Proceedings of the Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament

Formerly: The Committee on Privileges, Standing Rules and Orders

Issue 3 - Evidence


OTTAWA, Wednesday, March 28, 2001

The Standing Committee on Privileges, Standing Rules and Orders met this day at 12:10 p.m. to consider matters pursuant to its mandate under rule 86(1)(f) of the Rules of the Senate.

Senator Jack Austin (Chairman) in the Chair.

[English]

The Chairman: Honourable senators, I see a quorum.

The steering committee has set four items on the agenda for today. The first is the report of the steering committee in connection with the future business and work of the committees, particularly, the order of reference dated March 15, which is to examine the structure of committees. Honourable senators will have in the package sent to them the first report of the steering committee.

In our discussion, we reviewed the discussion held in this committee last week. It was our view that the discussion broke itself into two principal sectors, the first of which was to consider the issues put before us in the motion, the human resources, the time occurrences and so on. In other words, to examine the facts relating to the operation of the committees and the resources available.

That discussion, which was particularly contributed to by Senators Murray, Joyal and Pitfield, asked the bigger question: What is the overall role of the Senate and do the committee structures represent all the interests which we traditionally see as our responsibility? The suggestion of the members of the steering committee is that a subcommittee be established to hold discussions on the broad issues, and to report to the Rules Committee at a time adequate to allow an integration of the two processes.

In terms of the first issue, I would refer to the proposal in paragraph one of the first report, which is in front of honourable senators. It is our view that Senator Stratton and I should meet with each committee in the next 8 or 10 weeks, and certainly before we adjourn, to advise them how we see the issues and to ask them for their views. We will send a letter to the chairs and deputy chairs of each committee, which will sketch the agenda that we would discuss and present to their committees.

We will ask the Clerk of the Senate to give us information on the human resources issues, and the Director of Finance to give us the necessary information on existing budgets for committee work approved by the Senate, proposals for travel and other spending proposals. We will then review the workload of all committees to see whether the workload is reasonable or whether it is unbalanced and needs adjustment.

We will discuss with the committees their terms of reference to see whether they think those terms of reference are adequate to the assignment, or whether some committees could be merged, or some functions of some committees could be merged with other committees. I am sure we will have a productive discussion on all these questions.

On the second issue, Senator Stratton and I are suggesting that an ad hoc committee look at the overall role of the Senate and the purpose of Senate committees, bearing in mind the various public constituencies that the Senate has generally seen itself as representing.

We were going to ask Senators Murray, Pitfield and Joyal, along with Senator Stratton and I, to serve as a subcommittee and to discuss those issues. I cannot say that Senators Pitfield, Joyal or Murray have, as yet, volunteered, but if any other senator is interested, please let me know.

Senator Grafstein: I am interested.

The Chairman: Fine. We think the committee should not be more than five or six people.

Senator Gauthier: You are speaking about a subcommittee and you asked for volunteers. I would be happy to serve, as long as I have notice of the meetings so that I can bring my interpreter.

The Chairman: All honourable senators will have notice of the meetings.

I am open to discussion. Senator Stratton, is that a fair reflection of our discussion?

Senator Stratton: Yes, Mr. Chairman. I would suggest that we come up with a schedule to meet the October 31 deadline. We must develop our schedules so that our work is carried out, remembering that we must draft a report, vet it around the table and then have it approved in the Senate. Our deadline is October 31, and we normally start sitting around September 15 or 20. It should not take much time in the fall to prepare a report, submit it, and have it approved.

The Chairman: I agree that, as soon as we have resolved the question of the two committees, we can put together a critical path. The initial work should be done before we adjourn, and a draft report will be prepared by the steering committee, with our staff, as early as possible - probably even by the time we adjourn. We should then consider that draft report and be in a position to make recommendations of the full committee when we resume, which will be the week of September 17.

Senator Stratton: I appreciate that.

The Chairman: Senator Joyal, the first report of the steering committee is in the material before you. Because you were so instrumental in both the shape and the nature of this report, and because Senator Pitfield was also instrumental in the shape and nature of this report and he is now present, the steering committee is proposing to strike a subcommittee to discuss the questions that you raised and the ones that Senator Pitfield and Senator Murray addressed. We are suggesting that the three of you, along with Senator Stratton and I - and Senator Grafstein and Senator Gauthier have also volunteered - will set some time aside to do this, if that is agreeable. I do not see this taking a great deal of time, but it does require a focus in order to understand the conceptual context that was raised and how it will apply to the operations of the Senate.

