Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Internal Economy,
Budgets and Administration
Issue 6 - Evidence
OTTAWA, Tuesday, August 6, 1996
The Standing Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration
met this day at 2:00 p.m.
Senator Colin Kenny (Chairman) in the Chair.
The Chairman: Honourable senators, item no. 8 on the agenda relates to the
restructuring of Senate committees. Perhaps Mr. Gary O'Brien could take a seat
at the table.
I will preface this item by saying that I have had an extensive meeting with
Senator Gauthier on this issue. It is really a Rules issue, and it will be
dealt with by the Privileges, Standing Rules and Orders Committee. This is a
first cut at it. The intention is that if this committee thinks that this report
is a good starting point, we will present it in the chamber and refer it to the
Rules Committee for study. There are several precedents for this approach. This
opens up logistical room for the Rules Committee to do whatever it wishes, vis-à-vis
Mr. Gary O'Brien, Director, Committees Directorate and Private Legislation: Mr.
Chairman, honourable senators, this proposal in some ways continues the ongoing
debate. Perhaps it took a more serious turn two years ago when the Rules
Committee issued a questionnaire to all senators to gather their thoughts about
the restructuring of committees. This paper carries forward a lot of the ideas
discussed in the Rules Committee at that time. It tries to wrestle with the
problems that committees face.
As a credit to yourselves and to the institution, the Senate has probably the
best parliamentary committee system in terms of the quality, the numbers and
the thoroughness of its reports. However, notwithstanding that, there are
problems in the way committees function. This paper identifies at least six
First, there is an imbalance in the workload. The paper uses five-year averages,
but looking at the annual report of our committees branch, which just came out
recently for fiscal year 1995-96, in terms of hours in committee, the Pearson
committee was the top committee with 145 hours; Legal, 142 hours; Euthanasia,
70 hours; Banking, 57 hours; Transport, 51 hours; Social Affairs, 29 hours;
Agriculture, 11 hours; and Aboriginal, 9 hours. There is quite a difference.
Some committees are very busy and others are not quite as busy.
Second, there is an overlapping in membership. We have really compressed our
committee work into two-and-a-half days a week, and we have time slots
throughout those two-and-a-half days. There is a problem with overlapping in
membership in virtually every time slot. For example, I checked this morning,
and our eleven o'clock Tuesday slot has two senators with conflicting
committees; when the Senate rises on Tuesday, five senators have conflicting
memberships; on Wednesday at 3:15, three senators have conflicting memberships;
at 5:15, there are five conflicts; at 8:30 on Thursday, one senator has a
conflicting membership, and at 11:00 on Thursday, there are three conflicts.
Senators, we have problems in overlapping membership.
Third, we have attendance problems, as the paper addresses and as was pointed by
the selection committee. Our five-year average is less than 50 per cent
Fourth, many senators feel that the present rules do not cover important subject
matters. National defence, security and terrorism are subjects that are perhaps
not being adequately addressed. Senator Oliver has expressed the opinion that
human rights is not adequately covered. Senator Beaudoin has talked about
Fifth, some senators serve on four committees and a number serve on three
committees. This has hindered senators by preventing them from concentrating on
certain matters, and thus becoming specialists in areas in which they would
like to become involved. Given the way committees are currently structured,
that latter is not happening as much as it should be.
Finally, although our committees have been reduced in size over the years, they
are still perhaps too big. They consist of 12 members, two of whom are ex
officio, which makes for a total of 14 members. If the committee hears from an
important witness, all senators take their turn asking questions. Some do not
have enough time to properly question a witness.
With six problems facing us, our proposal contains at least six features:
First, we suggest an increase in the number of standing committees from 12 to
15, adding three new standing committees -- national defence and security,
human rights, and national unity.
Second, we suggest that the work be balanced a little better through the
restructuring of a committee such as the Legal Committee. This means
transferring some of the subject matter usually referred to that committee to
other committees. For example, if the issue deals more with police matters or
the RCMP, it would go to the National Defence and Security Committee. If it
deals with a human rights question, perhaps the matter might go to the Human
Rights Committee. If the issue dealt with relates to federal-provincial
relations, perhaps it would be referred to the National Unity Committee. Other
committees could be restructured as well.
Third, with respect to membership, we suggest making it a rule that a senator
can only belong to one standing committee at a time; a standing committee that
deals with a policy area. However, a senator could perhaps be a member of an
administrative committee, such as internal economy or rules and orders, a
committee dealing with a policy area, a joint committee or a special committee.
Fourth, we suggest drafting a rule whereby if a senator's attendance at the
meetings of a committee drops below 75 per cent, he or she would be dropped
from the membership of that committee.
Fifth, we suggest creating a new category of membership called an "associate
member". An associate member could be an independent senator, or a senator
who wishes to sit on a particular committee. Perhaps such senators could take
the place of a senator whose attendance has dropped, and who is not attending
the meetings of that committee. Perhaps there could be a competition, if you
like, for the available seats on a committee, and such associate members could
come on to a committee in that fashion.
Sixth, we suggest moving to smaller committees, going from 12 members to 7
members for the policy area committees and perhaps 15 members to 9 members for
administrative committees such as Internal Economy. As I mentioned, using
associates members may be a way to bring independent members to the committee.
Mr. Chairman, that is the proposal in a nutshell. The main focus of this
committee is to ensure that there be logistical arrangements sufficient enough
to allow this restructuring to take place. The paper mentions and discusses
some of that support, and I think it is there to aid in moving in that
direction. Obviously, if our rules are to be amended, that is within the
jurisdiction of the Rules Committee. As has been done in the past when the
Internal Economy Committee wished to make financial guidelines into rules for
the operation of Senate committees, it made a proposal that was referred to the
Rules Committee for study.
Senator Corbin: This topic has been under debate in the Rules Committee for
approximately the last three years. It was discussed prior to that as well.
However, some of the comments made by Mr. O'Brien are not realistic, in my view.
There is a political consideration which all parties have at heart. The whips
have a lot to say with respect to who sits on what committee, who replaces who
and when. Otherwise, the party system collapses. The whips are key to the
proper functioning of committees under our partisan parliamentary system. That
will have to be taken into account in a very realistic way.
Mr. O'Brien properly said that this is very much a topic for the Rules
Committee. The best thing we can do with this report is boil it down a bit,
table it in the Senate, and refer it to the Rules Committee.
For reasons both known and unknown, the Rules Committee has not been able to
advance on this issue for something like the last three years. There is a need
for reform. We need more flexibility, but we can only do it if the leadership
of both parties agree to do something about it.
When I was deputy chairman of the Rules Committee -- and this is no secret,
because this was said in the Rules Committee -- it was suggested that we speak
to our respective leaders, get them to meet and then return to their caucuses.
That is another reality around this place: one does not move very far or very
fast unless there is caucus input on either side. One has to keep in mind the
independents as well, whom we have tried to accommodate within our proposals.
