THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON RULES, PROCEDURES AND THE RIGHTS OF PARLIAMENT
OTTAWA, Tuesday, April 30, 2019
The Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament met this day at 10 a.m. to develop and propose a mission and purpose statement for the Senate; and review the totality of its procedural rules as embodied in the Rules of the Senate and revise them so that they incorporate the multiple roles of the modern Senate.
Senator Leo Housakos (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good morning, everyone. Welcome, colleagues and members of the general public who are here to follow today’s proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament. Before we go any further, I would like you, colleagues, to introduce yourselves.
Senator Dalphond: Pierre Dalphond, independent senator from Quebec.
Senator Joyal: Senator Joyal from the senatorial division of Kennebec, Quebec.
Senator Wells: Senator David Wells, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator Ringuette: Pierrette Ringuette from New Brunswick.
Senator McCoy: Elaine McCoy, Alberta.
Senator Seidman: Judith Seidman, Montreal, Quebec.
Senator Poirier: Rose-May Poirier from New Brunswick.
The Chair: Leo Housakos, Quebec.
On November 27, 2018, colleagues, the Senate adopted the Tenth Report on the Special Committee on Senate Modernization, as amended. This report called upon our committee to develop and propose to the Senate a mission and a purpose statement for the Senate model on the following:
The Senate is the appointed Upper House in Canada’s bicameral Parliament. It plays an important complementary role to the elected House of Commons by:
(i) Providing independent “sober second thought” to legislation, with particular respect to Canada’s national interests, aboriginal peoples, regions, minorities and under-represented segments of Canada’s populations;
(ii) Undertaking policy studies, reports and inquiries on public policy issues relevant to Canadians; and
(iii) Understanding, sharing and representing the views and concerns of different groups, based on a senator’s unique perspective.
In so doing, we’ve also been asked to review the totality of the procedural rules as embodied in the Rules of the Senate, and revise them such that they incorporate the multiple roles of the modern Senate.
Today it is with pleasure that we have before us our colleagues Senator Greene and Senator Massicotte. Senator Greene was chair of the Modernization Committee, and Senator Massicotte was an active member for a while.
Thank you for being before us today. I turn the floor over to you for some comments to elaborate a bit on the mandate and directive, through your committee, that the Senate has given this committee.
Hon. Stephen Greene, Senator: I will begin with some opening comments with regard to how we achieved what is before us today, in particular the mission statement.
The mission statement came out of the Massicotte-Greene report at the end of October 2016, which was after the new government was in place. There are a number of people here who were at that meeting. Senator McCoy was present. Senator Wells was there for a brief time. Senator Joyal was there. Senator Seidman was also there. In total there were 19 Liberals, 16 Conservatives and 2 independents at that meeting. We decided to build a mission statement in order to have a device on which to hang any recommendations that we had within a certain framework.
After we constructed the mission statement, we liked it so much that it became part of the recommendations themselves, although that was not the initial intention. It subsequently became a recommendation of the Modernization Committee, and then it passed through the Senate last November as you pointed out, senator. It has a long, bipartisan pedigree, and I think it encapsulates what the modern Senate is all about and should be focusing on.
Hon. Paul J. Massicotte, Senator: In any organization of whatever nature, given all the effort and work you do, you have to decide what your purpose is. Why do you exist? We’ve been debating all kinds of procedures and orders, but first you have to ask, “Why are we here?” “Why are we working so hard?” “What do Canadians expect from us?”
That’s why any organization of any nature — charity, corporate, profit, non-profit — has to decide, what its purpose is. What are the objectives that you are attempting to achieve?
I think it is extremely important for any organization such as ours to come up with a purpose or a mission statement stating what we are trying to achieve. What is our purpose? How do we work together to achieve it? I think it is fundamental. It is maybe surprising or at least unfortunate that we didn’t have such, but it is absolutely necessary.
It became extremely evident that it was necessary when we looked at the process with the auditor general. I spent hours with them trying to explain what it is that we do here as senators. We had a long debate. They had the misconception that the principal purpose of the Senate was to approve laws, period, and we should not be spending money beyond that. And as we all know, the Senate is much more than that; it carries out extremely good studies.
