Maria Minna: Harper ignores the elected majority in parliament

By the time Conservative Senators called Bill C-311 (the Climate Change Accountability Act) for a vote on Nov. 16, 2010, it had already sat in the Senate for 193 days without debate after having been passed by the majority of Members of Parliament in the elected House of Commons.

The Conservative Senators had instructions from the Prime Minister’s Office right from the beginning to kill this bill at their first opportunity. They did so without debate and without study at a Senate Committee. Rarely has the Senate defeated a bill that has been passed by the majority of MPs. In the cases where the Senate has defeated a bill, it was only after careful consideration and study – after Canadians had been heard.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper waited until he had control of the Senate to make his move to kill this important bill. Once he had appointed enough Conservative Senators to defeat the bill they called for a vote. All Liberal Senators supported the Bill and voted to send the proposed legislation to committee for public input.

What Stephen Harper did is a dangerous misuse of the Senate. He now has his much sought after majority. If he does not get his way in the elected House of Commons he has no qualms about using the unelected Senate to do what he cannot do in the House of Commons.
In the 2006 election campaign, then Opposition Leader Stephen Harper told Canadians that they should not fear a Conservative government because the normal checks and balances would be in place from Liberal appointed Senators. He stated: “I hope that better judgment will prevail and the unelected Senate will play the role that historically it has played, which has been a useful technical role, but will not try and interfere with the democratic will of the elected House.”

There is no longer that check on his power. So much for playing that historical role now that he has his majority in the Senate.

I have said in the past that democracy gets in the way of Harper’s agenda. There is a pattern of attacks on our democracy and Harper has been ignoring the will of the House of Commons for five years and is making substantive policy changes without even bringing them to a debate or vote in the House of Commons.

Parliament ignored

From the time Stephen Harper’s Reform/Alliance/Conservatives came to power in early 2006, significant changes have been made to Canada’s domestic and foreign policy without debate or, if the Opposition proposes a motion that is passed by all opposition parties, the Conservative government simply ignores it. The most recent example of this is the elimination of the mandatory long-form census.

This one decision over the summer by Industry Minister Tony Clement to eliminate the mandatory long-form census will have dramatic negative consequences for decades to come. 2011 will be a lost year for data collection and statisticians and policy makers will not be able to reliably compare data. Policy makers will be blindfolded in making decisions about where to build public transit lines, areas in need of income support or community development, or areas in need of health care services. These are all areas that critically rely on the census.

When the opposition parties passed a motion calling on the Conservative government to restore the census, Harper simply ignored it – true to his ‘my way or the highway’ approach to governing.

Other examples include the closure of 12 of the 16 regional offices of Status of Women Canada and eliminating ‘equality’ as part of the mandate of the Women’s Program which funds valuable research and advocacy work to promote women’s equality. When the Opposition passed a motion condemning the move, Harper simply ignored it.

The Conservatives have also laid an icy chill over government scientists and the bureaucracy, forbidding anyone from giving interviews without approval from the Prime Minister’s Office and then being told what to say in those interviews.

The Conservatives ignore scientists and experts in every area from crime prevention to climate change to the census. When anyone disagrees with their position, they are either fired or had their reputation dragged through the mud, such as former head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Linda Keen who shut down the Chalk River nuclear reactor because it was in need of repair or former diplomat Richard Colvin who blew the whistle on the torture of Afghan detainees.

The same thing goes for non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Most are afraid to offer constructive criticism for fear that their funding will be cut.

Harper is dramatically changing the values and policies of this country without debate and shunning dissent. He refuses to accept the democratic will of the House of Commons and, when he cannot get his way in the House, he instructs his unelected Conservative majority in the Senate to do his bidding.

Canada’s democracy is under attack by the very person entrusted to uphold our democracy. Harper must be held accountable to our elected representatives. That’s what democracy is all about.

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