Published by Senator Grant Mitchell on 18 March 2009
I am following up on Senator Cowan’s blog on the Budget Implementation Act (BIA) to give you some ideas about how I made my decision to vote for the BIA and allow it to pass.
I was very concerned with a number of sections in the bill:
- Pay Equity: Changes to pay equity are clearly unfair, and represent a significant set back to progress in women’s equality.
- Navigable Waters: These will have serious consequences in weakening environmental reviews.
- Competition Act: The Canadian Bar, whose members work extensively with the existing act, make the strong case that these provisions need much more consideration as they may well reduce the competitiveness of Canadian businesses.
These problems would argue for not supporting the bill.
On the other hand, because the bill is primarily designed to implement a stimulus package, it will be critical to people keeping their jobs and getting new ones. It also brings in a badly needed 5 week extension of EI benefits.
Had the government agreed to split from the bill contentious parts like the three provisions listed above, the decision to support it would have been easy. I felt that these provisions do not involve any urgency and they do not contribute to a stimulus package. But the government refused to split the bill.
Moreover, they have maintained that defeat or amendment of the bill would cause them to call an election.
Were the Conservatives to call an election that Canadians do not want, and the Liberals were seen to be responsible for it, we would likely lose it. A loss would be certain if the unelected Liberal Senate were responsible for precipitating it. If that happened, it would be a long time before there would be a chance to correct the problems that so many Canadians see in the bill.
So, I was faced with a very difficult dilemma requiring me to assess and prioritize competing principles. This is so often what legislators have to do. We work in an imperfect world, where there is often much disagreement about solutions to problems or about whether there even is a problem. We work in a practical world where often we are forced to choose the “least worst” of many potential solutions.
So, here are the reasons that I felt argued for allowing the bill to pass:
- Democracy has to be respected and Canadians do not want another election at this time.
- Canadians want and need a stimulus package urgently. Their jobs and feeding their families are depending upon it. How could we put provisions that we can reverse once we are in government ahead of these imperatives?
- The extra 5 weeks of EI benefits provided for in the BIA would apply now for anyone receiving EI within two weeks before the bill was passed. Every extra day that we took to pass the bill meant that anyone at 44 weeks and six days would lose the extra 5 weeks.
Now, there are those who argue that there would not be an election. I disagree. Even if the Senate is not a confidence house, a confidence defeat is not required for an election to be called. And it is highly unlikely that the Governor General would grant a coalition. The precedents are strongly against her having the justification to do that.
My conclusion was that causing an election on pay equity or navigable waters is placing these issues, which can be remedied once we are in government, above the more urgent pressures of getting the economy working and Canadians employed and feeding their families. I felt I had no choice.
Other senators argued for the need for us to amend the bill and send it back as that is our job. They made compelling speeches in the Senate to that effect. Their conclusion was different than mine and they voted to defeat the bill. It was one of those moments when I realized how remarkable and powerful our democracy is.