The third paragraph is the more nebulous one. It basically says that not only do we give sober second thought and very good studies, but also we have a role to represent people in our communities, in our regions and to represent the Senate among those people. We are one of them and we are supposed to use that knowledge, expertise or relationships to basically improve our laws and the governance of our country. So that is very important.
I urge honourable senators to approve the mission statement, because I think it will resolve this issue, if ever it arises again, of what we are here for. It basically makes it clear to the public and future auditors why we exist and our purpose. It is quite critical.
As with any groups, we can argue about certain words. We did that. When we had three-day session in preparation, we had a lot of discussion about the words. Senator Joyal was very instrumental in preparing the mission statement. We had a lot of words about the third mission. I suggested, yes, we could approve certain words but, overall, when you have close to 45 people agreeing to those words, I think it is good enough. We should try seeking perfection, but there has been enough debate and we encourage you to accept it and get on with it. I think it is quite satisfactory and near perfect. Chair, that would be the total of my comments.
Senator Ringuette: Thank you very much. I believe that this is long overdue. I look at this with regard to the Senate, the mission and the purpose. However, it is really the mission of senators, from my perspective.
There are a few things that I do and both of you do as senators, and that is our participation in parliamentary entities. This is also a very important part of our role.
At item (ii) when you say, “Undertaking policy studies, reports and inquiries. . .” I suppose you are attributing that to Senate committees. However I, as a senator, do some research, build projects and policy for the area I represent. How would that fit into what is being proposed here, like our international participation in parliamentary groups?
Senator Greene: It is not excluded.
Senator Ringuette: It is not excluded?
Senator Greene: No.
Senator Ringuette: I go back to Senator Massicotte and how he said that we had to highlight to the auditor some of the work that we did that was not evident. It wasn’t anywhere in the Senate’s books or administration and so forth. Should we incorporate that in the Senate mission statement and purpose, and how can we refine it to what a senator, as a representative, does?
Senator Massicotte: It is not excluded, but I would argue that 80 or 90 per cent of our efforts are individual. However, eventually the whole purpose is the individual effort of researching and developing an opinion. The real result is that whatever happens is all on behalf of an institution called the Senate. When we approve or recommend laws or amendments to laws, yes, we develop individual opinions, but toward a vote by the Senate where the majority carries.
It’s the same thing with committee work or studies. Yes, we do a lot of work and it’s some of our best work, but the bottom line is the committee only becomes relevant if the Senate approves its report and recommendations. Yes, there is a small portion of individual effort in our communities, and that’s why the third paragraph is important. We are to represent the Senate in our communities and our environment, but we are also to represent the environment and community in the Senate. That’s why the third paragraph is quite important. That’s more individualistic than the first two paragraphs, but it is always on behalf of the reputation of the Senate. What we care about 20 or 30 years after we are gone is what did you do on behalf of the Senate toward a better country?
I think it is reflective and gives the flexibility that we need, especially in paragraph (iii), to allow the individual efforts and determination in how to maximize your contribution to the institution and the interests of our country.
Senator Ringuette: Okay.
Senator McCoy: Thank you very much. I am delighted to be discussing this topic once again. It is never easy to craft a mission statement or a purpose statement; there is no question about it. I was always somewhat saddened by the fact that the mission statement we emerged with did not totally represent the roles of a senator. I’m going to ask permission to table a document in a moment that reaches back even further than the Modernization Committee and, in fact, was the groundwork for striking the Special Senate Committee on Modernization, and those are Senator Nolin’s inquiries.
In terms of the Senate itself, when you read our Constitution in English it says that the Senate is 105 senators. So you are quite right, I think, Senator Ringuette, to put that emphasis on the individual. We are individuals, although we act collectively. And then another section basically talks about majority votes, but it being a Victorian statute in 1867, it talks about “Voices” with a capital “V.” Of course, that’s why we have open voice votes.
I have always considered those two aspects of the Constitution as they describe the Senate to be the absolute, and, without that, nothing else flows. Then you begin to say, well, now what? We ran into difficulties. I agree 100 per cent. People don’t see all the rest of the work that we do. Even the Supreme Court of Canada never sees it. All they think about is legislation and committee studies.
