Debates of the Senate (Hansard)
1st Session, 44th Parliament
Volume 153, Issue 15
Tuesday, February 8, 2022
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker
- SENATORS’ STATEMENTS
- ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS
- The Senate
- Bill to Amend the Criminal Code and the Identification of Criminals Act and to Make Related Amendments to Other Acts (COVID-19 Response and Other Measures)
- Foreign Affairs and International Trade
- Social Affairs, Science and Technology
- Agriculture and Forestry
- Committee of Selection
- Official Languages
- National Security and Defence
- Transport and Communications
- QUESTION PERIOD
- Public Safety
- Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
- Canadian Heritage
- Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
- Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
- Canadian Heritage
- ORDERS OF THE DAY
- Business of the Senate
- Criminal Code
- Canada Labour Code
- Bill to Change the Name of the Electoral District of Châteauguay—Lacolle
- Criminal Code
- Language Skills Act
- National Framework for a Guaranteed Livable Basic Income Bill
- The Senate
- Social Affairs, Science and Technology
- The Senate
- Audit and Oversight
- The Senate
- Business of the Senate
Tuesday, February 8, 2022
(Pursuant to rule 3-6(2), the adjournment of the Senate was extended from February 1, 2022, to February 8, 2022.)
The Senate met at 2 p.m., the Speaker in the chair.
The Late Alexa McDonough, O.C., O.N.S.
Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I am speaking to you today from the unceded land of the Mi’kmaq people.
Honourable senators, leadership can come from the most unsuspected places. It need not be loud. It need not be boastful, but instead a quiet dignity that, once recognized and given an opportunity to flourish, can be an inspiration to all. Such was the life and political career of Alexa McDonough. Sadly, Alexa passed away on January 15 of this year. Although she suffered a lengthy struggle with Alzheimer’s disease over the past number of years, our memories of her life and achievements remain intact.
Alexa’s early career was spent as a social worker in Nova Scotia. This work offered her an exposure to the true needs and social dilemmas experienced by many, and insight into the gaps between work on the ground and corresponding policies. While this knowledge would be what would propel her into a career of politics, in truth her involvement with social activism began much earlier. She was exposed to progressive politics by her father, a businessperson, Lloyd Shaw.
At the age of 14, Alexa led her church group in publicizing the conditions of Africville, a low-income, predominantly Black neighbourhood in Halifax.
After graduating from Dalhousie University, Alexa became a social worker. In 1979 and 1980, she made her first bid at electoral politics, running for the New Democrats in the riding of Halifax, though unsuccessfully. Later that same year, despite not having a seat in the provincial house of assembly, Alexa made a bid for leadership of the Nova Scotia NDP party, which she handily won. The following election, she won a seat representing the district of Chebucto. She spent the next three years as a caucus of one. She was the only woman in the Nova Scotia Legislature.
Alexa was not one to shy away from the difficulties she faced in this position, and she spoke out often about the misogynistic and sexist personal attacks she endured, even highlighting the lack of a separate women’s washroom for MLAs. She held this position until she resigned in 1994.
Although having left with no expectations of what the future might hold, she decided to put her name forward for the leadership of the federal NDP party in 1995. Again, seemingly defying odds, she was successful. She won her first seat in the House of Commons in 1997. She held the position of leader until 2003, and she retired from elected politics in 2008.
Throughout her political career, Alexa remained a champion for strong social programs and gender equality. In 2009, she was announced as interim president of Mount Saint Vincent University. That same year Alexa was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada, and received the Order of Nova Scotia in 2012.
Underestimated at every turn, honourable senators, nevertheless, she persisted. This determination and, indeed, Alexa’s life as a whole, serve as an inspiration to all Canadians and particularly to Canadian women.
My thoughts are with her family and friends. I know they are proud of the legacy of leadership that is Alexa McDonough’s.
Honourable senators, a true measure of the legacy of Alexa McDonough was one of her life’s lessons to her sons, Travis and Justin. That was, “How you treat people who can do nothing in return is the ultimate judge of your character.” That is, I believe, a lesson for each of us. Thank you.
Hon. Mary Coyle: Honourable senators, I rise today in Mi’kma’ki to pay tribute to the late Alexa McDonough. Upon learning of her passing on January 15, I posted the following on social media:
Joining my fellow Nova Scotians and admirers of Alexa McDonough from coast to coast to coast, in singing the praises and mourning the painful loss of this remarkable, accomplished woman.
Alexa blazed a wide welcoming trail, creating space for so many to pursue progress for our society, be it through politics, social activism, her beloved field of social work, education or any other pathway toward human betterment.
What mattered to Alexa was making a positive difference, especially for the most vulnerable and excluded and doing that with integrity, kindness, respect and a genuine commitment to inclusion.
I feel so fortunate to have known Alexa and to have learned from and been supported by this iconic leader and most memorably, this very warm loving human being.
A trailblazing leader of both the New Democratic Party of Nova Scotia and the federal NDP, Alexa used her power and influence for good. Whether it was standing up for Donald Marshall, Jr. when he was wrongly convicted, for the families of the victims of Westray Mine disaster, for Maher Arar, for health care workers, for single mothers, Alexa was consistent and dogged in her pursuit of justice.
In the wake of the 9/11 tragedy and the ensuing Islamophobia hysteria, Alexa said in Parliament:
We need Canadians to know that Osama is a Canadian name, that Mohammed is a Canadian name and that worshipping in a mosque is a Canadian tradition.
Alexa was on the right side of history, even if she took stands that were not popular at the time.
Colleagues, Alexa’s scalp must have been riddled with scars from the glass ceilings she broke through and her hands calloused from repeatedly breaking new ground with and for so many.
Honourable senators, Alexa McDonough’s legacy lives on in the life we enjoy today in our province and country, in the legions of young women and girls she inspired and supported — women like Alexis MacDonald, Flora Murphy, Megan Leslie, Sionnach Hendra, Betsy MacDonald, Moraig MacGillivray and her namesake Lindsay Alexa Murphy, for whom she was safety in the storm.
She lives on in her dear friends, in her brother Robbie Shaw and in the beautiful family she nurtured and was so proud of: her sons Justin and Travis and her precious, precious grandchildren Abbie Jean, Lauchlan, Taylor, Saoirse, Elizabeth, Griffin and Charlie. Alexa loved and was loved. May she rest in peace knowing what a difference she has made. Thank you.
Hon. Frances Lankin: Honourable senators, I wish to start by saying thank you to Senators Cordy and Coyle for such beautiful tributes to Alexa. Senator Coyle, you took half of my speech, so I will just speak from the heart. I don’t often talk about my role in partisan politics from the past, but I spent many important years in my life in the New Democratic Party. Alexa was certainly an immense presence as a leader.
By the way, the media continue to refer to her as the first woman elected as the leader of a major political party provincially in Nova Scotia, but — and not to take all the credit due to her away — that’s not quite true. Hilda Watson from the Yukon was the first woman leader of a provincial party, the Conservative Party of the Yukon.
I had the opportunity to work on Alexa’s leadership campaign. I was a fervent supporter. I believed in her vision of social justice, equity and feminism. I believed in all that she had to bring to purposeful, quiet and important deliberations on the topics of the day.
She was a gentle soul with an iron will to continue to move ahead, but she also had a love of all, and that’s been expressed by my colleagues.
We have seen so much loss over the last few years, and it’s hard in this disquieted world that we’re in to take a moment to stop and think. But I had the opportunity to do that about Alexa, and it also made me think of my other favourite female federal leader in the NDP, Audrey McLaughlin, who was a dear friend to Alexa as well and with whom I was also able to work on her leadership campaign.
But this loss is hard. On Saturday night I saw the headline flash across my phone of another loss, and that was John Honderich, at 75, former publisher of the Toronto Star and chair of the board. Again, on a personal level, I thought, “How could somebody so full of life and love not be with us anymore?” He was a mentor of mine. He worked side by side with me at United Way. He helped me move into my roles in the Ontario Press Council and the National NewsMedia Council. He loved to connect people. He loved to connect gossip. He loved Toronto. He loved Canada, and many of us truly loved him, and for both of these amazing Canadians I mourn, and I share my mourning and my grief with all of you. Thank you very much.
Lunar New Year
Hon. Victor Oh: Honourable senators, I rise today to mark the occasion of Lunar New Year, a holiday that began on February 1 and is celebrated to February 15.
This year we celebrate the Year of the Tiger, which according to the zodiac calendar represents courage, strength, and generosity — traits we should embrace as we navigate the new challenges and opportunities in 2022.
The Lunar New Year is one of the most important festivals in traditional Asian culture. Beyond the transition of zodiac signs, it is a time for celebration with loved ones and an occasion to reflect on the past while we also contemplate the future.
During this time of reflection, we ought to remember the contribution of Canadians of Asian descent and their role in helping to turn Canada into this prosperous country.
This contribution came with challenges — such as the Chinese Immigration Act and the Chinese Exclusion Act — yet our community demonstrates steadfast resilience and perseverance as we embark on the Year of the Tiger.
I ask that you take pause to acknowledge our past while celebrating the achievements of Canadians of Chinese descent. This year the Lunar New Year also coincides with the Winter Olympics in Beijing, allowing Canadians and the global community to share in the celebration of the Lunar New Year. These games are an opportunity for the world to come together through the unifying power of sport. It is also a time for our Canadian athletes to shine on the world stage and for us to celebrate their dedication and achievements.
Colleagues, in recognition of these two important events, I ask that you join me in wishing everyone a happy and prosperous Lunar New Year as we continue to cheer on Team Canada. Thank you.
The Late Harold (Harry) R. Steele, O.C.
Hon. David M. Wells (Acting Deputy Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, respecting the Speaker’s memo from November 20, I’ll be removing my mask and have notified my colleagues.
Honourable colleagues, I rise today to pay tribute to Newfoundland and Labrador businessman and humanitarian, the late Harry Steele. Although Mr. Steele is considered one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s most successful entrepreneurs, he was better known for his down-to-earth character and kindness. Harry Steele died January 28, 2022, at the age of 92.
Our limit of three minutes could never be enough time to truly give proper acknowledgment to all of Mr. Steele’s achievements and untold kindnesses to his community. Harry Steele was well known for successful investments in numerous sectors, including transportation, hospitality and broadcasting.
Born in the small fishing village of Musgrave Harbour on Newfoundland’s northeast coast, Mr. Steele came from humble beginnings, and despite his enormous success and significant contribution to society, he maintained that humility throughout his life.
With the help of a small grant and a modest sum he made as a member of the University Naval Training Division, Harry Steele headed to St. John’s where he earned a Bachelor of Education in 1953. Instead of pursuing a career in education, he joined the navy, serving more than 20 years, and retired from his final posting in Gander in 1974 at the rank of Lieutenant-Commander, which gave Mr. Steele the respected and enduring nickname The Commander.
It was during this service that he turned his attention to commercial enterprise with the purchase of a small hotel in Gander called The Albatross. The Albatross Hotel remained under his ownership until his passing.
Before retiring from the military, Mr. Steele started purchasing shares in Eastern Provincial Airways in the 1970s, which was a small struggling airline. The Newfoundland-based airline served all of Atlantic Canada. He eventually acquired control of the company and sold it to Canadian Pacific Airlines in 1984.
In 1981 Mr. Steele founded Newfoundland Capital Corporation, a transportation and communications company that owned newspapers and radio stations across the country. He also owned Universal Helicopters for over three decades until selling it in 2013. Following the sale of Universal Helicopters, he was quoted as humbly saying:
I’m just an ordinary stiff. Some people can see things coming from afar. I never did. I just adjust and adapt to what happens.
In 1992, Harry Steele was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 2002, after the sale of his printing and publishing assets, he took a step back and retired to his home in Gander; however, true to form, Mr. Steele did not completely leave behind all aspects of his empire he worked so hard to establish. It was only up until a few years before his passing that Mr. Steele would frequently drop by The Albatross to see that his customers and staff were being taken care of.
Although his mark on Newfoundland and Labrador was enormous, equally was his heart. His impact on all my province as well as his personal and business contributions in Gander have now been memorialized in the town’s community centre that bears his name. The contributions, both well known and little known, from Harry Steele were such that in 2018 I was honoured to award him a Senate sesquicentennial medal, which was accepted on his behalf by his son John Steele at Government House in St. John’s.
Harry Steele will be deeply missed by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians — indeed all Canadians — but mostly by his wife Catherine, three sons Peter, Rob and John and the greater Steele family. Honourable senators, today the Senate of Canada recognizes the immeasurable impact and countless contributions of Mr. Harry Steele.
Hon. Bev Busson: Honourable senators, I rise today with great pleasure to cheer on our Canadian Olympians and to acknowledge and celebrate Olympian Micah Zandee-Hart, from beautiful Saanichton, British Columbia. This wonderful 25‑year‑old made history in Beijing when she became the first B.C.-born player to play for Canada’s women’s national hockey team at the Winter Olympics. Micah began playing hockey as a little girl on a boys’ rep team as there were no girls’ teams at the time. Micah has always wanted to represent Canada at the Olympics, ever since she watched the women’s team go for gold in Salt Lake City in 2002. Well, Micah, your dream has come true.
Micah Zandee-Hart has had many career achievements in sport, among which she played in the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championships in 2019, where she and Canada took the bronze medal. In 2020, the world championships were cancelled due to the pandemic. In 2021, Micah Zandee-Hart missed the world championships due to a shoulder injury — an injury serious enough to require surgery. That did not set her back, for she is now a Canadian Olympian.
The Canadian women’s hockey team opened the Winter Olympics against Switzerland on February 2. Since then, they have faced Finland, the Russian Olympic Committee and the United States, remaining undefeated in the preliminary rounds.
As a British Columbian, I’m especially proud and delighted to know that Micah is inspiring our young athletes to participate in and aspire to become great in their sport — and by extension achievers in all the aspects of life. Micah, please know that British Columbia and all of Canada will rise together, celebrate together and cheer for you and all our Olympians in the days to come. Have fun, enjoy the experience and go for gold. Thank you, meegwetch.
Notice of Motion to Resolve that an Amendment to the Constitution (Saskatchewan Act) be Authorized to be Made by Proclamation Issued by the Governor General
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Honourable senators, I give notice that, at the next sitting of the Senate, I will move:
Whereas on October 21, 1880, the Government of Canada entered into a contract with the Canadian Pacific Railway Syndicate for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway;
Whereas, by clause 16 of the 1880 Canadian Pacific Railway contract, the federal government agreed to give a tax exemption to the Canadian Pacific Railway Company;
Whereas, in 1905, the Parliament of Canada passed the Saskatchewan Act, which created the Province of Saskatchewan;
Whereas section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act refers to clause 16 of the 1880 Canadian Pacific Railway Contract;
Whereas the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed on November 6, 1885, with the Last Spike at Craigellachie, and has been operating as a going concern for 136 years;
Whereas, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company has paid applicable taxes to the Government of Saskatchewan since the Province was established in 1905;
Whereas it would be unfair to the residents of Saskatchewan if a major corporation were exempt from certain provincial taxes, casting that tax burden onto the residents of Saskatchewan;
Whereas it would be unfair to other businesses operating in Saskatchewan, including small businesses, if a major corporation were exempt from certain provincial taxes, giving that corporation a significant competitive advantage over those other businesses, to the detriment of farmers, consumers and producers in the Province;
Whereas it would not be consistent with Saskatchewan’s position as an equal partner in Confederation if there were restrictions on its taxing powers that do not apply to other provinces;
Whereas on August 29, 1966, the then President of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, Ian D. Sinclair, advised the then federal Minister of Transport, Jack Pickersgill, that the Board of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company had no objection to constitutional amendments to eliminate the tax exemption;
Whereas section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982 provides that an amendment to the Constitution of Canada may be made by proclamation issued by the Governor General under the Great Seal of Canada where so authorized by resolutions of the Senate and House of Commons and of the legislative assembly of each province to which the amendment applies;
Whereas the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan, on November 29, 2021, adopted a resolution authorizing an amendment to the Constitution of Canada;
Now, therefore, the Senate resolves that an amendment to the Constitution of Canada be authorized to be made by proclamation issued by Her Excellency the Governor General under the Great Seal of Canada in accordance with the annexed schedule.
AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION OF CANADA
1.Section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act is repealed.
2.The repeal of section 24 is deemed to have been made on August 29, 1966, and is retroactive to that date.
3.This Amendment may be cited as the Constitution Amendment, [year of proclamation] (Saskatchewan Act).
Bill to Amend the Criminal Code and the Identification of Criminals Act and to Make Related Amendments to Other Acts (COVID-19 Response and Other Measures)
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate) introduced Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Identification of Criminals Act and to make related amendments to other Acts (COVID-19 response and other measures).
(Bill read first time.)
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, when shall this bill be read the second time?
(On motion of Senator Gold, bill placed on the Orders of the Day for second reading two days hence.)
Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Notice of Motion to Authorize Committee to Study Issues Relating to Foreign Relations and International Trade Generally
Hon. Peter M. Boehm: Honourable senators, I give notice that, at the next sitting of the Senate, I will move:
That the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, in accordance with rule 12-7(4), be authorized to examine such issues as may arise from time to time relating to foreign relations and international trade generally; and
That the committee report to the Senate no later than June 30, 2025.
Social Affairs, Science and Technology
Notice of Motion to Authorize Committee to Study Issues Relating to Social Affairs, Science and Technology Generally
Hon. Ratna Omidvar: Honourable senators, I give notice that, at the next sitting of the Senate, I will move:
That the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, in accordance with rule 12-7(9), be authorized to examine and report on such issues as may arise from time to time relating to social affairs, science and technology generally; and
That the committee submit its final report on this study to the Senate no later than June 12, 2025.
Agriculture and Forestry
Notice of Motion to Authorize Committee to Study Issues Relating to Agriculture and Forestry
Hon. Robert Black: Honourable senators, I give notice that, at the next sitting of the Senate, I will move:
That the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, in accordance with rule 12-7(10), be authorized to examine and report on such issues as may arise from time to time relating to agriculture and forestry; and
That the committee report to the Senate no later than December 31, 2023.
Committee of Selection
Notice of Motion to Authorize Joint Committees to Hold Hybrid Meetings
Hon. Michael L. MacDonald: Honourable senators, I give notice that, at the next sitting of the Senate, I will move:
That, notwithstanding any provision of the Rules, previous order or usual practice and pursuant to the order of the Senate on November 25, 2021, authorizing Senate committees to hold hybrid meetings, the Senate authorize standing joint committees to hold hybrid meetings;
(a)hybrid committee meetings be considered, for all purposes, to be meetings of the standing joint committee in question, and senators taking part in such meetings be considered, for all purposes, to be present at the meeting;
(b)for greater certainty, and without limiting the general authority granted when this order is adopted by the Senate, when a standing joint committee holds a hybrid meeting:
(i)all members of a standing joint committee participating count towards quorum;
(ii)such meetings be considered to be occurring in the parliamentary precinct, irrespective of where participants may be; and
(iii)the standing joint committees be directed to approach in camera meetings with all necessary precaution, taking account of the risks to confidentiality inherent in such technologies; and
(c)subject to variations that may be required by the circumstances, to participate by videoconference senators must:
(i) participate from an office or residence within Canada;
(ii)use a desktop or laptop computer and a headset with integrated microphone provided by the Senate for videoconferences;
(iii)not use other devices such as personal tablets or smartphones;
(iv)be the only people visible on the videoconference;
(v)have their video on and broadcasting their image at all times; and
(vi)leave the videoconference if they leave their seat; and
That a message be sent to the House of Commons to acquaint that House accordingly.
