Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Issue 5 - Evidence -  Thursday, April 1, 2004 - Morning


OTTAWA, Thursday, April 1, 2004

The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, to which was referred Bill C-24, to amend the Parliament of Canada Act, met this day at 11:04 a.m. to give consideration to the bill.

Senator Michael Kirby (Chairman) in the Chair.

[English]

The Chairman: We are here today for our first day of hearings on Bill C-24, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act.

Our witness this morning is the Honourable Jacques Saada, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, who has with him Ms. Arnold, Mr. Wall and Ms. Bougie. Welcome.

Minister, as I understand it, you have a brief opening statement and then we will turn to questions from our colleagues.

Hon. Jacques Saada, Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform: Again, it is a pleasure to be appearing before a Senate committee.

[Translation]

Thank you for inviting me here today to consider Bill C-24, an Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act. Accompanying me are persons who are very knowledgeable about the details of this legislation.

The purpose of this bill is to ensure that parliamentarians aged 50 to 55 who no longer sit in Parliament and who are entitled to a pension will be eligible to participate in benefit plans.

[English]

Retired parliamentarians who receive a pension are eligible to pay the necessary premiums and participate in benefit plans on the same basis as retired public servants who receive a pension. These plans include the Public Service Health Care Plan, the Pensioners' Dental Services Plan, and the Public Service Management Insurance Plan. The benefits for retired parliamentarians are identical to the benefits provided to retired public servants, just as the benefit plans we are covered by as sitting parliamentarians are based on those provided to public servants.

Retired parliamentarians pay the same premiums for these plans as retired public servants. For example, premiums for the health care plan range from $25.57 per month to $63.07 per month, depending on the level of coverage and whether the benefits cover family members. Premiums for the dental care plan range from $16 per month to $47.96 per month, depending on the number of individuals covered by the plan. The same thing applies to premiums for the life insurance plan.

Prior to changes to parliamentary pensions in 1995, all parliamentarians who contributed to the pension plan for at least six years were eligible for an immediate pension upon retirement, regardless of age. They would all have received benefit plan coverage on retirement, regardless of age.

Since Parliament passed changes to the parliamentary pension plan in 1995, parliamentarians elected or appointed after 1995 can only receive a pension at age 55. These parliamentarians receive benefit plan coverage only after age 55.

[Translation]

The first part of the bill would allow retired parliamentarians aged 50 to 55, who are not in receipt of a pension, to participate in the benefit plans. This would be similar to provisions available for retired public servants who receive a reduced pension between the ages of 50 and 55.

The second part of Bill C-24 clarifies the disability allowance for parliamentarians over 65, which provision was established in 2001 to provide coverage on the same basis as that available for parliamentarians under 65. This is an initiative that the Senate developed, and which was included in changes to parliamentary compensation adopted in 2001 to implement the independent Lumley commission report.

Since 2001, it has been brought to the government's attention that the authority for Medical Plan coverage for parliamentarians over 65 is unclear, and that legislation should clarify this situation.

The bill would come into force with retroactive effect to January 1, 2001, consistent with other changes to parliamentary compensation made in 2001.

I would now welcome any questions Senators may have.

[English]

The Chairman: Thank you, minister. May I ask you one question for clarification? This bill surprised me.

My understanding of the general process of changing compensation for parliamentarians has been that following an election, a commission is appointed to make a recommendation. Then a package of changes to compensation for parliamentarians is developed that basically covers the compensation that parliamentarians receive until the period following the next election. This process has been followed, to the best of my knowledge, for at least 20 years.

It strikes me as odd that a bill would be coming forward at the very end of a session to change compensation for parliamentarians when process would tell us that following the upcoming election, a commission would be appointed. Sometime in 2005 a new set of proposals would be developed.

First, I find it odd that we are changing the process. Second, when I tried to inquire as to why we were changing the process, I was told that there is a parliamentarian who is caught in this under-55 age gap, who is not re-offering and who has a debilitating illness. I was told that that was the essential motivation for making this change.

We do not need to get into the issue of who the individual is or what the illness is. That is not my point.

I want to comment on that specifically. As someone who has spent a good deal of my adult life chairing human resource committees for boards of some major corporations, I would never change the underlying policy on the basis of wanting to do something for a single individual. I would find some way of dealing with that as a one-off situation. I am saying that the private sector would never do that. It would find a way of dealing with the one-off case.

As I understand it, this bill, which is motivated by trying to deal with that one-off case, is proposing a more general, broader policy change. I am puzzled.

To be precise, I have two questions. First, why are we doing the bill at all when it would normally be done following the commission report after the election? Second, if I am correct and it is being done to deal with a one-of-a-kind case, why are we changing the broad policy for a single case, as opposed to doing what the private sector would do, which is to find other means to solve the problem?

Mr. Saada: You are quite correct in describing the usual process. You are quite correct in terms of what triggered the thinking on this issue. Of course, the interventions from various parliamentarians from all political parties were centred on the concern that was raised on that point.

Obviously, if it were only that, we might have been able to deal with this issue differently. However, this case revealed that there was something fundamentally unfair about the way things had been done. We had covered a number of time periods but this hole in the middle was not covered. It became a question of whether we wait, unfairly, to correct the problem in the current legislation, or do we take action immediately on this issue?

It is important that we elevate ourselves above political considerations, for obvious reasons. The only reason I felt comfortable pushing this bill through the process was that there was unanimous agreement in the House that it was the proper thing to do.

It is not a change in policy per se. It is fixing something that was wrong within the policy.

The Chairman: I do not disagree that a mistake was made and the policy should have been corrected initially. However, if it were just this one case, you probably could have found a way around it.

Why did we not do that? Sometime in the next 12 months, we will be dealing with all kinds of amendment to the acts that deal with the compensation of parliamentarians.

You and I are very much on the same wavelength, in that sense. I am not surprised that the bill was agreed to unanimously because I do not know that the people in the House would necessarily have the experience in the private sector to say that there are other ways of dealing with it. Second, with people motivated to help a colleague, they would not have necessarily looked at another alternative.

Knowing that in 12 months we will be dealing with a broader piece of legislation anyway, I do not know why we did not deal with this in another way. Can you explain why you did not deal with the case as one of a kind and make this a high priority item following the election?

Mr. Saada: I will begin, and then pass it on to my officials for the second part of your question.

I did not explore avenues to deal with this matter on an exceptional basis. I was simply trying to answer the concern that you expressed in your questions.

Let me put it this way. You observe a situation that alerts you to an unintended flaw in the system. Should we not deal with it and let the process takes its course? Hypothetically, we will have an election within a year and a half. Another year or so will pass before a review. Two and a half or three years have passed before there is a proposal for resolution of the problem. You must then introduce legislation.