The thrust for action of this matter must come from the top down, not simply
from the bottom up, as we are attempting to do here, in a way. Otherwise, we
will not accomplish anything, and three years hence we will still be debating
I am very much in favour of reform. We could name a number of other committees.
A cultural affairs committee, for example, is of great interest to many
senators simply because the House of Commons is not doing its job on the issue.
The cultural community is very much in a crisis right now. We talk about
cultural industries, but that is something else. We are not talking about the
basic soul of what Canada is all about, and that is a field in which the Senate
could do a lot.
I have said what I have to say. Let us get the thing moving once more.
The Chairman: I think that is a very useful contribution.
Senator Oliver: I am delighted that this paper has come forward. I have two
questions, and I do not know the answer to them.
Our party is having a national caucus in Winnipeg in a couple of weeks. Now that
this paper has been tabled, is there anything wrong with having a preliminary
discussion in our caucus about it, even before it is tabled in the Senate, and
even before it goes to the Rules Committee?
The Chairman: A Hill Times reporter is present -- we are now into our public
meeting -- and perhaps she will print a report on this matter in the Hill
Senator Corbin: You do not need this specific paper to discuss the issue in your
caucus. I believe your caucus already had a discussion on this issue when the
Rules Committee came forward with proposals. You can pick it up where you left
Senator Oliver: I chaired a two-day seminar for our caucus on renewal of the
Senate, and committee structure is one of the main things we discussed three
years ago. We have done a lot, but we did not have these particular proposals
such as that a senator can only serve on one committee. I am wondering whether
we could put that before our respective caucuses.
The Chairman: It is out in the open, as of now.
Senator Oliver: In the preparation of that report, did Mr. O'Brien or anyone
else ask the current chairs of the committees for their input? In other words,
are some of their views reflected in this report?
The Chairman: With some in a very general sense, and with others in a much more
specific sense. For example, Senator Carstairs talked about the workload of her
committee, but we did not go into great detail with her about that. Senator
Kirby grabbed a draft and got into it up to his elbows, but it has varied
according to the individual senators. We talked to the chairs who were most
affected, since we were proposing a change in the description of their duties.
Senator Oliver: The Legal and Banking Committees.
The Chairman: We were assigning things to the Foreign Affairs Committee, for
example, that they had not dealt with before. Senator Stewart's response was, "Let
me think about it some more."
The intention is not to have a perfect paper, nor is it necessarily, even, to
establish the three new committees that we have talked about. Since the paper
has been floating around, other people have come up with better and different
names for some of the committees. The intention is to start the debate again.
Senator Oliver: That is good.
The Chairman: We are kicking it off here. If the committee agrees, we will
present the paper in the chamber and ask the chamber to refer it to the Rules
Committee. The basic intent of the paper, however, is to get a debate going. If
senators have further suggestions to make, or anything that they would like to
add to the paper, I would ask them to do so; otherwise, I would ask that we move
it forward in its current form and continue debate in the chamber and in the
Senator Oliver: I agree with Senator Corbin. I am very much in favour of reform,
and I endorse a number of his comments.
Senator De Bané: One of the major factors in the success and performance
of a committee rests on the quality of the researchers or the research firm
which has been hired. When we look at the amount of money involved, and the
hiring of researchers in all other departments, it is done on a competitive
basis. They do not hire the cheapest researcher. Rather, they hire the best
value for money. This is Treasury Board criteria.
Unfortunately, in some committees, I have noticed that where an opportunity
arises whereby many researchers can compete and present a proposal, it is not
open because such and such a person has had a grip on the research for that
committee for many years. Therefore, in my opinion, it is time that this
committee, which approves the budget of every other committee, issued guidelines
saying that from now on, when a research contract expires, we insists that the
process be opened up to competition, in line with the criteria affecting all
other departments when they hire professionals. It must be a competitive
process so that we get the best value for our money.
The Chairman: That topic, of course, is not covered in this paper. I have no
difficulty in attempting to produce guidelines in such an area. However, what I
do have some concern about is that each of the committees is made up of a group
of senators, just like ourselves, who presumably debate the merits of the
individual they will hire to work for them. I have always experienced a certain
amount of reticence in us saying, "Well, we understand your work better
than you understand your work." Having said that, however, some general
guidelines or procedure that provides more transparency to the selection of
researchers and public relations staff makes good sense to me. Would it be
unfair to ask you to give us some principles to consider?
Senator De Bané: I will do so with great pleasure, Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman: Perhaps Mr. O'Brien could consult you. Maybe you could give him
the benefit of your thoughts on this subject, and he could put it in the form
of a paper to be discussed at a subsequent meeting.
Senator De Bané: Absolutely. I appreciate that invitation very much, Mr.
Senator Stollery: Mr. Chairman, I read this report when it was issued a while
back. A great deal of thought has gone into the report. At first, I wondered
what the Internal Economy Committee was doing dealing with the structure of
committees. On the other hand, one could argue, why not the Internal Economy
Committee? This is a pretty good report.
Like all of us, I related this report to my own committee, which is the Foreign
Affairs Committee. We have been the trade committee since 1987. We do all of
the trade bills. We have a group of senators who know a great deal about
Canada's trade relations. We have just completed what I consider to be a very
important report on the European Community, in which we make some very cogent
About half a dozen senators sit on that committee; in other words, it is not the
whole committee. When we travelled to Europe to do our study on the European
Community, about half the committee went, senators who were interested in the
subject. There was a great argument, but we will not go into that.
Senator Corbin: That was not the criteria.
Senator Stollery: It related to numbers.
Senator Carstairs: There were a few other things on the table.
Senator Bacon: That was not the main reason.
Senator Stollery: The fact of the matter is that a group of senators regularly
attends the committee. Those who attend regularly should probably comprise the
committee. There should be more committees because those senators who do not
attend must be interested in other issues.
In the House of Commons, the whips are active in relation to committees. People
are moving around between committees all the time, whereas in the Senate,
senators are assigned to a committee when they come here. They have a
proprietary interest in that committee for years, even if they do not attend
very much. This has been my experience in the 15 years that I have been here.
For reasons of a proprietary nature, I think the whips have less influence. Of
course they have an influence, but it is not like the House of Commons
I think one of the ideas here is a good one: If a senator misses a certain
number of meetings, he or she no longer sits on that committee. That is a good
I would send the report, as Senator Corbin suggested, to the Rules Committee.
Senator Rompkey: I agree that this is a good paper. I like the way it is set
out. I generally support it, and I think there is a need for reform.
In the Senate, I think there is more latitude for individuals to ask questions
in committees than there is in the House of Commons. However, I see a value in
reducing the number of senators on committees. Even though there is more
latitude in the Senate, and even though each person can explore issues in more
depth, if you have 10 or 12 senators around a table there is still a compulsion
on the part of the chair to allow equal opportunity for asking questions. I
think a few senators focusing on issues can perhaps do a lot more work in more
depth than many senators can do. I am in favour of reducing the number of
senators on committees, generally.