Notice of Motion to Authorize Committee to Study Francophone Immigration to Minority Communities
Hon. René Cormier: Honourable senators, I give notice that, at the next sitting of the Senate, I will move:
That the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages be authorized to examine and report on Francophone immigration to minority communities;
That, given that the federal government plans to develop an ambitious national Francophone immigration strategy, the committee be authorized to:
a)review the progress on the target for French-speaking immigrants settling outside of Quebec;
b)study the factors that support or undermine the ability of French-speaking immigrants to settle in Francophone minority communities;
c)study the factors that support or undermine the ability of Canada’s current immigration programs and measures to maintain the demographic weight of the French-speaking population;
d)study the measures and programs implemented by the Government of Canada to recruit, welcome and integrate French-speaking immigrants, refugees and foreign students;
e)study the impact of these measures and programs on the development and vitality of English-speaking communities in Quebec; and
f)identify ways to increase support for this sector and to ensure that the Government of Canada’s objectives can be met; and
That the committee submit its final report to the Senate no later than March 31, 2023, and that the committee retain all powers necessary to publicize its findings for 180 days after the tabling of the final report.
National Security and Defence
Notice of Motion to Authorize Committee to Study Issues Relating to National Defence and Security Generally
Hon. Tony Dean: Honourable senators, I give notice that, at the next sitting of the Senate, I will move:
That the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence be authorized to examine and report on matters relating to national defence and security generally, including veterans’ affairs, as stated in rule 12-7(15); and
That the committee submit its final report no later than June 30, 2023, and that the committee retain all powers necessary to publicize its findings until 180 days after the tabling of the final report.
Notice of Motion to Authorize Committee to Study Veterans Affairs
Hon. Tony Dean: Honourable senators, I give notice that, at the next sitting of the Senate, I will move:
That the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence be authorized to examine and report on:
(a) services and benefits provided to members of the Canadian Forces; to veterans who have served honourably in the Canadian Armed Forces in the past; to members and former members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and its antecedents; and all of their families; and
(b) commemorative activities undertaken by the Department of Veterans Affairs Canada, to keep alive for all Canadians the memory of Canadian veterans’ achievements and sacrifices; and
(c) continuing implementation of the Veterans Well‑being Act; and
That the committee report to the Senate no later than June 30, 2023, and that the committee retain all powers necessary to publicize its findings until 180 days after the tabling of the final report.
Notice of Motion to Authorize Committee to Study Issues Relating to Security and Defence in the Arctic
Hon. Tony Dean: Honourable senators, I give notice that, at the next sitting of the Senate, I will move:
That the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence be authorized to examine and report on issues relating to security and defence in the Arctic, including Canada’s military infrastructure and security capabilities; and
That the committee report to the Senate no later than June 30, 2023, and that the committee retain all powers necessary to publicize its findings until 180 days after the tabling of the final report.
Transport and Communications
Notice of Motion to Authorize Committee to Study Issues Relating to Transport and Communications Generally
Hon. Leo Housakos: Honourable senators, I give notice that, at the next sitting of the Senate, I will move:
That the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications be authorized to examine and report on matters relating to transport and communications generally, including:
(a)transport and communications by any means;
(c)common carriers; and
(d)navigation, shipping and navigable waters; and
That the committee submit its final report no later than September 30, 2025, and that the committee retain all powers necessary to publicize its findings for 180 days after the tabling of the final report.
Ottawa’s State of Emergency
Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, I would like to say it’s good to be back here in the chamber again, asking the government leader questions, but I think I would be lying if I said that. But it is good to see all of you. It is good to see all of you, especially those of you in the chamber.
Leader, on Sunday the City of Ottawa declared a state of emergency due to the ongoing demonstrations. Protests have spread beyond Ottawa to cities in other provinces as well. While all this was happening on the weekend, Canada’s prime minister was nowhere to be found, in hiding. Then, last night, when he finally showed up in the other place to speak during the emergency debate, he had nothing constructive to offer on how to resolve the situation peacefully and unite us as Canadians once again.
Last night, government leader, the leader of the official opposition asked the Prime Minister to sit down with her and other party leaders to find a solution — not to meet with the truckers, not to meet with the demonstrators, but to meet with all leaders. He ignored her request.
Leader, if the Prime Minister cannot even sit down with a fellow parliamentarian to discuss this, how does the Prime Minister expect to end this impasse?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question, honourable colleague. It’s good to have you back.
The Prime Minister and the Government of Canada have been working closely with the police, the Mayor of Ottawa and provincial authorities to seek a proper resolution to this situation.
The situation is an intolerable one for residents of the city who have been subjected to harassment and intimidation, to say nothing of inconvenience. Of course, protests are never convenient, but peaceful protests do not include the behaviour we have seen: the desecration of national monuments, the brandishing of Confederate flags and swastikas. The government remains committed to its approach to getting us out of this pandemic and will work constructively with all who are willing to work constructively to that end.
Senator Plett: I see nothing has changed over the holidays. You ask a question, and you get an answer that does not even come close to addressing the situation.
Speaking of the National War Memorial, I hope you also took note of all the flowers planted and the guards that the demonstrators have put there.
Leader, after the Prime Minister did his groundhog imitation and turned up again in the House of Commons, he showed no leadership. Canada needs leadership, and we are not getting it from this divisive Prime Minister.
The Trudeau government announced several weeks ago that it intends to extend the vaccine mandate to include interprovincial trucking. Leader, who would enforce this at the provincial borders? The RCMP? Provincial police? Municipal councillors?
Can you confirm, leader, that this foolish idea is now off the table?
Senator Gold: The Government of Canada, in consultation and working with provincial, territorial and municipal governments and others is doing whatever needs to be done to ensure the safety and security of Canadians. Decisions as to what additional measures or relaxation of measures are under active discussion and will be communicated when the decisions are made.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
Hon. Salma Ataullahjan: Honourable senators, my question is for the government leader in the Senate.
Senator Gold, Jawed Ahmad Haqmal, an Afghan interpreter saved the lives of Canadian soldiers during the war by intercepting a radio transmission while pretending to be a Taliban commander and effectively neutralizing a planned ambush. He was a marked man from that day onwards, he told me.
Today, Haqmal, along with his pregnant wife, four children and seven relatives have been stuck in Kiev for the past five months after fleeing Kabul. They have an expired Ukrainian humanitarian visa, no money, and no one in the family has a winter coat. They face the growing threat of a Russian invasion. Despite having been told by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada that his claim has been accepted, he remains trapped in Ukraine.
Senator Gold, I have spoken with Jawed and only got a glimpse of his desperate situation. How is the government planning to help Jawed Ahmad Haqmal and his family in Ukraine?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): The Government of Canada is grateful for the assistance that people such as the gentleman you mentioned have provided to Canada and is working seriously with its consular offices to find solutions to the many who find themselves in difficult situations. I’m not in a position to comment on specific cases, so I cannot answer your question. I will certainly make inquiries and, where appropriate, report back to the chamber.
Senator Ataullahjan: Senator Gold, our government has ordered Canadians to leave Ukraine because of security and safety reasons. Additionally, Canada has issued a travel advisory over heightened concerns of a Russian invasion.
Senator Gold, I have learned that Jawed has been contacting friends and family in the hopes of getting money to feed his family. In fact, a reporter at The Globe and Mail has been sending funds for the past five months to pay for his groceries.
Jawed Ahmad Haqmal saved Canadian military lives and has already gone through the gruelling process of escaping the Taliban. Why has the IRCC not prioritized his case?
Senator Gold: Thank you again for your question and for your commitment to seeing progress made in this case. I will make inquiries with regard to the IRCC process. I’m just not in a position to provide the information you have requested.
Hon. Ratna Omidvar: Honourable senators, my question is for Senator Gold, the representative of the government in the Senate.
Senator Gold, I, too, will stick with Afghanistan. My question is about the many Afghan human rights defenders, interpreters, former colleagues of the Government of Canada, Canada’s Armed Forces and Canadian civil society organizations and others who meet all the explicit and stated criteria for resettlement in Canada. However, their files appear to be stuck in bureaucratic logjams. I have to conclude that this happens because there are three different ministries, often with different mandates, protocols and priorities. They are Global Affairs Canada, Public Safety Canada and IRCC.
Senator Gold, can you tell us if the government has or is planning to initiate a high-level cabinet committee comprised of the three ministers of these departments? Only they can break these logjams, not the bureaucrats. Such a proposal has been made in a non-partisan manner by three leaders we all know from different corners of the political spectrum. They are Peter MacKay, former Minister of Foreign Affairs; Ed Broadbent, the former leader of the NDP; and Allan Rock, former Attorney General of Canada.
Is the government planning to act on this sage and sound advice from the voices of experience?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question, senator. Indeed, the three former parliamentarians you mentioned are experienced, and government would look with interest at their input and advice.
I will make inquiries as to the status of that issue within the government and will be pleased to report back.
Hon. Marty Deacon: Honourable senators, my question is for the Government Representative in the Senate.
Before Christmas, you will recall that I talked about the importance of the work involved in getting Afghans out of Afghanistan. At this moment, I would like to talk about the ones who have arrived in Canada.
Canada was committed to bringing in 40,000 Afghan refugees who are escaping persecution at the hands of the Taliban. Of the 7,200 people that Canada has admitted so far, many are stuck in limbo and, in fact, are languishing in hotel rooms around the country. I have spoken with some refugees who have been offered asylum and have arrived, but they are still awaiting their permanent resident cards. In fact, I have sat down and tried to complete this daunting paper work online with them.
As you no doubt appreciate, without this document they cannot work, access education for themselves or their children, obtain health care or start a new life. Some of them are incredible and have gotten jobs but cannot go to work. They are highly motivated professionals who, in spite of trauma, are desperate to carry on their lives and start their families. Volunteers, it seems, are carrying a great load in this work.
What is the government doing to expedite this process in Canada for those who have made the harrowing journey to our country so they can make a new life and begin truly contributing to our rich and diverse way of life here in Canada?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question. The government is working hard to ensure the proper treatment of all of the applications to which you refer. It is also working very hard to make sure that the living conditions of those who are awaiting the resolution of their applications, the completion of the process, are well taken care of.
It is working with a network of highly trained resettlement assistance program service providers to accommodate as many as possible, and is in constant contact with those service providers to ensure they are meeting the needs of those for whom they are responsible. There are daily reports on the situation in hotels. The government is gathering, through these service providers, input and feedback from those who benefit from the various assistance programs offered to them.
Senator M. Deacon: In January, some Western countries were in talks with the Taliban directly in Oslo. I’m wondering today what the Government of Canada is planning to do, if it is planning to do the same as this group or where they fit in this very important conversation.
Senator Gold: The Government of Canada, in particular through the Minister of Foreign Affairs, is in regular contact with its allies and is keeping a close eye on the situation in Afghanistan and making sure it is doing its part to assist in this humanitarian crisis.
Hon. Peter Harder: Honourable senators, my question is for the Government Representative in the Senate.
This week and next, many of us are and will be glued to our television sets cheering on Canadian athletes as they compete in the Olympic Winter Games. But aside from the vicarious pleasure of watching our best athletes compete for medals, participating in sport is an important part of learning how to work with others, improve self-esteem, develop friendships and be a part of something.
The organization Special Olympics Canada works to make these life benefits available to Canadians with intellectual disabilities. It has been a great success. Unfortunately, the pandemic has forced the suspension of much the organization’s in-person programming, which has, in turn, negatively affected participation in the program. As a result, the Special Olympics is asking that the four-year agreement — providing an extra $1.8 million per year — now be made permanent.
With the agreement expiring, would the Government Representative agree to report to this chamber whether the government will be extending this program?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): It would be my pleasure to do so. Thank you for the question and for raising this important program that benefits so many Canadians with a disability.
Senator Harder: We all know that Special Olympics provide many benefits, such as providing sports programming at low or no cost to families. They also give back to Canadian communities, providing more than$7 of social benefits for every dollar invested.
The next Special Olympics World Winter Games are less than a year away. In making his representations, I wonder if the Government Representative would appeal to the Minister of Finance to include a provision for this $1.8 million to be continued in the next budget.
Senator Gold: I will certainly pass on that request. Thank you again for your question.
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
Access to High-Speed Broadband Networks
Hon. Robert Black: Honourable senators, my question is for the Government Representative in the Senate.
As you know, I live just outside of Fergus, Ontario, and I, along with many of my neighbours, do not have adequate broadband internet access. This is unfortunately the case in most rural, remote and Northern communities.
The government is currently preparing for the next spectrum auction. These airwaves are important. They are prime real estate for both 5G and rural wireless internet access. While the government’s existing policies are meant to bolster urban competition, they do not. These policies let some companies buy spectrum cheaply, hold on to unused airwaves and flip them years later for millions or hundreds of millions of dollars in profit.
The good news is that the government has a way to advance rural connectivity right now, namely with a “use it or lose it” spectrum policy. In fact, it is included in the mandate letter of the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry.
Honourable colleagues, it is evident that there is enough spectrum for several carriers in urban and rural markets; however, policy changes must be made to ensure carriers are not buying these airwaves just to hold on to them.
Senator Gold, will the government implement caps on the number of airwaves any one carrier can buy in addition to the “use it or lose it” policy in the upcoming auction to ensure that carriers are required to use them to connect rural Canadians?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for raising this important issue. It is important for so many people in rural areas.
I have made inquiries of the government regarding this question, but I have not yet received an answer. As soon as I do, I will report to the chamber in a timely fashion.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
Hon. Marilou McPhedran: Honourable senators, my question is for the Government Representative in the Senate.
As some of my colleagues have already mentioned, we have less than 8,000 of the initial 20,000 Afghan refugees resettled in Canada. We have a problem, Senator Gold, and my question is with regard to the inaction of cabinet in actually following through on the election promise to increase our commitment to 40,000 — a promise that was then placed in Minister Fraser’s mandate letter.
Now many senators face a situation where, in trying to assist people to get to Canada — people whom we have managed to help to get out of Afghanistan — are now caught in limbo in many different countries, Ukraine being one example and Sri Lanka another.
For example, there is a 20-year-old woman very much at risk in another country. In trying to find a place for her in the allotments, what became clear, in speaking to agencies that are supposed to have the spaces allocated to them by our government, is that there are currently no spaces.
Why is that? Because cabinet has not yet officially followed through on that promise to increase the number to 40,000. We therefore have not yet had an allocation of the spaces. In some cases we are able to facilitate bringing Afghans to Canada, including women at risk, but the agencies that can help them don’t have the spaces they need.
My question to you, Senator Gold, and to the government is this: What is the delay? When can we see this very simple, straightforward decision to implement a promise actually fulfilled?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you, senator, for your question.
The government remains committed to its goal of receiving 40,000 Afghan refugees. It continues to work in close collaboration with its trusted international and local partners to work toward the creation of a second stream — a humanitarian stream — to welcome additional Afghan nationals, including women leaders, human rights advocates and others in vulnerable situations.
Senator McPhedran: Senator Gold, could you please commit to conveying to the government the specific request that they take action and do what they need as cabinet and confirm this decision of 40,000 spaces, release the second 20,000 spaces and get the allotments out to the organizations that are waiting to help? They are paralyzed because this commitment has not been made.
Senator Gold: I will convey that to my counterparts.
Bilingual Proficiency Requirements
Hon. Claude Carignan: Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate.
Leader, on January 31, Sean Fraser, the federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, held a press conference on the backlog of 1.8 million immigration files waiting to be processed. He held a press conference in English only and politely asked a francophone journalist to ask his question in English.
Is the Prime Minister aware of this incident? Does the Prime Minister intend to apologize to Canadians for this unilingual anglophone press conference?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for that question, honourable colleague. Minister Fraser understands the importance of Canada’s linguistic duality. I am told that he is working very hard each week to learn and improve on his French. He has made a lot of progress since 2015.
Not to make excuses, but to put things into context, the entire press conference was translated into French, as is every press conference held in the National Press Theatre.
Senator Carignan: How can the Prime Minister criticize Air Canada’s CEO for speaking in English only at a press conference and asking journalists to ask questions in English only, while at the same time accepting such behaviour from his minister?
Senator Gold: As I said, Minister Fraser is making efforts to improve his French. The government and the Prime Minister still have confidence in him.
Modernization of the Official Languages Act
Hon. Rose-May Poirier: My question is for Senator Gold, the Government Representative in the Senate. Last week, the federal government once again failed to uphold its commitment to minority language communities. It broke its promise to introduce a bill to modernize the Official Languages Act within the first 100 days of cabinet being sworn in. It is getting harder and harder to take the Trudeau government seriously on language rights issues. When will this bill be introduced?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for the question. Modernizing the Official Languages Act is a priority for the government. As you know, dear colleague, just a week and a half ago, the Federal Court of Appeal released a decision relating to the Official Languages Act. That decision requires the government to spend some time analyzing what impact, if any, the appeal court decision could have on how legislation is drafted.
I am told that the bill modernizing the Official Languages Act will be introduced in the House of Commons in the weeks to come. As soon as that happens, the exact date will be known.
Senator Poirier: The government also has a nasty habit of sending us bills at the last minute, which prevents us from reviewing and debating the proposed legislation properly.
This bill will require serious study, and all this delay on the part of your government worries me, because I’m afraid that, come June, we’ll be urged to pass it quickly.
Can you promise us that once this bill reaches the Senate, it will be given serious consideration and properly debated?
Senator Gold: Thank you for the question. Before a government bill is introduced in the Senate, as I have done today, the way it will be dealt with is discussed collegially and in collaboration with my counterparts from all parties and parliamentary groups. I assure you that I have every confidence in my colleagues and in this collegial process, and we will find ways to ensure that the Senate has enough time to study the bills properly so we can do our job of providing sober second thought.
Ombudsman for Victims of Crime
Hon. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu: Senator Gold, on December 7, I asked you a question about the position of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. For five months, victims of crime have had no representation in our federal institutions. Your government has again shown that victims are not a priority by violating their rights, which are guaranteed by the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.
I would like to quote a passage from an article published on January 17 in the Toronto Star, describing the position of former ombudsman Heidi Illingworth.
Illingworth told the Toronto Star that it’s a “significant gap” when the position is vacant and expressed hope that it’s “filled sooner rather than later” given what she described as “high levels of private violence and victimization” happening in homes during the pandemic.
Illingworth suggested that the position “has a critical role in highlighting and reviewing systemic issues that negatively affect victims and emerging issues.”
Senator Gold, you promised this chamber that you would come back with a response from the government explaining these delays.
The position of Correctional Investigator, the ombudsman for criminals, has never been vacant longer than 24 hours in the past 10 years. What do you have to say to victims of crime about the fact that the position of Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime went unfilled for a year in 2017 and has been vacant for the past five months?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for the question, dear colleague.
