THE COMMITTEE OF SELECTION
OTTAWA, Tuesday, December 5, 2017
The Committee of Selection met this day at 8:15 a.m. to pursuant to rule 12-2(2) of the Rules of the Senate.
Senator Donald Neil Plett (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Welcome to the first meeting of the Committee of Selection, other than our organizational meeting. Sorry that you didn’t get an official agenda, but there are only a couple of items on it. One is to establish the Arctic committee, Library of Parliament, Scrutiny of Regulations. The other one is to have a brief discussion on a process for assigning offices as per the new SARs rules.
I think the Arctic committee is struck with four members of ISG, four members of the Conservatives, and two of the Liberals. We will just go around the table. I will start with Senator Woo and ask him for the list of people they are nominating.
Senator Woo: All three committees or just the Arctic committee?
The Chair: Just Arctic.
Senator Woo: I have more names than we have spaces, so we still have to have one more discussion amongst our group to reduce the list. It’s four, right?
The Chair: What I would suggest, Senator Woo, is that you give us four names. If you want to make a change, we will allow that change to be made, but if you don’t give us four names, we can’t properly establish it.
Senator Woo: When Senator Omidvar arrives, she may well have sorted it by that time.
Senator Wallin: There is a meeting today, so it would be by 1 o’clock this afternoon.
Senator Woo: We have an ISG meeting in three hours; it would be sorted by then. In any case, she is on her way. She may have sorted it overnight.
The Chair: Why don’t we skip by that one and go to the Library of Parliament?
Senator Tkachuk: Can’t we do ours?
The Chair: We can’t establish the committee if we don’t have all the names. If she’s coming right away, let’s do the others and hopefully she’ll be here in two minutes.
Senator Woo: For Library of Parliament, we have Senator Duffy and Senator Forest.
The Chair: And Liberals?
Senator Mercer: Me.
The Chair: Senator Mercer.
And the Conservatives have Senator Eaton and Senator McInnis.
Do I have a motion to accept those names?
Senator Tkachuk: I so move.
The Chair: Everybody is in agreement?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you.
Scrutiny and Regulations, then, Senator Woo.
Senator Woo: We have Senator Duffy and one to be filled. We are hoping that one of the new senators will take that position.
The Chair: One of which new senators? They haven’t been appointed to your group yet.
Senator Woo: That’s correct.
Senator Tkachuk: Senator Woo, that’s a really important committee, Scrutiny.
Senator Woo: We have Senator Duffy and one to fill still.
Blair Armitage, Clerk of the Committee: Would you put yourself forward as the placeholder?
Senator Woo: Yes, let’s do that.
The Chair: It will be Senator Duffy and Senator Woo for now.
Senator Mercer: Senator Day.
The Chair: And ours are Senator Stewart Olsen and Senator Unger.
If I could have a motion to accept those five names?
Senator Martin: So moved.
The Chair: All in favour?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you.
Senator Mercer: Who is the second one from ISG, Duffy and —
Mr. Armitage: Senator Woo for now as the placeholder.
The Chair: Why don’t we then go over the names of the others? I’ll give you ours for the Arctic committee.
Senators Eaton, Neufeld, Oh and Patterson.
Mr. Armitage: For the Liberals?
Senator Mercer: Watt and — my mind has gone blank. Give me a minute. I’ll have to look.
The Chair: Not that many there, Terry; it’s a process of elimination.
Senator Mercer: I appreciate that, but when you get to 70, you will have this problem too.
The Chair: I have that problem today.
Welcome, Senator Omidvar.
Senator Omidvar: Sorry I’m late.
Senator Mercer: Senator Dyck.
The Chair: Senator Dyck for the Liberals.
We are in the process of doing the Arctic committee, and Senator Woo says you have a bit of a problem. Has that problem been sorted out?
Senator Omidvar: Yes, we have too much interest. That is a good problem to have, I would say.
Our names are Senators Bovey, Pate, McPhedran and Galvez.
The Chair: Is that four?
Senator Omidvar: That’s four.
The Chair: Do we have a motion to accept those 12 names?
Senator Frum: I so move.
