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OTTAWA, Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The Committee of Selection met by videoconference this day at 6 p.m. [ET] to make recommendations to the Senate on issues relating to meetings of either the Senate, or meetings of committees by videoconference or teleconference, to the coordination of such meetings, and facilitate or enhance their operations.

Senator Terry M. Mercer (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: I declare the meeting in session. I’m Terry Mercer, a senator from Nova Scotia and chair of this committee. This is a public meeting of the Senate Committee of Selection via video conference. Thank you in advance, senators, for your patience as we continue to adapt to this new way of holding meetings.

Before we begin, I’d like to share several helpful suggestions that we feel will assist you in having an efficient and productive meeting. Participants are asked to have their microphones muted at all times unless recognized by name by the chair. Before speaking, please wait until you are recognized by name. I will ask senators to use the “raise hand” feature in order to be recognized.

I would like to remind you that when speaking, you should be on the same channel as the language you are speaking. If you are not using the interpretation service, please avoid switching from one language to another in the same intervention.

Should any technical challenges arise, particularly in relation to interpretation, please signal this to the chair or the clerk and we will work to solve the issue. If you experience other technical challenges, please contact the committee clerk and the technical assistance number provided to you.

I would like to introduce the members of the committee who are participating in this meeting: Senator Percy Downe, Senator Pat Duncan, Senator Yonah Martin, Senator Ratna Omidvar, Senator Raymonde Saint-Germain, Senator Judith Seidman, Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen and Senator Yuen Pau Woo.

Colleagues, we are here today to discuss virtual committee meetings. As you recall at our first meeting —

Senator Plett: Chair, I’ve had my hand up for a while. Could I interject for one second?

The Chair: Yes, I’m sorry.

Senator Plett: Don’t apologize. Looking at what we’re going to discuss, chair, I’m wondering whether this shouldn’t be an in camera meeting. There could be issues discussed here that relate to staff. There may be issues that relate to finances. I would feel more comfortable if this was an in camera meeting that would allow our staff to participate, as we usually do with in camera meetings. I think that if we don’t do that, there may be some issues that we might flag as not being able to discuss if this is a public meeting.

The Chair: Is it agreed that the committee continue in camera, colleagues?

Senator Downe: I have an issue we may want to discuss in public, but I will leave it up to you, chair.

The Chair: I think I know what your issue is, Senator Downe. Senator Plett, with your patience, we could deal with Senator Downe’s issue first.

Senator Plett: Absolutely.

Senator Downe: This is a follow-up to our first meeting and our first report. As you recall, not all the CSG committee positions were filled and I’m prepared at this meeting, chair, with your approval, to advance some additional names.

The Chair: I think that would be okay. Do you just want to read them into the record, Senator Downe?

Senator Downe: I do. My office was in touch with the clerk earlier today so she can prepare the second report. For Fisheries and Oceans, our nominees will be Senator Campbell and Senator Richards. For Scrutiny of Regulations, our nominee will be Senator White. For Social Affairs, Science and Technology our nominee will be Senator Black, and our second seat there we are allocating to the ISG; and I understand their nominee is Senator Mégie. That’s the report, chair.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Downe. Could the clerk indicate whether that’s enough information for what we need for that? Thank you very much.

Shaila Anwar, Clerk of the Committee: Senator Mercer, if the committee agrees, then I can prepare a report for you to present in the Senate tomorrow.

The Chair: Is it agreed, colleagues?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Plett: First of all, I agree, but there was a Senator Black listed. Now he’s waving at you with all gusto.

Senator R. Black: I just wanted to point out that, one, I’m representing Senator Tannas tonight, and, two, that was Senator Black (Ontario) that Senator Downe would have noted in Social Affairs.

Senator Downe: Thank you very much, Senator Black (Ontario). That’s exactly who I meant.

Senator Omidvar: When we are finished with this matter, chair, I would like to go back to the proposal by Senator Plett to go in camera.

The Chair: That’s exactly where we are at. We have had the motion by Senator Downe and we’ve dealt with that. There were no objections to it. You want to discuss going in camera, Senator Omidvar?

Senator Omidvar: Yes. I don’t believe we are going to be discussing individual personnel and individual salaries. We are going to be dealing with macro comments. And on the issue of spending money, it’s public money and I believe that we need to do this in public. So I am not for going in camera.

The Chair: Are there any other comments, colleagues? I see no other hands up or anybody waving.