Other topics can be covered. Terrorism, for example, is a reality of our time
and is something the Senate should deal with. The events in Atlanta are just
the latest example of how we are into a whole new period where we need to look
seriously at our security issues in this age. A number of other topics need to
How does what we are proposing compare with what other second chambers do? I am
always interested in comparisons. We cannot compare ourselves with the
Americans, for example, but perhaps we can compare ourselves with some other
The Chairman: I must confess that we made no systematic examination of other
chambers. We would have to restrict it to the Westminster style.
Senator Rompkey: You could look at Australia, for example.
Senator Carstairs: That would be a function of the Rules Committee.
The Chairman: The Rules Committee could do that, but our staff have heard what
you have had to say. I am sure the staff will get to it before the Rules
Committee has a chance to ask them.
As to your first point, terrorism would come under the purview of defence and
security. Senator Kelly has chaired two committees on terrorism in the past
decade. He has been an advocate of that for some time. If you look at how we
describe the standing committee on defence, you will see that it includes the
RCMP, CSIS and all sorts of things that a minister of the interior would do.
Does that cover your point, senator?
Senator Rompkey: Yes.
Senator Cohen: I am in full agreement with the 75 per cent attendance rule. As
well, I think the idea of associate members is great. I have attended many
committees where someone has been unable to attend and they send a body in to
replace them. This replacement typically does not have the interest or
knowledge of the particular issue that is under discussion. That is a very good
innovation, as long as the associate members receive the same information as
committee members receive.
Senator Bacon: I do not want to correct anyone, but I think when a committee
travels, the number of travelling members is limited.
The Chairman: Yes.
Senator Bacon: That is the main reason why some of us did not travel with the
Foreign Affairs Committee, not because we were not interested, but because too
many members of the committee wished to travel. The budget is very important.
The Chairman: Yes.
Senator Bacon: What about the budget of all committees compared to the one we
have now? Would that be about the same budget?
The Chairman: We thought we would save money on travel because a smaller
committee would be travelling. The overall committee budget will not be any
smaller because we will still have new senators with new activities.
One of the great anomalies of the Senate -- and I am looking at Madam
Aghajanian, because I know she has the figures -- relates to the percentage of
our overall budget spent on committees. We are proud of the work we do on
committees. Mrs. Aghajanian will shock us with the percentage of our total
budget spent on committees.
Mrs. Siroun Aghajanian, Director of Finance: It is about 2 per cent.
The Chairman: We are proud of the work we do in committees. If you think that
spending is some indication of what our priorities are, we are only spending 2
per cent of our budget on committees. It is something to reflect on when we get
to the budget-cutting part of our cycle next time around.
I cannot present this report directly to the Rules Committee. I must first
present it to the chamber, and the chamber can then make a reference to the
Rules Committee. However, I can present it with the recommendation that it go
on to the Rules Committee, if you wish. Is that agreed?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chairman: Item no. 9 on the agenda relates to the 1996-97 supplementary
budget for the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs
and the work it did on Term 17, the constitutional agreement.
Senator Carstairs: Mr. Chairman, this item has been tabled in the Senate, and
has been approved. This is just a formality. The money has even been spent.
The Chairman: This is merely an information item.
Item no. 10 on the agenda relates to the budget of the Rules Committee. Senator
Gauthier, unfortunately, is absent. How do we handle this item?
Mr. O'Brien: It can wait until the next meeting.
The Chairman: This brings us to item no. 11 on the agenda, the PITCOM proposal,
modelled on the U.K. Parliamentary Committee on Information and Technology.
At our meeting on June 17, it was agreed that Senator Oliver would circulate a
package of documents to members of the committee. We also indicated to Senator
Oliver that we wanted Senator Bacon to be comfortable with this issue from the
perspective of her committee.
Perhaps the best way to deal with this matter is to have Senator Oliver give us
a quick summary of what he has in mind, and then perhaps Senator Bacon could
advise us how this fits, if it does, within the ambit of her committee. Then we
can have a short discussion.
Senator Oliver: This is not a request for a new committee; it is not a request
for a Senate committee. This is a request that a group of interested people
have an opportunity to meet in committee rooms and have the availability of
translation about twice a year.
When I came to this meeting this morning, the topic under discussion was
improving communications and public relations. When I wrote to key industry
players across Canada, telling them what I would like to propose, the response
was overwhelming. They were delighted to see that a member of Parliament was
interested in trying to set up a group that could think about and discuss the
future aspects of key issues for long-term policy planning in Canada.
I was asked to submit further papers to the committee, and I have done that. We
want to have briefing sessions at which industry members and their observers
debate key issues, and demonstrate areas of agreement and disagreement. We want
to provide a community wherein MPs, both from the House of Commons and from the
Senate, can question expert practitioners, or watch them question one another,
so that individual parliamentarians can have an opportunity to build their
knowledge of an important area of expertise in Canada. I envisage that we will
meet twice a year. There would be the possibility of publishing an annual
This committee will not look at, study or critique legislation. This committee
would not operate by way of an order of reference in the way of a Senate
committee. It would consist of a group of people outside of Parliament, plus
parliamentarians, people in industry, academics and research, who want a forum
within which to discuss areas of major concern.
Senator Bacon: Establishing a PITCOM in Canada based on the British PITCOM model
overlooks some fundamental differences between the realities of the two
countries. In my view, it is more than a parliamentary association or a
friendship group. A PITCOM would actually have its own board, chairman,
executive secretariat, staff and infrastructure, even though it is argued that
there would be no cost to Parliament. The question of no cost is at best
doubtful, unless you believe there is such a thing as a free lunch.
A precedent could be set here in formalizing a parliamentary group that involves
full members from the private sector, most of whom would represent some of
Canada's largest and most powerful corporations in the telecommunications
sector. Public perceptions of lobbying or conflict of interest could be
expected. Serious questions could be raised about the mandate of this group in
relation to the government's policy agenda.
The objectives of such a group would be to prepare strategic policy options for
government on infrastructure development; to explore the role of the regulator
in a competitive market; the convergence of telephone, cable and computer
services; the allocation of radio spectrum; foreign ownership limits; the
raising of capital for investments in telecommunications; and other public
policy matters. Given the calibre of players represented, what pressures would
the private sector wish to exercise on the government through its so-called
We have another concern, and that has to do with this group's role in relation
to existing and approved mechanisms for deliberation and consultation with the
communications sector, such as the subcommittee of the Senate on
communications, not to mention several House of Commons committees. The PITCOM
proposal seems to present a higher risk for overlap, if not for interference
altogether, with other parliamentary and departmental bodies. It is also a known
fact that competition is fierce between some of the key players in the
communications sector, and how this impacts on the role of a mixed or
multi-sectoral PITCOM ownership.