I have made inquiries about this with the government. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard back, but I will follow up in order to answer your question.
Senator Boisvenu: I would remind you that in the past six and a half years, the Liberal government has not introduced or proposed a single bill to improve the lives and rights of victims of crime. The article I mentioned earlier also pointed out that the five-year review of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights was scheduled for 2020 but still has not been completed by the government.
When will the government do its job and complete the review of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights?
Senator Gold: I’ll inquire about the government’s plans on that and get back to you as soon as possible.
Canada’s Inflation Rate
Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition): Senator Gold, in December, inflation rose 4.8% over year-to-year standing. As Liberal MP Lightbound said, standing at its highest point in 30 years. This is a Liberal MP in his honest critique of his government.
Home heating and insurance costs are up. Natural gas prices in Manitoba rose by 26%. Gasoline prices across the country have risen about 33%. The average Canadian family will pay almost a thousand dollars more for groceries this year. Almost 60% of respondents to a recent Angus Reid poll said they are already having a difficult time feeding their families.
Leader, many Canadians cannot make ends meet, yet Minister Freeland refers to legitimate questions on inflation as a false narrative as we see over and over again — and we saw it even in some of the Leader of the Government’s answers here today. How can the Trudeau government be so disconnected from the cost of everyday life in Canada?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question. The Government of Canada, far from being disconnected, is intimately seized with the issue of the difficulties Canadians have been facing for some time due to disruptions in the economy caused by many factors. The Government of Canada has put forward a number of initiatives to address issues such as the rising cost of housing and the fact that affordable housing seems out of reach for far too many, especially of younger generations.
Other measures that were announced in the fall fiscal update are contained in legislation that is currently being debated in the other place, and we also anticipate additional measures will be apparent when the budget is presented this spring.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Business of the Senate
Hon. Raymonde Gagné (Legislative Deputy to the Government Representative in the Senate): Honourable senators, pursuant to the order of December 7, 2021, I wish to inform the Senate that Question Period with the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, P.C., M.P., Minister of Health, will take place on February 9, 2022, at 3 p.m.
Canada Labour Code
Bill to Amend—Second Report of Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee on Subject Matter Discharged
On Government Business, Reports of Committees, Other, Order No. 1:
Consideration of the second report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (Subject matter of Bill C-3, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Canada Labour Code), tabled in the Senate on December 15, 2021.
Hon. Raymonde Gagné (Legislative Deputy to the Government Representative in the Senate): Honourable senators, I move that Order No. 1 under “Reports of Committee — Other” which deals with the subject matter of Bill C-3 that was adopted last December be discharged from the Order Paper.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Bill to Amend—Second Report of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee on Subject Matter Discharged
On Government Business, Reports of Committees, Other, Order No. 3:
Consideration of the second report (interim) of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs (Subject matter of Bill C-3, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Canada Labour Code), tabled in the Senate on December 16, 2021.
Hon. Raymonde Gagné (Legislative Deputy to the Government Representative in the Senate): Honourable senators, pursuant to rule 5-7(k), I move that Order No. 3 under the heading “Reports of Committees — Other,” which deals with the subject matter of Bill C-3 that was passed in December, be discharged from the Order Paper.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Bill to Change the Name of the Electoral District of Châteauguay—Lacolle
Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond moved third reading of Bill S-207, An Act to change the name of the electoral district of Châteauguay—Lacolle.
He said: Honourable senators, I’ll be brief today. I thank the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which has studied this bill and has reported it back without amendment. I would like to acknowledge Senator Audette’s contribution to the debate. She took it upon herself to proactively reach out to the Mohawks of Kahnawà:ke First Nation to ask if they had any comments to make. I hope the electoral boundaries commissions will follow her lead and take the initiative to consult with First Nations in the territories covered by the electoral districts that are being redrawn.
I urge you to pass this bill today and send it back to the House of Commons, where it began nearly three years ago, so we can bring it to a successful conclusion, perhaps even before the next election, which may come sooner than we think.
With that, I will turn it over to Senator Carignan, who may have a few words to say.
Hon. Claude Carignan: Yes, to put it in legal terms, I do not dissent from my colleague on this bill. I think an honest mistake was made, and changing the name will correct that mistake. It’s a bit sad that, in the age of high-speed internet, it takes three and a half years to send a message from the House of Commons to the Senate.
I agree, and I move that we proceed immediately to third reading of the bill.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
(Motion agreed to and bill read third time and passed.)
Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Debate Continued
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Jaffer, seconded by the Honourable Senator Forest, for the second reading of Bill S-213, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (independence of the judiciary).
Hon. Paula Simons: Honourable senators, I am pleased today to speak to you about Bill S-213, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (independence of the judiciary).
I speak today with a certain sense of déjà vu. It was almost two years ago precisely in February 2020 that I rose in the chamber to speak to what was then known as Bill S-208, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (independence of the judiciary). And it was in November 2020 that I gave my inaugural Senate speech via video from this same desk in this same room on what was then known as Bill S-207, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (independence of the judiciary).
Both Bill S-207 and Bill S-208 were sponsored by our esteemed colleague Senator Kim Pate, and both died on the Order Paper.
This session, it is another esteemed colleague Senator Jaffer who is bringing this bill forward. While I honour and salute both Senator Pate and Senator Jaffer, I wasn’t sure I was going to speak to this bill in its current incarnation. After all, I have made my arguments in this chamber more than once.
The blinkered adoption of mandatory minimum sentences in our Criminal Code ties the hands of our judges. It forces them to impose one-size-fits-all sentences without nuance, mercy or common sense. This approach often robs them of discretion, imagination and flexibility. A mandatory sentencing rubric undermines judicial independence and, in the worst cases, reduces judges to little more than rubber stamps — humanoid algorithms who have to impose a penalty without any reference to the specific facts, specific case or a specific circumstance of a specific offender.
Beyond that, the threat of mandatory minimum sentences often frightens people into accepting plea deals rather than fighting their cases in court, for fear they might receive an especially heavy sentence should they lose. These sentences distort our criminal justice system and undermine public faith in the impartiality and independence of our courts.
So, having said all that and having it said more than once, why did I decide I needed to speak to this bill in its most current iteration? It’s primarily because I wanted to update you all on the case of Helen Naslund, the Alberta woman whose story I first told you in this chamber back in November 2020.
To remind anyone who has forgotten, or to bring up to date those who weren’t here when I last spoke, Helen Naslund was a farm wife who lived near Holden, Alberta. She had endured a lifetime of physical, mental and economic abuse at the hands of her husband Miles, a violent drunk who held Helen a virtual prisoner on their failing family farm. On a September night in 2011, after an evening of violence and threats, Miles finally passed out and Helen Naslund, pushed to the end of her endurance, in fear of what might happen next, took a .22 revolver and put a bullet in the back of his head. Then, with the help of one of her sons, she weighed down and hid the body in a nearby slough.
It took years before neighbourhood gossip gave the RCMP the tip they needed to find the body.
The Crown charged Helen Naslund with first-degree murder. The mandatory minimum sentence? Life in prison, with no parole consideration for at least 25 years. Given Naslund’s age, that might literally have been a life sentence — and a death sentence.
And so, on the advice of her lawyer, and with the agreement of the Crown prosecutor, Helen Naslund pled guilty to manslaughter and accepted a sentence of 18 years — one of the longest ever for manslaughter in the wake of domestic abuse. She might have been able to advance a legitimate argument at trial that she acted in self-defence or that she acted in a moment of extreme emotional disturbance and was perhaps not criminally responsible for her actions. But faced with the real prospect of spending the rest of her life behind bars, she took the deal, poor though it was.
Mrs. Naslund was sentenced in October 2020, and her case immediately provoked outrage from women’s groups, legal academics, retired judges and social activists from across the country and around the world. She even attracted advocates and supporters from as far away as Afghanistan.
Could Helen Naslund appeal her sentence? It wouldn’t be easy. After all, it had been agreed to by the judge, the Crown and her own lawyer — and by the defendant herself.
The test to overturn a sentence agreed to by all such parties is extremely strict, for obvious reasons. A sentence must not just be deemed demonstrably unfit, but rather so unacceptably harsh that the sentencing judge’s agreement to accept it would not only be contrary to the public interest but would bring the administration of justice itself into disrepute. More than that, a defendant has only 30 days to appeal a sentence, and those 30 days had passed.
Our own Senator Pate played a key role in helping Helen Naslund win an unusual extension of the appeal period and in connecting her with one of Edmonton’s fiercest and most effective criminal defence lawyers Mona Duckett.
Last month the Alberta Court of Appeal, in a 2 to 1 ruling, found in favour of Helen Naslund and reduced her sentence by half.
Madam Justice Sheila Greckol, writing for the majority, found that the sentence was so “unhinged” from the circumstances of the crime that it could give reasonable observers the impression that the proper functioning of the justice system had broken down. Moreover, Madam Justice Greckol found that the risk of a mandatory minimum sentence had created a power imbalance that had led to what she called a “coercive bargain” which gave the Crown further leverage to extract a guilty plea.
Madam Justice Greckol continued:
. . . a woman subjected to 27 years of egregious abuse may be accustomed to seeing herself as worthy only of harsh punishment. That does not mean the justice system should follow suit.
Helen Naslund is still in prison, but she will at least be eligible for parole next year. Thanks to the hard work of advocates from across the world, including Senator Pate, this one abused wife from a rural Alberta farm has just now received some measure of justice. But the Naslund case should lay bare some of the fundamental problems with mandatory minimum sentences which can themselves become unhinged from the facts of the case, and leave reasonable observers and reasonable Canadians with a well-founded belief that the proper functioning of the justice system has indeed broken down.
What is the point of having judges? What is the point of talking about the principles of judicial independence if we do not trust judges to listen to the facts, weigh the evidence, consider all of the circumstances and justly apply the law?
In a free and fair democracy, the judiciary should not be controlled by government edict. And neither MPs nor senators should be micromanaging our courts. If we want our judges to administer impartial, thoughtful justice, we can’t back-seat drive from behind the bench. Today, I stand again with my friends Senator Jaffer and Senator Pate. And today, I stand with judges and justices across Canada who share an awesome and solemn responsibility. Let us restore public confidence in our courts, remove the partisan politics from sentencing and let those whom we have asked to sit in judgment use their own best judgment when circumstances require. Thank you, hiy hiy.
Hon. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu: Thank you for your speech on this bill.
I am always shocked when you try to justify abolishing minimum sentences by using extreme cases as examples.
I will share some current data from Quebec. Between 2015 and 2019, the number of house arrests increased by 22%. Between 2020 and 2021, 5,047 criminals were sentenced to house arrest instead of receiving intermittent sentences, which are served on the weekends.
How can you say that our justice system doesn’t give judges the freedom to hand down more lenient sentences in general, aside from individual cases?
Senator Simons: Thank you very much for that question, Senator Boisvenu. In the case of house arrest, these are obviously not cases that have those sorts of strict mandatory minimum sentences. House arrest can be an extremely effective way of handling low-risk offenders in the community and helping those offenders to reintegrate and to become functional parts of society again. They have their use and their place.
In the case of first-degree murder, there would never be such a sentence.
Senator Boisvenu: Senator, can you provide this chamber with the number of requests to review criminal cases and the percentage of those cases where the sentence was reduced, either by the appeal court or by another court?
Senator Simons: I’m sorry, Senator Boisvenu, I have no capacity to answer that question in such granular detail at this point. I simply don’t have access to that data up to date at the moment.
(On motion of Senator Duncan, debate adjourned.)
Language Skills Act
Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Debate Continued
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Carignan, P.C., seconded by the Honourable Senator Housakos, for the second reading of Bill S-220, An Act to amend the Languages Skills Act (Governor General).
Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Honourable senators, I rise to speak to the bill introduced by Senator Carignan, Bill S-220, An Act to amend the Languages Skills Act (Governor General). I gather that the motivation behind it is the importance of maintaining solid ties between francophone Canada and our federal symbols.
From the outset, I would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe nation, as noted by the Right Honourable Mary Simon in the introduction to the Speech from the Throne:
This land acknowledgement is not a symbolic declaration. It is our true history.
Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General’s words remind us of this truth, helping guide us forward together, towards reconciliation. Fundamental to this path is a greater understanding of the First Peoples who thrived in these lands before colonists from Europe arrived, as well as a greater understanding of the events that followed.
In her speech, Her Excellency stated:
Reconciliation is not a single act, nor does it have an end date. It is a lifelong journey of healing, respect and understanding. We need to embrace the diversity of Canada and demonstrate respect and understanding for all peoples every day.
Embracing and reflecting the diversity of the peoples of Canada in our federal institutions can be a challenge with our complex history and evolving reality. Language requirements for appointments in high positions may easily become a delicate subject.
Need I point out that section 16 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that English and French are the official languages of Canada? This statement is important to millions of Canadians, not just francophones. It is also true that French is still under constant threat and pressure in Canada, even within Quebec. Francophones in Canada know there have been various attempts to assimilate them ever since Lord Durham’s report came out in 1839. They want to protect and promote their language, their culture and their identity in Canada, and rightfully so.
Like most Canadians, I also acknowledge Canada’s terrible history of trying to assimilate Indigenous peoples, including suppression of Indigenous languages. As a francophone, I recognize the urgency and need to support the protection and revitalization of Indigenous languages.
In 2019, Parliament’s passage of Bill C-91, the Indigenous Languages Act, provided some meaningful action, and the Senate should work to ensure that this new law is successful.
Indeed, section 22 of the Charter makes clear that having two official languages does not derogate from Indigenous language rights. Former Senator Joyal highlighted this point in advocating for the use of Inuktitut in the Senate, a language with interpretation available here with prior notice since 2008. Today, I am glad to have Inuktitut spoken at Rideau Hall.
By appointing for the first time an Indigenous person as Governor General of Canada, acting on the recommendation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Queen Elizabeth II recognized the historical place of our own First Peoples in the history of this country. This appointment is in perfect continuity with other significant gestures made since 1952.
As some of you may remember — but not that many — on February 1, 1952, then-prime minister Louis St. Laurent announced that King George VI had approved his recommendation to appoint Vincent Massey of Toronto as the first Canadian-born Governor General. It was a landmark first step to Canadianize the office. Nobody would accept today the appointment of a British aristocrat to hold the office.
It was Massey’s intent as Governor General to work to unite Canada’s diverse cultures. He travelled extensively across the country and delivered speeches promoting bilingualism, some 20 years before the official policy.
In 1959, the appointment of Georges Vanier as the first francophone Canadian Governor General on the recommendation of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker marked another milestone. The first thing he did was add French text to the plaque at the entrance to Rideau Hall. During his tenure, Vanier made much of cooperation between francophone and anglophone Canadians. In one of his last speeches, he said, and I quote:
The road of unity is the road of love: love of one’s country and faith in its future will give new direction and purpose to our lives, lift us above our domestic quarrels, and unite us in dedication to the common good.
Another landmark moment was the 1984 appointment of Jeanne Sauvé, a Saskatchewan-born francophone, on the recommendation of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. She was the first woman to serve as Governor General. In an effort to further Canadianize the office, she asked to be greeted with O Canada rather than the royal anthem.
In 1999, the appointment of Adrienne Clarkson — born in Hong Kong in 1939 before her family took refuge in Canada in 1942 — was a recognition of Canada’s diversity and a powerful signal to new Canadians that they can achieve the highest position in their new country.
This message was reiterated in 2005 by the appointment of Michaëlle Jean, born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, who was 11 when her family fled a dictatorial regime to settle in Montreal. Moreover, for the first time, a woman serving as Governor General was succeeded by another woman.
The appointment in July 2021 of Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary Simon, born and raised in Nunavik, the Arctic part of Quebec, is another such historic milestone.
For the first time, the position of Governor General is now held by a person from among the Indigenous peoples who have inhabited the lands of this country from time immemorial. I truly support this appointment and hope that it will help to break some of the many barriers imposed on the First Peoples of this country.
I now come to Bill S-220. Its objective, as I understand it, is to restrain the discretion of a prime minister in recommending future holders of the office. In my view, this should be done in a way that is respectful of all the milestones accomplished since 1952.
In other words, I understand the objective of the bill to be that the selection process of future nominees to this office should aim at finding people who are knowledgeable about Canada’s history and cultures, committed to truth and reconciliation, respectful of the inherent equality and dignity of all people and peoples and committed to uplifting our two official languages as well as Indigenous languages. This objective, as so defined, I support.
Incidentally, this objective when so defined reflects the values of the Constitution Act, 1982, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is now a key part of the Canadian fabric.
Let me now comment on some aspects of this bill before committee study, preferably at the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee.
First, Senator Carignan proposes to achieve this objective by amending the Language Skills Act. However, I wonder if that is the right legislative vehicle. As you know, this law concerns what we call the “officers of Parliament,” who are appointed by the House of Commons and the Senate, such as the Auditor General, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Commissioner of Lobbying and others.
That is not the case for the Governor General, who is appointed by the sovereign upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister. In fact, we are dealing here with one of the last true royal prerogatives, concerning duties that are clearly distinct from those of all other officers of Parliament. To achieve the objective I described earlier, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to amend the Governor General’s Act?
By the way, I would express the same reservations if a bill proposed to amend the Language Skills Act to include Supreme Court justices. In my opinion, that objective would have to be achieved by amending the Supreme Court Act.
Second, the bill focuses solely on the language skills of candidates for the position of Governor General. Although that is an extremely important aspect, as I said earlier, I believe that the Prime Minister should consider people who can also demonstrate, through their past experience and undertakings, that they support all the elements that I described or have ties to them, including Indigenous peoples and reconciliation.
Third, I believe that the committee responsible for studying this bill should verify the constitutional validity of a law that would significantly restrain the Prime Minister’s discretionary power, which is an important element in the process for having the Governor General appointed by the sovereign. I suggest that the committee hear from legal experts on this issue.
In conclusion, colleagues, I support the idea of delineating the discretionary power of a prime minister in connection with the appointment of a governor general in a way that builds on all the milestones that I have referred to, with an inclusive and forward-looking spirit. However, I have reservations about the means proposed to achieve it. Thank you, nakurmiik.
(On motion of Senator Duncan, debate adjourned.)
National Framework for a Guaranteed Livable Basic Income Bill
Second Reading—Debate Adjourned
Hon. Kim Pate moved second reading of Bill S-233, An Act to develop a national framework for a guaranteed livable basic income.
She said: Honourable senators, more than 50 years ago, in the report of the 1971 Special Committee on Poverty, Senator Croll and his colleagues identified that “Poverty is the great social issue of our time.” They stated, “The poor do not choose poverty,” declaring it “our national shame,” and warning us:
No nation can achieve true greatness if it lacks the courage and determination to undertake the surgery necessary to remove the cancer of poverty from its body politic.
They noted that we continue to pour billions of dollars every year into social assistance schemes that have “treated the symptoms of poverty and left the disease itself untouched.”
This unanswered call to action focused on pressing issues of long-term well-being for Canadians and prescribed as an urgent priority a “Guaranteed Annual Income as the first firm step in the war against poverty.” The committee pressed for immediate action because it “felt the poor could not be asked to wait years for the help they so urgently need.”
