Canada’s Senate will commence its eagerly anticipated debate on the C-290 single-game sports betting legislation on Tuesday. The private member’s bill sailed through the House of Commons without opposition this spring, and received two of three required readings in the Senate before the professional sports leagues took notice and duly submitted their factually unsubstantiated claims of threats to the ‘integrity’ of their product if such wagering were permitted. Senator Bob Runciman, who supports the bill, expects the debate to be both lively and lengthy, possibly delaying a final vote until the tail end of the current session ending December 21. The Senate has only defeated eight bills passed by the House in the last 70 years, so Runciman believes the possibility of adding a ninth scalp to the Senate’s lodge pole means “we’ll actually have some reporters in the gallery covering the debate. It’ll be unique.”
Numerous Senators, including those belonging to the majority Conservative party that supported C-290’s successful journey through the Commons, have already gone public with their intent to vote the bill down. Tory senator Mike Duffy said he didn’t see “a public outcry that there are not enough places for people to lose their money.” Fellow Tory Norm Doyle echoed the dubious claims made south of the border that single-game wagering means “every call a referee makes is in doubt.” Liberal member George Baker likely thought himself a modern-day Oscar Wilde for quipping that C-290’s passage would require the country to rename itself ‘Cananevada’. (Frankly, ‘Canevada’ would have been much more Wilde-worthy.) Baker even supported the view that figure skating – that poster child for sporting integrity – could become suspect, requiring forensic investigations of every missed triple-salchow for signs that the bulge in the skater’s tights wasn’t a roll of $100 bills.
A DAY LATE, A VOTE SHORT
Members of the Commons are also speaking out, albeit more than a little belatedly, regarding their opposition to C-290. Tory MP Michael Chong, a former National Hockey League Players Association employee, told Sun Media the bill was not given “sufficient scrutiny and oversight.” Saskatchewan Tory Brad Trost complained that the bill’s third reading in the Commons, after which it was voted on and approved, was done on a Friday afternoon after many MPs had left town to head back to their local ridings. In Trost’s view, this amounted to “passing it in the middle of the night.” (Frankly, the image we got was of someone ducking out of work early on a Friday to beat rush-hour traffic, then protesting that it wasn’t their fault they missed the late memo that said everyone needed to come in to work that weekend.) Trost even suggested there “seems to have been a deal done” amongst all party leaders to prevent C-290 from receiving proper scrutiny.
On Friday, CBC News simultaneously interviewed both Chong and New Democratic Party MP Brian Masse, allowing Masse to rubbish Chong’s assertions that the House offered no chance to oppose C-290. Masse said Chong and other C-290 opponents were given ample opportunity to participate in the debate by calling anti-betting witnesses or by testifying themselves at a Commons’ committee hearing on the matter, but “chose not to” for reasons known only to themselves. If Chong got one thing right in his rebuttal, it was that provincial lottery corporation monopolies could never hope to offer wagering odds that are competitive with international online gambling sites.
NDP House leader Nathan Cullen, whose caucus includes C-290’s sponsor Joe Comartin, said he was “mystified by experienced MPs suddenly saying they were handcuffed” and who are now “after the fact … using the unelected Senate to kill something the elected House passed through. That’s wrong.” Cullen sent a letter to Runciman this week saying C-290 should be judged on its merits, “not on the false assertions of some that the House made its judgment in undue haste.”
There has long been a sentiment in Canada to reinvent the Senate as a ‘triple-E’ body: equal, elected and effective. Could a rejection of C-290 be the last straw that finally produces Senate reform? Perhaps the Senate’s current crop of political appointees that are opposed to C-290 should consider their votes more carefully, lest they belatedly discover they’ve voted themselves out of a cushy job.