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Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament

Motion to Amend the Rules of the Senate--Debate

April 30, 2024

Hon. Denise Batters [ + ]

Senator Plett, during a government motion on invoking time allocation, under these rule changes, all of the parliamentary group leaders will each get 20 minutes to speak and take questions. By the way, that actually is not limited in that section to the five group leaders; it is “all” recognized group leaders. So the entire time allocation debate is capped at two and a half hours, so that would mean the other 100 senators not in leadership positions will barely have any time to speak at all in that time allocation debate. This runs counter to the principle of the Senate that all senators are equal.

This rule change also reduces the time for the government leader, who is proposing time allocation, to answer questions from other senators. That allows the government to dodge accountability for using the most draconian tool for limiting debate.

Senator Plett, don’t those rule changes on time allocation debate mean the opposition potentially has only 20 minutes — just the leader of the opposition — out of the two-and-a-half-hour maximum for a time allocation debate? How could that possibly be considered to be properly holding the government to account on such a draconian step?

Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition) [ + ]

Thank you very much, Senator Batters. I agree with you on that. Clearly, time allocation is done on government legislation. So there is only one caucus in this chamber that opposes government legislation, and their rights are being taken away in two areas here. Number one, yes, I — as a government leader — will get my allotted 20 minutes, but you may well not get any time. Any other senator in our caucus may well not get any time. So here it is that the opposition in the Senate gets no time to speak. You are right, the government leader, of course, would love to, in this case, limit his time because he doesn’t want to answer questions. So he will run out his time in his 20 minutes, and there will not be any time allowed for questions at all.

So I really fail to see where we have — again, as I said in my speech — basically have four caucuses that are supporting legislation, supporting the time allocation and they get all the time, and the one caucus that is opposed to it gets no time. And this is all done under the auspices of transparency, openness and fairness.

I fully agree and support you, yes.

Senator Batters [ + ]

Thank you. Senator Plett, as you noted in your speech, by using this government motion for these rule changes, Senator Gold is skipping the committee process. For many weeks, the Rules Committee where I am deputy chair studied the issue of equity of groups. These rule changes — some previously tried and failed to be forced through before — failed to achieve consensus there.

Many of the more minor changes in this omnibus motion were actually agreed to by our Conservative opposition at Rules Committee. We tried to separate out those agreed-upon changes from the larger, more contentious part, which did not have consensus. Then we could have had a large number of changes agreed to. I tried that actually two or three times to bring that forward at committee, but the Trudeau-appointed senators refused to agree; they demanded all or nothing. That was 18 months ago. Now, 18 months later, the Trudeau government is bringing this draconian omnibus motion in this chamber.

Senator Plett, in light of all of that history, do you think it is the intention of the Trudeau government to prevent us from doing our work as opposition?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Again, I can only concur with what you are saying. I’ve been paying attention to what your Rules Committee has been doing, and you’ve been doing a wonderful job, even though I don’t agree with some of the things that many people on the Rules Committee wanted to move forward. I commend you and Senator Ataullahjan, Senator MacDonald and Senator Wells for supporting us and standing up for us. It is becoming increasingly more difficult.

As Senator Gold has made clear, I don’t want to try to wait for consensus. I am not even going to make an effort to get consensus. Clearly, as you stated, there were issues at the Rules Committee even where there was consensus. As I said in my speech, I had the opportunity to be a witness a few months ago, where I agreed to part of what Senator Gold is now putting in his rules — I agreed to them at that meeting. And yet, it all gets circumvented.

What should have happened, in my opinion, Senator Batters, is — as much as I disagree with many parts of the motion — this motion should have gone to the Rules Committee. If the Rules Committee couldn’t reach a consensus on enough issues, then this motion should have gone to the Rules Committee and it could have been debated there properly. We could have called in witnesses. We could have had expert witnesses. We could have had other leaders come and give us their opinion.

We are getting none of that now. It is being rammed through. He is circumventing. He has thrown, in my opinion, his own chair under the bus and says, “You are not good enough, Rules Committee. I, Leader of the Government, know what’s best. I, Justin Trudeau, know what is best and I am going to push it through. I am not going to pay any more attention to the Rules Committee because you are taking too much time, you are being too meticulous, you are trying to actually find what the problem is before you change something.” He doesn’t want to do that.

Hon. Leo Housakos [ + ]

Thank you, Senator Plett.

My question has to do primarily with the obsession of this government with Senate reform and trying to fix what, in my opinion, isn’t broke. If anyone can shed some light on what exactly it is we are trying to fix, maybe I can get my head around this. There are two roles for the Senate. The first role is to make sure we pass government legislation from a legitimately elected government, and the second role is to hold the government to account. We’ve seen, over the last few years, there is only a small group of people who are preoccupied with holding the government to account, and we have a government that is obsessed with changing the rules.

The question I have is why this government is so obsessed with changing the rules and procedures of this parliamentary chamber. The second question I have for you — and you alluded in your speech that, since 1867, there have never been procedural rule changes in the Senate of Canada without consensus from both sides of the chamber. Has there been an example anywhere in the world in the Westminster parliamentary system where a chamber had the government unilaterally change the rules and procedures, let alone use time allocation to get it done?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Thank you, Senator Housakos. I will take your second question first. I asked that very same question to Senator Gold: Where has this ever been done? In what Westminster parliamentary system has this ever been done? Can you give me one example? He has not been able to give me an example.

We have done a lot of research on this. As you will probably agree, there was a little bit of research that went into my speech. It was fairly comprehensive. My staff has done a lot of research trying to find at least one example. We have not been able to find any. I would have thought that the government leader, when he wants to bring forward a motion such as this, would at least be able to cite some precedent that this has happened since 1867. He hasn’t been able to give us any. I haven’t been able to find any.

Your first question is dealing with — and I agree with you, Senator Housakos, and I’ve said this many times — the fact that our role here is to deal with government legislation. Our role is to try to improve government legislation if we can, amend government legislation, send it back. Our job isn’t to defeat government legislation.

We respect — Conservatives respect elections. We win some; we lose some. Unfortunately, since 1867, we’ve lost more than we’ve won, but we are very hopeful and very positive we will win the next couple. So we hope that the members opposite will accept the results of that election. We have accepted the results of the elections since 2015.

But, most certainly, Senator Harder would bear me out in this comment — and Senator Gold may or may not want to, very reluctantly, because he has been forcing time allocation now on a couple of bills. But this government had been in power for eight years before they ever did time allocation. They never needed to do time allocation.

The fact of the matter is for the last five or six years — although I wasn’t the leader; I was the whip, and I worked with our then leader — we have managed to negotiate dates for votes on every piece of legislation. We never guaranteed we would support government legislation — that’s not our job to do — but we negotiated timelines. We negotiated timelines, Senator Housakos, on bills like Bill C-69, Bill C-48, Bill C-11. The government passed every piece of government legislation they have ever brought to us, and only the last two, where Senator Gold now has lost his patience entirely and no longer wants to hear from the opposition, no longer wants to have proper debate — in his opinion, proper debate is this. We’ve had proper debate tonight because we have spent a few hours. That is proper debate in our government leader’s opinion.

To me, proper debate would be if we were given this motion — first of all, I don’t agree with where it came from, but if it did come here, for him to have given us a proper amount of time and said, “I need to pass this before we rise for the summer.” That would have made some reasonable sense, and we could have done some work on it. But, no, to him proper debate is if you spend two or three hours debating this; that’s proper debate. “Let’s do time allocation. Let’s take away your right to speak even at time allocation,” as Senator Batters just pointed out, “and let’s just ram this through.”

Every government bill that has come forward from this inept government has passed this house quickly. Now, all of a sudden, we have to ram things through here again with this Goliath‑versus-David type of an attitude.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

Senator Plett, we’ve seen the government now that got elected in 2015, re-elected in 2019 and in 2021, and as you appropriately pointed out, the opposition has been more than accommodating. We have respected the outcome of that election. We have seen a government that was more interventionist in terms of forcing — unilaterally — its Senate reform plans, without respecting the Constitution, on this chamber. We acquiesced on all those steps.

Yet, do we think it is appropriate, again, in a time and place where they are changing rules and procedures in what are the last few days of the shelf life of this government, and for them to step up in an appointed chamber, like this is, with a plurality of appointed senators, and say, “We are going to use time allocation to change the rules of how this chamber works,” at a point in time where, clearly, they are losing the support — the democratic support of the public?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Well, again, thank you, Senator Housakos. Very easily, Senator Gold could have come along at least and said, “I will bring this motion forward, and this will be a motion for this session, a sessional order.” But he doesn’t care about that now. He has the power. He has the ISG senators and, for a good part, the PSG and many of the CSG senators supporting him. So he doesn’t need these powers right now. But he is looking ahead. Justin Trudeau is looking ahead. They know that within the next year to a year and a half, they will be in opposition. And so he is already moving ahead to make sure that he is creating at least two opposition parties. His party and the ISG will be the two opposition parties. That’s why this needs to be done in a hurry now. That’s why this can’t be done with a sessional order.

We will see whether Senator Gold will allow us to bring forward some amendments. Right now, every indication is that we will be cut short of that. We will see if he will allow us some amendments to maybe find out if this is just something that he feels he needs in order to move the government agenda. Because if that’s all he needs, we can do this as a sessional order, and then this falls apart come election time, and then the next government is not beholden to this.

But I suspect he will not accept an amendment such as this, because he needs this for after the election more than he needs it before the election.

Hon. Salma Ataullahjan [ + ]

Senator Plett, as I was listening to you, the thought that came to mind was whether you think the Conservative opposition has acted responsibly. After all, we were in a position to defeat the first budget. I remember being on the Finance Committee, and Senator Harder was then the government leader, and we supported the budget.

Senator Plett [ + ]

Again, Senator Ataullahjan, thank you. You make an excellent point. The fact of the matter is that we believe it is our job as an opposition to oppose, but it is not our job to defeat this government. That is not our job. Our job is to oppose legislation and, typically, amend legislation. Our job is not to defeat the government. Our job is not to defeat a budget. You are absolutely right. In the first few votes, ironically, we found that some senators needed to go for coffee and didn’t make it back for a vote always in a timely manner when the budget was voted on. So you are absolutely right.

This opposition party has been a responsible opposition party. Certainly for my time, and I have been there since the beginning of this government, and I believe we’ve been a very responsible opposition party. We have senators like Senator Marshall, who has done an excellent job — better than anybody in the government would ever be able to do — pointing out flaws in these budgets. Even after she pointed out those flaws to us, we made sure the government didn’t lose budget votes.

You are right, Senator Ataullahjan. We’ve been more than accommodating, more than fair and a very responsible opposition party.

Senator Ataullahjan [ + ]

Senator Plett, you’ve done considerable research. Can you tell me, is there another parliamentary chamber anywhere else in the democratic world where the opposition does not enjoy special rights and privileges?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Thank you, Senator Ataullahjan. As I said earlier, I asked Senator Gold that question when he delivered his speech, because I have not been able to find one, and Senator Gold has not been able to point one out to me. I would challenge any senator in this chamber: If they can point one out to me, I would like to know where it is, because I do not believe there are any.

Hon. Elizabeth Marshall [ + ]

Senator Plett, will you take another question?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Yes, please.

Senator Marshall [ + ]

I understand what you are saying about the government trying to make sure they carry out their agenda, but you were saying in your speech that the dinner break rule in the evening will be changed so that we will go from seven o’clock until eight o’clock. I’m just wondering, what is the rationale for that? We left here at six o’clock. By the time you go somewhere to get something to eat it’s 6:10, and 50 minutes is not enough time to get something to eat and get back here in an hour. Why is it being cut back to an hour, and why is it from seven o’clock to eight o’clock? That doesn’t seem long enough.

Senator Plett [ + ]

I support that in its entirety, Senator Marshall. There are a number of reasons why a dinner break has been from six o’clock until eight o’clock, even this one. I managed to get over to a reception that we had on the Hill today with our fine men and women in uniform, policemen and policewomen from across the country. They’ve been in many of our offices. They had a reception tonight, and they invited many of us. I rushed over there. I managed to eat a little bit. A few of my colleagues were there.

We spoke to many of the police and we thanked them for the services they are doing, and we rushed back here. That was in a two-hour break. In a one-hour break, it would have been totally impossible.

I had a meeting with a senator just last night who said to me, “You know, I never realized what you actually do during these supper breaks because I am not a member of a caucus like yours.” I explained that we use that time to meet with stakeholders in our offices. I will meet people from Manitoba who come, and they would like to have dinner with me. Typically, on Tuesdays and Thursdays I have time from six o’clock to eight o’clock, because that is a break. As you know, we do our caucus meetings, many times, from six o’clock to eight o’clock. These are all impossible.

The reason this is being done, in my opinion — and I haven’t heard anything to the contrary — is that, by doing this from seven to eight o’clock, there is hope that we will get through most of the Order Paper by seven o’clock and we won’t have to come back at all — because we don’t want to be here after 8 o’clock. I get paid to be here for three days from morning until midnight. Those are actually our working hours. I don’t want those working hours. I really only want to work three quarters of a day, so let’s shorten that a little bit.

That’s the only reason I can think of that they would move this, but they have not been able to answer that. I concur with you. Certainly, if you are going out to a restaurant to eat and you have to order, it cannot be done in one hour. I agree with you.

Senator Marshall [ + ]

Is it because by shortening it to one hour we would get everything done by midnight? I don’t think I’ve ever been here until midnight. Do you think that was the rationale? That’s what I’m wondering.

Senator Plett [ + ]

Senator Marshall, I think the rationale was that we would get everything done by seven o’clock and then go home. By six o’clock, it is difficult. We’ve not been very cooperative, as you know, Senator Marshall, in agreeing with the Speaker when she asks if it is agreed not to see the clock. We typically say, “No, we do not agree.” We’ve probably been doing that more often than other senators.

That means we have to come back at eight o’clock, even if there is only one hour of business left. That’s the right way to do it. The hope is that we will have most of our stuff done by seven o’clock so we won’t have to come back at all.

Hon. Michael L. MacDonald [ + ]

Senator Plett, in your research, are there any other chambers in the democratic world where there is no official opposition designated to the Senate, for the Senate to the government?

Senator Plett [ + ]

No. As I said earlier, Senator MacDonald, I’m hoping that if we ask the question often enough here, maybe Senator Gold will get up and ask a question, and in asking that question, he might offer us an answer. So far I have not seen him jump up and do that. In my research, there are none.

Senator MacDonald [ + ]

In the Senate, the ISG is being presented as being independent. Do independent members in the House of Commons have unlimited time to speak, the right to defer votes or any other right conferred to a recognized party?

Senator Plett [ + ]

No, they do not. In doing it here — I’m not sure — again, I’m trying to wrap my mind around it, Senator MacDonald. What is the purpose and the intent of giving this to others? As Senator Gold has pointed out, rightfully, “We are not taking any of your rights away.” Well, if you pour half a glass of water into half a glass of scotch, the scotch is a little weaker. The same thing applies here. If you give somebody the same powers, you are diluting the powers of somebody else.

Be that as it may, this particular rule does not prevent our whip from deferring the vote, but it will also allow other whips, liaisons, facilitators and lion tamers to defer votes.

I’m not sure what the motive of that is, because the fact of the matter is that, again, we have one opposition caucus and four government caucuses, and the government already has the right to defer the vote. The opposition has the right to defer the vote. You are not really widening the scope any by giving just three more members of the government the right to defer that vote. It will only create more problems.

As I said, when you call for a bell, the Speaker asks the Government Whip, “Have the whips reached agreement?” Typically, it is between the Opposition Whip and the Government Whip. Now she will ask everybody, “Have you reached an agreement?” Today, if we were to call for a vote, and if Senator Seidman gets up and says, “A 30-minute bell,” and if Senator LaBoucane-Benson agrees with that, even then, Senator McPhedran, who is an unaffiliated member, can say no. If she alone says no, it automatically is a one-hour bell.

Again, this is virtue signalling. That’s really all that part of this motion is: virtue signalling. That’s all it is, because it changes nothing.

But the Liberals are very good at telling everybody, “We are doing something for you.” They are not doing anything for anyone. We have a status quo there, other than that a few other people can also defer a vote. I’m not sure why they would want to, because they typically want something passed. It is usually our side that defers. Occasionally, if they’re a little afraid, the government will defer, but it’s typically something the opposition would do. Now four or five government parties can do it.

Would the honourable senator take a question?

Senator Plett [ + ]


Thank you.

I tried to listen and hang on to every word of your speech before supper. This evening, I find myself coming back to ask something very basic: What is the problem here?

I want to ask you a question about this — not so much debating all the concerns you might have about the different changes, but the problem of this work being slammed, rammed or jammed. I’m not a leader of a group, so my assumption as a senator working alongside everybody is that we have spent time on modernizing or improving our rules since the day I started with the Modernization Committee. I spent time in the Rules Committee, learning a whole lot about how we should have the discussion in the Senate on certain issues, but we could come up with a bundle in the Rules Committee for others.

