Assisted dying legislation could avoid Parliamentary 'ping pong'
Published Sunday, June 12, 2016 9:47AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, June 12, 2016 12:02PM EDT
Senators could defer to MPs -- because they are the elected parliamentarians -- on any changes to the government's assisted dying legislation, according to Justin Trudeau's Senate liaison.
In an interview with Bob Fife, host of CTV's Question Period, Senator Grant Mitchell said he and his colleagues are aware they aren't elected by Canadians to represent them, especially when it comes to difficult legislation like the assisted dying bill they're currently debating. That could see senators soften their stance after they wrap up their debate and send Bill C-14 back to the House with amendments.
Because both houses of Parliament have to approve legislation, bills can sometimes ping-pong between them while MPs and senators reconcile their positions. The Senate so far has voted in favour of these amendments, including one that removed a contentious clause limiting assisted dying to those whose death is reasonably foreseeable.
The bill will likely go back to the House on Tuesday or Wednesday, said Mitchell, who Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named to liaise with the independent former Liberals he ejected from caucus in 2014. Mitchell's functions are similar to those of a parliamentary whip.
If MPs accept all of the Senate's amendments, then the bill becomes law. If they accept some or none of the amendments, the bill returns to the Senate.
"Then we don't know exactly what will happen, but what we do know is senators are aware of the fact that ... we're not elected, the House of Commons is, and that will bear on our consideration," Mitchell said.
Generally, he added, the Senate is inclined to pass legislation on the second go-around, "having made its point, and in this case having made some very powerful points that will I think bear on the evolution of this legislative regime in future."
Conservative Senator Denise Batters says she takes seriously the distinction between elected MPs and appointed senators.
"I just want to make sure that the voice of Canadians is being heard on this," she said. "I'm trying to reflect their voices because I'm just one voice in that discussion."
On Friday, other independent Liberal senators sounded similarly conciliatory.
“I don’t think this is a fighting match or a test. We’ll work together for something for Canadians," said independent Liberal Mobina Jaffer.
Jaffer says she doesn't think the House will dismiss all of the Senate's amendments.
"I think there will be very thoughtful discussion on what happens," she said.
Independent Liberal Senator Joseph Day said there's some posturing going on, but he's confident the Senate and the House will work out an arrangement. He referred to the last bill the Senate returned to the House more than once, 2006's Federal Accountability Act. That bill initially saw 150 amendments but they settled on 70 or 80, he said.
"It just takes a while... There’s a compromise there. There always is," Day said.
Senate Conservative Leader Claude Carignan said the amended legislation will send a message to the House.
"I really think the message we send to the House will be very clear," he said.
If the Senate and House can’t agree on amendments, there’s a rarely-used measure called a conference that can be arranged. That hasn’t been done since 1947, and the House and Senate leaderships generally avoid conferences by holding unofficial negotiations or by having the minister responsible for a bill take questions in the Senate.