The Chair: Agreed?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Mr. Armitage: Is there a specific time slot allocated for this?
The Chair: Right now the time slot is Monday evening, and there is some definite consternation about that.
Senator Mercer: Senator Watt will be the chair for the first year. It’s impossible for Senator Watt to get here. If we do a Monday evening, he can’t get home on the weekends. He can’t get home and back because there is only one flight in and out of his village, which gets him into Montreal on Monday evening before he can get here.
I was going to propose — and I don’t have the other list in front of me — that if none of the members of that committee are members of Modernization, that Arctic meet at the same time as Modernization.
The Chair: There are more problems, Senator Mercer, than just the members. The biggest problem is committee space.
Senator Mercer: I was looking at the clerk.
Mr. Armitage: The available rooms at that time slot that have the broadcasting capability are only three, because 160-S is used as a caucus room immediately prior and can’t be switched over in time for a committee meeting. That’s the major issue with that time slot.
Senator McPhedran: But the caucus doesn’t need the technology, does it?
Mr. Armitage: But they need the space. Room 160-S is a large committee room, and the caucus needs the space. It’s not the Liberal caucus; it’s the Conservative caucus.
Senator Wallin: On Wednesday?
Mr. Armitage: It’s the Liberals? I’m sorry. You’ve been using it as your open caucus space for broadcasting.
Senator Mercer: And we use broadcasting when we have the open caucus.
Mr. Armitage: If the Liberal caucus can say that they’re going to be finished by eleven o’clock —
Senator Mercer: I will consult. We are meeting this morning.
The Chair: What time are they finished now?
Senator Mercer: Usually at noon. Actually, in open caucus we’re always finished by 11:30 because we’re sensitive to the fact that the open caucus has media attention to it. We want to have media attention before. Your caucus or the National Liberal Caucus ends at noon, so there is a spot in there for us.
Mr. Armitage: When the members of the Senate Committee of Selection went to their caucuses, they went with the understanding that it would be Monday afternoon. That was the discussion we had at the last meeting, but time slots are actually the purview of the leadership of the different groups. This is a conversation we can have among them separate from this meeting. I just thought it was a pertinent question to put out because I knew that there was —
Senator Mercer: Do you need us out of there by eleven o’clock or 11:30?
Mr. Armitage: We need a half hour to set up. Conceivably the meeting could start at twelve o’clock, and you could end at 11:30.
Senator Mercer: I think that’s doable, but I want to confirm with my caucus.
Mr. Armitage: I need to confirm with the technicians that they can do a regular —
Senator Omidvar: A change of time will impact on the names of the senators. So we would have to get back to you.
Mr. Armitage: Human Rights sits at that time and Veterans and Modernization.
Senator Omidvar: Senator Pate sits on that.
The Chair: It doesn’t affect us, but it certainly affects your group.
Senator Martin: Perhaps the leaders could discuss this beyond this meeting.
The Chair: Yes, but we need to give them some direction.
Senator Woo: We’ll consult the scheduling issue.
Senator Martin: I see what you’re saying, senator.
The Chair: If that decision isn’t made here today, that decision will likely not be made before Christmas. If this committee is supposed to meet before we rise, we have to have a decision as to when they meet, and possibly that time slot can change. If we get that decision today —
Senator Mercer: I’m pretty certain we can be finished by 11:30.
The Chair: But the ISG clearly has at least two members.
Senator Omidvar: We can sort this out very quickly and get back to you. If the meetings are on Mondays, you have our names. If the meetings are on Wednesdays, I will give you a reconfirmed list of names.
The Chair: Can we decide that this will be done by tomorrow at noon?
Senator Omidvar: Yes.
Senator Woo: It is still a question of Monday or Wednesday. What is the question we’re dealing with? We can sort out the Wednesday issue if it’s a Wednesday.
The Chair: Senator Mercer will see if they can vacate the room in time to have the committee meeting in 160-S at 11:30.
Senator Woo: So a first step and then a second step.