In terms of efficiency, we saw a problem. It was a flaw. We addressed it. The way we addressed it is this proposed bill.

[Translation]

Would you care to add to that?

[English]

Ms. Ginette Bougie, Director, Pay and Classification, Privy Council Office: Actually, you are quite right. Prior to 2001, there was a process by which after the election, a special commission was created to review compensation and benefits for parliamentarians. However, after that last commission, the Parliament of Canada Act was amended to abolish that process.

As a result, the establishment of salaries for parliamentarians is directly linked to that of judges of the Federal Court. Therefore, it was no longer required to have a commission to study these things.

The Chairman: May I ask you for one point of clarification? You explicitly used the word ``salary.'' I assume that you meant salaries and benefits. Did you just mean salaries?

Ms. Bougie: And benefits. There is no longer a commission.

The Chairman: It is correct that salaries of members of Parliament are now linked to judicial salaries. Does that also apply to benefits? This is a benefits issue, not a salary issue.

Ms. Bougie: It only applies to salaries, you are correct.

The Chairman: That is interesting, but irrelevant, because this applies to benefits.

Ms. Bougie: It was tied to the creation of a commission to study these things, which no longer exists.

With respect to benefits for parliamentarians, the Financial Administration Act gives the Treasury Board the authority to fix benefits for executives within the realm of the public service; it does not give them the authority to fix benefits for parliamentarians. The only way to correct the situation in which we found ourselves, that is, lacking coverage for those between the ages of 50 and 55 years, was to create a legislative basis on which to provide that benefit coverage.

The Chairman: I am not sure I understand the implication of what you are saying. I forgot that the salary issue was cleverly tied to judge's salaries on the grounds that it would be easier for our salaries to go up provided we treat judges fairly. I understand that.

That means that the benefits issue will not necessarily be looked at following each election because the benefits are designed to be exactly compatible with the benefits in the public service. If their benefits do not change, then I presume our benefits do not change.

Therefore, it would follow that it is no longer true that legislation amending the benefits for parliamentarians would normally appear within a year or so of an election. Is that correct?

Ms. Bougie: That is correct.

Senator Lynch-Staunton: Senator Kirby has touched on a number of things that I wanted to raise.

Particularly, how we can avoid coming to Parliament in such instances. This is the third bill that I can remember that was triggered by the situation of one parliamentarian. As compassionate as we may wish to be, I think that is the wrong way to go about it.

I have had similar experience to that to which Senator Kirby referred, in private business. When there was a special case, it was defined as such somewhere in the policy. It could be treated as a special case within the policies.

I will ask the colleagues that you brought with you, minister, to elaborate on that. Hopefully, we can avoid dealing with legislation such as this in the future.

Minister, I have great respect for the way each House handles legislation. We do not always do it the same way, but there are times when the House seems to be a little hasty.

Your argument on the bill is valid. If this is considered to be a flaw that has existed for too long, let us correct it. However, I am still concerned that we are correcting it because of one individual.

If there is validity to this bill, why was it passed in about 20 minutes on a Friday afternoon, without any debate, report, committee, or clause-by-clause study? All those steps simply were deemed to have taken place. Had the House looked at this bill more closely, and had discussion taken place in the House, perhaps it would not have necessitated holding these hearings, with as many witnesses as we appear to have.

I would like you to explain why that bill was given such preferential treatment at a time when not many people were watching or aware of what was going on.

Mr. Saada: May I let Mr. Wall begin the answer?

Senator Lynch-Staunton: Yes.

Mr. Saada: I will then complete the answer.

Mr. Ron Wall, Director, Parliamentary Operations, Legislation and House Planning/Counsel, Privy Council Office: The honourable senator is correct about the amount of time that it took for the House to complete the passage of the proposed legislation. However, there were many discussions that preceded that, including at the Board of Internal Economy last fall, and others among House leaders. In cases of technical legislation, where it appears quite clear that a matter is fair and can be dispensed with in a fairly quick manner, it is not uncommon for the House of Commons to move quickly.

I would point out as well that while it seems that there is a precipitating case in the House, as Minister Saada has indicated, the principles for this policy change have been developed on the basis of similar principles that apply to retired public servants.

Mr. Saada: In his speech in the Senate, Senator Lynch-Staunton alluded to the fact — and he has invoked the same argument again — that it was done when no one was watching or no one was in the House. I do not remember the exact wording. With all due respect, I do not think that is fair, for the following reason. All political parties agreed to proceed after extensive consultation, after debate by parliamentarians in various forums. Actually, we all also agreed on the date it would be tabled. No one saw any problem of substance. There was no opposition. The fact that it was done on a Friday when no one was around was not intentional. It may have been a fact that no one was around, but it had nothing to do with the intent of the content of the bill. I want to ensure that we are on the same wavelength in the understanding of what actually happened there.

One political party in the House raised the issue a number of months ago. It was picked up at the Board of Internal Economy, where there is representation of all the parties, although not necessarily the leaders of all parties. For instance, I was involved in the board discussions at the time, when I was not in my present position. Discussions then took place within caucuses. Discussions took place again at leaders' meetings. We then had some difficulties to overcome in terms of how we would deal with this issue, how we would present it and so on. Again, there was extensive consultation on that basis. What you see is not of a piece of proposed legislation passed when no one was around, but that was produced after extensive concern and consultation.

Senator Lynch-Staunton: Yes, but all those meetings — a board meeting, caucus meetings and house leaders' meetings — are held in private. The public had no notice of this bill. This is what I deplore. If the House had at least gone to Committee of the Whole, someone would have been alerted to what was going on. We are talking about the fact that public funds were committed without any public input whatsoever.

I do not mind the unanimous agreement part. I do not buy the part that it is just a technical bill and we should let it go through. I have seen too many bills called ``technical'' that were not actually technical at all. Fortunately, we looked at them more carefully here. It was done in such a way that the public was only aware of it after the fact. That is what I deplore. I think if you, as minister responsible, had been a little more open, declared unanimous consent, sent the bill to committee and explained it, you would have had no problems. Instead, suspicions have now been cast on this bill and its purpose because of the way it was handled in the House of Commons.

I had to say that. Do you want to comment?

Mr. Saada: Just a minor point. With all due respect for your position, the bill was not publicly announced and voted on the same day. It was publicly announced, the bill was released, and the contents were public before we voted on it.

Senator Lynch-Staunton: Is this a press release you are talking about?

Mr. Saada: I am talking about announcing the bill and making the contents public.

Senator Lynch-Staunton: It did not exactly make the headlines of my newspaper.