I might come to this with different experiences, and other senators are brand new and might not have had those experiences. The part I want to get at tonight is the “ram-jam effect,” which is the feeling that it’s being rammed and jammed down your throat. Does that mean that leaders, together or individually, of each group were not able to sit down and talk about it? Does that mean there wasn’t a consultation process where you felt that your ear and voice were valued before it came to this table? Is that why this feels so fast to you?

I generally want to understand that. I feel this is repeating itself as a problem and wanted to get your take on that.

Senator Plett [ + ]

Thank you very much, senator.

Yes, I have a number of times used the words “ram” or “jam” with respect to getting something through. I believe that has been an inherent problem of this government for the last few years. We regularly hear from the Government Representative in the Senate, “We’re going to get this or that Bill. I’m not sure when we’re going to get it, but can I have agreement from you that we will move it through very quickly when it comes?”

Maybe we should at least see the legislation.

I was accused by either the Minister of Justice or the Minister of Defence in the other place of holding up Bill C-21 before it had even passed the House of Commons — or at least we didn’t have it. But already, I was holding it up. Then, when we got it here, we were supposed to “wham bam; here we are” — get it through. That’s what we’re being told on regular legislation by this government.

As I said earlier, in one way or another, I’ve been involved in leadership since the days of Senator Harder’s leadership and the beginning of Senator Gold’s leadership, and we managed to get very controversial legislation, including Bill C-69, the no‑pipelines act; Bill C-48; and Bill C-11. Those were bills that we opposed from the very core of our being, and yet I negotiated timelines with the government that gave us a certain amount of time to debate the bills, and on a certain date we would guarantee a vote. It is not that we will vote for it. Senator Gold always says, “By this date, I want it passed.” I’m sorry; by this date, you want a vote. You might want it passed. I don’t want it passed.

So we’ve been cooperative in that, senator.

Senator Gold spoke to this motion on Thursday two weeks ago. That’s like yesterday in Senate time. I’m the Leader of the Opposition, and I’m speaking to it today. We already have the threat of time allocation hanging over our heads today, while Senator Gold is constantly saying, “I want thorough and robust —” I think those are the words he uses “— debate, but I’m going to do time allocation after a day and a half.”

Senator Dalphond has occasionally said our leaders are meeting in camera. I don’t think they are. Again, I might be chastised for saying this, but yes, senator, this was discussed at leadership today. It was four against one. They said, “We want this through now.” I said, “Can we have a couple of weeks?” They replied, “No. We want this through now.” It is four to one.

What will change in this chamber? What will change for Canadians? What Canadian will know whether we pass this motion this week or two weeks from now? But we aren’t going to be given the opportunity, senator, to properly put forward amendments.

I shared many of my concerns and outlined them in the bill. We have about four — maybe five — legitimate amendments that we would like to at least propose. We don’t like this motion, but let’s at least work together and try to improve it. At least listen to us and to the amendments we have. Those amendments can then be debated and voted on.

Are we going to try to adjourn them? Are we going to maybe defer votes on them? Absolutely. That’s what the opposition can do. But the motion will pass. Nothing is going to change in this chamber or this country between now and June 21 — or whatever our final sitting date is. If this motion passes on the last day of our sitting, nothing will be better or worse.

Why ram things through? When somebody says, “Well, we’ve waited nine years for it,” then why in the world can’t we wait another 60 days?

I hope that answers your question.

Hon. Marilou McPhedran [ + ]

Senator Plett, would you take a question from me?

Senator Plett [ + ]


Senator McPhedran [ + ]

Thank you.

I think I heard you argue that these rule changes are not needed, as all senators can freely perform all senatorial functions and participate equally in any event.

Senator Plett, can I participate in ministerial Question Period? Can I participate openly in Senators’ Statements? Do I get informed in advance when there are going to be tributes to retired or deceased senators?

You said that any senator can be appointed to a committee. Does that mean the Committee of Selection will name me to a committee directly? Thanks to you and Senator Housakos, I’m honoured to sit on the Social Affairs Committee, because you kindly gave me a place; however, as you remind me from time to time, you can take it away.

My question, Senator Plett, is this: If any senator can participate equally in any event, as you stated, does that mean that a group must free up a committee seat for me?

Do you see anything in these proposed rules that would make this chamber truly equal for senators who are not caucus members?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Thank you very much, Senator McPhedran. After tonight, I think we might have to have a talk about that seat on the Social Affairs Committee. No, Senator McPhedran, we are so happy that you are a member of the Social Affairs Committee and in that seat.

I think we have, on occasion, offered you a spot for Senators’ Statements and maybe even occasionally a spot during Question Period. But you are right, Senator McPhedran: There are limits.

First, I believe fully that every senator is equal. You have the right, as you are exercising today, to stand on debate and ask questions. You have the same rights as everybody else in this chamber. We can debate that, and whether non-affiliated senators should have more. I have said many times, Senator McPhedran — in this chamber and at leadership meetings — that, in my opinion, non-affiliated senators belong to the government. When we were in government, my good friend and deputy leader now was a deputy leader there. She took the non-affiliated, independent senators under her wing, and she made sure they got different spots to do different things. I have maintained from the beginning on that this is the responsibility of this government. Like many other things, they have entirely shirked their responsibility there — and then sometimes other senators and other caucuses — and, on this particular one, it is fully and wholly the responsibility of the government to see to it that you get these spots.

The bottom line, Senator McPhedran, is that this motion does nothing to change anything for you. Your rights are not being eroded, nor are you getting anything extra. You’re getting nothing. We’re losing something. Some others are gaining something. You’re the status quo. That may be okay. That may not be okay. That’s not the debate here tonight. But this motion doesn’t help you at all.

Senator McPhedran [ + ]

Would you say that what you’ve described just now is equality, or is it noblesse oblige?

Senator Plett [ + ]

I think it’s equality. The reason I think it’s equality is you have the equal right to join a caucus. I believe in caucuses. It’s my inherent belief. I believe there should be two caucuses: a government caucus and an opposition caucus. I believe that any senator should have the right to be an independent senator, and we always have had them. Senator McCoy was an independent senator. Senator Anne Cools was an independent senator during the days when we had two caucuses, and they functioned quite well. I know they sometimes drove Senator Martin around the bend because Senator Martin wanted to make sure, as Senator Cools probably knew the Rules of the Senate better than anybody in the chamber.

Senator Martin [ + ]

She did.

Senator Plett [ + ]

So she knew how to make sure she would get her digs in.

I guess I come from that school, Senator McPhedran, where I know that this independent senator truly was equal. I’m sorry; I think you’re as equal as anybody in this chamber. You may not have the same opportunities. That is, to some extent, possibly your choice — and, if not your choice, then it’s the choice of the government — to have you the way you are, not the opposition.

Hon. Pamela Wallin [ + ]

I’m not sure how much of a question this will be, but listening to this whole debate has provoked some thoughts that I have every single day in here. I’m very happy to be part of this group of senators: the Canadian Senators Group. I have sat in other caucuses. I’ve sat as an independent senator. And the concerns in my time here have grown.

We’ve talked about this before: the use of omnibus bills, where the government puts everything but the kitchen sink, and sometimes that too, in a budget bill, knowing full well that, by tradition, we do not stop budget bills, and we do not amend budget bills. But I think that approach is being abused, and we’ve seen that grow over the years.

We invite members of Parliament here — ministers of the Crown — to participate in our Question Period, and they treat the process as they do in their own house, which is disrespectful on many occasions. They do not answer our questions. The answers are often very political. So I have questions about that part of the process.

The government and the NDP routinely use their numbers in the House of Commons committees to stop and stifle debate. We have seen this on numerous bills that I’ve dealt with. They stop investigation. They stop even simple questioning, and then bills arrive here in bad shape. They haven’t been properly studied and presented in the other place, or amended properly in the other place, and they land on our desks with timelines — and now there’s the proposition of permanent restriction on debate in this house.

I’m afraid that too many people in the political process, certainly in the media and, I would believe, in the public in general do not truly understand what we do here. Sober second thought is a very crucial part of our parliamentary system. Governments that are elected with majorities, or have support which allows them to act with the majority, means it is more incumbent on us to do our work.

Having watched the work of our colleagues Senator Stephen Greene and Senator Massicotte, and their proposals for reform over the ages, not be well received when the balance in here, politically speaking, was different, I guess I’m just very concerned about what I see as a diminishing sense of respect by our parliamentary colleagues in the other place. That is a message that’s being sent over here consistently. That’s a lack of respect for what our role is.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Was that a question?

Senator Wallin [ + ]

Yes. Do you agree?

Senator Plett [ + ]

I can find a question there, yes, Your Honour. I really understood that as a question.

Senator Wallin, I agree with you; that lack of respect, in fairness, started some years ago and has eroded over time. It is worse now than it has ever been, without question.

I’ve been a member of the government, as you have, in the Senate, Senator Wallin — we were colleagues in the government — and we received legislation there sometimes that we didn’t entirely like, and we received bills there that were too large. But they paled in comparison to what they are now. Now people will say, “Well, Stephen Harper did it.” Well, maybe he did, but we’ve now learned from that, and we’ve taken steroids on that, and we’ve gone worse.

I cannot recall, Senator Wallin, where we have been asked to pass legislation before we have received legislation. That is what we have been asked to do here. Then, we’re being told that we are being respected. We are being asked this on a regular basis: “I’m not sure when I’m going to get this legislation, but, when I get it, can you guarantee me that you will send it through real fast? And oh, by the way, I may ask for leave, because I’m going to want to send it through real fast.”

Without question, it has become worse over the years. We are members of a national caucus. Do some of the members in my party over in the other place always have the respect that I think they should have for us? No, they don’t. But we have a lot of respect from our caucus because we’re members of that caucus.

That doesn’t mean that everybody has to be, but that is one of the advantages of being part of a national caucus. If we had a national Liberal caucus, they could maybe invoke and enforce some degree of respect. But we don’t. We have three members of the government here who don’t admit that they are part of the government. So we have, in essence, no government in the Senate, if we want to go by that. How can we expect to be shown any respect, because they don’t need to?

I concur; it has been bad for a long time, but never as bad as it is now, and people are angry. People across the country are angry. That’s one of the reasons the Senate is starting to actually be on people’s radar: People across the country are angry. When we speak here — and I said it before that the speech that I made last year received over 700,000 views. That’s fairly significant. That’s because people are angry, and they are listening, and they are saying, “What is this government doing?”

Our Question Period in this chamber is being picked up across the country because of the questions that this opposition is asking the government. We are starting to get attention across the country, and a lot of it is being driven by anger, fear and, quite frankly, hunger because people can’t put food on the table because of this government.

Hon. Diane Bellemare [ + ]

Would Senator Plett take a question?

Senator Plett [ + ]


Senator Bellemare [ + ]

You said you liked the two-caucus model, like the one that existed in the good old days, with a Liberal caucus and a Conservative caucus.

I’ll preface my question with a comment. Since Confederation, there have always been two caucuses. The strategy was for the caucus or party in power to control the same party’s caucus in the Senate. This was all done through an appointment process, by placing the right players in the right spots and making the Senate caucuses toe the party line, since it was the same as in the caucuses in the other place.

This game of controlling the Senate by the government in power has been documented more and more by political scientists, and it doesn’t enable the Senate to play its role as the chamber of sober second thought because, sometimes in the past, we were obliged to follow the party line of the government in power.

This fact that is documented, how do you think a two-party caucus in the Senate could play an independent role if it is controlled by the other place?

Senator Housakos [ + ]

That’s what we’re saying.

Senator Plett [ + ]

I think you’re trying to make my argument for me, Senator Bellemare. You should know, Senator Bellemare, because you’ve been part of every caucus and part of government twice. As a Conservative member, you were part of government, and then you were the Deputy Leader of the Government for the Liberals. I think you have more experience in how this works than anyone.

The two-caucus system does work, and we are not being controlled by the other place. This caucus is not being controlled by the other place. It is not. It doesn’t matter what you say. It is not being controlled by the other place.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

We influence the other place.

Senator Plett [ + ]

For anyone here, I challenge you to come and check some of our voting records.

We are Conservatives by nature. We have a common philosophy.

Senator Carignan [ + ]

Common sense.

Senator Plett [ + ]

We have common sense, and you used to have as well, Senator Bellemare, because you were a Conservative. Sorry, I didn’t mean to say you don’t have common sense, but you’re not a common-sense Conservative.

We have conservative values, and we believe inherently in the agenda of the Conservative Party of Canada. That’s why we work for them. That’s why many of us will work hard in the next election to get a common-sense Conservative elected.

That isn’t being controlled by the other place. That means we have an inherent belief. Even in the other place, Senator Bellemare, they have different line whips. In the Conservatives, you will see our leader vote opposite to what many of his MPs vote because they have different line whips. We don’t have any line whips.

We go to national caucus, most of us — not all of us — and we’re not required to. As a matter of fact, we’re not even required to be members of that other caucus. We can be members of this caucus and not be members of the national caucus. So there is no way, no matter how you slice this. We’re not being controlled.

I am the first president of the Conservative Party of Canada. I helped found this party. I’m 74 years old almost. I have one year left. I know many of you are anxious, but I have one year left to continue to irritate you.

At 74 years old, I don’t think I’m going to be whipped by anyone. But do Pierre Poilievre and I agree on 85% of all issues? Yes, we do. We are both Conservatives. We both have conservative values. Do we agree 100%? No. He has stated how he feels about some issues, and you know how I feel on those issues. So we’re not always in agreement, but we’re Conservatives.

Senator Batters [ + ]

Senator Plett, another way the Trudeau government is substantially limiting the opposition’s ability to hold the government to account is by limiting the number of written questions a senator can submit: four per senator. The Trudeau government may say they’re bringing this written question limit into line with the House of Commons. However, we in the Senate Conservative caucus opposition have only 13 opposition caucus members. In the House of Commons, our Conservative opposition has about 120 MPs who can all ask four written questions. This is a huge difference.

Senator Plett, sometimes the important written questions that you ask make major national news. This happened last month when your government answer to your written question revealed that the Trudeau government has already spent $40 million on its gun buyback program and bought zero guns with it for $40 million.

Senator Plett, isn’t this proposed limitation contained in this motion on written questions a major stifling of opposition power?

Senator Plett [ + ]

I was going to pull out the stack of answers I got today, but I’m not supposed to use props.

Senator Batters, you are so correct. This is something that irritates the government to no end. I have some magnificent staff who do so much good research for me personally — and, indeed, for our party and for Conservatives across the country — and bring out time and time again the corruption that we have in this government.

This is a problem for this government. They are supposed to answer these questions that they don’t want to talk about. Here we have these pesky Conservatives across the way who have the nerve to ask us — the Trudeau government, the Trudeau-Jagmeet Singh coalition — they have the audacity to ask us these questions, so we are going to limit those questions. That is what this is doing. This is stifling of the opposition part to the nth degree.

Why not five? Why not six? Why not unlimited? We’re down to 13 members, soon to be down to 12, but they are so afraid of us. Senator Gold is so afraid of us that he has to bring in a motion so that I cannot ask him questions anymore.

I’m waiting for the day that he is going to try to do away with Question Period because, again, we are only echoing, of course, the talking points, according to him. We are only echoing the talking points. He doesn’t like our questions. I wouldn’t either, especially if I can’t answer them.

Senator Batters [ + ]

Senator Plett, the Trudeau government is presenting attendance at a national caucus of a political party by senators as a bad thing. You have been a proud member of the Conservative caucus since your appointment to the Senate. Can you share with us how discussions with elected members from all across Canada at national caucus and at your regional caucus have benefited you in your work? How can senators contribute to the work of their elected colleagues in that system?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Thank you. For sure, Senator Batters. At the national caucus itself, we, of course, are full members. Those of us who want to be are full members of that national caucus. I have my slot, along with the rest of the leadership team, to do the Senate report. We are being questioned. We can participate, but we don’t need to. Beyond that, we are all part of one group. We can share ideas. We may have members of the House of Commons who would like some help in a riding. To have a senior, seasoned senator come and help in that helps them to no end, and it helps us in our research. We can trade research back and forth. My office does research for some members of the House of Commons on occasion. They might ask me about a certain issue, and I will ask some of my staffers to help with that.

It is a collaboration. It is a team effort. Indeed, it is an entire team. Again, I have a degree of sympathy — if you will — for senators who are not part of that, because being here in Ottawa is a bit of a lonely life without that camaraderie, or the general purpose of wanting to make a difference in the country and get the right prime minister and members of Parliament elected.

