Hon. Joseph A. Day (Leader of the Senate Liberals):
Honourable senators, I move the motion standing in my name and I ask for leave of the Senate that it be noted as seconded by Senators Smith, Woo and Harder.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted, honourable senators?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Day: Thank you. Colleagues, you will see from your Order Paper a rather extensive motion. This is a motion that reflects an agreement that has been reached among the three major groups; the Conservatives, the ISG and the independent Liberals.
In reviewing the motion over the weekend, there is one part that doesn’t fully reflect the agreement. It’s a small one, and I’d ask for your indulgence in modifying that notice of motion in this regard, honourable senators.
Pursuant to 5-10(1), I ask for leave of the Senate to modify the motion by replacing the word “and” at the end of point 4.2 by the following, and then there’s a semicolon. This is the actual addition:
That, notwithstanding rule 12-2(5), for the remainder of the current session, the Committee of Selection be a standing committee; and.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted, honourable senators, to modify the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Day: Thank you, colleagues. Now I will proceed with my remarks to put on the record what has been going on for at least two weeks, more likely three weeks, of a lot of late-night meetings between the individuals I named as supporting this particular motion.
As we all know, discussions have been taking place for quite some time and they relate to the sessional order that we had and that has been in existence now for almost one year. It was scheduled to run out at the end of October. We were working very hard to try and come up with a new sessional order or some changes that would allow things to reflect the changes in the Senate since the time that sessional order was made. We have finally come to an agreement. We’re a couple of days late, so there has been a hiatus. We have the written agreement that has been signed by all those who have been involved in the negotiations, and there is a notice of motion that we have here that reflects the agreement that has been reached.
Some time ago, we started planning to do something about the house order of December 7, 2016, and that is what we are now dealing with, the culmination of the work that we have done.
I want to thank Senators Smith, Woo and Harder for seconding this motion, because that’s an indication that we’re coming together as senators, all of us recognizing the importance of keeping the Senate functioning. I believe this also shows how we can all work collaboratively so that the Senate can effectively carry out its constitutional role as an independent and important part of Canada’s Parliament.
But let me begin my remarks with some background about how the issue of committee membership has evolved. I think it’s important to place this on record. A year from now we won’t remember all of the things that have taken place, so I think it’s important to put this in our Debates of the Senate as a permanent record.
In June 2016, the Conservatives and Independent Liberals agreed to give up one of their positions on each Senate committee so that new senators appointed by Prime Minister Trudeau could have an opportunity to serve on committees.
On December 7, 2016, as the number of new senators grew even larger, Senator Carignan, seconded by Senators McCoy, Harder and myself, successfully moved a motion to increase the size of every committee by three members. In this way, new senators could quickly be placed on committees without removing the more experienced members in the middle of their legislative reviews and studies.
It was also unanimously agreed that the chairs and deputy chairs would not change during the life of that sessional order for the same reasons that I’ve just given. Generally speaking, all three of the new positions on every committee went to members of the ISG. This increase in committee size was made temporary and lapsed only a few days ago, on October 31, 2017. Had there been an earlier prorogation, that agreement would have lapsed even earlier, but there was no prorogation.
When this temporary house order lapsed on October 31, the problem was how to determine which three senators would be removed from each committee so that the committees could return to their original sizes. If we simply returned to the membership that existed immediately prior to the December house order, that would generally mean removing three members of the ISG from each of the Senate committees, and that was not an equitable solution.
It was suggested that each group remove one of their members from each committee. If this were done, the proportions on the committees would closely approximate the relative standing in the Senate. There are currently 94 senators serving in the 105-seat Senate. These 94 senators break down as follows: 39 Independent Senators Group, ISG, and they make up 41 per cent of the serving senators; 35 Conservatives, and they make up 37 per cent; 15 independent Liberals, and we make up 16 per cent of serving senators; and 5 non-affiliated, which includes the Speaker and Senator Harder’s group.