Mr. Armitage: Should we proceed with a report with these names under the understanding that the ISG may have to do membership changes to accommodate a different time slot? That way I don’t have to do really weird minutes. I can just go and make this report with these names, and if the time slot changes, you can use the mechanisms available to you to change the membership later on.
Senator Wallin: The only person who can’t on Monday is Senator Watt, and he’s the chair.
Senator Omidvar: That’s a problem.
Senator Mercer: And for him, it’s impossible to get to and from.
Senator Wallin: Believe me, I understand.
How much flexibility is there if Senator Watt was staying here for the weekend? I’m just thinking about fill-ins and replacements. Can you have a Monday meeting every once in a while or a Wednesday meeting once in a while? Is there any flexibility?
Mr. Armitage: Subject to the approval of the whips, there is a process to allow exactly that.
The Chair: We have to have an established time, Senator Wallin.
Senator Wallin: I agree.
Mr. Armitage: As Blair says, there is that flexibility.
Senator Martin: This is similar to what happened with Human Rights where it was a Monday time slot. We moved it to a Wednesday, but we always have the Monday available should there be a need for a second or special or additional meeting. I think something could be arranged in that sense. That would allow a little more flexibility for the committee.
The Chair: We’re good?
Mr. Armitage: We’re good.
The Chair: Thank you.
I don’t know whether we’re going to come to any terms on the last agenda item today, but we should have a discussion around the appointment of offices.
The new SARs rules dictate that this committee assigns office space. Now, I should have a little more information on it than I do because I chaired that committee, and the fact of the matter is I’m not sure what the genesis is of why this was established. Nevertheless, it was established. Probably they didn’t like what I did before.
Right now, of course, the whips are assigning office space. The change probably happened to accommodate the fact that the ISG has formed, and so we need to find a way of assigning office space.
I’m going to open the floor for a few minutes for an open discussion on it.
Senator Martin: I would like to see the wording in SARs that says that the committee does so, because it doesn’t seem to make sense as to how a committee with all these members would do that.
I thought it wasn’t that this committee would be given that task, but I would like to see the wording on that, senator.
The Chair: We’ll get that wording.
Senator Frum: At a minimum, to support that, I presume there could be a subcommittee of this committee if necessary. We have three representatives.
Senator Tkachuk: I think the whips should do that.
The Chair: In this particular case, Senator Frum, that subcommittee could be the steering committee of this committee, which would file a report here every so often as to the offices appointed, which would not be a whole lot different than it is now.
Mr. Armitage: I can read the paragraph to you, senator, if you like.
If office accommodations under the control of a caucus are not reallocated by the caucus to one of its members, those accommodations become vacant and revert to the Senators’ office accommodations pool and shall be assigned to Senators and their staff by the Committee of Selection on the basis of seniority and special needs.
So you do have some direction; seniority and special needs. Whenever spare offices are not required by a caucus anymore, it goes back into a pool. Senators who are either already here or are new would, according to seniority, have first dibs on what’s available if they want.
Senator Tkachuk: If a senator, say, from the Conservative caucus or the Liberal caucus leaves and its prime office space, they have an opportunity then to fill that space.
The Chair: Also the ISG now because they all have offices —
Mr. Armitage: From the wording though, senator, it appears it would stay within the caucus.
The Chair: If you leave your office, Senator Tkachuk, and two or three senators in our group wanted that office, they would get that first.
Senator Tkachuk: Okay.
Senator Woo: It doesn’t belong to the Conservative caucus.
The Chair: According to what Blair just read it does.
Senator Wallin: I think that is what we’re supposed to be revisiting here. I think the intent of having this discussion is that we don’t have Liberal offices, Tory offices and independent offices, that we have offices that are resources of the Senate and people should be assigned on the basis that they should request it.
I came up the elevator with Chantal today. It’s probably a good idea she has an office on the second floor for just these kinds of things, and it shouldn’t matter if it’s a long-standing Conservative or Liberal office because the numbers are changing. It’s a totally different construct with the ISG at play.
Senator Tkachuk: That’s not correct because an office will still be made available. We don’t keep the office. The office is made available to Conservative senators if a Conservative leaves.
Senator Wallin: But why? That’s the point.
