Canadians could understandably be confused and slightly alarmed to learn that the Senate has awoken like some long-dormant Kraken and announced its intention to scuttle a bill passed unanimously in the House of Commons. The legislation, to allow Canadians to bet on a single sports event, is an odd moment for the upper chamber to suddenly emerge from the murky depths, particularly after it remained quiescent in the face of recent legislation that was far more controversial and significant.
This unprecedented show of gumption comes after intense lobbying by the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball. Their position is that allowing large numbers of state-endorsed bettors to wager on a single game, rather than a block of games as is currently allowed, could lead to match-throwing and other sordid criminality. This in turn could harm the integrity of the leagues themselves. A group of Conservative and Liberal senators say they agree. They argue that the bill wasn’t given proper scrutiny in the House of Commons, and they have stated outright that they have the votes to defeat it.
The Senate has only defeated eight other bills in the past 70 years, and it has rarely, if ever, overturned one passed unanimously. It is therefore bizarre that it has singled out this issue and taken it upon itself to disagree with the Commons’ unanimous contention that the legislation will keep the proceeds of single-game betting out of the hands of organized crime and generate revenue for provincial coffers. And it’s a stretch to believe that it would be Canadians betting on single games that would suddenly make match-fixing a problem for the leagues, when single-game betting is well established online and in Las Vegas. The bill has the support of provincial governments and should be adopted.
What is most bizarre is that the Conservative-dominated Senate has suddenly become the champion of the integrity of professional sports leagues when the same august body remained silent in the face of recent Harper government omnibus bills that many, including this newspaper, denounced as harmful to the integrity and functioning of Parliament. Canadians can rightfully be asking themselves: Where were you when we needed you?