Those are the kinds of questions I have regarding potential problems with the
proposed implementation of PITCOM in Canada. We also did some research on the
difference between PITCOM and the CRTC, and the role of PITCOM vis-a-vis
parliamentarians regarding new technology and the economic and social
potential. The role of the CRTC is to maintain a close relationship with the
Department of Justice, providing all necessary information to parliamentarians
on request. The CRTC was created back in 1920 to get away from politics and get
away from the lobbying of the communications sector.
Politicians would be on the board of PITCOM, and politicians would be members.
It seems to me that we are going back to politics and lobbying. I have already
discussed this with Senator Oliver, but key players would go directly to
members of the board to lobby. This lobbying would be very strong, as this
group would want to recommend strategic policy options to the government. I am
very concerned about that.
The role of PITCOM is to promote shared analysis of new issues by
parliamentarians, industry and consumers by organizing visits and meetings,
whereas the CRTC allows for free participation by industry and consumers in its
The role of PITCOM is to create an informal forum for the exchange of ideas
among parliamentarians, their advisors and the industry. The role of the CRTC
is to maintain the necessary distance between the industry and Parliament in
order to avoid conflicts of interest. The functions would be totally different
between the PITCOM and the CRTC. The creation of a telecommunications
regulating committee by a group of telecommunications professionals, I feel,
creates a precedent which runs contrary to the entire democratic tradition which
we have in our Canadian institutions. The creation of this committee overlaps
the functions of the CRTC, and also the Senate subcommittee on communications.
The development of technology and telecommunication regulations by the members
of that very industry can only create serious ethical problems, starting with
conflicts of interest.
The present mood of government and its tendency to streamlining does not allow
us to spend public funds in order to create a committee that serves the
specific interests of an already flourishing industry. Such a committee would
open the door for industry lobbies to exert direct pressure on Canadian
How would the requirement that the committee be chaired by a senator integrate
continuity or stability? I do not have the answer to that.
Senator Corbin: I have a comment: In light of the lobbying and conflict of
interest rules which have developed in Parliament over the years for Members of
Parliament both in the House and in the Senate, and in light of the role
attributed to some of the agencies to which Senator Bacon has referred, and
regarding the opening up of our facilities and committee rooms, et cetera,
somewhat in the manner of a black sheep I have opposed that opening-up over the
years because I consider the precincts of Parliament more or less sacred --
more sacred than less -- for the use of proper parliamentary activities.
Putting that all together in the one bag, and considering that the people whom
Senator Oliver is asking us to accommodate are representative of some of the
more wealthy concerns and some of the more powerful industrial concerns in the
country, I am surprised that they would not, on their own or with any
parliamentarian's assistance, create an off-the-hill event, be it yearly or
twice yearly. Other concerns do this from time to time and they invite to those
events parliamentarians who have an interest in terms of knowledge, evolution,
progress and whatever.
Why should we ask Parliament to open its doors to this group and then be faced
with an avalanche of similar requests from other groups? That is how this sort
of thing will evolve.
I, personally, think that Parliament has become very much a Disneyland, when you
regard everything that is happening on this hill, beginning with the Christmas
lights and the fireworks. I am not saying we should deny Canadians access to
their prime Canadian institution but we should be mindful of the proper use of
that institution. It is primarily a place for the elected people and for the
appointed people in the Senate to debate legislation, to examine policies. I
know Senator Oliver will probably take me on from that angle.
However, I understand from the presentation of Senator Oliver that we are not so
much accommodating parliamentarians as we are accommodating the industry, and
opening a great lobbying door, allowing them to circumvent the lobby rules
which have been decreed over the years. In saying that, however, I may have a
false conception of the suggestion, and do correct me if I am wrong. I am one
of the senators around this table who, at a previous meeting, requested that we
put this matter aside in order that it be examined more closely. However, the
more I look at it, Senator Oliver, the less enthusiastic I become in respect of
the idea, for some of the reasons I have mentioned.
Senator Stollery: Senator Bacon made some powerful arguments. It seems to me
that the Canadian Parliamentary Committee on Information and Technology is
something for the Chateau Laurier. Over the years, senators are asked to attend
meetings of various lobbying organizations, and the meetings take place in a
dining room or a ballroom over at the Chateau Laurier. I think that is what
this is. Strictly speaking, this would not be a parliamentary committee, because
it would be made up of people from industry and elsewhere. Therefore its
meetings should take place where those sorts of events usually do: at the
Senator Rompkey: I want to give some more thought to this matter, and I do not
want to necessarily play the devil's advocate. However, to add a positive note,
there is a need, whether on or off Parliament Hill, for government and industry
to come closer together and to share knowledge.
As parliamentarians, I think we need to be as tuned in to the real world as we
can be, particularly in the area of communications which is moving ahead at a
very rapid rate. It will become a very important area for all of us.
I wanted to make that point. I hear what people are saying; nevertheless, there
is a great need for us as parliamentarians to sit down on an ongoing basis with
industry, in particular with people in the communications industry, and to be
up to speed with what is going on in that field. Otherwise, we will not be
effective as legislators.
Senator Bacon: Is it not the role of Senate committees to do that? We already
have a subcommittee on communications.
Senator Rompkey: I just wanted to make that point.
Senator Nolin: I agree with senator Rompkey. I hear your arguments and I must
admit that the whole issue of access and lobbying concerns me. I think that it
is a laudable goal for the senate committees to try and be more efficient
regarding information transfers. But this is not the only issue we are dealing
with here. I think that all committees should revisit the means they use to
gather information. Currently, we do it on an ad hoc basis,when we study a bill
or when we study a key issue; we just study the issue and then we stop. In fact
we do not exist anymore. We could gather information on a permanent basis. I
don't have the answer to the problem. I think that we will have to study this
issue very closely. I am quite concerned by your comments and I think you are
Senator Corbin: Who are you addressing your comments to?
Senator Nolin: To Senator Bacon.
Senator Cools: I have listened with interest to Senator Bacon. She raises some
very profound points. However, when I review Senator Oliver's words, he is also
raising matters that are of some interest to me. In my view, Senator Oliver is
not asking for anything, except to use a few rooms, and he has that privilege.
Senator Stollery: No, he is asking us to ratify the coming into existence of the
Canadian Parliamentary Information Technology Committee.
Senator Cools: Yes, but he is not asking anything of us that will deman any sort
of commitment from us. It is within his privilege to book any rooms that he
wishes to use.
Senator Bacon: He would need the translation service and the various other
services of the Senate.
Senator Cools: Would you be asking for those things, Senator Oliver?
