Now is a good time for the Senate to rebel.
There's usually little justification for the unelected chamber to oppose the will of an elected government backed by a majority in the elected House of Commons.
But Senator André Pratte has found a prime example of a legitimate Senate role: He wants to split the government's budget bill to force the proposal for a $35-billion infrastructure bank to go through more scrutiny in Parliament.
It's the kind of spoke in the wheels that governments really find annoying. The infrastructure bank is supposed to be a centrepiece of the Liberals' efforts to expand public-works projects, in this case by mustering private financing. Finance Minister Bill Morneau has been working on it for 18 months. By setting it up through the budget bill, the government figured it would pass quickly, before Parliament rises for the summer next week.
But Mr. Pratte is trying to slow it down just a little. On Tuesday, he put forward a Senate motion to split the legislation into two parts, so the bill to create the bank would be examined separately.
He is making himself a nuisance, to his credit. The Senate is in a rare moment of flux, and a majority might just join him.
Usually, the Senate's contributions to democracy are questionable enough. Unelected senators don't have a lot of legitimacy when they oppose a bill passed by MPs in the Commons, or even amend it significantly. It was made that way by Constitutional design and it's increasingly anachronistic.
But Mr. Pratte's motion is the sort of thing the Senate should do: slow down a government using omnibus legislation and its Commons majority to hustle important matters through Parliament. This is the epitome of Senate's small-but-specific legitimate role as the chamber of "sober second thought." No matter how much it annoys the government.
The budget bill, Bill C-44, is a mammoth catch-all piece of legislation with a laundry list of measures from the March budget, including tax changes, immigration rules, employment-insurance measures, amendments to the Judges Act and four transportation laws, and so on, in a bill counting more than 80,000 words.
Inside it is another bill, the Canada Infrastructure Bank Act, to create the $35-billion bank. Its provisions don't affect the rest of the budget bill. And it creates something new.
"It's a new type of financial institution that will have a major impact on how infrastructure is financed, chosen and built in this country," Mr. Pratte said.
He's in favour of the bank, by the way. He just thinks Parliament should consider it separately.
The Liberals used to think that way, too. Their 2015 platform promised to end the use of omnibus bills which, they said, Stephen Harper employed "to prevent Parliament from properly reviewing and debating his proposals."
Now, Mr. Morneau takes the position that if it's in his budget, it belongs in his budget bill. But that's just as much a crock now as it was under the Conservatives.
So the Senate should speak up. Mr. Pratte notes that will only delay the infrastructure bank a few months. But it would mean separate scrutiny. And it would send a warning about omnibus bills.
It's not clear if Mr. Pratte's effort will succeed. The government might ask the Senate Speaker to declare Mr. Pratte's motion out of order because it would split a money bill into two, and every bill that appropriates money requires a "Royal recommendation" from a cabinet minister. But splitting the bill doesn't affect the appropriation, so that probably would not succeed.
Then it's a question of whether senators vote for it.
It's a strange time in the Red Chamber. Since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began appointing independents, party lines have broken down, and senators have chosen to amend more bills – at times, even when it seemed to counter the democratic will of the Commons. Maybe senators will be willing to knock the government back a bit this time.
But it's June, and they might just want to go home, rather than sitting a few more days to debate budget bills. But this is a good time for senators to wrangle over a point of principle, because it's a rare occasion when they have one that's right in their wheelhouse.