THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON RULES, PROCEDURES AND THE RIGHTS OF PARLIAMENT
OTTAWA, Tuesday, February 14, 2023
The Standing Senate Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament met with videoconference this day at 9:04 a.m. [ET], pursuant to rule 12-7(2)(a), for consideration of possible amendments to the Rules.
Senator Diane Bellemare (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good morning, everyone. It is February 14, so happy Valentine’s Day to all of you.
There are two items on the agenda today: the report on equity between groups and the work plan on committees. I’d like to make a little introduction before listening to your comments on the report that you received. Everyone received the report, which is very simple.
By way of introduction, I’d like to remind all members of the committee that we started here together in January 2022. I’ve chaired this committee for just over a year, and I remember how nervous I was at the first meeting because of its bad reputation. It has a reputation for moving very slowly and not meeting very often.
I’d like to share a little anecdote with you in passing. In 2015, I was invited by the Speaker of the Senate, along with a delegation of senators, to the House of Lords, in London, where we met with Charles Robert, the clerk at the time, to discuss various subjects. The committee had reported on the notion of privilege, and we also wanted to get a better understanding of the issue of independence within the House of Lords with the crossbenchers.
I had many discussions with Charles Robert at the time. I had some ideas and shared my suggestions as to what the Rules Committee should do. He said, “You know, senator, the Rules Committee moves very slowly.” Back then, I was a member of the National Finance Committee, a committee that operated more smoothly and met more often. I asked him why that was, and he said, “It’s because it’s harder to come to an agreement.” Naturally, since it was harder to come to an agreement, there was no consensus and the committee never met.
In January 2022, I thought it was time to have meetings and discuss the rules. We started with a list of the themes that we wanted to address at committee. It’s a very long list. Do you know why? It’s because our practices and our rules have a lot of catching up to do. A lot of adjustments need to be made. We’ve already covered some of the items on that list. We dusted some things off and attempted to modernize others, but it’s a long process.
In fall 2022, since our list wasn’t very organized, I came up with the idea of starting with the things we could manage to agree on, meaning somewhat practical considerations. Finally, at the request of some committee members, we decided to discuss the idea of equity between groups. To address this issue, we debated the motion proposed by Senators Woo and Tannas.
Our goal was clear, and I remember it because I re-read the transcripts. Senator Woo was hesitant. He appeared alongside Senator Tannas, and we heard testimony on their motion. At that time — I believe it was on October 18, 2022 —, Senator Woo said that perhaps it wasn’t a good idea, and that maybe we should discuss the issue again in committee, with everyone.
Ultimately, we decided not to, and we went around the table to look at those things on which we might find agreement and to see if we could move forward.
Our goal was quite clear: We wanted to try to see the areas where we agreed and where we didn’t, with the goal of moving forward later in the Senate.
We can see from the results that the return on our efforts was minimal. I’m very disappointed, like the rest of you.
In my opinion, if I may be so bold, one of the problems we had in this committee was discussing principles first instead of tackling the issue from a more practical angle. Indeed, practically speaking, when there are multiple groups, many things need to be changed to ensure everything is practical and equitable. When we talk about principles, and when those principles are irreconcilable, it’s difficult to reach agreement, even on practical matters.
As proof, I note Senator Tannas’ testimony. He offered us a practical view of some of the things we needed to discuss, particularly the length of speaking time. However, Senator Tannas changed his opinion during a sitting of the Senate or, at least, he chipped away at what seemed to be true consensus on the 45-minute rule for all leaders. Therefore, we’re at a stalemate.
From the transcripts, we can see that we have contradictory views of the role of the opposition in the Senate; that’s clear. Why am I mentioning this? To put it on the record so that people know that we don’t all share the same vision of the concept of opposition.
Today we have a very short report that originally — when we drafted this motion — was not supposed to be a report, but simply notes that I had produced for the steering committee. Those notes are now concise and structured, and they summarize everything in three tables.
Table 1 outlines where we reached consensus on language, with mostly title changes.
Table 2 outlines where we could not reach consensus. I will read them out again to avoid any confusion.
We did not agree on article 6-3, which deals with time limits for speakers. It had been proposed that all leaders be given 45 minutes for debate. However, we had witnesses testify that the government representative needed unlimited speaking time. Therefore, we did not reach consensus on that.
