THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON INTERNAL ECONOMY, BUDGETS AND ADMINISTRATION
OTTAWA, Thursday, May 16, 2019
The Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration met this day at 8:30 a.m., in public and in camera, pursuant to rule 12-7(1), for consideration of financial and administrative matters.
Senator Sabi Marwah (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good morning, and welcome to the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration. I am Sabi Marwah, and I have the privilege of chairing this committee. I would ask the senators to introduce themselves.
Senator Munson: Jim Munson, Ontario, deputy chair of the committee.
Senator Dawson: Dennis Dawson from Quebec.
Senator Dean: Tony Dean, Ontario.
Senator Moncion: Lucie Moncion from Ontario.
Senator Omidvar: Ratna Omidvar, Ontario.
Senator Verner: Josée Verner from Quebec.
Senator Frum: Linda Frum, Ontario.
Senator Tannas: Scott Tannas, Alberta.
Senator Dalphond: Pierre J. Dalphond from Quebec.
Senator Saint-Germain: Raymonde Saint-Germain from Quebec.
Senator Marshall: Elizabeth Marshall, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator Batters: Denise Batters, Saskatchewan, also a deputy chair.
The Chair: Thank you.
The first item is the minutes from May 9, 2019. Are there any questions or changes?
It is moved by the Honourable Senator Dalphond to adopt the minutes. Agreed?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Carried.
The next item is the twenty-seventh report from the Subcommittee on Committee Budgets.
Senator Verner: Honourable senators, it is my honour to present the twenty-seventh report of the Subcommittee on Committee Budgets, with recommendations for three committee budgets. I remind you that the committees have a budget of $1,882,000 for their travel in 2019-20. Up to now, $782,428 have been released for four activities involving travel that have already been completed.
The subcommittee met earlier this week to examine three budget requests. We met with the chair and vice-chair of the Special Committee on the Arctic, who were asking for $6,500 to prepare and table their final report. The request includes royalties for some northern Canadian artists for the use of their work in the report, and also to cover the cost of translating parts of the report and an audio recording of the committee’s recommendations in several local indigenous languages. The subcommittee is of the opinion that the request, while unusual, is reasonable in the circumstances, given the unique nature of the special committee’s study. With that information, we recommend the release of $6,500.
We also examined a request from the Aboriginal Peoples Committee for $1,850 so that the committee members can organize an event called Indigenize the Senate, in which 10 young Indigenous people will take part. The committee is looking at hospitality expenses in the form of meals and gifts, honoraria for some adult chaperones, and other miscellaneous expenses. The event, the fourth annual, will take place on June 5, 2019. The three previous ones, by all accounts, were a resounding success. We recommend the release of $1,850.
Finally, your subcommittee studied a request from the Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations, submitted to both houses of Parliament, for a modest annual budget of $5,250. The Senate’s portion is set at $2,250, or 30 per cent of the total budget. It will cover witness costs, refreshments at working meetings, the purchase of specialized works, and printing costs. We recommend the release of $2,250, for a grand total of $10,600.
Today’s recommendation puts the expenditures approved to date for committee activities at $793,082. This leaves an amount of $1,088,918 for the rest of the financial year. As in preceding years, the subcommittee notes that actual committee expenditures generally come in at about 40 per cent of the total budget. We therefore anticipate that a significant amount will be returned to the committees budget at the end of the financial year.
I am available to answer any questions you may have. If not, I recommend the adoption of the report.
The Chair: Are there any questions for Senator Verner?
It was moved by the Honourable Senator Verner that the twenty-seventh report of the Subcommittee on Committee Budgets be adopted. Is it agreed, honourable senators?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Carried.
The next item is Senator Dasko’s survey. We are resuming the discussion from last week on this matter. I invite to the table Charles Feldman, Parliamentary Counsel, Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel; and Pierre Lanctôt, Chief Financial Officer, Finance and Procurement Directorate. Last week before we adjourned discussion on the matter, the list of speakers were as follows: Senators Omidvar, Plett, Batters and Frum. We will follow that order, and others are welcome to join as well.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you for asking me to weigh in on this matter. The more I thought about it, I tried to return to first principles: What is our role here in the Senate? It is to consider, amend, reject and approve legislation, but it is also to investigate matters of national importance. Consulting Canadians on matters of public policy is a legitimate and necessary exercise for senators. We do this all the time in different ways. We meet with stakeholders, lobbyists, academics, researchers, civil society organizations and indeed with citizens. Some of us use social media — some more than others — and we also undertake Senate studies.
