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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.

[English]

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 committees.

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 problems:

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 attendance.

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 national unity.

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 this issue.

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 Times.

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 off.

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 Rules Committee.

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. Chairman.

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 recommendations.

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 committees.

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 recommendation.

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 be discussed.

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 upper chambers.

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 report.

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 informal meetings?

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 public hearings.

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 parliamentarians.

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 Chateau Laurier.

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.

[Translation]

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 quite right.

Senator Corbin: Who are you addressing your comments to?

Senator Nolin: To Senator Bacon.

[English]

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 choose.

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 say here?

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 committee.

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 very exciting.

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 entering.

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 parliamentarians.

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 suppose.

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 to us.

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 be.

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 you here.

The last point I would make is that this committee does not make those decisions.

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 comments?

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 Macdonald's bust?

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 circulated.

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 interest.

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 report.

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 culture.

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 of thing.

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 professional assistance.

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 committee.

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 effect.

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 particular theme.

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 ways.

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 credit.

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 itself.

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.

The committee adjourned.