Poverty is not inevitable, nor is it an individual failing. It is the result of government policy choices that fail to provide viable pathways out of poverty that abandon and leave people behind.
Poverty puts people’s safety, health and well-being at risk and undermines the values of equality, dignity and choice to which we collectively aspire. Poverty excludes people from contributing to their communities to their full potential in ways that impoverish all of us.
For these reasons, in terms of human, social, health and economic well-being, it is the cost of failing to address poverty, not the cost of support measures that Canada cannot afford.
As we approach the second anniversary of the pandemic, the need to revisit the Senate’s 50-year-old recommendation regarding guaranteed livable basic income is more urgent than ever.
Canada is reckoning with a COVID-19 toll of illness and of death indisputably shaped and defined by income inequality; and a status quo that has allowed billionaires to amass incredible wealth at a time when millions are struggling without the economic means to stay safe and healthy; and with pandemic response measures that have yet to reach those below the poverty line in a meaningful way, despite Canada’s stated intention of ensuring recovery for all.
Bill S-233 would respond by implementing a framework to make a guaranteed livable basic income a reality.
Canada’s current approach to poverty is leaving millions behind. According to the government’s own data, on the eve of this pandemic, at least 3.7 million people — that is 10% of Canadians — were struggling below the poverty line. Poverty rates are at least double that for persons with disabilities, racialized and First Nations peoples. Families headed by single mothers, and particularly by mothers living with a disability, are nearly three times more likely than average to be living in poverty. Indigenous children face poverty rates five times higher than the national average. Canada’s policies have left 53% — more than half — of children in Indigenous communities in poverty.
The pandemic exacerbated health and income inequality. During the first year of this unprecedented economic and health crisis, 47 Canadian billionaires increased their wealth by $78 billion. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and World Economic Forum document staggering increases in economic inequality around the world as a result of COVID-19. The pandemic has created a new billionaire every 26 hours and allowed the world’s 10 richest men to double their wealth.
While Canadian billionaires increased their wealth during the pandemic, too many of their companies cut or clawed back pandemic pay increases from their front-line workers.
Compensation for Canada’s 100 highest-paid CEOs increased to an average of $10.9 million per year. For 30 of these 100 CEOs, these incredible amounts were paid out as their companies applied for and received emergency wage supplement funding from the government.
In the meantime, Statistics Canada reports that low-income workers, particularly women and racialized persons, disproportionately lost jobs as a result of business closures. In Canada and around the world, women assumed additional unpaid care work, contributing a stunning $10.8 trillion to the global economy while impoverishing themselves.
COVID-19 spotlighted the vital work of caregivers in long-term care homes, too many of whom were in poverty at the start of the pandemic due to inadequate pay, or working multiple jobs in order to barely make ends meet. As the pandemic made it impossible to work at different care homes, too many were left to struggle, some with no housing options other than homeless shelters.
During the first year of the pandemic, 34% of African Canadians reported difficulties meeting basic household financial commitments, compared to 16% of non-racialized people. The household incomes of 31% of persons with disabilities decreased. As many as 54% of Indigenous peoples faced difficulties meeting their personal needs for shelter, food and protective equipment.
While measures like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit provided many with vitally needed economic relief, these individual supports were unavailable to anyone without $5,000 in income in the previous year. As a result, those most marginalized and most in need of assistance were left behind, abandoned to the pandemic with next to nothing in additional protections. Those who were poor stayed poor. Let us be very clear, dear colleagues, CERB did nothing for those who were poor before the pandemic and who became more vulnerable because of and during it.
The unconscionable consequences of Canada’s failure to address poverty and income inequality include starkly magnified, needless and cruel exposure of people to preventable health risks.
As Public Health Agency of Canada research brings into sharp relief, one of the most shameful realities of this pandemic is that the poorest Canadians are two times more likely than the richest to die of COVID-19.
Studies from around the world demonstrate a horrifically clear link between income and a person’s risk of dying of COVID-19. In fact, when it comes to predicting COVID-19 deaths, income inequality is a clearer and more determinative indicator than even a person’s age.
The situation is no different in Canada. Despite this country’s investments in medicare and in the belief that no one’s health should depend on their ability to pay, our eviscerated health and social care systems and economic inequality are killing people.
People are dying because they cannot afford space to physically distance or to stay safe when they are ill. Mortality rates were between 2.5 and 2.8 times higher for people living in apartments compared to those living in single, detached homes. Many of those at greatest risk for COVID live in multi-generational homes or with multiple roommates in order to be able to afford rent. The situation is infinitely worse for those in congregate settings, from long-term care homes to shelters to jails, and is all the more desperate for those on the streets with nowhere safe to turn.
People are dying because they cannot afford to stay home from work. Front-line workers are mostly low paid, with limited to no benefits, and working remotely is definitely not an option. Many have to take public transit to get to work.
One year into the pandemic, lower income, high immigrant, racialized and dense neighbourhoods have been hardest hit by COVID. For example, Scarborough, which accounts for about 5% of Ontario’s population, represented about 15% of the province’s COVID-19 cases. This reality is attributed in part to the number of people working multiple jobs in the most precarious forms of employment.
In this fifth wave of this pandemic, health professionals continue to describe “a tale of two pandemics,” one lived by those who can afford to better protect themselves and one by those who cannot. Too many below the poverty line cannot afford to buy masks or tests, or take time off work to get vaccines, or have the means to stock up on extra food or medications to avoid multiple trips to stores.
The pandemic has underscored the plight and policy imperative of meaningfully addressing the needs of low-income Canadians. Income is the number one UN Sustainable Development Goal and the primary social determinant of health for Canadians and globally. Compared to higher-income individuals, people living in poverty in Canada experience 11.3 fewer healthy years; 1.5 times the rate of infant mortality; 1.6 times the rate of unintentional injury mortality; 2.7 times the rate of suicide; 4.1 times the rate of self-reported poor mental health; 1.4 times the rate of asthma; two times the rate of diabetes; 1.9 times the rate of disability; 1.9 times the rate of smoking, and 1.7 times the rate of lung cancer.
Health consequences are not restricted to those below the poverty line. Many more, though not in poverty, are desperately trying to keep poverty at bay. Recent polling reveals that an unprecedented one in three Canadians — and one in two young Canadians — are struggling with their mental health. They are fatigued, frustrated and anxious as they navigate the inequality and instability of COVID-19. For those on the precipice, living without adequate economic, health and social safety nets takes a dangerous toll.
There is no possible excuse for our inaction. Despite the risk to individuals, to public health and to community well-being, Canada continues to leave people in poverty and at risk of poverty. This costs us between $72 billion and $86 billion per year, billions in preventable healthcare expenses alone. Previous investments in guaranteed livable basic income tell us that Bill S-233 has the ability to help change this.
In the 1970s, Manitoba’s basic income pilot resulted in an 8.5% reduction in hospitalizations and emergency healthcare costs. In Ontario’s basic income pilot, 79% of participants reported improvement in overall health; 82% reported improvements in mental health; 83% were better able to afford necessary medication; 74% were better able to afford dental care, and 50% were better able to afford psychotherapy. One third of participants with children reported improvements in their children’s health. Many reported having to use health services less often.
Bill S-233 and its sister, Bill C-223, lay the groundwork for significantly improving the health and well-being of Canadians. They would result in the Minister of Finance developing and advancing a framework, in consultation with Indigenous peoples and provincial, territorial and municipal governments, for implementing a national guaranteed livable basic income program. Such a program would provide direct amounts of income support sufficient to live on and would be accessible to anyone in Canada over the age of 17 below the poverty line.
As a recently released briefing paper by Dr. Jim Stanford reveals, the success of the CERB underscores both the feasibility and effectiveness of income security supports such as guaranteed livable basic income. Dr. Stanford also pointed out that despite rhetoric about the CERB and other income benefits disincentivizing work, aside from anecdotal, self-interested employer testimonials, there is a decided dearth of evidence to support such assertions. While some who were in precarious, part-time or gig work may have moved into more reliable work, leaving employers offering low wages or no benefits with some work shortage, the labour market is rebounding and arguably more robust, with labour force participation in late 2021 exceeding pre-pandemic peaks.
Rather, as many of our colleagues more acquainted than I with business practices have pointed out, like CERB, a basic income would allow workers to not be forced to choose between starvation or homelessness or working in dangerous conditions. This provides them a chance to decommodify their lives and resist employer demands that are unfair, unsafe or intolerable.
A guaranteed livable basic income should not result in clawbacks to other services or benefits individuals receive to meet exceptional needs related to health or disability, nor would it replace or remove the need for vital housing, social, health, education, labour and other programs and protections; rather, it would work to ensure that access to these measures and decision making about how best to care for oneself, one’s family and community are not undermined by lack of money to meet basic needs. Moreover, it could be constructed so as to incentivize training and labour enhancement by eliminating current policies that interfere with the ability of too many to rebound out of poverty.
Currently, those most marginalized spend whole days, years and even lives working to access a series of over-subscribed services like food banks and shelters, as well as income programs that offer too little while subjecting people to rigid, dehumanizing, and arbitrary conditions. As reported by the National Advisory Council on Poverty, the design, requirements and criteria of these programs too often make them particularly difficult for Indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups to access and out of touch with their needs and realities.
By navigating this demoralizing system day after day, a person may receive a bare minimum to help them to subsist. Such emphasis on minimum subsistence means that people are trapped at the margins, making impossible and unacceptable choices, for example, between food, medicine or shelter, not to mention constantly on the brink of urgent need and crisis.
In just one example brought to light by the research of Dr. Evelyn Forget, a single mother of two on social assistance had a plan to try to improve her employment prospects and lift herself out of poverty by taking job training. Because she was on social assistance, she required permission from a caseworker before she could do so. The otherwise supportive caseworker did not see the benefits of the woman’s plan, and so instead of supporting and encouraging her initiative, the woman was not allowed to explore a pathway that could have led her and her family out of poverty. In whose interests do we plunge people into and then keep them submerged in poverty?
The observations included in the 2021 report of the National Advisory Council on Poverty linked inadequate responses to poverty to the pernicious opinion that people in need are trying to abuse the system by accessing benefits. Through consultations, they heard that:
. . . programs design their eligibility criteria with a focus on keeping out the “cheaters.” Systems place responsibility on applicants to prove their disability repeatedly, even for lifelong conditions, including an emphasis on doctor-verified diagnoses. There is a perception that resources are carefully rationed and scrutinized to ensure that each qualifying recipient has “just enough” to survive.
In every province and territory, social assistance rates are wholly inadequate. They not only fall well below the poverty line, but they provide between 20% to 60% less than so-called deep poverty lines.
As summarized by one participant in the advisory council’s consultations, “You’re just trying to put food on the table and you’re seen by others as cheating. It’s soul destroying.”
These harmful and classist attitudes about poverty are belied by the sheer amount of work and determination that go into surviving. The National Advisory Council notes that the time and effort required to navigate anti-poverty programs has turned poverty into a punitive, permanent and dead-end full-time job. And as one Ontario disability benefit recipient noted to our office, if navigating poverty is a full-time job, “The pay sucks, man.” If the disability payments she qualifies for were expressed as the equivalent of an hourly wage, they would amount to $6.74 per hour. Those on social assistance, rather than disability assistance, receive even less.
Emergency pandemic responses like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, or CERB, have risked reinforcing already powerfully engrained stigmas by drawing distinctions between workers eligible to receive supports and others who are not.
This ignores the reality that more than half of people below the poverty line have employment income as their main source of support — they are working but not being paid enough to survive. More fundamentally, it reinforces the assumption, noted by the National Advisory Council on Poverty that:
. . . poverty is the result of personal failings, rather than the failure of systems, labour market challenges, and government policies and programs.
This leads to the assumption that some are deserving and others undeserving of help.
Participants in consultations with the council noted the expectation that people living in poverty:
. . . have to be without fault in order to receive support. There is no room for them to fail or slip up.
Those in poverty are held up to scrutiny in a way that no one else is. The kind of decisions those better off routinely make and absorb the costs of — from buying a treat for their child to taking a personal day off work — are, for those in need of income assistance, too often construed as moral failings, lack of discipline or, worse yet, laziness. Meanwhile, as the work of our colleagues Senator Downe and Senator Wetston reveal, we do not seem to apply the same critical lens when it comes to wealthy Canadians evading taxes or competition law. At its root, guaranteed livable basic income would ensure that everyone has the freedom to make choices about how best to care for themselves and their families.
Let’s return to Dr. Forget’s example of the single mother who was trying to access job training. For her, the Manitoba basic income pilot was a crucial turning point. Enrolled in the program and no longer subjected to the scrutiny of a caseworker, she now had the option of accessing enough money to give herself and her family stability while she temporarily left the labour market to pursue job training. She enrolled in the training.
Speaking to Dr. Forget 40 years later, the single mother spoke about the pride she still felt at having modelled independence for her two daughters.
Her experience is echoed by countless participants in the Ontario Basic Income Pilot in 2017. One person reported, “It helped fill in the gaps when I had precarious (part-time) employment while looking for something more sustainable.”
Another person said, “I was saving for a vehicle so I could pursue self-employment without fear of not making ends meet.”
And another said, “I was able to get the medical equipment I needed so I didn’t have to leave work for my asthma.”
I was able to get out from under payday loans. I was able to feel dignity in living and hope for being able to maybe buy a cheap car, pay off debt and not being looked down on by my neighbours.
Even with a low employment income, I became more committed to my job serving a vulnerable population because I knew the basic income supplement would allow me to pay all of my bills and eat well.
As someone who works 40+hrs a week in a factory job that destroys my body, making next to [minimum] wage, I was making barely enough to get by . . . The basic income program helped me afford my bills . . . and allowed me to participate in recreational activities more.
I had plans to go to school for all three years of the pilot so that when it was over, I would be in a position where I would be educated enough to have a good career. I would be in a higher tax bracket and paying more taxes so I would be contributing more to society.
I was in the hospital multiple times a week with health problems from not being able to eat properly, stress, and not having a way to really go anywhere (in life). I’m enrolled in schooling and I intend to go to college next year . . . .
I finally felt like part of society and not isolated . . . able to go out for a tea when asked, pay for uncovered meds needed . . . sleep without anxiety. It was a feeling of confidence, self-worth.
My confidence boosted sky high . . . I took 2 months to get my anxiety under control. I found a full-time job in a little less than 2 months . . . My kids’ confidence went higher, [they] started bringing home better grades . . . They have proper winter clothing . . . able to play outside . . . Basic income made me want to better myself and I did.
The access to meaningful choices afforded by guaranteed livable basic income is a matter of dignity and equality. It is also crucial to allow people a chance to get out of what can otherwise be overwhelmingly cyclical chasms of poverty in ways that current social assistance programs simply do not.
Bill S-233 is part of a cross-chamber collaboration with MP Leah Gazan. It builds on the momentum and decades of work of parliamentarians from diverse regions and political affiliations, drawing attention to the potential of guaranteed livable basic income as those behind the bill seek to represent Canadians below the poverty line, especially during this health and economic crisis.
More than 50 of us, honourable colleagues, signed joint statements and letters to the government on this issue. Three of our Senate committees, including National Finance, Social Affairs and Human Rights, as well as the Finance Committee in the other place, have made recommendations in support of guaranteed livable basic income since the onset of the pandemic.
Our former colleagues Senators Eggleton and Segal worked to bring guaranteed livable basic income to the attention of this chamber long before the onset of COVID-19 through committee studies and motions. They have carried on their seemingly tireless work beyond the chamber and throughout this pandemic.
Member of Parliament Julie Dzerowicz introduced guaranteed livable basic income legislation in the last parliament. Two major political parties included this issue in their federal platforms last election. A third endorsed guaranteed livable basic income as a top priority at their policy convention.
Public opinion polls indicate that significant majorities of Canadians support guaranteed livable basic income. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen unprecedented numbers of people organizing, contacting their representatives and petitioning for urgent implementation of this measure, citing recommendations from experts in fields as diverse as the arts, banking, economics, health care, human rights, labour relations, social work and the tech industry.
Bill S-233 builds on Canada’s past successful experiences with guaranteed livable basic income. Participants in pilots in Ontario and Manitoba reported improved health and well-being without significant work disincentives. In Manitoba, the main areas where labour market participation decreased were for teenagers who were able to complete high school instead of having to work to support their families and parents temporarily caring for young children.
Federally, Canada already counts on two forms of guaranteed livable basic income, the Canada Child Benefit and the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors, to reduce the number of young and older Canadians living in poverty in ways that contribute to the economy. According to the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis, every $1 that the government spends on the Canada Child Benefit results in $2 of economic activity. The economic benefits of a national guaranteed livable basic income program are predicted to similarly stimulate the economy.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has estimated the costs of a national guaranteed livable basic income program. Most recently, they provided an example of a program that could deliver $80 billion in supports for a net cost of only $3 billion by replacing tax measures like the GST credit and basic personal amount, as well as provincial and territorial social assistance.
This estimate does not include future cost savings associated with downstream social and economic benefits, such as reductions in health care, criminal legal system and emergency shelter spending. Nor does it include the potential economic benefits outlined by the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis, including a 1.8% increase in real GDP, 346,000 additional jobs and $52 billion in additional tax revenue after the first five years of the program alone.
A national income-tested guaranteed livable basic income would obviously entail transition costs, but overall it is not a question of spending significantly more money; rather, it requires us to spend money differently and more effectively.
During COVID-19, CERB and related programs have demonstrated Canada’s capacity to deliver meaningful, innovative and flexible economic supports to individuals in need. New pushes for federal involvement in guaranteed livable basic income are underway. The government has committed to reintroducing the Canada disability benefit, a form of guaranteed livable basic income for persons with disabilities. The Province of Prince Edward Island is requesting federal support for a provincial guaranteed livable basic income, which could serve as a demonstration project for rollout to other interested provinces and territories.
The 2021 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People National Action Plan includes implementation of a national guaranteed livable basic income program as a key facet of decolonization and reversing systemic economic marginalization of Indigenous women. For years, Canada has been exploring the idea of guaranteed livable basic income and has been generating a wealth of compelling data about the benefits that such a program can offer. Bill S-233 would allow us to map out a national approach at a time when the imperative of eliminating poverty has never been clearer.
In 1971, the members of the Special Senate Committee on Poverty presented their bold proposal for guaranteed livable basic income to Canadians as follows:
To do what has to be done will certainly cost money. Lack of action will cost many times more. What inaction will cost in lost humanity is infinitely greater. The Committee believes that the Canadian people . . . are ready to face the challenge of poverty.
I think so, too. Canadians have been ready and waiting for more than five decades. It is time for us to act, honourable colleagues.
Meegwetch, thank you.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Senator Pate, there are still 14 minutes left. We have two senators who would like to ask questions. Is that okay with you?
Senator Pate: Absolutely.
Hon. Éric Forest: Thank you, Senator Pate, for speaking on behalf of the most vulnerable Canadians and for clearly explaining just how important this program is.