We also do not agree on article 7, which covers time allocation, more specifically articles 7-1 to 7-3. In the interest of fairness, it had been proposed that all groups be allowed to participate in discussions with the speaker.
We have no agreement on article 9, more specifically article 9-5, the procedure for determining the duration of the bells. I’d like to remind you that the bells ring for 60 minutes by default for a standing vote. If we reach an agreement, we can shorten the time. The proposal on fairness calls for all groups to agree to shorten the 60-minute duration, which has left many people frustrated.
We also don’t agree on deferral of standing vote. Particularly for the opposition and the government, the practice has been to defer votes in a timely fashion; it has been proposed that anyone be allowed to defer votes. We also have no consensus if a vote has been deferred to Friday.
We also have no agreement on article 12, which deals with committees. It has been proposed that anyone be permitted to become an ex officio member of the committee with no voting rights.
We have no consensus either on meetings on days when the Senate is adjourned. It has been proposed that a majority of groups be able to meet when the Senate is adjourned. We also do not agree on the appointment process for the ethics committee.
Finally, the fifth and final point is that we have a lot of work left to do on the appendices and the definitions.
Therefore, Table 2 contains everything we couldn’t agree on. There is some work to do in small committees, but we won’t be involved in that because our work is done here.
Finally, with respect to Table 3, that’s what we don’t agree on; we’re keeping the same language as the rule but changing the titles. So, Table 1 and Table 3 represent all the rules with the new titles that are consistent with the Parliament of Canada Act.
That’s what we accomplished in all of our meetings. We met six times including the meeting today; that’s a lot.
I understand your frustration and hope that our future business will be met with success. We can take solace in the fact that we did produce a report on March 29, 2022, about electing the acting speaker. We agreed to change the rule on that. We also agreed on a report about the use of props in the Chamber.
We tabled a third report on April 6, 2022, about committee mandates; it contained stylistic corrections. Not that important, but it is opening up some opportunities for certain committees.
The fourth report tabled contains a set of corrections requested by the clerks for one chapter of the rules that hadn’t been amended for a long time.
On October 4, 2022, I introduced a motion on behalf of the committee about creating the Special Senate Committee on Human Capital and the Labour Market. Senator Omidvar spoke about this, and there may have been another speech other than mine, but otherwise there’s been no other movement in that direction for now.
That concludes my opening remarks. Thank you for your attention.
Senator Batters: Chair, I’m not sure what the purpose of some of those opening comments was. I can understand relaying what these tables were and the purpose of the draft report that we’re going to be looking at now, but I take great exception to one comment in particular that you made near the beginning, which was that in some discussions you had several years ago, you were talking about how this committee had a questionable reputation — that’s how it came through on the translation — and a reputation for moving slowly. I have sat on this committee pretty much since I came to the Senate 10 years ago, and I think this committee has done much good work over those 10 years. There have been times, including a few years ago, when part of the reason there were not many committee meetings was one of the deputy chairs was almost never available for meetings. I’m not sure what the purpose was of calling into question this committee. I think we have done much good work.
You started to state some of the changes we’ve made in the last year. We arrived at a lot of changes, and over the last several years, when we had a very different situation in the Senate of not having just the government and opposition but also other parties, we took it upon ourselves and produced good work that resulted in good changes being made, which allowed a more workable Senate for those other types of groups.
On this particular issue of the equity of groups, we have had just a few meetings last fall and only one witness, Senator Tannas. When Senator Tannas came to testify on this committee, he actually backed down on a couple of major points that he had earlier proposed. Yet, the majority of senators on this committee decided not to go along with what the very proposer of those changes was now stating, which was that he thought it was a better way to proceed because of some of the issues that had been brought up at that committee and that’s how Parliament should work. Some of us wanted to have other witnesses on this particular issue, and that was not agreed to.
You went on to say — again, through translation — that we have just had long discussions about principles rather than practical applications. This is the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament, and if we can’t have discussions about underlying principles that underlie those rules, I don’t know where we would have them. If you don’t have witnesses on a particular issue, what will happen is a lot of discussion around the table. We’ve had only a few meetings about this issue. We’ve come up with a report now that I think is acceptable, and I think it draws the facts to a reasonable conclusion.
I don’t understand the reasoning to bring all of this up at the very start of this meeting.
The Chair: Thank you for your comments.
