In effectively killing several government bills earlier this month, members of the Senate have done a serious disservice to Canadians. Their petulant action shows just how disconnected the non-elected upper house is from the public and underscores the urgent need for meaningful Senate reform.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien prorogued, or shut down, Parliament on Wednesday. As a result, neither the Commons nor Senate will sit again until after a Throne Speech now slated for Jan. 12.
But he did so only after the Senate failed to meet a government deadline for passing key pieces of legislation that had already been approved by the House of Commons.
The Senate also thwarted passage of a bill that would have made the federal ethics commissioner responsible to Parliament rather than to the prime minister -- a major promise made by Jean Chretien in the throne speech after a spate of scandals involving senior MPs and civil servants tested the credibility of and public confidence in his government.
Senator Anne Cools and 20 of her colleagues opposed the ethics bill on the grounds that it might lead to an Inquisition-style mentality.
But critics suggest the real reason senators object is that the bill would force them to disclose their finances and could raise questions about potential conflicts of interest.
Though it was established to be a house of sober second thought, the Senate largely has come to be seen as a rubber stamp for legislation introduced by elected -- and thus accountable to the public -- members of the Commons.