NDP says Senate should be starved of funds

The Senate is a "joke" and a threat to democracy, according to the NDP which will try to have $60 million cut from the upper chamber's budget.
The NDP wants funding for the Senate cut off and says it should be abolished. NDP MP Pat Martin held a news conference Wednesday calling on Parliament to reject funding for the upper chamber when it votes on budget spending. (Canadian Press)

The Senate is a "joke" and a threat to democracy according to the NDP, which will try to have $60 million cut from the upper chamber's budget.

Parliament is voting Wednesday night on the main estimates, which give the government authority to spend money it has allocated in the budget. The NDP has introduced a motion to force a separate vote on $60 million, part of the Senate's budget.

"This initiative has never been more timely or relevant than it is today," Winnipeg MP Pat Martin said at a news conference on Parliament Hill. He said he is carrying on the tradition started by predecessors from his riding, J.S. Woodsworth and Stanley Knowles, who moved similar motions during their time in the House of Commons.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government introduced a bill Tuesday proposing fixed term limits for senators and a framework for provinces to hold elections for Senate appointees. The NDP is not in favour of reforms, it wants the upper chamber abolished completely.

"We might not be able to abolish the Senate by constitutional amendment but we can cut off its blood supply," said Martin.

He said the Senate isn't fulfilling its purpose of offering oversight and scrutiny of legislation passed by the House of Commons and that its members are undermining democracy instead of enhancing it.

"In fact, they're a joke. And they're an expensive joke," said Martin. "They don't enhance democracy, they make a mockery of it."

He blasted Harper for appointing a number of Conservative Party officials to the Senate and said they've been conducting partisan activities while on the taxpayer payroll.

"He's taken the red chamber from a bad joke to an actual menace to democracy, from an expensive nuisance to a threat to the democratic will of the people," said Martin.

The NDP's effort to cut off part of the Senate's budget in Wednesday's vote is largely symbolic and the Official Opposition is using it as an opportunity to restate their position that the Senate should be scrapped. Because of their majority in the House of Commons, the Conservatives can pass the main estimates, and defeat the NDP's motion, on their own.

"They have surpassed being an expensive nuisance. They are now an actual threat to democracy. They have demonstrated this," Martin said.

"We should vote no on the appropriation of $59 million more for the Senate and maybe the bleeting resulting from the red chamber will finally trigger the referendum, the consultation with Canadians, to abolish it altogether," he said.

Conservative Senator Bert Brown rejected all of Martin's accusations.

"He simply doesn't have reason to say the Senate is useless," he told CBC News. "He needs to study the Senate a little better."