The House of Commons wrapped up last week to allow Members of Parliament to return to their ridings for the holidays to meet with constituents and spend time with family. Members will return to work in Ottawa in late January around the time of the Olympics.
Friday morning, most people were under the mistaken impression that Parliament had closed for the holidays. However, the Senate still sits.
The Senate sat all day Friday and went through until midnight Thursday night. Senators debated C-51, the HST and special benefits for self-employed workers. Despite the House of Commons shutting down on Thursday, the Senate still has half of one day’s business remaining including committee hearings and votes. Senator Gerald Comeau, the Deputy leader of the government in the Senate, proposed that the Senate sit through Saturday to finish the legislative agenda. However, his Liberal counterpart refused and the Senate will return to complete one half day’s work before senators go home for the holiday break.
What does this mean?
By delaying the completion of one half day’s work, over 100 senators went home for the weekend, many of them flying business class to reach their destinations only to return on Monday. A conservative estimate of travel costs for 100 pampered senators jetting to all corners of the country for the weekend to come back for a short wrap up would cost over $200,000 including associated taxi, per diem and hotel costs.
And the significance to the larger discussion? While we nickel and dime the expense claims of cabinet ministers in the spirit of accountability (as we should), the Senate flies below the radar of many Ottawa watchers. The Conservatives have been making the case against Liberal entitlement and for them the Senate has been an easy target. The return of more than 100 Senators to the Upper Chamber today may make the few hours of wrap up among some of the costliest in its history.