters pertaining to the makeup and structure of the Senate. Later PMs thwarted their plans, making the Senate nothing more than their personal rubber stamp to pass legislation without issue. This is the Senate that today’s Canadians know – not the intended independent, regional representative of Canadians in parliament.

The Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) influenced our ancestors and those who devised our Parliamentary system of government understood that democracy could be easily manipulated.  The Senate, while representing provincial opinion was positioned in Parliament to provide a check on the legislation that the House produced.  The Senate was given the power to review legislation and pass them to the Governor General for Royal Assent or the Upper Chamber could return the legislation, with or without amendments.

This was a brilliant design influenced by tragic memories.  Today, influenced so much by American culture, language, and modern notions of freedom and democracy, we find it difficult to understand the bicameral arrangement of Parliament, with a House of Commons populated by elected members, and an upper house, the Senate, populated by appointees of the Governor General on advice of the Prime Minister.  It seems ‘off key’ to us; the notion that an appointed, independent body should ride herd on an elected lower House but, as we observe the American electoral system in this year’s presidential elections, we have an opportunity to grasp the difference and understand the superiority of our system of government.  Some Americans, those who understand us, look north with appreciation, even envy.

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Professional. Retired. Canadian.

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