So when it comes to describing the fulsome roles of our senators, both individually and collectively, there isn’t much to guide people. As you are probably all aware, when we went through the Senate Administrative Rules, we incorporated the multiple roles of the Senate into those rules. I think we need to have more conversations and I think we will get to that point as well, looking at procedural rules, whether there is a place there for them. But certainly on the mission statement, I think we could polish that mission statement to include a couple of the other roles.
Chair, if I have your permission, I would like to table this document called “Nolin’s Inquiries on the Multiple Roles of the Modern Senate,” which contains excerpts from the six inquiries he started between January 2014 and June 2015. They are quotes of various senators who spoke to each topic, and each topic addressed the role of a modern senator.
The Chair: I understand that the senator has the document in both languages and has enough copies for every senator, so with the agreement of the committee I think it is a good idea to table what I consider to be an outstanding report as well. Are we agreed?
Senator McCoy: The clerk will circulate these. If the clerk would make note of who else we should share this document with who would normally be with us, we can make sure that everyone gets a copy. I see at least one staff member here who is looking as if she ought to have a copy because she is here on behalf of her senator.
If you look at the front cover, it says it all. There is the legislative role that we all know. There is the investigative role, which is our own studies, and representing regions and protecting minorities. But the two pieces that never get talked about, which Senator Ringuette just referred to, are parliamentary diplomacy and promoting and defending public causes. That is beyond just representing the Senate to our communities. I think those two roles are extremely important, particularly considering that a third of the time of the Speaker of the Senate is taken up with the parliamentary diplomacy role, and other senators often accompany him.
Certainly, if you think about promoting and defending public causes and you think back to David Kroll, whatever year that was, when he put the poverty report on the table, that was the first time poverty had been on the national agenda.
More recently, of course, there was the study of mental health issues, Michael Kirby. Currently, and very ably, is our Senator Munson, who is such a champion for autism and currently sponsoring the accessibility act. Those all come out of that role of promoting and defending public causes, which I think are so important.
So I would like us to consider — and it might be in that third paragraph — including those two roles in a more explicit way. It wouldn’t take very much.
Senator Massicotte: If I could comment on that. The first comment I make when I look at the picture — I can see why Senator McCoy loves this — it is all horizontal drilling. It is very good. The only comment I would make relative to the two additions she would like to make is that I think the third paragraph covers it well relative to the wording of that paragraph.
Let me also note that the mission statement is not Stephen Greene’s or Paul Massicotte’s opinion. If fact, if you remember correctly the consensus we achieved, we were there to simply try to make sure everybody’s voice was heard, not only those who speak loudly or more frequently, but to make sure everybody was heard. That was the consensus we achieved, not our opinion. It was very difficult, but I think we achieved it.
That was the purpose of it. I think the third paragraph would satisfy that. But we are not averse to any change. The only thing we would say — at least I can say — is that it is not always easy to achieve consensus, but it is extremely important. We finally got on with approving a mission statement or purpose statement. We are not averse, out of principle, but it is very difficult to achieve consensus.
If I remember correctly, you had a heavy role with Senator Cools on this issue, with Senator Joyal, and I think we achieved it. It was largely satisfactory to a very large number of the people there. If you can achieve consensus on slightly different words, we are not averse to it. But when you open the barn door be careful what comes out of it.
Senator McCoy: I can appreciate that. In particular, since these roles were — and we refer to that, actually, in the Tenth Report of the Modernization Committee — specifically endorsed by former Justice Ian Binnie, so they have an imprimatur all their own, and I think led him to have a much more fulsome and informed view of what our parliamentary functions are. Sometimes you have to be explicit with people who are not familiar with what we do. But I agree 100 per cent that it is important that we have a Senate mission statement, it’s important that we get Senate administration aligned with that, and it’s important that we move forward. If this opportunity gives us a chance to add those four words to that third paragraph, I would appreciate it: “Parliamentary diplomacy and promoting public causes.”
Senator Massicotte: You have one word too many there.
Senator McCoy: It’s five words. Well, it is a good thing I didn’t go into accounting. Lawyers always like words.
Senator Greene: I have no objection to anything like that. We have no objection to anything, actually. We believe that we should have a mission statement and it should hew close to the line, as prescribed by the Supreme Court, Senator Nolin and other thinkers, Senator Joyal, et cetera. That’s the role of the meeting, I guess, to decide the final form.
Senator McCoy: Yes. That’s the first piece. The second piece is then the Rules of the Senate. But we’re talking about the mission statement for the moment. Anyway, I think we are violently in agreement here.
