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Leader of the Government in the Canadian Senate Marjory LeBreton speaks to media before entering the Seante on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 18, 2013. LeBreton says there’s been debate on all sides about the union disclosure bill.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

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It didn't take long for the Prime Minister's Office to weigh in after a rare show of defiance by nearly two dozen Conservative Senators.

A bill on union disclosure that the government wanted passed into law this summer was blocked after 16 Conservatives voted against the government's wishes to amend the bill. A further six abstained, allowing the amendments to pass with the support of the Liberals and independents in the Senate.

Less than two hours after the vote took place, Andrew MacDougall, the director of communications for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, sent a statement to the media.

"We continue to support union transparency and the principles of the bill, which will be returned to the House as part of the normal process. As per Parliamentary convention, we expect that the Senate will respect the will of the House of Commons should the Bill be returned to the Senate," he wrote.

The PMO seems to be saying that if the House sends the bill back in essentially its original form, the Senate must give up its fight. But history shows that's not always the case.

Sometimes – including under the Harper government – the Senate has insisted on amendments and the House has backed down.

The Library of Parliament has compiled a handy list of all cases where the Senate amended a bill since 1960. It can be found here.

The list shows there have been 114 cases where the Senate has amended a bill from the House and sent it back since 1960. Breaking this down into hard numbers is a challenge because in some cases there is compromise on some amendments, but not on others, and some disputes were simply left unresolved. But for the sake of perspective, here is a rough count of how the cases broke down.

The vast majority of the time – about 81 times – the House simply agreed with the Senate's amendments.

Of the 20 incidents in which the House disagreed with an amendment from the Senate, the Senate backed down completely 11 times by not insisting on its amendments. In the other cases, there was more extensive back and forth leading either to a compromise or the issue being left unresolved.

Of the six cases where the Senate insisted on its amendments, the Senate later backed down twice, the House accepted the Senate amendments once, one case was resolved in a compromise and two others were left unresolved.

The Senate's amendments to C-377 marked the 10th time the Senate has amended a bill from the House since Mr. Harper became Prime Minister in 2006.

One particular example from 2006 shows the rules are not as black and white as Mr. MacDougall suggests.

The Harper government's very first bill – C-2, the Federal Accountability Act – originally faced over 150 amendments from the then-Liberal dominated Senate. The House disagreed with many of the Senate amendments and sent the bill back to the Senate. The Senate insisted on a couple of its amendments – including that the Senate Ethics Officer continue to exist rather than be absorbed under a single Ethics Commissioner for both houses of Parliament and senior public servants.

The House gave in on that issue and passed the bill. The entire back and forth took just over a month. More information on the amendments can be found here. There is an option in which a team of MPs and Senators hold a "conference of both houses" to solve a dispute. But this practice hasn't been used since 1947 and is considered a relic that won't be revived.

In the event of a major dispute, the argument that the views of an elected body should win out over an appointed body would presumably win the day.

But if the Supreme Court approve Ottawa's proposal to appoint provincially elected Senators, avoiding gridlock between two elected chambers will be an important question to address.

Bill Curry covers finance in Ottawa.

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