Senate stands down on budget change dispute
Published Thursday, June 22, 2017 11:17AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, June 22, 2017 5:38PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Senators stood down Thursday from their attempt to amend the government's budget bill, voting instead to accept the will of the House of Commons while insisting on their right to amend any bill.
Sen. Peter Harder, the government representative in the Senate, moved that the Senate not insist on its amendment, "but that the Senate confirms its privileges, immunities and powers as provided under the Constitution." The motion was approved 50 to 33.
Conservative Sen. Don Plett tried to send the matter to the upper chamber's national finance committee to be studied until June 30, but senators voted down that motion 49 to 32.
The Senate's acceptance of the budget bill -- without changes -- closes several days of tension between the two chambers, in which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau insisted the Senate had to leave budget bills untouched.
Senators had voted to remove an annual increase, pegged to inflation, to an excise tax on alcohol. The House refused the amendment and returned the budget to the Senate on Wednesday.
Senators objected to a message contained in Wednesday's House motion rejecting their change, which said MPs refused the Senate's modification "because these amendments infringe upon rights and privileges of the House."
On Wednesday, MPs decided to rise for the summer, meaning if the Senate had pressed on with its intention to amend the budget, the government would have had to reconvene the House, forcing them to return to Ottawa from their ridings.
'Institution... that is robust'
Government House Leader Bardish Chagger says she has the utmost respect for the Senate and its work. In an interview with Don Martin, host of CTV's Power Play, she said the government needs the budget so it can invest in Canadians.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau, she says, spent two hours at a Senate committee trying to assuage the concerns of senators regarding the budget bill, "because we know that the House of Commons as well as the Senate together represent Canadians, and we really support the work that parliamentarians do."
Despite the Senate complying with the government on its budget, Peter Harder, Trudeau's Senate representative, said he didn't feel pressure on the upper chamber.
"The Senate has an obligation to deliberate, to review," he said in an interview on CTV's Power Play.
Senators have approved 15 pieces of government legislation since January, Harder added, without using time allocation, a parliamentary measure that limits the amount of time for debate.
"Remember the previous Parliament used time allocation in the Senate 22 times," he said.
"I think frankly a lot of MPs were watching this because it's interesting and it's subjects that they're interested in, and it's coming to terms with an institution down the hall that is robust."