I know that many senators are saying, “Well, we are not Liberals, but they fundraise and do much of this.” I think it is great to be part of that team and join in, as we did even earlier tonight, going to a reception and being there with our fellow members, and — indeed — being there with members of the opposition. At the reception earlier today, I had a wonderful conversation with my friend Judy Sgro. We had a great conversation. Together, Judy Sgro and I brought in the Federal Prompt Payment for Construction Work Act for contractors in the country. So, even there, we have learned to occasionally work across party lines.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

Honourable senators, I have listened to my friend and colleague Senator Bellemare lecture the chamber about how it’s inappropriate to have governments influence and control senators in the chamber. Senator Bellemare, I will tell you that I’ve been here for 16 years now. I’ve been an avid student of our parliamentary process in this chamber. I remind you that you are the Chair of the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament, and I do not know one of your predecessors who would tolerate on this floor a government leader moving a motion unilaterally changing the rules and procedures and bypassing the committee. I encourage you to bring all former chairs of the committee, any former Speaker — Liberal or Conservative. They will tell you how deplorable that is.

I know you haven’t been here long enough, Senator Cardozo, but in a period of question there’s a debate and a period of discussions, and we have an opportunity in the debate to answer questions that colleagues bring up. You might not like it, but it is what it is.

Senator Plett, in this chamber, there are four groups. There is without a doubt a recognition that there is one group that engages in the most robust fashion in criticizing the government. There are three other groups that I think everybody right now recognizes — the media and public alike, as well as people on the other side — engage in what is more often than not sober second thought, and we see in their voting record where they stand on political issues. By and large, they are not as robust as this opposition is.

The questions I have are the following: Is it safe to say that the government right now would rather have two groups in this chamber — an Independent Senators Group, or ISG, that has been appointed by the government at the same level as an opposition group, which, in a robust fashion and on a daily basis, criticizes the government and holds it to account? Is this their attempt to curtail criticism and basically elevate to the same level a caucus they appointed, which has a track record of supporting the government more than criticizing it?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Thank you, Senator Housakos. Let me build a little bit on your opening comments because I agree with you that what Senator Gold has done with this motion, first of all, by entirely usurping the Rules Committee, is outrageous. He is doing that — again — because he doesn’t want transparency. He wants to push something through. If this were done through a committee, there would be committee hearings. There would be witnesses and the flaws in this would be pointed out by them. He has thrown the chair under the bus with this by simply saying to the chair, “You are not capable of getting anything through,” even though there have been a lot of things that — as Senator Batters and others have pointed out — were agreed to at that committee.

First, Senator Housakos, you are absolutely right about that. As far as the government curtailing the opposition, that has been the entire purpose of this event.

Look at everything they are doing by limiting the number of questions that we can send in — which is probably one of the most offensive parts — and limiting our speaking time on a closure motion to a point where it could happen that not one member of the opposition other than myself would be able to even speak for 20 minutes.

Senator Plett [ + ]

This would completely shut down the opposition. Then they say that it does not hurt the opposition. This cuts the opposition’s feet right out from under them because they don’t want the transparency. They are ashamed of what they are doing and are trying to do it all under the cloak of darkness to get it through as quickly as they can. Then, in a few weeks or a month from now, people will have forgotten.

That’s the way this government has operated. That is the way this Prime Minister has operated, time and time again. As I said in my speech just a week ago, he does something and then says, “I’m sorry.” He cheats somebody out of money? “I’m sorry. Here’s a cheque.” He gropes a reporter? “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were a national reporter.” But this has been a learning experience not only for me, but for the rest of this country.

That’s what this Prime Minister does. He apologizes on behalf of the entire country, not himself. He rams things through the Senate over here and rams things through over there. Today, he had the Speaker call our leader whatever name he wants, and that’s okay. Then, our Speaker gets up to defend himself and gets asked to leave the chamber. That’s the kind of a government we have over there. That’s the kind of incompetent regime we have over there, and that is filtering in over here to the government benches as well.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

I have a question for you, Senator Plett. Have you ever seen, on the House or Senate side, a situation where procedural rules have been changed without the consent of the official opposition? Has it ever happened?

Senator Plett [ + ]

I criticize Senator Gold too often by saying, “I’m asking for a one‑word answer. Give me a one-word answer.” So, for this question I will give you a one‑word answer, Senator Housakos: No.

Senator MacDonald [ + ]

Senator Plett, I’m always loath to bring up questions when someone is not in the chamber, but my good friend Senator Lankin is not here and I want to bring this up. She had the responsibility from the government to push through the changes to the rules. I am a member of the Rules Committee. I have great faith in my colleague Senator Bellemare to manage the Rules Committee. I am curious if Senator Lankin, who has been given this responsibility, has ever addressed you, contacted you or asked you to discuss these changes?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Yes, in fairness to Senator Lankin, Senator MacDonald, she did call me. She asked whether we could get together to discuss the motion. Obviously, this can’t be verbatim because it was a while ago, but in essence, my answer to her was, “Yes, Senator Lankin, I would be willing to sit down with you and discuss it, but let me tell you at the outset that I oppose your motion. I oppose the premise of your motion. I see very little in your motion that I can support. So, I’m not sure if we’re wasting our time by getting together.”And we left it at that.

Senator Lankin came to Ottawa. This was on a break week, so she was at home, and I was at home. I don’t know where she was — it was by phone. I was at home. We came to Ottawa, and I had at least considered it because I had basically — again, in fairness, I had given Senator Gold very much the same answer. But as people know, I’m a little impulsive. I had seen the motion; I didn’t like it. I was frustrated, and I said I didn’t like any of it. When I got here, I thought maybe we should at least discuss it. So I actually had a meeting set up with Senator Lankin in my office to discuss the motion further to see if we could not reach some common ground.

After that, Senator Lankin had a meeting with Senator Gold, and it was decided that they wouldn’t bother wasting their time to discuss it with me because I had been too adamant that I didn’t like it, so why bother discussing it any further.

Senator MacDonald [ + ]

Senator Gold is apparently using the motion to skip the committee process, so we will not hear from experts. We will not be able to review the changes as a Senate. We are supposed to be the masters of our own house — we used to be. Senator Bellemare is a very able and competent person as the head of the Rules Committee. I am a member of the Rules Committee.

Do you think it is appropriate that the Rules Committee is being cut out when it comes to changing the fundamental rules of the Senate?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Well, absolutely not. Senator MacDonald, I would ask you — as well as Senator Batters, Senator Wells and Senator Ataullahjan, who are all members of the Rules Committee — that at the very next committee meeting you ask the chair that question: “Why are we not debating that motion in this room?” This is where that discussion should take place. You should ask the chair that and request an answer: “Did Senator Gold call you and tell you, ‘I’m taking over. You are not doing a good enough job, so I will bring it forward’?”

Ironically, as I said in my speech, on May 7, your committee is holding a meeting to discuss part of these rules. So, again, which way do we want to have it? It makes no sense. It is showing the absolute incompetence of everything that is happening here. We will duplicate part of it, but please, Senator MacDonald, I would like the answer myself. I would ask you to ask the Chair of Rules why, and maybe at Question Period I may ask the Chair of Rules if I’m allowed to ask the chair of a committee a question. Senator Gold is certainly tired of my questions — maybe I can get an answer from Senator Bellemare.

Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [ + ]

My colleagues on all sides have asked some very good questions. I do have a few questions for the leader.

I’m still quite taken aback and shaken by this sweeping government motion, and I’m thinking about the importance of the Rules Committee and the process in place. Even after a rule is discussed at the Rules Committee and there is consensus to agree to that, it still comes back to the whole chamber, and then there is another layer of accountability where the whole chamber discusses it.

I remember, as the deputy leader, one slight rule change that would have made our lives a little bit easier in the overall organization of the Senate was agreed upon by the Rules Committee, but when it came back to the chamber, former Senator Cools was opposed to it. She had good reason, and we had a good debate about it. As a result, even though we were a majority governing party and we could have really pushed it — there are different ways to do that, even with Other Business — we didn’t. We backed down because any senator, including an independent senator who doesn’t belong to a group, at any time during basic procedure of the Senate can say “no” and deny leave. That process is so important, Senator Plett. I’m sure you remember these times.

I’m quite concerned about how we are doing things with a government motion that can be time-allocated. We actually don’t have sober second thought on that decision, but this is a sweeping motion. Would you speak to that, please?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Yes, absolutely. Thank you very much, Senator Martin, and you are absolutely right. Over the years, basically, rule changes, whether they were at the Rules Committee or even in the Senate, have had a degree of consensus, at least. Here, we’ve not been afforded any at all. So you’re absolutely correct.

The process clearly should have been that it be — well, first of all, as I said, it should be sent to the Rules Committee. If not, then we should be able to have, as Senator Gold says, a thorough, robust debate, but we’re not being given that. Senator Gold is saying this is a government motion, and it is. He brought it forward as a government motion.

Senator Martin [ + ]


Senator Plett [ + ]

But when he was asked, I think by Senator Housakos, point-blank, “Is this your motion or Justin Trudeau’s motion?,” he said the Prime Minister’s Office had nothing to do with this. If that is the case, and Senator Gold says he is not the Leader of the Government — he is the representative of the government — then he should have no right to introduce a government motion because he is not the government by his own admission. So, in essence, this is a private member’s bill, and he should have no right to time-allocate this.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

And the government shouldn’t be changing the Rules.

Senator Plett [ + ]

He cannot have it both ways. He wants it every way. First, he says, “I am a representative of the government, not a leader, but I’m going to do time allocation.” Then our honourable colleague and friend Senator Furey manages to twist himself into a pretzel to say, “Well, I will style you, whether you like it or not, as the leader, because if you’re the representative, you can’t do time allocation. So I will change your name and I will declare you the leader.”

Senator Housakos [ + ]

In the morning.

Senator Plett [ + ]

So for the next few weeks or few months, because he had another time allocation to do, he needed to be the leader, so he kept himself as the leader. Then, all of a sudden, today, he is no longer the leader — now he is a representative again. So if he’s not the Leader of the Government, and this isn’t a Justin Trudeau motion, Senator Gold has no right to make this a government motion.

So, Senator Martin, you are absolutely right, he’s time‑allocating a private member’s motion. For the first time in Canadian history, we will have a private member’s bill being time-allocated. I can’t get my mind around that.

Senator Martin [ + ]

So, like I said, I am in shock about this very unprecedented motion, a government motion to change all these rules. I am preoccupied with the Rules, as I know my counterparts are.

I’m trying to understand how this will work. For committees, I know that as deputy leader I am an ex officio member. That means I will be counted in the quorum and I will be able to vote, whether it is clause-by-clause consideration or whatever motion is on the floor. The tradition has been that we inform our counterparts, so I messaged Senator LaBoucane-Benson to let her know I was going to a committee, because I am the sponsor of a bill and I was part of the quorum, which we had, and the committee took place.

In the rules that are being proposed in this motion, the leaders will all become ex officio members, and ex officio members count for the calculation of quorum. With the government’s new scheme, there could be a committee meeting with only the Leader of the Government and the leaders of the recognized groups in attendance, and the quorum would potentially be attained without any member of the committee as well as anyone from opposition.

Senator Plett [ + ]


Senator Martin [ + ]

So Senator Gold would have the only vote.

Senator Plett [ + ]

The only vote.

Senator Martin [ + ]

Is that your idea of a democratic process?

Senator Plett [ + ]

That’s right. And in the neighbouring Korea to where you grew up that would be considered a democratic process, by all means. I think Senator Gold would consider this very democratic because he is the one with the vote.

Senator Martin [ + ]

It doesn’t make sense.

Senator Plett [ + ]

If I could somehow be that only leader, I would consider it reasonably democratic as well.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

It might be good a year from now.

Senator Plett [ + ]

Absolutely. This is something that could benefit whoever will be the government leader then. Hopefully, I will be sitting on my golf cart somewhere. The next government leader will be able to use this and have many committee meetings where he or she will have the only vote.

Yes. Again, Senator Martin, for the life of me, I can’t get my mind around it. I’m not sure who wrote this. I am trying to envision that there were mistakes made in writing this. I would like to believe, in my heart of hearts, that nobody can be so evil as to do what this motion intentionally does. I would like to believe that there have been some mistakes made.

The fact that we have been told we are going to probably receive notice of a time allocation motion shortly — and if we don’t wrap this up, it might even be tonight yet, who knows? But we are going to have a time allocation motion, and we will not have an opportunity to bring amendments forward to find out if some of these were mistakes.

This is something that, logically, I would suggest that Senator Gold would say, “I agree with you, Don. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to do this,” or “I agree with you that the opposition should be able to speak on a time allocation motion.” They should be afforded the opportunity to speak on it.

Somebody wrote this and made a mistake; I would like to believe that is the case, because people make mistakes. We will find out when we come forward with amendments over the next days, hopefully. We will find out whether this is a mistake. We will find out whether Senator Gold is democratic and if he believes in robust debate. To him, a robust debate is, “I’m done talking. Let’s vote.”

Let’s find out how many of us would still like to be heard over the next few days. We will see where this goes from there.

Hon. Claude Carignan [ + ]

Leader, I’m looking at the changes that the Leader of the Government wants to make to the Rules so that both titles are mentioned: Leader of the Government and/or Government Representative. However, Speaker Furey ruled on April 25, 2023, that Senator Gold, as Government Representative, was indeed the Leader of the Government.

Can you explain why you think he wants to make this change and have a rule that says, in short, “to be or not to be?”

Senator Plett [ + ]

Senator Carignan, I’ve been trying to get my mind around that same question.

So often we hear the saying that you can’t have your cake and eat it too, or something along those lines. It seems like that’s what Senator Gold wants here. He wants to style himself the way he wants to be styled when it suits his agenda. Then, when he needs to do something else to suit his intent of what he wants to do, he says, “Well, I have to twist this a little bit, so today I am going to be called something else.”

You are right. Speaker Furey alluded to, yes, you can call yourself the Government Representative if you want but, really, you are the government leader, regardless of what you want to call yourself.

Now, Senator Furey is not here. We have not asked the current Speaker to rule on this yet. We might at some point, if Senator Gold keeps calling himself the Government Representative. We might challenge his time allocation motion again and ask our new Speaker to rule on that and see whether she also calls him the government leader because, so far, she hasn’t been asked that question.

I don’t want to put her on notice that we are going to ask that, but if Senator Gold continues with this foolishness we may have to ask that again so it’s clarified.

Senator Carignan [ + ]

I obviously have plenty of questions, but what is the risk of setting this precedent of having a government leader — or a Government Representative — change the Rules, using the power of government to change a rule in a Senate that claims to be more independent of government than ever? What risk do you think this precedent poses?

Senator Plett [ + ]

For the next year and a half, I think there is a lot of risk in this. At the end of the day, I believe that Senator Gold’s motivation is to have this rule in place when Pierre Poilievre becomes the prime minister, because that is when he will need that second opposition party.

Senator Gold is very close to my age, so probably both of us will be doing something somewhere else rather than here in the Senate at that point. Nevertheless, he is preparing the road for a Liberal opposition.

I think the Conservative Leader of the Government in the Senate will not style himself or herself as a Government Representative. They will admit that they are the government leader, so at least that part of this rule will, for a while, be put to bed after the next election.

Hon. Mary Coyle [ + ]

Thank you to all of our colleagues for this interesting conversation you are having among yourselves. We’re listening, too.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Senator Coyle, your question?

Senator Coyle [ + ]

Yes, I have a question.

As you are aware, there are seven other senators, perhaps eight — maybe others we don’t know about — who would like to have their voices heard on this debate this evening. It is on the Order Paper. Your people attended the scroll meeting, so you are aware of this. We are all aware of this.

Are you hoping to finish the internal conversation with your caucus soon and allow others to debate this very important matter? We have all talked about the importance of debate here tonight. Will we get on with hearing some other voices on this debate tonight?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Thank you, Senator Coyle, for that very important question.

Senator McPhedran is not part of our caucus. Senator Bellemare is not part of our caucus. Senator Marty Deacon is not part of our caucus. Senator Wallin is not part of our caucus. I would challenge your comment that this has been a debate among us.

This is a place of Senate debate. Senator Coyle, after that question, I hope I can run this until midnight because I have as much right —

Senator Housakos [ + ]

No, you have more right as leader.

Senator Plett [ + ]

 — to stand here and debate this as anybody else in the chamber.

If this is important to you, Senator Coyle, you should want to hear all of us. You should want to hear the questions and the answers. Because we asked Senator Gold the questions last week and did not get the answers.

Senator Coyle, there will be lots of time. If this leader of the government does not bring a time allocation motion, you and every other senator in this place — all 96 — should have an opportunity to stand up and speak, but he is not going to allow it. I’m not going to bring in a time allocation motion, he is. Your question should be for him, not for me.

Senator Coyle [ + ]

Yes. I am sorry I upset you. I am sorry that we may all be punished this evening because of my intervention.

I agree with you, Senator Plett, that everybody should have a right to speak on the topic and have a debate: an honest, open debate. Yes, I want to hear from everybody who wants to speak on this. I’m just asking you simply this: When will we get to hear some of the other voices who want to enter the actual debate?