I was about to ask if this is agreeable to those who have been proposed to address it, and if the first report is agreeable to honourable senators or if there is to be further discussion on it.

Senator Gauthier: Reflecting on what Senator Pitfield told us last week, there is a political agenda and an administrative problem. Are we to depend on Jamie Robertson to give us research papers on this, or will we hire someone to prepare the papers? I do not want to overload Mr. Robertson. He is a hard-working individual. I am concerned mostly about the political aspect of this. I think caucuses will want to have a kick at the proposal before it goes to the Senate. I think it would be a fair call for all of us to believe that the caucuses would like to discuss it before we make it public.

The Chairman: Until Mr. Robertson calls for help, I can find no one who is more experienced, deeper in background and quicker to produce advice. It is up to him to let us know if he needs help.

Senator Andreychuk: How will the subcommittee that will look at the broader question relate to your committee that must report by October 31?

The Chairman: Do you mean procedurally or substantively?

Senator Andreychuk: Procedurally. Will one feed into the other before the report? We could be going in different directions.

The Chairman: I will ask the subcommittee to meet after the Easter break. The minutes will show that we adopted this report and that we have struck the subcommittee. I will ask it to meet during the last week of April. We will sit down and see how deep and how substantive the concerns are about the way in which the Senate deals with its responsibilities and the way in which, conceptually, the committees reflect those responsibilities.

I do not know whether or not this will be a great deal of work, but at our first meeting will we will tackle the question and measure it. Clearly, that work must be done and dovetailed with the other work that is reported in terms of the operating system before we adjourn in June so that we can integrate our information into a draft report that can be circulated to senators before the end of June. Hopefully, we will have input from members of the committee and be ready to have a full discussion here in September. Then we will have an opportunity to go to our caucuses for whatever consultation is required, and thereafter senators will come back to the committee to conclude the matter. I will have staff, along with the steering committee, put together a critical path of those steps and circulate that to senators.

The second item on our agenda is the motion of Senator Gauthier to establish a Senate committee on official languages. The motion is part of the package of documents that you have. The motion asks this committee to examine the proposal to establish a committee of the Senate. I do not have the exact terms of the motion in front of me, but it does not suggest or include the withdrawal of the Senate from the joint committee that is now organized under a standing order. It suggests that a parallel committee be established.

At our meeting last Wednesday, Senator Gauthier addressed the substantive reasons why he believes that a separate committee is desirable. I would like to invite Senator Gauthier to add to his comments, if he wishes, and then I will invite honourable senators to respond to his proposal.

Senator Gauthier: At the last meeting, Senator Bryden and others asked me if the Official Languages Act specified a joint committee, a committee of the Senate, or a committee of the House of Commons. I want to read into the record the last part of section 88 of the Official Languages Act, which says:

...shall be reviewed on a permanent basis by such committee of the Senate, of the House of Commons or of both Houses of Parliament...

I was right when I said "or" rather than "and" the last time.

[Translation]

In French, when referring to committees, it is clearer. There are Senate committees, House committees or joint committees. It is a point that I wanted to clarify. I never suggested abolishing the Joint Committee on Official Languages.

We know the system. Several committees overlap, and sometimes more, in the Senate itself and at the House of Commons. For example, there are two Foreign Affairs commit tees: one at the House of Commons and another in the Senate. At the House of Commons, there is a Standing Committee on Human Rights; in the Senate, this committee for human rights is a subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee. There is a set of subcommittees. So the issue is not whether or not we can have these committees, they already exist.

That being said, I recognize that the joint committees currently have heavy workloads. The fact that there are no specific standing orders for joint committees causes problems. We will work on this. For three or four years, we have not managed to put in place standing orders to regulate the joint committees. The House of Commons has its agenda - I know it since I worked there for 22 years. Its agenda is in large part political. The Senate also has its own agenda, but it is more of substance than partisan. I prefer this.

For example, the Joint Committee on Official Languages has no budget estimates or supplies to vote on. All of the committees that I have heard of have supplies. It is quite rare that a House committee examines budget estimates and reports before May 31, as the Standing Orders of the House require.

