THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON INTERNAL ECONOMY, BUDGETS AND ADMINISTRATION

EVIDENCE


OTTAWA, Thursday, March 12, 2020

The Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration met this day at 8:30 a.m., in camera, pursuant to rule 12-7(1), consideration of financial and administrative matters; and Pursuant to rule 12-7(1), consideration of financial and administrative matters.

Senator Sabi Marwah (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: Good morning and welcome to this meeting of the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets, and Administration. My name is Sabi Marwah, and I have the privilege of serving as chair of this committee. I will ask each of the senators to introduce themselves.

Senator Munson: Jim Munson, deputy chair.

[Translation]

Senator Dawson: Dennis Dawson, from Quebec.

Senator Forest: Éric Forest, from the Gulf Division of Quebec.

Senator Saint-Germain: Raymonde Saint-Germain, from Quebec.

Senator Moncion: Lucie Moncion, from Ontario.

[English]

Senator Dean: Tony Dean, Ontario.

[Translation]

Senator Dalphond: Pierre Dalphond, from Lorimier, Quebec.

Senator Verner: Josée Verner, from Quebec.

[English]

Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Patti LaBoucane-Benson, Treaty 6 territory, Alberta.

Senator Tannas: Scott Tannas, Alberta.

Senator Boehm: Peter Boehm, Ontario.

Senator Seidman: Judith Seidman from Montreal, Quebec.

Senator Doyle: Norman Doyle, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Senator Plett: Don Plett, Manitoba.

Senator Batters: Senator Denise Batters, Saskatchewan, deputy chair.

The Chair: Honourable senators, a copy of the public minutes from February 27 is in your package. Are there any questions or changes?

Could I have a motion to adopt the minutes? It is moved by Senator Saint-Germain to adopt the minutes. Agreed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Carried. The next item is a request for a meditation or prayer room in the Senate of Canada Building. The Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure made a request to the Senate Administration to create such a room in this building, and the Property and Services Directorate reviewed all of the administrative spaces available in the building and in 1 Wellington. They concluded that there is no vacant space in either of these buildings except for SCB Room 428, also known as the “Kitchen Accord” room.

The Speaker of the Senate has been consulted and has no objection to using this vacant space for meditation and prayer.

I will invite Caroline Morency, Director General, Property and Services Directorate, to answer any questions senators may have on this proposal. Do you have any comments, Caroline?

Caroline Morency, Director General, Property and Services Directorate, Senate of Canada: No thank you, senator. I don’t.

The Chair: One of the things that came up to me is: Are we sure there’s no other place in this building that can accommodate a prayer or meditation room?

Ms. Morency: We took a close look at all of the rooms in the building. All of the rooms are being occupied. We also consulted with a few stakeholders to whom those rooms are allocated and, of course, all of those rooms are needed. We also took a close look at the 1 Wellington facility and the rooms in that building, and we did the same thing over there. There are very few rooms that can accommodate it, and they are occupied by different groups for their critical operations.

[Translation]

Senator Saint-Germain: First of all, I would like to stress the importance of having a place of prayer that conforms to the requirements of tranquillity and silence that are necessary in the circumstances.

I would like to point out that in the East Block, where many of us have our offices, there is a meditation room that is large, very well-located, empty and almost never visited.

Also, with great respect, I have to point out that, to my knowledge, there are at least two or three rooms in this building that would be better located than the room you’re proposing. The room you’re proposing has two disadvantages. The first is that it’s located next to the page desk. Obviously, and quite legitimately, the pages talk and move around a lot. The second disadvantage is the fact that it is located on the premises of one of the groups, where identification cards will have to be shown for verification purposes before people who wish to pray or meditate can have access to it. Incidentally, this room is not particularly equipped for prayer.

On the floor where the Senate Chamber is, there is room A4. There is also room B135. I am told that there is another room on the floor where the Senate sits, room C44. You say all those rooms are occupied. Is that correct? I am told that two of those rooms are occupied by files from the Library of Parliament. Another one of those rooms is used as a cloakroom, but it would be quite suitable.

Before choosing a room that will generate complaints because of noise or checks, because people are not allowed to go around the caucus or group premises without their having their identity checking, I think that perhaps more research should be done.

