Hon. Joseph A. Day (Leader of the Senate Liberals):
Honourable senators, as Senator Tannas mentioned, this is Third Report of the Special Senate Committee on Senate Modernization. This particular report deals with populating committees. Honourable senators will know that that’s a critical part of the adjustment and modernization of our work in the Senate.
I want to remind honourable senators that the arrangement we were able to reach earlier to incorporate all new senators fundamentally into the work of committees was an interim agreement which we sometimes refer to as a sessional order. That will expire at the end of the session or in October of this year, so it’s critical that we get on with this at this time.
It’s for that reason that I would like to provide some background on the particular amendment that I intend to put forward. I thank all senators, but specifically Senators Ringuette, Tannas and Eggleton who were specifically involved in this particular matter for their understanding as we proceed to find a more permanent solution for our committees. The amendment that I intend to present is designed to ensure that the work that needs to be done by the Rules Committee can be done more freely and openly and in the manner they would normally work in than perhaps the Modernization Committee report initially suggested.
The Senate has long taken justifiable pride in the work of its committees. I’d like to put some of that work on the record because I think it’s helpful to put it in perspective. The long history includes: the Senate committee reports of the 1970s on poverty, chaired by Senator David Croll; mass media, Senator Keith Davey; the reports in the 1980s on the security intelligence service — which was a committee chaired by Senator Michael Pitfield; the report on soil erosion by Senator Herb Sparrow.
As an aside, when I was on a cross-Canada tour with the Agriculture Committee, we went to a farm in northern New Brunswick. The farmer said, “Yes, I know the work that you senators do.” He went into the barn and pulled out the report by Senator Sparrow on soil erosion. He said, “That is the Bible for us in this part of the world.” That was the first report that I had heard about, actually, from the Senate. It was a good lesson for me.
Other reports include the one on youth, by Senator Jacques Hebert —his work with Katimavik influenced that report — social cohesion, Senator Lowell Murray; ground-breaking Senate committee reports in the 2000s on health care and mental health, Senator Michael Kirby; the legalization of cannabis, Senator Pierre Claude Nolin; as well as a number of comprehensive and very insightful reports from the Defence Committee chaired by Senator Colin Kenny.
We have examined many ways to make our committees more effective, but as we think about ways to improve we should not forget the tremendous amount of work that has been accomplished over the decades.
In addition to committee work leading to policy reports, honourable senators, there is of course the work our committees have done in improving legislation received from the other place, with quite literally hundreds and perhaps thousands of amendments over the years.
The Third Report of the Modernization Committee deals directly with how our committees are constituted and organized. It is a critical report as it seeks to ensure that our committees are best positioned to continue to build on that good work that I’ve just referred to.
I commend and thank Senator Eggleton and all of the members of the Modernization Committee. I mention Senator Eggleton because he introduced this third report. He worked so hard to craft the recommendations. They’re very helpful in focusing us on the work that we need to do.
These proposals were clearly designed to ensure that all Senate committees fully respect the principles of equality and proportionality when dealing with membership and leadership positions.
In December, we all agreed to a sessional order that ensures all senators have an equal opportunity to participate fully in all committees. While other legislative bodies populate their committees based on strict seniority, as in the United States, we elected not to do that in this particular instance. On December 7, all of us agreed that we were to be treated equally regardless of the dates of our arrival in this place.
The motion that created the house order was introduced by the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Carignan. It was seconded by Senator Harder, the Leader of the Government, by Senator McCoy, the Independent Senators Group facilitator, and by me, as leader of the independent Senate Liberals.
The way the motion was moved, seconded and then adopted unanimously is, in my view, a true indication of how all of us respect the fundamental right of one another to participate fully in all aspects of our work as senators, no matter where or with whom we sit in this chamber at any time.
Honourable senators, that mutual respect, recognition and, frankly, that sense of goodwill to one another are critical for our individual and collective success in this legislative chamber of sober second thought.
I know this sense of goodwill and mutual respect for one another will guide the work of the members of the Rules Committee when this third report of the Senate Modernization Committee is referred to them for action.
But before we refer the report to the Rules Committee, I would like to suggest some changes. There have been some discussions to assist the Rules Committee with respect to the direction they will be receiving from this chamber as a result of the Modernization Committee report.
Members of the Rules Committee have, and should have, latitude to bring their full expertise and experience to the issue of ensuring equality and proportionality on committees. We want to make sure the Rules Committee also takes into specific account two points that have been raised by Senator Ringuette in discussions that we’ve had. They are the issue of proportionality on subcommittees, and the equal treatment of senators who are not members of any caucus or recognized groups.
I’ve mentioned it previously, but I should also note that Senator Eggleton has had an opportunity to consider the approach, as well as Senator Tannas, and we have wholehearted support from those honourable senators.
Motion in Amendment
Hon. Joseph A. Day (Leader of the Senate Liberals): Therefore, honourable senators, I move:
That the third report of the Special Senate Committee on Senate Modernization be not now adopted, but that it be amended:
1. by replacing the words “Senate direct the Standing Senate Committee on Rules Procedures and the Rights of Parliament to amend” by the words “Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament develop and propose to the Senate, by May 9, 2017, amendments to”;
2. by replacing the words “as the basis for such changes” by the words “as an initial basis for its work on the amendments, but also taking into account any other relevant factors identified by the Rules Committee”;
3. by adding the following new sentence at the end of the first point under the heading “STEP 4”:
“For the purposes of overall proportionality on standing committees, senators not in a caucus or recognized group shall be considered collectively as a group.”; and
4. by adding the following immediately before the word “ONGOING”:
The principle of proportionality shall also apply to the composition of subcommittees.”.