Senator Seidman: Thank you for being with us to remind us of a lot of work we have done over very many years. I am just sitting here looking at the First Report of the Senate Modernization Committee.
I remember the debate we had when we had the symposium to discuss the issues. We tried to distinguish between how we talk about the mission statement and the purpose of the Senate, and how we define the roles of senators. I think it bears thinking about that. When we define the mission and the purpose of the Senate, are we defining the roles of senators or are we defining the mission and the purpose of the Senate?
We had a long discussion over the benefits and the potential negative consequences of codifying the roles of senators so that the kind of conversation we’re having right now was the kind of conversation we actually had at that symposium. As we have had in our conversation here about codifying privilege and what that meant, we had a very similar conversation. There are disadvantages to codifying. You think your list is exhaustive? It is not. It never is. Even the Supreme Court, in their most recent opinion, said things change. The Senate has evolved and changed. The purpose of the Senate evolves and changes; what we do as senators evolves and changes.
I’m not quite sure where to go with this, except that if I look at the First Report of the Senate Modernization Committee, we say the Senate’s purpose was to provide a distinct form of representation for the regions that had joined Confederation, and to protect cultural and religious minorities in the province of Quebec through specific provisions of the Constitution Act. This is right out of the reference from Senate reform from the Supreme Court. The Senate is constituted to provide equal representation among the regions, irrespective of population and size. You can see there is a distinction in how you talk about the purpose and mission of the Senate as opposed to the role of senators. I’m wondering if we are confusing that in this statement. Do you have a comment on that?
Senator Greene: I don’t.
Senator Massicotte: I think paragraph (iii) is the fudge paragraph. Paragraphs (i) and (ii) really talk about the institution. In paragraph (iii) we tried to give the flexibility for senators to represent their opinions, communities, interests and regions but, at the same time, vice versa. It is not a one-way street; it is both. You represent the Senate in your community, but you also represent the community and their particular interests with your particular expertise and background, and that’s what we were trying to get at there. Remember, that’s where we had the longest debate was that third paragraph. How do we give senators the flexibility to pursue what they think is right in their individual roles, but always with the institutional interests at heart?
Senator Seidman: But again, we are talking about senators’ roles as opposed to the Senate’s mission and purpose statement.
Senator Massicotte: Well, the Senate includes the senators.
Senator Seidman: Sure, but should that be a separate —
Senator Massicotte: Just like an officer of the institution.
Senator Seidman: But should that be a separate —
Senator Massicotte: We decided, as you know, not to codify behaviour, because that was the tough one. We had a long debate. We should have a list of what to do and not to do, but you never finish. Those mores and values change with time. So we decided not to go there; it’s for another day. Maybe when you have more time you can take a look at it, but we said not at this point in time.
Senator Seidman: That’s an important issue. I think it is important, because I hear us having a similar conversation around this table right now. I think it is an important issue, where we are defining the mission and purpose of the Senate but not necessarily the roles of senators. Because you will never have that exhaustive list, and then we will be back having the same problems as we have had in the past, as we reflect them forward to the future.
Senator Massicotte: Yes.
Senator Seidman: That’s what you are saying. That’s the point you are making here. I think that’s a really important point. Thank you.
Senator Batters: I see that the Modernization Committee provided this to the Rules Committee as a recommendation, but I guess I’m not in quite as violent agreement as Senator McCoy is. I’m not really sure why we need to have a mission and purpose statement for the Senate. For 150 years, we’ve been doing all of these important duties and different things on behalf of Canadians, and we’ve done that all without having a mission and purpose statement.
The one that’s been provided as a draft, my perspective on that is I think there’s not near enough emphasis in that mission and purpose statement on senators representing regions, and that’s a key aspect of our constitutionally prescribed duties. It’s just listed as one of a few items that are listed in subparagraph (i). I wonder if you can comment on those two things.
Senator Massicotte: If I could comment, I think you can proceed as we did for many years with a void on the mission and purpose. What happens in that void is there are different definitions. You can’t have a perception of an institution without having a sense of what it is in your mind.
