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If Harper can't hobble or kill it, NDP hopes to bleed the Senate dry

Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable

The Globe and Mail

As controversy swirls around the future of the Red Chamber, New Democrat Pat Martin has come up with his own simple and cunning scheme to reform the Senate.

"We may not be able to abolish the Senate by constitutional amendment, but we can cut off its blood supply," he told The Globe.

Mr. Martin, who says the Senate is a "disgrace and a blemish," will be outlining his plan at a news conference Wednesday morning. Basically, he wants to cut off funding so it will eventually atrophy and die.

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"We might not be able to get rid of it," the veteran Winnipeg MP said, "but we don't have to fund it."

The NDP wants to abolish the Red Chamber. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, introduced his reform bill Tuesday, calling for nine-year term limits and voluntary provincial elections of senators.

Mr. Martin, meanwhile, is calling for the House of Commons to "pull out" the vote on the Senate from the main estimates. MPs are to vote on those estimates, which give the government parliamentary approval to spend money, Wednesday night.

He wants the portion of the bill that deals with funding of the Senate - $59.5 million for program expenditures -to be voted on separately. It costs about $90-million a year to fund the Red Chamber.

"The rest of the Senate's budget is statutory so it would not close them down entirely, just a serious shot across the bow," says Mr. Martin.

But there's more. "It will force the Conservatives to stand and vote to support the Senate, which is kind of delicious given the grief it is causing them lately," he said.

Conservative senators have balked at Mr. Harper's proposed reforms. To get around their intransigence, Mr. Harper introduced his reform bill in the Commons rather than having it start out in the Senate.

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The view is that with his majority in the Commons, it will sail through - and the weight of the elected MPs supporting reform will be moral suasion for senators to do the same. But it's not guaranteed.

"The Senate has ceased to be an independent chamber to review and test the merits of decisions by the House," Mr. Martin said. "Now it is actually generating legislation, thwarting and undermining the decisions of the democratic chamber, and acting as a repository for partisan political operatives, active party workers, and sundry hacks and flacks and bagmen."

What was the New Democrat's inspiration for this crafty move? Mr. Martin now occupies the Centre Block office of the late MP Stanley Knowles, his hero who knew every procedural trick in the book.

Mr. Knowles would try tactics like this "every year, routinely," he said. "It's a tradition that comes with Stanley's office."

A Liberal publicity stunt?

Stephen Harper's Conservatives are pushing back hard against reports the RCMP is investigating a complaint that the $50-million pumped into Tony Clement's Muskoka riding before the G8 summit was improperly spent.

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In a missive to supporters, Tory strategists attack the complainant, Marlene Jennings. The long-time Liberal MP lost her Quebec seat in the May 2 election.

"Failed Ignatieff Liberal candidate Marlene Jennings is refusing to accept the verdict of the Auditor General, whose report failed to substantiate Jennings' allegations regarding the G8 Legacy Fund," the Tory memo says.

In Question Period Tuesday - which was dominated by this breaking story - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird accused Ms. Jennings of mounting nothing more than a publicity stunt.

Ms. Jennings had complained to the RCMP about the way in which money was spent and sought an investigation. Her complaint was made during the election campaign.

According to The Canadian Press, she did not hear anything until after the release of the Auditor-General's report into the issue and was interviewed by RCMP officers last week.

The RCMP confirmed that it has "received a referral" on this matter but refused to comment on the status of its investigation.

If attacking Ms. Jennings is not enough, the Tories go after the Grits as a whole. "Canadians rejected the cheap, baseless drive-by smears by the Liberal Party in the last election," they say. "We are disappointed they are once again resorting to such tactics."

Tory memo concludes that Auditor-General John Wiersema "was clear when he said that he was 'not aware of any specific law that was broken.'

"Every penny is accounted for, not one red cent is missing," the memo says. "Mr. Wiersema acknowledged this when he said 'we know that we got what we paid for in those 32 projects.'"

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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