Senator Saint-Germain: I have a practical question: We have reached consensus in Table 1.
Can you confirm for me that, when this report is tabled in the Chamber, even the consensus in Table 1 will have no effect on amending the rules that would apply — yes or no?
The Chair: I don’t understand the question.
Senator Saint-Germain: The clerk understood it.
Adam Thompson, Principal Clerk, Chamber Services, Chamber Operations and Procedure Office, Senate of Canada: As I understand it, you want to know if by tabling this report, we would be moving amendments to the rules, or is the report being tabled for reference purposes.
Senator Saint-Germain: Would it have any effect if the Senate approved?
Mr. Thompson: As I understand it, the committee wants the report to be tabled with the Senate for reference purposes only. Therefore, tabling the report would not commit any amendments to the rules.
Senator Saint-Germain: Even the items we agreed on? That’s what I wanted to confirm. Thank you.
The Chair: That isn’t what some people wanted. Personally, I would have liked to see the titles changed for certain items. It would have helped move things forward, but the committee decided not to do that.
Senator Saint-Germain: If I may make a comment, the majority usually rules in a democracy. By approving this principle of operating by consensus, you have given veto power to one individual among us who might oppose an amendment. I want that to go on the record.
The Chair: I will remember that.
Senator Woo: Honourable senators, I move the adoption of the report.
Senator Wells: Like Senator Batters, I’ve been on this committee for many years, and I think it was in my second year that I came on this committee and Senator White was the chair. One of the things we could do was say that, yes, majority always rules, and, yes, that’s the essence of democracy, but especially in the Senate, we also have practices that are respectful to the dynamic.
When I came to the Senate, the Conservatives had the majority in the Senate. Prior to my coming, the Conservatives held government, but the Liberals had majority in the Senate. There was always respectful discourse about what happened. I don’t think there was any government legislation that was defeated, even when there wasn’t a majority of Conservative senators. I think that practice has continued, and it’s a practice we have that is based on respect. If we land every time at, “We have the majority, so our will is the way,” I think we lose the essence of what the Senate is.
When we deliberate, especially when we are looking at rules or potential laws, we have to get it right. One of our jobs is to look at unintended consequences, and it takes time to find out what might be a consequence. Some things are obvious, and some are not so obvious. That’s why we bring experts in different fields or people in different areas of the country on whom that legislation or a rule might have an effect.
In respect to earlier comments about this being a place where things don’t get done quickly, I think that’s a good thing, and I think that’s by design. When you are making rules or legislation, it is a lot harder to change those than it is to get it right in the first place. I think that’s one of the considerations that we have to make.
Senator Ringuette: I promised myself that I would not talk this morning, but senators, you are kind of forcing my tongue. I find it not appropriate that the Rules of the Senate do not reflect the act of Parliament, the legislation. You can talk about any kind of practice or precedent or, you know, the “good old days,” if you want to say it that way, but as an institution of sober second thought, if we cannot even abide by the acts of Parliament in our rules, I think there is more reflection to be done by many of us. Anyway, I will leave it at that this morning.
Senator Batters: On that point, the act of Parliament we are talking about, which was recently passed, dealt with certain specific topics, but even that act does not in itself recognize the absolute equality or equity of all Senate groups that might exist from time to time. It actually limits the number of Senate groups where the leadership would be paid additional money and where the leadership would have certain rights and abilities to do different things. It doesn’t say all parliamentary groups or all recognized parties in the Senate. It limits it to, I believe, something like five. Currently, that’s how many groups we have in the Senate that would be eligible for those types of things, but as I have pointed out several times in this exercise, we could have as many as ten different groups. That act of Parliament limits it.
When we are talking about that act, it doesn’t even go as far as even what this is proposing, and we’re dealing with much more insular issues here, and we need to concern ourselves with actual practical application. To have everything prorated as equality could be really unworkable.
The Chair: We have a motion on the table. Does it please the committee to table this report with the Senate?
Mr. Thompson: I want to identify one correction that will need to be made to the draft report, and that is bullet number 3. In bullets one and two, you see a reference to the appendices. I would add a similar reference to that at the very end: “See appendix 3.” It is in the third point at the very end of the report. At the very last, “See appendix 3,” just like the other two points.
The Chair: Thank you. So we will table the report. It is agreed to.
Would you like us to vote on it? No? We will move on to committee mandates, then.