I think you can do without it, but I strongly recommend, to provide clarity and unison of effort, that there be a purpose and mission statement, not only for our attention but for the attention of the public and to remind everybody why we exist and the purpose of all of these efforts. You can proceed without a definition, but that means you’re letting somebody else define what you think the institution stands for. We saw that problem to be extremely evident with the audit of the institution, whereby the Auditor General, as you are well aware, was going off on a tangent saying, “You had no right spending taxpayer money on representing your community or these different interests.”
So I highly recommend you proceed with this. It’s not the end of the world not to do so, but it doesn’t provide a clear communication plan and you can’t define why you exist.
On the issue of regions, we had a lot of debate in that three-day session. A lot of people felt very strongly. Looking at the history, the original purpose of the Senate and who was sitting in the Senate, there was basically strong regional interest. We had a long debate on that issue. Again, I think Senator Greene and I didn’t have a specific opinion on the matter, but the bottom line is that things have changed. If you look at the Supreme Court, things evolve. There was a strong argument made that our principal purpose is not to represent the regions anymore; it is one of the purposes, but it is not the principal purpose as it was 150 years ago. There was no consensus. We could achieve no consensus to give a stronger voice to that regional interest. That’s where we decided to simply say it is an interest, it is in there, but that was the consensus of the group of 40 some people as to how to deal with that issue.
Some people still felt very strongly — I know Senator Ringuette still feels strongly — about that issue, but if the consensus of those people there, and I would say the consensus of the Senate is such that we could not come to a more definitive definition of our responsibility to the regions, that’s why it is there as it is.
Senator Batters: That may be part of the problem. When you’re trying to come up with a mission statement that encompasses everybody’s viewpoint at that particular time, of course that changes over time. I personally don’t agree that representation of regions has become less important to our role. I think it’s just as important.
Regarding your comments about the Auditor General not knowing what our role might have been or what the Senate might in fact do, Mr. Justice Binnie, when he prepared his report, was keenly aware of it and I thought came up with a good synopsis of what we did. Anyway, just some food for thought.
Senator Joyal: I am particularly concerned with the second recommendation, which is the one directing the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament — which is, of course, this committee — to incorporate the multiple roles of the modern Senate. I look back at the Rules of the Senate — I have them in front of me — and I am of the opinion that there is merit to add to the rules what I call introductory principles that would spell out the role of the institution, partly as proposed in the Modernization report, and the expectation of responsibilities of senators. I think the two are possible to put in an introductory recital to give context to how those rules are implemented.
As Senator Batters mentioned, former Justice Binnie, in my opinion, spells out well what is expected from a senator. I would maybe reorder the list, but that is secondary to my point. I think it is important because, first of all, there are expectations in the public and perceptions, of course, that stem from those expectations.
For instance, when you look at the fourth bullet of former Justice Binnie’s summary, partisan politics, which, according to him, is one role a senator can perform. A senator is not compelled to do that, but if he or she wants to involve him or herself in a political party, it’s not only totally acceptable but part of the democratic process.
It is the same with the recommendation to belong to parliamentary associations. Some senators belong and are very active in some parliamentary associations, others are not. But to be a member of a parliamentary association is totally acceptable. I think there is merit to think about amending our Rules to have an introductory paragraph that would, in a nutshell, as Senator McCoy mentioned, encompass the role of the institution, what the general public can expect from an upper chamber and what the public can expect from an individual senator. Then when we read the entirety of the Rules of the Senate, we understand in which context the institution functions and what is expected from a senator within that institution.
By distinguishing the two, we’re not weakening the first one. We’re emphasizing what is expected from a senator, the role of the institution within Parliament — which is an institution composed of both chambers — and what is expected from the upper chamber of Parliament. I’m concerned about that, and I’ll tell you why. There are two elements to my concern.
The first one, as mentioned by Senator Massicotte, is the preoccupation of the chamber to have audit activities of senators’ expenses. Whatever form the committee takes, there will be some kind of auditing. I think that for an auditing committee to understand the context under which the institution functions is very helpful to evaluating the impact of expenses or the admissibility of expenses. Instead of fighting with the audit committee, you would have, I would say, a regulatory base to argue that the expense is worthwhile.
So I think it is important to complement our report, you remember, Mr. Chair, about forming an auditing committee. I don’t pronounce on the form and shape of the auditing committee, but there will be an auditing committee sometime in the future, with a certain way of composing it and whatnot.