If we had followed that suggestion, the results would have been as follows: for the four committees with nine members, : Defence, Human Rights, Official Languages and Selection, there would be four ISG members, and that is as close as we could come to the ISG percentage in the Senate of 41 per cent. They would make up 44 per cent of the members of that group of committees.
The Conservatives, which have 37 per cent of the serving senators, would have four members on the nine-member committees, or 44 per cent.
And the Independent Liberals, which have 16 per cent of the serving senators, would make up 11 per cent of the members of those committees.
That was the closest we could come to the existing percentages when filling the committees of nine.
Now we go to the 12-member committees. There are 10 committees of 12 members. Here we went with 5 members for the ISG, Conservatives 5 and 2 Independent Liberals. The percentage here is 42 for the ISG compared to the percentage in the Senate of 41.5 — pretty close. Conservatives 42 per cent compared to their 37 per cent in the Senate, and independent Liberals 12 per cent compared to their 16 per cent in the Senate.
I note that for all of the 9-member and 12-member committees, the independent Liberals would clearly be under-represented and the Conservatives and ISG slightly over-represented based on current standings in the Senate.
For the three committees with 15 members, the ISG would have 6 members, the Conservatives 6 and the Independent Liberals 3. The Independent Liberals have more than their percentage in the chamber. We would have 20 per cent, the Conservatives 40 per cent and the ISG 40 per cent.
So you can see that this is not a precise art, but it is a very good attempt by the leadership of each of the groups in the chamber to reach an equitable distribution of the seats on committees. That is what we have agreed upon and that’s what’s in the motion.
The proportions among the groups and caucuses for the 9-, 12- and 15-member committees I have described are in this particular motion. As to the mechanics of how the committees would be repopulated, the motion provides that committees will be cleared of members and then repopulated according to the numbers I just described to you.
How do we go through the mechanics? This is provided for in the motion. At the end of Sunday, November 19, at the end of our break week, all the members of all committees would be removed. They would immediately be replaced by senators on the basis of the proportions we’ve just described. The names of the senators who the respective caucuses and groups have decided will serve on the individual committees will be provided to the clerk prior to that. So the clerk of each committee will receive the names of the senators, whether it be for ISG, the Conservatives or the Independent Liberals. The clerk would know immediately who is on those committees. That’s what is provided for when you adopt this motion, which I hope you will do. Those are the mechanics.
The names for each of the committees must be given to the clerk before Sunday, November 19. There’s a break week in there. Hopefully those names will get in the latter part of this week so when we’re away on our break week, doing our constituency work, the clerk for the committee will be able to get things ready so that as soon as we come back during that week of November 20, each of the committees, with the names that have been given, will be able to organize and determine who will be the chairs and who will be the deputy chairs.
Next year, in September 2018, the relative numbers on all committees will be revisited in the event that the proportions among the groups have changed as a result of new appointments and retirements.
I believe this motion ensures a fair and equitable balance of all groups and caucuses on all committees over the next year. It would allow our committees to operate normally now that they have returned to their original sizes as provided for in the Rules of the Senate. I believe this is a reasonable solution to a potentially serious problem we would have faced in the weeks ahead.
I should also explain that with the rise of multiple groups and caucuses in the Senate, we are also proposing in this motion that the long-standing House of Commons practice of co-deputy chairs for committees be considered for our chamber as well. If, as in the House of Commons, Senate committees have two equal deputy chairs, this would ensure a balance on the steering committee and would provide an opportunity for new senators in particular to gain experience with committee leadership responsibilities. Two equal co-deputy chairs of the committees, both serving with the chair on the steering committee, would help to manage the transition that we’re going through.
This practice of two equal co-deputy chairs in the House of Commons has proven to be effective in accommodating the legitimate needs of the various groups and making committees more efficient. Frankly, although I would have preferred that all of our committees could have two equal co-deputy chairs just as in the House of Commons, for the time being we could only agree on those listed in the motion. There are 10 or 11 listed in the motion, so we’ve agreed on those. We will be watching very carefully to see how this works and perhaps this initiative can be incorporated into the Rules in due course if we feel that it has been a success.