Senator Plett [ + ]

When all senators who would like to ask me a question are finished asking me a question.

Let me go on the record to say that I am prepared to stand here and answer questions. I’m not asking them; I’m answering them — contrary to what the government leader did when he was asked questions. He doesn’t answer them. Clearly, you do not want to hear all of the problems because that is what my colleagues and other colleagues are putting forward. They are putting forward the problems with respect to this motion. I have a feeling the majority of the senators who will get up and speak after a few of us have spoken will sing the praises of this motion.

Senator Plett [ + ]

So we are doing the opposite. We are giving it the sober second thought, Senator Coyle. Even your question tells me how you feel about this opposition and the fact that we are debating, because this is debate.

Senator Batters [ + ]

Senator Plett, the motion that Senator Gold brought forward says that the chair and the deputy chair of a committee can ask for a meeting. What happens if there’s more than one deputy chair at that particular committee? Does the request need to be made by the chair and all of the deputy chairs, or just by the chair and one of those deputy chairs?

Senator Plett [ + ]

The way I would understand it — and I’m being a little facetious here — is if the opposition isn’t one of those two, then one of each would be sufficient. If it happens to be that one of them is a member of the opposition, I’m sure it would require one more member.

Senator Batters [ + ]

Yes. I also note that one of the changes that’s being proposed is it would need to have an agreement, in response to a request from the chair and a deputy chair, of the majority of the following senators: the Leader of the Government, the opposition leader and the leaders or facilitators of the three other recognized parties.

So you could have this request for a committee meeting to take place with just a majority, which, of course, can absolutely exclude the opposition. We could now have committee meetings taking place with the government so-called caucus and other government-affiliated or government-voting caucuses voting for it, but the other ones voting against it. Historically, of course, the government and opposition share the position of chair and deputy chair on many Senate committees. A requirement to have the two agree to a meeting used to have a safeguard that basically both the government and opposition would agree to that. But we now have seven committees without either the chair or the deputy chair from the opposition.

Is that what the government wants, namely, to have committee meetings without the opposition agreeing at all?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Senator Batters, it would certainly appear that way. As I said a few minutes ago, quite frankly, I like to see the good in people as well; I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I would like to do that, and I will, because we will find out. So far, we have this threat of time allocation hanging over us, but there has been no motion or notice of motion brought forward. I would like to still believe that Senator Gold will go back to his office and have his staff reread this motion and say, “Did we make some mistakes here?”

I would like to believe that nobody is so nefarious that they would blatantly want to completely destroy the opposition in one single night. I would like to believe that they’re going to go back and look at this and maybe come back and say, “You know, maybe we should withdraw this motion and start over,” or at the very least, “We are certainly open to any and all amendments that might improve this to be a reasonable document.” It isn’t that now. They keep on saying, “We are not taking anything away from the opposition. We are just giving others some of the same rights.” That’s just not true. You’ve pointed it out, I’ve pointed it out, and others have pointed out the many areas where this is cutting our legs out from under us and preventing us from doing the job that we have also been sent here to do.

Every senator in this chamber has been sent here for a specific reason. Yes, we have been critical of the appointment process, and we have been critical of much of this. But I believe that every senator has been sent here to do a job. We also have been sent here to do a job, yet it seems we are the only ones whom everybody pretty much unanimously criticizes when we are the glue that is holding this chamber together. Quite frankly, if it weren’t for the Conservative caucus — if it were just for three or four or five independent caucuses — this place would fall apart. At least, let’s all accept that, even if we all believe in our right to be independent. If there were no coherent, cohesive groups at all, this would fall apart. Yet, that is what we’re being asked to accept.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

Senator Plett, it’s amazing how some people believe that an independent Senate is an echo chamber where people get up and basically applaud and laud the government. Some senators become restless when they hear criticism of their beloved government, which calls into question, of course, the independence of the institution.

I will ask you a question about the things about which Canadians are lining up at my door with emails, calls and events that I do. I put everybody on notice that these are the people we should be talking about. There are people lining up in soup kitchens. Today, in my city of Montreal, there are riots at soup kitchens and lineups of people in numbers that we have never seen before. Since last week, we are spending $54 billion to cover the interest on the debt of a bankrupt government. Every single penny of GST collected in Canada as of last week is going to pay the interest on the debt.

We have a whole generation of Canadians, Senator Plett, who are being relegated to live in the basement of their parents’ home. Yet, the biggest priority that the government leader has found in this chamber under these circumstances and in the context of April 30, 2024, tax day, is to move a motion that limits the role of the group in this chamber that holds the government to account.

Senator MacDonald [ + ]

He’s a good little boy.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

How can you explain such wackiness from a wacky government?

Senator MacDonald [ + ]

He’s a good little boy. He does what he’s told.

Senator Plett [ + ]

From a wacko Prime Minister.

Senator Plett [ + ]

Senator Housakos, my wife and I moved a few years ago into the city of Steinbach, a small city in Manitoba. I didn’t know where the soup kitchen was because there was nobody there. Everyone was being fed. When I drive by there now, however, there are lineups a quarter of a mile long in my small city. It is shameful. We have a Prime Minister who keeps saying, “Yes, I know everything appears to be broken. Everybody is angry, but it’s not my job to make you happy.” What is his job? To frivolously blow money on consultants, on scams, on holidays, on trips?

You’re right. He should direct the Leader of the Government here to bring forward a motion so that we can at least control the chamber because he’s going to be gone, too. After the next election, he will no longer be the leader of the party. He may not be the leader after June of this year, but he certainly won’t be after the election.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

They might not even have a party.

Senator MacDonald [ + ]

He’ll be the janitor.

Senator Plett [ + ]

He’s saying, “You have to protect the Liberals in the Senate, so let’s develop some rules. Let the people in Canada starve. Let them live in their parents’ basements. But let’s create some rules to prevent the small opposition that there is now from doing their duty because they’re doing too good of a job.”

Colleagues, if we weren’t doing our job so well — and I think we all collectively need to give ourselves a hand — the government wouldn’t need to bring this motion forward. They are bringing this forward because we are holding their feet to the fire here, and, in fact, we are helping to hold the government’s feet to the fire in the other place.

You’re right, Senator Housakos; of all the things that we should be doing, and could be doing, this is how we’re spending our time. Then, we have a senator saying, “Well, sorry, you’re taking up too much time. Allow the rest of this echo chamber to speak, too.”

Senator MacDonald [ + ]

Senator Plett, I’ve been a member of the national Conservative caucus for 15 years. In fact, I think the one question I’ve been asked more than any other question over the years is this: “What is the most gratifying thing about being a senator?”

I’ve always told people the same thing: Whether in government or opposition, to walk into caucus on Wednesday morning and meet with my fellow Canadians from coast to coast, and to sit down as a Canadian and speak to the best interests of my country, is a great privilege, a great honour and something I cherish.

Senator MacDonald [ + ]

Now we’re being told that being a member of a national caucus is something pejorative — something that we should almost be ashamed of.

Senator Plett, I’d like you to share with your Senate colleagues how our discussions with our national colleagues and elected members benefit us in our work, and how you think senators can contribute to the best interests of the country by working with our caucus colleagues in the national caucus for the country.

Senator Plett [ + ]

Thank you, Senator MacDonald.

First, let me share a little bit of my own perspective regarding how I feel about being in the Senate.

I think I was appointed four or five months after you were, Senator MacDonald, so we’ve been here for almost the same period of time. When people ask me how I feel about being a senator and what’s important to me, I have shared many times that we come in here, day after day, and we have these debates, and we even get a little frustrated and angry with each other, and maybe we say things we shouldn’t, and too often we think this is a regular job, but every time I walk through those doors, Senator MacDonald, I contemplate the tremendous responsibility that I have been afforded by being the nine hundred and ninety-fourth senator to be appointed since Confederation. There are not many. Even with the hundreds after me, there are not that many.

The responsibility is awesome. We have been sent here to do a job for Canada. Tonight, we are not doing a job for Canada, first of all. Let me be clear: One of the best things that the Senate does, and has always done, is the committee work. I have shared that: I have been on many committees, and I have been part of many committee reports with the Transport and Communications Committee and with the Agriculture and Forestry Committee, and it has been such a pleasure. It’s been committee work where we have worked across party lines.

I’m sure that my friend Terry Mercer is not listening to these debates tonight, but if he were, I would like him to know how much I appreciated working with him — Senator Terry Mercer, probably the most partisan Liberal in this chamber, and the most partisan Conservative in this chamber working together hand in glove.

It’s not just our own caucuses, Senator MacDonald. It is actually other caucuses as well, because we are part of teams, and we work together. That has gone away. That isn’t the fault of these colleagues who have been appointed by Justin Trudeau and his failed experiment. They didn’t come up with this idea of an experiment. I’m sure they probably would be sitting in a Liberal caucus if Justin Trudeau had one, and if they had been asked to sit in a Liberal caucus. So I don’t fault them for being here and being where they are.

I see Senator Gold shaking his head that he wouldn’t be. He, in fact, is the only one who is, and he is the one who says he wouldn’t be. I find that strange. He’s in cabinet, and he’s the one who wouldn’t be.

But you’re right, Senator MacDonald; we collaborate. We work together, but we work together, as I said — Senator Wells was beside me today when we shook hands and gave Judy Sgro a hug — across party lines. She’s a true Liberal; we know she’s a Liberal, and we work together. That is what this chamber should be, and it has digressed.

Maybe I’m part of the problem. I hope I’m not, but maybe I am. I don’t think I have changed my beliefs in the last fifteen and a half years that I’ve been here. There is merit to being part of a team, and there is merit to working with the other team. Right now, Senator MacDonald, I’m not sure who the other team is, because nobody admits that they are the other team, including the Leader of the Government in the Senate, who doesn’t admit he’s part of the government.

Senator MacDonald [ + ]

No, he’s just somebody off the street.

Hon. David Richards [ + ]

Would you take another question, Senator Plett?

Senator Plett [ + ]


Senator Richards [ + ]

I’m going to give a bit of a preamble.

Senator Richards [ + ]

I was talking to some police officers today, and they didn’t think very much of the gun bill. They thought it was a sleight of hand, and that it didn’t help rein in the criminal element, and I agreed with them. I said I spoke against that bill. I told them I also spoke against Bill C-11. I spoke against Bill C-69. I hated Bill C-48. I thought they all had a kind of sleight of hand. I didn’t think Bill C-69 was an energy bill, which it was proposed to be, but rather it was an omnibus environmental bill dressed up as, supposedly, an energy bill. There’s quite a bit of sleight of hand going on in here that distressed me for a long time, especially with Bill C-18 and Bill C-11. The problem is that I think this is the same kind of thing, and I wonder how you feel about that.

Also, regarding this idea of giving people 45 minutes to speak, I admire your speech today. I thought it was a good speech, but no one needs 45 minutes. The Gettysburg Address was three minutes, and it was pretty good. When they asked Napoleon Bonaparte to explain war, he said, “If you say you’re going to take Vienna, take Vienna.” I think he did a good job in explaining the war from his terms.

I don’t think we need 45 minutes, but I do think, in a way, that this is a sleight of hand to diminish the power of your caucus; I really believe that. I just wanted to say that I think you’re right, so maybe you can tell me why you think it’s a sleight of hand, too.

Senator Plett [ + ]

Senator Richards, thank you very much. I would agree with you on all counts.

I have, on occasion, criticized and critiqued my pastor in my church when he speaks for 35 or 40 minutes, and I tell him, “You spoke a little too long.” Then, on the other Sunday, when I walked out, he said, “I watched your 80-minute speech. Don’t ever criticize my 35-minute message again” — so I probably can’t.

But you’re right; I really think if it takes more than 35 minutes to say what you have to say — the only thing is that when you have a government that has spent nine years creating as many scandals as they have, and you want to point all of that out, that does take a little more time.

I’ll just let everybody know that was season 1, episode 1 that I made last week, and I have eight episodes. It’s a Netflix series. Be prepared, Senator Richards: You’ll have the opportunity to see that again. I do want to forewarn everybody here that when I do that, I don’t do it to regale this chamber. Today, yes, because I was speaking to a motion, but when I speak to legislation and I speak that long, or when I speak to government ineptness and their scandals, I don’t do that to let everybody here know, because they all know. I do that to let the 700,000 people who watch that speech know. I do that to let the 6 million Conservatives who voted for the Conservative Party know. It goes beyond that.

Is this sleight of hand? Without question it is. Is this trying to take focus away from something? Magicians do that. When a magician does some kind of a trick, there is usually a bang or puff of smoke somewhere and then something over here disappears because your attention has been focused over there.

Senator Richards, I think that is exactly what the government is doing here. Let’s bring something in and focus our debate on something other than having Plett stand up and beat on the government again; let’s let them do this. I don’t know. You’re right. The crazy thing is, this motion will give Senator Tannas and Senator Dalphond 45 minutes each to speak; they already have it. It will give Senator Saint-Germain unlimited time. Am I concerned about that? I have never heard Senator Saint-Germain deliver a speech that’s 45 minutes long.

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

Just wait.

Senator Plett [ + ]

There we go. She has practised. I’m looking forward to that.

I’ve been a proponent of 45 minutes for years. You’re right; 45 minutes is enough. Unlimited time is too much. Nevertheless, I’m trying to use it today. As long as I have that right, I’ll continue to try to use it.

Senator Richards, we have been in agreement on so many pieces of legislation, and I thank you. I thank you for your values, the votes and the contributions you make to these debates. They are well thought out. I sometimes wonder if Justin Trudeau knew you.

Senator Richards [ + ]

No, he didn’t.

Senator Plett [ + ]

Thank goodness he appointed you.

Hon. David M. Wells [ + ]

Senator Plett, would you take a question?

Senator Plett [ + ]


Senator Wells [ + ]

This will take a bit of a preamble. I don’t want to take too much time on that; it’s not my style.

In the Senate, under the old two-party system, there have always been unwritten rules, conventions and courtesies. Even when the Harper government took over in 2006, when the Conservatives were vastly outnumbered, government legislation wasn’t defeated when it easily could have been. Motions could have been easily defeated. I’m sure there were some adjournments that were defeated. There have always been conventions and courtesies that have allowed governments to get their legislation passed, or fixed and passed. Even when Justin Trudeau took over in 2015 and we had the majority, we didn’t defeat any government legislation, and we could have.

My concern about this motion from Senator Gold — and I’ve sat on the Rules Committee since I was appointed — is that this motion is tilting the convention, or perhaps wiping it out, because now it’s not going to be based on courtesy or on an understanding of allowing government legislation to eventually pass, amended or unamended. When this passes — and it likely will — this will swing the pendulum to the point where, when the next government takes over — assuming it’s not a Liberal government or an NDP government or a Liberal-NDP government — and eventually has the majority whereby it can do whatever it needs to, then it will do that. It will throw that convention and those courtesies out the window — something this chamber has lived by for almost 160 years.

What’s your thought on that? If you look ahead, you’ll be long retired by then. What’s your thought on losing those conventions, losing those parliamentary courtesies that all parties have extended, perhaps tonight?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Thank you, Senator Wells. You’re absolutely right. Let me also give a bit of a preamble to the answer.

Senator Wells, you and I served together under the leadership of Senator Smith — me as the whip and you as the caucus chair. I recall fondly when Senator Joseph Day was the leader of the Liberal caucus. We had the ISG and we negotiated different things. They were all done by negotiation. They were all done by consensus. There was give and take, and we worked our way through that.

We worked our way through legislation for eight years plus before we ever needed to do time allocation. There are many conventions. This motion ends all of that. Again, I’m trying to speculate. I’m still hoping upon hope that mistakes were made. It’s one of two things: It’s either jealousy, or “We need to cut the opposition; they’re doing too good of a job.” You’re right: Everything has always managed to get through. We’ve always done that. We don’t believe in killing government legislation.

Now they are forcing something and, the fact of the matter is — and I’ll be a little more positive about this comment and not say “if” — when the next election happens, there will be a Conservative government. You, Senator Wells, will probably be part of that government. You’re young enough yet, and many colleagues are, so you will have an opportunity to try to use these amendments to the Rules to your advantage. That is what politics is all about. You will try. Our caucus will try. Our leader will try to turn this. Some of these amendments will come back and bite people in the butt who are now voting for them. Some of them are very strategic in creating extra opposition parties, but some of these rules will come back and bite them because the Conservative Party will have no obligation to work by consensus. That will be taken away tonight.

Hon. Jim Quinn [ + ]

This has been an interesting discussion. I’m kind of stuck in a place that says we want to have a thorough debate and we want to learn through debate. We have this potential for a time allocation motion. I haven’t heard Senator Gold move time allocation, but it seems to be there. All I can say is that I appeared before the Rules Committee after writing a letter. I said my piece last week on that. I appeared before the Rules Committee and I was very impressed with it. I thought the chair did an excellent job. I thought the questions were focused on the question of 45 days versus 60 days for a response.