Senator Duncan: I would like to agree with what Senator Omidvar has suggested. This is public money, and I believe it’s important that we have the discussion in public. Also, as she has noted, it’s a macro discussion of staffing, so that reason for going private seems to be a moot point at this point.

The Chair: Any other comments, colleagues?

Senator Plett: Yes, I have some comments. For somebody to say something is “moot” is rather a bit of a derogatory comment to me. Something is not moot. It may not be necessary but it is not moot by any means. It is a very important issue that we are discussing and, quite frankly, many of us here are on CIBA, and on CIBA we regularly go in camera when we are discussing financial matters.

Chair, if we stay in public, I will just simply object to us discussing anything that relates to finances or, indeed, staff. We could well be talking about staff workloads, so on and so forth. Reports are always made public later on, but with discussions, there is absolutely a lot of precedent for the Senate, for CIBA and, indeed, many other committees to have certain discussions in camera. So, chair, I will make a motion that we go in camera.

The Chair: Moved by Senator Plett, seconded by Senator Saint-Germain —

Senator Saint-Germain: If I may offer a compromise, I concur with the comments of Senator Plett, and I would offer that we receive evidence from officials in camera, then we have our discussions in camera, then we go back in public to announce and explain the reasons why we made such a decision.

The Chair: Is it agreed, colleagues, to go with Senator Saint-Germain’s compromise? Does anybody object? You will have to unmute your microphone if you want to, unless you have your up and down cards that we have all been given; I haven’t used mine yet.

I see nobody objecting, so we will go in camera.

As we go in camera, is it agreed that senators’ staff be permitted to be present during the in camera proceedings? I see all the nods. Good.

Is it agreed that transcriptions of this meeting will be kept with the clerk for consultation by members of the committee and committee staff, and that the copy will be destroyed at the end of the session? Is that agreed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: In order to safeguard these proceedings, I remind senators and committee support staff that take part in the proceedings that it is their responsibility to ensure that the environment in which they find themselves is private and that conversations held in the context of the committee meeting cannot be overheard by third parties. The deliberations and any proceedings related to in camera meetings are confidential and any unauthorized disclosure of in camera deliberations, proceedings and documents may be treated as contempt or breach of parliamentary privilege.

Is that understood, colleagues? We will continue in camera.

(The committee continued in camera.)

(The committee resumed in public.)

The Chair: My concern here, Senator Saint-Germain, is that we don’t have a copy of your motion. We can’t see what it actually says.

Senator Saint-Germain: I have asked that the clerk receive a copy.

The Chair: That’s the clerk. This is a challenge for the way we are now; we all have iPads or another device in front of us.

Senator Saint-Germain: Would we have a few minutes to send it to all, read it and then go public after? I’m not managing this committee so I want to be —

The Chair: Can I tap in Ms. Anwar?

Ms. Anwar: Yes.

Senator Woo: And cut and paste a motion into the chat room, and that can be done in about 30 seconds.

Senator Saint-Germain: Are you in agreement that I include the comment related to committees dealing with government business so that hybrid meetings for committees dealing with government business be prioritized over fully virtual meetings?

Senator Plett: I am certainly in favour of government business being prioritized, especially as we are getting late in the year, and that’s what we should focus on. But without question, if there is some kind of an escape clause in this motion that would allow for some virtual committee meetings, then I want to oppose this motion. Because as I say, right now, committees have to meet face-to-face, period. There is not even room right now — there has to be a motion in the Senate for them to sit hybrid.

So if your motion, Senator Saint-Germain, is that committees be allowed to sit in a hybrid fashion and that government legislation or committees dealing with government legislation have priority, I will support that motion, and I think we would support it in the chamber. If there is anything other than that, then the fact of the matter is that even though it might pass here by a majority, it probably will not pass in the chamber. So if we want to have something that passes in the chamber, then let’s try to reach a consensus. I know, Senator Saint-Germain, you are trying to do that, and always do. So if you want to find wording there around that, then I at least would be willing to support it.

Senator Gold: I don’t want to get in the middle of this conversation. I think this is an important point. I just wanted to underscore that whatever motion is brought forward should have an expiration date on it such that it forces us to reassess with the benefit of the experience of the next few weeks.

Senator Plett: The expiration date would be December 18, in my opinion.

Senator Gold: Correct. I agree.

The Chair: I do see it’s in the chat room. We have been chatting all night here. Do people want to take a moment to read?