The Chair: Please.
Senator Tkachuk: I’ve been here for 25 years and I haven’t seen a fight about office space. I think that’s a pretty good way to do it. Otherwise there’s something else at play here.
The Chair: Blair, would you read the paragraph again?
Mr. Armitage: It did say that the first opportunity at a vacant office will be within the group that currently occupies it. That’s the way the SARs are written, and if that’s not what was intended, I think Internal Economy would need to be approached about that detail.
Senator Wallin: As rewritten?
Mr. Armitage: Yes.
But your direction as far as the SARs are concerned are not so much that first part, but once an office is in the pool of available space, then the allocation of that space -- I haven’t had the opportunity to speak to the head of Building Services, but I’m presuming we would have an inventory of the available space. Once it is clear that it is available and we have new senators or senators looking for an alternative space, it would be made generally known through the usual channels. If anyone wants it, finally that desire would be communicated here and you would agree to what’s going on.
Senator Woo: I understand what the SARs say. It’s clear, but my feeling is it’s not a good approach to allocating offices. It implies that offices belong to caucuses. I think they belong to the Senate as a whole. We should at some point revisit that policy so there is an ability for offices to go into the general pool and then criteria set up for any senator, regardless of affiliation, to have access to the office.
My second point is that the criterion of seniority makes sense superficially only because what could happen is someone who is quite senior could change offices every two years and always get the best office simply because he or she wants to keep moving up to a better office.
The Chair: That’s not what it says. The whip, Senator Woo, is still in charge of that office. I would hope the whip of that particular caucus would not allow what you just said.
Senator Woo: Yes, but my interpretation of the rules is that if an office comes up, the criteria for allocating that office is seniority. So technically speaking, somebody who has moved within a year could move again, precisely because that person is the most senior. There should be a provision to not allow that to happen.
The Chair: Let’s be clear, folks, that the rules written in SARs have been accepted by Internal and accepted by the Senate as a whole. If we want to change the rules, there is a process, and that process is not changing it here at this committee.
Senator Woo: I understand that. I’m just putting on the record that these do not reflect the new reality.
The Chair: I do want to say we’re making a larger issue out of this than I think it is. I do assign the offices for the Conservatives. When an office becomes available, I do not have a mad rush of people wanting to get that office. They have all been here for quite a while, so they all have offices that they at some point got when asked for it, and they’re all pretty happy.
The Liberals have been here longer than the Conservatives, so I suspect they are of the same nature.
Our numbers are going down and yours are going up. The fact of the matter is that likely the majority of the new office spaces that come available will be going to ISG members and not to Conservatives or Liberals.
I really think that we might be making a bit of a larger issue than it is.
Senator Frum: You’ve said everything that needs to be said. I agree.
Senator Tkachuk: I agree.
Senator Omidvar: Could I have some clarity on what you read out? Is there a time limit put on it? No? If an office stays vacant for three months, what happens?
Mr. Armitage: The Senate is under-appointed; there aren’t 105 senators. There may be a couple of extra offices in the inventory beyond 105 to accommodate disasters or something like that which might occur.
Senator Omidvar: I think we have to look at this again.
Senator Martin: I do agree that things have worked quite well overall. If there is an office that goes into the general pool, would a subcommittee make sense rather than bringing it to the steering committee?
The Chair: The steering committee would be the subcommittee as opposed to striking another committee.
Senator Tkachuk: If it’s made up of the whips, that’s perfect. I’m happy with that.
Senator Frum: It’s the same thing.
Senator McPhedran: Who is on the steering committee?
The Chair: Senators Mercer, Omidvar and myself.
Senator Frum: It’s three representatives from three groups. Call it whips, call it a subcommittee. It’s the same thing, the same system, and it’s the right system because each group is going to take care of its own members, and that’s as it should be.
Senator Tkachuk: The fight is internal, not amongst each other. That’s what you want to have.
The Chair: I’m happy with either the whips or the steering committee. In my particular case, it doesn’t matter which one. Would that committee have the authority to assign offices? Because in order to work expeditiously, as has been said here, to bring every office assignment to the full committee might seem a bit onerous. Would that committee have the authority to simply assign the offices?