There seem to be so many issues here, so why wouldn’t we want to refer it to the Rules Committee? Would you agree with that?

Senator Plett [ + ]

I am sorry. These new earpieces that we have here get tangled up with my hearing aids. I apologize.

Yes, Senator Quinn, absolutely, I would agree with that. I’ve said that from the beginning that this is where this should be handled. Not only do I have all the confidence in the world in our members on the Rules Committee, but I have all the confidence in the world in the other members from the other groups who are members of the Rules Committee.

Senator Batters pointed out clearly in one of her questions about how there has been consensus reached on so many issues at the Rules Committee, but they didn’t reach all of them and they didn’t reach the ones that Senator Gold feels are so important. So he is circumventing something that just really — I can’t remember how or why that ever happened. Why has the Rules Committee not at least tabled a report? Whatever they could agree on. Even if it were only half of what they wanted, why wouldn’t they come along and table that report and see if we could move that through the Senate? That’s the proper way of doing things, Senator Quinn.

Instead, Senator Gold said, “I’m not good with that, and I don’t need a committee to study that because I know best.” Not the government. He clearly says it is not the government. He has made that clear. I think he even used the word “period” at the end of his statement. It has not been Justin Trudeau. “It is me, Senator Gold.” Well, that makes this a private member’s bill as I said earlier, but he is hammering it through all by himself.

When you asked him the question earlier today in Question Period, Senator Quinn, “Would you consider an amendment,” did he answer? No. He said, “Well, it is up to the chamber.” No, it is your motion, Senator Gold.

That’s typically what people do. When the government brings a bill forward and we go to a committee meeting, we will typically ask the government representative there, the government, whoever is there, “Would you accept some amendments? Would you agree with these amendments?” And, typically, we get some kind of an answer. It may not be definite, but, “Yes, we might consider certain amendments.” We weren’t even given the courtesy of that today. He gave you no answer. He just said, “The chamber will decide. I’m not telling you what I’m going to do.” Well, I have a pretty good idea of what he will do. He will use his unlimited time to speak against whatever amendment we bring forward, and in due course, he will slap down time allocation. No, he has not said that in this chamber, but let me assure every senator here that he has made it absolutely and abundantly clear to me that he plans on doing that in the not-too-distant future if this does not pass promptly.

That is not speculation. That’s something I’ve been promised. So, no, this is not the way to do things, especially on — this is not a government bill. There are millions of people starving, but not because of this bill. This isn’t a money bill. There is no importance to this. If this doesn’t pass before June 21, there will not be one less person on the food line because of that. This has no bearing on the rest of Canada, and yet it’s more important than everything else. He has to reorder Government Business so that he knows he can get to it because, boy, is this important to every Canadian in the country to get these rules passed so that Senator Saint-Germain, God love her, can have unlimited speaking time.

Senator Batters [ + ]

Senator Plett, earlier, after only 90 minutes of you taking questions tonight, Senator Coyle took issue with the amount of time that you were taking as the Senate opposition leader to both speak and answer questions on this important issue here tonight. Yet in section 7 of the motion, Senator Gold is giving the leader of the Independent Senators Group, or ISG, unlimited time to speak on every single bill and every single motion. I wonder if Senator Coyle would have the same problem with her Independent Senators Group leader having unlimited time to speak on every issue.

Do you think it is necessary to give a third leader in this chamber unlimited time? In the House of Commons, who has unlimited time? Does the leader of the Bloc Québécois currently have unlimited time? And why would the government give this particular right to only the Independent Senators Group? Why not to all leaders?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Let me echo at least the first part of what you said. You are absolutely right. This motion will, in all likelihood, pass. It was made very clear to me today, in the morning, that we are in a minority here and this motion will pass. And so you are right, Senator Batters, that it gives the unlimited speaking time to another member, and we had a member of that caucus opposed to my unlimited speaking time but will likely vote in favour of her leader having unlimited speaking time. I find that a little ironic as well, but, nevertheless, that’s the way it is.

I suspect, Senator Batters, if this continues too much longer, the government may well introduce an amendment to their motion to take away unlimited speaking time from the Leader of the Opposition and just hand that to one of the other leaders and take it away from us because I’m sure everybody is getting tired of our debate here, except you and me —

Senator MacDonald [ + ]

I’m not tired.

Senator Plett [ + ]

Okay, we have a few others.

But you are right, Senator Batters. I cannot understand why we don’t give every leader — because we are being told emphatically that the ISG is not a part of the government. They are not. They are independent. So what makes Senator Tannas or Senator Dalphond more independent than Senator Saint‑Germain? Or less independent? Is it just simply because they have a lesser number of senators? What is the threshold? How many senators do you need before — Senator McPhedran asked, “Are we all equal?”

Well, I would suggest that the Canadian Senators Group, or CSG, and the Progressive Senate Group, or PSG, could also ask that same question. Aren’t we all equal? Why aren’t we all being treated equally? We are all independents. We are all not part of the government, so we should all get the same thing. I don’t know. Cherry-pick. He only needs one other group to be part of the government, and so he has chosen the group.

Senator Batters [ + ]

I want to ask about the term in this motion of “designated senators.” Now, this is not baseball. It is not designated hitters. Designated senators. Where every single parliamentary group, not just five, again, in this section, would get to have a “designated senator,” who can make 45-minute speeches at second and third reading of every single bill. If we’re trying to avoid time-wasting tactics, you would think the government is not interested in doing this. But given the question-and-answer exchange that Senators Gold and Quinn had on this issue last week, it seems like the government is not going to give any type of briefing to that designated senator as they would to the sponsor and critic of a bill. So what would this designated senator have to speak about for 45 minutes and then to try to answer any questions?

Senator Housakos [ + ]

What is a designated senator?

Senator Plett [ + ]

I agree. We are not a baseball team here. We don’t have designated hitters. That has not been explained anywhere in the Rules, what a “designated senator” is. I would suggest that, again, this is part of a Liberal virtue signal that, “We want to give something more to somebody else. We don’t know for sure who we are giving it to, but let’s just give you leaders the opportunity to pick somebody out of your crowd and designate them, and they can make 45-minute speeches.”

Senator Richards was quite correct when he asked why we need 45-minute speeches here, and yet here we are designating a whole lot more people to deliver these 45-minute speeches. Again, there is so much of this motion that Senator Gold has never explained. The only explanation we have received about why this motion needs to be there is because we need to create a more non-partisan chamber. I’m trying to find out how this does that. I’m very sincere about that. I’m trying to wrap my mind around how this creates a more non-partisan chamber. That’s the only reason we’ve been given.

Senator MacDonald [ + ]

Senator Plett, I want to speak to you about the debate on the motion to allocate time. The government is giving five leaders 20 minutes apiece to speak. That leaves 50 minutes. Theoretically, we could have 100 senators, and that would give each senator 30 seconds to speak. In the civilized democratic world, do you know of any chamber in the world where members are reduced to 30 seconds to speak on the floor of their assembly?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Well, “no” is the quick answer. Of course, it won’t be divided equally so that everybody has 30 seconds. Of course, this isn’t in any way a reflection on speakers and how they recognize people, but we see so often that Senator Richards in the far corner of the chamber is not recognized because he is so far away. Senator Wallin has said that occasionally, when she is way out there, she is not recognized when she is standing. So what happens? Where is the opposition? They are at least in the middle. Where is most of the government? From here that way. Who is most recognizable? The people closest to the Speaker.

This has the potential of not allowing the opposition a position to speak at all, never mind 30 seconds. That is what this does. I’m not faulting the Speaker, because the Speaker looks up and sees somebody and recognizes somebody. We see that all the time. The further away you are, the less chance of being recognized.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

Senator MacDonald, do you have a supplementary question?

Senator MacDonald [ + ]

I can if you want me to.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

Colleagues, I have said it many times and I’ll repeat it: The government always views Parliament as a nuisance, and so it should. If we are doing our job properly in an open-minded, independent and robust fashion, we should be a nuisance for the government.

I was told by many when I came here many years ago to take a deep breath because I will not always be in government. I think Senator Percy Downe and my good friend Senator Dawson said that if I’m here long enough — and I was young enough when I first got here — I would experience both sides of the chamber. It’s important to be cognizant all the time that once you are in opposition, that is the most important place and the most important role in holding the government to account.

Senator Plett, I don’t understand why, over the last few years, senators who have been given the largest privilege, who hold the government to account and who speak on behalf of their constituents have accepted from this government to be neutered, to become second-class parliamentarians. They have done it by throwing senators out of caucus. They have done it by making it shameful to engage in the democratic political process. And now they want to limit the role of the opposition as well in order to once again diminish our role as parliamentarians.

My question is the following: The Senate was created to be a replica of the House of Commons in Westminster. If anybody reads the Parliament of Canada Act, you will see clearly — I think it is in section 18 of the act — that this chamber was modelled after the House of Commons of Westminster, with the identical rights and privileges of the other house, other than the fact that this chamber is an appointed body, not an elected body.

Why in this motion has the government deliberately gone to such extremes to limit and take away rights and privileges that members of the House of Commons have, but to take them away from caucuses and parliamentarians in this place in terms of how often we speak, how often the opposition speaks and so on and so forth? Why is this government obsessed with limiting the powers of Parliament?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Thank you, Senator Housakos. The fact of the matter is I have a feeling that if the Liberals had the kind of majority in the other house that they have in this house —

Senator Housakos [ + ]

God help us.

Senator Plett [ + ]

 — they might well be trying to do exactly what they are trying to do here. Fortunately, they don’t have the same kind of majority over there.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

They did try it a few years ago.

Senator Plett [ + ]

They tried it; you are right. It didn’t work, and I don’t think it will work here in the long run. It will backfire. There will be a day in the not too distant future when Pierre Poilievre will be the prime minister of this country.

Senator Martin [ + ]

Hear, hear.

Senator Plett [ + ]

He will, together with you, colleagues — those of you who are younger than Senator Seidman and me — you will bring changes to this chamber. This has been a failed experiment, and it will continue. Why are they doing it here when they don’t do it over there? Because they can. That’s what this government did. The Prime Minister is a bully. He has been a bully since day one. His father was a bully before him. He is a bully.

When we have peaceful protesters on Wellington, he calls them a fringe group and won’t speak to them. When we have protesters beating on the top of our cars with Jewish hate‑mongering insignia, he has nothing to say.

Senator MacDonald [ + ]

That’s right.

Senator Plett [ + ]

That’s what this Prime Minister is all about. That’s what this government is all about, and that, colleagues, has filtered into the leadership of the government in this Senate. Even though their numbers are small in the Government Representative Office, their numbers are large in the government, and so they can and they will.

I am deeply disturbed, quite frankly, with colleagues who have been Conservatives and still profess to be Conservatives, that they are supporting this motion. That disturbs me more than if Liberals support this motion. This is a Liberal motion. I understand that. But we have Conservative colleagues who are trying to destroy the opposition along with them. That bothers me a lot more.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

Pierre Poilievre will win a majority government, and there is no doubt he will axe the tax, build homes and fix the budget and stop the crime. The question I have for you is this: Will he fix the damage done to this institution? The other question I have for you is whether a Pierre Poilievre government — which in all likelihood will have a massive mandate from the people of Canada — will get the same type of support from this independent Senate when he tables motions to change rules and procedures. Will there be an acquiescence of those changes from a duly elected government by this independent Senate? What do you think?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Senator Housakos, I would like to believe that there will be some, but I’m sorry, I’m from Missouri. There will be no cooperation given to Pierre Poilievre.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

Say it isn’t so.

Senator Plett [ + ]

But I have every confidence in Pierre Poilievre and in you, Senator Housakos, and in the rest of you youngsters who will still be here and fighting the good fight. I pray that you will do that. I have every confidence that you will. I see a lot of energy in our benches, small as they are. There is not that much left over here.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

We have plenty.

Senator Martin [ + ]

You are doing a good job.

Hon. Raymonde Saint-Germain [ + ]

Honourable senators, at the risk of disappointing you, I must admit that my interpretation of Motion No. 165 is far less creative and speculative than Senator Plett’s. Mine is rather factual and objective. In presenting it to you, I intend to demonstrate also that, between senators, we can share different views and still cooperate and work collegially and respectfully.

Senator Plett, you know that I respect you and I appreciate your dedication as well as your presence in fulfilling your duties here. This is my introduction — a different style, certainly.

Dear colleagues, today we are at a decisive moment in the history of the Senate, and I believe we must all grasp the importance of this moment and of the debate that is now taking place.

If adopted, Motion No. 165 will have a definite impact on both the effectiveness and the credibility of our chamber of sober second thought, a complement to the House of Commons, where elected parliamentarians sit.

When Senate reform and the independent appointment process associated with it began in 2015, the upper house of Parliament was going through trying times. The institution was grappling with ethical and governance issues that only served to confirm Canadians’ negative impressions of the Red Chamber.

Today’s Senate has gained credibility. Bit by bit, the Senate has evolved. It has found a new path, a less partisan, more constructive path that offers greater freedom of initiative and expression. While the public still has reservations, they seem to appreciate this progress. Professional polls from 2019 and 2021 show that, while the less partisan Senate still lacks credibility and public confidence to an extent, our credibility and public confidence in our institution are not declining as fast as they were before.

In fact, colleagues, Motion No. 165 is not a standalone, radical, new proposition. This motion stems from years of debates, discussions and reports. It is also the logical continuation of a long series of changes. Senator Gold addressed this history in his speech two weeks ago, but let me remind us of the road we’ve travelled before diving into the content of this motion.

First, in 2016, the Special Committee on Senate Modernization was tasked, as stated in its very first report, with:

. . . providing guidance on transforming a 19th century parliamentary institution into one that would be equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century. . . . to . . . improve its working to better serve Canadians.

Conservative, Liberal and independent senators all contributed to the work of the committee. It sat for three years and produced 13 reports with concrete guidelines and recommendations for modernizing the Senate, some of which we see in this very motion before us today.

Later, in 2020, motions were tabled before the Senate by Senators Tannas and Woo proposing improvements to our Rules to better reflect what had become the new reality of the Senate’s composition. Then, in 2022, the law of our land, the Parliament of Canada Act, was also modified to better reflect this new reality. It passed both houses seamlessly: in fact, not one senator voted against that modernization. Finally, last year, as a result of the motions of Senators Woo and Tannas, the Standing Senate Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament studied possible rule changes and came up with its fifth report, Equity between recognized parties and recognized parliamentary groups.

Since 2016, both the Modernization Committee and Rules Committee — a 15-member standing committee — held 147 meetings on this topic, which amounts to a colossal 197 hours of study and deliberations. That is 147 meetings and 197 sitting hours. This is the strong foundation upon which this motion stands.

It’s time for the Rules of the Senate to reflect the laws of the land and comply with the Parliament of Canada Act. It is time for the Rules to meet the needs of a diverse and modern Senate.

Now that we’ve seen the long path taken, let’s have a look at what is before us today.

Motion No. 165 is wide-ranging and comprehensive. It accurately captures what is needed to change in order for the Senate we have known for the last eight years to work fairly and efficiently. It reflects the changes to the Parliament of Canada Act, unanimously adopted by both chambers of Parliament, as I said previously, and it fills the glaring gap between our laws and our Rules. What it does, truly, is allows more senators to have greater say in the Senate’s decision-making process by ensuring that the facilitators or leaders of all caucuses and groups are consulted, providing them the ability to participate more effectively in the chamber’s and committees’ governance. The amendments in the motion strengthen the democratic basis of this chamber, confirming that the duopoly vestige of a partisan Senate is no longer the mantra here.

More specifically, this motion will give the opportunity to the leaders of the Independent Senators Group, the Canadian Senators Group and the Progressive Senate Group — collectively representing 72 out of the 96 senators currently appointed — to act upon important strategic matters, such as the deferral of standing votes or the length of bells preceding a vote. All groups would also have the opportunity to delegate a representative to speak for a 45-minute period on each bill. This would be far more representative of the various perspectives of the regions, Indigenous peoples, minorities, vulnerable populations, acting on behalf of the numerous regions of the country, and many more.

But, first and foremost, this will assure the complementarity of the Senate with the House of Commons, which is a fundamental reason for its creation and its enshrinement in the constitution of this country.

The ISG, the largest group in the Senate, and any other future largest group in the Senate, will finally enjoy, like the opposition and the government, unlimited speaking time for its facilitator. I know this is an important tool. Some use it as a filibuster tool, but I commit, as long as I am the facilitator, to never do that.

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

The motion will, at the same time, update the titles of senators currently in leadership positions. By doing that, Motion No. 165 will not only accurately represent the reality of the Senate, but it will also reflect former Speaker Furey’s ruling of April 25, 2023, as well as his ruling of May 19, 2016, leaving no room for alternate interpretations, let alone points of order on this question.