[English]

Senator Munson: I brought this initiative forward because I thought it was extremely important. In the old chamber we did have a prayer and meditation room that was used by many senators and staff, and it was very close to the chamber itself, just downstairs in a room like this, the Indigenous room. I think the proximity is extremely important to the chamber.

The Father Sean O’Sullivan room in the East Block is there and the House of Commons has used it and so on and so forth, but it’s a bit inconvenient for those working in this building each and every day. I don’t particularly care where the room is in this building, but I think we should get on with finding it.

I don’t know, Caroline, whether we could take another look at another spot to have it in this building. I would agree with another look to see. I think it’s imperative we have a place for those who wish to meditate and/or have prayer and to get on with this as soon as we can.

It’s another one of these things that has been on the agenda for three or four months. Surely, with all the resources we have, we can get this done and facilitate it within the next two weeks or so. I’d hate to have us come back again and have this kind of discussion. If not, we’re going to need more prayer.

Senator LaBoucane-Benson: I’m grateful to Senator Munson for bringing this forward.

I had a conversation with the chief of staff of the Speaker in March or April 2019 because Indigenous senators come here from all over Canada, and also myself; I can’t smudge in my hotel room. I can’t smudge and pray in my office without giving 24 hours’ notice. I can’t smudge and pray anywhere near the chamber without giving 24 hours’ notice. It feels like spiritual disenfranchisement.

My request had been to have a place that I didn’t have to give 24 hours’ notice to light a small smudge and do a prayer. It is something I had put on the books quite a while ago, and it’s interesting that it’s coming up. I’m wondering if, in this process, we’ve thought about Indigenous senators and the ability to light a small smudge.

Ms. Morency: We have not looked at that in terms of smudging, in particular, but we can certainly take a closer look at this, senator.

The Chair: There are no other questions. Is it the will of senators to receive some of the options suggested?

Senator Plett: Absolutely, but only if it’s done within the next two weeks. When we come back the week after next, we should have a decision on this. I agree with Senator Munson that this has gone on for too long. Let’s make a decision when we come back the week after next.

The Chair: We shall do that. I’ll follow up with the Speaker in terms of actions taken on your front, Senator LaBoucane-Benson.

We will now move on to Item No. 3. Colleagues, there was a vacancy on the Subcommittee on Human Resources following Senator Tkachuk’s retirement. I wish to inform you that Senator Seidman has been added as a member of the committee. Are we all agreed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Hon. the Speaker: Agreed. Congratulations. Honourable senators, is there any other public business?

Senator Plett: Chair and colleagues, during our February 27 CIBA meeting, Senator Dalphond made a comment and the comment was:

Overall, I guess the whole budget will be 10% lower than before. Now that the independents are in charge of the Senate, I guess the budget is going down?

Colleagues, because this statement was made in public and remains on the public record, I feel obligated to point out that it was false on three counts. First of all, Senator Dalphond is incorrect when he states “now that the independents are in charge of the Senate.” He seems to imply that somehow the groups that have a majority in the Senate or had a majority in the Senate prior to the creation of Independent Senators Group were not made up of independent senators, and this in itself is false. All senators, and indeed all Canadians, know that irrespective of their affiliation, all senators are independent.

Two excellent examples of this were former Senators Joyal and Nolin, a Liberal and a Conservative, whom I had the pleasure of serving with. These senators were overtly Liberal or Conservative in their political stripe and they unquestionably showed more independence from their political party, even when they were sitting in a political caucus, than the members, in my opinion, of the so-called Independent Senators Group have shown from the current Liberal government.

What Senator Dalphond is suggesting is now that the ISG has a majority in the Senate, they control the financial decisions of the Senate. We should all remember this because if one group can boast about the financial success of the Senate under its majority, then it must also accept the responsibility for errors or omissions in the management of the Senate. According to Senator Dalphond’s logic, when CIBA is told that contracts were not approved properly, they would also be the ISG’s responsibility. And if, indeed, budgets are increasing rather than going down, then that would again be the ISG’s responsibility, according to Senator Dalphond’s logic.