You received a packet on the study of Senate committee structure and mandates, with respect to article 12-7, among others.
The document is a work plan to be finalized and it will change over time.
Today, what I really want to do is to hear from each of you about this study that we are going to start on the structure and mandates of committees. This little document lays out questions to consider. It’s not exhaustive. Other questions could be included. For our witnesses, these are the topics that they will receive, and we will ask them to comment.
The objective that we are looking at is to make our committee work more relevant to the 21st century and make room for other committees, if necessary, with the same resources, the same hours of work and so forth, if we can. This is the kind of study that we are doing. Can we improve our work? Can we make it more relevant? Can we make it more accountable to Canadians and so forth? We have three big sets of questions.
One set is about the role of committees in the Senate. What about its legislative role? Is it equitable among committees? How do we address that? What about regional representation and minority representation in committees? There is the power of initiative and understanding orders of reference, because not all committees have the power of initiative but need an order of reference. When you look at international comparisons, it’s about the same kind of rules, but it’s not necessarily applied in the same way. Here, most of the time, the committee or the steering committee writes the order of reference and tables it in a motion. In other Senates in the world, the orders of reference come from the Senate to the committee, and committees don’t necessarily sit when they don’t have an order of reference from the Senate. Another topic is the impact of Senate reports on Canadians and the government.
The second set is the functioning of committees. Is the structure that we have in rule 12-7 optimal? We know that we have administrative committees. We know that some committees do more legislation. We are organized by themes. Is that proper? Can we think of other ways? Can we have a loot at the choice of themes? There is the distribution of legislation among committees, the optimal division of work among senators, schedule of committees, numbers of weekly sittings, number of hours of weekly sittings, optimal size of committees. Sometimes the default is 12, except for some that are 9 or 15. There is the independence of committees, so the choice of studies and the choice of witnesses.
We have some material considerations: capacity, human resources, financial resources and so forth. We want to create a new committee, so that’s a focus of our study. We have a request from the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade; they want to change their name.
With respect to the work plan, how are we going to go about this? I think there are steps we have to go through. The first step would be an overview of our activities on those questions, with tables for the last ten years to see how we fared and what we did, how it is distributed among committees, among senators and so forth? Shaila Anwar will come to our next meeting, supposedly, and we will have a new report that will come out quite soon.
The second step, I would propose — and I want to hear from you — is that we hear from chairs, ex-chairs and deputy chairs of committees. I thought that when we heard from Senator Omidvar and Senator Housakos on Transport and Communications, in particular, we learned a lot about the functioning of those committees. If we have to combine committees, it is important to have that discussion with the chair and maybe deputy chairs.
The third step will be determined after we hear from people. That’s my proposition, but I want to hear from you, because it’s not the Bible.
Senator Ringuette: First, I believe that we need to have an understanding. I understand that you have a work plan and so forth, but I think that we have to have an understanding that we are looking at Chapter 12 committees, period, and then we move forward.
I don’t disagree with maybe inviting some chairs and deputy chairs of committees, but I think that the questionnaire that you will be sending out —
The Chair: It’s themes. It’s not put in terms of questions. It is questions to consider. The sheet that you have, the one‑page document, lays out the themes that we want to discuss with the witnesses. I didn’t put a question mark: What about the legislative role? Is it enough? These are the questions.
An Hon. Senator: It’s not a questionnaire.
The Chair: It’s not put as a questionnaire, but these are the considerations we want to look at. If you want us to put a question, we can write it as a question. We can ask the library to put the question. Would you prefer a questionnaire?
Senator Ringuette: Well, for the sake of efficiency, I have some difficulty that we would be inviting — we have, what, 17 committees?
The Chair: Yes. Maybe two or three panels.
Senator Ringuette: That would be inviting 17 chairs and deputy chairs of committees in regard to the themes that you want to probe.
The Chair: It’s not the 17, senator, because it’s —
Senator Ringuette: How will you determine that? That’s one other —
The Chair: That’s the steering committee. We have four committees that we won’t change: the Ethic Committee, the Audit Committee, the Rules Committee and CIBA.
We have the other committees, the thematic committees. Some do a lot of legislative work, and they’re more legislative than thematic, and they meet often for a lot of hours. Others, sometimes they have two slots, but they meet only one. Sometimes they don’t do any legislation; they do studies that they decide on themselves. We want to have a picture of that, and we want them to come and tell us what they do, how they do things and if they are prepared to do legislative work.
