A former Conservative senator says last week’s wrangling in the Senate over marijuana legislation shows that the Red Chamber is still finding its feet after major reforms two years ago. But overall, “it’s headed in the right direction.”
Hugh Segal, who once served as chief of staff to former prime minister Brian Mulroney, said that the majority of senators are now voting independent of any formal party affiliation. That has definitely resulted in more bills being sent back to the House of Commons with amendments attached.
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Still, Segal noted, the Senate’s role is not to stand in opposition to laws proposed by a democratically elected government – killing bills like the marijuana legislation. Conservative senators opposed the bill last week, and for a time it was uncertain if there would be enough independents voting in favour to allow the bill to move ahead.
“The democratic side (the House of Commons) always has to win, it always has to prevail,” Segal told David Akin on this weekend’s edition of The West Block.
“I do not think it is constitutionally appropriate for the members of the Senate to stop that legislation before second reading, and not let it go to committee for careful examination in a complimentary way.”
If the Senate had managed to kill the bill, he said, that could also have set a very difficult and dangerous precedent. His former colleagues in the Conservative caucus might want things to go back to the way they were before, he added, but that’s not going to happen.
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The independent senators now hold a plurality in the Senate, and if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues filling vacancies until 2019, that won’t change for another nine years after the next election.
Segal noted that if the Liberals win a second mandate, and Trudeau appoints yet more senators under the new system, independents will hold the balance of power in the Senate for an entire generation.
“So I would suggest to my Conservative friends, careful what you wish for,” Segal explained.
“Because if you want (Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer) to be prime minister … should he be successful, do you really want to establish a tradition that the independents in the Senate — who will be in a majority for some time to come — have no obligation to respect the promises made by Mr. Scheer in good faith?”
Overall, Segal told Akin, he’d give the new Senate a passing grade.
“If 10 out of 10 is perfect and one out of 10 is a failure, I’d say it’s a six,” he said. “But I’d say it’s headed in the right direction.”
— Watch the full interview with Hugh Segal above.