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House resumes with an empty seat and tributes to Jack Layton Add to ...

Jack Layton’s seat in the Commons will remain empty Monday as MPs return to the House after a summer recess – a tribute to the late NDP leader.

This is the first time MPs have been back to the House of Commons since the Official Opposition leader’s death last month from cancer.

And the empty seat – right across the aisle from where the Prime Minister sits – is only part of how Mr. Layton will be honoured. Stephen Harper will lead off at 11 a.m. ET, when House business begins, with a speech commemorating his political rival.

He will be followed by Nycole Turmel, the Interim NDP Leader, who was appointed when Mr. Layton announced in July he was battling a second, non-prostate cancer and needed to step aside temporarily.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae will follow. The tributes will end with what is expected to be an emotional speech from Mr. Layton’s widow, Olivia Chow, the NDP MP for the Toronto riding of Trinity–Spadina.

The Prime Minister has yet to give any indication when he will call a by-election in Mr. Layton’s Toronto–Danforth constituency.

Another session, another NDP salvo against the Senate

Senators are exempted from politics, the NDP’s Pat Martin argues, so they should be excluded from politics, too.

The Winnipeg Centre MP is incensed that well-paid and perk-laden Conservative members of the Red Chamber are involved in ongoing provincial elections.

His main target is Senator Don Plett, who is acting as co-chair for the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives in that province’s Oct 4 election. Mr. Martin also noted that PEI Senator Mike Duffy appeared at an Ottawa campaign event for a local Progressive Conservative candidate in Ontario’s Oct. 6 election.

“Plett and Duffy are the straws that break the camel’s back,” Mr. Martin told The Globe. “They flaunt common decency with their abuse of their offices. They make a mockery of the institution of Parliament.”

Mr. Duffy, unlike Mr. Plett, has no official role in the Ontario campaign. In fact, the senator said his appearance at the launch of Ottawa West –Nepean candidate Randall Denley’s campaign was a one-off event.

Mr. Plett recently sent out a “ phone blast” to Manitoba residents, identifying himself as a senator and inviting them to a campaign event.

“There’s nothing new about senators abusing their office by being taxpayer-funded political organizers,” Mr. Martin said. “ But the Conservatives have dispensed with any pretense of independence. ... They are overtly and unapologetically partisan, which flies in the face of the notion of a sober second review of legislation based on merit not politics.”

Mr. Martin noted that some of the major strategists in the Conservative war room are senators, who draw their salaries from the taxpayers. In addition, the party’s fundraising chief, Irving Gerstein, sits in the Red Chamber.

This combined with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s move to eliminate the per-vote subsidy to political parties, brought in when Jean Chrétien’s Liberals banned big corporate and union donations to parties to eliminate potential conflicts, angers Mr. Martin.

“Harper is eliminating the per-vote subsidy, which finances democracy in an egalitarian way, yet embracing a direct subsidy of $25-million a year (50 Senators at $500,00 a year with salaries and staff and travel privileges.),” he said. “It’s obscene and I don’t know why we tolerate such an offensive abuse of everything good and decent about our parliamentary democracy.”

(There are actually 55 Conservative Senators in the 105-member chamber.)

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