I accept that when negotiations are successful it’s because not everyone gets everything that he or she wants, but everyone needs to feel that progress is being made. And I believe progress has been made with this proposal for co-deputy chairs.
Finally, I should note that my motion makes no mention of committee chairs. That is because paragraphs 12 and 13 of our Rules provides that as soon as practicable, an organization meeting is called for a committee to elect a chair. That is exactly what will happen if this motion is adopted. Meetings will be held and committees will elect chairs and co-chairs.
There has obviously been discussion by the leadership teams of the caucuses and groups about committee chairs. There have always been such discussions in the past — this is nothing new — but they have normally taken place at the start of a session of Parliament rather than in the middle. That’s just because of the particular circumstance in which we find ourselves. But as in the past, we were nevertheless able to reach an understanding about committee chairs.
The understanding is between the leadership as to which group or caucus would chair which of the committees. It is now up to each group or caucus to determine who from their group of members on that committee should be put forward and nominated as the chair, and the other groups would fill the co-deputy chair positions. There are two co-deputy chairs for 10 of the committees.
That election process goes according to the Rules, but with an understanding that has been reached between the various leaders. It has worked in the past, and I am confident it will work again. We will respect that which has been agreed to.
Although all committees have always had full authority to elect whoever they wished from among their members, those elections were always conducted on the basis of recommendations made to the committee members by their respective leadership teams. This has always been done in order to ensure an overall gender, language and regional balance on committees.
These considerations, this overall balance, is more difficult to achieve if each committee makes its decisions in total isolation from other considerations. That’s why we have developed this practice. It has worked well in the past, colleagues, and I’m satisfied that the understanding we have reached on committee chairs is fair and equitable.
If there are any questions about which senator should fill any particular chair, that should be addressed by senators to the leadership of their respective groups or caucuses, because that’s what we have agreed as to how that would be handled.
Colleagues, I would like to thank everyone who has worked long and hard to reach this agreement. This is a sessional order. It’s not a rule change, but it is a framework that will lead us to an adjustment in August or September of next year, and then it will carry through to the end of this Parliament.
Colleagues, again, I ask for your support of this motion and your understanding of the road we’ve taken to reach it.
Hon. Claudette Tardif: Would my honourable colleague accept a question?
Senator Day: I would be pleased to. Thank you.
Senator Tardif: Thank you for your explanation regarding how the issue of committee membership has evolved and the work of the three leaders in achieving this goal. My question relates to the motion, in which 10 committees are listed that for the remainder of the current session will have two deputy chairs or, as you call them, co-deputy chairs; the other seven committees will have only one deputy chair. The committees that will have only one deputy chair are Aboriginal Peoples; Agriculture and Forestry; Banking, Trade and Commerce; Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources; Foreign Affairs and International Trade; Official Languages; and Fisheries and Oceans.
What is the rationale behind the addition of a deputy chair in some committees but not in others? Related to that is that the additional deputy chair on some committees will be reimbursed, while in some other committees, the third member of the steering committee will not be reimbursed. Do you view this as a fair and equitable way of proceeding?
Senator Day: No. But, like so many agreements, this is a compromise. This has gone through a lot of iterations. I personally started negotiating from the point of view that I thought every committee should have two equal co-deputy chairs, like the House of Commons. There were those around the table who didn’t want any. This is the compromise that we reached.
To say that it’s based on understandable logic would be misleading you. It took into consideration a lot of factors, not excluding in those factors who was in certain positions and which group or caucus was going to chair that particular group.
You can see a number of special arrangements were made to accommodate individuals, to accommodate objectives. The result is that we are experimenting with this idea of co-deputy chairs. I’m hopeful that it will work like it does in the House of Commons, and we’ll say we’d like to implement this for all of the committees.
In the meantime, this is what we’ve been able to agree to, and it is very unfair for those committees where we only have one deputy chair. The third person in steering will not be reimbursed, but on those committees where we have two deputy chairs, each of the individuals will be reimbursed. That’s unfair, but that is a result of the compromise that we’ve reached.