Hon. Larry W. Smith (Leader of the Opposition)
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Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in response to the speeches by Senator Harder and Senator Pratte on our motion that the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs be authorized to examine and report on the allegations that persons in the Office of the Prime Minister attempted to exert pressure on the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
These very serious allegations raise concerns about interference with the office and functions of the Attorney General of Canada that could have a negative impact on the administration of justice in our country.
Therefore, colleagues, based on the serious evidence presented to date, the Canadian government is faced by a scandal — a scandal that has Canadians wondering what is going on in the country’s highest-ranking offices.
Prime Minister Trudeau has been credibly accused by his own Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, of politically interfering in the criminal prosecution of a well-connected engineering firm. Jody Wilson-Raybould was threatened and bullied in an attempt to get her to interfere in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin and to cut a special deal.
It is beyond dispute that there was a sustained and coordinated political effort that took place in an attempt to get her to let SNC-Lavalin off the hook. In addition, it is most relevant that we be reminded that SNC-Lavalin was caught by Elections Canada funnelling illegal donations in excess of $100,000 to the Liberal Party of Canada. This is beginning to look more and more like a case of one set of special rules for the Liberals and their friends and another set of rules for everyone else. This is not the Canada that our grandparents fought for, and that’s not the Canada I want for my grandchildren.
The issue, therefore, strikes at the very heart of our democracy and system of government, namely, the rule of law, which is our oldest and most fundamental constitutional principle. This simply means that all persons are equally subject to the law regardless of their wealth, position in society or connections to the governing party of the day.
The protection of our fundamental constitutional principles is clearly a matter that has traditionally been of particular concern and responsibility of the Senate. Senator Harder, representing the government in this chamber, as well as some of the ISG senators may disagree with me and my Conservative colleagues over the proper role and function of the Senate, but surely not on this role.
In light of the fundamental constitutional importance of the matters raised in the wake of this growing scandal, I must admit, honourable senators, that I am very troubled by what I have heard people say here during the previous debates on this motion.
It is one thing for Senator Harder, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, to say that he does not believe the Senate should play a role in looking into the Prime Minister’s scandal, as he is the member of the Senate of Canada who chiefly is responsible for introducing, promoting and defending the government’s bills, along with defending the government. I kind of expected that, although I could have hoped for something better from him. As one of my colleagues said to me, “He would have to say that, wouldn’t he?”
But to witness other senators, including ISG senators, following suit in also opposing an inquiry to get to the bottom of this scandal, given what is at stake, is very puzzling to me. Why would they not want to get to the bottom of this matter, given that the government is doing all it can to prevent that from happening and not providing any detailed nor cogent arguments rebutting the most serious allegations and evidence we have heard from the former Attorney General?
Because average Canadians want answers. The Conservatives, NDP and Green Party have been trying to get answers in the House of Commons. Reporters have been trying to get answers. There is in fact now a united front of Canadians through those institutions trying to get satisfactory and complete answers and wanting to get to the bottom of this scandal. The press and the House of Commons so far have been unable to do so. In the case of the House of Commons, it is due to stonewalling by the government and by government Liberal members in the Justice Committee, more of which I will refer to shortly.
For the last five weeks or so, we’ve seen a relentless effort from the Prime Minister to change the narrative on this scandal in the hopes that we never get to the bottom of it. The Liberal members in the House of Commons, particularly in the Justice Committee, have blocked efforts to get to the bottom of the scandal. They have voted against the swearing in of witnesses, voted against recalling Jody Wilson-Raybould, while at the same time allowing the Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, to reappear.
The Liberal members of Parliament have used their majority to protect Justin Trudeau by not allowing for other necessary witnesses to appear at committee, and just last week they shut down the emergency meeting of the committee probing the SNC-Lavalin affair. I will have more to say about this.
Both the Prime Minister and, therefore, the executive, along with their accomplices in the house committee are engaged in what can only be called a cover-up — I use that term advisedly but sincerely — to prevent more damaging information coming out about the inner workings of Prime Minister Trudeau’s office and cabinet.
Senators, allow me to repeat what Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said in 2014:
If the Senate serves a purpose at all, it is to act as a check on the extraordinary power of the Prime Minister and his office, especially in a majority government.