Also included in this motion are much needed efficiency changes, such as reducing the length of our dinner break from two hours to one, establishing a 60-calendar-day requirement for the government to provide responses to Delayed Answers and Written Questions — all changes that will help us hold the government accountable with more diligence and efficiency.

Regarding Written Questions, I will speak further to Senator Quinn’s amendment.

Why are these seemingly technical changes so important?

Precisely because they ensure the legitimacy and equality of senators who are not affiliated with a House of Commons caucus. I’m talking about approximately 80% of the current members of this House. These 79 senators are just as good as any other senator at holding the government to account and amending and criticizing bills and other initiatives in the interest of improving them.

The difference is that we see our role not as one of obstruction, but rather one of careful and critical analysis to improve government bills, all from a perspective that far exceeds the confines of any party’s vision or electoral considerations that do not concern our unelected chamber, the only such chamber in the Westminster system if we exclude the generally unelected crossbenchers in the United Kingdom’s House of Lords.

In 2024, should the Senate still be seen as an institution where, to receive equitable consideration under the Rules, a senator has to either totally support all of the government’s motions or stubbornly and relentlessly oppose them?

I want to insist that framing the Independent Senators Group, or ISG, Progressive Senate Group, or PSG, and Canadian Senators Group, or CSG, as a different but equally relevant form of opposition is something that is for me very important. It would be a different form of opposition by being constructive and complementary to the House of Commons rather than mimicking the style of opposition in the other place. I say this with respect for the elected parliamentarians, but we are not elected parliamentarians.

There have never been more amendments to government bills than during this new Senate. Isn’t that proof that the independent senators from all three independent groups are making the government accountable and improving legislation for the benefit of Canadians? We are not affiliated with parties, and in no case, then, do we put the interests of a party before those of the country.

I personally believe that the reformed Senate is much closer to its constitutional mandate as a complementary chamber to the elected House.

It is a democratic institution of sober second thought, and its members must base their comments on facts, evidence and expertise as well as the common best interest of the citizens of our country.

Current rules and practices mean that a majority of senators are hostages to partisan activism. They’re not the only ones who are uncomfortable with this system. Polls on the issue are clear. Canadians want a chamber that complements the elected House and, most importantly, one that rises above purely partisan considerations.

Within this institution, the sentiment is the same. In 2024, the vast majority of senators support the changes proposed in this motion. At no point was this more apparent than during the study at the Rules Committee. Unfortunately, this committee elected to move forward only with unanimity. So, a veto right was given to any one senator who disagreed, and the committee was deprived of submitting recommendations to the Senate.

To Senator Plett’s point regarding the improper study of this motion: Respectfully, colleague, you’ve been opposing these changes for over eight years now.

And we should not be fooled into thinking that there was no consensus around that committee table. Unanimity does not equal consensus. When the few systematically block the will of the many, democracy fails.

This situation is typical of the current rules under which the Senate operates. We deny privileges to the majority of senators and groups to the profit of a few. In doing so, we are denying democracy and the will of Canadians, and enabling in this institution the tyranny of the minority — a concept that is, I might add, totally foreign to the principles of the Westminster system.

To conclude, honourable colleagues, after all these debates and studies, it is high time to move forward with the modernization of our Rules. This is a matter of fairness toward the independent senators, who, for the most part since 2016, have accepted this demanding mandate under these conditions. It is also a matter of fairness toward the 13 senators who were sworn in before 2016, who are disappointed with their experience in a duopoly and who have since chosen to sit as independents.

In 2019 and in 2021, 77% and 76% of respondents in a poll on the future of the Senate wanted future governments to continue with the non-partisan appointment process. What’s more, 81% felt that having senators who were not affiliated with a political party was a positive thing.

It could not be any clearer. We know what the people we serve and represent here expect from us. That is why I will be voting in favour of Motion No. 165, in the hope that we can continue to work on modernizing this institution.

We still have a lot of work to do to figure out how to balance the time spent studying government legislation, the time spent studying private members’ bills and the time spent on committee studies with truly independent, non-partisan expert witnesses who can help the government understand the importance of establishing better public policies and holding the government — regardless of the party in power — to account for the management of the public funds that Canadians entrust to the state so it can serve them more efficiently and meet their present needs.

Thank you for your attention. Meegwetch.

Hon. Clément Gignac [ + ]

Would Senator Saint-Germain take a question?

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

I’d be happy to.

Senator Gignac [ + ]

Thank your for your speech. I support the principle of modernization. I have experienced active politics and partisanship, and what actually convinced me to apply for the Senate is the fact that it’s a chamber of non-partisan second thought. My thinking is very similar to yours. However, there is something that I don’t really understand in terms of what’s been explained to us.

I understand that we have different independent senators groups and that the Government Representative and the Leader of the Opposition have unlimited speaking time, but why would the leader of the Independent Senators Group, or ISG, be the only one to get unlimited speaking time, while the other two leaders would not? It seems as though that would create two classes of leaders among the other independent groups. I have to admit that I don’t really understand that concept. Could you explain that to me, please?

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

It’s the same principle that applies in the other place and in the majority of governments, namely that the largest group, after the government, is the group that gets privileges in a democracy, because it represents a majority of senators.

I would like to emphasize that it’s important to note that this motion does not take away any powers or privileges from either the government or the opposition.

Although I think it’s odd to compare the dilution of the opposition’s powers to ice in a glass of scotch — I personally think that example was pretty flippant — it is very important to recognize this principle of majority representation in a democracy. It is a fundamental principle that is recognized as one of the pillars of the Westminster system.

You mentioned the ISG, but we should actually be referring to the largest group, which currently happens to be the ISG. These changes, I hope, will be made with a view to the longer term, in order to permanently reform a Senate that is independent and complementary to the House of Commons. That, senators, was truly the will that the Fathers of Confederation expressed when this country was founded and an alliance was struck to form Confederation.

Senator Quinn [ + ]

Will the senator take another question?

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]


Senator Quinn [ + ]

Thank you. When I appeared before the committee, I talked about the 60 versus 45 days of response. Was that topic discussed in all of the other work that had been done that you referred to tonight? Was that 60 versus 45 talked about by the previous rules work that was done by the committee’s terms of reference?

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

Actually, it was discussed at the Rules Committee, but it was also discussed in this chamber many times. I would say senators from all groups, not only leaders, complained about the fact that we often have very long delays, responses that are delayed without a deadline and sometimes responses that are not really responding to the true question.

This is why I’m surprised. I will further comment when I speak to your amendment, but I’m really surprised by such an amendment that does not recognize that this motion is a great improvement with regard to written questions and delayed answers. Before this motion — and if it is voted and passed — the government will now have not only a deadline of 60 days, but it will have to explain the reason why the delay is not respected. And a sanction is enshrined in this motion because if the government does not respond to some questions, the chamber can refer the case to the Rules Committee and raise a question of privilege. What an improvement.

This is why I do believe that the Government Representative recognized the situation and listened to the complaints that were raised both in the Rules Committee and in this chamber from all groups, once again, and caucuses, the Conservative caucus as well.

Frankly, Senator Gold, I thank you for this.

Senator Quinn [ + ]

For clarity, my question was asking if the topic that I presented at Rules had been discussed at any point prior to that. I understood from the chair of the committee, when I spoke about that particular aspect, I was given advice that that may be worthwhile to discuss at Rules and, “Could you please put it in writing so that we have it and so that we can consider it?” I took from that that it hadn’t been considered.

If that’s the case, are there other things that are in Motion No. 165 that weren’t considered prior to Motion No. 165 being tabled?

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

I hope I will answer your question because I’m not sure that I really understand. The proposal or your thoughts that you shared with the Rules Committee have been considered, but this was not the first time that this question was addressed by the Rules Committee and also by this chamber. You made a contribution that is appreciated, but I would say the world didn’t begin the day you came to the committee on this question.

Senator Batters [ + ]

Senator Saint-Germain, I want to discuss the time limit for speakers and the fact that you, as the leader of the Independent Senators Group, would receive unlimited time for speaking and answering questions for any bill and any motion.

What my question is focusing on is, right now, you have quite a large group in the Senate, 40 or somewhere around there. But potentially, covered by this motion and because it would be a rule of the Senate and not merely a sessional order which would cover just a certain point of time where that situation would still exist, right now you have a very large group and quite a bit larger than the other two groups that don’t receive that unlimited time, but there could be a time — maybe in the near future — where the government and opposition actually become quite large and the third party then becomes very small. What if it was a situation where the group that you’re now the head of actually had, perhaps, 16 senators; the group under that 15 senators; and the group after that 14 senators? Yet, you would be the one who gets unlimited speaking time, and the other two only 45 minutes. How is that fair, and how is that equity of groups?

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

I will not answer a speculative question like yours with the numbers. I will only say that what is unfair — or would be unfair — would be that, other than government and opposition, the largest group that represents the third-greatest number of senators would not be given this opportunity.

Once again, I believe that we should not personalize who is the Leader of the Government, the opposition, the largest group or the two other groups. We’re not changing or proposing these amendments for one year or two. It’s for having certitude that this reform will survive because this reform is a democratic one. It is a reform that is supported by Canadians, and it is respectful of the principles of the Westminster system and also respectful of the other place rather than mimicking the other place.

This is a reform that is relevant, and, at this stage, many scenarios or hypotheses are not relevant to answer this type of question. When the Senate gets there, there are always possibilities and options through other amendments or through sessional orders to make different choices, but it’s not up to us now to speculate for the 20 or 25 years to come. Let’s do what we can do now in order to improve our institution and to make it more respectful of our democratic system.

Senator Batters [ + ]

Senator Saint-Germain, earlier in your speech, you indicated that you would never use your power of unlimited speaking time and question-answering time to “filibuster.” You stated that that was your promise, your solemn oath on that.

With that, then, what would you intend to use this unlimited speaking time to do? There may come a time when you feel extremely strongly against a particular government bill or motion or something like that where you have a situation that you feel so strongly that it’s perhaps unconstitutional, it’s completely contrary to your region, it’s harmful to Canada and that is your best method in order to bring that to the attention of the Canadian public and to all parliamentarians. What would you be using your unlimited speaking time for, and why would you preclude that? If you feel so strongly about that, would you agree to an amendment to take out that ability?

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

No, I would not agree to an amendment. I’m confident that I will never have to use this filibustering clause because I am a strong believer in our democracy, and I do believe that when Canadians elect a government with a platform, they do agree with that platform. The role of the Senate is not to defeat this government. The role of the Senate is to ensure there are not constitutional abuses.

Once again, we are all here to hold the government to account when we deem it appropriate, to constructively comment on a bill, make amendments and improve bills. This unlimited time privilege that would also be given to the largest group is only a safeguard in the case that the government — and it may be the case with a majority government — would abuse the constitutional rights of Canadians.

In this case, it will not be filibustering. It would simply be having enough time to consider and speak to all the aspects of such, I would say, undemocratic behaviour or bill or whatever it is — a gesture from the government — and giving enough time to the official opposition and the largest group to speak to this and to try to improve and amend it. This, in my mind, is not filibustering. I believe, however, that using it regularly and too often, when we are displeased with something that is democratic, is not sound.

Also, I believe that with a democratically elected government, the Senate must exert restraint. I will not quote the late Senator Shugart, but I totally concurred with him. This is why the Salisbury convention is so important. I invite all of us to read and reread this convention because we need to realize that it is the way we must be complementary to the elected chamber of this Parliament.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

Senator Saint-Germain, there’s a lack of cohesion in your assessment of what is democratic and what isn’t. I want to go back to the question from Senator Gignac about why you are entitled to have the unlimited time that other groups don’t have.

In your response to Senator Gignac, you said that the characterization or justification for this is due to being the second-largest group after the government in this chamber. You said it is consistent with the other place. With all due respect, Senator Saint-Germain, the second-largest group in the other place isn’t appointed by the Prime Minister. The second-largest group in the other place is duly elected to oppose the first group, which is the governing party.

Now, if this government has decided to destroy the whole process of a parliamentary system, where there’s a government leader who represents no one, the largest group in this chamber, appointed by the duly elected Prime Minister, should have the rights and privileges of the government leader. However, you can’t have a government leader with all the government rights and privileges and the largest caucus with the same privileges as the opposition. That’s a triple-headed monster.

When you say that you have the right because you’re the second-largest group after the government, no — the largest group isn’t the government here; it’s your group. You are governing because you’re the largest group, and we have the mandate because we represent the official opposition. I would love to see us be consistent with the House of Commons, where you have the largest duly elected group governing and the second-largest group representing the official opposition.

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

You’re making my point. You are affiliated with a partisan caucus. You’re not elected. This motion is generous because an opposition is still considered, a government is still considered, and the majority are not affiliated with a partisan caucus, senator. This is the Senate style. This is what is important.

Do you know what my model is? You speak very often about the Westminster system. You know how I appreciate your — I would say —

Senator Housakos [ + ]


Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

No, not your wisdom — your ability to speak for long hours. It’s easy for you. You’re a good speaker.

My model is the House of Lords in the Westminster system. The majority are generally not elected. They have a role and a status. This is the model. Allow me to say this. You know that I appreciate you very much, but sometimes when you speak, it’s as if the Senate of Canada were not the only upper chamber in the Westminster system that is made up of unelected parliamentarians. This is an important distinction. I’m glad that, with your question, I have the opportunity to make this nuance. We are not an elected chamber. We must still abide by democratic principles and the will of the majority, but the only relevant example in the Westminster system is crossbenchers in the House of Lords. Thank you.

Hon. Michèle Audette [ + ]

Senator Saint-Germain, would you take a question from me?

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]


Senator Audette [ + ]

I have to begin with a comment. Thank you for the respectful way you delivered your speech. I’m a person who likes everyone, but sometimes I feel that respect doesn’t always come easy — I get the same feeling back home. There was a lot of commotion tonight, but you brought me back to a space where it’s important to be like elders. You might recall that I’d told you that we had to act as our elders do, and our colleague the Honourable Murray Sinclair said it too, “like wise people.” So thank you very much.

At the same time, in my culture, we listen to wise people. We don’t interrupt them or cut them off. However, it might be the Quebecer in me that feels that time is often important, since we don’t have a lot of it in the Senate. I saw the words “unlimited speaking time,” which I understood thanks to your explanation, but at the same time, there are other groups, like mine, that represent minorities, vulnerable people who aren’t fortunate enough to be able to take up quite so much space in this great chamber.

You talked about a safeguard. Could you elaborate on that? I’m not comfortable — I am comfortable with you as a leader of a bigger group, yes, but in three or four generations that leader may be someone who doesn’t have the same attitude as you. What assurances do I have that, beyond all that, the next leader will be the sort of person who will follow the Rules and won’t abuse that privilege? I am concerned about that, but perhaps you have already considered that issue.

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

Meegwetch for your kind words.

I want to share a secret, but on this point, we have to respect the will of the majority. Personally, and I wasn’t the only one, since the meetings of the Rules Committee are open to the public, but I would have preferred that no one be given unlimited time. We’ve had several debates and we were told that under the government’s current formula, a government office made up of three senators who don’t have places reserved in committee . . . Senator Gold has ex officio status, which gives him the right to vote, but the Leader of the Opposition also has the same status; otherwise he doesn’t have a seat in committee.

It was a rather specific question and we recognized that, yes, this formula was important for the government, and the senator did not abuse it, I might add. We also recognized the principle that privileges should not be taken away from the opposition and given to the government. We all agreed on that.

At the same time, we’ve heard that the notion of a group representing a majority is a principle of democracy. That being said — and I can’t speak for my successors; no one can do that — but, in my view, in a less partisan Senate, it’s clear that it simply provides an additional guarantee in the event of genuine abuse that goes against the will of Canadians.

I think that if there were abuse, we might say that it is the government of the day that did it, whoever the government may be. If there is abuse, we can always count on the opposition, who will have this status over the larger group and also over the groups with smaller numbers, who could nonetheless ask some questions. I think that I like the concept of saying that the word “opposition” has to be retained. It is in the Parliament of Canada Act, after all.

The question is, what type of opposition do the independent groups want to become? Do they want to be a constructive or obstructive opposition? Should opposing be systematic? I looked at a few bills and I listened objectively to what was said in committee. In the beginning, I was against the bill to decriminalize the use of cannabis, but then I read up on the subject and I saw that decriminalization was the lesser of two evils, so I supported some amendments, including Conservative amendments.

I’m using that example to say that just because we may at times support government bills it doesn’t mean that we are associated with that government or that party. That would be awful. What kind of public service would we have if rotten legislation or bills were systematically introduced by the government and passed by the House of Commons and if the Senate always had to amend them because they were bad? I don’t like the link that is being made between bills that are examined and eventually passed without amendment and the fact that that is being done by the majority of senators because they are Liberal senators and so friends of the party of the day.