Senator Saint-Germain: Yes. Right from the beginning I may add “until December 18, 2020,” so that will address the deadline. It’s December 18, 2020?

Senator Plett: That’s right.

Senator Saint-Germain: And “notwithstanding any provision.”

Senator Plett: I think I’m reading it, senator. It says, “That notwithstanding any provision of the rules, usual practices.” I think I’m becoming more and more literate when it comes to this.

The Chair: We’re happy with that.

Senator Plett: I’m scaring myself.

Ms. Anwar: Senators, I have also sent it to you by email, but this is a draft version so it doesn’t include the changes that you’re discussing right now. This is, I believe, the same version that Senator Woo has put in the chat, so you also have it in your email.

Senator Saint-Germain: So, “That until December 18, 2020, and notwithstanding” would be the first paragraph.

The second one, “that hybrid meetings for committees dealing with government business be prioritized over fully virtual meetings whenever technically feasible.”

And then we could delete the following paragraph — if we agree, though — that “prioritize over fully virtual meetings” would not preclude virtual meetings when needed for committees dealing with government business, for CIBA and for other committees, but it will be authorized by the Senate.

The Chair: Colleagues, are there any other questions? I’m looking back at the screen for hands up, but I don’t see any hands up.

Senator Plett: I’m not ready to put my hand up yet, because Senator Saint-Germain was thinking and talking and writing all at the same time, and she did it well, but I didn’t understand all of it. I need to know what the final motion says. And again, I want to be assured that there is no loophole here that will allow virtual meetings. So first and foremost, I need to know that.

Ms. Anwar: Senators, may I suggest that if you agree in principle on what elements you want in the motion and what elements you want removed, and let us have a chance to reword the motion properly, we can circulate it by email to all members in both official languages. But you can agree in principle to the text for tomorrow.

The Chair: Does that qualify —

Ms. Anwar: If it is going to be a motion in the chamber then a report would need to be adopted by the committee. What you would be agreeing to is that, in principle, we agree to the various criteria. Then we can tweak the wording as necessary, and we’ll, of course, circulate that to everybody before the sitting tomorrow so that you can —

The Chair: Senator Duncan, you had your hand up?

Senator Stewart Olsen: I had mine up, Senator Mercer.

The Chair: You’re next on my picture, Senator Duncan. You are next, Senator Stewart Olsen. Senator Duncan, we can’t hear you.

Senator Duncan: Senator Stewart Olsen can go ahead of me.

Senator Stewart Olsen: This sentence that says “the hybrid meetings be prioritized over fully virtual meetings whenever technically feasible,” that was not my impression of where we were going with this motion. My impression was that we were saying committees dealing with government business have priority to do hybrid meetings and not put anything that suggests virtual within this motion.

I think if we can just decide on committees dealing with government business and hybrid sittings where feasible for that, that would be a big step forward based on the time we have taken talking about it this evening.

Senator Woo: The motion that Senator Saint-Germain is putting forward does prioritize hybrid sittings, and it can easily be amended to stress that priority for establishing committees in a hybrid forum be given to government bills. That should not be a problem.

But we do want to have the possibility of virtual meetings where the Senate Administration cannot deliver hybrid meetings for all committees. And colleagues, this is about enabling the Senate to do its work. We are not saying that we will overlook hybrid meetings. In fact, we’re giving priority to them. But it’s clear from the presentation we heard tonight that the Senate Administration is not able to deliver a hybrid format for all committees.

In fact, we’re looking at three, four, five committees, something like that? We have 17 committees. Now, I’m not sure that all 17 can meet in an all-virtual format because of scheduling challenges — in fact, I’m almost certain of that — but we need to at least give the possibility of virtual sittings if hybrid is not possible so that the Senate can get on with its work. This is the essential point I would like to make here. Thank you very much.

The Chair: Are we public now, Ms. Anwar?

Ms. Anwar: Yes.

The Chair: Caution, colleagues, we’re discussing this in public now.

The motion has been made by Senator Saint-Germain. You have read the basics of it. The clerk will circulate a possible motion that we will review electronically. I’m not sure we have done this before, but we would take a poll of our members on the circulated motion. If we have agreement, we’ll proceed with it then. Is that acceptable, colleagues?

Senator Saint-Germain: When will you do the poll, Mr. Chair?

The Chair: As soon as Ms. Anwar puts together the motion in a workable format and we can all respond. We’ll have to do that before we sit tomorrow because that’s when we will want to do that, I assume.