[English]

It is deemed to have been tabled, and it is deemed that the committee has looked at it, even though they may not have done so. The practice in the House is to pass the budgets in June. Here we do it differently.

I think the Official Languages Act is important. The committee should also look at the annual report of the commissioner. That is not being done at this time.

I am disturbed when there are important issues to be dealt with and we get distracted by rabbit tracks instead of going after the bear.

I made the case last time as to why we should have a committee. Over the last year, I have sent documentation on this to all members of this committee, and all members of the Senate, as a matter of fact. I stand by my proposition. I know the constraints. I know the difficulties. We will look at the whole ball of wax here. I would like to accept in principle that, in our discussions, we will not only include the two new committees we just established, but also a potential official languages committee of the Senate.

Without impeding with the work of the joint committee, I think the Senate could and should have its own committee on official languages. Basically, our vocation, our duty, our obligation, is to look after minority rights and regional aspects. There are regional questions to language, and it is important for the Senate to occupy itself with these questions, just as we do with other subjects such as foreign affairs, agriculture, defence or whatever. I think there is just as much public interest and concern for official languages. I rest my case on that, Mr. Chairman.

The Chairman: I will point out that Senator Stratton said at our meeting a week ago that he was, if I understood the comment, agreeable to including the possibility of an official languages committee, our own separate committee in the Senate, in the study of our committee system. Is that correct?

Senator Stratton: Yes.

The Chairman: Now I am inviting views.

Senator Andreychuk: Senator Gauthier has been putting forward forcefully his argument as to why this committee would work better and produce more as a single committee, and I must be bound by his wisdom in this area. I do not have any particular expertise as to which way would work better.

My concern is for the process. We make statements about the joint committee not working, and I think we have a right to make those comments, but at some point, before we finally dispose of this, I would hope that we would give the House of Commons, the chair or someone, the opportunity to respond. It has been my practice that, if we make a comment about a committee, they have the right to defend themselves or put forward their point of view before we make a decision. That opportunity should be afforded to them. If we act unilaterally without notice to them, I am not sure that that is the right democratic process or that I would feel comfortable. There is some merit in joint committees. We are two chambers of one Parliament. I do not know how to handle that, but I would hope that we would allow them to put their opinion forward.

The Chairman: I would like to raise two or three questions with respect to your contribution. One is that I do not believe we are required to do this, although it might be polity to do it.

Should we ask only for the opinion of the House of Commons joint chair, or should we ask representatives of each of the parties in the House of Commons to give us their views as well? Should we discuss with them their agenda for the joint committee's work?

Senator Andreychuk: I am not sure. As I say, I am not an expert in this. I do feel a little uncomfortable when we come to conclusions without hearing the other side. Perhaps it is my judicial background, but I want to hear both sides before acting. I am not sure what that means. I leave it to people who are more versed in the committee and the processes. I just have this uncomfortable feeling when we act unilaterally. That is not quite the way I would envision it. They sometimes act unilaterally, and we often say they should not.

Senator Grafstein: I think we should thank Senator Gauthier for being single-minded in forcing us to face a very important issue, not just dealing with this subject matter but the deeper issue of how the House of Commons works, its relationship to the Senate, and how, in particular, joint committees work.

Let me just take a different tack on this. I will not come down far from Senator Andreychuk. When the Clarity Bill was debated and we started looking at that, it caused me, and I am sure other senators, to look at the role of the Senate and why it was that, over the years, the Senate had not protected its own responsibi lities, its own jurisdiction and so on. Hence, when Senator Joyal said that he would try to clarify that and relevel the playing field with his bill, I was an enthusiastic supporter and seconded that motion and supported it. This is part and parcel of the same issue.

However, behind that issue is something that we have discussed in the Senate for many years, and that is the role of the Senate as it applies to the separation of powers and checks and balances. If you go back to this, fundamentally, under the English system, under the Constitution Act, we were supposed to inherit the same checks and balances under the common law and practice as the House of Lords and the Commons. We imported those checks and balances. The Americans went off on a different tangent and decided they would develop checks and balances by means of separate institutions, hence the separation of powers, but the same notion of separation of powers and checks and balances is implicit and expressed in our government structures.