In any event, is there a way to avoid a repetition of this situation, where a bill to amend an existing act is presented on the basis of the predicament of one or two individuals only? That is my major question. It is done elsewhere, as the chairman has said, in private business. Why can it not be done in government?

Mr. Saada: Senator, could you please bear with me and repeat the question? I lost part of the sound.

[Translation]

Senator Lynch-Staunton: How is it that each time a special case arises, it cannot be dealt with through existing legislation and Parliament must step in once again to amend an existing act? If memory serves me well, this is the third time we have had to consider an amendment to settle the case of one or two individuals. In the private sector, exceptions can be dealt with by resorting to policy currently in place. However, in this particular instance, no provisions appear to apply. Consequently, new changes need to be approved.

Mr. Saada: This was not my area of responsibility at the time. Consequently, I have to wonder what in fact transpired.

As I understand, the bill that did away with the remuneration review commission and that adjusted the overall salaries of parliamentarians to bring them in line with the salaries of magistrates went through both the House of Commons and the Senate.

[English]

Senator Lynch-Staunton: That was the remuneration act. Is that what you are talking about, in which we fixed salaries of parliamentarians to that of judges?

Mr. Saada: Yes.

Senator Lynch-Staunton: We are talking about something else here. We are talking about benefits.

[Translation]

Mr. Saada: I would have to check, but a process was surely followed at the time to bring in some amendments, despite the fact that certain shortcomings remain. If the problem was not rectified at the time, it really does not matter who was responsible for the situation. What matters, in my opinion, is that we have a duty today to rectify any existing error, shortcoming or injustice.

It was not a matter of a question involving a single individual. A problem has been identified, one that presents an injustice for all those who may find themselves in a similar situation. I am referring to the first part of the bill which concerns the accessibility of benefit plans for retired parliamentarians between 50 and 55 years of age.

I will let Mr. Wall answer the second part of the question.

[English]

Mr. Wall: The second part of this bill deals with the disability allowance for parliamentarians who are over 65 years old. The initiative for that measure, which was enacted in 2001 as part of the response to the Lumley commission, came from the Senate. In some ways, it is a similar response, because the idea of a disability allowance for parliamentarians over age 65, which was the recommendation of a Senate committee report, was also for a potentially small number of people. However, the principle was there. The principle was that a disability allowance is available for parliamentarians and public servants who are over age 65.

Because parliamentarians — honourable senators, for example — are required to work beyond age 65, the disability allowance that applies to them before 65 should, by a measure of fairness, apply to them after age 65.

To date, no honourable senator has had to take advantage of this provision and there has only been one person in the House of Commons who has. Nevertheless, the principle of fairness and equity that applies to the disability allowance is mirrored in the first part of the bill, which deals with the provision of plan benefits for retired parliamentarians who are eligible for a pension between the ages of 50 and 55.

Senator Keon: To a degree, Ms. Bougie has answered my concerns. However, I just could not understand why there seemed to be such urgency about getting this bill through, so I will ask something in a different context.

What damage will result if this bill does not pass now, and passes instead after the election?

Mr. Saada: There are two parts to the answer. The first part is, if we observe something that seems to us, in good conscience, unfair, do not we have the duty to try to do our utmost to correct it as quickly as possible? The second part is I would not like to speculate around this table about the date of an election. Constitutionally, an election could take place as late as the fall of 2005. We cannot act to repair an injustice on the basis of a potential decision on the date of an election.

This was not intended to be a political bill. I understand senators would like to debate it, and that, of course, is quite legitimate, but it is a bill that is aimed at correcting an injustice. That is the only objective in pursuing this.

Senator Keon: What inconvenience will be caused to the people affected by this bill if it is delayed for, let us say, even two years?

The Chairman: May I ask a supplementary question on that? It is really for officials rather than the minister.

If, in fact, this bill had never appeared at this point, is there a one-off solution that through the creativity of the people in the PCO — and having worked there myself, goodness knows, I know how very creative you can be — could have resolved the case of the one MP who was the original impetus for this bill? Is there a way you could do it in that single case, without legislation?

I think that is essentially the point that Senator Keon is getting at, but I want you to be precise on the one specific case.

Ms. Bougie: I understand your question and I go back to how these insurance plans are set up. The Treasury Board authorizes the setting-up of benefit plans for public servants and then they enter into contracts with insurance underwriters. There are very specific clauses on who can be covered, under what circumstances, how they will be paid and how this will be managed. Unfortunately, Treasury Board has the authority to enter into these contracts.

It would not be appropriate for the executive to determine Parliamentarians' compensation or benefits. Therefore, the legislation, the Parliament of Canada Act, was set up to provide that Parliamentarians would be the ones to legislate their own benefits.

Without this amendment to the Parliament of Canada Act, no one could possibly be covered for benefits between now and the possible date of the election, if this were deferred until after that election. Unfortunately, these underwriting contracts do not allow for one-off situations. They are very specific. If a person from Treasury Board is here, he or she can maybe provide more information on that.

The Chairman: Is the short answer to my question, no?

Ms. Bougie: Correct.

Senator Keon: I would like to hear the details of the damage that we will do to somebody if we do not approve this bill.

Mr. Saada: Senator, it is quite correct that the issue was triggered by one case. That is clear. I have no guarantee that it will apply to only one case. I have no clue. I hope it is only one case, because it is for medical coverage purposes. I hope no one else has to have recourse to that, but I cannot give you any guarantee. While we have only one known case, I do not know what will develop in the future.

The second thing is — and I am speaking here as a parliamentarian — I would feel very uncomfortable pushing back a timeline on a decision when I know that something is fundamentally wrong. We are dealing, of course, with a policy matter, and therefore it has a lot of impact. However, we are dealing here with one individual, and potentially others, who may not be able to sleep because they simply do not know what will happen to them the day after an election is called. When we know that we have allowed a flaw to get into a policy that we adopted a few years ago, do we have the right to delay the adoption of this correction?

Senator Keon: That is pretty good answer.

Senator Trenholme Counsell: Were there any considerations prior to this to being a kind of trailblazer on this issue? In other words, whether for the greater good or to send a stronger message, was this proposed legislation thought of in a broader context? I know we are talking about one individual, but before you answer, I just want to say that through the years, and including recently, I have known of people who, for one reason or another, ceased their employment at, let us say, 50. Perhaps, after that, there was only term employment, or contract employment or a period without employment, and often, the most painful thing for those people is the lack of benefits.

I do know of two cases where people have actually gone to court to try to establish their rights to benefits. I do not know whether this is the Government of Canada showing how a compassionate society can function, and whether you have thought of this in a broader context than, obviously, the one case that sparked it, which is usually what sparks good things in life and in society. Perhaps that is the question.