Colleagues, Prime Minister Trudeau has been campaigning and telling Canadians that he and his government will “restore a sense of trust in our democracy” and provide “greater openness and transparency.”
In the face of these damaging accusations by the former Attorney General, the Prime Minister continues to maintain there was no wrongdoing.
Therefore, this reinforces the need for all the facts to come out. There needs to be another body to look into this scandal.
These arguments alone should provide independent senators a clear mandate and a desire for a fulsome Senate inquiry in order to get answers about this scandal that has left the Trudeau government focused on damage control and virtually nothing else for weeks now.
Senators, I wish to address what Senator Harder, the Prime Minister’s senator in this chamber, has brought forward as arguments for why he opposes this motion and the opportunity for this Senate to get to the bottom of this most serious matter that has resulted in scandal for the government and a virtual crisis for them.
Senator Harder has raised concerns that the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee should focus on studying the government’s legislative business, such as Bill C-75 and Bill C-78. Senator Harder, I understand your responsibilities in ensuring the government’s legislative agenda. I have no doubt that the committee, under the chairmanship of Senator Joyal, has the ability to ensure a proper, thorough and nonpartisan inquiry into this most serious matter in addition to its other responsibilities.
Above all else, let’s not forget the severity of what is being alleged here: that the Prime Minister of this country and his associates have attempted to subvert the rule of law for party political advantage to benefit friends of the government and, in turn, the Prime Minister’s perceived party and political advantage.
Senators, we have a unique duty, obligation and opportunity to protect and defend the integrity of our democratic and legal institutions, especially when they are faced with potential corruption. I would go so far as to say that the Senate is tailor-made to conduct such a proper and complete inquiry into this scandal and get to the bottom of it.
I also wish to refute the argument also made by the government leader, that the Senate should just stand still and do nothing since a fair and impartial process is already under way by the Ethics Commissioner. We’ve all heard those talking points by the Liberals before.
The Ethics Commissioner’s investigation is very limited in what it can examine regarding the relationships between the Prime Minister, the former Attorney General and their respective staffs. Therefore, the Ethics Commissioner is not going to be able to provide sufficient answers to Canadians on this matter.
Just as a side note, unfortunately the Ethics Commissioner is sick and is not going to be available to be able to be fully active for at least 30 to 45 days, which also delays completion. It’s great to say that the office can do the work, but there’s one person who has to do the final reporting, and that is the Ethics Commissioner.
I would also like to raise the paradox that Senator Harder has raised, the point that the Ethics Commissioner is credible and trustworthy, and he is an independent and non-partisan officer. Is that not precisely what the government and ISG senators claim to be the main feature of the Senate, or is it another instance of words not reflecting the actions by the government? Does the Prime Minister and his Senate government leader simply fear the outcome of any inquiry conducted under the ultimate majority control of the ISG senators? Is it not a fact that the government, and through its spokesman here, concerned that given the power, scope and so-called independence of this body, we might actually get to the bottom of this scandal?
Another argument the Leader of the Government in the Senate raised is that the decree waiving solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidence for Ms. Wilson-Raybould does not apply to the Senate. It applies only to the House of Commons Justice Committee and the Ethics Commissioner.
The answer to solving that problem is in the hands and powers of the Prime Minister. He can and should simply have the order-in-council extended to apply to hearings conducted here. Therefore, the refusal by the government to do this is no argument for us not investigating this matter.
As I have said, Prime Minister Trudeau has been doing everything in his power to prevent the former Attorney General from providing what she has called “my truth” and thus her full story. However, after weeks of pressure, the Prime Minister finally realized this scandal wasn’t going away and allowed Ms. Jody Wilson-Raybould to speak, but to speak on his terms. She could only speak to matters arising up to the time she was demoted as AG and eventually shuffled to Veterans Affairs.
After she spoke to the house Justice Committee, the Prime Minister also got the Clerk of the Privy Council to again appear at the committee, and he also had his former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, attempt to put his spin on the scandal.
It is obvious that the house Justice Committee has been controlled by the PMO by way of its Liberal majority. I find this seriously problematic. That, obviously, would not be a problem if the Senate, as an independent body, looked into this matter. I will have more to say about this.