That auditing committee needs to understand the institutional context under which a senator functions and what is expected of a senator. It is up to each individual senator to determine his or her part or role within that institution, how far he or she will go to raise issues of public matters and what initiative a senator could take to promote a social or political cause of whatever sort.
At least the auditing committee will have, in the Rules of the Senate and the Senate Administrative Rules, an understanding of the institution. It’s important to provide that context to a future auditing committee to avoid fighting, as we did with the former Auditor General — and I was one of those fighting — to try to have him understand how we function in this institution. I essentially link the two.
I also link the two to another reality that we are facing, which is the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators. In that code, there are sections that provide that a senator must behave in a certain manner in the context of the ethics and transparency expected from a senator. However, the code is silent on the context in which a senator is expected to behave with integrity, transparency and dignity.
I think the two sets of rules help us to interpret those sections, especially the ethical sections of the code, which are sections 7.1 and 7.2. It would be helpful to have that kind of understanding of the role of the institution and the expectations of a senator so that if there’s an allegation of misbehaviour by a senator, we have the context in which it is expected.
As Senator Batters mentioned, it’s a work in progress. She is totally right. The Senate today is absolutely not the Senate as it was 20 years ago when I first arrived in 1997. I saw the evolution, and I was part of that evolution. Where will it be 20 years from now? I expect it will continue to improve and be responsive to the contemporary needs of the institution.
A better understanding of the institution and a better view of what is expected from senators would help the overall institutional and regulatory framework function more coherently, and with less improvisation when the institution has a problem to address.
I am totally in sync with what Senator Greene and Senator Massicotte are proposing. In my opinion, there is no magic formula. We can review that. Even though I think it’s a very honest effort, I think we can review it. This committee’s work could certainly benefit each individual senator. There are many new senators and we have no base to give to them. They could read my book, of course, or they can read the decisions of the Court of Appeal of Quebec and the Supreme Court of Canada, two major decisions in 1980 and 2014, but there has to be a single base of understanding and explanation.
That’s why I would certainly support an initiative of that nature. It would be helpful for the institution. There are the Rules of the Senate. We can amend them when we feel there is a need to amend them. It’s not legislation. It’s not cumbersome to adapt the Rules to the evolution of the institution. Those are my personal reflections in relation to that, Mr. Chair.
The Chair: There are only a few minutes left.
Senator Ringuette: We’re beginning to see some major steps. I’ve been listening closely to the comments of all senators.
I believe Senator Joyal put his finger where it needed to be in this regard: The purpose statements for the Senate — (i), (ii) and (iii) — could set the stage as an introduction to the Senate operating rules. A senator’s responsibility and how it is linked to expenses and auditing should also be in the introduction to the administrative rules.
There should be two distinct items. If we agree, in general, that these three items would constitute an introduction to the principles in the Senate Rules, which contains information on how we function and on committees and so forth, I think that would be appropriate.
We also need to look at Justice Binnie’s report and the Nolin document that was circulated earlier in order to come up with a statement of principles within the administrative rules internally. It’s food for thought, my two cents’ worth for the time being.
We need to distinguish between the institution and the purpose of the institution and how we can work and do our thing individually within the institution. Thank you.
Senator McCoy: I wanted to probe Senator Joyal’s thoughts a little further, if I may. I can definitely see amending our code of ethics to include this sort of statement, much as has been described. The Senate Administrative Rules, which include our dollars and cents, have already been changed. They already include a statement that parliamentary functions include this list, based on Binnie and, of course, Binnie was based on Nolin. So that piece is done.
I’m curious to know how the procedural rules would benefit or how you would incorporate this sort of general statement. The procedural rules only apply in the chamber and in committee. They’re only called into aid, if I may say it that way, when we’re doing legislative or investigative work, which is fine. That doesn’t bother me, but it leads me to wonder whether you’ve put a sort of preamble in the rules of procedure. Is that what we do to remind everybody that these are only two out of six or seven modern rules of a senator?
I will come back to that, and then I have one other comment. Perhaps we could ask Senator Joyal what he was imagining we would do with respect to the procedural rules.
Senator Massicotte: Before you all leave, I just want to make a comment. It’s extremely important to develop a purpose. You can call it what you wish. It’s very important for anybody, including the general public, to know what it is we do. Why are we here? Why are we working so hard? Most people call it a mission statement. You can call it a purpose statement but, I reiterate, it’s extremely important to have that short paragraph.
