Senate Modernization—Fourth Report of Special Committee AdoptedPublished on 9 February 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Joan Fraser
Hon. Joan Fraser:
As Senator Carignan noted today — and on Tuesday Senator Lankin — this particular report of the Modernization Committee is attempting to square a circle, to reconcile objectives that are not necessarily easy to reconcile, but reconcile them we must. We must both respect every senator’s right to speak, and the comparatively modern concept of some degree of predictability and efficiency in the use of our time in the chamber.
I do find a couple of things about the form of this report a little difficult. I would like to put that on the record. One of them is that, in this report as in others from the Modernization Committee, the language used in the report says that the Senate “directs” the Rules Committee, or on occasion the Internal Economy Committee, to do something.
This is not unheard of, but it is quite unusual for the Senate to “direct” a committee to do specific things unless there is some degree of urgency or some imperative element at stake. In this case, I don’t think either of those requirements applies. I understand the impatience of those who want to get on with this work — indeed to some extent I share that impatience.
However, I caution colleagues that we should not fall into the trap of having the Senate direct committees to do in fine detail the work that we have a committee to study and to determine the best way to proceed.
That particular concern is heightened in the case of this report by the fact that the Senate, under this report, is to direct the Rules Committee to change the process for so-called “stood” items in line with the six elements set out on pages 34 to 35 of the Modernization Committee’s first report.
Those six elements are very detailed indeed. One wonders why one would even bother referring the matter to the Rules Committee if we just have to parrot back the six elements that are set out in the modernization report.
However, that said, I repeat: I do not oppose the fundamental concept that we have to square the circle respecting senators’ rights to speak and make our procedures as effective and, if you will, modern as possible.
Senator Carignan spoke about predictability. I find the word interesting and I find the concept important. I wonder if we might not consider, since all senators now have access to the daily scroll, distributing it electronically to the press gallery, if we don’t already do so, which would give them at least a little heads-up.
The scroll is never the last word. It does not remove any senator’s freedom to speak or not to speak, but it is an indication of what, at about noon, the table and the leaderships of various groups expect to happen. That might be a worthwhile thing to address.
In the meantime, I draw to your attention, colleagues, the fact that under the Rules of the Senate, the Rules Committee has the authority to initiate a study on any element of the Rules, our procedures or the rights of Parliament that we consider worthy of study.
We do not have to await an order of reference from the Senate, unlike many committees. Indeed, we have already exercised that authority, in that the third report from the Rules Committee, which is before this chamber, actually addresses the second half of the recommendations in the Modernization Committee report that we are debating now.
We went ahead and did the work without having the Senate tell us to do it. That is, of course, the report that we have presented from the Rules Committee about the reordering of the Order Paper and to make it clearer and simpler for one and all to follow and understand.
In fact, the steering committee of the Rules Committee has already begun the preparatory work for addressing the matter of items that are stood on the Order Paper. Whether this report were adopted today, or ever, by the Senate, the Rules Committee would continue its work to that end and would report to this chamber as soon as we were in a position to do so.