What does that mean vis-à-vis the executive, which is the government, and what does that mean vis-à-vis us and the House of Commons? In my view, that means we have a role as a second chamber to not only act as a check and balance on the government or the executive, and no one will quarrel with that, but we also have a role to act as a check and balance on the House of Commons. The clearest way of examining that is with the 88 reports, not just the one report of the Official Languages Commissioner. Senator Kinsella went through this, and he and I are at idem on this. We tabled 88 reports, one from practically every agency of government, and there is no surveillance of those reports or checks or balances either by the House of Commons or the Senate. When someone sits back and says, "By the way, we are the chamber of second sober thought," we are not. We have not fulfilled our primary responsibility.

I will now refer to the specifics of the issue. The statute states that the government is required to have its activities reviewed by either a committee of the Senate, or a committee of the Commons, or both.

What happens when we have the classic case, as Senator Gauthier has raised, of a deficit in duties and responsibility of a joint committee? What is our first responsibility? Is it our duty to set up a parallel committee? I do not think so. Our first duty is to take a look at that joint committee and, in chapter and verse, say that it is not working - that, in fact, an instrument of a check and balance, an instrument of government and a legislative instrument, is not working. If the Senate wants to take its responsibilities seriously - and, by the way, I am not sure that I agree with Senator Gauthier, but there is a step alluded to by Senator Andreychuk - we must satisfy ourselves with substan tive evidence that there has been a failure or a deficit by the joint committee. That means that some work, where we can have a term of reference to say that there has been a deficit in a working committee, like Senator Gauthier's prima facie privilege issue. We must declare that it is not working and that we intend to proceed with an alternative. However, before we do that, we must abide by this piece of legislation.

I agree with Senator Murray in that there is nothing to stop the Senate from setting up another oversight committee. If there is a statute that states that there shall be a joint committee, we have a duty, if that is failing, to substantiate that.

The chairman and members of the committee gave evidence. What about the members of Senate who were on that committee and failed to do their duty? There is a question of privilege and the prerogatives of the Senate. It is considered nothing for us to go to the members of the House of Commons and, as our duty dictates, call those members to account. Why has the chairman, who is a government member, not done his duty?

After that is all done, and I am satisfied at the end of the day, we will have a record of what Senator Gauthier says - that there has been a malfeasance, or omission, of parliamentary duty to fulfil the statute, which reaches to the heart of bilingualism. Then we can proceed on our own. We have hard work to do first. I commend Senator Gauthier, but this, to my mind, would be a greater reform of the Senate. Pursuing this issue and demonstrat ing how it has failed would, more than anything else we can do in terms of rules in the short term, be a greater reform.

The Chairman: I will touch on three points before I call on Senator Pitfield. Much of what you said will apply to the considerations that the subcommittee intends to engage in. Do you agree with Senator Andreychuk who says that we need a more considered approach before we take a decision? I get a little flutter on the question of the dialogue with the members of the joint committee because one of my passions is to create an opportunity to have a consultation with the House of Commons. This would be a subject on which we could ask for a formal consultation.

Senator Grafstein: This is not a consultation, but rather it is an inquisition.

The Chairman: You may want an inquisition.

Senator Grafstein: They tend to work effectively.

The Chairman: I believe that we should be making efficacious the rules that provide for consultation, which has not taken place for several decades.

Senator Murray: We can call it a conference.

The Chairman: This is a subject on which the rules provide that we could request a conference, but I will leave that matter hanging out there for a while.

Senator Pitfield: Mr. Chairman, is there a time limit that I must observe?

The Chairman: There is not a time limit, specifically. We have Victorian rules.

Senator Pitfield: This is, I think, easily the most important question that will come before the members, and I do not know what they will do with it. One was reminded of Shakespeare - one of "Striving to better, oft we mar what's well." Over the horizon comes this warning, which has kept people from touching the very essence of the parliamentary system. We have not looked at the management of power in years.

I wonder if this is not a subject to be approached with great care because, while it is enormously beneficial or potentially beneficial, it is also very complex. It will be extremely important when, sooner or later, Parliament looks at itself, to have some sort of plan or approach. You cannot continue to review the same territory. However, when you look at systems - and they talk about a dichotomy between the party system and the bureaucracy for example - I wonder what the warning is to us in terms of "Striving to better, oft we mar what's well"?