I think that is some of the misinformation that is out there that we need to correct. I hope to answer your question by saying that we need that barrier, at least for the biggest group that is not the government or the opposition group, but we also all need to have the view that all independent groups form a constructive opposition that serves Canadians well but that does not confuse the interests of the party with the interests of the country.

Hon. Percy E. Downe [ + ]

Were any members of the Independent Senators Group, or their staff, involved in the drafting of this motion?

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

Not that I know of. I do believe this motion was drafted by the Government Representative Office.

Senator Lankin is presently a member of the Government Representative Office. The question is regarding staffers. No Independent Senators Group staffer has been involved in the writing of this motion.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Senator Plett, do you have a question?

Senator Plett [ + ]

Yes, if the senator would take one more question, it is in reference to what Senator Downe just asked.

Senator Saint-Germain, is it not correct that Senator Lankin was a member of the Independent Senators Group, but left the Independent Senators Group very publicly. As a matter of fact, The Hill Times said she was going to the Government Representative Office only for the purposes of drafting this motion and making sure that this would come through, and she will be back again in the Independent Senators Group in the not-too-distant future?

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

Senator Lankin is not an Independent Senators Group staffer.

Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond [ + ]

Colleagues, I didn’t really intend to speak to this. Senator Bellemare, who is our expert on the Senate Rules, was going to comment and will comment further — perhaps not today, but tomorrow or Thursday — on the technical content of the motion.

However, I can’t remain silent after the comments I heard today following a very productive exchange between members of the Conservative group. Since they didn’t have time to discuss these important issues amongst themselves during the two-hour break, we were able to benefit from their open discussions, which we were all able to participate in. I want to thank them.

That being the case, colleagues, I’d like to add some nuance to a few of the things that have been said.

Colleagues, this motion, once adopted, would give all parliamentary groups and parties in the Senate more equitable procedural powers, albeit with some remaining discrepancies, such as ex officio voting rights at committee.

As such, this motion is a positive step to allow groups to participate in the organization of the Senate proceedings, such as the ability to defer votes, and also to have committee hearings outside of ordinary times without two senators holding a veto.

This motion is firmly grounded in the Westminster tradition of recognizing parliamentarians’ freedoms to associate in groups and to play their part in the legislative process and hold any government of the day to account.

This motion enhances senators’ ability to perform our constitutional function without the need to be part of a government caucus or an opposition caucus.

Senator Plett has presented this Rules change motion as an unprecedented government motion drafted by an outgoing Prime Minister’s Office trying to ambush an upcoming strong majority of the Conservative Party.

For those who see conspiracies all around — at the United Nations, at the World Health Organization, at Davos and at other places — this narrative may be appealing.

But the facts are what we should be looking at. For those who are interested in facts, they should consider that these proposals and changes are along the lines of previous discussions over many years since I joined the Senate — six years ago — such as at the Senate Modernization Committee and the Rules Committee.

Indeed, these changes will bring our Rules in line with the changes to the Parliament of Canada Act, which we finally adopted in 2022 after attempts starting in 2020. It took a long time to get there. It had to be part of a budget as an omnibus bill, which I don’t like, but I did like that part of that omnibus bill.

Furthermore, this motion is not a first in Canadian history. Allow me to quote two passages from our Senate Procedure in Practice. First, I will refer to page iii on the topic of the Rules:

Several minor modifications were made in subsequent years, but those that occurred 1991 were the most far reaching. They were put in place following an unprecedented level of partisan rancor arising from the debate over the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Among the changes incorporated into the Rules were time limits for specific proceedings, including Senator’s Statements, Routine Proceedings and Question Period. Time limits were also established for most speeches and for the bells for standing votes. An ordinary time of adjournment — midnight most days and 4 p.m. on Friday — was also fixed. In addition, priority was given to Government Business, which would be called in the order determined by the Government Leader or Deputy Leader. Provisions were also added to allow the government to impose time allocation for its business, and new procedures for dealing with questions of privilege were established.

A second interesting quote is found on page 73 of the same Senate Procedure in Practice:

The Orders of the Day are divided into two main categories: Government Business and Other Business. This distinction has been in place since 1991 when changes to the Rules of the Senate gave priority to the consideration of items sponsored by the government. Prior to this change, there was no such distinction.

Colleagues, from these passages, I note two important points. First, there was no distinction between Government Business and Other Business prior to 1991. Second, there was no time allocation rule prior to 1991.

In inquiring how these changes came about, as a matter of procedure, I found that these major rule changes were part of a massive package of rule changes adopted on June 18, 1991, at the initiative of the Conservative government of the then prime minister, the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney. They were adopted on a standing vote of 40 to 30.

Senator Dalphond [ + ]

It was far from a consensus. Furthermore, these changes followed Prime Minister Mulroney’s appointment of an extra eight senators to the Senate in 1990 under a section of the Constitution that had never been used in Canadian history.

Senator Dalphond [ + ]

So we are not making big history tonight. It was made in 1991.

We can hardly speak of rule changes made on consensus. As a matter of fact, section 36 of the Constitution Act, 1867, requires that the Senate make decisions by majority. The Constitution does not permit us to make rules that will require a supermajority, like in the U.S. Senate, because it would be against the Constitution or, by implication, for example, giving a veto to a group of 13 senators. Furthermore, as Senator Sinclair said in 2020 in discussing potential rule changes proposed by him and me, as you may remember — it was a thick package, “. . . consensus should not be a precondition to doing the right thing . . . .” I believe in that.

In short, senators, the opposition’s case against this motion rests on propositions that are inaccurate and, furthermore, on a vision of our chamber that no longer exists. The reality is that we now have four groups in the Senate, and none has a majority. Hopefully, this will last.

We should not be ashamed of what we are doing. In fact, we are simply following the evolution of the Westminster model. As you know, we were modelled on the House of Lords, the upper chamber of the Westminster Parliament, many decades ago now. The House of Lords is made up of various groups, the four largest being the Conservatives, 277 peers; Labour, 172 peers; the Liberal Democrats, 80 peers; and the Crossbenchers, 181 peers. As you can see, none has a majority of seats. Despite the very unpopular Conservative government which is running England now, its bills make it through the House of Lords.

The rules proposed by the motion before us will ensure that the four groups we have here will enjoy equivalent status in many aspects. Ultimately, these new rules will reflect the equality between groups that we’re trying to achieve — a principle of equality that is important for all of us as individuals and as members of groups. Beyond that, it will guarantee the existence of four groups in this place, which comes with the freedom of each of us to affiliate with one of these groups and to change affiliations as time passes. It makes us more independent and not dependent on making a move such as crossing the floor when you disagree with your group.

Speaking of the Westminster model, I think we should go further than what we are doing now. We should follow what they have done already. For example, we could elect our Speaker. They took this away from the power of the Crown. The Speaker is now elected by secret ballot in the House of Lords.

Your Honour, that is not a criticism of you. I am sure you would win the vote. The issue is that this is the model that the House of Lords is following. This is what the Westminster model is evolving toward. Moreover, the chairs of the committees are selected by the whole house. It is a committee of chairs that chairs all the meetings of the committees. These are the standing lords who have been selected by the whole chamber, not by two or three members of a committee, to be the chair of that committee.

Colleagues, I will conclude with this: Some people are concerned about the fact that if these rules are adopted, I may not have unlimited time when I am giving my next speech. I understand the theory. In practice, I never use unlimited time. I won’t even use my 45 minutes today. Normally, I don’t use it because I believe that if your message is clear, it can be put to your colleagues in 15 minutes, maybe 30 minutes or 45 minutes. If you need more time than that, it is because your message is defective in more than one place.

Thank you very much, colleagues, for your attention.

Senator Plett [ + ]

Thank you, Senator Dalphond, for that enlightenment. Would you accept a question?

Senator Dalphond [ + ]

I feel fully energized and ready to answer questions. I don’t think I will beat you, though, as I have only 45 minutes.

Senator Plett [ + ]

Thank you. First, let me suggest, Your Honour, that the Conservative Party fully supports the Speaker in this chamber, even if the members of the PSG don’t.

Senator Plett [ + ]

Senator Dalphond, can you enlighten us as to how the Rules were changed in 1991? What process was used in 1991?

Senator Housakos [ + ]

He wasn’t there. He doesn’t know.

Senator Dalphond [ + ]

Senator Housakos is right. I wasn’t there, neither was he, and neither was Senator Plett. But as a matter of fact, I was born.

I wasn’t there, Senator Plett, but I can tell you that it was a standing vote. I can also tell you that it was a long debate and that it was imposed upon the Liberal minority.

Senator Plett [ + ]

The fact of the matter, Senator Dalphond, is that in 1991 the rule changes were made through a report of a committee. It was done by a committee.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

After study.

Senator Plett [ + ]

After study. This, however, is being done by a dictator in the House and a dictator here in the chamber, not by a committee. We have been supportive of Senator Bellemare.

Are you suggesting that the committee should be completely circumvented? The opposition boycotted the Rules Committee. They asked for a vote but did not debate the changes. Senator Dalphond, you are comparing apples to oranges, are you not? In one breath, you’re saying that in 1991, this was a wonderful thing and we agreed. Bring something to the committee and let the committee bring in rules changes. Would you not agree that was the process in 1991? That’s what happened then, and what was good enough in 1991, as you suggested, is good enough for 2024?

Senator Dalphond [ + ]

Thank you, Senator Plett, for the question. Can you tell us if the report was unanimous?

Senator Gignac [ + ]

Would my colleague take a question?

Senator Dalphond [ + ]

Of course, colleague.

Senator Gignac [ + ]

Thank you for the background information. I was quite prepared to listen to you longer, but you were effective and spoke concisely.

I’d like to ask you the same question I asked of Senator Saint‑Germain, because the topic keeps going through my mind. I understand that the Government Representative has unlimited time. Still, Canadians are the ones who elect the government, and the opposition is determined by what happens in the other place. The opposition is necessarily the second-largest group chosen. However, why would the representative of the Independent Senators Group, which has the largest number of members, receive the same powers and privileges as the Leader of the Opposition or the Government Representative?

As Senator Audette mentioned earlier, we represent minorities. We need to protect them. What unintended consequences would such a change have? Let me explain. In seven, eight or ten years, given that Quebec will always have 24 senators in this chamber, what would happen if suddenly a group of Quebec senators became the largest group? Would you feel comfortable allowing this group the same power as the official opposition and the government? It’s a hypothetical question.

Senator Dalphond [ + ]

Thank you, senator. You always ask good questions. When a minister puts a question to someone who used to be a judge, it can be a bit difficult. Normally it’s the opposite.

I understand that, theoretically, a group may have the right to speak a little bit longer, but I have to say that I see a certain degree of logic in the proposal from the government and the Office of the Government Representative. When the amendments were brought forward in 2020 and then finalized in 2022, it was stipulated that the person who would occupy the position of leader or facilitator of the largest group and who was not from the opposition or the government would have the same salary as the Leader of the Opposition. We wanted to create a kind of bridge between the largest group, whichever it was at the time, and the position of Leader of the Opposition. That’s why we added equivalent speaking time to the equivalent salary. This reflects the logic of the approach that was supported at the time. I understand that we may have a different logic, but it respects the logic that was adopted in the bill in terms of compensation for the positions of the leaders of the various groups.

Senator Gignac [ + ]

I don’t want to prolong the debate unnecessarily, but if that is the real reason, I’m not very impressed by the argument that it was decided two years ago that the representative of the group with the most independent senators would earn a higher salary than the others, and now he needs to be given extra privileges.

It must be said, honourable colleague, we represent diversity in our group. Our colleagues from Indigenous communities are much better represented. That is a good thing if we see what is happening in the other place. It is our duty. This is a chamber of sober second thought that also represents the interests of the provinces and minorities.

I am new here. I am not very familiar with the ins and outs, but this part makes me uncomfortable because of the potential unintended consequences, like the ones I’ve mentioned. If there is a referendum in Quebec in eight or 10 years for some reason and Quebec democratically decides to vote for independence, and a group of independent senators from Quebec is formed before Quebec separates, you know what the implications of that would be. I expected other reasons. If you have others, I would like to hear them.

Senator Dalphond [ + ]

Things are not always perfect. Take the idea of the opposition in the Senate. When the Bloc Québécois was the official opposition in the House of Commons, there were no Bloc members in the Senate, because they do not want to be here, they do not believe in the Senate. They want to abolish it. There will never be a Bloc senator, except perhaps in the theoretical transition period you mentioned. The Liberals were the third party in the House of Commons, yet they formed the opposition in the Senate.

The House of Commons and the Senate have not always been perfectly aligned. If there were to be an election that brought about change — if you believe the polls — and if, after 10 years, the change was still welcome, the Senate would have a group on this side that would be referred to as the government, a group made up of Conservatives. There might be a minister or two in that group, perhaps a new Speaker of the Senate, and so on. There would be a group that would oppose these Conservatives and play the role of opposition. Perhaps it would be the progressives, because, since the Conservatives would be in government, the progressives could be the ones in opposition. There would also be crossbenchers who would play into this dynamic, saying, “We do not support the government, but we do not oppose it either. We will vote on a case-by-case basis.”

Still, there is a role for an opposition to play in a house of debate. That’s what I thought during the pandemic, but not at first; I did say to Senator Plett, however, that I thought there was still some value in having a group play a role of opposition. In a parliamentary democracy, some people sometimes have to say that our role is to put our foot on the brake. During the pandemic, the opposition did some of that work. I told the senator that I understood the idea that a group possibly smaller than the Independent Senators Group could have such a large research budget because it had a particular role to play, specifically analyzing everything and being more critical than the norm. That could make for a more productive and constructive opposition than we sometimes see, but there is still a place in the Senate for a group that defines itself as opposing the broad general principles of the government of the day.

I am not ashamed to say that the Conservatives oppose the government, which is rather progressive and made up of a coalition between the Liberals and the NDP. Ideologically, they are different. If they were on the other side of the House, I don’t think I would share a lot of their views, but I would respect their mandate. The Salisbury Convention will apply. There will be a place here for a number of groups, some that will be more aligned with an opposition role and others that will decide on a case-by-case basis.

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

Senator Dalphond, thank you for your remarks. My question has to do with what you said about the Parliament of Canada Act in your answer. Would you agree that the amendments to the Parliament of Canada Act, politics being the art of the possible, were a compromise, given that there were three independent groups in the Senate in addition to the government and the opposition, and that this compromise therefore recognized the fundamental principle of the majority, a fundamental principle in the Westminster system and in any democracy? Can we agree that it is in this context that, beyond the financial allocations, the notion of a majority group other than the government and the opposition has been retained, and that the powers inherent in the regulations for this majority group are therefore consistent?

Second, does everyone recognize that all groups—the opposition, the government and the three other groups—have a mandate to defend and represent minorities, the regions and the provinces?

Do you think that eventually, if we’re talking about a country made up of ten provinces and three territories, it would be wise to have one of the three independent groups represent only one of the provinces, since the larger provinces have more senators and are obviously more likely to have an advantage? Thank you.

Senator Dalphond [ + ]

There are three questions. I will start with the last, which seems rather hypothetical to me. As we used to say in court, let’s stick to the facts that are before us. We will see later whether the question arises and, if it does, then we will answer it. I will avoid answering that question.

It is important that a group that represents a plurality but not a majority does not have a majority in the Senate, so that any one group is never able to impose its will on the three other groups by using its power to say, “I have two more votes than you. I’m imposing closure now and then all the rest later.” I personally would not like that. During the discussions we had between 2020 and 2022, I supported this bill. Peter Harder, a member of our group, was the sponsor of the bill. He discussed it with Senator Plett. This legislation is the product of lengthy discussions among all the groups, during which it was acknowledged that a group such as the Independent Senators Group, which represents 41 senators now — and perhaps the number was different at the time, but it was a plurality at least — was larger than the other groups, and that, with respect to the role of the leaders of these groups, this one involved more work than the leadership of the other groups. There are just as many meetings, because we are all stuck with endless meetings, but it was acknowledged that there were more members in the group and, accordingly, the leadership positions come with more . . . I don’t want to say difficulties, because I’m sure you don’t encounter any difficulties, just as I don’t with my group, but all of this means more compromise, listening and so on, and it takes more time. There needs to be more dialogue. I recognize that, and I have experienced that. I was not against that. That is the compromise the groups made together at the time. Is it the right compromise? There may be better ones, but I was comfortable with it then and I still am today.

On the second question, I think that the role of each one of us is to be attentive. As Senator Pate often says, and I agree with her — I don’t always agree with her bills, but I agree with many of her ideas — we are here to listen and to give a voice to the voiceless, which is something she is quite adept at, when she does it. It’s our role because the people who are elected aren’t interested in the votes of the voiceless. They want the votes of those who are in the majority, those who are going to vote. Those who don’t have a voice are often those who do not articulate their ideas very well, they are less economically educated and less well off. Sadly, they don’t vote. These are the voices of those who are often forgotten and have no stake.

