In Ottawa last Thursday, the Trudeau government’s budget bill passed the Senate without amendments. But the broader dispute over which parliamentary chamber has the right to decide budgetary matters that were left unresolved as Parliament shut down for the summer.
Senators voted 50-33 to drop their insistence on amendments to the budget implementation bill, which would have deleted a provision allowing the government to hike the federal excise tax on wine, beer and alcohol every year by the rate of inflation.
But they sent a message back to the House of Commons, reminding MPs that the senate is constitutionally empowered to amend any legislation “whatever its nature or source”.
This message came as a response to the government’s rejection of the Senate amendments because they “infringe upon the rights and privileges” of the commons.
That assertion echoed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s contention that only the elected chamber of parliament has the right to make decisions on budgetary matters and that appointed senators therefore have no business trying to rewrite the budget.
Senators countered that the Constitution prohibits the appointed upper house from initiating a money bill, but does not stop it from amending – or even defeating – one.
The government’s representative in the Senate, Peter Harder agreed with the need to reaffirm the Senate’s powers to amend, even if it ultimately did not exercise those powers on the budget bill.
“We asserted our rights as a Senate, as an institution, with respect to our role and responsibilities on all legislation”, he said, emphasizing the word “all”.
“Our message is one that I very much support”.
However, government House leader Bardish Chagger declined to say whether she accepts that message or by what authority the government contends the Senate does not have the power to amend budget bills. Instead, she repeatedly made the point that the budget itself was passed by both houses of Parliament and that the budget implementation bill simply gave effect to it.