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Sober second thinkers: Recent criticism of the Senate's delay of legislation is unfair (The Ottawa Citizen)

The Senate is the frequent object of derision by those who think it an anachronism. We respectfully disagree. At the time of Confederation, the Senate was intended to protect minorities against any majority tyranny of the House of Commons, and look after the interests of the provinces. By and large, it does its job well.

Take the latest shellacking the Senate has received for blocking three pieces of legislation: Bill C-34 to establish separate ethics offices for the Senate and the Commons; Bill C-10B to amend the Criminal Code to increase fines and jail sentences for people convicted of cruelty to animals; and Bill C-49 to move up the creation of seven new federal ridings to April 1, 2004. With the Commons having prorogued this week, these bills die. The senators are being accused of being self-serving for defying both Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who wanted the ethics offices set up before he steps down, and soon-to-be prime minister Paul Martin, who wanted the new ridings in time for a spring election.

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So, the situation boils down to this: The Senate rightly defended parliamentary tradition in one bill, while respecting cultural sensitivities in another. As for C-49, well, as Liberal Senator Anne Cools put it, "the government bungled this one". In all these cases the Senate did its job, providing sober second thought on sloppy legislation.