The Senate – that undemocratic, unaccountable, unwanted monstrosity that has affixed itself to the side of Parliament like an ermine-garbed parasite – is in the news again. And, yet again, for all the wrong reasons.
Late last week, senators took it upon themselves to gut the Trudeau government’s Bill C-14, on assisted dying. They had no mandate to do so, they had no authority to do so. But they did so, just the same.
The senators’ concerns are irrelevant, just like they are. To debate the merits of their changes is to accord them a modicum of legitimacy. We shouldn’t do it.
C-14 has had a troubled history, true. For the comparatively new Liberal government, it has been the Flying Dutchman of legislation – never yet making it to shore, and a portent of bad luck for all who come near it.
C-14 was the cause of Justin Trudeau’s terrible night, when he manhandled a Conservative and elbowed a New Democrat. C-14 was the reason the Liberals initially sought to give themselves extraordinary powers in the Commons, with the innocuous-sounding Motion 6 – and then the reason they thereafter beat a hasty retreat, frantically withdrawing the aforementioned Motion 6. (Looking autocratic and weak, all in the same session. Hard to do.)
C-14 was the cause of acrimonious splits in caucus, and deep division within the broader Grit family. C-14 provided evidence, too, that the government could not manage its legislative affairs or meet a Supreme Court deadline.
And, now, C-14 has become the payback platform for assorted senators: the Conservative ones, who have been waiting for an opportunity to rain all over Trudeau’s honeymoon; and the Liberal ones – the ones Trudeau kicked out of his caucus without warning – to teach him a lesson, and to exact sweet revenge.
Like we say: C-14 has been the cause of more trouble than it probably is worth.
There is a theory, of course, that machiavellian Grits foresaw all of this difficulty, and wanted C-14 to run ashore. It was the plan all along, say some. As with the abortion legislative void, nothing was better than something.
Don’t believe it. Trudeau would not do what he did – and his government would not risk all that it risked – for mere show. It was no parliamentary pantomime. The government wanted to meet the high court’s absurdly-short deadline, and it did all that it could to hasten the Bill’s passage. It was authentic.
The Senate, lacking both authenticity and wisdom, ended any hope of that. So now what?
The C-14 rush was probably as unseemly as it was unnecessary. Doctors have been quietly practising euthanasia in Canada for many years. I say that as the son of a doctor – one who was sometimes asked to do it, and one who was awarded the Order of Canada for his writings about it.
The government’s haste was also a waste of energy. The senators (Conservatives, former Liberals, and Liberals who refuse to acknowledge that they are Liberals) were always going to scupper C-14. Any fool could see that. They weren’t interested in sober second thought. Their objective was to cause trouble, and cause trouble they did.
The objections some of us had to this bill remain. Who decides, exactly, who should die? What is terminal? If we have yet to define life, how can we say for certain when life lacks value? Isn’t euthanizing the mentally ill what that moustachioed Bavarian fellow did? Is there any better oxymoron that a “mature minor?”
And so on.
Trudeau’s C-14 was a sincere, well-meaning and carefully crafted compromise. It was also profoundly unlucky.
It’s time to try again – this time, one hopes, without the bad luck, the divisions, the parliamentary brinkmanship and the flying elbows.
Oh, and the Senate. We could do without that, too. But, like death itself, we are unlikely to be rid of its foul presence anytime soon.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.