Hon. Serge Joyal:
Honourable senators, it is a privilege to rise today to mark the 150th anniversary of the first sitting of the Senate, which took place on November 6, 1867.
The Canada of today is much different than the Canada of 150 years ago. It is a country that knows no equal in the western world. We owe that to our founders’ spirit of compromise and to the special role that the Senate played in our country’s evolution. That is what I would like to talk to you about and celebrate with you all today.
In 1864, Canada’s founders were seeking to build one large country, while respecting the rights of the two major linguistic communities and each region’s desire to continue to grow based on its own unique identity. They agreed to form a federation where issues of common interest would be dealt with centrally but where each province would retain its ability to grow by making some of its own decisions and maintaining its own regional identity.
Canada was born not out of an ideology or a grand scheme or a war or civil strife. It was essentially the result of a pragmatic approach to resolve the unification of two linguistic communities and of different regions with various levels of wealth and aspiration to create a larger country.
It is the Senate that was entrusted with the responsibility of having regional voices heard at the centre of government and with speaking on behalf of its minorities so that they would not be swamped under the weight of the majorities. In other words, it is in the Senate that the federal principle was enshrined, and it is for this reason that it was given legislative power equal to that of the House of Commons in the enactment of legislation.
The Senate has played a core role in the building of Canada. On two separate occasions, in 1980 and in 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed and underlined the unique role of our chamber in our system of government.
Honourable senators, we should never forget the oath of office that each of us subscribed to before taking our seat, that is, speaking on behalf of its region and the linguistic and cultural minorities that characterize our national social fabric. This responsibility was widened and confirmed in 1982 with the adoption of the Charter of Rights.
Rights and freedoms of Canadians and of Aboriginal peoples are always better guaranteed when the Senate uses its independent thinking to evaluate the impact of government legislation on those who have lower voices or lower capacities to have their interests and expectations valued by the majority.
As long as the Senate fulfills its constitutional duty, Canada will continue to thrive and remain a beacon of liberty and equal dignity for all.
This is what the medal, issued on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Senate, is intended to celebrate, that is, the essential link of the Senate to the success of Canada as a federal country.
May this anniversary be one among many more to come on the path of a more humanistic and democratic world.