Mr. Saada: I must say that I have no grounds to believe that anyone who has discussed this matter, whether at the Board of Internal Economy or whether we are talking about leaders, whatever their political party, has not had the same thoughts at some point. It is not a matter of philosophy but a matter of a fundamental belief in justice, and I believe that two wrongs do not make a right. If some people do not have access to these benefits, to this level of protection and security, they should aspire to it, but we should not prevent others from having it when it would be normal for them to do so. In other words, let us try to draw up those who do not have it to an acceptable level for everyone, and not bring it down to the lowest possible common denominator.

I think you are quite right. However, I cannot make a distinction between personal concern for this person and the principle that you are espousing, senator. It is the same thing.

We are supposed to care.

Senator Trenholme Counsell: If we look back on the evolution of so many provisions that are compassionate or caring in nature, there is often one case that motivates legislation or moves society forward and upward.

Senator LeBreton: I have a big problem with this. First, someone said it was made public. Could you define ``public?'' Was it tabled in the House of Commons? Is that what you deem to be public? Bills are tabled every day. That is hardly what most Canadians would deem to be a public announcement. I am troubled, although I can see the arguments. I know that one specific case triggered this. Right now, unless I am sadly mistaken, members of Parliament and senators have access to long-term disability benefits if, for some reason or other, they become disabled while they hold their positions. Is that correct?

Ms. Bougie: Yes, but only while they are employed. If they become disabled after age 50, for example, and they are not yet eligible for a pension, there is no coverage during that time.

Senator LeBreton: You made my point. This particular individual knew there was a disability and this was all done in private at the Internal Economy Committee. Why, then, did that particular individual not access the existing disability provisions, and if this were likely to become an injustice for other people in the next few years, why not table the bill properly and explain it to the public? I am sure the public would understand if it were properly explained. Why did this individual not put this through the normal processes of examination in the House of Commons? Of course, we are doing this in the Senate. I do not understand why that one particular member of Parliament could not have been accommodated through the existing programs, because we know that this is the problem. This is not something that will happen, but has happened, to this particular individual.

This is an age of high levels of public cynicism about politicians and public institutions. Given the way in which this has been handled, I think the public would be quite correct in thinking that there must be something wrong with it, because it was sneaked through at the end of the day. I would like you to find out, or perhaps you know, whether the House of Commons explored the existing disability provisions for this one particular MP. Then, if there is not an election, we could have a more thorough, open, public airing of this issue.

Mr. Saada: Senator, if I may be very direct, I am a little puzzled by the allusion to the fact that this process was not normal in the House of Commons. If the House of Commons decided to use this process, it was its prerogative to do so, in the same way it is the prerogative of the Senate to do it differently. That is the complementariness of both Houses. There was nothing abnormal about the process. It is quite normal for the House of Commons to decide, by unanimous consent — a democratic expression — to fast-track an existing process. It is quite okay for the House of Commons to decide to act that way, just as the Senate has authority to either fast-track the process or to take another route. I have heard that before, from Senator Lynch-Staunton, and with all due respect, I would not like to let the impression stand that the House of Commons has pushed this bill through the back door, because that is not what happened. It is simply not a fact.

Senator LeBreton: Pardon me for interrupting, minister, but do you not think it would have been more prudent, if this were such an honourable piece of proposed legislation, to have been more upfront, even if there were unanimous consent of all parties to fast-track it? There is fast-tracking and then there is fast-tracking. At the least, even with consensus among all parties, you have to have some kind of public explanation. You have to admit that if you were a member of the public watching this, you would automatically be suspicious, when this passed the House of Commons in the wink of an eye, that M.P.s were trying to hide something.

I go back to my question about this particular individual. If one M.P. has precipitated this, why was an accommodation for that M.P. not made through the existing programs? This particular pension policy issue could have been fixed in the fullness of time and after more reasoned debate in both Houses. I can guarantee, as sure as my name is Marjory, that the whole thing will be misrepresented to the public. Then, all parliamentarians will be quite rightly chastised for not being up front with the public, which they deserve.

Senator Cordy: My comments are similar. I think that it is a good bill and I agree with Senator Trenholme Counsell that it is often just one case that results in change. You did a good job when you spoke to why the changes are needed, minister, and it is not a difficult case to argue. Parliamentarians should have the same rights to benefits as civil servants who retire early. Having said that, I think that for those involved in Parliament, particularly, perception is a big issue. When I read about this bill in the newspaper, it was basically in terms of what Senator LeBreton has said — there must be something wrong with it. There is nothing wrong, but that is the perception of the Canadian public. I read the underlying newspaper message as: Of course parliamentarians pushed it through. The sad part is, there is nothing wrong with the bill. However, the public perceives that the bill was pushed through. You explained that it was by unanimous consent, and that is good, but we have to always be aware of public perception. In this case, it is most unfortunate, because the bill is an effort to right a wrong.

Mr. Saada: I will make one short statement and pass it on to Ms. Bougie to give you further details. When the bill was tabled and subsequently passed, one journalist showed interest in it. We took the time to explain at great length what we were doing.

The newspaper story did not present it in the way that I had hoped, but that is the media — freedom of expression. That could create bad feeling about this bill and I understand and accept the argument. However, at the same time, I did not want to take a chance on this person, or any other person in the same situation, not having access to this benefit, to which she should be entitled, on the sole basis of perception.

I did not mind taking the risk of having to explain to the people in order to make sure that this person, or anybody else in her situation, did not suffer unduly. However, I take the point.

The Chairman: Could I ask your officials to answer a very direct question, because I did not quite understand their answer to Senator LeBreton's question? Why could this case not be covered under the long-term disability program? It is a technical question and that is why I am asking the officials.

Ms. Bougie: It is a good thing our colleague from Treasury Board is here because she just reminded me of a very important detail on how long-term disability works.

The Chairman: That is one of the very few times I have ever heard someone from PCO say it is a good thing to have somebody from Treasury Board around.

Ms. Bougie: This person would have to qualify for LTD prior to leaving the House. If she did, she could receive benefits under the LTD program until age 65. However, coverage for health care, life insurance or dental care is tied to your employment status. Therefore, if she was not elected after the House rose and she was not presenting herself as a candidate or anything, she would continue on LTD, but since she did not have a tie in terms of employment as a sitting member, nor through being in receipt of a pension under the MPRAA, then she would not have any benefit coverage under life insurance, health care or dental plans.