Senator Frum: I would just point out that the office assignments coming up in the next few years are all going to ISG members because everyone has an office already.
If you would like to have input from a Liberal and Conservative member about which offices your folks should get, I guess that’s fine with us, but I don’t know why you want that. Why wouldn’t you just want to be in charge of assigning your own members their offices? You are asking for a consultative system, which I don’t think makes any sense, but I guess we have agreement from the other members that they’ll do it.
Senator Mercer: I understand what Senator Frum is saying, and I don’t disagree, but there may be circumstances that arise in either the Conservative or Liberal caucus where a member, because of a change in circumstances with them, feel that they need to move. I can’t think of a reason, but I can anticipate that someone has a physical change that they need to make. We shouldn’t assume that everything goes to ISG if the need is presented by a Conservative or Liberal member for a particular reason.
Senator Omidvar: I think it’s quite clear to me. The SARs ruling is quite direct. Until the SARs ruling can get changed, in whichever way, we will follow the rules. I will work with the steering committee to allocate the space as it comes up. We will model a process internally, and maybe that will attract other caucuses in time, and we can take a look at that.
Senator Woo: It’s my understanding that in the last year many senators in the Conservative caucus and some in the Liberal caucus have moved offices. That’s perfectly legitimate. Presumably they’ve moved from within the so-called Conservative pool or within the Liberal pool. It’s conceivable, though, that they might also want to move outside of the pool. They might identify an office somewhere else they want to go to, in which case presumably that request would have to come to the committee rather than stay within the caucus.
So your scenario is not strictly correct, I don’t think. And, in any case, your decision is predicated on the idea in the SARs — I accept that — that the Conservatives own a certain number of offices and have the right to give them to their own people. That will change from time to time because we know already that some of your members have moved offices and they’ve gone to an open pool, so to speak. That’s why this committee is needed.
Senator Mercer: The example that will happen is that there will be a change in the leadership within one group or another.
Senator Woo: Yes.
Senator Mercer: Certain offices are assigned to leaders. When that change happens, that person needs to move from that office, and there needs to be a recognition that that person doesn’t go back into the pool as a newly appointed senator, that they come back in as a person who has been in a leadership position, needs to have some recognition for their service and should have some preference.
You talked about Liberals who move within. They were mainly people who were in the leadership and who aren’t in leadership now. If you’re not going to recognize that, then you’re going to have a whole bunch of problems not just with us but with your own people.
The Chair: I’m going to ask for an agreement in a minute. I want to emphasize that I think you will find out, senators, that this is less of an issue than you anticipate.
We had to appoint some temporary offices because of renovation work being done. They did not have to leave at the request of the senators. They had to leave because renovation work was going on. Other than that, the last office that was vacated by a Conservative member -- we had one request for that office from Senator Campbell, who is now in that office. We didn’t have a rush of Conservative senators wanting that office.
As I say, most Conservatives and Liberals have their offices, and even members of ISG who have been here for a while have the offices they want. There isn’t as big of a rush for every vacant office that comes along.
Nevertheless, we have rules to follow. We will follow those rules, and if we’re not happy with them, then we will go through the proper process of changing those rules.
Blair, do you want to word what you just said to me a second ago?
Mr. Armitage: I think the discussion is whether the steering committee be delegated the authority to assign offices per the SARs.
Senator McPhedran: I so move.
The Chair: Thank you.
Are we in agreement?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Mr. Armitage: In previous reports from Selection, we have been very specific about how many senators per group or caucus are allocated, and the advantage that has afforded the different groups is clarity. When a senator resigns or retires from the Senate, it used to be if a membership change hadn’t been done, that seat was lost to that group. It went back into the pool, and Selection would have to meet and do it again. We’ve moved towards being more specific; it’s 4-4-2 or 2-2-1 in the examples here.
Do you want me to draft the report in such a way that it reflects that clarity about the allocation of seats per group and party?
The Chair: I would think since that’s part of our agreement in principle that that should be so. Agreed?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
(The committee adjourned.)