Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament—Seventh Report of Committee AdoptedPublished on 11 May 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Joan Fraser (retired)
Hon. Joan Fraser:
Colleagues, the seventh report of the Rules Committee is our response to the fifth report of the Modernization Committee. Folks with long memories may have noticed that earlier this day, the Senate adopted an order of reference ordering us to study the fifth report of the Modernization Committee, and here is our answer, which we actually presented on Tuesday. We were able to do that because, like the Internal Economy Committee, the Rules Committee does not require an actual order of reference from the Senate to conduct a study. It was very clear to us that the subject of this report from the Modernization Committee, principally the definition of “caucus” and of “parliamentary groups,” was a core element of the work that our committee and the chamber has to do as we go forward given changes in this place.
I would further note that although we had not yet received the order of reference that was passed today, we did meet the deadline that had been set in the proposed order of reference that was going to come to us. The original deadline was May 9, and we met that deadline, even without an order from the Senate, so we were kind of proud of that.
More seriously, I would like to stress, before I get into the specific discussion of this report, that in this report, as in all of our recent work in connection with the modernization of this place, at this stage of our work, the Rules Committee has studiously avoided recommending changes that would affect the status, rights and powers of the government or of the opposition in this place. We made the decision to avoid such changes because, as we all know, the Modernization Committee is engaged in the second phase of its work, which is an in-depth examination of the Westminster system of the way in which this chamber should or should not continue with its traditional approach based on the Westminster system in light of the changes that have occurred in our membership. That’s very important work, and the Rules Committee has been particularly cognizant of the need to avoid recommending changes that would pre-empt recommendations that might come from the Modernization Committee.
That said, there is still a great deal that we can do and that we, in my view and in the view of the committee, should do to adjust the rules we have to the new realities of the Senate. It’s both possible and desirable to do that, and we are trying to do it.
We are also trying to make progress now in the certain knowledge that so much more work lies ahead of us all that if we don’t get some done now, we’ll never get done all the work we need to do. We’re trying to make the progress that we can now.
We are particularly influenced, of course, by the knowledge that the sessional order, which was passed before Christmas after negotiations among the various groups and parties, will lapse, either at prorogation or at the end of October, whichever comes first, and that it would be, in our view, highly desirable to have in place, where appropriate, some rule changes to fill the gap that will be created once the sessional order about the position, if you will, of the independent senators has lapsed.
Finally, one of the principles that has guided us and of which all senators are aware and hold dear is that we are all senators. And to the extent possible, while some of us may have responsibilities that differ from other senators, we are, nonetheless, all senators and all equal.
What have we actually done in this report? I think the first and most important element of it is that we have proposed for your consideration a new definition of “recognized parties” combined with a definition of “recognized parliamentary groups” in the Senate. You may recall that under the Rules as they now stand, there is a category for recognized party, which is defined as, “A caucus consisting of at least five Senators who are members of the same political party.” Clearly not everybody in this chamber any longer is a member of a political party recognized by Elections Canada.
So your Rules Committee is proposing the following to replace that definition. I’m going to read it to you in full because I think it deserves to go into the record. We propose that the Rules now include the following definition:
Recognized party or recognized parliamentary group
A recognized party in the Senate is composed of at least nine senators who are members of the same political party, which is registered under the Canada Elections Act, or has been registered under the Act within the past 15 years. A recognized parliamentary group in the Senate is one to which at least nine senators belong and which is formed for parliamentary purposes. A senator may belong to either one recognized party or one recognized parliamentary group. Each recognized party or recognized group has a leader or facilitator in the Senate . . . .
Some of you will be particularly struck, I expect, by the fact that your Rules Committee adopts the proposal from the Modernization Committee that recognized parties and groups have nine members, which compares with the previous five. For reasons that may be evident, I personally liked five, but there was no consensus on any specific number in our committee, so we decided to go with the recommendation from the Modernization Committee. Excessively large though nine may be, it is what it is.
Also you will note that the new proposed definition does not include the word “caucus.” That has occasioned some discussion. The fact is that the Rules of the Senate have never defined the word “caucus.” The only place where it appears in our Rules is in the current definition of a recognized party, where we say a recognized party is, “A caucus consisting of at least five Senators . . . .”
Rather than get into a definition of a caucus on top of a definition of a recognized party and a recognized parliamentary group, it seemed simpler for us just to go straight to the definitions of the parties and the groups and leave out the word “caucus,” because nothing else changes. There was no other application of the word “caucus” in the Rules of the Senate to change.
Now, it’s important to realize that the Rules of the Senate, which is what we’re talking about right now, are completely separate from the Senate Administrative Rules, the SARs. Those are in the jurisdiction of the Internal Economy Committee. Those rules have a whole chapter headed “caucuses,” and they have their own definition and own rules about caucuses. It will be for the Internal Committee Economy to decide what they do about that.
