Today was supposed to be the NDP's opposition day in the House of Commons and as you may have heard, it was going to be all about the Senate -- abolishing it, to be precise, through a national referendum that would take place during the next election. I've put the entire motion at the bottom of this post. Those of us who miss the days of constitutional negotiations (ah, the good old days) could get quite excited by the idea of a referendum of this sort.
But late yesterday afternoon, the NDP suddenly heard that its opposition day had been switched to Wednesday. That's a short day in the Commons (because of caucus meetings in the morning). So that means that instead of six hours of debate, the NDP only gets two for its Senate-referendum idea. No reason given so far why the abrupt and abridged change in plans.
Still, Layton is going ahead with his news conference this morning to argue why he thinks Canadians would rally to a referendum on the Senate. Here's what he told reporters about the idea yesterday:
Well we’ve got to deal with fundamentals of democracy in the next election because you cannot trust Stephen Harper with our democratic institutions. He said he was going to reform our democratic institutions and he has simply adopted the same old practices that we saw him criticize years ago. Almost all of them he’s adopted. And, and so the Senate of course now is a barrier to the House of Commons. Our democratically elected body passing laws. It now becomes a place where the public has to pay for the fundraising machine of the Conservative Party which is now up on charges for violating the laws, we have Senators up on charges. You would think at least that they would have the decency to step down from their duties while this is being prosecuted through the courts. ...
Well a referendum on the Senate would allow Canadians to indicate very clearly that they don’t appreciate the idea of undemocratic appointees of governments, close friends of the government, government fundraisers, defeated MP’s sitting in the Senate at their expense blocking laws, adopting laws and spending a heck of a lot of time raising money for partisan purposes. We think that it’s time to have a referendum on that Senate. .
And here's why the idea is probably going nowhere. The Liberals are not on side with this proposal, Bob Rae told reporters yesterday. Rae, let's not forget, had more than his share of Senate-reform talk when he was Ontario's premier and leading negotiations on the ill-fated Charlottetown constitutional accord.
I’ve got to tell you I’m a little surprised that the NDP when we’re looking at the particular issues we’re looking at in terms of Bev Oda, in terms of the issues around production of documents and information, in terms of the reports of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, all the stuff that’s there now that’s right in front of us, to say nothing of the budget issues that are in front of us, I’m a little surprised that the NDP would take this opportunity to kind of go back to very old chestnuts. And, frankly, the problem with what they’re proposing is is that, you know, we have a formula for amending the Constitution. It makes it difficult to reform the Senate. Every primary school student knows that. So the notion that a referendum will magically solve the Senate issue is nonsense. It’s just a complete – it’s just – it just isn’t true. So I think the NDP frankly is just dancing. I think they’re dancing for time. I think they’re playing for time and I think they’re avoiding the fundamental question which is these are the times and moments when people have to decide do they have confidence in Mr. Harper or not? We’ve made it very clear that we do not. And the NDP it seems to me is just avoiding the issue.
Dancing or not, the Commons will be debating this motion tomorrow (unless there's another last-minute change of plans.) Here's the motion, as it appears in the order paper:
February 24, 2011 — Mr. Christopherson (Hamilton Centre) — That: (a) the House recognize the undemocratic nature of the current form of representation in the Parliament of Canada, specifically the unnecessary Senate and a House of Commons that does not accurately reflect the political preferences of Canadians;