MPs reject Senate amendments to budget bill leading to possible parliamentary showdown

A showdown over the budget was narrowly avoided Wednesday as senators agreed to accept the House's rejection of an amendment to the bill, ending the possibility of a standoff between the two houses of Parliament.

House leader Bardish Chagger's suggestion that Senate doesn't have right to amend budget angers senators

Government House Leader Bardish Chagger rejected Senate amendments to the budget bill Wednesday but her word choice angered senators who say they have every right to amend the legislation. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The showdown over the budget took another turn Wednesday as senators said they would consider the House's rejection of their amendment to the bill tomorrow.

Senators will now have to decide whether to push the issue with their House colleagues, prolonging this sitting of Parliament and push off the summer break, or defer to the elected chamber.

In a sign of the government's confidence that senators would roll over on their amendment, Liberal House leader Bardish Chagger also served notice that the Commons would break for the summer at the end of Wednesday's sitting. That now seems unlikely as the House may be forced to again respond to the amendment.

By a vote of 46-32, senators accepted the government's proposal for a two per cent increase to the alcohol excise duty applied to the cost of wine, beer and spirits, but rejected plans to tie the tax to the rate of inflation in future years.

Chagger said earlier Wednesday that MPs would not accept the Senate's amendment, which removed the provision that allows for automatic yearly hikes to the duty, because "these amendments infringe upon the rights and privileges of this House."

That was a contentious argument for Chagger to make because senators have steadfastly argued they are well within the rules to amend, or even reject, a budget bill.

A rebuke from the Senate

Senators lined up to admonish Chagger's word choice suggesting it was both arrogant and inaccurate.

"Allow me to politely remind everyone that the Senate, as an independent chamber, also has parliamentary privilege and as such, can defeat this bill. Perhaps the House adjourned too soon," Conservative Leo Housakos said.

Indeed, the only constitutional stipulation is that a money bill not be initiated in the Red Chamber. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said senators should keep their hands off the budget.

"Unquestionably, we have the right to amend or even defeat budget bills," Liberal Senate leader Joe Day said Wednesday during debate on the bill. "This is a long, long established right, but we know it's always controversial if, and when, we actually exercise that power. But we do have a job and we must not shy away from it."

Another Liberal, Quebec Senator Serge Joyal, appointed by former prime minister Jean Chrétien, said his patience is wearing thin with pressures from the government.

"I keep hearing that we should yield to the other place, well, I'm sorry, the structure of Parliament is one elected body, one unelected. It's the bicameral system."

About the Author

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

With files from the Canadian Press