I believe that the independent Senate and the selection process are public policy issues of national importance. They go well beyond elections, including the election of 2015, because the new government policy is no longer an election promise; it is a policy. I recall the first report of the Senate Modernization Committee called Moving Forward, Part 1. A significant part of that report weighs in on these same questions of Senate independence.
I would submit that it is not a political or partisan issue. It is an issue of institutional importance for our institute, the Senate and for Canadians.
Senator Dasko used a different method. She used a public opinion poll to take the temperature of Canadians on this matter, which is the Senate. I know and we heard from our witnesses last week that Senator Dasko did not commission the poll on a whim. She went through the SAR procedure and through SOMP. We had witnesses testify to that last week. I believe she dotted her “i”s and crossed her “t”s.
Therefore, I move:
That the Committee authorize the Senate Administration to pay the expense of the poll commissioned by Senator Dasko, as it was conducted in conformity with Senate Administrative Rules and the Senators’ Office Management Policy.
I will distribute copies of this motion.
The Chair: Before we do anything with this motion, I suggest we finish the list of speakers, then come back to the motion. Is that okay, Senator Omidvar?
Senator Omidvar: Of course.
Senator Batters: I can start off. Senator Plett was not able to be here because he had to attend another committee meeting. I spoke briefly to him, and he indicated he wanted his question answered. As he indicated at the end of the last meeting, he wanted to know whether Senate Finance had reviewed and approved Senator Dasko’s poll questions before the poll was done and at the time when Senate Finance had indicated it was approving the expense, in principle. I know the answer to that, but I’d like clarification.
Pierre Lanctôt, Chief Financial Officer, Finance and Procurement Directorate, Senate of Canada: The Finance and Procurement group did not review the question of the polls. We reviewed the request from the senator to conduct a survey of Canadians. We validated that she had the funds to pay for the survey, and we validated that the survey was an eligible type of activity under SOMP. Therefore we agreed to proceed with the contract. But we don’t validate the questions of polls.
Senator Batters: Thank you. That was Senator Plett’s issue.
For myself, I wanted to say a few things clarifying some comments that were made last week. I wanted to start out by saying that senators make the rules, and the rules here are clear. A significant portion of Senator Dasko’s poll questions, in my view, clearly violated that particular Senate administrative rule. It is okay to be partisan and political — it’s a political institution, after all — as long as the activity falls within the bounds of the Senate Rules.
According to this particular rule in sub-paragraph (b), parliamentary functions, which is what Senator Dasko indicated this was, does not include, “supporting or opposing a political party or individual candidate in the context of a federal, provincial, territorial or municipal election.”
I emphasize that is in the context of an election. It is not required in that particular rule for an expense to be disallowed if the activity occurs during an election. It does not have to occur during an election. It could occur during an election and then it would be disallowed. It would also be disallowed if it was to occur in the context of an election.
I wanted to bring that point up because at least two Independent Senators Group senators have said that particular quote about during the election but it’s more expansive than that. The part about during the election is a different subsection of what is also not allowed.
As well, it’s important to note what our committee members have received from Senate Administration was not a formal legal opinion. It’s a short briefing note, which we receive on many occasions. There is a small portion that deals with legalities on this issue.
I also wanted to point out, because these parts were quoted in argument on this a few times, there are some errors contained in the briefing note, which I previously pointed out at our CIBA steering committee and that weren’t corrected.
Some of those errors include how Senate Administration referenced how polls are conducted and that there is some misunderstanding about how polls are conducted. For example, public opinion polls are not conducted by “papers being handed out at a political event.” I’ve never seen that and I’ve been to many political events in my life.
As well, this particular poll was meant to be conducted on a national basis, not in an individual senatorial area. The briefing note also does not fully canvass the political and election-related issue here. It does not state this was a 2015 Liberal election platform promise and it does not state that the leader of the Independent Senators Group, Senator Woo, did media three months prior to this poll being conducted calling for this political issue to be an issue in the 2019 election.
All that being said, the main point here is that it’s the responsibility of the senator claiming the expense to ensure that the expense is properly conducted and done within Senate Rules. Here Senator Dasko certified, as Senate Finance people indicated, that her poll properly fell within the scope of parliamentary functions, even though she would have known that two of those poll questions violated that section of the Senate Rules.