What I am proposing to you is what we proposed for changes to the Rules of the Senate, which consist largely of ordering the way we do business in the chamber, in committee and associated negotiations, but we will all await with interest to see what Internal comes up with in terms of the SARs.
Having decided what definition we would recommend, we then went on to make some other recommendations: first, that we add the words “Facilitator of a recognized parliamentary group,” where the Rules now refer to “the leader of any other recognized party,” “any other recognized party” being other than the government or the opposition party.
For example, in terms of speaking times, we would propose that the rules say, “Leader of the Government and the Leader of the Opposition shall be allowed unlimited time for debate” — that is the rule as it now stands — “and the leader or facilitator of any other recognized party or recognized parliamentary group shall be permitted up to 45 minutes for debate.” That is the model that you’ll find repeated in most of our recommendations.
What is the impact of the changes that we propose? There are a number of things.
First, and perhaps from the point of view of the parliamentary group or groups that are recognized, there is the ability for them to substitute committee members. If one of their members is absent from a committee, the facilitator or the facilitator’s designate would be able to substitute, as whips have always been able to do, the member of the committee with another member from that group.
The sessional order now in force contains that provision. This would just formalize it in the rules.
As you may have gathered, we suggest giving facilitators of recognized parliamentary groups essentially the same speaking time as leaders of other — other than government opposition — recognized parties to put them on a level playing field, if you will. The changes would recognize that the facilitators of parliamentary groups participate in negotiations about chamber business. That’s basically a reference to the Daily Scroll meeting and ancillary meetings, which they attend and have been attending for months and months. This is not actually an innovation that we are proposing. It is a recognition of what is being done now.
We would include the facilitators of recognized parliamentary groups in consultations about a couple of other things. One involves a change of dates for sittings. If while the Senate has suspended or has adjourned for a prolonged period of time and it becomes apparent that the date for resumption of the session should be changed, the facilitators of parliamentary groups would be included in negotiations about that change of date.
Remember, consultation does not give you the power of decision, but it gives you the right to be heard.
And we would also include them in consultations about where proposed new user fees should be referred when it comes to sending them to a committee.
Also, facilitators of recognized parliamentary groups would be able to request extending the times for Senators’ Statements, which is particularly important in connection with scheduling tributes to departing senators. As we know, that’s always done by the leader of the group from which you are departing as you leave the Senate.
I think that covers what we have proposed in the seventh report from the Rules Committee. We have tried hard to be faithful to the principles and to the realities of the Senate today without pre-empting future changes or adoptions of position or principle.
I would like, in closing, to thank most sincerely all the members of the Rules Committee for their work on this matter, starting, of course, with the deputy chair, Senator White, and the other members of the steering committee, Senators Frum and Lankin, but all members of the committee. We all know that any change in the rules of this place can lead to deep emotional discussions, deep discussions of principle, and that was the case in the preparation of this report.
I really cannot tell you how important it has been that this committee has managed to maintain a civil, senatorial, if I may, approach to these matters. Sometimes the discussions have been a bit heated, but they have been constructive. I think that what you see here is the reflection of the work of a committee on which not only all groups but essentially all philosophies, all opinions about the nature of this place were represented. These are our best recommendations for adjustment to this chapter of the Rules of the Senate, and I thank you for your attention, colleagues.
Hon. Colin Kenny: Senator, would you accept a question?
Senator Fraser: Of course.
The Hon. the Speaker: Senator Fraser, your time has expired. Are you asking for five more minutes?
Senator Fraser: Only five minutes, Your Honour.
Senator Kenny: Thank you, Senator Fraser. On the question of substitution by whips when a member is being replaced, would you consider any requirement that the person being replaced be notified and be in agreement with the substitution?
Senator Fraser: We did not. That is not now in the rules. It is not either, to the best of my recollection, in the Modernization Committee report. Personally, I think it is a fine idea, and I know the Modernization Committee has a subcommittee working on the question of committees, and I would strongly urge you to suggest it to them.
Senator Kenny: If I may, it’s a practice that’s been used more frequently in the other place, but I think it’s a disastrous practice that has caused embarrassment to many members when they arrive at a meeting and discover they’re no longer a member of the committee, and it’s an opportunity for leadership to exercise undue authority over an individual who might want to express a view that is different from the rest of the gang.
Senator Fraser: Indeed, as you say, it has not been used very often here. Here, substitutions are usually made to compensate for the absence of a given committee member. But the kind of substitution that you’re talking about, Senator Kenny, has occurred on occasion here, which is why I urge you to draw it to the attention of the relevant subcommittee of the Modernization Committee.