At the beginning of your speech, you spoke about the number of CEOs who had the gall to increase their own gigantic salaries while seeking public funds for their companies by applying to the COVID-19 wage supplement programs. If I recall correctly, you mentioned that 30 companies had done this. Could you please confirm exactly how many companies showed so little social conscience?
Senator Pate: There are a number of companies. I can certainly point you to the report. I don’t recall all of the names of the companies offhand, but I would be happy to send that to you and to all colleagues as a follow-up. Certainly, in the notes attached to my speaking notes, I have the direct hyperlink to those.
It was a shock to me, when I mentioned some of our colleagues, to find that when the five largest grocery chains in this country got together and decided to end the hero pay for front-line workers, it was not considered a conspiracy or contrary to competition law. That would be one example, and I certainly will be happy to provide you with more of those names. Thank you.
Hon. Frances Lankin: Senator Pate, thank you very much for bringing forward this bill.
As you and I know, many of us have been working on this for many years. I think of the work of Evelyn Forget in trying to finally bring together the research from the Dauphin, Manitoba project. I think about the changes that have been made, and the calls and some sort of patchwork from the Eggleton-Segal report. I think about the report on social assistance reform in the province of Ontario, which called for enhancement of the disability benefit and a basic income. Those were over the years. I think of P.E.I. more recently being interested in exploring this.
It doesn’t matter the political stripe of the government in power over all of these decades that we have been fighting for this; there is a stop — a hard wall. It seems to come from the Finance Department. I’m not blaming bureaucrats; they have their interests, reasons, philosophy, ideology and whatever. I want to understand it better, because I have never gotten a straight answer from them. They talk about the problems of design, but those are problems to be solved.
Have you, in your discussions with the minister or the department, gotten any clear information about why they continue to say “no” and won’t pursue what so many Canadians think is a much more inclusive and much more deliberately compassionate social policy?
Senator Pate: I wish I had a clear answer for you. My answer is “No, I have not received clear understanding,” hence the reason I spoke about many of the myths and stereotypes about poor people and the assertions that, in fact, CERB has significantly impacted the labour situation in this country when all of the available evidence to the government and beyond reveals just the opposite.
The only thing I have heard is that some have said, “Well, that’s not the legacy project this particular government or any government was looking for.” I think that’s beyond regrettable.
As we’re seeing outside the doors of this chamber right now, people’s frustration with their inability to navigate throughout this pandemic is rooted in the evisceration of social, economic and health policies over decades, and then is being used — I would argue is being appropriated — by some with very extreme horrific views, and they are exploiting people who are very much struggling to get by.
It’s imperative that not just the government, but all of us, look at how we move forward on this. I thank you very much for all of the work you have done historically, both in this chamber and before being in this chamber in the work you did provincially, municipally and throughout the country.
Senator Lankin: Briefly, I think it’s time that a group of us and perhaps some of the folks that are involved in the All-Party Anti-Poverty Caucus — because it involves people from all political parties and, in the Senate, from political caucuses and groups — to meet with Department of Finance officials and get them to spell out their concerns. I know we’ll hear about marginal effective tax rates. Those are design issues; they are not things that are impossible to overcome.
So maybe there is a group of us that need to request a full briefing and a full dialogue, and I would be happy to work with you on getting that set up. Thank you.
Senator Pate: Thank you very much. I would be happy to work with you, as always, on that and many other things. So thank you, and thank you for all your work for gig workers as well. I know that is well appreciated by me and many of the people in my circles. Thank you.
Hon. Diane Bellemare: Thank you for your speech, Senator Pate. I think there are many different ways to approach the topic of a guaranteed basic income for Canadians. It doesn’t necessarily have to be through a single program. I will no doubt have the opportunity to speak to this bill and explain how we can share the same objectives of reducing poverty and integrating people, but using different approaches.
My question for you has to do with your speech and your approach, specifically. You mentioned the 1971 Senate report, the Croll report, a number of times. I would like to hear your thoughts on two of the fundamental aspects of the Senate proposal for a guaranteed basic income.
The first is that the guaranteed basic income was being proposed on condition that it be supported by a policy of full employment, which would involve a suite of active measures to support people in the labour force.
The second condition on the Croll report’s proposal was that the government definitely should not start by offering a guaranteed basic income to people aged 18 and over, but rather focus on people aged 40 and over.
What do you think about this and, most importantly, why would you want this proposal to include people as young as 18? Don’t you think it would be better to prioritize people who are a little older and have some work experience?
I would like to hear your thoughts on these two essential conditions from the Croll report that I didn’t hear you talk about much in your speech.
Senator Pate: Thank you very much, and thank you for all your work and for the time you have taken to educate me about the incredible initiatives that you have been part of and the research you have done, Senator Bellemare.
Yes, 50 years ago last year, when the Croll report was tabled, it talked about a broader approach to addressing poverty. In the ensuing 50 years, we have seen the evisceration of many of the supports that were then in place that actually meant that we had certain populations at greater risk of being in poverty than we do now.
As we saw in the B.C. research that has been done, almost every body of research starts with a suggestion that we start somewhere and incrementally build. In the B.C. model, it was women leaving violent relationships or people with disabilities. But when you actually read all those documents, we’re not talking about getting rid of other supports. We’re talking about building on and increasingly creating the kind of social, economic and health safety nets that Canada, quite frankly, has dined out on internationally for many decades but hasn’t necessarily been worthy of that reputation for at least the past three or four. I think it’s vitally important that we look at the work that you and others — and I mentioned Senator Lankin, Senator Wetston — and members who are here in the chamber now, like Senator Woo, and all of this work. I shouldn’t start naming people because then I forget people, but there is incredible work being done and I think there is a great body of knowledge and expertise here that can assist the government in moving forward on this.
Senator Bellemare: I can see how a universal program might seem very appealing, but I would like to go back to the idea of adopting more targeted measures to tackle poverty. Senator, how did you react to the second report of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, specifically the part where he laid out the impact on income distribution should a guaranteed basic income be funded with money currently allocated to existing programs? In other words, several programs would be abolished to fund one universal program. If we look at the impact on distribution, it is clear that the group most severely impacted would be single-parent families, whose income would decrease under a guaranteed basic income system. Single-parent families are currently the second-poorest segment of society, and they would lose over $5,000 per year if a universal basic income program like this one were introduced.
Maybe you missed that bit of information, but I think it is proof that universal programs can sometimes hurt the very people we want to help.
Senator Pate: I agree. There were facets of the costing that I certainly have questions about and have raised with the Parliamentary Budget Officer as well. I think one correction perhaps is that we’re talking about universally accessible, we’re not talking about a universal basic income such as a demo grant, which has been recommended by some where it would go to everybody and then be pulled back at tax time.
When I first started looking at this some years ago, I was interested in all of these facets, but in talking to people like our colleagues Senator Downe and Senator Wetston, people who have more expertise — and former Senator Eggleton, who spent his pre-Senate life, his working life, as an accountant helping people with money protect and hide that money — we don’t want that. We also need tax reform, which I think the Parliamentary Budget Officer touched on but doesn’t really go into.
Then when I talked to Senator Downe, he talked about the fact that those who are hiding money offshore — of course, an issue that he has a tonne of expertise and I have none in — that we could virtually fund an initiative like this with the tax resources that are lost by some of those sorts of measures. Then I talked to Senator Wetston and he talked about how we need to address the money laundering issues in this country. That’s why I say I’m very excited about the possibility of a number of us working on this, looking at a framework, addressing these issues and meeting those challenges because it’s not that we should hide our heads in the sand about the very real challenges of doing this in a country as large and with as many jurisdictions as Canada. But the fact that we pretend that we’re not already paying multiple billions of dollars — tens of billions, hundreds of billions — to deal with not dealing with poverty, I think that is where we are putting our heads in the sand. That’s what I’m suggesting that we need to stop doing. We need to look at how we can actually invest those resources so they create better opportunities for everybody in this country, not just those whom we — because of myths and stereotypes — judge to be deserving or those who do not.
(On motion of Senator Duncan, debate adjourned.)
Motion to Recognize that Climate Change is an Urgent Crisis—Debate Continued
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Galvez, seconded by the Honourable Senator Forest:
That the Senate of Canada recognize that:
(a)climate change is an urgent crisis that requires an immediate and ambitious response;
(b)human activity is unequivocally warming the atmosphere, ocean and land at an unprecedented pace, and is provoking weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe, including in the Arctic, which is warming at more than twice the global rate;
(c)failure to address climate change is resulting in catastrophic consequences especially for Canadian youth, Indigenous Peoples and future generations; and
(d)climate change is negatively impacting the health and safety of Canadians, and the financial stability of Canada;
That the Senate declare that Canada is in a national climate emergency which requires that Canada uphold its international commitments with respect to climate change and increase its climate action in line with the Paris Agreement’s objective of holding global warming well below two degrees Celsius and pursuing efforts to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius; and
That the Senate commit to action on mitigation and adaptation in response to the climate emergency and that it consider this urgency for action while undertaking its parliamentary business.
Hon. Robert Black: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Senator Galvez’s motion to recognize that climate change is an urgent crisis. As Senator Galvez’s motion states, climate change is indeed an urgent crisis that requires an immediate and ambitious response from coast to coast to coast by governments, industries and individuals.
As you know, I am a staunch supporter of agriculture — it’s what I know best. So as you might surmise, my focus today will be on the way in which climate change has impacted the agricultural community and the industry’s role in the fight against climate change.
Climate change has had widespread effects on almost every industry. Agriculture often sees these effects first due to the nature of the work and the processes involved. For example, farmers know all too well that agriculture is highly dependent on weather. While many modern methods, techniques and technologies have made today’s farms increasingly productive, they still rely on Mother Nature to do her part. At the end of the day, agricultural success depends on getting the right amount of rain and the right amount of heat at the right time of each year.
From large-scale farms to the smallest gardens, agriculture and agri-business depends on climate at every stage in the cycle of production. And as we know, our climate is changing. We have all seen the destruction left in the wake of extreme weather conditions. These incidents, once rare and uncommon occurrences, have become more and more familiar in our changing world. In fact, extreme weather events in 2021 shattered records around the globe.
For farmers, 2021 was a tough year. Extreme heat, droughts, flooding and wildfires affected farms across this country. Late last year, we saw the Fraser Valley in British Columbia consumed by water. These floods and subsequent mudslides have led to widespread destruction of life and livelihoods, particularly in B.C.’s rural and agricultural communities. Thousands of farm animals perished, and thousands more required critical attention. Just last week, the agricultural committee in the other place began studying this matter and the subsequent recovery efforts.
Earlier in 2021, we saw hundreds of thousands of animals succumb to the heat dome in Western Canada, and countless farms struggled during the droughts of this past summer. In fact, the other place also held an emergency debate in December where these very concerns were discussed and debated. While farmers are used to planning for uncertainty, climate change is bringing new extremes, seasonal shifts and increased variability that are likely to push the boundaries of our climate beyond anything they are used to managing.
The effects of climate change have been widespread and vast. A Cornell University-led study found that global farming productivity is 21% lower than it could have been without climate change. This is the equivalent of losing about seven years of farm productivity increases since the 1960s.
Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, Associate Professor at Cornell’s Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, said:
We find that climate change has basically wiped out about seven years of improvements in agricultural productivity over the past 60 years. It is equivalent to pressing the pause button on productivity growth back in 2013 and experiencing no improvements since then. . . .
This cannot continue to be the trend going forward. Canada is a leader in the agricultural and agri-food sectors. We must work collaboratively to address the effects of climate change to ensure that our farmers, producers and processors, as well as our grocery stores, can continue putting food on Canadians’ plates.
It’s no surprise that the agricultural industry also has an important role in fighting climate change as well. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, in 2016, agriculture contributed about 17% of greenhouse gas emissions globally, and that figure does not include an additional 7% to 14% caused by changes to land use. According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 10% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are from crop and livestock production, excluding emissions from the use of fossil fuels or from fertilizer production.
These are significant numbers that we need to work to bring down. However, the onus cannot be placed solely on the farmers and the agricultural industry. They work hard to provide us with food, and most of them are good stewards of the land. As stewards of the land, farmers are heavily invested in the fight against climate change and mitigating its impacts. After all, they too eat what they produce.
In fact, many farmers have introduced innovative ways to reduce these emissions and have pursued land-use practices that help to mitigate climate change. Many have already taken steps over the years to make their land a zero-till operation. This technique increases the retention of organic matter and nutrient cycling, which in turn increases carbon sequestration, or to have and use perennial forage coverage. There is more carbon in soils under perennial forage than annual crops, due in part to the farmer’s ability to better transfer carbon to the soil. In fact, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture shared that farmers have kept their emissions steady for 20 years while almost doubling production, resulting in a decrease of greenhouse gas emission intensity by half. There are many opportunities in this sector for technical innovation that can help to ensure both climate mitigation and economic benefits.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada also recognizes that agriculture helps slow climate change by storing carbon on agricultural lands. Storing, or sequestering, carbon in soil as organic matter, perennial vegetation and in trees reduces carbon dioxide amounts in the atmosphere.
We have also seen more technological advancements and innovations, including precision agriculture and the use of artificial intelligence and drones, that aim to decrease negative environmental impacts while also increasing profitability. We can also explore the possibility of scaling up technologies that we already know about to yield positive environmental outcomes.
There are many other innovative methods farmers are employing in order to protect the environment without sacrificing profitability. An example of this is reintegrating livestock and crops on farms and incorporating the use of managed grazing, which can increase livestock’s nutrient consumption as well as increase soil organic matter.
Additionally, vertical farming and urban farming have gained popularity in recent years. These innovative ways of farming allow us to grow crops in cities without taking up much space. We also see the use of hydroponics, meaning growing crops directly in nutrient-enriched water rather than soil.
The challenge for the agriculture and agri-food sector will be to mitigate greenhouse gases while adapting to the impacts of climate change without jeopardizing food security. To do so, Canadian agriculture producers and food processors will need the government’s help and support in transitioning their operations to be more sustainable, and they will also require the government’s support while they seek to change decades-long practices and procedures.
Many organizations, including the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, the Dairy Farmers of Canada and the Canadian Pork Council, among others, have highlighted their dedication to supporting Canada’s fight against climate change. There are, of course, specific concerns to each sector regarding such issues as fair carbon pricing and other potential impacts to the overall sustainability of the industry and sector, but, ultimately, Canadian agriculture knows that they have a critical role to play as stewards of the land, which involves preserving ecosystems and resources, such as soil and water, as well as minimizing the environmental impacts of their activities through the implementation of beneficial agricultural practices.
In December, I attended a meeting hosted by the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, where they screened the “Guardians of the Grasslands” documentary. I highly encourage everyone to take time to watch it. This short documentary was created by a group of dedicated conservationists, ranchers and Canadian filmmakers.
The film explores the current state of one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems, the Great Plains grasslands, and the role that cattle play in its survival. Unfortunately, 74% of our grasslands are already gone. It is critical to note that the grasslands are home to over 60 Canadian species at risk and is also one of the world’s most stable carbon sinks. This is just another example of the environment we need to work to protect.
I am proud to highlight the ranchers who are doing their utmost to conserve the natural prairie grasslands by using beef cows to mimic the vital role that bison played in forming these landscapes through grazing over thousands of years.
At this time, I would like to quote Kristine Tapley of Ducks Unlimited Canada:
The beef industry relies on the grass landscape as part of its production cycle and the prairie ecosystem needs the impact of grazing in order to rejuvenate grass and plants. It’s a necessary and symbiotic relationship. When ranches disappear, we lose the grass that goes along with it.
Honourable colleagues, we know that climate change is one of the biggest issues facing our world today, and it is clear that the agriculture industry understands and supports the call to action to fight climate change.
As stewards of the land, they continue to see first-hand the negative effects of climate change, and they are also among the front lines of mitigation efforts. And, as I mentioned earlier, our farmers face the brunt of climate change in many cases as Canadian agriculture suffers greatly from the effects. The frequency of extreme weather events has doubled since the 1990s. There has been an increase in floods, droughts, forest fires and storms that, unsurprisingly, interfere with planting to harvests, which disproportionately affects farms of all sizes.
While we recognize that agriculture is a part of the problem when it comes to climate change, the agricultural sector has demonstrated continuous improvement over many years while emissions from other sectors have risen over time. So agriculture also has amazing potential to be an important part of the solution.
All that being said, we are asking a lot of our farmers. Many agricultural operations rely on decades-old practices that have only recently been deemed to be environmentally detrimental. Making the switch to new technology costs a lot of money and, while I’ve never met a farmer who was in it for the money, it does impact the viability of their businesses and enterprises.
I am taking this opportunity to once again call upon the Canadian government to work collaboratively with our agricultural industry so they can help make the journey to environmental sustainability a little easier for everyone. They can and will be part of the solution, but we also need to give them the tools necessary to do so. And those tools must be science-based and harmonized across the country and around the world with all our trading partners to ensure that they can continue to be viable participants in the fight against climate change.
I am confident that the agriculture industry, which has been innovating for as long as it has existed, will continue to rise to the challenge. Of course, initiatives must come from all sectors and be a joint effort from all of us and, in order to achieve our goals in greenhouse gas reduction, government and industry must work together.
The second-to-last point of Senator Galvez’s motion highlights that the failure to address climate change will result in catastrophic consequences, especially for Canadian youth, Indigenous peoples and future generations. Honourable colleagues, I know that many of us in this chamber have children and grandchildren. Without working together to challenge and change the effects of climate change, I fear they will be living in a world entirely different than the one we know today.
Countless Canadian farmers are working across the country to ensure that our ecosystems, such as the grasslands, are preserved for generations to come. The climate crisis is clear. Let’s do our best to support all sectors that are working to save our planet.
Thank you, meegwetch.
Hon. Donna Dasko: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Senator Galvez’s motion to recognize that climate change is an urgent crisis that requires an immediate and ambitious response.
Such a motion is not unprecedented. In fact, on June 17, 2019, the House of Commons passed a motion put forward by the former minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna to declare a national climate emergency in Canada.
As Senator Galvez said:
By passing this motion, the Senate will demonstrate the solidarity our fellow citizens expect and send a strong message to the House of Commons and the government that the Senate is finally ready to take on the challenge and will henceforth expect more ambitious and meaningful climate action.
As of December 4, 2021, a climate emergency has been declared in over 2,000 jurisdictions and local governments, covering 1 billion citizens worldwide. In Canada, over 500 local governments, covering 99% of the population, have declared a climate emergency.
We are beginning the year 2022 knowing that catastrophic events took place last year — floods, fires and unbearable heatwaves. In British Columbia, the Coroners Service eventually reported that 526 people in the province died as a result of the heat. An analysis from World Weather Attribution, a collaboration of scientists, later determined that the devastating heatwave would have been virtually impossible without climate change caused by human activity. If we do not want this crisis to worsen, we need concrete action.
For almost three decades, the United Nations has been bringing together almost every country on earth, including Canada, for global climate summits. In that time, climate change has gone from being a fringe issue to a global priority.
For the first time ever, in Paris in 2015, every country agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and to aim for 1.5 degrees.