If you look at typical organizations, you have a mission statement and then get on to the rules. Don’t get the two mixed up. One is a macro vision of why we exist. Don’t get caught up by the rules, read the statement. It has to be broad-based, withstand the test of time and have a sense of relevancy to it. I think it’s very important.
Before developing an opinion about expenses, Justice Binnie saw the need to define why we exist. It’s a reference. I think it’s extremely important to get it done.
The other comment I have is that real life is such that it’s so easy to complain and find fault with something, but in real life progress is only achieved when you find wording that achieves consensus. That is the ultimate test of all of our relevancy. I’d say yes, make it perfect, add on to it, but the real test is getting consensus among this group principally and then in the Senate to get there. Otherwise, all this is for naught. I caution you: Find the right words.
Senator Greene and I are very flexible on the words on the condition that they have relevancy, they are words that mean something to you and they achieve consensus among the group. That is the ultimate test, and that’s what we are all measured on.
The Chair: I want to thank Senator Massicotte and Senator Greene for coming and helping us launch the deliberations on this particular task that has been assigned to this committee. I want to thank all colleagues for all their insight. I think we have a good basis to get started on our work.
The few things I want to share and put on the record is that, at the end of the day, it’s imperative to have a mission statement and have all senators on the same page. In the ideal world, it would be good if every senator who walks through the door had some basic knowledge on how Confederation was founded, because the Senate was an essential part of how the Confederation was put together. In an ideal setting, every senator would take the time to read the Constitution of Canada, which highlights ultimately what our role and mandate are.
I also want to remind senators when we start our work that we have to also review the SARs. A lot of work has been done over the last three or four years on our roles in the SARs, and a lot of what is proposed has already been implemented and put in place. I agree with Senator McCoy. I think the Nolin report was an outstanding document that encompasses a lot of these ideas that have been proposed. I think Binnie was an example of where we had an arbitrator who dealt with Senate issues, who had an understanding of the working of Parliament and was very respectful of the working of Parliament.
We had an instance with the Auditor General, which was brought up and highlighted around the table here, of an individual unfortunately who didn’t have an in-depth knowledge of how Parliament worked. Having said that, though — and I rarely have defended the Auditor General — in defence of the Auditor General, the fault was not his. The fault was ultimately this institution’s because, at the end of the day, Parliament has supreme parliamentary privilege and we gave him the mandate and a blank cheque, essentially with no parameters. That is a lesson for this institution going forward to learn. Ultimately speaking, it’s for us to determine, as senators, what our mission statement is, the roles and function.
I’ll leave you with a last thought and something that I dearly believe. A lot of Canadians fundamentally, at times, criticize this place for not being an elected chamber and being an appointed chamber. At the end of the day, I think we all have the same sense of responsibility toward our constituents and the people we represent. The message to Canadians is that the Senate has a parliamentary role, and it’s up to Canadians to make full use of their senators and parliamentarians and use us as a springboard to propel the issues that are important to them.
I think that is the ultimate message that we need to get out to the Canadian public somehow. I heard Senator Massicotte say that. That’s a fundamental role. We represent people in this democracy and in this Parliament.
We’ll have an opportunity to discuss all of these going forward. I will give the last word to the former chair of the Modernization Committee who has placed this task before us, Senator Greene, before we adjourn.
Senator Greene: I just have a question more than anything else. How many meetings are you contemplating holding on this topic?
The Chair: As many as it takes to integrate the various points of view that were put on the table in this meeting. I don’t think it will take that long. I think we can come to a consensus. I don’t think there’s a lot disagreement on what the objective is. The objective is to integrate and emulsify all the various ideas we have discussed today into one document and bring it back to the chamber.
Senator Greene: A second question, then, is do you intend to keep it in the committee or to have outside witnesses?
The Chair: It’s not for me to decide, but for the committee to determine. But by and large, most of what’s required here we can do internally. And if the committee deems it necessary to go out and come back to members of the Modernization Committee for more questions or more review, we’ll do that as well.
Senator Greene: I think we have the ability around the table to come to an agreement.
The Chair: I personally agree, but I’m always at the discretion of the committee.