If we are to combine themes, we have to talk about the committees that are concerned with those changes, as we did with SOCI and as we did with the Transport and Communications Committee. We had very interesting conversations with those chairs, and they set out the need for a labour or a human resources or a human capital committee. The Transport Committee said they could see combining their work differently. There were ideas that were expressed by those chairs.
That’s the proposition I put forward because I don’t think we have the knowledge of each committee, of all the committees, so we have to hear from them. We could have three panels per session of 20 minutes. We could have a panel of four: chair and deputy chair, former and current. They can express their ideas about what we are doing. We will see what comes out. Maybe some committees will say, “We don’t need to meet each week; maybe we could meet once a month,” or, “We have to meet more,” or, “Maybe we could combine with another.” These are the kinds of things I think we should look at and find out. I don’t know exactly, and I cannot make a proposition. What we heard from the leaders so far was, “Everyone is okay but we don’t want to add another committee on top of what we have.” We want to try to reconsider.
Senator Ringuette: It may be the result.
The Chair: It may be the result. We’ll see.
Senator Saint-Germain: I have two questions. I believe you answered the first one, but the description of the study could be clearer. I believe the committee is also responsible for looking at the number of committees and whether or not to merge or eliminate some of them. In my opinion, we should add “Number and functioning of committees” and item 5 should be changed to “Optimal number and size of committees”. I will leave it to you to make those changes.
My second question is more substantial. For this study, will the committee continue to operate by consensus, which gives veto power to a single senator who may be against the recommendations of all other colleagues?
The Chair: That’s a good question, given what we went through. I will try to make sure we get along. At the end of the day, if we have to vote on the proposals, that’s what we will do. I don’t feel we should have votes every time we make a little progress.
The Chair: At the end of the day, when we have the report, we will have to propose. We will propose.
Senator Saint-Germain: I believe that would be democratic.
Senator Ataullahjan: I’m a bit puzzled by you saying that certain committees don’t want legislation. Is that what you meant to say? The legislation you get is the work that you do in the committee. For us in the Human Rights Committee, we do get legislation, but not that often because there’s not too much to do with human rights. Also, we work through consensus. Senators decide what they are going to be looking at. I’m a bit puzzled by you saying that.
The Chair: No. What I’m saying is that if we need to rationalize, how do we go about it? We have a number of themes. We want senators to have a workload that is equitable.
On the legislative role with respect to our committee, some committees do more legislative role than others. Should we consider the structure of our committees a bit differently than what we have? When you look at what other Senates in the world do, they have some specialized legislative committees. I don’t remember the country, but they have four or five legislative committees: economic, legislative, social, constitutional, criminal. They have legislative committees, and each senator is obliged to sit on one of them. Then they have thematic committees.
That is a structure. I don’t know if we want to have that. But maybe in our discussion, it might be an interesting way to assure that we have equitable tasks. Do you understand?
Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you.
Senator Wells: I like the idea of doing a full study of committees. I think it’s a good idea. I think it’s something that we should look at regularly over the years and from time to time.
I would also suggest, because some of the things on the list would have an effect on previous things on the list, that we hold off on voting or perhaps allowing us to revisit things, because there could be an effect from one aspect to another that we might have already addressed, voted on or decided, but maybe in the fullness of the scope we’d look back and think maybe that wasn’t the right thing to do. We could do the full review and then, at the end, discuss, deliberate and decide on what we might move forward with with respect to recommendations or anything like that.
The other thing I’d like to give consideration to is that the majority of the groups in the Senate have few members. When we look at committees sitting while the Senate is sitting and things like that, it could be damaging to the Conservatives, to the PSG or the CSG, which make up the majority of the groups. Those considerations, I think, are important when we look at these things.
Senator Omidvar: I am excited about this study. This could be truly transformational.
I have one observation. For me, the most important part of the study would be the substance of the committees. By calling them themes and having them as one of the items under the structure of committees, I think that reduces the importance. I would propose that the title should be functioning of, or maybe even another subtitle about substantive themes of committees. I’d like to pull that out to give it a greater stress.
My second comment is, under “functioning of committees,” bullet one, it’s the structure of committees and steering committees.