I have also pointed out this distinction previously with the Senator McCoy polls that were done where that properly straddled the Senate Rules. That particular section of her poll questions was the major component of the poll and not just the sidebar. The poll is seeking to justify the independent Senate promise and model and its implementation, even though some questions within that part have been objectively been shown not to be correct on a few occasions.
The Senate Rules are clear. We have worked very hard for several years in the Senate to close expense loopholes and repair the Senate’s reputation on expenses after a lengthy and painful Auditor General’s report. I submit that allowing this expense, which clearly violates this rule, would set a terrible precedent and take us down a dark road we don’t want to return to.
Senator Frum: As I understand it, what we’re discussing here is whether or not Senator Dasko’s poll violated the Senate Rules. I think Senator Batters just explained why she believes it has. We have heard from other senators who don’t think that it did.
I would like to take the benefit of the legal advice we have at the table to check. I’m also working on a poll and I want to see, in your opinion, whether these questions fall outside the guidelines just cited that you can’t oppose or support a political party or an individual candidate in the context of an election. I want to check that.
The first question is: Under the current government, the cost to taxpayers for operation of the Senate has increased around 30 per cent.
The Chair: Just a minute. There’s a point of order here. What’s the point of order?
Senator Moncion: This is not the venue to verify questions on a poll. We are discussing something.
The Chair: She has a question.
Senator Frum: I’m just trying to understand. We’re having a disagreement about the rules and what they are, so I would like some clarity on the rules. The way to test the rule is by asking a question about the rule.
Senator Moncion: I thought you were asking questions about questions you would ask in a poll.
Senator Frum: Correct. That’s the topic: what can you ask in a poll? I would like to find out.
Senator Moncion: I will withdraw the point of order.
Senator Frum: The question: Under the current government, the cost to taxpayers for operation of the Senate has increased by 30 per cent. Do you think this is too much, too little or just enough?
Charles Feldman, Parliamentary Counsel, Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, Senate of Canada: I would start by saying that, at the end of the day, the decision is one for the committee to make. When we provide an analysis, it’s always according to what we think the current rules say, but it’s up to this committee to decide how they apply in any given context.
This question sounds like you’re giving a fact about the current situation and asking for an opinion on whether it’s favourable or unfavourable in the mind of the person being asked. To my mind, on the list of parliamentary functions, that doesn’t specifically trigger any of the excluded matters and it doesn’t further private interests, so on a strict reading of the exclusions I wouldn’t find it to fall in the exclusions. That doesn’t mean CIBA couldn’t come around later and decide it was inappropriate.
Senator Frum: On what grounds would they decide it’s inappropriate?
Mr. Feldman: I wouldn’t presume to put myself in CIBA’s shoes. Even if a survey asked whether you like cats or dogs, CIBA could say it’s political or it’s supporting a riding association. CIBA has ultimate authority and exclusive jurisdiction when it comes to any proposed use of expenses.
Senator Frum: Even though we have a rule that states what’s allowable and what’s not in the context of an election, so issues that are either a poll that is trying to support a policy position that is an election issue, that’s where we say you’re off-side if you do that. But you’re saying it’s really in the eye of this committee to decide. If it’s in the eye of the majority on the committee to decide, how are we to come to a fair resolution?
Mr. Feldman: Great question. CIBA, if I’m not mistaken, is subject to the direction and control of the Senate as a general principle, so if a direction were given from the Senate on how CIBA were to decide a matter, that would be one thing for the Senate to provide. Otherwise, it would be for the majority of the committee. Our role is to provide our read of the rules and where things should fall, as we did in this case, but reasonable people can disagree.
I can go further on that if it would be helpful, but on the question of the context of an election, there are different approaches one can take. Some people reference a temporal aspect and ask, “Are we so many months away?” Others say it matters if it’s coming up in the next election or if it was promised in the last election.
There are many different ways one can interpret the phrase, “electoral context.” It would be up to this committee to provide guidance if it wants one particular approach to be taken. Obviously, in a fixed-date election year, we have more certainty on when the context might be than otherwise.
Senator Frum: An example of the second type of question I have on here is similar in nature to the question that Senator Dasko asked in terms of what a current Prime Minister has done or what a future Prime Minister might do.