As well, there is scientific consensus that climate change is attributable to human activity and that greenhouse gas emissions must be massively reduced. The COP26 meetings held last year in Glasgow identified in particular the need for significant new investments to fight climate change.
It is clear to everyone involved in this area that concerted action is required to meet these ambitious goals. Others speaking to this motion have spoken eloquently with respect to the extent of the climate crisis and the actions that are required, and I will not repeat those arguments here.
The main purpose of my brief comments today is to try to understand how Canadians themselves view climate change and whether we are up to the challenge. Recently I read a piece in The Globe and Mail, describing the booming worldwide demand for luxury cars: massive three-tonne structures with fuel consumption ratings of 12 miles per gallon — but you can get 17 on the highway — which are flying off the dealers’ lots. When you read this, you have to wonder how such disdain for the environment can co-exist with our climate challenge.
Still, I want to try to make sense of some of the public opinion research on aspects of climate change. We can look at it from the perspective of Canadians’ awareness of the existence of climate change, their knowledge regarding climate change, perceived consequences of climate change and — last but definitely not least — what Canadians are willing to do to address the issue.
International surveys as well as Canada-only research confirm that Canadians’ understanding of climate change has come a very long way. A report by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication presents results from an international survey conducted in over 30 countries and territories worldwide in February and March of last year. Among its many findings, 89% of Canadians say that, yes, climate change is happening. This ranks Canada in fifth place — imagine, there are four other countries higher than 89% — in the world in recognizing this basic fact.
Similarly, an October 2021 Abacus Data survey finds that almost all Canadians — 93% — believe there is at least some evidence that the earth is warming. That includes 69% who say there is either conclusive or solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades. This latter view has increased over the previous six years with a notable increase in the numbers of Canadians who now say there is conclusive evidence of warming temperatures.
Knowledge that global warming is caused by human activity is growing. In 2015, 71% felt global warming was being caused by human activity. This is now 75%, according to Abacus. Similar findings are shown in the Yale study, with 86% of Canadians agreeing that climate change is mostly caused by human activities or equally by human activity and natural changes.
I conclude from these and many other similar findings that there is significant awareness and knowledge of climate change. But what about the climate emergency that is at the heart of the motion before us? An Angus Reid Institute survey from last November — just a few months ago — indeed shows that three quarters of Canadians believe that climate change poses a serious threat to the planet earth. A Leger Marketing survey recently found that 85% of Canadians agree that global warming is a serious threat for mankind.
As Senator Galvez has noted in her speech to her motion, the way we should actually address climate change is subject to debate and deliberation. But since Canada has committed ourselves — this country — under the Paris Agreement to an ambitious goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45% below 2005 levels by 2030, it is clear that serious action is required.
Are Canadians ready for this?
Well, when it comes to individual actions, it’s a mixed picture. In looking at some of the public opinion data, I was disappointed to see what I would say is a lack of engagement among Canadians in taking up truly impactful individual actions to mitigate climate change. For example, in a very extensive Ipsos poll taken in 2020, before the pandemic, only about 20% of Canadians said they take public transit and avoid taking planes and travelling by car whenever possible in order to reduce carbon emissions. Even fewer than one in five people limit their consumption of meat and dairy, ride a bike or use renewable energy in order to reduce emissions.
How do we bridge the gap between the significant awareness and recognition of the climate emergency on the one hand and the lower level of enthusiasm to take action at the individual level? In fact, the gap is actually bridged by government action. Whether we like it or not, Canadians are looking to government to take the steps necessary to deal with climate change.
For example, the Yale survey that I mentioned earlier from 2021 shows that 7 in 10 Canadians say that climate change should be a high priority for government, and an equal number say that the Canadian government should do much more to deal with climate change. Six in ten strongly support Canada’s participation in the Paris Accord.
Governments have a vast arsenal of policy options available, including taxation, subsidies and regulation. Public support varies for a number of policy initiatives.
A 2021 Leger survey finds, for example, that 7 in 10 Canadians support capping and reducing pollution from the oil and gas sector to net-zero by 2050; two thirds support a policy to stop exporting coal by 2030, and; 6 in 10 support ending subsidies that help oil and natural gas companies operate and expand their operations outside Canada.
About half of Canadians, according to various polls and depending on what is asked, support the federal government’s carbon pricing initiative, which is its most significant policy in place meant to reduce carbon emissions.
All this being said, we have to recognize that the Covid pandemic and its challenges to Canadians’ health and to the economy has shifted the focus somewhat toward other issues on the national agenda, especially in the recent period. Also, inflation has grown in importance as an issue in recent months as well as during the recent federal election campaign, and this concern adds to existing unease about jobs and income security.
Still, it’s important to note that even in this challenging economic environment, Canadians place environmental concerns at least on an equal footing with economic concerns. This was found in a 2021 survey conducted by the Environics Institute. As well, Nanos Research found in a 2020 poll that 49% of Canadians placed the priority on the environment, even if it causes less growth and job loss, compared to 39% who prioritized jobs and growth over environmental protection.
Colleagues, in my brief comments today I have tried to present a picture of some aspects of public opinion related to the climate emergency. I would conclude that Canadians have come a very long way in their understanding of the climate crisis. They are aware that climate change is real, they understand it, and they see that its impact is immense. They look to government to take actions, and they support some serious policy directions.
I also believe that Canadians are open to more change on a personal level. If over 80% of us can be persuaded to double vaccinate over the course of one year — that is, going from 0 to 80% — so too I believe we can we make progress in promoting better individual actions around the environment.
By passing this motion, I believe the Senate can bring our strong voice to this debate and continue to move Canada and Canadians in a positive direction. I say to us all, let us pass this motion with enthusiasm. Thank you. Meegwetch.
Hon. Marilou McPhedran: Hello, tansi. As a senator for Manitoba, I acknowledge that I live on Treaty 1 territory, the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene peoples, and the homeland of the Métis Nation.
I also acknowledge that the Parliament of Canada is situated on the unsurrendered territory of the Anishinaabe and Algonquin First Nations.
I am honoured to speak in support of this motion by Senator Rosa Galvez, the senator in this chamber with the most expertise on the science of climate change. If this scientist alerts us to the urgent need to declare a national climate emergency, we would do well to respond carefully, thoughtfully and rapidly.
We are exceptionally fortunate to have her voice here in this place, bringing credibility to the Senate and to Canada in multilateral settings around the world.
I similarly applaud the Senate of Canada coalition for urgent climate action, and in particular Senators Coyle and Kutcher for their initiative in bringing this inclusive work group into being. By this I mean that as an unaffiliated senator I get to participate along with any other senator, because this issue is bigger than any lines drawn by our small ways in this place.
This evening I hope to be respectful of the brilliance and tenacity of youth leaders who woke up to this crisis much sooner than most of us. For the first time, colleagues, Canada has become an old country. The 2016 national census marked a new reality. Canada has more folks in the age range of this chamber than younger generations. This is a shift that does not bode well for Canada unless we amplify intergenerational joint action.
From the age of 12, Autumn Peltier has continued in the line of Indigenous matriarch leaders with her clarion voice as a water defender. She reminds us that we can’t eat money or drink oil. And repeatedly she has reported that she has not felt respected or heard — perhaps because she is a young Indigenous woman. Autumn has said that it is almost like the politicians “don’t believe climate change is real. Climate change is a real thing and they are not realizing that.”
When Autumn was recognized at the elite gathering of the powerful at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, she said that people are awarding her, but:
“I don’t want your awards. If you’re going to award me, award me with helping me find solutions. Award me with helping me make change.”
No corner of the globe is immune from the devastating consequences of climate change. Rising temperatures are fuelling environmental degradation, natural disasters, weather extremes, food and water insecurity, economic disruption, conflict and terrorism, both international and domestic. Sea levels are rising; the Arctic is melting; coral reefs are dying; oceans are acidifying; forests are burning.
To state as much is not fear mongering. It is the tragic reality we are living today and will only increase in frequency and magnitude. As other senators have noted in this debate, we need look no further than our own recent Canadian experience of wild fires, flooding, infrastructure and ecosystem collapse, heat domes and Arctic degradation for the evidence that this truly is an emergency, truly a crisis. It is beyond obvious that business as usual is illogical, ineffective and immoral. It has been said that we fool ourselves if we think we can fool nature. As the infinite cost of climate change reaches irreversible highs, talk, debate and negotiation fall away. This is not a climate negotiation because we can’t negotiate with nature. What is required is action, inspired by this truth that this is an emergency.
I was recently inspired by Dominique Souris, the founding executive director of the Youth Climate Lab, who has said:
. . . real action and real leadership does not lie at the negotiating table, but on the ground. Young people and local communities are the drivers of this change.
In explaining why the Youth Climate Lab was founded, Dominique said:
. . . we were frustrated with a lack of meaningful youth engagement, which is why we created Youth Climate Lab.
. . . young people today, especially those on the front lines have the most at stake and the most to gain when it comes to fighting climate action. So Youth Climate Lab focuses on supporting youth to create and support climate solutions because as a generation youth are the most impacted by climate change.
I agree with Dominique Souris that young leaders are some of the most collaborative, intersectional and innovative problem solvers that create the solutions that we need. Not seeing youth as partners to solve this is a total missed opportunity and, she goes on to say, it’s even a moral mishap.
Speaking of young leaders, I’m honoured to be able to work with members of my youth advisory from many parts of Canada on a range of issues. Now a Toronto university student, Aleksi Toiviainen was in high school when he suggested to me that we start the climate justice work group of youth advisors, which is now active and paying close attention to what Parliament is doing about the climate crisis. They well know that they are the ones who will soon be living the impact of the decisions that parliamentarians make today.
Colleagues, it is imperative that we do not myopically reduce climate change discussions to a simple accounting of temperature. As the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, report clearly establishes with sound, concrete, scientific rigour and unparalleled data, climate change is already affecting every region on earth in multiple ways. Many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands of years, and some of the changes already set in motion, such as continued sea level rise, are irreversible.
Climate change is intensifying the water cycle, bringing more intense rainfall, flooding and more intense drought in many regions.
Coastal areas will see continued sea level rise throughout the 21st century, contributing to more frequent and severe coastal flooding, rapid Arctic ecosystem devastation such as the loss of seasonal snow cover, melting of glaciers and ice sheets and loss of summer Arctic sea ice.
Changes to the ocean including warming, more frequent marine heat waves, ocean acidification and reduced oxygen levels have been clearly linked to human cause.
Urban areas are not immune to these worsening conditions which manifest in increased urban temperatures, flooding, fires, food and resource shortages. All of these have costly impacts on basic services, infrastructure, housing, human livelihoods and health.
While technology has contributed to this climate crisis, new and efficient technologies can help us reduce net emissions and create a cleaner world. Readily available technological solutions already exist for more than 70% of today’s emissions.
I am not talking here about the proposals from the nuclear industry. That is not a viable way for us to go in finding technological solutions to the climate crisis.
In the meantime, nature-based solutions provide breathing room while we tackle the decarbonization of our economy. These solutions allow us to mitigate a portion of our carbon footprint while also supporting vital ecosystem services, biodiversity, access to fresh water, improved livelihoods, healthy diets and food security. Nature-based solutions include improved agricultural practices, land restoration, conservation and the greening of food supply chains.
Honourable senators, please consider these words from Dr. Andreas Kraemer — founder of the Ecologic Institute and senior fellow at the Canadian Centre for International Governance Innovation — at COP26 where he described how we have:
. . . missed the opportunity to initiate meaningful change, particularly to integrate the ocean into the climate agenda, and the damage about to be done to marine ecosystems will be in the trillions of dollars.
Several trillion, whether euros or U.S. dollars, in surplus liquidity are currently stashed in household bank accounts, accumulated during the pandemic and waiting to be spent once restrictions are lifted. On release, this pent-up demand will reinforce existing economic patterns and accelerate the destruction long underway.
Dr. Kraemer goes on to state:
Driving earth’s overheating are dominant patterns of production, trade, and consumption, reinforced by perverse subsidies and tax rules. Along with the deteriorating climate, rising inequality, and modern slavery, cocktails of chemicals poisoning life on land and in the water, rapid loss of biological diversity, and disruptions of natural cycles are the direct consequences of policy choices and business practices. About 15 percent of economic activity might be sustainable, 85 percent is clearly not. The 15 percent should expand. The 85 percent needs phasing out fast.
Dr. Kraemer continues:
National stimulus packages are small by comparison, and investment in infrastructure that locks in dirty practices is still too high. All eyes are on “building back better” rather than “building forward toward sustainability.”
At the COP26 summit held last November in Scotland, there were mixed results. Despite the many advances and new commitments reached at COP26, the wider consensus was that Glasgow revealed the weight of unkept promises, missed targets and a growing loss of public confidence in national commitment and capacity.
As Senator Forest aptly surmised in his comments, is it any wonder that the public is increasingly losing faith in federal promises and instead turning to local, municipal, community and grassroots leadership instead?
A group of Canadian and Scottish researchers in environmental law and governance from the University of Ottawa, the University of Cambridge and the Quebec Environmental Law Center have provided a stark assessment of the COP26 summit.
While acknowledging that the 1.5-degree temperature increase target remains alive, these scientists stress that the goal is in critical condition as the required concrete measures to achieve it are still lacking. It is telling that, under the Glasgow Climate Pact, states did not adopt new commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Among the positive results of COP26 was a strengthening of certain alliances among states. This was the case, for example, of the Powering Past Coal Alliance co-founded by Canada, which aims to eliminate unabated coal power. It now has 165 members, including 28 that joined during COP26.
Another example is the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, which aims to phase out the use of fossil fuels. Quebec joined, but not Canada.
These agreements, which were concluded in parallel to the main negotiations, may allow states to take action on issues where there is still no international consensus.
At COP26, Canada was one of more than 130 countries that signed a declaration to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. It covers more than 3.6 billion hectares of forest around the world. However, 40 countries, including Canada, signed a similar agreement in 2014, the New York Declaration on Forests, yet deforestation increased 40%.
The Hon. the Speaker: I’m sorry, Senator McPhedran. My apologies for interrupting you, but your time has expired. Are you asking for five more minutes?
Senator McPhedran: I would appreciate it. I can wrap up in one minute, Your Honour.
The Hon. the Speaker: If anybody is opposed, please say “no.”
Senator McPhedran: Thank you very much.
I support this motion by Senator Galvez. I commit to use my position and privilege as a senator to contribute to needed change. The climate emergency is a race we are losing, but it is a race we cannot afford to quit.
Allow me to close with a message sent to me yesterday from Aleksi Toiviainen, the member of my youth advisory, who suggested our climate justice work group. He says to each of you:
The Parliamentary Budget Officer recently reported that the clean-up of abandoned oil and gas wells has been dumped on the taxpayer instead of the industries responsible. Ontario’s Auditor General uncovered a similar story about that province’s toxic spills.
These alone should hint at where government’s true priorities lie. The federal government claims to pursue a just transition with net-zero emissions by 2050 while still expanding the Trans Mountain pipeline and while new oil projects plan to produce tens of millions of oil barrels each year.
Young people are not fooled. They know this means that we are waiting for them to grow up so we can foist the obligation onto them. This is what it means when the government makes promises for tomorrow. This is why we must declare a climate emergency.
Thank you, meegwetch.
(On motion of Senator Wells, debate adjourned.)
Social Affairs, Science and Technology
Motion to Authorize Committee to Study the Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention—Debate Continued
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Kutcher, seconded by the Honourable Senator Boehm:
That the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology be authorized, when and if it is formed, to examine and report on the Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention, including, but not limited to:
(a)evaluating the effectiveness of the Framework in significantly, substantially and sustainably decreasing rates of suicide since it was enacted;
(b)examining the rates of suicide in Canada as a whole and in unique populations, such as Indigenous, racialized and youth communities;
(c)reporting on the amount of federal funding provided to all suicide prevention programs or initiatives for the period 2000-2020 and determining what evidence-based criteria for suicide prevention was used in each selection;
(d)determining for each of the programs or interventions funded in paragraph (c), whether there was a demonstrated significant, substantive and sustained decrease in suicide rates in the population(s) targeted; and
(e)providing recommendations to ensure that Canada’s Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention and federal funding for suicide prevention activities are based on the best available evidence of the impact on suicide rate reduction; and
That the committee submit its final report on this study to the Senate no later than December 16, 2022.
Hon. Nancy J. Hartling: Honourable senators, I am speaking to you from the traditional, unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people in Riverview, New Brunswick.
I rise today in support of Motion No. 14 introduced by Senator Kutcher in December 2021, which proposed that the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology be authorized to conduct an in-depth study of the federal framework for suicide prevention. It would explore and examine what has transpired around suicide prevention since the framework was implemented in 2012.
The framework’s objectives were to reduce stigma and prevent suicide. What has transpired and what is the evidence? Senator Kutcher suggests that a robust scientific study using appropriate design methods and analytics is needed to measure rates of suicide reduction.
I believe that the committee is the place where all aspects of the framework could determine the effectiveness of each component and review what could help in future planning for the prevention of suicide.
I wanted to add my voice to support this motion because it’s a complex and deeply personal issue for many Canadians, including me. During my social work career of over 30 years working on mental health issues and suicide prevention, I have known many people whose family members died by suicide and who faced a most difficult and painful experience after their loss. Suicide impacts family members, but also those who work on these issues and our communities at large.
Many of the situations that I witnessed around suicide relate to youth and young adults. One particularly painful personal situation involved close friends. Joanne and her son Richard lived with my daughter Melissa and me. As single parents, Joanne and I shared space, meals and many conversations related to supporting and raising our teenage children. Richard and his mom were very close. In 2011, Joanne died of cancer. Richard was devastated, and he died by suicide in 2017. I felt so sad, as they were so close to my family.
In situations that I have known around suicide, these folks were deeply loved by their families. The mental health impacts on their families cannot be understated. I will share another tragic situation that occurred in my home province of New Brunswick last February 2021.
Lexi, a Grade 10 student, appeared to have an outgoing nature and constant smile that masked the pain she was experiencing inside. In November 2020, she became depressed and unsuccessfully attempted suicide. On February 18, 2021, while at school, she spoke to a guidance counsellor who knew about Lexi’s history and encouraged her to go to hospital to seek help because she was experiencing some depression.
Lexi went to the hospital and sat for eight hours. Later she went home feeling like a burden. Her father always believed that if she had gotten help that night, there would have been a different outcome.
While in hospital, according to the hospital record, Lexi was assessed by the triage nurse as being urgent and requiring an emergency intervention. Yet she only saw an ER physician who repeatedly asked her if she could keep safe if she went home. Lexi repeatedly answered that she could not.
Finally, after hours in hospital, Lexi replied, “Yeah, I think I can,” and was sent home with a referral.
The next day, February 19, the physician’s urgent psychiatrist referral was faxed to the Victoria Health Centre. This fax was then forward to Lexi’s assigned integrated service delivery clinician but did not result in a psychiatric referral as intended. Lexi died by suicide on February 24, 2021.
After her death, her parents were very vocal and wanted something done to prevent future tragedies. Her death sparked a public outcry and eventually led to promises by our health minister, Dorothy Shephard, to fix the province’s broken mental health care system.
