I have received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls both for and against the Senate Committee’s amendments to Bill C-25, and many voicing confusion about both the Bill and the Senate Commitee’s procedures. I hope the article below provide some clarification or additional perpective. Also, trascripts from committee meetings can be accessed at http://www.parl.gc.ca/.
As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Tories reject fast-tracking of sentencing bill
By: The Canadian Press
Date: Friday Oct 9, 2009 6:48 AM ET
OTTAWA — Conservatives rejected a bid Thursday to expedite a key piece of their tough-on-crime agenda, even as they continued to bash Liberal senators for holding up the legislation.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson continued to rage against Liberal senators, accusing them of delaying a bill that would end the sentencing practice of giving offenders two-for-one credit for time spent in pre-trial custody.
“This idea that this should be delayed beyond the (Thanksgiving week) break is ridiculous,” Nicholson fumed.
“These people are soft on crime and this is a huge mistake, a huge mistake.”
But Liberals countered it was procedural games from Conservatives in the Senate that ensured the bill won’t be dealt with until Oct. 20.
At issue are amendments to the bill proposed by Liberal senators on the legal and constitutional affairs committee. They want offenders to be given 1.5 days credit for each day spent in pre-trial custody, which Nicholson maintains would gut the bill.
Senator Joan Fraser, the Liberal committee chair, twice sought unanimous consent Thursday for the upper chamber to deal with the amendments by the end of the day. That would have cleared the way for the final debate and vote on the bill on Friday.
The Tories’ deputy leader in the Senate, Gerald Comeau, refused. He said Conservatives would agree to expedite the bill only if Liberals would agree, in effect, to drop the amendments.
Moreover, Comeau then moved to adjourn the Senate until Oct. 20. The bill will now languish until then.
Liberals suspect the Tories are deliberately footdragging because they want to make more political mileage with their soft-on-crime accusation.
Ironically, Liberal insiders believe the amendments are likely to be defeated and the bill passed, as is.
Indeed, they say the bill would likely already be law if the Tories hadn’t insisted that Fraser’s committee delay its clause-by-clause study of the legislation in order to hear testimony last week from two provincial justice ministers.
Fraser complained Thursday that Manitoba’s Dave Chomiak and Alberta’s Alison Redford appeared before the committee and, after a little more than an hour, announced they had to leave to catch flights back home.
Even before the pair finished testifying, Nicholson’s office issued a press released quoting Redford and Chomiak calling on senators to give the bill speedy passage. And moments after leaving the committee hearing, the pair showed up at a news conference with Nicholson to repeat that message.
“The only reason clause-by-clause consideration of the bill had not been concluded at the time the press release was sent out was that we delayed it to hear witnesses that the minister himself felt was appropriate for us to hear,” Fraser told the Senate.
She said Redford and Chomiak’s departure from the committee under false pretenses was a “grave and serious breach” of Senate privileges.
In Winnipeg, Chomiak called Fraser’s complaint “silly” and “hardly worth comment.”
Manitoba Premier Gary Doer chimed in, saying the Liberal senators’ proposed amendments to the bill demonstrate why “the Senate should be abolished.”
A spokesman for Redford said the ministers had been scheduled to appear before the committee for only an hour but the hearing went overtime before they finally advised Fraser they had to leave. He said Redford spent only 10 minutes at Nicholson’s news conference before rushing to catch her plane home.
While Liberals still slightly outnumber the Tories in the Senate, senators tend to be fairly independent and don’t always vote strictly along partisan lines. Liberals point out they lost a Senate vote earlier this week, underscoring that they no longer control the upper chamber.
Just because Liberal members of the legal affairs committee have proposed amendments, Fraser conceded she’s not sure other Liberals senators will support them.
“I’m not sure how the vote would have gone had it been held today. I’m not at all sure how it would have gone,” she said in an interview.
Liberal senators are coming under some pressure from Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. He reiterated Thursday that his party’s elected members in the House of Commons “strongly support” the bill and he urged senators to pass it unchanged.
“I am confident that the Senate will eventually pass that legislation,” he said in London, Ont. “And the idea that . . . we’re holding it up is ridiculous.”