Colleagues, the bottom line that arises from the arguments raised by Senator Harder in an attempt to convince you not to do your duty in this case is: Are you willing to be part of the problem, or do you want to be part of the solution?
I’d now like to address the questions that Senator Pratte raised in his response to the motion for a Senate inquiry. I respect his experience and his knowledge, but with all due respect, I think he is wrong. His comments show that he has carefully considered this matter, and I thank him for that.
Senator Pratte asked whether this matter should be the subject of a parliamentary investigation.
Arguably, everyone believes that an investigation is required in order to get answers to the many questions that Canadians want to know and have not been answered. Unfortunately, what everyone has been witnessing is that the House of Commons committee will not suffice, as many protagonists have not been given a chance to provide their version of the facts. Why is that?
First of all, on the basis of straight partisan lines, the Liberal majority in the house committee has never allowed the former Attorney General to reappear to answer the testimony given to the committee by the Clerk of the Privy Council and Gerald Butts, the PM’s former principal secretary. They have just this week taken a furthermost gross partisan action in this regard, which I will make specific mention to in a moment.
In addition, the house committee has not allowed for the other relevant witnesses, including the Prime Minister, to appear before them. At the same time, however, the committee has allowed the Clerk of the Privy Council, an unelected official, to actually reappear, but again not affording the former AG the same opportunity.
I wish to make the case that the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, chaired by Liberal Senator Joyal, with a majority of ISG senators, would be able to act in a strictly non-partisan and thorough way.
I believe the numbers are, if I stand corrected, six, one, four, the breakdown, which puts the ISG members in a majority position. Just so we understand each other, this is not a case of who has more power. This is a case of real opportunity for representation.
The Senate committee is best equipped, as an independent body, to conduct such an inquiry.
The Senate committee would also, as we know, do a proper investigation and would surely both afford the former Attorney General the opportunity to be able to provide both her full story and rebuttal to what Mr. Butts and the clerk have said, as well as to call and summon all relevant witnesses to appear before it without fear or favour, based on partisan concerns or otherwise.
The second question raised by the senator: Is it the Senate’s role to investigate this matter?
In other words, should the Senate not be allowed to conduct a more adequate inquiry than what we are witnessing being conducted in the House of Commons on this matter? The Senate should be provided a chance to complete the work of the House of Commons, if we are of the view that their inquiry is less than adequate and thorough and/or the house committee is displaying a clear determination not to be so thorough and complete.
Senator Harder has on many occasions argued that it is very much the proper role of the Senate to complete inadequate work and inquiry conducted by the House.
As previously mentioned, to date, the House of Commons committee Liberal majority approach has been to limit testimony in an attempt to end their inquiry as quickly as possible. In light of their approach, we should adopt this motion now, as this will be a statement of our determination to perform our proper role, and, in fact, by such passage give an incentive to the house committee majority and the government that we are serious, and if they do not perform and complete the job properly, we are determined to do so ourselves.
Senator Pratte’s third question related to timing. Is this the right time for the Senate to examine this matter, or should we wait on the House of Commons to complete its work?
I agree with Senator Pratte that the Senate cannot wait for the report from the Ethics Commissioner, as it may come far too late for us to then conduct our own inquiry. The life of this current Parliament will come to an end soon, followed by the general election. It would be a travesty if we deny ourselves the opportunity to get to the facts in this matter, whatever the full facts reveal. We should ensure that this government and the Prime Minister will be ultimately accountable to all Canadians.
The Senate must prepare itself to deal with this question as soon as necessary, well before the end of this Parliament. This is why we must pass this motion right now.
The last question raised by Senator Pratte is the following: Given the wording of our motion, is our Senate committee the appropriate tool?
I would argue that the Senate committee is the most appropriate tool. What better parliamentary body would there be to ensure a proper, thorough and non-partisan inquiry?
This motion is necessarily anticipatory in light of the very serious constitutional nature of the issues at stake and the performance and attitude to date taken by the Justice Committee of the House of Commons . Our committee can be given the necessary discretion when to actually commence its proceedings on this matter.
Adopting this motion now will provide an incentive. If you will, it will be like the sword of Damocles on those who attempt to prevent Parliament from getting to the bottom of this matter and to, in fact, encourager les autres, as we might say. This matter either gets handled properly and completed by others, or it will need to be dealt with by us in the Senate.
