Record doesnt support PMs claim that Liberal senators have blocked crime bills

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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OTTAWA - Stephen Harper is appealing to Canadians' fear of crime to justify the appointment of five new Conservative senators.
"Our government is serious about getting tough on crime. Since we were first elected, we have made it one of our highest priorities," the prime minister said in a statement Friday announcing his latest Senate picks.
"The Liberals have abused their Senate majority by obstructing and eviscerating law and order measures that are urgently needed and strongly supported by Canadians."
With Friday's new additions, the Conservatives finally outnumber the Liberals in the upper chamber, although they are still just short of an absolute majority. That new dominance, the Harper government asserted, will finally enable the Tories to speed their tough-on-crime agenda through the Senate and make Canada a safer place.
Then again, maybe not.
Records compiled by the Liberals suggest the Senate has not actually posed a big obstacle to the Harper government. Indeed, Harper himself has done far more to delay his own crime legislation, by proroguing Parliament and other stalling tactics, than Liberal senators have ever done.
During the last session of Parliament, the government introduced 19 criminal justice bills, 11 of which were still wending their way through the House of Commons when Harper suspended Parliament on Dec. 30, essentially wiping the legislative slate clean.
Technically, those bills could be reinstated where they left off, but only if the opposition parties consent. They appear to be in no mood to co-operate given the partisan beating inflicted by the Tories.
Of the eight bills that actually made it as far as the Senate, four were passed by the then-Liberal dominated chamber.
Two were still being debated or studied at committee at the time of prorogation. And another - a bill orginating in the Senate to scrap the long-gun registry - was being deliberately held back by the government, which has opted instead to back an MP's private member's bill that would accomplish the same goal.
One other bill - C-15, which would impose minimum mandatory sentences on those running marijuana grow-ops - was passed by the Senate but with amendments that would leave some judicial discretion in cases involving fewer than 200 plants. The government claimed the amendments would gut the bill, an impasse that was unresolved at the time of prorogation.
At a celebratory news conference Friday, accompanied by two of the new senators, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson was asked repeatedly how he can blame Liberal senators for holding up his law and order agenda when the prime minister is the one who actually wiped out the bulk of it with his decision to prorogue.
Nicholson insisted the record shows "the Liberals are soft on crime." He accused Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff of making a show of supporting tough legislation in the Commons but then allowing Liberal senators to "obstruct, delay and gut some of our most important measures."
But he could point to only three specific bills: C-15; C-26, a bill to crack down on auto thefts; and C-25, a bill to end the practice of crediting convicts with two days of time served for each day spent behind bars before trial.
C-25 is not, perhaps, the best example for the government to dredge up. After a mere 19 days in the upper chamber (compared to 36 days in the Commons), the so-called "Truth in Sentencing" act was in fact passed by senators last Oct. 21. It received royal assent the following day.
Yet, after all the badgering of supposedly foot-dragging senators, cabinet decided it could wait four months - until Feb. 22 - to actually bring the law into force.
"They could've made it effective the next day," Liberal Senate leader James Cowan said in an interview.
"If ever there was an example of the facts differing from their rhetoric, that's a pretty good one."
On C-26, Nicholson complained the bill has been "stuck" in the Senate for six months.
But the six-month tally doesn't take into account the fact that the bill was handed over to the Senate just before Parliament broke for the summer. By the Liberals' count, the bill had actually been before the Senate for 38 working days by the time of prorogation - four days fewer than it took to get through the Commons.
Indeed, the Senate has regularly spent far less time examining and voting on bills than the House of Commons, which has taken as much as 95 days on some crime legislation that never got beyond second reading debate.
Given the government's own foot-dragging, Cowan questions whether Harper is really serious about passing his criminal justice agenda, or simply wants an excuse to keep reintroducing measures that allow him to bash the Senate and accuse the Liberals of being "soft on crime."
"It makes you wonder if they'd rather talk about it than actually do it."

Organizations: House of Commons, Conservatives

Geographic location: OTTAWA, Canada

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