That question is: Looking ahead, do you think a future Prime Minister should keep the practice of the current Prime Minister to consult a partisan database before deciding whom to appoint as a senator?
The Chair: If I could interject, if there are specific questions, these things take thought and require the opinion of many people in the Law Clerk’s Office. If we are going to pursue that, I suggest we allow the Law Clerk’s Office to analyze each of your questions with some thought behind it rather than put Charles on the spot here.
We should discuss this and allow the Law Clerk’s Office to opine on this rather than parliamentary counsel, because these are very technical questions and it’s unfair to answer these on the spot.
Senator Frum: That’s fine, but in response to Senator Omidvar, she said that Senator Dasko followed the rules not by submitting the questions but by pursuing an issue of public policy. I’m trying to understand this committee’s interpretation of this rule. There are others of us who also have the resources to commission polls. If that is the will of this committee that —
The Chair: These are fine areas of judgment and it’s hard to come up with one answer that covers every type of question and every type of scenario that we wish to discuss. I think if there are questions, I would have the Law Clerk’s Office look at them and opine on them, and then we could bring it back here. If you wish to, we would gladly do so.
But to debate this in open forum makes it difficult without anything from the Law Clerk’s Office on what is permissible.
Senator Frum: Then I don’t know how we’re going to make a decision as a committee if we’re saying the rules are not clear. Maybe the point is the rules have to be clear.
The Chair: I have no problem with that. There is room to have the policy clearer. That’s one of the motions we should discuss at the end of this meeting, namely, to tighten up the rules or provide guidance, whatever we wish to do. There is room for improvement on what is and is not permitted. I grant you that.
Senator Verner: The issue is whether paying for the poll is approved. That is what I understood the question today was about. Given the explanations we have been given, it would seem that the expense was approved. If it was approved, I feel it should be paid.
The need to clarify the rules and how they are interpreted is another debate. My quick research tells me that the rules were approved in May 2017 and went into effect in November 2017. If we are not satisfied with what we — all senators — adopted as the rules on this matter, and if we believe that more clarity and specificity is needed, I feel that we should make the administration aware of them, as they have to enforce the rules.
I feel that we have two debates here. The senator followed the rules, whether we agree or not. They are the rules that are currently in effect, as clarified and understood by the administration. She received approval to conduct her poll. That is the issue we have to settle today. The other underlying question is about our satisfaction with the rules and the clarifications to be made to them. That is another debate.
Senator Tannas: I want to associate myself with Senator Verner’s comments. I think that we have a problem. We need to deal with it. I think it would set a terrible precedent for us to start rolling back a senator’s expenses that have gone through a process albeit not a proper process. How can you determine whether a poll conforms to the rules without looking at the questions? I would further submit from my point of view that you’ll never know if a poll is political until the results come out and until they are used and torqued by whomever is going to use them. To me, we shouldn’t be doing polls within a year of an election. That would answer part of the problem. As Senator Verner, says, that’s for another day.
I want to amend Senator Omidvar’s motion — and I will do it right now — where it says “commissioned by Senator Dasko.” From here we would insert “notwithstanding the lack of consensus as to the poll’s conformity with Senate Administrative Rules.”
That, I think, summarizes what the opinion of this committee is right now. There is not a consensus that this conforms with the rules. I don’t want to not pay. That, to me, is a terrible precedent. But we need to acknowledge that this was a legitimate concern that this poll was used for political purples in the context of an election. It was. We had the leader of the ISG talking about how this ought to be an election issue and that every leader ought to put out their position on it. We can’t pretend that it’s not.
However, reading the list of questions, if these folks had read the list of the questions I’m not convinced they would have said that’s going to turn out to be political either. I don’t think we would have caught it. We need to review this policy. We talked, I think last week, about reviving the SOMP review committee. I think it should be on their to-do list to review.
Senator Marshall: I spoke to this last week, so I won’t repeat what I said except I didn’t think, reading the rules, that it complied with the rules. We know that this hasn’t been paid yet and we’re at the point now where we’re going to instruct administration to pay or not pay it. I think we’re getting into dangerous territory when we start ordering our officials to pay things.
Since it hasn’t been paid, perhaps Senator Dasko could decide, if it has not been submitted, or if she has submitted it, to withdraw it. It has become quite a political and controversial issue.
