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Defending the Senate

Honourable senators, last week, Senator Mitchell and I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion, entitled: "Second Thoughts about Sober Second Thought: the Meaning of the Senate Rejection of Bill C-311." The debate was hosted by the Canadian Study of Parliament Group.

While I very much enjoyed taking part in this panel, I felt bad for the organizers because their event was hijacked. What was supposed to be a rational, intelligent debate quickly deteriorated into an all-out attack on our parliamentary institutions by the third panellist, Jack Layton.

Senator Mitchell rightly declared that we had been "sucked into the vortex of the first campaign stop." Mr. Layton did not disappoint. As usual, he was long on catchy slogans and short on meaningful solutions. He began by making a grandiose commitment to abolish the Senate, but Mr. Layton did not bother to explain why he consistently blocks Senate reform that our government is trying to pass in that other place.

Why am I surprised? He has made a career of throwing around empty promises for which he will never be held accountable. However, his blatant disregard for one of our parliamentary bodies is quite disconcerting.

Clearly, Mr. Layton either conveniently ignores or does not understand the pivotal role the Senate plays in our parliamentary system. However, honourable senators, I am proud to report that I offered to help. I invited Mr. Layton to be a senator for a day and follow Senator Mitchell and me around for a while to see what we actually do. Alas, he did not bite. I guess he was worried he might learn something.

Mr. Layton accuses the Senate of being undemocratic, without taking into account that our upper chamber is a fundamental part of the successful Westminster parliamentary system that has given to us one of the best and freest countries in the world. These smear campaigns against the Senate are nothing more than opportunistic politics that show a disregard for the very foundation of our institutions.

As Senator Mitchell correctly pointed out — and I cannot believe I am quoting my honourable colleague twice in a matter of minutes — "Our institutions, and not just the Senate, have been attacked and eroded, and undermined, and they have become a political football just for political purposes, and there are huge consequences to that."

Honourable senators, I believe we must do our best to promote the hard and valuable work we do here and to tackle these uninformed, factually lacking attacks. We must put the likes of Jumpin' Jack Flash on notice that such short-sighted, blatant disregard for our systems and institutions will not be tolerated.