Senator Lynch-Staunton: It is not quite accurate to say that through this bill, we are putting parliamentarians on the same basis as civil servants, because civil servants have to be receiving a pension before getting the benefits, reduced though it may be. They are allowed to take reduced pensions but we are not. It is not an answer to make it comparable, to amend the law to allow parliamentarians to take a reduced pension? There is nothing wrong with that. You contribute, and if you want to take it earlier, you take a lower pension, and if you want to wait for the maximum, then you take a higher pension. This age-55 issue is a reaction to a situation that was highly exaggerated, considering the overgenerous provisions of certain pension plans for certain parliamentarians. I am afraid we have gone too far in the other direction. Civil servants can retire earlier than age 65, with a reduced pension, and the benefits continue. Why can parliamentarians not be put on the same basis? It is a political question, Mr. Saada, so I am addressing it to you.

Mr. Saada: Yes, I understood that.

Senator Lynch-Staunton: It is my last one.

Mr. Saada: I do not know the answer as to whether they should or should not. I do not know the implications of what you are suggesting. Is it something that we should be thinking about and deciding whether it is a good thing? I have no problems with listening to the suggestion. If you are asking me if I am in favour of it, you will understand I have some reservations without knowing the facts, but I think it is a legitimate question.

Senator Lynch-Staunton: I leave it on the table then.

The Chairman: Mr. Saada, I thank you and your officials for taking the time to be with us this morning. Our next witnesses are Marilyn Smith-Grant and Sean Reid, from Cognos. Let me be clear. We did not ask the human resource people from Cognos to come because we expect them to comment on the specifics of the proposed legislation. That is not within their knowledge. I am glad they were in the room for at least part of the discussion with the minister. Some of us felt it would be useful to put on the record how this kind of case, where you have a one-off problem, would have been handled in the private sector. Would it have been dealt with as a one-off case, or would you have felt it necessary, as this bill proposes, to make a policy change that affects everybody?

Our intent, therefore, is not to ask the witnesses detailed questions about the bill. It is to talk about how this kind of issue would have been handled in the private sector.

Having said that, I thank the two of you for coming on very short notice. We appreciate you being here. I understand that Ms. Smith-Grant will begin with a brief presentation and then we will ask you some questions.

Ms. Marilyn Smith-Grant, Senior Human Resources Specialist, Cognos: Thank you, honourable senators, for inviting me to be here and giving me this opportunity. I will start off by reviewing the presentation outline of which I believe each of you has a copy. I will start by talking about, in a broad sense, what Cognos does, who we are, and then, of course, our benefits program. I will focus on the medical, the dental and employee assistance plans, life insurance, and then I will give a quick overview of our funding arrangements and some other benefits that really set us apart.

First of all, who is Cognos? We are a software technology company, as you may be aware. We have 3,000 employees worldwide. However, the benefits that I will be speaking about are really for the 1,300 employees in Canada. They are mainly professional employees, such as engineers, QC analysts, marketing/sales, administration and human resources people, and the average age is 36, to give you some idea of our population base. We are involved in every industry sector, including government, health care, automotive, manufacturing, banking, energy and natural resources, so we operate on a broad spectrum in terms of the services and products that we offer.

I want to spend a brief moment on the culture of our company. It is very important for you to understand that, because what we do from a benefits perspective really supports our culture. The reverse is also true. Our culture really supports our benefits.

I will share a message with you that Rob Ashe, our incoming CEO — you may have heard that Ron Zambonini, the current CEO, is stepping down — gave about Ron and our culture that really sums it up. He said:

I believe Ron's greatest achievement was the creation and nurturing of our culture as a company; a unique culture of excellence, of great products, of humility, of ownership, of action; a culture of appreciation and respect for people; a culture of unyielding commitment to customer; a culture of competition and fun; a culture of honesty and authenticity — in short, the Cognos culture.

I am proud to state that that — because I have been there a long time — is truly what Cognos demonstrates.

In moving on to the benefits plan, I will try to keep it at a high level. Our medical plan is fully funded by Cognos, so premiums are 100-per-cent paid. The annual premium for our medical benefits is approximately $1.5 million per year. The employee pays an annual deductible of $25 or $50, depending on whether they are single or married, with $50 being the family deductible.

Our drug plan pays 90 per cent of the cost of drugs. Our drug utilization is actually low at Cognos. It is at approximately 45 per cent. The average drug utilization is closer to 75 per cent in most plans, just to give you a flavour.

We are looking at introducing a drug card. Employees have been asking us to introduce a card for a long time. Basically, it will allow employees the convenience of going to a pharmacy and paying $2 or $3 and not be out of pocket.

That initiative is in the early stages of costing. It will be well received.

We cover other medical services and equipment. I will save that for the question and answer period, if you are interested in knowing the details.

Our out-of-Canada emergency medical coverage is the best medical benefits offering at Cognos. I hear over and over again that it is invaluable. Whether employees are travelling with their families for pleasure or alone on business, Cognos provides for emergency medical treatment of up to $1 million per incident anywhere in the world. It is emergency care that we would pay for — acute illness or injury.

We have paramedical coverage as well. We pay 90 per cent of the cost of things such as massage therapy, speech therapy, chiropractor treatment and physiotherapy. We cap that at $500 a year. That is highly utilized.

We offer a $200 vision-care benefit every two years for adults and every year for children. The $200 can be put against laser eye surgery.

We hear a little rumbling that that coverage is not high enough. It is not a high priority for us because it is not a benefit that needs to be higher. Our competition provides the same level of benefits. It is not really a hot issue.

Hospitalization costs are paid at 100 per cent for semi-private accommodation and 90 per cent for private hospitalization. We also provide counselling at the rate of 50 per cent for 12 visits.

I want to make a key point regarding our dental plan, because it is best practice at Cognos. That is, coverage is on the current fee guide. Many companies lag a year or two behind because they want to contain costs. Cognos reimburses on current costs, which is a best offering.

We also reimburse orthodontic costs at 60 per cent, which is higher than the norm. The norm is 50 per cent. We also give employees the option to buy additional dental coverage, up from 60 per cent to 80 per cent, for major expenses. We also allow them to increase their orthodontic coverage for their children or themselves, up to 80 per cent, with a lifetime cap of from $3,000 to $5,000.

We are a relatively young population with young children and the benefits are well received. It suits the culture, which is that we want to take care of our people.

I want to spend a couple of minutes on the employee assistance program. I cannot stress the importance of this one enough. We only launched it last May.

It is a program for employees and their families that offers professional counselling for a wide variety of stress- related issues due to family, work or other things that may affect their lives negatively. It has been incredibly well received. I have been getting testimonials from employees that say that the EAP has made a difference in their lives. They are back at work, functioning and not on disability, because of this EAP counselling program.

Family Services of Ottawa is our provider, and they have done an excellent job. It took a while for senior management to buy into this benefit because years ago, there was a stigma attached to providing a counselling-type benefit. It took education and some time. I am pleased to say that now we have it.