The Chairman: As I understand it, and I stand to be corrected, Senator Oliver
has the right, as does any other senator, to book a room. However, when it
comes to the question of reporting or translating or recognition, then he must
come here. It is a singularity for me that we are asked to bestow recognition
upon someone or some group in this way. I suppose it is within our capacity to
do that. It is certainly within our capacity to provide services if we so
The question I thought we were discussing was whether the subject matter was
within the ambit of an existing Senate committee, and therefore should be
handled in that way, or whether this process or setup was an appropriate
vehicle through which to handle it in another way.
Senator Cools: When I read the statement of related services, I did not take
that to mean that Senator Oliver was looking for translation and reporting
facilities. My understanding is that a senator may book a room, and when people
come to the building to attend a meeting of that group, the guards will direct
them to that room.
I may have misread that sentence about granting the privilege of using Senate
committee rooms. You have that privilege at any time, barring the need of a
Senate committee for that room.
The Chairman: Upon the request of the whip, who would allocate it.
Senator Cools: Any member of Parliament may book and use a room. Of course, that
cannot intervene or interrupt Senate committee work, because that work takes
priority. One can walk along the halls of this building any night in the week
and find that many different events are going on. Senator Oliver has that
capability now. He does not need to come to this committee to ask permission to
use a room. Provision for that sort of privilege are already in place. Perhaps
you did not know. You seem surprised. That is my understanding, unless
something has changed recently.
Senator Rompkey: You cannot have translation, though.
Senator Cools: I did not understand that Senator Oliver was proposing the use of
the wide range of parliamentary services. If he was so intending, then I would
view the request quite differently.
Senator Oliver: I am surprised by the tenor of the debate. I have made some
notes on what everyone has had to say. Senator Stollery has said that this is
something for the Chateau Laurier, and that what Senator Oliver is proposing is
certainly not a parliamentary committee. My first comment today was that this
is not a parliamentary committee nor a Senate committee. This committee would
not be looking at, or studying, legislation. It would not be operating by way
of an order of reference. Senator Stollery is quite correct: We do not come
here attempting to establish a parliamentary committee.
I was delighted that Senator Rompkey saw through what we are trying to do, and
what is, in fact, being done in England. There, this sort of process, the
PITCOM, provides information to members of Parliament who are not knowledgeable
about a particular area which it might be very important for them to know
something about. It also provides opportunities for parliamentarians and
technical people to meet and hear firsthand about some of the emerging issues.
It is no more than that.
When I was a student in university, I read all kinds of books and articles which
did not necessarily interest me, but I read them to get as much knowledge in a
new area as I could. That is what I think education is. We were planning here
to create another educational opportunity for parliamentarians, particularly
new members on both sides.
Senator Corbin has said that this is accommodating industry and not
parliamentarians. Just the opposite is true in England. The model which
inspired me has actually helped to educate and train, and to provide a lot of
useful information to, backbench parliamentarians in the U.K. That is why it
has emerged. That is why it was set up, and that is indeed what it does. I have
been there to the United Kingdom. I met with the people there who were involved
in this process and discussed this committee. It does work well, and it is not
a lobbying group.
Finally, I come back to Senator Bacon's comments. It would take me quite a while
to rebut everything she has said. Her first comment is that this was a
friendship group. Let me assure Senator Bacon that this is not a friendship
group. Second, she said that this is a parliamentary association. It is not a
parliamentary association. Third, she said that although we claim that there is
no cost, there is no such thing as a free lunch.' I did not come here saying
that it was a free lunch, but that we were not asking for any cash whatsoever.
Senator Bacon spent a great deal of time analyzing the role of the CRTC. I have
attended a number of telecommunications conferences in different places in the
world, and there I have seen senior members of the CRTC talking with members of
industry, with parliamentarians and with cabinet ministers. The members of the
CRTC are invited to all of these "think tanks" or conferences on
modern technology and, because they are smart, they go. They go to hear what the
industry is saying, to hear what parliamentarians and cabinet ministers are
saying, and they socialize with them. However, just because senior members of
the CRTC go to some of the conferences -- which I, too, have attended in the
past two or three years -- does not mean that they are corrupted, or are in a
gross conflict of interest. That is bizarre, to say the least. They go to avail
themselves of any available further education, and it is a very healthy,
intellectual environment. We are here trying to set up an organization which
would help provide that environment for parliamentarians. Mr. Chairman, I have
nothing further to say.
Senator Bacon: The memorandum from Senator Oliver -- and I have already
mentioned this to him on the phone -- contained three items which were close
to, or exactly like, similar facets of the PITCOM process in the United
Kingdom. However, item number four made me change my mind because of the
following: the preparation of strategic policy options for government on
infrastructure development; the role of the regulator in a competitive market;
the convergence of telephone, cable and computer services; the allocation of
radio spectrum; foreign ownership limits; the raising of capital for investment
in telecommunication, and other public policy matters. In other words, this
group will be telling the government what to do in this respect.
Of course, the PITCOM is made up of interested parliamentarians, but also
individuals from industry, such as professionals, researchers, policy study
groups. It can also include other individuals and officials. It involves
consumers and membership fees, except with respect to parliamentarians, and
membership is open. It restricts some information to members. It involves also
centralized power, and decisions which depend on the needs of the industry.
I am not against trying new ideas, but as Chair of the Senate Transport and
Communications Committee I must express what I have to say today, otherwise
there will be two committees studying the field of communications. However, it
is up to the membership of this committee to decide whether or not we are to
have two such committees. If the purpose of such an additional committee is to
provide a forum wherin parliamentarians can meet with people from the industry,
then -- and I agree here with Senator Nolin's comment in this respect -- the
Senate Committee on Transport and Communications could meet with those
individuals from the industry once in a while, and discuss matters with them on
an informal basis. It is certainly true that we must rethink what the committees
are doing with respect to the sectors that they represent, but this, I think,
is another matter. I do not think we need another committee which would be
financed by fees paid by the industry.
Senator Cohen: I have been listening to both arguments, and I must admit that I
am confused. Unless I am reading it wrong, I do not believe that Senator Oliver
is interested in just holding a meeting. It is my understanding that this was
to be an ongoing organization within which parliamentarians could meet with the
giants of industry.
Senator Oliver has told us, I think, that once recognition is given by the
Internal Economy Committee, he will write formally. By "recognition",
do you mean our blessing that you go ahead and form this organization, and
would "our blessing" include the translation services and all the
other things that go with it? That is the only reservation that I have.
Otherwise, I think the whole concept is excellent.
Sometimes we are inclined to look at things with some suspicion. We can see
other things because we are so careful, but that would be my one objection --
the cost that would go with such a proposal. Why could the industry itself not
contribute these costs? After all, they are industry and we are government, and
they have more dollars than we do to develop this whole concept. Nevertheless,
the idea is a good one, and it is timely.
Senator Carstairs: My sense is that we do not have a great deal of consensus
here in terms of what is to take place. That is regrettable, because the
objectives are reasonable. There is also a real conflict between the current
committee structure and what is being proposed here.