Senator Pratte stated that he thought that this motion was partisan motivated. If it was, why would we be proposing that this matter be studied by one of our committees chaired by a Liberal senator with an ISG majority? What could be more non-partisan than that?
To quote Senator Pratte:
. . . our duty as independent legislators is not towards the opposition or towards the government. Our duty is to serve the truth. And by serving the truth, we serve Canadians.
Those duties and aspirations referred to by Senator Pratte will be fulfilled by the adoption of this motion.
I hope I have refuted the concerns raised by Senator Pratte.
I want to end these remarks by bringing us all up-to-date on recent developments.
I have received a note that says: And tonight we are learning that the Liberal members of Parliament on the Justice Committee have sent a letter basically claiming that they have finished their study in this matter. Furthermore, they claim to achieve their objective.
As honourable senators will know, we have now been met by the spectacle of the Liberal government majority on the Justice Committee of the House of Commons refusing to consider allowing the former Attorney General to come back to them in order to enable her to give further evidence and in rebuttal to remarks made by both the Clerk of the Privy Council and the Prime Minister’s former principal secretary.
I want to read this one more time because I just saw it: And tonight we are learning that the Liberal members of Parliament on the Justice Committee have sent a letter basically claiming they have finished their duties with this study. Furthermore, they claim they have achieved their objective.
It is therefore now clear that the Prime Minister and the Liberals in the house do not intend to allow the house committee to do a complete and thorough job of getting to the bottom of the serious matter.
This, therefore, simply reinforces our argument that having this matter for inquiry now taken up by our Senate committee is imperative and the only way now for us to get to the bottom of this matter. Our tradition of less partisanship and thorough committee studies is tailor-made to now complete the work of the house committee due to their and the government’s determination to shut this whole matter down before allowing Canadians the right to hear the full story.
This motion provides both an opportunity and a challenge, especially to the ISG senators in this place, to walk the walk of the independence that they talk so much and so proudly about.
If this motion is defeated, it will be defeated by the votes of our ISG senators, who will be seen as not prepared to display the independence they claim they have from the political executive and, in this case, especially the Prime Minister himself.
This is the moment of truth for my friends and colleagues across the aisle. How they proceed will be one for the history books.
I thank Senator Smith for his confirmation that independent senators are not partisan and will, in fact, make independent decisions.
By implication, you have said that your own group is partisan and will take a partisan position on any inquiry and any study that is undertaken.
Is it not appropriate, then, for independent senators to make a calculation on whether we support an inquiry based on the fact that there will be a large number of senators taking a partisan approach to this inquiry and, therefore, tarnishing the work of this committee and making this study unhelpful?
Well, I must admit, I feel like Senator Harder now sometimes on the other side.
In addressing your question, I think what’s most important to understand is the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee is led by a renowned, solid and credible leader, Serge Joyal, a man who is above any claims of, in my mind, partisanship, and that’s based on my eight years of listening. One thing I’ve learned how to do — tonight is the most I’ve probably ever spoken — is to listen to leaders, and he is one of the leaders I look up to, and he knows that because I’ve told him that.
When you look at the composition of the committee, and I believe it’s six, four, and one, you do have four Conservative folks on the committee, but you have the majority of the independent and Liberal members who have the power, if that’s the word you want to use, to be able to influence decisions.
So I don’t see this partisanship point that you’re bringing up about the Conservatives. We’re all Canadians. We look at things maybe a little differently than people on the other side, but one of the things we do is respect everybody. That’s the important element of this.
We may fight during the day or night when we’re sitting, but the fact is, after that’s over, you look at each other in the eye, you’re able to shake hands and you move on. And anybody who doesn’t think that is missing something, because I can tell you, and I’ve been criticized before, where people say: Senator Smith, you say politics is a sport. Politics can be a blood sport, depending on how you conduct yourself. But the fact of the matter is we’re all here to try to make Canada a better place, and the breakdown of the numbers gives that committee power or control to do what they think is the right thing.
What’s important to recognize is we submitted the motion so that you would have no pushback to the bad old Conservative side about partisanship because it’s set up in such a way that the committee should be able to do its work.