Our basic life insurance is fully paid by Cognos. The benefit is two times your annual income, to a maximum of $1 million. The benefit is reduced by 50 per cent at age 65, and further reduced to $25,000 when an employee reaches age 70. The benefit then terminates at age 75 or on retirement, whichever is earlier. Most people are no longer in the program by then.

I am pleased to say, though, that we have negotiated an increased benefit for a senior employee who is still working at age 70. The contract said $25,000 only, but I have negotiated a benefit of $75,000 with Standard Life. That $50,000 more does not sound that significant, but it is. Insurance companies are sometimes totally contractually based and do not want to move from it.

It is important to note that the basic life insurance plan had a medical evidence requirement at $700,000 of insurance. I strong-armed Standard Life into waiving that. Senior managers who reach that threshold of $700,000, which is easily attainable, no longer have to go through the onerous procedures of medicals and forms and perhaps be declined the $1 million.

That was quite a feat, because Standard Life said that it never does that. I said because we have never done it does not mean we should never have to do it. Cognos is a high-profile client.

We have a conversion privilege under our program. That means that when employees leave the company, they can convert whatever insurance they have to an individual plan without undergoing a medical, as long as they do it within 31 days. They must pay individual rates, not group rates, but the medical is waived. Optional life provides employees with an opportunity to buy additional coverage for themselves, spouses or children through payroll deduction.

We did change our funding arrangement, to administrative services only from an experience-rated plan. That basically means that we got rid of some of the insurance management expense fees and the funding of their reserves, et cetera. We basically said, ``Here is the money that we will give you each month to pay our claims, be it $250,000. You pay the claims for us.'' Not having to fund these reserves, we saved approximately $100,000 a year. We are taking the insurance in-house.

Finally, I want to add that, essentially, we have a traditional benefits plan, as you probably noticed. What really sets us apart is shown on this last slide on other benefits.

In my opinion, our fitness facility is state of the art. The employee participation rate is higher than the typical software company. It is almost 70 per cent, whereas most companies are at 50 per cent. We have social activities, Christmas parties and picnics that are fully funded and well attended. It is good for morale boosting and team building.

Part of our people strategy is to compete on our benefits, which we are doing. We keep a pulse on that. However, we really want to win on culture. I believe we have truly done that.

I want to thank you for your time, and I will open the floor to questions.

The Chairman: Thank you very much. I must say that I like your line: ``Compete on benefits; win on culture.'' That is not a bad line at all.

I want to make a comment and then I want to ask you a question. You heard some of the discussion earlier regarding how you would you deal with a one-of-kind, special case.

I heard your comments on your EAP program. You would not know this, but we are in the early stages of a two- year study on mental health, which is a successor to our study on broader health care and the acute care system. Given the comments you made on the EAP program, I trust you will not mind returning sometime down the road. We want to get two or three employers who have truly outstanding EAP programs together so that we can understand the workings of it. I trust you would not mind coming, if we were to invite you again.

Ms. Smith-Grant: Absolutely not — I would welcome the opportunity. It is an excellent program.

The Chairman: To focus on today, how would you deal with a situation about which everyone feels truly concerned, in which you had an employee who was ill and fell outside the parameters of your existing benefits plan, for whatever reason. How would you handle what I think Senator Lynch-Staunton and I called earlier a ``one-off case?''

Ms. Smith-Grant: Could you paraphrase the situation you had? I just heard a little of it.

The Chairman: The situation is that there is a member of Parliament who is under the age of 55, which is when the benefits plan kicks it in. This member of Parliament is suffering from a debilitating disease and is simply unable to run again. Therefore, from the time of the election until she turns 55, this individual will not be eligible for the health benefit programs — the drug program and so on. The proposal in the bill is essentially to backdate the plan so that the benefits would kick in at age 50 — not just for this individual, for anyone.

A number of us around the table have expressed the view that we are troubled by the introduction of proposed legislation based on one specific case. We are not disputing the fairness of the case — none of that is at issue here. We asked officials earlier, before you came in, whether or not their existing plans could be tweaked somehow to deal with the question, and we were told no. I will say, as someone who has chaired HR committees on a couple of major boards, it would absolutely not be true in my private sector experience.

I am curious as how you would deal with that problem. You have a case of someone who clearly deserves help. That is it not the issue here. Do you change the broad policy to deal with the one case, or do you have a method by which you could deal with that one-off case by itself?

Ms. Smith-Grant: In the private sector, we would probably deal with it as a one-off case.

The Chairman: How would you do that?

Ms. Smith-Grant: I am thinking of an example we had not that long ago, of an individual who was on a salary continuance — he was terminated — and became disabled during that time period. Technically, as per the contract, he would have no longer been eligible for long-term disability.

The Chairman: Because he was not an employee?

Ms. Smith-Grant: The way the contract is structured, if you are on salary continuance, disability eligibility only continues for one month.

This individual, who was also very ill, would not have had any coverage. I did not change the entire salary continuance benefit eligibility for everyone we terminate who may be disabled; I simply looked at this one individual. What we did was we finessed it with the insurance company. Again, we looked at the contract with the insurance company and said, ``This is our situation. We would like to waive that 30-day period for this individual.''

The Chairman: You would like the insurance company to waive it?

Ms. Smith-Grant: Yes, because our long-term disability contract is fully insured, as they call it, or fully pooled coverage. I do not know if that makes any sense, but it is coverage that we cannot control — not like our health and dental plans, where we pay the bills.

We took them to the boardroom and said, ``Look, this individual needs help. We are an employer with a culture of being very people-oriented, we are very compassionate, and that is what we want to demonstrate here.'' This person worked for us probably only for two or three years, so it was not a long tenure, but he had a terminal illness.

We waived it. That is the short answer. Then I worked with the insurance company to get him on to benefits. He still had to go through the process of getting his physician to give Sun Life the information. Then he was treated as if he was an active individual in the plan.

We had another situation, of a long-time employee — who really founded PowerHouse, one of our products developed years ago — who was retiring and only doing maybe some consulting work for us. He did not really fit the eligibility definition for benefits any more, because you must be a permanent employee and work a minimum of 15 hours a week. This person would maybe work 15 hours, maybe not. He was probably going to golf or something.

However, we said that we wanted to give this person benefits. He is legendary at Cognos and has been there for 30 years. We do not have retiree benefits of any kind, because it is not a competitive issue in our industry.

It is amazing what you can do with negotiating skills and adding some pressure; they often will give you what your mandate is. We ended up placing this individual in our benefits plan for permanent part-time employees, those who work 15 hours or more. He did not quite fit the definition, but we have a rider to our plan naming this individual so that he is covered for health and dental benefits.