It seems to me that since the Rules Committee will be examining the Senate
committee structure, perhaps the Transport and Communications Committee is one
which they might want to examine in more detail, and also whether this proposed
PITCOM would be a logical arm or subcommittee of the Standing Senate Committee
on Transport and Communications.
There is no question that what Senator Oliver is proposing is on the leading
edge of what will be happening in Canadian society within the next 25, 30
years, and we do not want to find ourselves in a position of having opted out
of that. It seems to me that we may just broaden the mandate of the rules, as
we talked about in relation to the committee structure. Perhaps the Rules
Committee should be taking a further look at the Transport and Communications
Committee as well.
Senator Oliver: I am delighted with Senator Carstairs' comments. Right now in
Canada, there is no forum within which members of industry, academic
researchers and parliamentarians can meet to have a common discussion.
Therefore when I wrote my initial letter to the presidents of universities and
others telling them what I was proposing to do, their responses were that they
were absolutely ecstatic. I am prepared to show to any member of this committee
who wishes to see them those letters which I received in response to my initial
approach. There were no negative letters. They said, "Finally, someone is
going in the right direction. We would love to be involved. It is something that
should have been commenced a long time ago. What a wonderful opportunity for
all of us to sit down and, for the first time, start working together."
I regret that the response of the committee has taken the direction that it has.
In fact, I am depressed about it, but I will get over it, and I will remember
it. Thank you very much.
Senator Bacon: May I ask a question? Are we not allowed to say what we have to
It was my duty as Chair of the Committee on Transport and Communications to deal
with this matter, and I dealt with it as best I could, while at the same time
respecting Senator Oliver's ideas and proposals. It was my duty, though, to
remind you of the risks that we may encounter. Also, when we think of a
committee which prepares strategic policy options for the government, that would
not be an informal committee. Such a committee would indeed be making proposals
to the government on policy options.
I was also anxious that all of the members of this committee should realize just
what we are getting into. I think that is my role as Chair of the Transport and
Communications Committee of the Senate. Indeed, any chair would do the same
thing in my position. I do not want you to feel depressed about my response,
Senator Oliver, but I think your response would have been similar to mine had
this sort of situation arisen while you were chairman of that particular
The Chairman: You were invited for that reason, Senator Bacon.
Senator Cools: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I belong to that school of thought which
is always encouraged when a senator expends energy, works hard and takes
initiatives. It seems to me that when a senator does do that sort of thing, he
or she deserves at least a proper hearing. I am not convinced that Senator
Oliver has had that kind and quality of hearing which I think he deserves. I
would propose that the subject-matter be discussed again.
I am not informed, Senator Oliver. I have never seen this document before. I
just think, in the interest of maintaining a lively and healthy senatorial set
of relationships, perhaps we should give the matter another airing. I do not
know by what means the subject-matter be raised before another committee, but
even if this committee could have another go at it, that might be helpful.
Senator Oliver is obviously deeply hurt. I think that is very unfortunate.
Senator Cohen: Senator Oliver has informed us of the enthusiasm of the academic
and business communities for this idea. If we could follow up on Senator
Carstairs' suggestion that we take another look at the committee structure by
way of examination by the Rules Committee, perhaps we can find a way.
It seems to me that the profile of the Senate would certainly be enhanced if we
led the way on holding a forum of this type for the first time ever in Canada.
Perhaps we can find a loophole somewhere, and I do not think Senator Oliver
should be depressed yet. We should take a look at this proposal. The idea is
Senator De Bané: Mr. Chairman, dear colleague, for me, it is an issue of
optics and angles. There is no doubt that we are entering an era of
information, of technology, of telecommunication and, more generally, of
knowledge. There is no doubt that this is the engine of the era which we are
I see very well that my colleague Senator Oliver is studying that issue and
making proposals to the government on how to deal with it, as did Senator
Lamontagne who put in place, in the early 1970s, a Senate committee on science.
As you know, the report of the Lamontagne committee was the blueprint for the
next 25 years for the Government of Canada on how to organize its scientific
sector and scientific policies.
I would applaud Senator Oliver for chairing a committee which looks in depth at
that sector and comes forward with recommendations for the government, because
it is such an important sector.
On the other hand, I would say that we who are in politics must cater to the
needs of all people in our society. If tomorrow I see my colleague Senator
Oliver setting up a joint committee with members of the telecommunications
industry, then perhaps I should do the same with the farmers, because they,
too, are an important group. Another member of the Senate may think that his
role is to set up a joint committee shared by himself and veterans. Another one
may seize upon another issue.
Our role is not to institute a joint relationship with one sector of society. We
are above the fray. However, that should not prevent us studying one sector at
a time, such as this one, and coming forward in a year or two with proposals on
how that sector should be handled. However, if a colleague of mine is a joint
chairman with someone from the telecommunications industry, then I can see that
another colleague may take on the farmers, and another one another group in
society, et cetera. I do not think we should be glued to one group. I do not
know if I have expressed myself clearly enough.
Senator Oliver: Yes, very clearly. May I respond very quickly? In the United
Kingdom there are several such committees. PITCOM happens to deal with
technology, but there are other committees, just as Senator De Bané has
envisaged, and the system works. It is a way of educating backbench
Senator Corbin: Mr. Chairman, Senator Carstairs made the suggestion that the
matter be referred to the Rules Committee. I still have a problem in terms of
the considerations under lobbying rules and conflict of interest.
I did not like Senator Oliver's last words, "...I will remember it,"
meaning the decision or the consensus of this committee. I do not think that is
fair ball. We are having a free discussion. I do not have the answers to some
of the questions that have been raised. I am not saying that it is for us to
kill the idea. Perhaps it has a life of its own.
I still do not understand why the industry cannot muster the generous resources
it has to spearhead the whole thing, and for it to invite members of
Parliament, like everybody does. Communications companies do it. The cable
industry does it. Broadcasters do it. Whenever they have a message to deliver
to us, they invite us. That is lobbying at its best. It is within the rules, I
On the other hand, when specific legislation or reviews or programs are
undertaken by Parliament, committees have the power to convene anybody and
everybody they want to elucidate issues, and to instruct, inform or enlighten
members of Parliament of either house.
There is something kinky about this proposal, although I cannot not put my
finger on it. Senator Oliver has not satisfied me, although I think he means
very well. I would rather lean on the side of the independence of Parliament,
to put it very bluntly.
Senator Stollery: Mr. Chairman, it seems to me that there are two points, very
briefly. Parliamentary committees are made up of parliamentarians. I have never
heard of a committee of Parliament that was made up otherwise. Second -- and
most important -- we already have a Standing Senate Committee on Transport and
Communications. I believe there is also a subcommittee on communications which
is tailor-made to study this subject. I have not been a member of that
committee for a while, but I know that, in trade matters, we have enormous
numbers of witnesses from various industries coming before the committee, as in
all other committees. As Senator De Bané says, given the logic of
inviting the farmers of the country, why bypass the agricultural committee? We
would wind up with committees bypassing the official standing committees. We
already have a committee, and we also have a subcommittee which deals with
communications, and I think that is where the matter should rest.