A comprehensive report prepared by the New Brunswick Child & Youth Advocate was part of the review of the services. It was an in-depth report with many recommendations, but it has left me wondering: Has there been change? Has the problem been fixed or improved? I have no idea.
I am sure there are situations across Canada like this one. What are we doing? It has been a year since Lexi’s death and I am left wondering, what next? Hence why I support the Senate study, as it’s a matter of life and death.
Many people are at risk of suicide, but I believe our youth are particularly vulnerable and at risk, especially Indigenous, LGBTQ+ and other marginalized youth. I believe it’s the right time for the study as proposed in Motion No. 14.
A couple of mothers I know personally find ways to cope with their grief. Mary, Tony’s mother, often posts on Facebook to remember him after almost four years since he died by suicide. Last week, she wrote:
It’s almost four years since I got the phone call. Even though there are many days I feel so sad, it seems like yesterday. I struggle even now not believing it’s true. I love you, my son.
These anniversary dates are the worst of any day. I can be in tears. My son, my first-born child, was the kind of person everybody looked up to. His friends and family treasured their relationship with him. I’m sad and I look forward to the day when we are reunited.
Mary’s grief is real and continues to be a sharp reminder of this tragedy. Another mother, Sheree Fitch, is a well-known East Coast author with a colourful, whimsical imagination. Her lyrical rhyming children’s books Mabel Murple and Toes in my Nose were inspired by her children. Sheree’s son Dustin died by suicide almost four years ago. To help her cope and understand her grief, she wrote and published her book You Won’t Always Be This Sad. The writing is raw, real and explores the depths of a mother’s love. She found healing in the creative process. She said, “I’m regathering bits of myself and that feels good after being shattered.”
Many parents who have lost their children have reached out to her after reading her book. I honour those who walked this journey, perhaps still wondering why or what they could have done differently. I honour the lives of Richard, Lexi, Tony, Dustin and Becky and the many I have not named who have died too soon.
I believe it’s imperative to undertake the study to explore, examine and evaluate and make recommendations for the future. I urge you to support this important study, as I believe it is important to many Canadians. Thank you.
(On motion of Senator Wells, debate adjourned.)
Motion Pertaining to Section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982—Debate Continued
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Dalphond, seconded by the Honourable Senator Cordy:
That the Senate:
1.recall that, despite the commitment found in section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982 to have a fully bilingual Constitution, as of today, of the 31 enactments that make up the Canadian Constitution, 22 are official only in their English version, including almost all of the Constitution Act, 1867; and
2.call upon the government to consider, in the context of the review of the Official Languages Act, the addition of a requirement to submit, every five years, a report detailing the efforts made to comply with section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
Hon. Claude Carignan: Honourable senators, I rise today to express my support for the motion pertaining to section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
The motion has two parts. The first states an objectively verifiable fact, namely that the government has not adopted a French version of all the texts that make up the Canadian Constitution, even though section 55 was intended to ensure that a French version was adopted quickly.
As Professor Ruth Sullivan explained in her 2014 treatise on statutory interpretation:
Section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982, provides for a French version of the constitutional laws that are in English only to be prepared as expeditiously as possible. As soon as it is ready, it shall be put forward for enactment pursuant to the procedure applicable to an amendment of the Constitution.
Although section 55 requires expeditious action . . . an official version has not yet been adopted.
The second part of the motion calls upon the federal government to include a requirement to submit a report every five years in its next reform of the Official Languages Act. These reports should detail the efforts it has made to adopt the official French version of the constitutional texts, pursuant to section 55.
How can one oppose this motion, except to say it should have been brought forward much earlier? For close to 40 years, the federal government did not move, and refused to give Canadians a French version of their Constitution, which would stand as the law. In fact, section 55 compelled the government to table important parts of the French version as soon as they were ready.
I agree with the point of view that Professor Sébastien Grammond expressed in 2017 before being appointed to the bench. In a collective work entitled La Constitution bilingue du Canada, un projet inachevé, he wrote:
The current situation, where the Constitution of a bilingual country is partially unilingual, is indefensible: There is no good reason or principle for refusing to complete the process of enacting a French version. The reason this has not happened in the more than 30 years since the Constitution was repatriated is purely political.
Many of today’s politicians are extremely reluctant to get involved in a project that requires a constitutional amendment.
Such inaction by the federal government obviously has legal consequences for statutory interpretation. I will give you an example, taken from a book entitled Constitutional Law of Canada, by the late professor Peter Hogg:
So long as the French version of the Constitution Act 1867 remains unofficial, any discrepancy between the English and French version would have to be resolved by recourse to the English version, because it is the only authoritative one.
More importantly, the absence of a complete official French version of the constitutional texts sends a symbolic message that is demoralizing to francophone Canadians. I agree with the professor and lawyer François Larocque, who said the following in May 2021, in a brief submitted to the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages:
The persistent unilingualism of the Constitution of Canada sanctions the illegitimate supremacy of English and perpetuates the inequality of the official languages. As long as the purpose of section 55 remains unachieved, French-speaking Canadians will not have the same rights, statuses and privileges as their English-speaking counterparts. As long as Canada refuses to even respect the minimum standard of formal equality by enacting its constitutional texts in both official languages, the aspiration of substantive equality of English and French will remain an illusion.
The federal government can and must take the initiative to try and fulfill its obligation pursuant to section 55. The first step is easy. It just has to invite its provincial counterparts to discuss the French version that has already been prepared by the Department of Justice Canada for all constitutional texts.
In December 1990, the French Constitutional Drafting Committee, which was established by the Department of Justice Canada, completed the French version of 30 constitutional texts set out in the schedule to the Constitution Act, 1982, as well as eight additional texts deemed important by the committee.
Thirty-one years have passed since 1990. The problem is that in the interim, the federal government has practically made no attempt to have this French version become law.
Of course, even if the federal and provincial governments initiate talks, this does not guarantee that they would quickly come to an agreement, especially considering that adopting the French version of these constitutional documents would require using constitutional amendment procedures.
As you know, the Constitution Act, 1982, provides for different amending formulas. These require either the agreement of one or more provinces or the unanimous agreement of all provinces, depending on the subject of the amendment to be made to the Constitution.
In other words, certain constitutional texts or parts of them may be more complex to adopt, but others could be adopted easily and quickly, depending upon the type of agreement required by the applicable amending formula.
This idea is important. Section 55 does not require that the government simultaneously adopt all of the French versions of the dozens of constitutional texts mentioned in the 1990 report.
Here are some examples of constitutional texts that could be easier to adopt, according to Professor Grammond:
. . . it is clear that many constitutional texts that must be translated apply only to a single province or group of provinces. The terms of union for British Columbia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland fall under this category, as do the acts creating Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The same goes for the Constitution Act, 1930, which applies only to the four western provinces. According to section 43 [of the Constitution Act, 1982], all of these texts can be amended only with the consent of Parliament and the legislative assembly of each province to which the amendment applies. This could make it easier to adopt a French version of these texts, in that only one province would have to provide consent for each of these texts.
Similarly, in the 2017 collective work I mentioned earlier, lawyers Mark C. Power, Marc-André Roy and Emmanuelle Léonard-Dufour stated that even the federal Parliament could unilaterally decide to adopt a certain number of constitutional provisions in French, under its power to amend the Constitution in relation to federal parliamentary institutions.
The federal Parliament is granted this power in accordance with the amending formula set out in section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
In contrast, the constitutional amending formula set out in section 41 requires the unanimous agreement of the provinces. However, this formula applies only to a minority of constitutional provisions for which a French version is desirable, according to Professor Grammond. The examples he offers are sections 9 and 17 of the Constitution Act, 1867. They have to do with the office of the Queen, a subject covered by the formula set out in section 41.
I agree that the path forward to an agreement between the federal government and the provinces could be long and difficult. However, according to several experts, section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982 does not allow the federal government to do nothing to restart talks with the provinces. These discussions were interrupted in 1998, as Senator Dalphond mentioned in his speech in December.
The Commissioner of Official Languages is also in favour of reopening a dialogue about this between the federal government and the provinces. His position is in line with the wording of the motion:
In my recommendations for the modernization of the Official Languages Act, I supported the proposal specifically requiring the Minister of Justice of Canada to make every effort to enact the French versions of the constitutional texts.
The author of the article that quotes Mr. Théberge also states the following:
The Canadian Bar Association and other stakeholders also made similar recommendations in their comments on the modernization of the Act.
I would argue that it would be a historic step forward for all Canadians if our country finally had a fully bilingual Constitution.
According to the same article, the Commissioner of Official Languages is of the opinion that:
. . . adopting a French version of Canada’s constitutional texts is a fundamental issue that raises important questions about the equal status of our two official languages and goes to the very heart of the foundations of our country.
He also stated, and I quote:
If we want a society in which two official languages coexist and evolve, we must remedy this historic injustice, which has gone on for too long.
Colleagues, for all these reasons, I encourage you to support this motion. It will encourage the federal government to overcome its inaction by requesting periodic reports on its efforts to comply with section 55. If any provinces refuse to adopt the French version of certain constitutional texts or portions of them, the government can still adopt the parts of the Constitution for which it has obtained the necessary agreements in accordance with the constitutional amending formula or formulas applicable to those parts. The government could include those kinds of actions in its periodic reports.
In closing, although I support the motion, I think the five-year deadline to produce a report should be much shorter. A shorter deadline would make it possible to more quickly hold the federal government to account for taking measures to meet its obligation to adopt French texts.
To that end, I draw your attention to the lawsuit filed by François Larocque and our former colleague, the honourable Serge Joyal, that is currently before the Superior Court of Quebec. They are asking the court to rule that the federal and Quebec governments are in violation of section 55. To compensate for that violation, their suit calls for these governments to periodically report to the court on the steps that have been taken and to submit a plan for steps to be taken in future to enact the French version of the Constitution.
Their suit calls for these reports to be produced:
. . . within six months of the date of the judgment and every twelve months until the French version of the Constitution is enacted . . .
I think their idea of calling for a 12-month deadline for producing periodic reports is a good one.
Motion in Amendment Adopted
Hon. Claude Carignan: Therefore, honourable senators, in amendment, I move:
That the motion be not now adopted, but that it be amended by replacing the words “five years” by the words “12 months”.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion in amendment?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
(Motion in amendment of the Honourable Senator Carignan agreed to.)
(On motion of Senator Wells, debate adjourned.)
Motion to Call Upon the Government to Implement the Eighth Recommendation of the First Report of the Special Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector—Debate Adjourned
Hon. Ratna Omidvar, pursuant to notice of November 24, 2021, moved:
That the Senate call upon the Government of Canada to implement the eighth recommendation of the first report of the Special Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector, entitled Catalyst for Change: A Roadmap to a Stronger Charitable Sector, adopted by the Senate on November 3, 2020, during the Second Session of the Forty-third Parliament, which proposed that the Canada Revenue Agency include questions on both the T3010 (for registered charities) and the T1044 (for federally incorporated not-for-profit corporations) on diversity representation on boards of directors based on existing employment equity guidelines.
She said: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on this motion, which calls upon the Government of Canada to implement the eighth recommendation of the first report of the Special Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector, entitled Catalyst for Change: A Roadmap to a Stronger Charitable Sector.
This is a rather straightforward, practical and eminently doable proposal in the context of our discussions of anti-racism and inclusion. It focuses on one sector, but an incredibly important sector, that helps Canadians get through ordinary and extraordinary times. I am talking of the charitable and not-for-profit sector. It provides services in every corner of our country. It covers all aspects of life in Canada, from religion, to health, to culture, to poverty and to the environment, to name just a few. It employs close to 2.5 million people and contributes 8.2% to our GDP, but it also suffers from a lack of consistent data collection.
This is a significant problem, because evidence is essential to making policy and other decisions. This motion is one small step to addressing this evidence gap.
Its focus is on the leadership in the sector. Every not-for-profit and charity in Canada is governed by appointed or elected directors. They set the mission, they determine priorities, they approve hiring and procurement policies, and they decide who gets services and how. If one estimates that every one of these charities and not-for-profits — together about 170,000 organizations — each has an average of 12 directors, we are talking about a governance population of roughly 2 million people who make life-changing decisions that affect Canadians.
Who are these people? I know many of them; you likely know many of them, too. In fact, many of you are likely on these boards yourself. The board members and directors are smart, well-meaning volunteers who give hours of their time on not-for-profit and charitable boards.
But who are they really? The answer is that we don’t know.
In June 2019, the Senate Charitable Sector Committee tabled its final report. Buried in the 42 recommendations is one that deserves re-examination, given the context of the day. In the report, we took note of the size, scope and influence of the sector. As I mentioned earlier, it touches all aspects of our lives, and it wields significant heft in our economy and in our employment figures.
I think we also know how much we have relied upon this sector during the pandemic.
But since charities and not-for-profits do not collect data on governance — at least not on a systemic, sector-wide basis, and since the government does not do that either — we don’t quite know whether the governance of these essential organizations is inclusive of the many diversities in this country.
You will all perhaps remember that we had this conversation before when we discussed Bill C-25, which amended the Canada Business Corporations Act. As a result, all federally incorporated distributing corporations are now required to provide shareholders, at annual general meetings, information about diversity among directors and senior management. The changes to the law have been in force now for two years.
In my view, this bill was an imperfect bill, and some of us tabled an amendment but did not have enough support in the chamber. However, at least the corporate sector now has a reporting provision that mandates it to report annually on the demographic diversity of their boards’ plans. As a result, we will get, year after year, a spotlight on whether diversity is increasing or decreasing in corporate boardrooms. At least we will have a baseline of evidence.
I believe — and I hope I am right — that most of us here believe in the role, the function and the centrality of charities and not-for-profit organizations to the ongoing health and vibrancy of our country. But what little data we have on the sector leads me to a conclusion: It may talk the walk of diversity, but it does not quite walk it yet. Its aspirations are admirable on this front, and its spirit is willing, but its flesh appears to be weak. As The Philanthropist Journal has noted:
Boards within the charitable and philanthropic sector have often been criticized for a phenomenon dubbed “snow-capping” — having racialized workers on the front lines while mostly white executives sit in decision-making positions at the top of the organizational hierarchy.
In June 2020, I issued an open letter asking the charitable sector to collect data on diversity on their boards. Luckily, through the power of social media, Statistics Canada became involved and agreed to conduct a crowdsourced voluntary survey of the sector.
This survey was designed by Statistics Canada with significant input from the sector. It was launched in December 2020 and available until January 2021. A total of 8,835 individuals completed the survey, of which 6,170 were board members. It was Statistics Canada’s first targeted attempt to measure diversity on governing boards in the charitable and non-for-profit sector.
The survey asked board members about socio-demographic information, including their race, gender, sexual orientation, age, immigration status and disability. The survey found that whilst women were equitably represented on these boards, racialized people, immigrants and people with disabilities were not.
Among those who responded to the survey, 14% identified as being immigrants, 11% identified as belonging to a visible minority group and only 3% identified as First Nations, Métis or Inuit.
The survey also asked them to describe the communities they serve and whether their organization had a written policy on the diversity of its board of directors, and 47% of participants said their organization did not have such a policy.
I really appreciate that Statistics Canada stepped up to do this survey and provide a snapshot into the sector, but this is only the first step in a one-time process. It is also not statistically significant because the data was crowdsourced. We need a way of gathering annual data on diversity in the sector. The Senate’s report Catalyst for Change: A Roadmap to a Stronger Charitable Sector, recommended that the government’s role be to ensure that this data is collected and tabulated on an ongoing basis.
What needs to be done is actually quite simple. The minister responsible for the Canada Revenue Agency needs to add a question on this matter on both the T1044 and the T3010 forms, the forms that charities and not-for-profit organizations have to file annually if they want to retain their status. Every charity and every federally regulated not-for-profit organization must fill this form out every year. Therefore, with the inclusion of a new question, data would be gathered annually and would be aggregated and possibly disaggregated to present a clear picture of diversity. Based on clear evidence, the country and the sector could see if progress is being made, how and where.
If we truly want this next decade to be a decade of reconciliation and about inclusion, hope and respect for the diversity of Canada, then we must hear the voices of Indigenous peoples, racialized communities and other marginalized groups not just in universities, courtrooms and in the Senate but also in the boardrooms of our many well-meaning charities and not-for-profit organizations.
This motion provides a simple but systemic way of tackling the governance deficit in the sector. Whilst it does not require changes to legislation, it does require political will.
I hope I can count on you for your support for this simple change that will be the beginning of much-needed renewal of a very important sector in Canada.
Thank you, colleagues.
(On motion of Senator Dasko, debate adjourned.)
Audit and Oversight
Committee Authorized to Refer Papers and Evidence from the Second Session of the Forty-third Parliament and by the Intersessional Authority
Hon. Marty Klyne, pursuant to notice of December 14, 2021, moved:
That the papers and evidence received and taken and the work accomplished or produced by the Standing Senate Committee on Audit and Oversight during the Second Session of the Forty-third Parliament and by the Intersessional Authority be referred to the Standing Committee on Audit and Oversight.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
(Motion agreed to.)
Motion Pertaining to Minimums for Government Bills—Debate Adjourned
Hon. Scott Tannas, pursuant to notice of December 14, 2021, moved:
That, notwithstanding any provision of the Rules, previous order or usual practice:
1.except as provided in this order, the question not be put on the motion for third reading of a government bill unless the orders for resuming debate at second and third reading have, together, been called at least three times, in addition to the sittings at which the motions for second and third readings were moved;
2.when a government bill has been read a first time, and before a motion is moved to set the date for second reading, the Leader of the Government in the Senate or the Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate may, without notice, move that the bill be deemed an urgent matter, and that the provisions of paragraph 1 of this order not apply to proceedings on the bill;
3.when a motion has been moved pursuant to paragraph 2 of this order, the following provisions apply:
(a)the debate shall only deal with whether the bill should be deemed an urgent matter or not;
(b)the debate shall not be adjourned;
(c)the debate shall last a maximum of 20 minutes;
(d)no senator shall speak for more than 5 minutes;
(e)no senators shall speak more than once;
(f)the debate shall not be interrupted for any purpose, except for the reading of a message from the Crown or an event announced in such a message;
(g)the debate may continue beyond the ordinary time of adjournment, if necessary, until the conclusion of the debate and consequential business;
(h)the time taken in debate and for any vote shall not count as part of Routine Proceedings;
(i)no amendment or other motion shall be received, except a motion that a certain senator be now heard or do now speak;
(j)when debate concludes or the time for debate expires, the Speaker shall put the question; and
(k)any standing vote requested shall not be deferred, and the bells shall ring for only 15 minutes.
He said: Honourable senators, you will recall my speech and the subsequent discussion we had during the final days of our December sittings when we reluctantly waived our rights and obligations to thoroughly consider legislation that, in some cases, had only just arrived in our chamber hours before the scheduled adjournment for the holidays.
In fact, there were a number of bills that were passed in December by us through a process that involved us waiving some or all of our Rules regarding our processes long established for sober second thought.
Some of the bills were urgent. They were financially urgent. They were needed by Canadians. They were in response to the COVID crisis. Frankly, some of the bills were politically urgent and with less clear rationale for such swift passage without consideration in accordance with our Rules. We passed them all.