There were some restrictions. They did reduce some of the benefits. For instance, out-of-country medical coverage was reduced to $50,000 from the current $1 million. However, he still had health and dental coverage; he had life insurance at one times salary instead of two, but at least we had something to offer him.

The Chairman: That is exactly consistent with my own private sector experience, which is that reasonable people on the employer side and reasonable people on the insurance company side can find a way to finesse a situation with a little movement here and there. Thank you.

Senator Lynch-Staunton: Unfortunately, although the government might want to do exactly what you did in special cases, it is limited by the law. It is stuck with the law. Even if the carrier and the government were agreeable, the law is the handicap. Maybe someday, the law will be written in such a way that the cases of individuals are included in our legislation, so that we would not again have to deal with such a situation. I do not know how you do that, but there must be a way.

The Chairman: Thank you for coming here, that was really helpful. We will definitely get back to you on the EAP program.

Ms. Smith-Grant: It has been a real opportunity to speak to such an elite group.

Senator LeBreton: We think you are an elite group, too. I cannot get over how that place has grown and expanded.

Ms. Smith-Grant: It is an impressive building. I will leave the details of our benefits plans with the clerk. We also have a small brochure on our employee assistance plan.

The Chairman: We will go to our next panel of witnesses, from the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Mr. John Gordon and Mr. James Infantino.

Mr. John Gordon, National Executive Vice-President, Public Service Alliance of Canada: The Public Service Alliance of Canada represents some 151,000 Canadian workers, the vast majority of whom are employed by the federal government in various departments and agencies. On their behalf, I should like to thank the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology for inviting us to appear during your deliberations on Bill C-24, to amend the Parliament of Canada Act.

At the outset, I should like to say that the PSAC is not opposed to the principles embodied in Bill C-24. In fact, it supports attempts to ensure that working Canadians, including members of Parliament, have their supplementary health care, dental and insurance plans maintained. Instead of a situation whereby the workers leave employment and lose those benefits, only to have them reinstated a few years later when they are subsequently in receipt of a retirement allowance.

Unfortunately, on March 12, 2004, the House of Commons adopted Bill C-24 with limited debate, no consultation and almost total disregard for the people in similar circumstances outside their House. To be clear, despite what was said by the five speakers who addressed Bill C-24 in the House of Commons, the bill provides special treatment for members of Parliament such as benefits over and above what is provided to federal public sector workers, the majority of whom are represented by the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

This was done pursuant to a government motion that received unanimous consent in the House of Commons on March 11, 2004. In effect, the motion abrogated the normal rules for open debate of proposed legislation because it allowed the House to deem the bill read a second time; to deem referral of the bill to committee; to deem the bill reported back without amendment; to deem the bill concurred in at report stage; and to deem the bill read third time and passed, all of which took place on March 12. Bill C-24 permits members of Parliament who cease to be members at the age of 50 but before the age of 55 to participate in the public service health care plan, the pensioners' dental services plan and the public service management insurance plan.

Under the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act, the earliest age at which members of Parliament can commence collecting an allowance is 55. Therefore, this proposed legislation allows MPs who cease to be members after age 50 but before age 55 to participate in the public service health care plan, the PDSP and the PSMIP, even though they would not be in receipt of a retirement allowance under the MPRAA.

PSAC members and other federal workers are prohibited from participating in the PSHCP and the PDSP unless they are in receipt of a benefit under the Public Service Superannuation Act. In short, the members of the House of Commons have voted a benefit for themselves and for senators that is quite simply not available to other workers under federal jurisdiction and who are paid by the federal government and its various departments and agencies.

The difference is that the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act does not provide an option for former members of Parliament to receive a retirement allowance until age 55, while the Public Service Superannuation Act provides the opportunity to receive significantly reduced benefits at an earlier age in certain circumstances.

I will quickly run through the provisions that apply to members of the PSAC and others who are subject to the Public Service Superannuation Act. Other than cases involving total disability of employees who opt for a medical retirement, the earliest a PSAC member is eligible to collect an unreduced pension benefit is age 55. To retire at this age, the worker is required to have banked at least 30 years of pensionable service. At that time, federal workers are eligible to participate in the public service health care plan and the public service dental care plan as retirees.

While retirement at age 50 is possible under the Public Service Superannuation Act, workers can only choose this option if they agree to a pension reduction. The pension reduction for workers with less than 25 years of pensionable service is 5 per cent for each year the retirement commences prior to the age of 60. For example, a federal worker who retires at age 50 after 24 years of service would see his or her pension reduced by fully 50 per cent in dollar terms. A federal worker with this age and service profile, and with an average salary for superannuation purposes of $40,000, would receive a pension of $9,600 instead of $19,200.

The pension reduction for federal workers who have at least 25 years of pensionable service on termination of employment after age 50 are subject to a pension reduction of 5 per cent per year of the greater of: the number of years of age less than 55 or the number of years of pensionable service less than 30 years. For example, a federal worker with 26 years of service who retires at age 50 will have his or her pension reduced by 25 per cent.

To put this into perspective, the PSAC members and other public sector workers over the age of 50 who decide to retire early or whose employment is terminated find themselves in a difficult quandary. They can elect to access their pension early and be subject to a severe pension reduction that, in many cases, will mean a post-retirement life of abject poverty but with a medical benefit that they so desperately need; or they can defer their pension to either 55 or 60, depending on years of service, and receive a unreduced pension but be denied medical or dental coverage until that pension is received.

Bill C-24 also provides members of Parliament with an added benefit in respect of group insurance when compared to other federal workers. Under Bill C-24, insurance is provided to former members of Parliament who were age 50 when they left office on the same terms and conditions as apply to persons in receipt of an allowance, other than a withdrawal allowance under the act.

In contrast, federal workers who leave their employment in similar circumstances and are not in receipt of an immediate pension benefit under the Public Service Superannuation Act can only maintain life insurance coverage under the supplementary death benefit plan at significantly higher commercial premium rates. Furthermore, the Public Service Alliance of Canada would bring to the committee's attention the many thousands of PSAC members whose positions have been divested to the private sector over the past several years and have no access to post-retirement health, dental or life insurance coverage from their successor employers.

As I said at the outset, the PSAC supports proposed legislation that would see federal workers, including all members of Parliament, have their supplementary health, dental and life insurance maintained when they are over the age of 50 and eligible for a deferred retirement allowance or annuity.

What we cannot support is proposed legislation that addresses the issues for members of Parliament and leaves other federal workers vulnerable. We are particularly disturbed because while the current public service health care plan remains in effect until March 31, 2005, we have every reason to believe that the government is contemplating significant reductions to it, particularly in the area of post-retirement coverage. In closing, and in short, we believe the government is legislating a double standard that benefits members of Parliament to the exclusion of all other federal workers. As a result, we urge senators to take the action necessary to ensure that Bill C-24 provides the same coverage to all federal workers. We want to thank you again for inviting us to the committee.

