OTTAWA, Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Committee of Selection met this day at 8:30 a.m. for the election of the chair and for the consideration of a draft agenda (future business).

Blair Armitage, Clerk of the Committee: Honourable senators, as clerk of your committee, it is my duty to preside over the election of the chair, and I am ready to receive motions to that effect.

Senator Munson: I would like to nominate Don Plett as the chair of this committee.

Mr. Armitage: Are there any other nominations?

Seeing none, is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion that Senator Plett take the chair?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Mr. Armitage: It is agreed.

Senator Plett, would you please take the chair.

Senator Donald Neil Plett (Chair) in the chair.

Senator Lankin: Congratulations on your election to the chair. There is an outstanding matter that I hope will be coming before this committee in short order, and that is dealing with the issue of the appointment of independent senators to committees.

I spoke with Senator Carignan yesterday, and he was of the thought that it was going to happen today. I'm here, waiting to see my future unfold, but I understand it is not going to happen today. Could you tell us if this will occur in short order, so that when we resume in a week's time, independents can take their place as full voting members of committees?

The Chair: I can say to you, Senator Lankin, that it will happen in a short period of time. I can also say to you that I hope it will be done in time for when we come back.

There is the matter whereby we were given three names for two positions, and it is probably not going to be this committee's decision as to which two out of three will be there. You will likely be receiving, in those cases — and I will just use, for example, you, Senator McCoy and Senator Pratte — a letter. The independent senators who signed the letter need to work out amongst themselves who those two will be. I don't think we will be making that decision.

That is maybe for three or possibly four of the committees. That's not a decision that we want to make. But the reason we needed to select a chair today is so that the letter could go out under the chair's signature rather than going out under Senator Munson's name and my name as the whips. That will be drafted hopefully before we leave at the end of this week, and then we will bring that matter to a close.

Senator Lankin: Just so I understand, my recollection of the letter is that it put forward two independent senators for each committee. There were committees that already had independent senators as members from when they were members of caucuses and left, and it was not our intention or our position that we should be having anything to say about those individuals.

I believe that our letter put forward two for each. If I'm mistaken, we should regroup on that quickly.

Is the conflict of the three independent senators for some committees a matter of where there is already a sitting independent?

The Chair: Not in all cases, but in some there is, yes.

Senator Munson: What wasn't envisaged, for example, was Senator Sibbeston, who sat on the Aboriginal Committee as a Liberal senator and has now chosen to sit as an independent. We haven't checked with him because he's an independent, but he is on Aboriginal as an independent now, and there are two other names of senators who wish to sit on the Aboriginal Committee. The way it has happened in other caucuses or groups is that people say, "Who do you think would be the best two people to sit on that committee?" That's just one of the situations we're facing.

Only one independent has put his or her name down to sit on a committee, which will probably still leave a vacancy. And we still have to look towards the future, because there are 17 seats to be filled.

To echo what Senator Plett has said, this letter will go out, I'm sure, before the end of this week, and we will call another Selection Committee meeting very early following the break week.

Senator Lankin: My recollection of the first letter we received from the two caucus leaders indicated that each caucus was going to give up one seat on a committee, creating two vacancies for independents on a committee. That letter did not specify that existing independents sitting on committees would have to have their status reviewed. They are already committee members. They carry the rights of full committee members.

If you look at the total numbers being put forward in cases where there might be three because of an existing independent sitting on the committee, it is still below proportionality. The Modernization Committee premise that's coming forward talks about proportionality. Everybody seems to be focused on that issue.

The response from the group of independents did not really include those who were independent senators already on committees. We acknowledge that they are there — so their names are there — but it was putting forward two for each committee as per the request to us.

It sounds like this has already been discussed and you know where you are headed, but I would ask you to reconsider that. Although we're all attending committees already, it is below the proportionality numbers, and there are a group of independents eager to get to work in a fulsome way. I would appreciate it if you would look at that again.

The Chair: We will certainly do that. It has been indicated clearly that we all agree with your last statement that we want to get on with this and have some of these independents on the committees. We need to grapple with that and we will do that, but the fact of the matter is that since that letter went out, as Senator Munson just pointed out, people have been leaving caucuses, so they have been losing members in that regard. If we want to do some kind of portion, then the independents would already probably outnumber the Liberals on some committees. That, by our numbers, should not be the case yet.

We will look at that, Senator Lankin, and hopefully resolve that satisfactorily.

Senator McCoy: First of all, I endorse what Senator Lankin has just said.

On the example you used, Senator Munson, it happens there are three vacancies already on the Aboriginal Affairs Committee, so I don't see the difficulty, even with Senator Sibbeston already sitting on that committee. There are three vacancies.

I wonder if it wouldn't be more useful, rather than just sending us a letter, if representatives from the independents group were to meet with this committee and go through each committee to see what accommodations can be made. The Aboriginal Affairs Committee is a perfect example.

The Chair: I will take that under advisement. I think what we will start with, Senator McCoy, is a letter, and hopefully that will resolve it. If it doesn't, certainly we are all available. I am certainly going to be available to discuss it with you as the leader or —

Senator McCoy: Facilitator.

The Chair: Facilitator, yes. Thank you. I'm getting confused with all the names for different leadership positions.

Senator McCoy: That's all right.

The Chair: But we will not try to hide, and we will try to bring this to a close as quickly as we can.

Senator Fraser: Both Senator Martin and I are going to have to leave — 10 minutes ago — with apologies to all. But before we do that, I would like to say that it had been my understanding that the independent senators adamantly, understandably and legitimately believed that they should choose which of their members would sit on committees. The offer that was made and accepted was for two independent seats on each committee, and that seems to me to be the groundwork upon which we must operate.

Therefore, I suggest that it is not for this committee to make a choice as to which independent senators will go where. It is for the independents to figure out what they want to do. That's what they told us they wanted to do. We all agreed that was appropriate. Let's stick to the deal.

The Chair: Noted.

Senator McCoy, I will allow one more comment from you, but as Senator Fraser has said, both she and Senator Martin need to leave. The only item on the agenda today was the selection of the chair. We have accommodated more comments, but I will allow you one last comment, and then we will adjourn the meeting.

Senator McCoy: "Two new seats" was our understanding of the offer.

The Chair: Thank you very much, colleagues, for coming out.

(The committee adjourned.)

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