Senator Saint-Germain: I feel that everything has been said. Clearly Senator Dasko followed the procedure. Clearly the experts in the Senate Administration and the Senate’s legal counsel have determined that, under the current administrative rules, the process was followed. I feel that Senator Dasko acted in good faith and received the approval she needed. I feel that we should arrange to have the bill paid.
I believe that Senator Tannas’ amendment is not appropriate because its effect would be to give the impression that we are accusing Senator Dasko of not following the rules. If that motion has to be amended, I think we should move in the direction of Senator Verner’s motion and amend the text as follows:
I move that the committee authorize the Administration of the Senate to pay the costs incurred for the poll commissioned by Senator Dasko because it was done pursuant to the Senate Administrative Rules and to the Senators’ Office Management Policy, recognizing that the committee is of the opinion that the regulations must be reviewed.
That is my proposal.
The Chair: We have four other speakers, and then I suggest we bring the items to a close because we’re beginning to repeat the points.
Senator Batters: A couple of quick points because I felt I had responded pretty clearly before as to how this rule is extremely clear as it exists. The context of an election includes not only a time period but also the subject matter and how these poll questions dealt with both 2015 questions and 2019 questions at a time frame six months before the election.
First of all, I thought the questions posed by Senator Frum about a proposed poll were completely within the scope of those here at the table, particularly because they’re very aware at this exact moment as to what the subject matter is and exactly what we’re trying to determine here.
I want to bring this back to one key thing. The core part of the senator’s responsibility is signing that form that they submit to Senate Finance. That’s why we put such a priority on that. It’s Senator Dasko’s responsibility to certify — that’s what Senate Finance and people in the office rely on and she is certifying that by signing it — that the expense conforms to the Senate Rules and to the definition of parliamentary functions. They didn’t know it didn’t conform to the definition. She should have. We’re dealing with a senator here who is a very experienced pollster. This was her job prior to coming to the Senate. Composing poll questions is something she’s aware of and she should have been aware that it did not conform to Senate Rules.
Senator Tkachuk: I’ll try not to repeat what has been said, but we are opening up a Pandora’s box if we allow this to happen. We cannot move this motion. If it passes, it needs the amendment of Senator Tannas because we’re setting a precedent. If we simply pass the motion and pay for it, we’re saying this is fine. Then I will tell all senators that we will have more polls going on that are political than you can possibly imagine.
Regarding the question of whether Sen. Dasko followed the rules and the process, she followed the process, so she must have known the rules. She must have read the rules to follow the process. Being an experienced pollster is an even bigger problem because it should have clicked right away that I’m off course here. Sometimes we can’t cover every rule. We had problems on the housing issues only because people never realized that if you get appointed to the Senate you should know where you live.
Sometimes you can’t state the obvious, and you certainly can’t write a rule for everything, because some of it is up to you, as a person, in what you see as the right thing to do.
This is not the right thing to do. Senator Dasko did not do the right thing. Because she was experienced and because she was a pollster, she knew right away she should have checked it out, but she didn’t. I don’t think we should pay this. I know she did it, but sometimes people have to pay for their mistakes. What we’re saying is she followed the process and made a mistake, after the fact, so we should pay it. That’s not what we should be doing. We should expect her to pay it back and maybe no one else will do it again.
The Chair: After this, we’ll bring this to a vote.
Senator Moncion: I have some comments about the period during which the poll was conducted. It was conducted in March, several months before the election. What people have done with the replies to the polls arrived after the fact. That was the point when the information in the poll became political, because everyone was using it as they saw fit.
As for whether the process and the rules were followed, the important point here is that, if it is a problem to conduct a poll one year before an election, it would perhaps be a good idea for our rules to indicate that polls cannot be conducted within a year of an election. That would help to solve the problem. As for the argument that people do not know the rules, it is a matter of interpreting them. For some, they are clear; for others, they are not.
In Senator Dasko’s case, the rules were clear and she used them as she understood them. After that, we can interpret our rules in all kinds of ways and present information in all kinds of ways. We have to be careful about that. According to the three points that are often raised, it may be that our rules are not clear. We probably have to clarify them and include some guidelines so that the problem does not happen again.
So we could establish a period of time before which a poll can be held, and propose that questions be validated by the Senate’s independent legal counsel. We could include measures like that in the rules. As for the related interpretations and guidelines, those are discussions that we could have outside this context.
As things currently stand, however, the poll was done according to the rules and conducted in good faith. Therefore, the Senate must pay for it.
