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The Senate chamber sits empty on September 12, 2014 in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Even as the Senate bells were ringing, Marc Gold was not sure how he would vote.

And after the rookie independent senator and constitutional expert ultimately decided to abstain on the hotly debated motion to split the Liberal government's budget bill, he did not expect the decision would be so significant. Just an hour before the 10 p.m. vote, Mr. Gold had told the Senate that he was leaning toward splitting the bill.

After weeks of debate, the Senate ultimately voted 38 to 38 with one abstention – Mr. Gold – not to support a motion to carve out the Canada Infrastructure Bank provisions from the government's budget bill.

"My first reaction was, 'Oh my goodness,'" said Mr. Gold in an interview the morning after the vote.

Though independent Senator André Pratte's motion to split the bill did not succeed, it did have an impact. Mr. Pratte first raised the idea in mid-May out of concern that the proposed $35-billion infrastructure bank would not receive enough scrutiny, given that its enabling legislation was included as part of a more-than-300-page omnibus budget bill.

In the weeks that followed, the Senate banking committee scheduled several hearings focused exclusively on the bank. Witnesses before the committee raised concerns about the bank's proposed governance structure and whether it would interfere with provincial and municipal powers to regulate infrastructure projects.

It was that later concern – which was expressed unanimously in a motion by Quebec's national assembly – that was Mr. Gold's main preoccupation. While not entirely convinced by the government's assurances that such fears are misplaced, Mr. Gold, who represents Quebec in the Senate, ultimately decided against supporting Mr. Pratte's motion.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau made two appearances before Senate committees in support of the bill, including one last week. He also sent the Senate a letter urging them to pass the legislation. However, Mr. Gold said he did not receive any behind-the-scenes pressure from the government to support the bill.

Mr. Gold's abstention stands out because he was the only recorded abstention. However, 20 other senators did not attend the vote. Another senator in the chamber who did not vote was Senator George Furey, the Speaker of the Senate. Unlike in the House of Commons, where the Speaker only votes to break a tie, the Senate Speaker can choose to vote on any issue as long as they signal their intention in advance. The Senate Speaker usually does not vote.

The budget bill, C-44, was amended Tuesday afternoon by the Senate national finance committee. The committee amendments removed automatic tax increases on alcohol. Senators were expected to debate further amendments at report stage and third reading. If the full Senate ultimately approves amendments to the original bill, it will need to go back to the House of Commons for approval. The House is scheduled to rise for its summer recess on Friday.

The uncertainty over whether or not the government could get its budget bill approved intact by the Senate has led to widespread debate over the role of the upper house. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has only appointed senators who sit as independents, breaking with the long-standing practice of his predecessors, who mostly appointed senators who would represent the governing political party.

Mr. Gold, a former Osgoode Hall law professor who has provided constitutional law training to federal judges, said he has followed the public debate about the role of the Senate closely and believes he and his colleagues are on the right track.

"This was a really good debate," he said. "Regardless of the result, I think I feel, and I think many of my colleagues feel, this was an example of the Senate at its best. And that feels good. I feel good about how we're doing and this was an example, I think, of the Senate doing its job well."

National security changes tabled by the Liberals would create a super-watchdog to oversee the full array of federal intelligence agencies. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the bill aims to protect the rights of Canadians.

The Canadian Press

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