Having had the opportunity and the blessing to run a committee for a few years, the committee work that our groups do here is spectacular. We have great committee work because people put their hearts and souls and their knowledge into making the committees work. I truly believe this is set up properly to enable that to occur.
Thank you, Senator Smith, for your admission that there will be a partisan element in any investigation that takes place coming from your group. Will you accept that independent senators, in making a decision on whether to support the amendment to the main motion, should consider the extent of partisanship that might infect and, therefore, damage any inquiry held by a committee?
I thank you for your feedback. Not to drag this into a negative discussion, but I find it odd that you bring up these points of partisanship. Everybody in this room has a political belief. The people on our side have political beliefs, the people down the aisle have political beliefs and people on the other side have political beliefs. Everybody has a political belief. So what are we saying when you’re saying we have partisan beliefs?
You have a partisan belief for the beliefs you have because they’re important to you. Please don’t say that we only have partisan beliefs and you don’t. That’s BS. You’re not honest with yourself, and you’re not being honest with the people in the room.
If I made a bad comment, your honour, I apologize, but at the same time I think it’s important to call people out when people make less-than-credible statements. This is not about partisanship. This is about getting to the bottom —
My understanding was it was fully disclosed. If we’re talking about the scandal that occurred three to four years ago, very early on in the process, I believe, the Prime Minister made sure that all information was available to the folks who were looking at this particular issue.
Let’s put it this way. There’s no question about an issue that took place. No one debates that there was an error in judgment that was made. No one debates that. This is more than an error in judgment. Let’s look at this based on the facts. This is about the rule of law. Thank God I passed my exams at the McGill University Faculty of Law because I did study what the rule of law was. It’s a fundamental principle of our country. Without believing and executing and staying true to the rule of law, we have potential problems. You have to be disciplined, but you have to have a belief system. The Canadian belief system is that we do have a rule of law. That is being challenged potentially because there are still alleged issues.
Let’s compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges in terms of making sure that when we say things, we’re putting things in a fair and balanced position.
The short answer to my question is “zero.” The House of Commons did not investigate anything in regard to the Senate. The House of Commons didn’t even ask the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner of the other place to investigate. With regard to apples and apples and oranges and oranges in your previous statement, Senator Smith, here we have two alleged scandals. Why would we, the Senate, intervene in an issue that is in the other place? When we had a similar issue, the other place did not intervene and respected the process we had put in place. We should respect the process in the other place.
I’m not going to tell you anything about the fact that I did receive some suggestion from my confrères. This is a question of the Senate committee looking at the activities of the executive, not the House of Commons.
Exactly. I believe you’ve just provided the right answer for all honourable senators to consider in regard to this clause. The other leadership in this chamber, not even the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee, did not even investigate this place. Apples and apples and oranges to oranges. There you go.
Thank you, Senator Smith. I listened to your speech with great interest. I hate to say it, but I’m an Alouettes fan. They’ve been going downhill and so are some of your remarks.
I contemplated with my Indigenous colleagues here about doing something about the way that former Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould was alleged to have been tainted or dealt with by her party. As an Indigenous independent senator who used to be partisan — so you can’t say we’re not partisan. You were there in 2013, and I’m going to speak for myself here. To get to the bottom of the truth of the so-called Senate scandal, are you aware that I had asked your party when you were there — you weren’t the leader of the party at the time — the leader of the party at the time to have any investigation, any inquiry, any forum, public and televised, and your party refused.
Instead, you made the decision, because you so much believe in the rule of law, to throw people under the bus and to essentially say that people are guilty before they have a proper, impartial and fair trial.
If you will also recall, there are senators — Senator Tkachuk, Senator Stewart Olsen, former Senator Marjory LeBreton — and the former Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Harper Nigel Wright who also lost their jobs because of this created, so-called Senate scandal. Why are you today proposing to have this issue dealt with on the Senate floor when you were not willing to do it back in 2013?
Are you in essence saying that you were wrong? Don’t shake your heads over there. You all voted against it.