Senator Martin: I was not present for all of the discussion, so I’m just going to make a few comments, because I know I asked the question in the chamber about whether or not this was going to be further reviewed. I’m looking at this situation and hearing what my colleagues have said, and I would like to make a few comments.
First of all, in the 10 years I’ve been here, I don’t recall any one of my colleagues conducting a poll in this way. The only reason I say that is because I know that polls can be used in so many different ways to achieve different ends. The election began the day after the last election. We have seen polls cited in the media over the course of these past many years, including this year, which is an election year. So that’s one thing.
I’m not saying that Senator Dasko intended to use the information in a partisan way. She’s an expert in what she does. I’ve worked with her on other matters, so I know she approaches her work very seriously.
What I’m saying is in the chamber we’ve had so much debate and there are many reports in the Modernization Committee talking about the nature of the Senate and the process in which we do everything. This whole topic has been quite a hot potato for us. I think that’s, in part, why, as a partisan senator — I’m a Conservative senator, I ran in the 2008 election, and I pay attention to polls. So all of this raises a lot of red flags for me. That’s how I’m approaching it.
Assuming that Senator Dasko approached this in good faith and she’s newer to the Senate, and even after 10 years this is a new situation for me — this is why every issue does take careful study.
In my opinion, this motion is definitely not one that could be supported by those of us who have concerns that this much money — $15,000 is a lot of money for any person. To use public funds in this way, if there isn’t consensus, then I think the amendment is something that must be carefully considered. Perhaps it may not be today. Maybe there needs to be further reflection.
I also want to put on the record a quote from the Binnie report. For senators who were not here during the years of the forensic audit and everything that we had to go through, and how the rules became clearer for us in listing almost every type of activity we can and cannot do, what conforms and what doesn’t conform — we are so clear about that because of what we all had to go through as a chamber.
Here’s a quote from the Binnie report:
Senators are free to pursue issues which they consider to be in the public interest but, at some point, the cumulative cost in public money of a particular pursuit may become so disproportionate to the minor amount of public benefit to be achieved that it should cause a Senator to put on the brakes.
We all have to be vigilant in where we put our funds and how we spend public money. Yes, we do meet with stakeholders. We have that opportunity, and we can even travel to other parts of the country. In my opinion, with polls and such, there are experts and entities that already do that on an ongoing basis. For that reason, I do believe that Senator Tannas’ amendment is something that should be carefully considered by this committee.
Senator Tkachuk: I had a question. Why wasn’t the bill paid?
Mr. Lanctôt: Because when we received the invoice, at that time the discussion started in the public domain and CIBA was to discuss this topic. So we decided to withhold until we received clarity from the committee.
The Chair: I think they took the prudent approach in terms of stopping until we got clarity on this issue, and I did tell them to stop.
Senator Tkachuk: After The Globe and Mail story?
The Chair: No. After the senator’s office mentioned it in an interview following the survey. He mentioned it.
Senator Tkachuk: What’s the process? She submitted the bill?
The Chair: No. The bill came a couple of days after that.
Senator Tkachuk: So after the story?
Mr. Lanctôt: Yes, the bill came after it was already public information and the survey was already discussed. We received the invoice directly. Finance received the invoice directly. At that point, we knew that the committee would be discussing this topic, so we decided to wait for the committee to have the discussion.
Senator Tkachuk: The reason we didn’t pay it is because it was in the public square. If it wasn’t in the public square, it would have been paid.
The Chair: They took the prudent way. I don’t think you can fault them for that.
Senator Tkachuk: I’m not faulting anybody.
The Chair: Let’s move on.
Senator Tkachuk: I’m asking an important question. I know you’re trying to move on. I asked the question, so I have the right to finish that. Thank you.
The Chair: We have three motions on the table and two amendments. You all have a copy of the motion. The first amendment is by Senator Tannas to insert after “Senator Dasko,” “. . . notwithstanding the lack of consensus on this issue.”
Senator Saint-Germain has another amendment that says at the end of “Senators’ Office Management Policy”: “. . . while it is recognized that the committee is of the view that the rules should be reviewed.”
From my perspective, there are two issues. The first is getting the bill paid and finishing that issue. There is clearly a lack of consensus on what the rule is and how it should be interpreted and what an election is. There are two separate issues.