Senator Plett: Chair, could I make one more comment, please?

The Chair: You certainly can.

Senator Plett: I am trying to reach a position here where we can move at least one step forward. If the motion will include virtual sittings, even if it passes here, it’s not going to pass the Senate, so we will be nowhere. We will only be allowed to have face-to-face meetings.

If we want to have committees that have government business and that are urgent — quite frankly, none of our other committees are urgent. Yes, as Senator Woo says, we all want to do our jobs; we just have a difference of opinion as to the priority of our jobs. My priority is government business.

So I am willing, chair, to make sure, on behalf of our caucus, that this motion will pass so at least committees will be able to sit in a hybrid fashion. If Agriculture has room to sit in a hybrid fashion over and above Legal and Finance, then they will be allowed to do that, but at least we have taken one step forward.

If we don’t do that, chair, then the motion that has been passed requires all committees to meet in person, and that’s where it will stay, and there won’t be many committees meeting at all.

So if Senator Woo can find it in himself to say “let’s do this now and then we can battle the next step,” at least we have gotten somewhere.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Plett.

Senator Downe: I will go after Senator Woo. I see his hand up; it may be an intervention.

Senator Woo: Thank you, Senator Downe and Senator Mercer. Let me just try and summarize Senator Plett’s position.

He came in very clearly saying that he wanted only hybrid sittings. I think we have offered a reasonable compromise where we also agree on the importance and priority of hybrid sittings. Not only that, but we also stress that hybrid sittings should be prioritized in terms of government bills.

But we all know that the Senate Administration will not be able to deliver the hybrid format for all but a few of our Senate committees. So the compromise — and this really is the compromise, the middle ground that I think we have worked hard to find — where we cannot have hybrid sittings and where schedules allow and where there is work to be done, we have the possibility of virtual sittings.

I believe this is an honourable compromise, because the other position that Senator Plett is putting forward is, essentially, if we don’t go with his original position, he will block committees from being able to do their work, and I don’t think that’s an acceptable path to follow.

Senator Duncan: There is a very important point that has not been made or recognized this evening in the discussion, and that is the work done over the summer and the fall by the National Finance Committee only virtually. We have done a great deal of work, produced a report, and we also have legislation coming before us.

So I believe that, as Senator Woo stated, the position of only hybrid sittings will pass the Senate does not recognize that virtual Senate committee meetings have worked. We have been able to get the work of government done, and that point needs to be recognized.

I also believe this motion recognizes the work and the human cost involved in moving to hybrid. We are committed to making absolutely every effort to do that, but we need to also allow committees to meet virtually while we’re doing the work, and we need to allow all the Senate committee meetings to take place.

Thank you for allowing me that intervention. Thank you also to the staff, who have worked so hard in their efforts in all of this. It’s deeply appreciated.

The Chair: Okay, colleagues. I see no other hands up, so I am thinking that we have agreed that we’re going to have the clerk —

Ms. Anwar: Senator Mercer, I think Senator Downe had said he would go after Senator Woo.

The Chair: Yes, you’re right. Thank you.

Senator Downe: Senator Plett obviously speaks as the leader for his group and can make decisions for them. As a liaison, I have to consult our membership, so I’ll be abstaining on this vote. Obviously we will have our position when it’s in the Senate tomorrow, but for tonight I’ll be abstaining. I wanted to explain that ahead of time.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Downe. That is duly noted.

So colleagues, are we in agreement that we’ll rely on the clerk to rewrite the motion and to circulate it to us tomorrow? I think maybe we should put a time limit on our response so that if there are changes that need to be made, they can be made before we sit. Does 11 a.m. sound like a good time —

Senator Plett: Quite frankly, chair, I think we can vote on it right now. I think we know the meat of it.

Senator Woo: I agree with Senator Plett. We’re both on the same page on this. The motion has been made —

The Chair: Okay, fine. That seems to be the consensus. Is anyone opposed to the motion?

Senator Plett: Yes.

The Chair: Senator Plett is opposed.

Is anyone abstaining? Senator Downe is abstaining. And Senator Black (Ontario) is abstaining as well?

Ms. Anwar: Senator Black is not an official member today.

The Chair: There he goes.

Senator R. Black: Am I not representing —

Ms. Anwar: He is not a member.

The Chair: You have to remember that if you’re replacing somebody, there has to be paper that flows from your group to the clerk.