This brings me to the second statement by Senator Dalphond that is incorrect when he said “the budget is going down.” He could not be further from the truth. Now that, in his opinion, the ISG is in charge, the Senate’s expenses for the 2021 fiscal year have been budgeted at $115 million. By contrast, the expenses for the Senate for each of the fiscal years 2014 and 2015 totalled $81 million. Those were the days when the Conservatives were “in charge of the Senate,” using Senator Dalphond’s words. And for fiscal 2016, the last year before the Trudeau-appointed senators arrived, the expenses were $72 million.

According to Senator Dalphond’s logic, a Senate controlled by the ISG now costs 60% more than the same Senate controlled by the Conservatives. Maybe in her future polls on how great the Trudeau Senate is, Senator Dasko could ask Canadians if they feel they are getting 60% more value from the Senate now.

Third, and finally, I want to get to the topic that Senator Dalphond was touching on when he made his unfortunate remarks. We were then discussing the budgets for the leadership team for the 2021 fiscal year. I want to remind Senator Dalphond and all Canadians who are watching us that these budgets were freely negotiated by all four leaders. Some of us volunteered to cut our budgets. No group imposed or even tried to impose its will on the others. This was negotiated. And the record will show that it was a Conservative senator who made the motion to have this adopted.

This would then be contrary to our past practices, and if it had been tried, it would have undoubtedly failed. It is absolutely false to even suggest that the so-called control of ISG would have had anything to do with a reduction of leadership budgets.

However, I’d like to point out that for 2021, the leadership budgets will be close to $4.7 million. That is more than double what the leadership and caucus budgets were when the Conservatives were “controlling the Senate,” as Senator Dalphond would say.

Colleagues, Senator Dalphond’s remarks were not representative of reality, and regrettably they do not illustrate the mentality of — I want to make it clear — some ISG senators. They call themselves independent but they act as a caucus. If these members saw themselves as truly independent, they would not be thinking about “controlling” the Senate. By definition, a loose group of independent thinkers cannot exercise control of an institution such as the Senate. It is because he knows that most of his colleagues, or at least many of his colleagues, march to the same tune that Senator Dalphond does to think that they control the Senate.

There is the true goal of these members — control the Senate, like no other majority has done in the past 153 years. That is why they want to change all the rules standing in their way of a power grab. Senator Woo’s motion to turn the official opposition into just another group, and Senator Sinclair and Senator Dalphond’s avowed goal to take away the powers of the minority are just part of that plan. They insist on doing so without consensus, contrary to parliamentary practice.

Colleagues, in closing, let me say that Senator Dalphond’s statement, while wrong on so many counts, accurately illustrates how the new Trudeau Senate would operate. All the power would go to one senator at an additional cost of $40 to $50 million a year. Thank you, colleagues.

[Translation]

Senator Saint-Germain: I want to talk about two things that I think are important. Senator Dalphond’s comments were quoted out of context, because the senator was referring to group and caucus budgets—with the agreement of all groups and caucuses, as Senator Plett said—that have been tightened and cut. It is important to tell the truth as well, and to remember that this was the recommendation of the Independent Senators Group. I don’t want us to take all the credit for that. I just want the truth to be re-established.

My second point is this. I believe that in any public organization or institution—and the Senate is one—the board of directors must be above any consideration other than the best public interest, the best interest of the institution. Here, on the internal economy committee, all groups are represented by managers, people with careers; most members have had careers in administration, in the public and private sectors, where one can have remarkable and interesting careers. I would like to get back to that public interest, that interest in the Senate, and to discuss together, in a collegial way, what the best thing is we can do to improve the situation.

I’m going to end with a comment, and it’s not my usual kind of comment. If we wanted to go back in time and talk every day about the Auditor General’s report that came out before we were here, we could overwhelm a lot of people who are still in office. That is not our style, so we do not do that. I think we need to get to a more collegial level. Thank you.

[English]

Senator Dalphond: I guess that was not on the agenda, but I feel that I have to say something this morning since I am the subject of these comments about budget, rules and power grabs, and that type of thing.

First, I would like to say that Senator Plett seems to have given me a role that I don’t have. I’m not the leader of a caucus. I’m not a powerful senator. I’m just one senator who is seeking equality for all senators.