We have to deal with the first one. I think we should deal with the first one. It was done, in my view, with the understanding of the rules as they exist.
Then we have a separate issue. If we are uncomfortable as to how the rules are interpreted, we should have Senate Administration do a review and come back with a briefing note as to what suggestions they have to amend the rules, if any, and we can debate it.
Senator Frum: May I make a fourth option? If Senator Tannas’ amendment is not accepted, then by definition this motion is unnecessary, because the majority will vote for payment.
The Chair: No, we’re adding —
Senator Frum: No, because to put it on the record that it is affirmatively in the rules, which is wrong — it’s not true — just pay it, then, if you insist on paying it, but don’t put a stamp of approval on it by having this motion endorse the payment. Just pay it, then. That’s a judgment call that you’re making.
I want to say for the record that I think I made the point that the rules aren’t clear because there’s debate. I think the rules are very clear. Senator Martin said those of us who were here through the Senate scandal, the last one, there are those of us who did not have to reimburse the Senate whatsoever because we found the rules to be completely clear.
I find this rule to be completely clear. I think it was violated.
If you want to pay the bill, pay it, but don’t force us to vote for a motion that says it is in compliance. It’s not.
Senator Saint-Germain: I would agree to include Senator Tannas’ amendment additionally to my amendment. That would highlight the lack of consensus. At the same time, I believe we have a consensus on the relevance of at least reviewing or —
Senator Moncion: Could you repeat it so that we can write it down?
The Chair: I’ll read it out to you in its entirety, combining both amendments, if I may.
The motion is as follows:
That the committee authorize the Senate Administration to pay the expense for the poll commissioned by Senator Dasko, notwithstanding the lack of consensus on this issue, as it was conducted in conformity with the Senate Administrative Rules and the Senators’ Office Management Policy. However, it is recognized that the committee is of the view that the rules should be subsequently reviewed.
Is that okay, senators?
Senator Munson: It’s okay by me.
Senator Tannas: Close enough.
Senator Batters: I would like a recorded vote.
The Chair: Let’s have a recorded vote. Do you want us to type this and circulate it, or are we happy with the way I read it out?
Pascale Legault, Chief Corporate Service Officer and Clerk of the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, Senate of Canada: Honourable senators, I will call the member’s name, beginning with the chair, and then going in alphabetical order. Senators should verbally indicate where they vote for, against or abstain.
The Honourable Senator Marwah?
Senator Marwah: For.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Batters?
Senator Batters: Against.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Dalphond?
Senator Dalphond: For.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Dawson?
Senator Dawson: For.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Dean?
Senator Dean: For.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Frum?
Senator Frum: Against.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Martin?
Senator Martin: No.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Marshall?
Senator Marshall: Against.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Moncion?
Senator Moncion: For.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Munson?
Senator Munson: For.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Omidvar?
Senator Omidvar: For.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Saint-Germain?
Senator Saint-Germain: For.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Tannas?
Senator Tannas: For.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Tkachuk?
Senator Tkachuk: No.
Ms. Legault: The Honourable Senator Verner?
Senator Verner: Yes.
The Chair: The result is 10 for, 5 against. The revised motion is passed. Let’s move on to the next item.
Senator Dean: I have a point of order. It’s a very serious matter, chair.
I heard Senator Batters earlier on the issue that we’ve just concluded say that Senator Dasko knew at the time that two of her questions violated Senate Rules. This is a point of order that relates to Senate rule 6-13(1), (2) and (3). They speak to unparliamentary language. They speak to sharp and taxing language.
I believe that Senator Batters’ comment imputes a motive to an honourable independent senator that is not true and, in any event, cannot be proven. I believe that’s a violation of the senator’s rights and parliamentary rights.
As a result of that, I’m asking that Senator Batters retract these words or offer an apology acceptable to the Senate, subject to rule 6-13(3).
The Chair: Senator Batters, do you care to respond?
Senator Batters: Yes, I do. I think what you were referring to is what I stated in my opening comments, and I actually had it all written out. What I stated, actually, was even though she would have known that two of her ten poll questions violated that section of the Senate Rules.
To me, as I stated later, she is an experienced pollster. I indicated that she did certify by signing that particular Senate Finance form that her poll properly fell within the scope of the parliamentary functions. I do believe she should have known, and she would have known that two of those poll questions violated that section of the Senate Rules.