Many of us on that final day expressed regret and frustration at being forced, influenced and encouraged to compromise our duty to sober second thought. There was a consensus over the course of that discussion to examine this issue and to take action to prevent us from falling into the same situation again.
I think when you look to solve a problem, you have to make sure you understand what the problem is, and so let me pause with what I think the problem is. I think there are two things we should focus on.
First, the House of Commons does not appear to accept that the Senate needs time to fulfill its constitutional duty to apply sober second thought to legislation. I think that’s clear by their actions, particularly last December and last June. I would say those were exceptional situations, but I have been here for nine years. It seems that this has happened over and over again, but none more obvious than last December. I would say that’s problem number one.
Problem number two, I think, is that over many years and many governments of different political stripes, the Senate has enabled and reinforced the government’s expectation that the Senate will waive its rules and/or truncate its processes when receiving bills in the final days of the session. We have, through our own actions, shown that we will be a willing partner in throwing over what our job is in the final days of the session.
With those two problems on the table, how do we consider solutions, and what are they? We have had discussions about this before. We have good rules. We choose to waive them. So the first and foremost suggested solution to this problem involves a change of behaviour by us. We have to stop granting leave all over the place; leave to break our own rules on legislation, particularly. That is an easy first step.
In aid of that, I’m pleased to announce that after discussions, the CSG senators will not grant leave to facilitate or waive our rules on the passage of any legislation anymore. That’s not going to be there. We can rely on our rules. We can debate changing our rules. We can hear explanations about changing our rules. But in situations where we are asked to grant unanimous consent, we will not provide it. I hope all senators from all corners will consider adding their negative voices if and when we are asked in the future.
I think we also need to be a bit more critical of emergencies. There was a statement I made once before, something to the effect that your bad planning is not my emergency. Bad planning is not an emergency. Political expediency is not an emergency. Even if we want to see the legislation passed, if we support it with our hearts, we still should do the job we are here to do. In business, no matter how good the deal or how important, there is an issue of due diligence that must be undertaken, and we need to do our job in providing due diligence.
Those are a couple of ideas around behaviour change that we need to consider and look to ourselves on as we look to solve this problem. I think we have to have better communication and more candid communication. Committees need to, I think, get in front of bills, understand and communicate what they see as a work plan, maybe earlier in the process. It’s something to consider, to communicate with the government leader and the chamber how much time they believe they will need if they are assigned the job of reviewing legislation.
I think we have some communications efforts to educate members of Parliament and the public as to what work we actually do on a bill and why it takes as long as it does. I think we should also show that, in most cases, we deal with a bill faster than the House of Commons does, even when we are applying our normal rules and discipline, so that we get the real facts out about the job we do, how long it takes in comparison to the other place and make sure that everybody understands the value of that. I think we still have lots of work to do in that area.
The third action I think we need to take is to make some adjustment to our rules. I think we have to make an adjustment that recognizes that there are going to be emergencies when we will need to move faster than our current rules allow. If anything has highlighted that, it is COVID-19. But we should have some clear rules around how we are going to do that. If we do, I think that will allow better transparency, it will allow debate and it will make it clear that we have considered, thoughtfully, on purpose and in a public way, and waived our rights and obligations to full sober second thought.
That is what Motion No. 30 attempts to capture. There is a process by which we would have a procedure within our own rules to deal with genuine emergencies in a transparent and orderly way, through a brief debate, triggered by the government leader, and then a standing vote. In that way, we can publicly and thoughtfully decide whether or not — whatever the bill is — it is an emergency worth having us suspend our rights and obligations under the Constitution. Maybe all three of these things — a change in our behaviour, better communication and changes to our rules — will allow us to avoid the Christmas crunch and the June jam-up that we have suffered so many times.
I know others have ideas on how to deal with this; others may say there is nothing we can do. But we look forward to debate and discussion on this motion. There is no pride of authorship. We are wide open to amendments, additions, deletions — whatever senators want. I undertook, on behalf of a number of people who asked, to put something forward, and after consideration I think Motion No. 30 is helpful. It is one of the things that needs to be done and I look forward to continued discussion. Thank you, senators.
Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition): I’m wondering whether Senator Tannas would take a question.
Senator Tannas: Yes.
Senator Plett: Unless there are other questions, I will move the adjournment after this.
The Hon. the Speaker: Senator Plett, we are approaching six o’clock. The rules require that I leave the chair unless we agree not to see the clock. Does anybody wish that we suspend now versus continue? If so, please say, “suspend.”
All right. I will not see the clock and we will continue.
Senator Plett, another senator wishes to enter the debate before the adjournment.
Senator Plett: Certainly, Your Honour. Thank you.
Senator Tannas, when I read paragraph 2 of your motion — maybe I’m not reading it right, but it says:
. . . when a government bill has been read a first time, and before a motion is moved to set the date for second reading, the Leader of the Government in the Senate or the Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate may, without notice, move that the bill be deemed an urgent matter, and that the provisions of paragraph 1 of this order not apply to proceedings on the bill . . .
I fully agree with you that the government’s mismanagement is not our urgent matter. But are you not allowing the government leader here to decide that their mismanagement — constant, everyday mismanagement — is in fact an urgent matter?
We were told before the bill was introduced in the House of Commons that Bill C-10 is already an urgent matter. And it’s not yet before the House of Commons. Does this not kill your entire motion?
Senator Tannas: It’s a good question. Frankly, that is a matter for debate as opposed to urging at leaders’ meetings, wheeling and dealing at leaders’ meetings, pressure in caucus or groups to stand quietly and not object, pressure on every single senator not to give leave or to give leave knowing every single senator individually — it’s actually a way to divide us all, the way that we have been doing it.
This way, the government leader would have to get up, he would have to make his case about why this is an urgent matter. We could, in debate and through questions, ask him why it’s an emergency. Then, we can actually collectively decide through a standing vote whether or not it is an emergency. It still allows for bad planning, for it to become our emergency. But we will do it on purpose and transparently, and through a vote.
Senator Plett: I accept that is your intent, Senator Tannas. Of course, as I said, when debate collapses here, I’ll move adjournment because I want to study that. I don’t think what you just said would, in fact, happen the way I read this.
I’m not a Philadelphia lawyer, but to me, this reads as Senator Gold can decide and tell us this is an urgent matter, and he could say, “Now, I don’t care what paragraph 1 says. I say it’s an urgent matter.” To me, this looks like our incompetent government — and I don’t want to say our incompetent government leader. It’s our incompetent government, who Senator Gold has to represent unfortunately — is still allowed to do what I said.
We might want to find a way of amending that. I’m not sure, but we will certainly want to look at that for a while and see whether or not — if you want to reply to that, certainly, please do. It was a comment more than a question, but please.
Senator Tannas: Again, we are looking to find whatever rule possible to legitimately recognize real emergencies, debate and decide that it is an emergency, and move, rather than by deciding through side negotiations and pressure that will certainly always come from the government: phoning people, telling people we’ve got to get this done, et cetera. According to them, it’s vital. It’s always vital, always an emergency.
We have got to take those discussions out of the hallways and into the chamber and allow senators to decide whether or not — and how they want — to waive their constitutional rights and obligations in the consideration of legislation. We are wide open to any amendments you think will help solve the problem. Thank you.
Hon. Denise Batters: Senator Tannas, I’ve just looked at this briefly myself. Is it correct that if the sort of urgent matter the government is potentially going to say some of these bills are, then it’s your paragraph 3 that states to determine whether it actually is an urgent matter, there could be a debate, but that debate could last only 20 minutes with 5-minute speeches, and with four senators maximum having the ability to speak for 5 minutes? I’m not sure if that would get to the crux of the matter. Certainly, I can understand the need to not have a lengthy, protracted debate. However, that seems to be an extremely short debate, especially for a place like the Senate.
Senator Tannas: I agree. We put something that was as short as we thought possible, with the view that we would look closely at it. It might make sense to have an hour-long debate. It might make sense to have a five-hour debate. We’re wide open to ideas, but we picked 20 minutes, so if it’s truly an emergency, it should be obvious to us. Maybe it won’t be. Maybe sometimes we’ll need more time to flesh it out. Maybe we should increase the time frame.
Hon. Yuen Pau Woo: Senator Tannas, would you take a question? Thank you for raising this important issue and for getting us all to think about the importance of our constitutional responsibilities.
First, if some senators, including members of your caucus and other senators in this chamber, have determined that they will no longer give leave of the sort that you’re describing — that we indulged ourselves in before the Christmas break — why would this motion still be necessary? If senators don’t give leave, we would never be in a situation where we would have to rush a bill through.
Second, while I have the floor, if we retain the power to not give leave at all stages of debate, and retain the power to adjourn debates, we are in fact exercising our rights and therefore would not be in a situation where bills would be rushed.
In that scenario, where we are exercising the normal rules we have, we would be in a situation where the government can make the case for the urgency of a bill through the second-reading speech, which is much more substantial than a brief intervention during the 20-minute debate you have proposed. I’m asking if the current Rules already give us the ability to avoid the sorts of problems you have rightly raised with all of us.
Senator Tannas: The issue for a number of us is that the current rules don’t really allow for a shortened period of time. We have “two days hence.” We have all of the things that drag out the move to committee, all of the steps that drag out the procedures in the House over a number of days at a minimum.
We might not be prepared to give leave, because for many of us, leave is difficult. It is a gun to your head. If you are an individual senator and your group has negotiated leave, or you’re under group influence to provide leave — not to say anything, in other words — and the negotiation has taken place somewhere else, behind closed doors, it looks odd to members of the public to have everybody sitting silently while a bill goes through the stages.
If we’re not going to give leave and we think that leave is part of the problem of enabling legislation, then we must have something to at least replace leave that’s transparent, debatable and subject to vote in a reasonable amount of time to set us on a different track but to do it publicly.
Hon. Diane Bellemare: Would Senator Tannas take a question?
Senator Tannas: Yes.
Senator Bellemare: Senator Tannas, you propose to use a motion that would seek to avoid the situations we encountered in the past, where we wound up facing measures that prevented us from studying the bill.
If a management committee were tasked with standardizing our approach to government bills, as we have already done for other bills, don’t you think that it would give us more weight than the House of Commons, and that it would allow us to plan for such emergencies? Wouldn’t such a committee, which would actually be a standing committee, also allow us to deal with these emergencies? Have you thought of that?
Senator Tannas: Where we have had managed debates on bills, a time frame hasn’t been the issue. We haven’t been up against June or up against Christmas when we have typically done it.
It has been on issues that are large, complex and extremely important. I think that is the place for which we should save managed bills: those instances when we may or may not agree on what the outcome ought to be, but we agree they are large, complex and important. That is where the role of either management agreements or a management committee could be.
I am instinctively nervous about a committee that would start managing all of our business here. It could easily lead to abuse, particularly in majority situations. I’m not saying we have that now, but, in the Senate’s history, we will. I’m not keen on the idea that every bill goes through a management committee permanently. I know there are others who are, and that’s a debate for another day.
What I’m interested in is trying to find a solution to the issue that seems to keep coming up where the House of Commons drops bills in our lap on their way out the door to go on their break. That forecloses any potential for us to make amendments or improvements and forces us into a situation where we are going to essentially rubber-stamp something. That is the issue I want to discuss today. It’s around Christmas and June. Thank you.
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Will the senator take a question, please?
Senator Tannas: Certainly.
Senator Gold: Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I expect I’ll have more to say when I enter into debate.
Let me concede or admit that I feel strongly in our inherent flexibility in the Senate, in the flexibility of our Rules and our practices within which the chamber has always operated.
As many of you will know, and I’m looking at our honourable colleague Senator Plett, there is no lack of tools to slow things down — whether it’s government legislation or any legislation — if senators believe that it’s not in the public interest to do so. That leads me to my question.
I’m going to note that for the private members’ bills and public bills passed in the Senate last June, the timelines outlined in your motion were not respected by the Senate — far from it. Let me give you the list: Bill C-220, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (bereavement leave); Bill C-228, An Act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism; Bill C-237, An Act to establish a national framework for diabetes; Bill S-211, An Act to establish International Mother Language Day; Bill S-230, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (granting citizenship to certain Canadians); Bill C-210, An Act to amend the Canada Revenue Agency Act (organ and tissue donors); and Bill C-208, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (transfer of small business or family farm or fishing corporation).
Senator Tannas, were these bills expedited because there was a lack of procedural tools for senators to delay things and discharge our duty, or was it simply because the Senate collectively decided that these bills were in the public interest?
Senator Tannas: I think some senators did decide they were in the public interest, but to be open and honest, Senator Gold, a number of them involved political deals that were made in either the House of Commons or here in the Senate in order to pass this or to get that passed or to agree this was important or not important. It was a series of deals that were made that put those through.
We can say that those were good. Those of us who supported those bills were thrilled, but at the end of the day on some of those bills, we may or may not have done ourselves any favour or have discharged our duty.
Again, we’re talking about government bills. You specifically would have this tool in the Rules rather than a make-it-up-as-we-go-along tool that involves leave and pre-negotiated motions outside of this room. That’s what I’m interested in dealing with so that we stay focused on our job of good scrutiny of legislation in a thorough but timely fashion.
Hon. Raymonde Saint-Germain: Senator Tannas, would you take another question?
Senator Tannas: Yes.
Senator Saint-Germain: You’ve sparked such an interesting conversation, and you seem to think that, so far, the Senate Rules and practices have not enabled us to separate urgent bills from non-urgent bills and have prevented us from providing serious, thorough, sober second thought on certain bills.
Do you think that the pre-studies that our Rules allow us to authorize also help us get ahead on our study of bills in some cases? Do you think that avenue could be beneficial in some potentially urgent situations, although not in every case, and could help us avoid simply rubber-stamping a bill? Do you think pre-studies are a tool and practice that we should make use of as much as possible?
Senator Tannas: Yes, I believe in pre-studies, and we have done them on a number of bills. I would say that part of the frustration a number of us had at Christmastime involved a bill that was pre-studied and, literally hours before it arrived here, it grew a whole new section that had never been studied and was dropped in. So sometimes even with our best intentions, politics in the House come into play.
I think that the more tools we can have within our Rules, like pre-study — there is a process by which we approve that — the better. And rather than always defaulting to negotiations and operating with leave or through other means that aren’t transparent and aren’t necessarily thoughtful — at least as far as the public sees — the more we can avoid that and incorporate things in our Rules.
Hon. Jane Cordy: Thank you, Senator Tannas. This is an extremely important issue. I think we were both interviewed by the same newspaper last week, and we both expressed frustration about how to solve the problem. I had quite a lengthy discussion with the reporter, and you throw out one idea and, “Well, what about this?” “What about that?”
Senator Carstairs, when she was leader, was very good about saying that if bills didn’t arrive by a specific date in June and December, because those months seemed to be the trouble spots, then they wouldn’t be dealt with. The challenge is that works if it’s a majority government on the other side. It doesn’t necessarily work if it’s a minority government, because it would be very easy to delay passage of bills on the other side, so that deadline would not be reached.
I am pleased that you brought it up for discussion, because I think we really need a thorough dialogue on this.
This is sort of a silly question, because delays are used anyway, but how do we ensure that the Rules are used not to expedite legislation, but not to delay it either? How do we work together to make sure that the process is fair to all sides? There may be 5 or 10 sides to an issue, but for simplicity’s sake, how do we ensure that all sides get a hearing in a fair period of time — so that there is no dragging it out, that we pass the date of December 5 and it’s no longer going to be dealt with — but, on the other hand, that we not rush through, skip over and not allow for healthy debate on a bill, a piece of legislation? You spoke a lot about tools. How do we use our tools effectively to ensure that it’s a fair debate?
Senator Tannas: You raise a couple of good points. Number one, on the behaviour side, is communication with the other side. If we know what the committee will need in terms of time and we have a reasonable sense of a bill and what it will take in order for it to be thoroughly debated, we could communicate that to the House and say, “If you want this done before we rise, we need this amount of time.” We can say, “Well, you know, then the folks on the other side, whoever the opposition is, have an easy point to which they can delay it.”
However, that doesn’t all hang together, because at some point they negotiated to drop it on our laps on the last day. If they negotiated to drop it on our laps on the last day, before they all left, they could negotiate to drop it in our laps two weeks before the last day, if they know that is well and truly the last day.
I think something can be done vis-à-vis the behaviour and expectations on the other side, because there has to be help from the other side as well. It comes back to this issue of whether they really appreciate or think about the amount of time that the other chamber needs.
I think we should work on solving our problem and let them work on solving their side of the problem as well. Hopefully, through good communication, we can at least make a start on that.
Hon. Frances Lankin: Senator Tannas, this is a very important discussion for us to have as a Senate. It is important to the Canadian public — not that they may be interested in it at all, because it’s pretty much insider baseball — to ensure that the responsibility we undertake as senators to review the bill, the oft-used phrase “sober second thought,” is actually realized in our work and that we’re able, in conjunction with all the processes and rules, to do our work well.
Many senators have spoken to the fact that there are rules that could be used. You have said that the Canadian Senators Group will not provide leave for expediting government legislation. That’s a pretty strong signal. I thank your group for deliberating and bringing this forward for the rest of us, and for those who think we just use the rules that we have or whatever.
There is incredible pressure when a matter is called “urgent” by the government and the House of Commons adjourns. We know that if we make any changes, it has to go back to an empty chamber. In June and December, it delays further work on that bill for months, not just for another week or two. It’s important to keep in mind what effect this would bring.
I understand the Government Representative Office bringing forward — and I look forward to Senator Gold’s speech, although I think we got a preview of it there; it was more than a question. I appreciate their desire to have the flexibility to work through things with a leadership group.
However, as Senator Tannas points out, sometimes therein lies the problem in that it is opaque to many of us. It happens sometimes at the last minute. There is not the same willingness — at least as has been demonstrated by the Senate during my years of experience here — to actually stand up under that pressure, except in extraordinary circumstances.
This discussion is very important. Senator Tannas, I support your motion. I very much want to have conversations with other senators about what improvements there could be or about pitfalls that we haven’t examined — thus the process of debate, deliberation and, at some point in time, some deliberative process among groups to try to see where some of the criticisms may be addressed or where some things need to be strongly held to.
I particularly want to say that I think this kind of a rule being set out is an important tool to inform the House of Commons about our work and our expectations on timelines. It’s not enough to simply say, “Well, we usually adjourn a week or a week and a half after the House of Commons, so we have time.” It depends on the number of bills that have come through, but there is also that unspoken pressure about the House of Commons not being there to receive our amendments.
I think it is important to have it spelled out clearly in the Rules, with the opportunity to recognize collectively where we, as a majority in the Senate, determine that it is a true emergency and that we can allow it to go forward. I think it’s important to restrict the length of time on debate on whether it’s an emergency or not — I’m not wedded to 20 minutes, neither are you; we’ll determine that.
There is much to talk about here. Given the hour, Your Honour, I move to adjourn this for the remainder of my time. Thank you very much.
(On motion of Senator Lankin, debate adjourned.)
(At 6:28 p.m., the Senate was continued until tomorrow at 2 p.m.)