Senator Batters: After I am done with these few remarks, I wasn’t sure what Senator Omidvar meant when she was talking about substantive themes or something like that, so maybe she could explain that a bit.
There’s another part where I’m not sure what is meant. Under the functioning of committees section, at number six, there is “independence of the committees,” and then it is a bullet point, “choice of studies,” and then bullet point, “choice of witnesses.” I’m not sure what we’re trying to get at there. Perhaps you could explain that to me, chair.
One item that doesn’t need to be a part of any of these points or anything like that, but I want to draw it to everyone’s attention, is that when you’re talking about the optimal division of work among the senators, you will recall that, in addition to Senate Chamber and Senate committee responsibilities, some of us have national caucus responsibilities too. Those of us in the Conservative caucus spend a few hours every week, at least, meeting with our national caucus. Then we have regional caucuses that we’re also a part of. That’s an additional responsibility that we have by virtue of the group that we sit in.
With respect to that, when Senator Saint-Germain asks about consensus and says we shouldn’t have one single senator oppose different things, we’re not talking about one single senator. We’re talking about one caucus, which is the opposition. In a democracy, it’s also important that the one entity that is actually bound to hold the government to account on legislation, on what the government is doing, and that we have a proper consensus. That is how this committee has always operated and how the Senate has always operated in changing its rules. We’ve modified and revised our committees many times over the last number of decades with consensus. I see no reason that we can’t do the same here. That’s the important reason that we need to have that.
Senator Omidvar: I am going to respond to Senator Batters’s reaction to my rather inarticulately worded proposal, for which I apologize.
If you look at the role of committees in the Senate and then you flip to the work plan, you see that the work plan is reactive to the current structure and themes of the committees. My proposal is to carve out the substance and the themes of the proposal as a separate section of the study with its own work plan so that we can look at issues that fall outside what we are currently studying under this structure. Should we have a health committee? Should we have a human capital committee? Should we have an immigration committee? That’s what I meant.
The Chair: I agree with you, Senator Omidvar. Those are the kinds of things and questioning that is behind the list here.
There was also a question for me about the independence of committees. In our modernization process, we want to have a Senate that’s more independent from the government and we want to be accountable to the people, so to what extent are committees the masters of their own destinies?
I’m just asking the question, especially when you look at what’s done elsewhere. For instance, in Canada, we don’t have Royal Commissions and so forth anymore. The Senate could — there’s a void there — look into deep issues. We have some expertise. We have some tools to do big studies. Should we do that? How does having a study that Canadians want relate to an independent committee? How do we determine that? Is this the proper way? How does the steering committee decide which subject they study? Is it transparent? Those are the kinds of questions behind this point. It is the choice of study. How do we do that? Is there another way to do things that is more accountable but still preserves the independence of senators and so forth?
Regarding the choice of witnesses, how do we do that? I have been doing some studies in some committees, and sometimes issues are quite polarized. If a committee does a study on a polarized issue, they only invite witnesses on that. How do we have a choice that reflects the spectrum of thoughts in the country?
Those are the kinds of questions that I think are legitimate to ask. It’s not written there, because I wanted to have a roundtable.
Senator Batters: Thank you. I appreciate that explanation.
I just have one further point. In the work plan, when it talks about receiving testimony from a panel of current and former chairs and deputy chairs — and some have already commented on that — I would just suggest, yes, sometimes those particular people who have filled those positions can be very valuable witnesses. I don’t think we should necessarily limit ourselves to only those people who have held those positions, because there might be a long-serving senator who has never served as a chair or deputy chair who might be a good person to hear from.
The Chair: Good point.
Senator M. Deacon: I’m listening to this with the memories of the Modernization Committee and the work they did on committees and with clarity, perhaps even coherence, of what we’re trying to do moving forward.
By the way, the comment from Senator Batters a moment ago about not being former chairs, necessarily, is really important. There are people who can bring great perspective who are watching, listening and working across committees.
But what I would really urge — and I’m trying to think about this while I’m talking — is that we can ask questions from witnesses, whatever we’d like to ask, at any hearing. I understand that. Strategically, we have committees that we’re reviewing to look forward to 2025, 2028 and 2030 — moving forward.
Our committees have successfully, I believe, developed different cultures within their committees. Some committees will run really well given some things are sometimes hard to quantify but we need to hear about, and other committees run really well in other ways. Other committees, frankly, aren’t perhaps running as well as they could.