The Chairman: Thank you, colleagues.
As you may not be aware, Senator Oliver, we have been working hard here to avoid
votes and trying to develop --
Senator Oliver: I am not asking for a vote. I realize this is a dead issue.
The Chairman: Give me a chance to finish my sentence.
Senator Oliver: I apologize.
The Chairman: We do operate by consensus here. There is not a consensus at this
moment. However, Senator Cools expressed some reservations about whether you
had had an adequate hearing. I am not sure she realized that this was your
second visit to the committee, and that you had an opportunity to circulate
some information to the committee in the meanwhile.
Having said that, we are sort of like the St. Lawrence River -- we keep on
rolling. Issues come back to us whenever a senator wants to bring an issue back
I am not sure whether it adds to the conversation or not, but it occurs to me,
in hearing the discussion, that there may be some room within the context of
Senator Bacon's committee to establish some vehicles to accomplish some of your
goals. I have seen some committees very successfully operate round table
discussion groups in which they have mixed people from the private sectors with
parliamentarians. Those round table discussions are quite different from the
normal hearings where witnesses come and present a brief and are questioned.
Instead, you see people from the private sector questioning parliamentarians,
and vice versa. I do not know whether there is any common ground between your
proposal and working out some sort of structure with Senator Bacon's committee.
I leave that as a thought.
As to the question of whether this committee will consider something if there is
something new to be considered, or if there is a new thought that you would
like us to look at, at some point, we would be glad to have you back. You are
always welcome here.
I do not think I heard anybody speak out against your objectives. I heard some
people concerned about the mechanics or the methodology or the implementation
of the procedure. I would like to leave it at that, if I could. Is that
satisfactory to the committee?
Senator Prud'homme: I would like to make a comment: I wish Senator Oliver more
luck than I have had in seeking the participation of independent senators in
the official work of the committees. I have been promised the moon. It is been
three years and one month now. Make note, because when it explodes, it will
explode for real, especially concerning senators who are members of committees
but are non-working, non-participating. If you want people to be rowdy, I shall
The Chairman: You are an assiduous attender here. Just for the record, you
received an invitation to come to the meeting early on as an independent, and
because you are an independent. You also get all of the documents produced for
this committee. We value your contribution here, and we are very pleased to see
The last point I would make is that this committee does not make those
Our next item involves the location of Senator Macdonald's bust. The
recommendation is that it be placed behind the Senate chamber. Are there any
Senator Carstairs: It is a wonderful suggestion, but I do have a comment on the
report at page 3 regarding the portraits. Unless I am very much mistaken, that
is a portrait of Senator Harry Hays and not Sir Henry Hays. While Harry's birth
certificate may indeed say Henry, he was never known as Henry in his entire
life; he was known as Harry.
The Chairman: I did not even know he was a "Sir."
Senator Cools: Neither did he.
Mr. O'Brien: That is a translation of the word "Mr." into the word "Sir."
The Chairman: Is everyone comfortable with this recommendation regarding Senator
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chairman: The next item is number 13, with respect to documents. The purpose
of this item is to ask you to read the documents, please. We have been trying
to make them more readable. We are looking for feedback from senators so that
we can issue something to the rest of our colleagues. Therefore, would you
please read the documents, make your comments and send them to me? We will
endeavour to compile something that works, and that makes sense.
The objective is not to have something that is an internal document. The
objective is to finally arrive at a draft which we can circulate publicly,
describing the Senate to people and explaining how it works and what we do and
who is here, and all that good stuff.
I do not propose to discuss the matter at length now. I will deal with any
questions. I would like criticism and comments, preferably in writing, so that
we can deal with them.
Senator Rompkey: Briefly -- and we can do this in writing -- some committees
here have had a significant impact on public policy. That should be emphasized.
The Chairman: Can you make a note of which ones, and then get it into us? We
want something back before the end of August so that the draft can be
If there are other comments on this matter, or on the Senate brochure, please do
the same. I am told we have enough to last until this time next year.
Senator Carstairs: Unfortunately.
The Chairman: They were bought in bulk to save money. However, that does not
mean that we cannot start to work on a new draft now. There are some terrific
ideas coming forward regarding pamphlets on different segments of the Senate,
or pamphlets with a particular focus, such as youth. Then people who come
through the lobby can pick and choose which ones they want according to their
If you have ideas, the clerk will ensure that he, Senator Poulin and Senator
Nolin get hold of them.
Senator Nolin: We need something now. It cannot be ready in two weeks.
The Chairman: We will move on to the subcommittee report regarding the
Aboriginal Peoples room.
Senator Corbin: I presume everyone has at least glanced at the contents of the
The timing of our examination was rather awkward, being towards the end of June.
Everybody was busy, left and right. My associates, Senators Cohen and Poulin
and I met, individually or collectively, with the four aboriginal senators. The
message is that they are quite delighted with the designation of the room.
Senator Adams, in particular, had some misapprehensions about the room being in
the basement; but once he saw the plans, the skylight, the adjoining
facilities, the small rooms where one can make private calls, and so on, he
endorsed the idea.
The major problem relates to the decorating of the facility, as I outlined in
the report. It is unfortunate, but it is a fait accompli that the designation
did not come before the architect was asked to conceive of the design for the
room because then he could have incorporated more elements of native art and
Even at this late stage, I wonder if perhaps it would still be possible to do
just that sort of thing. It does not take much. A name, in and of itself, is
fine but if the room does not reflect the essence of the name, it is still just
a room. It is like the Francophonie room. It is a heritage room. There is
nothing francophone about it. Until you put meaningful items in the room, it is
just a heritage room and nothing else.
We want something more than just the plaque and the name. It was suggested by
the aboriginal senators themselves that, if this subcommittee is to continue,
we ask proficient expert staff from the Museum of Civilization and someone from
Public Works, perhaps Mr. Lavoie, and the architect to examine what could be
done between now and the actual reconstruction of that space. Presently, they
are still tearing it apart, but elements of the skylight are already in place,
as I understand it. However, there is still room for movement. There is room
for incorporating aboriginal concepts into the permanent elements of the
architecture, not to mention art and cultural elements that could be situate on
pedestals, or hung on the walls, or incorporated by way of frescoes; that sort
However, we have not examined that aspect in any depth. Our purpose was to have
the general approval and agreement of the aboriginal senators in order to keep
on working at this idea. They are willing to give that approval. They are quite
enthusiastic. I feel we ought not to let them down. This is the first time on
Parliament Hill that the occasion has presented itself that would allow us to
incorporate a theme within the room structure itself. I feel we ought to make
the best of the occasion.