Senator R. Black: Was there not paper sent to you, Ms. Anwar?

The Chair: No.

Ms. Anwar: Senator Tannas is not a regular member of the committee, so you wouldn’t be able to replace him.

The Chair: I should remind you that Senator Tannas was invited because we invited all the leaders of the groups because the topic was so important.

Senator R. Black: So there was no need for paper to be sent.

The Chair: That’s right; I apologize for that. Okay.

Senator Plett: Senator Stewart Olsen has her card up. So does Senator Seidman.

Senator Stewart Olsen: I’m abstaining.

The Chair: Senator Stewart Olsen is abstaining. Senator Seidman is abstaining.

We have done some good work tonight. I tell you, we have all learned a lot, and on your behalf, colleagues, I want to thank the staff who are here tonight, and who have talked to us —

Senator Woo: Chair, what is the outcome of the vote?

The Chair: It’s passed.

Senator Woo: Thank you.

The Chair: There were four abstentions. Nobody else objected. No negative votes except Senator Plett’s. The others abstained.

Okay, so I was in the middle of thanking staff.

Senator Martin: Chair, I apologize. I must have missed a call for a vote, because I was watching the “A” cards being held up. I was expecting my name to be called.

The Chair: I can do a roll call, then, if that’s how you want to do it. I will do a roll call.

Senator Martin: I wasn’t saying I was requiring one, but you said that Senator Plett was the only one who objected, but I will also object, based on what I have heard. So if that doesn’t change the outcome, then you can continue.

The Chair: Okay. Is that fine? Are there any other comments, colleagues? I think we have what we need. We have been at it for two hours now, and again, I was in the middle of thanking the staff for being here. The quality of work of the staff over the past six months has been absolutely phenomenal, and it’s even more phenomenal because they haven’t increased the amount of staff; they haven’t rushed out and hired a bunch of people to do this. They have done most of the work themselves.

Now, Ms. Anwar, you have recorded the vote on this — or do you want to do a roll call?

Ms. Anwar: I think, senators, it was a little bit unclear. I am happy to do a roll-call vote, if that’s what you prefer.

The Chair: So everybody is happy, we’ll do a roll-call vote. Do you have the list?

Ms. Anwar: I do.

The Honourable Senator Mercer?

Senator Mercer: Yes.

Ms. Anwar: The Honourable Senator Downe?

Senator Downe: Abstain.

Ms. Anwar: The Honourable Senator Duncan?

Senator Duncan: I vote in favour.

Ms. Anwar: The Honourable Senator Gold?

Senator Gold: I vote “yes.”

Ms. Anwar: The Honourable Senator Martin?

Senator Stewart Olsen: We’re having trouble —

Senator Plett: This is not working. We have translation going and then you cut out. Every time that happens, you cut out.

Ms. Anwar: The translators —

Senator Plett: The translators should not be doing that on a vote, because you’re doing it.

Ms. Anwar: No, there should be no translation, if you could switch to floor. Sorry. I can repeat, if you wish. The Honourable Senator Mercer voted “yes.” The Honourable Senator Downe abstained. The Honourable Senator Duncan voted “yes.” The Honourable Senator Gold voted “yes.”

And I was at the Honourable Senator Martin.

Senator Martin: No.

Ms. Anwar: The Honourable Senator Omidvar?

Senator Omidvar: Yes.

Ms. Anwar: The Honourable Senator Plett?

Senator Plett: No.

Ms. Anwar: The Honourable Senator Saint-Germain?

Senator Saint-Germain: Yes.

Ms. Anwar: The Honourable Senator Seidman?

Senator Seidman: Abstain.

Ms. Anwar: The Honourable Senator Stewart Olsen?

Senator Stewart Olsen: Abstain.

Ms. Anwar: The Honourable Senator Woo?

Senator Woo: Yes.

Ms. Anwar: Yeas, 6; nays, 2; abstentions, 3.

The Chair: There you go, colleagues. That was an exercise we don’t do very often, roll-call votes in committees. It was good to see that it did work.

Colleagues, are there any other items that you want to bring up for the Committee on Selection? Seeing no hands, I think that’s about it, so I will entertain a motion to adjourn. Senator Plett moved the adjournment. Colleagues, we stand adjourned.

Don’t forget, we have agreed that we have approved this tonight, so we’ll see you all tomorrow in the chamber — everybody who is here, we will see you tomorrow.

(The committee adjourned.)