It certainly came home to me when I prepared for the debate that we had last session of Parliament. If you consider the Fathers of Confederation, it is quite clear that they had ideas and they had plans in mind. If you read the paper that Frank Scott wrote in the Canadian Bar Review in approximately 1935 and his description of how the Fathers of Confederation adapted to the ideas that they were dealing, then you wonder where that drive disappeared to. It disappeared into the continuing wrangle between the two Houses of Parliament - that one was above the other. That wrangle was fostered by the growth of administrative and bureaucratic power. That in turn gets mixed up with the study of the sizes and roles of government. Again, I come back to it, and it is so easy to be confused.

You must have a plan. You must have an idea of what you will do.

I will refer to a personal experience, if I may. When we were preparing the government organization acts for members, one of the smartest things we did in the bureaucracy was to devise our plans for presentation in the house. We devised them so that they took account of the basic principles of Parliament itself. The drafters focused on safeguarding such things as the power over the exchequer. The principles that apply in the Commons must also apply in the Senate, and also between the elected and the bureaucratic function. This process went on for almost a decade, as the government reviewed the structure of the system. There were different parties also. Ultimately, both the Liberals and the Conservatives headed governments that were dealt with in this process.

The observance of parliamentary principles was consistent, such as they were. You do not find an easy index, but you can chart some course. You can find a beginning of the distinction between policy and program.

It strikes people as surprising that this is as recent a distinction as it is. It was barely 25 years or 30 years ago. One can remember times when bureaucrats were teaching their colleagues to observe the niceties of the system.

Ultimately, you will want to try to answer some of the questions of modern government organizations and modern control and accountability, all of which have been falling by the wayside. People have dropped them on the desert floor as they struggle across it to get away from the heat. I would suspect that you will try to identify a piece to begin with, or you will try to take a principled approach. I would hope that we would not try to do it all at once or to have everyone with ideas come forward at the same time.

We are into a field where the exercise of power is very real, a field that, since C. D. Howe, has been left outside the purview of too much fiddling, almost none at all. When members were coming forward and saying how much there is to do, one wonders if we are not fifth columnists in killing any possible argument that there may be to look into these questions.

Later today, I believe we are to deal with the question of disability. It is one in which I have an interest, both as a senator and as a prospective beneficiary of those wonderful policies.

One wonders how to cut the cake. How do you distinguish process control from program control? How do you deal with systems? Almost everything now is conceived of as part of a system.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to come forward with a magic wand, but I have not got one. I would urge that, when we deal with these matters, we have in mind the basic organization of our Constitution, the places where this house sits, and how those pieces come together to make it possible for the governing process to go forward on so many levels at the same time.

The Chairman: I think the caution that you give us about dreaming too large is a good one. We have heard in the committee, and I am reflecting what Senator Grafstein said earlier, that the Senate should act in the process side more aggressively to deal with the accountability of the government for its spending. There seems to be a general view in that direction.

Spending is only a small part with respect to the Senate's role as a check and balance. This is the much bigger issue. The question goes right to the heart of the validity of the Senate.

This is apart from how we get here, which is a political question entirely. Our role in the check and balance process is a systemic question, to overuse the phrase, but it is useful. I am hearing that we should be examining that, although not necessarily trying to take too much of it on too quickly.

As has been said by Senator Pitfield, let us pick something specific and dig in there and then perhaps enlarge what we are doing over time.

[Translation]

Senator Poulin: Are we still discussing the issue brought up by Senator Gauthier?

The Chair: Yes.

Senator Poulin: This committee is made up of members with a variety of experience. We have the good fortune of having among us Senator Pitfield, who was the President of the Privy Council, and whose role was not only that of managing the public service, but also of observing the role of both Houses of Parliament. His presence can help us greatly, and I would like to thank him for being here.

The question brought up by Senator Gauthier is one of great importance, and I daresay, of some urgency. Currently, the whole issue of bilingualism is not as popular as it was during the 1970s and 80s throughout the country, and this is for a number of reasons. In the past 24 months, specifically in Ontario, events have demonstrated how easy it is to lose ground and to take for granted certain services which may no longer exist.

First, we have lost ground and since time does not stop, we continue to lose ground. Second, we have to deal with a new reality; the fragility of some institutions. This is only the beginning.