I am just hopeful, before we have that first witness at the table, that we can be as clear with them as we are with us as to what we’re looking for. I have this piece of paper in front of me. Trust me; I’ve read it many times. I think the conversion from this piece of paper to what it actually looks like, so we’re using the time best in how to go about it, has us at the end of this with a good product that is best representative moving forward, not backward.
The Chair: If you ever have any suggestions on how to word a question to the panel, don’t hesitate to bring it forward, please.
Senator Cordy: To your point, Senator Deacon, we have to visualize what we want as an end product — not the specifics, but what exactly we want when we finish our study. That’s almost what we have to do.
We had a working group that worked for probably a year on committees. Senator Busson, Senator Forest-Niesing and I were on it. We spoke informally to chairs and deputy chairs of committees. We can give that — not that it’s the Bible, and I don’t mean that — but at least you could see the kinds of issues that were discussed. I can get copies if we can find them somewhere, and you can read it or not, but it’s something you can look at.
When we’re giving directions to the witnesses, I like your idea that it’s open-ended. If it’s not and it’s too prescribed, then we’re going to get very prescribed answers. We want people to look at it in a different light and bring in suggestions that we might not have heard before.
I agree with Senator Wells’s comment that we should be doing this more regularly. In the House of Commons, they often change committee responsibilities and committee names after every election, depending on the government priorities. We shouldn’t be afraid to change committee names or the responsibilities of committees. I’ll pick an example. When you look at the Transport and Communications Committee, some of the things they are responsible for are things that are no longer relevant in 2023. In terms of communication, consider the changes that have taken place over the past 5, 10 and 20 years, and in transportation, it would be the same idea. I think that would also be a starting point — what’s not relevant in the mandate for your committees.
This is a great idea, and I look forward to starting to look at that. There can’t be any holy grails that we don’t look at. We have to put everything on the table.
The Chair: Yes, that’s a good point.
I just want to add that it’s a work in progress. We will have some specifics that will come.
Senator Cordy: Sorry, I just have one question too. Can we give a report on, say, two or three committees at a time, or are we going to wait until we finish it all? I don’t know what the answer is; I’m just asking.
The Chair: It would be good to summarize at each step. It’s a work in progress, but sometimes, as Senator Wells said, there will be issues that might have impacts on other things. It might be good after two or three meetings to ask ourselves if we are on the right track. Can we focus a bit more? Should we have a subcommittee at some point? I don’t want to put too much of a burden on people. We have the steering committee. We have staff of the Library of Parliament who will try to summarize and arrive at some ideas and products. You already have the booklet of all the historical international comparisons, and I think you are doing some work on other issues. We will know the issues, so we can progress on this review. It’s a review, and we don’t know what will be at the end, but we know we have an objective to cover more things that are relevant for the 21st century.
Senator Ringuette: Well, I am hopeful that we will achieve something positive at the end of the day and that, when we table the report, it should be a holistic one so that everything makes sense in regard to the end product.
Regarding my comments earlier and your agreement, I am looking at the title at the top of the page, and I would like to propose it would read as follows: “Review of Chapter 12, particularly the structure and mandates of Senate committees.” I think that will enable us, if there are different articles than 12-7, 12-8, 12-9, 12-3, to have an end product with a holistic view of Chapter 12.
Senator M. Deacon: Do the terms “structure and mandate” include relevance?
Senator Ringuette: I would dare to say that “mandate” would entail relevancy in regard to how modern we are in regard to the mandates allocated and predetermined to certain committees, so I would say yes.
Senator M. Deacon: Thank you.
The Chair: If there are no other comments, we thank you for your participation today. We will have a steering committee after this meeting, and we will have the first meeting on the mandates at the next committee meeting with Shaila Anwar.
Also, if we ever see that it’s difficult to move our agenda because it’s difficult to have people come as witnesses and so forth, we may propose that, to study the list of subjects where we had listed some small issues, the steering committee may look at that so that we don’t lose time. We have about eight or ten meetings, depending on when we finish in June. It would be possible to look at our list and check off some other little points in between, depending on the agenda — if you agree. I don’t want to do that all the time, but if for some reason it’s not possible to have a meeting with witnesses and we can’t advance and we don’t have materials, we could put in between some of the questions that were put in our list at the beginning of January 2022.
(The committee adjourned.)