I recognize the experience that you and other senators lived through. We all lived through a very unfortunate experience. Three of us dealt with the Auditor General for, I think, 24 months, being accused of — I’m not going to say less-than-appropriate allegations to the vast majority of people. It’s unfortunate that you had to go through that experience, but it is what it is.
I’m not going to make any disclaimer other than this fact: I won’t say I would have done things differently if I were leader but all I can say is that I was not the leader at the time.
As painful as that period was to you as an individual and for other people in this house, we now have another incident. I won’t say this incident is more important than what happened to you because, to you, it’s the most important thing that took place in your life. I respect that. However, let’s look at what we are dealing with today. Let’s not get hooked on the past and whether it’s the same as what we did or what you did. I’m not going to say that this situation may be a step ahead, but I’m trying to say this is a very serious situation with very serious allegations. This is about not only individuals; this is about our country. We have to take that into consideration, but I do have a lot of empathy for you. I think you’re a good person and I’m very proud to see how you have made a comeback.
Very short. I want to thank you for that. This is not about delving into the past. It’s about looking forward into the future so that what happened here in 2013 never happens to anybody again, whether it’s in this chamber or in the other chamber.
The point I was trying to make is you cannot, after 2013, make a decision to attempt to do what perhaps the Liberal party in the other place is trying to do today. You either want a full inquiry or you don’t. You have to be consistent. So there’s no question in what I’m saying, but it’s forward-looking and you can’t flip-flop on positions because this ruins people’s lives.
I accept what you’re saying, but I think what’s important to understand here is that the motion has been set up in such a way that, with Senator Joyal and with the composition of this committee, you have true independence from an independent senator’s perspective, from the leadership perspective. So this issue of partisanship, in my mind, just as an observer, is not an issue.
There will be four Conservative members in that committee, but these people must use their best judgment in interaction with the majority of the people in the committee. So you cannot say that that does not exist. What we tried to create here is the best opportunity in a non-partisan way of getting to the facts. Canadians want to know the facts. Have you ever seen the media frenzy and the continuous media frenzy of people today trying to find out. Have you seen it?
With due respect, if I had been in your position, I would have felt exactly the same way. But the fact is when you look at social media today versus where we were four or five years ago, it is much different. We are trying to create the vehicle to address the concerns of everyone in this chamber so we can have a fair analysis of the situation.
Thank you, Senator Smith, for your speech and for the issues you’ve outlined. I concur with much of what you said; I imagine most senators would. I think of the importance of the rule of law, of understanding what transpired, and there are different perspectives about what transpired.
I would say that the cause to which you speak would be aided by not using words like “corruption.” I don’t know if “corruption” is the right word even if the facts as they unfold are damning of the executive branch or the PMO. As balanced as your words were, particularly in the question-and-answer, I think the allegations of a partisan motive behind this come from the catcalls that were going on and the joy at the prospect.
We understand that we are in a pre-election period and that there is a partisan goal to prolong this. All of those things feed into this. None of that strips away the political theatre from the question of whether this needs to be probed more and whether this is the right place.
Two weeks ago, I was hoping to speak to this. I checked and was told you would be adjourning it. I wanted to say that it wasn’t people over here who held it up and stopped it. Some of us want to speak to it. I have not yet decided. I was watching this unfold and you’ve just now provided new information that there will be no further testimony at that committee. I have to weigh that now.
I ask you to understand. On an issue as serious as this — and I concur with you on that — isn’t it better for us to approach this, if we do it, from the point of view of wanting to get to the bottom of it and not wrapping it in words that provoke a response that it’s just partisanship, by naming this already as corruption? You have already said that we don’t have all the facts yet and these are allegations. So please justify the back-and-forth of those two positions for me.
There appear to be facts that have come forward through the various sources of information-gathering which lead to potential conclusions and words that have been spoken, i.e., corruption, manipulation. Now, as you said earlier, it all depends on your perspective. I think the most important element in trying to craft the motion as a group was to decide who could be the most credible leader to look at this fact.
We came up with Senator Joyal’s name, although obviously we have to ask formal permission. This is a proven individual who, over many, many years, has demonstrated tremendous credibility and competence.
Now, the second point was reality — reality that, in forming the committees, Senator Woo, Senator Plett and other members, participated in the actual creation of these committees. There were tough negotiations. In the Legal and Constitutional group, a breakthrough was made by the Independent Senators Group where they had the majority of the members.