With respect to an official opening, I will refer to that briefly. That is some
ways down the road. It was suggested by one of the aboriginal senators that
when the room is first used for a committee meeting, we have a very elemental
ribbon-cutting ceremony and then carry on with the business of the Senate or
the work of the committee.
Once all of the facilities are ready, when the work is fully completed, the
carpets are laid and the room is appropriately decorated, it was suggested that
we have a ceremonial opening, an event which could possibly coincide with
National Aboriginal Day in June. We had the first this year on Parliament Hill.
However, I do not know the scheduled completion date for the facilities.
The Chairman: It will not be next year. It will be the year after that.
Senator Corbin: Very well. That is even better timing for us. That is the gist
of our discussions with the senators. I want to apologize to Senator Cohen --
Senator Poulin is not here -- because of the time frame in which we were
operating at the end of the session. As chair, I did what I could to get these
people to work together. There were tensions among them. I do not think you are
totally unaware of that. We did bring them together and they seemed to want to
work together. They are expecting results. They are expecting delivery.
The main question is, what sort of money is available for the decorating
exercise? Does this committee want a formal proposal after we meet with the
experts, in terms of what can be done with respect to developing the artistic
or cultural theme for the room? Are you making x-amount of money available and
telling the subcommittee, "Here is so much money, and you must work within
those parameters."? Which way do you want the subcommittee to go?
The Chairman: Senator Corbin, I am a little confused because at the end of the
report, you indicated you felt your mandate was done.
Senator Corbin: I am speaking for myself.
The Chairman: First, I wanted to thank you on behalf of the committee for the
work that you and your colleagues have done on such short notice. It was
rushed, coming at the end of the year. You and your colleagues worked very hard
to pull together this very helpful piece of guidance for the committee.
My first reaction after getting this report was that you were calling for, now,
a meeting of professionals in the area that would include the architect, Public
Works, and people from the Museum of Civilization who are expert in dealing
with issues which relate to the aboriginal peoples. We would ask them to
develop a proposal which would then be reviewed by the aboriginal senators.
Once it met their satisfaction, we would have it come forward to this committee.
It seems to me that there are lots of opportunities at this point. One of the
big difficulties that museums have in lending out their works is the conditions
in which it will be displayed regarding proper care, humidity, lighting and
temperature. There is likely still time to accommodate all those things. It may
well be that if those things were accommodated, the museum may be inclined to
give us a balance of works. There is a tricky balance to be struck here among
Inuit, Indian and a whole variety of subgroups. This would really require
More than that, first and foremost, this is a committee room. It has to be
functional. It must be something that we and our colleagues from the House of
Commons can use as a working place. The theme of the room is intended to
reflect our native people, but primarily it is a place of work. There are many
factors which must be taken into account.
I was hoping to have, as the next step, input from a group of professionals such
as the architect, Public Works and the Museum of Civilization. They are
building the room. They know what we will call it and how we will use it. They
know the direction we have chosen, essentially. We should await a proposal back
from them, first to be examined by our four aboriginal senators and then by this
Senator Corbin: The reason for inviting on board an expert from the museum is to
seek from them a synthesis of representative art and cultural elements. As you
say, you cannot have a piece from every native group, a representative item
from every Micmac, Maliseet, Iroquois and so forth. There are just too many of
them. However, we do want elements that will reflect the overall aboriginal
culture in Canada, from the borders to the far north. They are the people best
qualified to do that, in my opinion.
We could also ask the native associations for their expertise in contemporary
art and culture. They could be invited to attend some of these meetings with
the anthropologists and other experts to help sort out the whole matter.
With respect to buying, leasing or having a permanent art collection which would
be Parliament's, or having outside pieces which could be changed from time to
time, again, those are issues which must be examined. Such items would not
necessarily be costly.
The more costly items would be changes to the architectural design as they now
sit on paper that could possibly be made to give an aboriginal character to the
room within its architectural elements. I am not talking about detached
elements, but within the architecture itself. Sometimes it is just a curve, a
line or a fresco, a tapestry for which space is provided. That can easily be
done if all of the people involved want to sit down and try to work it out.
Senator Carstairs: I have two comments to make: The first is to express our
grateful appreciation to Senator Corbin, because there was no question that
this was a very delicate matter which needed to be handled, and he has handled
it extremely well. Second, with respect to the decor of the room itself, it is
absolutely essential that we proceed with the kinds of meetings suggested by
Senator Corbin. Much can be done in terms of lines, using paint in certain ways
to depict certain things, but also with the whole selection of furniture for
the room. Yes, it must be utilitarian and, yes, there must be microphones, but
what about the shape of the table, the shape of the chairs? They must be
purchased in any event. They should be chosen in consultation with this very
group which Senator Corbin has talked about because they can have a significant
My knowledge of western aboriginal people tells me that they prefer round tables
to oval tables because there is a sense of unity which is expressed. If that
can be depicted in that room -- perhaps it cannot, but if it can be, that is an
important element to build into the choosing of the furniture of that
There is also artwork in this very building which we already own and which we
should be cataloguing, with the possibility that this group, as well as the
aboriginal senators, can decide whether it should be incorporated into this
very room. I am thinking, for example, of the Norval Morrisseau works. Mr.
Morrisseau's work is considered a great reflection of the Ojibway people, who
make up the vast majority of the aboriginal people of western Canada.
The Chairman: I hear what you are saying, and there is a lot to it. I must
remind you of our earlier discussion with respect to this room. This
committee's view has been expressed in that regard, in that there is a
desirability for flexibility in terms of how we can establish the tables and
chairs, and the setup generally, in the room. We have indicated that we want to
be able to have every kind of setup, from school-room style to some six other
Senator Nolin: Flexibility was the word.
The Chairman: Yes, it really was. Are we in agreement with the proposal that we
try to develop this professional staff, and ask them to come forward with a
proposal which will then be vetted by the aboriginal members?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chairman: Are there other items which members would like to raise with this
committee at this time?
Senator Cohen: Thank you for including me in that subcommittee, because I only
met for 10 minutes with Senator Corbin.
Senator Corbin: You made yourself available. That is fine. You get all the
Senator Cohen: You mentioned an unofficial opening with a ribbon-cutting
ceremony. I feel a sweetgrass ceremony would be far more appropriate. It does
not take long, and it is in keeping with the whole atmosphere of the room and
what we intend.
The Chairman: The only point I would make is how does that relate to the Inuit?
Senator Rompkey: Ribbon-cutting does not relate particularly, either.
The Chairman: No, that is right.
Senator Corbin: We may have to hold a drum dance.
The Chairman: Senator Stollery has a new item of business.
Senator Stollery: Is there a reason why there is no clock in this room?
The Chairman: The hook is there for the clock, but we cannot see the clock
Thank you for your patience. I apologize for running late. This has been a
productive meeting, and I look forward to seeing you in September.