Motion for Concurrence in Commons Amendments and for Non-Insistence Upon Certain Senate Amendments—Bill C-14, medical assistance in dyingPublished on 17 June 2016 Hansard and Statements by Senator Art Eggleton, Jim Munson, Joan Fraser, Terry Mercer
Hon. Art Eggleton:
Honourable colleagues, it has been said many times already in this chamber, and I said it previously when I spoke on third reading of the bill, that it is the responsibility and duty of this institution to uphold the constitution of this country.
I think that’s also what the Supreme Court is doing. That’s their job as well. They are not creating law by doing this. They are looking at the Constitution, defending the Constitution and determining how the laws passed by this Parliament reflect in the Constitution. So they came to a conclusion after a very thorough examination that led to the Carter decision, and the Carter decision was the basis on which we passed the first amendment in this chamber.
The other chamber does not agree with that. The government has decided that its interpretation of the Constitution is the correct direction to go. I just don’t happen to agree. I think that the very substantial weight of evidence would indicate that this is unconstitutional. If it’s our duty to uphold the Constitution, then I believe it’s our duty to turn down this amendment when it comes back from the House of Commons, and I intend to vote against it.
I think it would have been wise for the government to go to the Supreme Court to get an opinion. It has done this before. It could do this in a few short months, as it did in the case of the previous government and the Senate itself in terms of what constitutional framework the government needed to operate within. It came back in fairly quick time.
I think it would happen again in this case, because they already have the information and they could very quickly deal with it, rather than putting citizens or citizen organizations, as appears to be where we’re headed now, through the long, drawn-out process of proceeding with this and leaving a state of uncertainty for a lot of people in this country. So I reluctantly come to the position that I will vote against this amendment from the House of Commons.
Hon. Joan Fraser (Deputy Leader of the Senate Liberals):
Honourable senators, I will not support the motion. I believe so strongly that it is the duty of this chamber to uphold the Constitution as best we can that I cannot support a motion that accedes to what I believe to be a breach of the Constitution.
I would like to note that if we defeat this motion, we are not defeating the bill. The bill will still be in exactly the same state it has been all along. We will be defeating one version of the response that we must ultimately give to the House of Commons message to us. If we don’t accept the response proposed by Senator Harder, then we find another response.
It would be my earnest hope that this chamber would stand for what the great bulk of the evidence tells us is a better interpretation of the Constitution than that put forward by the government. But like everyone in this debate, I respect the opinions of my colleagues, perhaps even more the opinions of those with whom I disagree than the opinions of those with whom I agree, because I think it has taken some of them great courage to take the position that they have taken. I absolutely respect that, but I can do no other than vote as I plan to vote.
Hon. Jim Munson:
Honourable senators, can we start all over again? I thought I’d lighten it up a little bit.
Honourable senators, I think I’m one of the last speakers here, but this has been so hard. This has been so hard for many of us who are not constitutional lawyers to understand the particular arguments as well as we should.
I come at this with a lot of emotion. Like many senators here, in my heart I wanted Senator Joyal’s amendment to pass, I really did, because it was an amendment that just made sense.
But isn’t this what independence is all about — this new Senate? I’ve been here 12 years and I have never seen such independent debate in my life. As a whip, I have witnessed people having to vote not the way they wanted to vote because they had to vote with a party. The independence here today is admirable.
I have also heard the statements on behalf of different sides of the issue and I find it ironic that people are going to vote against this bill for opposing reasons, at the end of the day.
At the end of the day, for me, and the soul-searching I’ve gone through, I voted for certain things, I abstained on one, I voted against certain ideas and amendments, but it is truly all about choice and independence.
And so, at the end of the day I have come to the conclusion that it is better to have a bill than no bill at all. I think it’s a federal responsibility. I do not, with all due respect to the provinces, want to give them the latitude to have individual provincial ideas on how to go about doing this.
The directive was very important to me. I agree with some of the arguments that we’re going to get there eventually, somehow. But this is an important beginning in our country. So better a bill than no bill and I will support the bill.
Thank you very much.
Hon. Terry M. Mercer:
Honourable senators, I wasn’t going to speak on this but I can’t let it go by without reminding everyone what we did earlier today when we voted down Senator Joyal’s amendment.
Some place in this country there’s a family — I don’t know who they are or what their status is right now — about to go through something awful. They’re going to have to go to court and they’re going to have to proceed through the court and eventually end up at the Supreme Court. And in that process that family is going to go broke, unless they’re an extremely rich family.
Today, instead of putting the government before the court, we have put some Canadian citizen before the court. And he or she and their family will go through hell. To be in this situation, they are going through hell anyway because of the illness of one of their own. We have done that to them today by voting down Senator Joyal’s proposal.
On that note, I am going to vote against it, because I am very disappointed in what the members of the House of Commons did.
I have been a member of the Liberal Party since 1968. I have done a few jobs in the Liberal Party — knocking on doors and stuffing envelopes. I was the executive director of the party in Nova Scotia. I was the national director of fundraising for the party. I was the national director who ran the party for a good number of the Chrétien years. So I think I’ve got some skin in the game for the Liberal Party.
However, I am disappointed that they didn’t take an independent stand in their caucus and say, “This is wrong; we need to put this before the court and get it done.”
I was walking off the Hill the other day, and a Liberal member of Parliament asked me how it was going. I said, “Well, if I was still a member of the caucus, you would know how it was going.” Because unlike some people today, I and my colleagues who served in the national caucus with me would know that we were never shy about standing up and telling the leader what we thought was right and what was wrong, whether he was the prime minister or just the leader of the opposition.
Today I’m going to vote against Senator Harder’s motion because I know we’re going to have a bill, but I just can’t put my name to it.
Is that fine with you, Senator Ogilvie? Thank you.