In looking at the process under the leadership of Senator Joyal, it became clear to us as a group that the best way of addressing this is to strip off any potential for comments like, “Oh, yes, you have as many people as we have and this isn’t going to be fair.” That potential is gone because we have it set up in such a way as a suggestion to everyone that you’re going to have the proper leadership and you’re going to have the strength of a majority.
So if we’re true to ourselves in saying that we want to get to the bottom of this, and we look at the experiences of the Liberal house committee, we would, I think, normally ask the questions that are being asked right now in terms of shutting down debate, not letting witnesses come and not letting all the witnesses participate so that we can get all the facts on the table. I think that is a true statement.
I think the reflection has to be that if they’re going to get the right leader and if they’re going to have the majority in terms of independent members, there are other members, so they’re going to put their two cents in; there’s no question about that. But at the same time there are numbers in favour of the independent members. Why can’t we actually do the great committee work that we usually do and find out all the facts and then make a determination?
The Ethics Commissioner? Come on. A $200 fine for somebody having an estate in France or somebody doing something on a trip? The Ethics Commissioner may have the “powers of a Superior Court justice,” but the Ethics Commissioner does not have the power to do the type of analysis that the committee can.
Looking at it, you have to ask yourself the question: Are we part of the solution? What’s the answer? Each person has to make that determination in their mind. How important is it to you, as individuals, that the fundamental rule of law is a pillar? We each have pillars in our lives, but it’s a pillar that Canada was built on. You have to think that through, because that should help you form your decision here.
You know what? As Senator Brazeau said about things in the past, mistakes were made. Whether it’s us or former governments, mistakes were made. That’s what human existence is all about. But guess what? You said it, Senator Brazeau: We want to look forward. I’m suggesting that by striking this committee, we may be setting a fantastic precedent that can lead us on to other committees that may be formed that way to get the results we want on other key issues.
Your honour, can I make one request? I flew back on the plane with someone, and I’m still jet-lagged from dealing with the Senate in another country, but I’ll take one more, because after that I really need a pill.
Thank you, dear colleague, for your generosity. My question is simple, but I have a preamble.
I agree with you that this house has the power to oversee the government and ask questions. This is not about the ruling of this house and how it’s governing itself; it’s about how the government is being ruled and how the government is behaving. We have the right to ask questions of the government, and we have the right to opine and make reports about the separation of powers, and about the role of the Attorney General in our system compared to the Justice Minister in all these issues, which are fundamentally important in a constitutional order like we have here. Certainly, I believe it’s the role of this house to look at these matters seriously.
However, what I’m wondering about is your proposal to have the Justice Committee focus on this issue, so instead of going through Bill C-58, which is pending before the committee; without going through Bill C-78, amendments to the Divorce Act, which is meaningful for millions of Canadians; and instead of studying Bill C-75, which is also connected with the Jordan decision of the Supreme Court and makes improvements to the Criminal Code, the committee would delay or sacrifice these bills. If we refer this issue to the committee and ask that it report by June, the committee would be doing nothing else but that until June.
So should the motion be amended and given to a special committee instead of the Justice Committee?
My first reaction is I think it should go to the Justice Committee. Senator Harder has met numerous times with Senator Plett and myself to discuss the logistics of legislation in front of us. So when you take the bills that you’ve mentioned, like Bill C-75 and Bill C-78, et cetera, and then you put those on the table —
The fact of the matter is if you look at the bills on the table and the issue in front of us, you have to ask yourself a qualifying question: What’s the priority of this particular issue on the rule of law versus the bills on the table?
I look at the rule of law as a fundamental principle of how we live as Canadians. Each of us has our value system. I have my value system from my mother, an Anglican minister’s daughter, my grandfather and my father. I was in church when I was six. My mother used to pound it into me. I had my values from my mom, and my dad was a great guy, but the fact is the value system that we’re looking at is about the rule of law, which is fundamental to our lives as Canadians.
How do we manage that with other legislation in front of us? Well, I guess we might want to be great managers because when you’re faced with a challenge, you find a way of managing through the challenge. This challenge is, in my mind, probably a priority in terms of importance for our Canadian society.