Second, it would be fair to tell those listening to us today — and I’ll do it in English because the comments were made in English — that they should look at the comments. I was responding to his colleague Senator Batters who said that the budget was going up since the independents had been appointed under the new reform, things were out of control. I’m just summarizing the idea. She said that in a year when the budget is going down.

Why is it going down? Because we had an election period and didn’t sit as much as the year before. Why is the budget going up compared to 2014-15? Because there were plenty of vacancies in the Senate. There were empty offices and things that were not organized. The budget and expenses were down because there were fewer people working in the Senate at the time. Those types of things are part of the diatribes or politics and statements that are not useful for Canadians because they bring all kinds of false news.

I don’t want to get into false news. I like facts. All my life I have based my decisions on facts and evidence, not on policies given by someone else who is the leader. Who is in charge of the Senate? The ISG is not in charge of the Senate, in my view. I’m not speaking for the ISG. But Senator Batters said that since the ISG has been in charge, the budget has gone up.

Third, the budget for leadership is clearly showing that the Conservative caucus is receiving twice as much per head than the ISG is receiving. This is a fact. This is not fake news. Why are they getting more money per head than all other groups in the Senate? That’s a question the public can ask. It’s a legitimate question. I believe in equality, and maybe we should go there. Those are my comments. Thank you.

Senator Batters: Since Senator Dalphond took the opportunity to refer to my comments, I wanted to make sure that my comments were correctly reflected.

What I said is that the overall Senate budget has gone way up since the Trudeau government took power. You used the example, Senator Dalphond, of the Senate vacancies. I have said many times, in the media and here, that when I first came to the Senate in 2013 there was one vacancy. At that point, in 2013, it had a budget of $85 million.

The current budget is $115 million, $30 million more. There are currently several vacancies — seven, I believe. I was speaking about the overall Senate budget.

There’s no denying, as Senator Plett pointed out, that now we have a number of caucuses — not just two, government and opposition, as we did for many years. Now we have four caucuses, sometimes five caucuses. That caucus group budget amount has, as Senator Plett referred to, basically doubled, again since the Trudeau government took power.

In referring to the obligations and responsibilities of the different groups, the Conservative group is currently the official opposition and has definite responsibilities that are important to be able to hold the government to account, always with an eye to making sure taxpayers are being taken care of. That is why, when we were in government, we instituted a zero-based budgeting process that helped to keep many of those expenses in check. Those are my comments. Thank you.

[Translation]

Senator Forest: Indeed, there is the question of the official opposition. The fact remains that CIBA is responsible for managing the institution. This is not a partisan issue.

When we say that the budget has increased since 1993, the budget has indeed increased, for a variety of reasons. For example, during a budget adjustment mandate, there was a 24% increase, even when the ISG did not exist.

I, for one, would like us to rise above it. We have to manage the institution with a view to efficiency and effectiveness in the use of public funds, because it is our responsibility to do so. I find the little partisan innuendoes that sometimes appear on Twitter or other social media very unfortunate.

I would like the organization to be soundly managed. We have directors here who, as I have seen, are dedicated to the institution body and soul. I think we have a moral responsibility to rise above that and avoid partisan management of the organization.

[English]

Senator Plett: I’m just going to make a comment and I won’t debate this at all. I agree with Senator Forest entirely. These comments were made by one of his colleagues on that side of the table. I corrected the record. Everything I stated were facts. Those are numbers. They cannot be disputed. Every person here has the capability of looking up those numbers. They were made as a result of one senator making a partisan comment.

“Now that the independents are in charge” were the comments. I was addressing those. I did not start this, Senator Forest and other colleagues. I was referring to a remark that was made by a Senate colleague that was out of order. It may have been taken out of context, Senator Saint-Germain. It was made, and those were the words. That’s what I was responding to. I didn’t start this. I did not enjoy doing this. As far as I’m concerned, it’s over, unless we want to continue this. But that’s what I was referring to.

The Chair: I think the point has been made all around. I suggest we move on, and hopefully keep the debate to a high level as we go forward.

Are there any other items of public business? If not, senators, we can go in camera.

(The committee continued in camera.)