I agree that there needs to be some process. I would really appreciate a proper assessment, with assessment criteria chosen beforehand by senators who were members of the Joint Official Languages Committee. This would be an extremely important tool in the process of deciding to establish a Senate Committee on Official Languages. I fully support Senator Gauthier on the importance of this issue.

[English]

The Chairman: I would like to summarize the discussion so far and then go on to the next item.

Basically, I think that the steering committee should have a quick meeting. I will ask my colleagues on the steering committee to meet with me later this afternoon outside the chamber for a quick discussion. It seems to me that we should move forward by inviting senators who are on the joint committee to come to the next meeting of this committee to offer their views on the performance of the joint committee on the questions of whether it can be made better and, if not, what they see as the agenda of a separate Senate committee that would be different from the agenda of the joint committee.

That will be first on the agenda next week, if we can get senators to attend. We will then consider whether we should invite members of the joint committee from the House of Commons to come also, but that would be for a future meeting. I do not think we want to occupy all the time of next meeting with this subject. It will already take substantial time.

Senator Joyal: Are you implying that we will ask the members of the House of Commons to come to this committee?

The Chairman: Next week we will invite senators who are on the joint committee to come, and then we will consider whether to invite members from the House of Commons.

Senator Joyal: We should think twice before we do that.

The Chairman: We will not take that decision right away.

Senator Gauthier: If that is the way you are going to proceed, it will not produce very much. The current members of the joint committee are new to that committee. They have had two meetings. Most of them have not been members of that committee before. There are a few senators who have been members for the last two years. Senator Murray knows what I am talking about. We co-chaired that committee years ago, productively, I think.

We now have a difficult problem. If you ask the members on the joint committee from the House of Commons to come here to argue with you, it would be grossly unfair to the situation as I see it. The Senate should take its own decisions. I do not think we should be asking the House of Commons for permission or advice on what we should be doing here.

The Chairman: I see a will to invite senators who are or have been on the joint committee. We will make any other decisions at a future time.

Senator Grafstein: Mr. Chairman, it would be very useful if our clerk got in touch with the clerk of that committee to get the number of sittings they have had, the subject matter of the work they have done, and a precis of the work of the Senate in the last five years. Then we will have a context within which to ask senators who have served on that committee how it did or did not work.

The Chairman: We do not need to ask the clerk of that committee. That information is on the record and we will get it.

Senator Murray: Mr. Chairman, if you want to proceed in the way you suggest, that is fine. I just want to say a word on the motion. I have come with the greatest reluctance to support Senator Gauthier's motion for a Senate committee and, implicitly, our withdrawal from the joint committee. I do this with the greatest reluctance because I was present at the creation of the joint committee, as were Senator Joyal and others. It worked well. When we withdraw from that committee and decide to go our separate way, it will be the end of a very healthy concept.

However, it is beyond salvation at the moment. I have taken the trouble to talk to people. Senator Comeau, one of my own Tory colleagues who served as co-chair of that committee from the Senate at some tine since 1993, has refused not only to serve as co-chair but to be a member of that committee since that time. The problem is, as has been described here and in the house when we spoke about it, that there are two parties in the House of Commons who do not support the fundamental idea of official bilingualism in this country.

Senator Comeau has told me that with all the goodwill in the world by the chair and the majority, be they Liberal, Tory or NDP, it has been impossible to make any progress because of constant points of order and procedural devices used by the Bloc and the Alliance to impede the progress of the committee.

You can hear that from their own lips, if you like, or you can take it second-hand from Senator Gauthier and myself.

The Chairman: I was trying to achieve a consensus because I was being sensitive to the comments of Senator Andreychuk and Senator Grafstein about process.

Is there a different consensus of the committee? Would we like not to hear from them and simply discuss the specific issues that our own committee could focus on and take agreements as a given?

Senator Pitfield: Mr. Chairman, is it clear that you cannot have a committee of both houses?

Senator Stratton: I thought it was "or."

The Chairman: There is a joint committee. We can set up our own committee. Mr. Audcent gave us that advice last week. The question of whether we can withdraw from the joint committee is another issue. We have not begun to discuss it because the motion of Senator Gauthier is not to withdraw.

Senator Kroft: When I read "notwithstanding rule 85(3), Senate membership on the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages lapse;..." is it not quite clear what the intent is?

