The Perils of Passivity
Almost a year ago, Paul Krugman wrote a blog post entitled â€œInaction is the Greatest Risk.â€ He was addressing American monetary policy, but the same theme applies to Saskatchewan politics. Much as Krugman warned readers upfront that his post was â€œwonkish,â€ Iâ€™ll admit that the following is â€œhackish.â€
For several months, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has been trying to reposition himself as a champion of Senate abolition, a progressive and popular policy that the CCF-NDP has consistently held since the Regina Manifesto. Yesterday, the provincial Legislative Assembly passed his resolutionÂ supporting Senate abolition andÂ his bill repealing the Senate Nominee Election Act.
The provincial NDP caucus appropriately voted for these welcome proposals. But from a partisan perspective, it would have been better to force the Sask. Party to vote for a New Democratic bill on the Senate. From a policy perspective, a better bill would have been an actual constitutional amendment (as Malcolm French explains).
When Wall started publicly pushing this spring to abolish rather than elect the Senate, I pointed out that his government had passed legislation to elect Senate nominees from Saskatchewan. A week later, the provincial NDP caucus announced, â€œNDP Leader Cam Broten will introduce a bill to eliminate the Sask. Partyâ€™s pro-Senate act as soon as the Legislative Assembly resumes.â€
If he had followed through on that announcement, the governing Sask. Party would have had little choice but to vote for the NDP bill. Instead, the provincialÂ New Democratic caucus opted to introduce a different bill when the Legislative Assembly resumed, allowing Wall to seize the initiative on the Senate yesterday by repealing his own legislation.
On the Senate question, the Saskatchewan NDP still has an opportunity to put forward the necessary constitutional amendment. The more general lesson is that, while advocating potentially controversial policies always entails some risks, political inaction often entails even greater risks.
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The government could have easily arranged a vote on the government bill ahead of a NDP private member’s bill. There was no need for them to waste a private members bill on when the government was doing one.
In parliamentary procedure, the â€œrule of anticipationâ€ is that a motion cannot be moved on the same subject as one already on the order paper.
If the provincial NDP caucus had followed through on its announcement to introduce a private memberâ€™s bill repealing the Senate Nominee Election Act, it is not clear that the speaker would have allowed the Sask. Party to introduce a (nearly) identical bill.
If the provincial NDP caucus had followed Malcolm Frenchâ€™s advice and introduced a bill to amend the constitution, that clearly would have taken precedence over the Sask. Partyâ€™s resolution on Senate abolition.
In any case, the Sask. Party would have looked pretty silly making a procedural end-run to vote on its own Senate motions before the New Democratic bill.
The bigger picture is that the Senate scandal has been bubbling for eight months. Saskatchewanâ€™s NDP caucus should have been vocally advocating abolition rather than passively allowing Wall to take control of the issue.