The Chairman: Thank you very much for that detailed statement. That addresses many of the questions that we would have wanted to ask in terms of comparing this bill with the benefits available to your members. You were not here when the minister appeared earlier, but he and his officials talked quite extensively about not just the parallel, but what they deemed the similarity, in the idea that members of Parliament and senators, parliamentarians, should be entitled to similar benefits to those available to public servants.

As you have pointed out, in fact this particular proposal is more generous in certain ways. Mr. Infantino was here and heard that discussion, so you know exactly the point I am making.

Senator Lynch-Staunton: You mentioned that the current public service health care plan would soon expire. How is that negotiated? Is the government alone in this, or are you involved in negotiations?

Mr. Gordon: We are involved in the negotiations. The parties to the plan include the unions, the federal public service, the national superannuates and the Treasury Board of Canada. We are in the process of negotiations on the plan now, because it ends, as I said, on March 31, 2005.

Senator Lynch-Staunton: This is an ongoing committee that meets on a regular basis?

Mr. Gordon: In 2000, they established a trust to oversee the administration of the public service health care plan and they locked in the present plan for a five-year period. It is now coming up for renewal, so one would assume that that process would continue, but we cannot say for sure.

Senator Lynch-Staunton: Have you had cases amongst your members such as the one we are looking at here, where the situation has not been thought of? Cognos told us of two examples where they negotiated the entrance of employees into the plan, and they had to bend it a little but it worked? Do you have the same flexibility?

Mr. Gordon: No. There are certain circumstances whereby a person covered by the plan can continue their contributions, and that is if they become completely disabled, are no longer able to work and get a disability pension. If a person is 53 years of age, and has even 30 years of service and wants to retire, he or she either has to take a reduced pension, at 5 per cent a year, or defer that pension, and during that deferral period, there is no eligibility to be a member of the plan.

Senator Lynch-Staunton: Will you take this bill to the negotiating table and say, ``If this is good enough for them, it is good enough for us?''

Mr. Gordon: We did happen to be at the table the day the bill was introduced and I made mention, ``What do you think of this, folks?''

The Chairman: You may want to get the transcript of what the minister and officials said, because they were careful to point out repeatedly, including in the minister's opening statement, that their intent was to treat parliamentarians and members of the public service the same. I would think that is a pretty compelling argument from your point of view, because they voluntarily went on record as saying that. We are happy to help you get the transcript. That is not a problem.

Mr. Gordon: We appreciate that.

Senator Fairbairn: Thank you for being here. Your paragraph 19 sounds a little ominous. You say you have every reason to believe that the government is contemplating significant reductions to the public service health care plan, PSHCP, particularly in the area of post-retirement coverage.

The Chairman: I would say, parenthetically, it is not only ominous for your members, it is ominous for us, because we are now told we will be treated the same way as you are, so we are with you on this one.

Senator Lynch-Staunton: There may be a new government next time, so you could be —

Senator Fairbairn: We need to be armed, in any event.

Mr. Gordon: All aspects of the plan are up for discussion, including the benefits available to retirees. When we say that we are very cautious about what will happen and what is happening in the backrooms of government, it is because some indications are they are talking about the huge cost overruns, and so on and so forth. We have not seen it ourselves, but that will be part and parcel of the discussion. Signals are being sent to us — and I guess it is only our perception until such time as we get to the detail — that some benefits will be reduced in some way, shape or form, for all — including retirees.

We find that as retirees get older, they tend to become more reliant on the services that the health care plan provides. We feel that there are indications that the funding levels will be reduced.

Senator Fairbairn: I would think it would be a very difficult business to do that, when they are supposed to be equivalent to parliamentary levels. Anyhow, we will certainly want to know, as this proceeds, whether or not your fears were groundless.

Senator LeBreton: I wanted to thank the witnesses, because I think their presentation really underscores the point that a few of us are trying to make, that the way this was handled in Parliament just does not pass the smell test. I very much appreciate the points you made. I am generally in agreement with you.

Senator Lynch-Staunton: Well, you have come a long way since Mr. Daryl Bean brought 20,000 employees onto the lawn. It was like a love-in.

The Chairman: As soon as we hear that the government has put us into your camp, we are with you. I urge you to read the transcript from the first session. Senator LeBreton and I had agreed earlier that we would not proceed to clause-by-clause consideration today, that we would have some discussions over the two-week break and come back to you with a course of action. Even if we did do clause-by-clause today and it passed, the reality is that third reading could not be dealt with until after the break anyway. Nothing is hurt by not dealing with the bill until we come back.

Senator LeBreton and I will talk over the next few weeks and figure out the process. I will remind you of two things. One, we do have a meeting at three o'clock this afternoon, with the approval of the Senate. It is by teleconference so it is in the East Block. We have the Chair of the President's Commission on Mental Health and the Chair of the Mental Health Reform Coalition in the United States, who will be appearing from 3 to 5 by teleconference. On the first day we are back, which is Tuesday, April 20, we have, again, an extraordinary meeting at seven o'clock at night on the mental health issue, because the witnesses are from Australia and the time change is such that we can only do Australia on one Tuesday and New Zealand two weeks later. We had to adjust our schedule to fit the time change, so the two seven o'clock meetings have received the approval of both whips.

Senator Fairbairn: Does it have to be on Tuesday?

The Chairman: It is the only night that works, given their schedules. The short answer is yes. We had to accommodate the schedule of the witnesses and recognize that it could not be on a Thursday because so many of our members leave.

It was either Tuesday or Wednesday, and we already sit at four o'clock on Wednesday, with meetings that in some cases run more than three hours. We were boxed into Tuesday.

Senator Fairbairn: It coincides with the Agriculture Committee.

The Chairman: It is only two Tuesdays out of the whole set. We have to start on time. When we have senior officials from another country appearing we should be prompt, so can we please start promptly at 3 today? We already have permission from the Senate. The whips have approved the seven o'clock meeting on April 20, and at that time, Senator LeBreton and I will fill you in on what we think we should do with this bill.

Senator Cook: I have a conflict on Tuesdays with Fisheries Committee.

The Chairman: My guess is that since the Fisheries Committee is ongoing and this is a one-off meeting with a foreign country, it is probably worthwhile coming to this.

Senator Cook: I will try to get a substitute.

The Chairman: This was an interesting discussion and I am not at all sure that Mr. Saada and his officials expected the grilling that they got. They did not get any grilling in the House of Commons, so, if for no other reason, it was a good thing to do. Thank you for coming.

The committee adjourned.


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