That is not unparliamentary. That is simply indicating whether or not she should have known that. I think, particularly given her experience in this particular matter, this is not an unparliamentary matter; it’s a matter of exactly what was in an area of her expertise and that two of those poll questions were not appropriate.
She would have looked at the rules, as many others have said earlier, to consider whether it properly fell within the scope of parliamentary functions. That rule, as I pointed out in triplicate before, clearly fell outside the scope of that.
Senator Dean: The point of order stands. I believe that that comment imputes an improper motive to Senator Dasko. I believe it’s unparliamentary, and I would like the point of order to proceed. I’m looking for an apology.
The Chair: I’m going to ask Senate Administration to advise me on the point of order and to what extent it violates the rules. Again, I would remind senators to be respectful in their comments about other senators and ascribing motives or otherwise.
Senator Tkachuk: Could I read out something that came from Twitter from Julie Miville-Dechêne? “Too bad the Conservatives lied to their committee colleagues and said they would table six amendments to improve the bill. Lots of wasted time.”
Just a minute, now. I’m just making —
The Chair: Point of order. One at a time, please.
Senator Tkachuk: I’m just trying to make a point.
Senator Martin: As I was listening to Senator Dean raise his point of order and why, I was recalling various debates and comments during questions around the table in committee or elsewhere.
This is a very important and stressful situation because we’re talking about a senator and expenses, and all of us are wanting the best outcome.
I want to say, in defence of Senator Batters, as an experienced lawyer, she had it written down. She’s impeccable with her words. We all know that everything is recorded. The fact she said “she should have known,” in my opinion, is not accusing and pointing the finger and saying she knew, but rather it’s her opinion of how she’s assessing the situation. I don’t see the taxing language in there.
I think, because of what we’ve discussed and the situation which has been very tenuous, that I can understand why perhaps Senator Dean is raising this, but I don’t believe there’s any taxing language in what Senator Batters has said.
In the end, the outcome is that we have adopted a motion. It wasn’t unanimous, but Senator Dasko does not need to pay anything. She will have that paid, and we’ll be reviewing the rules.
I hope that will be considered. I don’t know if it has to go to administration.
The Chair: I will consider all matters. Again, what senators do outside of this committee meeting is really not an issue for me or members of this committee. We have to confine ourselves to what takes place in this committee. I’ll review it in the context of that with Senate Administration and come back in response to the point of order at the next meeting.
Senator Tkachuk: Senator Dasko isn’t here.
The Chair: No. That’s correct.
Senator Tkachuk: How does he know how she feels? I’m just asking.
The Chair: Let’s move on.
Senator Tkachuk: How do you know?
Senator Dean: I need to say this. The fact that —
Senator Tkachuk: I’m all broken up. What happened here?
Senator Dean: Please. First of all, I think this point of order is clear on its face. It’s not an issue that comes from the context of a stressful situation. I think the record will show that it wasn’t “should have”; it was “would have known.” Senator Batters has clarified that.
The point about Senator Dasko’s absence from here makes this comment so much worse, in my view, because she wasn’t here to defend herself. So the point of order stands. I think it’s relevant.
The Chair: Last item, Senator Batters, and then let’s move on. I’ll take thank you under advisement and report at a later date.
Senator Batters: On that last point, certainly Senator Dasko was free to attend, as all senators are free to attend these particular meetings. She could have attended as a member of the Independent Senators Group or on her own accord.
I have one final point on that. This is a matter of debate. If I am not allowed to say matters like that, that is a far cry from taxing or sharp language for me to say what I did. We’re dealing with a situation where a senator signed something. So we need to examine what was behind that particular matter, and we need to examine the fact of her past significant experience in this matter. If we’re not allowed to have these types of matters of debate on something like this, on an issue of $15,000 expense —
The Chair: Can we move on? I think this is enough. We’ve all discussed it. We understand the points. The points are well-known and are there for the record.
Senator Tkachuk: She has a right to defend herself and to make her point.
The Chair: She already made that point, Senator Tkachuk.
Senator Tkachuk: You should have cut him off.
The Chair: Anything else?
Senator Batters: This is a matter of debate, Mr. Chair, and I ask you to consider that if we’re not allowed to make points like that, I’m not sure what we would be able to say.
The Chair: I will consider all the points.
With that, we move on to the next item, item No. 4. Are there any other matters of public business? If not, we will go in camera.
(The committee continued in camera.)