I’m going to talk again about Senator Pate, who brought me to visit a prison in my hometown of Joliette. Not one MP goes to visit prisons because it wins votes. Even though the Conservatives think that they are riding high, I have yet to see a single Conservative MP go to visit a prison to say that improvements are needed. No, no, no. Instead, they say, “Put more people in prison and we don’t want to know what happens behind those walls.” Those voices aren’t being heard because there’s no political advantage to be gained. We can give those people a voice. That is the role that each of us here has, to listen to Indigenous communities, for example. Senator Audette comes from a unique region of Quebec that I wasn’t familiar with before I met her, and I look forward to visiting her in that part of the country. There are many other senators here who have made me aware of realities that I was unfamiliar with before. I was talking to Senator Anderson, who sometimes tells me about people in the Northwest Territories who are experiencing health problems. They call and are given a phone number in Ottawa and the person who answers speaks only French or English. No one speaks Inuktitut. Those are some of the issues that I wasn’t aware of before I came here.

Everyone here serves as the voice of the people and that is the beauty of the Senate. I hope that every group makes sure that those voices are heard. We aren’t here to silence voices. We are here to make them heard. Affiliating oneself with a group doesn’t mean becoming silent. It means sharing ideas with other senators to ensure that those voices are better heard. That is why we become affiliated with a group.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

You have a question, Senator Housakos?

Senator Housakos [ + ]

Yes, I have a question.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Senator Dalphond, would you take a question?

Senator Dalphond [ + ]

Yes. I still have 14 minutes and 30 seconds left.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

Senator Dalphond, like many of your colleagues, you made a comparison a number of times in your speech between the Senate and the House of Lords. As I have said repeatedly, that isn’t the case at all; it is a false equivalence. I encourage all of our colleagues to consult the Parliament of Canada Act. The Senate was clearly constructed to mirror the Westminster House of Commons, not the House of Lords, but that is another debate.

A number of times during your speech, you stated that the rules and procedures of the Senate have been changed. You are correct. We are an independent chamber, with privileges and the ability to create our own rules and procedures, and to democratically amend them. However, there is something that has never happened before. There has never been a government that used time allocation in an effort to change procedures and rules without referring the matter to the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament, without careful and diligent debate, without consulting experts on all sides of the House, and without arriving here with a report. You are right to say that, by the close of the consultation, we will very likely not have reached agreement on every item. However, it is still the most effective procedure for making fundamental changes.

Why did the government, this government, decide not to go through all these steps before making such a significant change? Why are we in such a hurry? What is the urgency? Why is this government unwilling to respect the historic and traditional procedures of this institution?

Senator Dalphond [ + ]

Thank you for your question, Senator Housakos. I like talking to you because I know you like the Westminster model as much as I do. Every time I go to London, I sit in the gallery of the House of Lords, not the House of Commons. I have met the crossbenchers facilitator in his office. He doesn’t have a big budget; he doesn’t even have an assistant. You should have seen his office. It is quite modest.

I speak with English peers, Conservatives and people in the Labour Party. I try to understand their system. As I understand it, when I examined the issue, when I drafted the Court of Appeal decision on the reference about the Senate, around 2013 or 2014, just before the matter was referred to the Supreme Court. . . . I read a lot about the Senate. I noted that in terms of how the House of Commons is organized, there was very little debate about representation by population. Everyone was in agreement, and the matter was settled in less than half a day. For the Senate, it took two days of debate, and a consensus couldn’t be reached.

Two options were debated: elected senators or appointed senators. John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier strongly opposed the idea of elected senators. What people forget, as I once said in a previous speech five or six years ago, is that in 1867, the first senators from Quebec, for example, of the 24 senators, 18 or 19 were members of the Legislative Council of the Parliament of the United Canada, which had 24 council members from Quebec and 24 from Ontario. What many people don’t know is that from 1862 onwards, they were elected. Every two years, a third of the Legislative Council was elected. Macdonald didn’t like that at all, because he was afraid these people would undermine the legitimacy of the House of Commons. He wanted senators to be appointed. So, to prevent these people from being too resistant, they were almost all appointed senators, such that the first senators were mostly elected senators. Let’s not forget that today we have Senator Tannas, who is virtually an elected senator. Back then, however, there were a lot of elected senators.

The House of Lords model was chosen. There was no aristocracy here, so they came up with the idea that the person needed to be 30 years old, own land and have a net worth of $4,000. If we read the debates, it is clear that they wanted to follow the House of Lords model and that the convention would be respect for the elected members. They did not want a competing chamber, they wanted a complementary chamber.

The second question was: Shouldn’t we refer this whole matter to the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament? I think that the chair of the committee is going to address that in her speech, and she will explain all the work that has been done by this committee over the years, all the reports that have been drafted, to which I can add the report by Senator Greene, who worked on Senate reform with Senator Massicotte, Senator Busson and Senator Cordy, who all sat on the committee. All these questions and many more were explored. We accepted what was proposed to us. It doesn’t measure up to what was discussed, but it is a step in the right direction. When we travel, we have to take the first step, otherwise we won’t get anywhere. At least this is a start. I said it was not enough. I said that to Senator Gold when he talked about the first iteration. There were discussions between all the groups. In fact, there were amendments to the text. This is not the first text that we have seen. They were receptive to it. I hope that other amendments will be made in the future, but I think that this is a good start and that we don’t need to send it back to committee, because, as they say, “Send it to committee if you want to kill it.” I think that there has been enough discussion and enough reports. It’s time to take action.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

If I understand your answer correctly, you are open to examining amendments to this motion?

Senator Dalphond [ + ]

I would say that the principle that should guide us, and all of you, is the one that we used when amending the Parliament of Canada Act. You didn’t want to go very far, so you agreed to minimal changes. Today, you have before you minimal changes. Let’s approve those and then debate further changes later.

There are many ways to skin a cat. If you want to amend and have subamendments and all of that, we know where it leads.

We have discussed these things in our group. Other groups have done so. We have proposed some amendments. Some were at the dinner hour, for example, and some other provisions were amended. I think we are comfortable with what is before us. It is not perfection, but let’s proceed.

Hon. Réjean Aucoin [ + ]

I rise in favour of Motion No. 165, which is a crucial step in adapting the Senate Rules to today’s reality. The Canadian Senate, as a legislative chamber, must evolve to better respond to challenges and meet the expectations of Canadians.

The government has embarked on an ambitious journey to transform the Senate into a more independent and less partisan chamber, aligned with its constitutional role to give bills sober second thought.

This evolution is essential to keeping our democratic institution relevant and effective in an ever-changing world.

Appointing senators through an open, merit-based process has helped create one of the most diverse parliamentary chambers in the world, one that reflects the richness and diversity of Canadian society from coast to coast to coast.

However, for this transformation to be fully effective, it is imperative that the Senate Rules be revised to align with the new realities and challenges facing Canadians.

Motion No. 165 provides this opportunity by proposing amendments that clearly recognize and define the roles of the different parliamentary groups that have formed in the Senate following the appointment of unaffiliated senators.

These changes will enable the Senate to function better by promoting more open, inclusive and effective debate.

This initiative is not an isolated move.

It is part of the broader process of modernizing the Senate, which was initiated as a result of many reports and studies by committees, including the Special Senate Committee on Senate Modernization a number of years ago.

Motion No. 165 represents the last step of the reform process and does not take anything away from the existing groups. I was appointed in November 2023, and to me, this motion seems completely logical because it formalizes how things are and the way the Senate works right now.

In closing, I would encourage you to support this motion because it is essential to ensuring that the Senate stays relevant and effective in today’s context.

By adapting our Rules to the reality of today’s Senate, we are strengthening our ability to fulfill our constitutional mandate with integrity and impartiality. This does not mean that the Rules are perfect, but even bills are not always perfect. Thank you and good night.

Hon. Yuen Pau Woo [ + ]

Honourable senators, I would like to thank Senator Gold for introducing this motion and Senator Lankin for taking on the role of consulting with senators about these changes and then advocating for them.

As Rohinton Mistry would say, it has been “such a long journey.” If he were writing a sequel about the first two hours of tonight’s debate, he might well have called it “Such a Tedious One, Too.”

From the Special Committee on Senate Modernization, to the work of Senator Massicotte and Senator Greene, to motions in this chamber from Senator Tannas and myself, to the reports of the Standing Senate Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament, it has been a long journey, indeed.

In my opinion, the compass for that long journey has been and continues to be the Supreme Court of Canada reference on the Senate of Canada in 2014, which was requested by then prime minister Stephen Harper. In it, the justices reaffirmed that the Senate should not be a carbon copy of the House of the Commons but that it should be “. . . a thoroughly independent body which could canvass dispassionately the measures of the House of Commons . . . .”

The justices went on to say:

The framers sought to endow the Senate with independence from the electoral process to which members of the House of Commons were subject, in order to remove senators from a partisan political arena that required unremitting consideration of short-term political objectives.

The Supreme Court reference is the critical context for Prime Minister Trudeau’s decision to cut loose Liberal senators from his party in the House of Commons and to appoint members who are not tied to any political caucus. This is important to remember, because the Senate circa 2015 had to do something fundamentally different if it was to try to regain some credibility and legitimacy with Canadians after the sordid years of the Senate expenses scandal.

The Supreme Court had already explained why a Triple-E Senate could not be realized solely by the actions of the federal parliament, which was the question put to the justices by Mr. Harper. That is why the move to a more independent and less partisan Senate in 2016 was, in my view, the most profound reform in the history of our institution. Make no mistake — this motion is about protecting that historic reform. In this respect, it is ironic that the folks who are against the motion come from the party that has most loudly championed reform of the Senate. Whatever the motivation of Mr. Trudeau in proposing this change, it should be seen as a lifeline for our institution to rebuild its credibility and legitimacy with the Canadian public.

The polling speaks for itself: A Nanos survey commissioned by our colleague Senator Dasko a few years ago showed that 76% of Canadians agreed with the new merit-based appointment process, and only 3% want to return to the previous model of partisan appointments. Indeed the survey found that:

. . . 80 percent of the public describe the fact that “new senators sit as independent members and are not active in a political party” as a “good change” for the Senate . . . .

Even so, colleagues, the same poll showed that nearly a quarter of respondents believe the Senate to be “ineffective/pointless.” This is not a statistic to be proud of, and while we may be comforted by the reality that the Senate is not going to be abolished any time soon, you can be sure that if that number creeps up, the calls for abolition will get louder.

This is the larger context in which we are discussing today’s rule changes. The motion says to Canadians that we are actively working on improving our institution by making it less partisan and more distinct from the House of Commons, as the framers of our Constitution intended.

Colleagues who are against the motion, on the other hand, want to turn back the clock. We know that is true of Conservative senators, but I can tell you there are revanchist Liberals and would-be Liberals who also pine for the “good old days” of a partisan duopoly, each tied to the fortunes and dictates of the corresponding political caucus in the House of Commons. They see the role of a senator as advancing the objectives of the party as defined by the prime minister or the leader of the party in the House, and they will happily toggle from government to opposition and back again, election after election, one day extolling the importance of opposing everything the government does and the next day decrying attempts by the new opposition to counter everything they do.

This is, of course, the hoary argument we heard last week from our Conservative colleagues about the sanctity of “opposition” and why only they deserve that appellation. It boils down to the assumption that senators affiliated to a political party are the only ones capable of criticizing government legislation. It is not only a daffy argument, but it is insulting to the rest of us who every day of every week are looking at the bills we get from the House of Commons and are trying to do our duty as senators to scrutinize those bills and make them better — every one of us, not just the handful of folks who have anointed themselves as more blessed than the others.

If you think this is a bit harsh, look at the fifth report from the Standing Senate Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament. It documents that Conservative senators believe their group is more equal, more worthy and more deserving than other recognized parliamentary groups. On that basis, the Conservative members on the Rules Committee refused to accept rule changes that the overwhelming majority of members on that committee supported. The proposed rule changes discussed over many months in the Rules Committee are, by and large, the same ones in this motion.

The Conservatives have been propagating the fiction that they are the “official opposition in the Senate,” even though there is no such term in our Rules or in the Parliament of Canada Act. And yet we heard Conservative senators use the term in debate on this very motion — indeed, the very senators who claim to be arch-defenders of parliamentary practice and tradition.

There is a certain desperation in this deliberate distortion of our nomenclature, but it is made worse by the conceit that the way in which Conservatives carry out the work of “opposing” in the Senate is superior to how non-partisan senators do it. And what is that allegedly superior style of opposition? Let me quote Senator Plett — who is trying to speak over me right now. In response to my question on a speech he made on the Income Tax Act, he had this to say:

I am making a speech that is contrary to what the government is doing, and I don’t need to defend that.

Well, Senator Plett is correct that he doesn’t need to defend a speech that was full of internal contradictions and non sequiturs. It is certainly his right to be contrarian for the sake of being contrarian, but, colleagues, that is not what is meant by sober second thought and that surely is not the form of opposition we want to demonstrate for Canadians.

Conservative supporters will, of course, cheer on Senator Plett for being obdurate, and Liberal supporters will cheer on any would-be Liberal senators who behave similarly on the other side of the debate. But is this any way to run an upper house? If you think it is, you have just boosted the number of Canadians who think the Senate is pointless or ineffective.

One of the favourite arguments used by Senate duopolists is that the test of being a true opposition member is in how you vote on government bills. By this measure, senators who vote for government legislation, even amended bills, cannot be part of the opposition. This is also a daffy argument, and I must say even some independent senators are taken in by it.

Think about this. When we have voice votes, and the opposition cries “on division,” do you think it means they oppose the bill? If it did, why don’t they call for a standing vote each time? The reason is that “on division” allows them to have the deniability of not supporting a bill and of not opposing it. They want to have cake and to eat it as well. In fact, we have even seen the spectacle of Conservative senators standing to vote for a government bill after having spoken vigorously against it because they suddenly realized that the bill might be defeated by a plurality of independent senators. This was the famous vote on Bill C-83 concerning Structured Intervention Units in 2019. Look it up. The video is . . . educational.

Or consider the following thought experiment: Suppose the majority of independent senators consistently voted against government bills. This, by the way, should strike terror in the hearts of Conservative colleagues who are hoping for a change in government, but if that happened, they would surely cry foul play because — and here is the clincher — they allowed government bills to go through while they were in opposition. In any case, imagine if, in fact, a Senate filled with independent members consistently voted down government bills. What do you think that would do for our legitimacy? Would Canadians break out in joyful support for the Senate and cheer us on to keep doing the same? It is daffy, right?

The Conservatives pretend to be the true opposition in the Senate, but their goal in doing so is to become the government after the next election. That is, of course, the prerogative of political partisans, but it is not reflective of today’s Senate of Canada, which consists overwhelmingly of non-partisan members. Whereas Conservative senators are opposition members for only as long as their party is not in power, the rest of us will remain independent of the government whichever party is in charge. How can we take seriously the claim that the “real” opposition in the Senate is the group that will ditch that title as soon as it has the opportunity to do so? Daffy.

Let me take on another hoary argument that was trotted out again in last week’s debate by Senator Martin and used repeatedly tonight by Senator Plett and others. It is that things are working fine the way they are; that, even without rule changes, the Senate can accommodate senators who don’t belong to a partisan caucus; that the Conservatives have been willing to grant speaking time and committee seats and travel privileges to non‑partisan senators; and that, goodness gracious, the leaders and facilitators of recognized parliamentary groups are even consulted on some important decisions concerning the Senate. This, colleagues, is the argument of arrogance and noblesse oblige. It is the “let them eat cake” argument.

I will grant the Conservatives this: If their idea of the upper chamber is that it should be aristocratic, as in the House of Lords, where there are different classes of members and that they belong to the more privileged class, then they are indeed being true to an idée fixe of the Westminster model.

But that is not the kind of Westminster model I want for Canada. Non-partisan senators will not stand for “eating cake” or relying on the largesse of 13 senators for our rights and privileges. Because you can sure about one thing: The Conservative opposition to this motion will not stop here. Their leader in the House is clear that he wants to return to a partisan Senate, and I am sure there are Liberals who are also wistful for the bad old days of duopoly. There will be forces in both parties that will want to roll back the more independent Senate of today, to marginalize the role of parliamentary groups that are not affiliated to a political caucus and to return to the cozy arrangements of alternating government and opposition — doing little more than mimicking their counterparts in the other place.

From the outside, the rule changes proposed in this motion may seem trivial, and it is true that much of this motion simply codifies the current practice. But the implications of not passing this motion are very serious indeed. If we entrench the privileged position of a political caucus that styles itself as the opposition — any political caucus — we will allow for the erosion of the rights of other parliamentary groups and their members, and that could lead to the demise of the independent Senate experiment. As it is, in my opinion, this motion does not go far enough. It does not go far enough —

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Senator Woo, —

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