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Message from Commons on Bill C-49, Transportation Modernization Bill

Message from Commons on Bill C-49, Transportation Modernization Bill

Message from Commons on Bill C-49, Transportation Modernization Bill

Hon. Dennis Dawson: 

Dear colleagues, I did not intend to speak this evening. However, since I spoke to this bill the first time around and called it balanced, people asked me earlier whether it is more rigorous now than it was before. I have to say that the bill has indeed been improved, since I believe that the amendments proposed in both chambers made this a better bill.

I understand the hesitation of some of my colleagues who raised legitimate concerns in committee, but I am convinced that this bill has been improved.

Like my colleagues Senators Eggleton and Joyal and one more senator from the other side, I am one of the few senators in this chamber who has had the pleasure of sitting in both chambers of Parliament. I am among those who respect the fact that the Senate can amend bills, and I have never had any qualms about asking for amendments or voting in favour of them in the past, but at the end of the day, the legislative process of the elected chamber takes precedence.

If this was a fundamental issue, I would vote against this measure a second time, but I do not think that it is, since we are talking about a bill on transportation. I therefore do not believe that this bill warrants that. I will therefore support the message from the government, not because the bill is perfect — it was not the first time I voted in favour of it — but because it has come back to us and now includes an improved process.

I want to thank the members on both sides of the House. I want to thank the leader. I want to thank the minister, who may have started off somewhat intransigent, for his understanding. When I was little, I used to listen to a song in Quebec that went:

You bring someone into the world.

Maybe you should listen to them.

I can’t remember who that was. Maybe one of my arts-minded friends in the Senate can tell me.

Mr. Trudeau brought a new Senate into the world. This is the first bill for which a majority of new senators are proposing amendments, and it would have been an insult to the Prime Minister and to this chamber not to acknowledge the importance of listening to what he brought into the world. It will not be the last time we will want to be heard.

I had some reservations about senators being excluded from the Liberal caucus. I was very unhappy about it — I still am — but in the long term, I want this new process and the new Senate to succeed.

I hope any senators who may be disappointed that some amendments were not accepted understand that this is an ongoing process and that we will get more and more opportunities to make use of the Senate’s new independence to improve bills.

We have all talked about the upper and lower houses. I am one of the rare ones — Senator Eggleton, my friend Senator Joyal, and I think there’s a senator on the other side — who have sat in both houses. I’m sorry, Senator Ringuette; you are now so far away from me that I sometimes forget you were also in the other place. Those of us who have sat in both houses know that this might be called the upper house, but as a representative in an elected chamber, the other place deserves to be respected. They have to face the electorate.

Everything in moderation.

Hon. Donald Neil Plett: Would the honourable senator take a question?

Senator Dawson: Certainly, Senator Plett.

Senator Plett: I didn’t dare ask for leave to ask Senator Harder a question because it was obvious that wasn’t going to be given. I also should have asked him a question, but I will now ask you a question.

You did talk about having been excluded from the other caucus, but I also heard you say that it would be contemptuous to vote against this.

Would you not agree, Senator Dawson, that we’ve been clearly told in this chamber by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, both verbally and in writing, that we should always support a government that has fulfilled its election promises, and we have no right here to vote against something they have committed to in an election?

On pages 39 and 75 of the Liberals’ election platform, they clearly said that they would not promote these omnibus bills that the Conservative government was known for. Here we have one of the largest omnibus bills that I can certainly remember — 13 acts of Parliament are being affected by this omnibus bill. Isn’t it a little contemptuous for the government to ask us to vote for something that modifies or changes 13 acts of Parliament? Would you not consider that going against their election promise?

Senator Dawson: Well, you’ve been here long enough, Senator Plett, to know that when we talk about omnibus bills, we try to talk about bills that deal with different issues at the same time. I’m certainly not a big fan of omnibus bills; I’ve always opposed them.

Yes, this bill does affect a lot of laws and legislation, but all of the affected legislation relates to transport. If you think we are having trouble getting a bill through on transport, imagine if we divided this measure into 12 different bills. And you know there is an urgency on this bill. The government was wrong in saying there was urgency at Christmas. You shouldn’t have false urgencies because when Christmas came and went, what happened? Well, we had a new urgency in January, February and March.

We’re in May, but the farmers are telling us — I’ve certainly received more correspondence in the last two weeks telling me, “All right, you’ve had your chance to talk about this issue.” I think the Senate Transport Committee and the Senate has improved this bill, but, please, the Western grain producers want this bill to be passed. I think we should pass it.

Senator Plett: Would you accept another question, Senator Dawson?

Senator Dawson: Certainly, Senator Plett.

Senator Plett: You didn’t answer the last one, but I’ll ask another one anyway. I certainly agree with much of what you have said, Senator Dawson, and certainly tomorrow, when I speak on this bill, without wanting to pre-empt what I’m going to say, I’m going to find myself in the same boat as Senator Pratte where I’m going to condemn the bill and then at the end I’m going to cave in and say that I won’t deny voting on this bill and probably won’t vote against it because I’m, along with Senator Pratte, probably somewhat supportive of that.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Senator Plett: Thank you very much. Remember, we don’t whip our people, and I’m only one senator over here.

Senator Lankin: It was good up until that point, Senator Plett.

Senator Plett: I might get the chance, if the sponsor of the bill decides to speak on this as well, to ask him this question. So I’ll give him a heads-up on this: How do you feel about the Leader of the Government in the Senate telling us how we should vote and how we shouldn’t vote and now is promoting an amended bill?

The government sponsor of this bill, and indeed part of the leadership, opposed every single amendment at committee. Is there some consistency there, Senator Dawson, or would you also not want to comment on that?

Senator Dawson: You should never give me an opportunity to comment on anything, Senator Plett; you must know by now that I will take the opportunity.

First of all, don’t get me wrong about Senator Harder. I don’t agree blindly with Senator Harder on most things, but I do believe that, on this legislation, he indicated clearly that some improvements could be made and he encouraged it, and I think it helped the process along.

That being said, first of all, I’m quite sure that at the minister’s office, where they are listening to you, they are happy to know, even though you’re only one senator, that you will not be voting against this bill. Being probably one of the rare 10 people here who is really not whipped, I see my supposed whip beside me who has not whipped me once in the last year, I hope this bill passes. I’m happy to know you’re supporting the measure.

The process is improving. I’m telling colleagues, “Let it improve; let’s go forward.” Canadians are looking to us. This experiment has to succeed. We’re going to have a better Senate with it.