The Chairman: Yes, but Senator Gauthier has revised his position.

Senator Kroft: Has it been revised? I have heard it said that it is not there, but when I read it here, it is clear.

Senator Murray: We do not have to withdraw from the joint committee. However, in talking to those in favour of this, I got the impression that the next step would be to withdraw from the joint committee.

Senator Pitfield: Why?

Senator Murray: They feel it is unproductive and not worth the time.

The Chairman: Senator Gauthier's motion is to withdraw from the joint committee, but in statements to this committee he has said that he is not pressing that part of his motion. Is that correct, Senator Gauthier?

Senator Gauthier: I am not proposing that we stand away from the joint committee. I am saying that it could meet occasionally. We do that normally on other issues with the house. I believe it would be appropriate for the Senate to have its own committee. If the House wants one, then they can go ahead and have one. Those two committees could meet occasionally, and it could be the same members on both committees.

The Chairman: You said something different from what I understood. I understood you to say that, in spite of your motion which calls for the withdrawal, you are prepared to see the continuation of the current joint committee.

Senator Gauthier: I have always said that. It is in my paper. Maybe it is not explicitly contained in the motion.

The Chairman: Your motion says that we should withdraw from the joint committee. You asked for the deletion of that part of the rules which establishes the joint committee. What are you asking us to look at?

Senator Gauthier: I will make a concession. It drew a lot of attention from the other place, and that is what I wanted it to do because they were absolutely amorphoused. They were not interested in this issue. I believe that, sometimes, you must stick it to them. When you say that you will withdraw, they get excited. To be blunt with you, they do not have the institutional memory that we have here in the Senate. That is very important. In fact, I would like to see the Official Languages Commissioner called to this committee and have her answer some of your questions so that we can hear her view.

[Translation]

Senator Poulin: I am a bit confused. Which proposal are we discussing? I thought that we were discussing solely the possible creation of a Senate Committee on Official Languages and at this time, we were not discussing our participation in the joint committee. I am simply looking for clarification, Mr. Chairman.

[English]

The Chairman: Let me repeat what I said. My understanding is that, although the resolution suggests and requests us to consider withdrawal from the joint committee, Senator Gauthier, in his opening statements and repeatedly, has said that the party is really interested in establishing a committee in the Senate and he is not pushing the withdrawal of the joint committee. I got temporarily confused with his remarks of a few seconds ago when he said "two parallel committees who would occasionally meet," which is quite a different thing. If I understand you, Senator Gauthier, you are not suggesting the withdrawal from the joint committee?

Senator Gauthier: I had to follow the rule. This was drafted by our own advisers. Maybe I did not give them the right instructions, but I never thought for one moment that we would abolish or abandon the joint committee. However, I did think the Senate had a deep interest in this issue and that we were not getting a fair shake on the matter. That is what I want to get.

Senator Pitfield: This is exactly the situation that I was concerned about. I happen to support our colleague very much in his initiative but, in a Confederation, before you aligntwo Houses in contradiction to one another, you do not necessarily go as far as this has gone. I would urge that we read aboutJohn A. Macdonald.

The Chairman: Both volumes, or can you recommend something specific?

Senator Pitfield: We will ask the senator to show us which one.

Senator Kinsella: I agree with what Senator Pitfield is saying. I do not think it would be wise for this committee to get bogged down on Senator Gauthier's motion as such. I think Senator Gauthier might agree with us that we should deal with the subject matter of his motion; that is, withdrawing from the joint committee or the establishment of the free standing committee. Let us get to the principle first and not be boxed in by the specificity that is associated with his motion. The committee could go a long way if we are not limited by the disjunctive nature of this, as it were.

The Chairman: That is a good summary. We will continue with this discussion as the first item next week.

We will then look at the question of disabled senators. This is an item that is now the responsibility of the Internal Economy Committee, but we have commissioned reports, it is on our agenda, and I would like to consult with honourable senators here with respect to that particular topic.

I will then ask the clerk to proceed in camera and deal with the issue of the declaration of qualifications, Item No. 6, which is becoming significant. Also in camera, I should like to address the question of parchment errors.

If honourable senators have a sense of urgency with respect to any other items, I would ask you to speak to me.

The committee adjourned.