Motion to Authorize Hybrid Sittings Adopted
October 27, 2020
Pursuant to notice of earlier this day, moved:
That, notwithstanding any provision of the Rules, previous order or usual practice:
1.as soon as practicable after the adoption of this order the Senate begin to hold hybrid sittings, with all senators able to participate in sittings either from the Senate Chamber or through an approved videoconference technology to be determined from time to time by the Speaker after consulting with the leaders and facilitators, with the provisions of this order applying until hybrid sittings cease;
2.the Speaker, after consulting the leaders and facilitators, determine the date on which such hybrid sittings shall commence;
3.hybrid sittings be considered, for all purposes, proceedings of the Senate, with senators participating in such sittings by videoconference from a designated office or designated residence within Canada being considered, for all purposes, including quorum, present at the sitting; the sitting being considered to take place in the parliamentary precinct; and times specified in the Rules or this or any other order being Ottawa times;
4.subject to variations that may be required by the circumstances, senators, to participate by videoconference, must:
(a)use a desktop or laptop computer and headphones with integrated microphone provided by the Senate for videoconferences;
(b)not use other devices such as personal tablets or smartphones;
(c)be the only people visible on the videoconference from an active video feed, other than those in the Senate Chamber; and
(d)except while the bells are ringing for a vote:
(i)have their video on and broadcasting their image at all times; and
(ii)leave the videoconference if they leave their seat;
5.the Senate recognize that, except as provided in this order, there should generally be parity of treatment among all senators attending in person and those attending by videoconference and that proceedings should follow usual procedures, subject to such variations required for technical reasons as may be directed by the Speaker, subject to appeal to the Senate if technically feasible;
6.senators participating by videoconference need not stand;
7.without restricting the operation of rule 3-6 and the right of senators to move a motion to adjourn the Senate as allowed under the Rules, without affecting requirements in certain circumstances that the Senate continue sitting after receipt of a message from the Crown or the announcement that a message is anticipated, and except as otherwise provided in this order:
(a)when the Senate sits on a Monday, the provisions of rule 3-3(1) be suspended and the sitting:
(i)start at 6 p.m.; and
(ii)adjourn at the earlier of the end of Government Business or 9 p.m.;
(b)when the Senate sits on a Tuesday, the sitting:
(i)start at 2 p.m.; and
(ii)adjourn at the earlier of the end of business for the day or 9 p.m.;
(c)when the Senate sits on a Wednesday, the sitting:
(i)start at 2 p.m.; and
(ii)adjourn at the earlier of the end of Government Business or 4 p.m.;
(d)when the Senate sits on a Thursday, the sitting:
(i)start at 2 p.m.; and
(ii)adjourn at the earlier of the end of business for the day or 9 p.m.; and
(e)when the Senate sits on a Friday, the sitting:
(i)start at 10 a.m.; and
(ii)adjourn at the earlier of the end of Government Business or 4 p.m.;
8.the Speaker be authorized to suspend the sitting as required for technical and other reasons;
9.the Speaker be authorized to direct that the sitting be adjourned for technical reasons, provided that this direction be subject to appeal if technically feasible;
10.the times provided for adjournment of the sitting in paragraph 7 be considered the ordinary time of adjournment for the purposes of the Rules, and, for greater certainty, any provisions of the Rules permitting the continuation of the sitting beyond that time in certain circumstances continue to apply, provided that if the provisions of paragraph 9 are invoked when an item that would allow the Senate to continue beyond the ordinary time of adjournment is under consideration, that item of business shall, except in the case of an emergency debate and subject to the provisions of rule 4-13(3), be dealt with at the start of the Orders of the Day of the next following sitting;
11.on the first day of debate on a motion moved in relation to a case of privilege, debate may be adjourned, even if normally prohibited under rule 13-6(6);
12.the evening suspension provided for in rule 3-3(1) only be until 7 p.m.;
13.when the Senate sits on a day other than a Friday, any provision of the Rules requiring that something take place at 8 p.m. be read as if the time therein were 7 p.m.;
14.the Senate recognize the importance of providing the Speaker with information necessary to allow him to assist with the orderly conduct of business in hybrid sittings, and therefore, subject to normal confidentiality practices, strongly encourage all senators:
(a)to advise their party or group representatives, or the Clerk of the Senate or his delegate, as far in advance as possible, if they intend to intervene during the sitting; and
(b)to provide the Clerk of the Senate or his delegate, as far in advance as possible with an electronic copy in English and French of any amendment, subamendment, notice of motion, notice of inquiry, committee report to be tabled or presented, bill to be introduced, or any other document required for the sitting as far in advance as possible;
15.a senator who has provided an advance copy of a document under subparagraph 14(b) be considered to have fulfilled any obligation to provide a signed copy of that document;
16.the following provisions have effect in relation to voting:
(a)only senators present in the Senate Chamber shall participate in:
(i)the procedure for a voice vote; and
(ii)in the determination as to whether leave is granted for bells of less than 60 minutes;
(b)to be one of the senators requesting a standing vote, a senator participating by videoconference must clearly indicate this request, but need not stand;
(c) rule 9-7(1)(c) shall be read as follows:
(i) ask the “yeas” in the Senate Chamber to rise for their names to be called;
(ii) ask the “yeas” participating by videoconference to hold up the established card for voting “yea” for their names to be called;
(iii) ask the “nays” in the Senate Chamber to rise for their names to be called;
(iv) ask the “nays” participating by videoconference to hold up the established card for voting “nay” for their names to be called;
(v) ask those who are abstaining in the Senate Chamber to rise for their names to be called; and
(vi) ask those who are abstaining and participating by videoconference to hold up the established card for abstaining for their names to be called.”;
(d)except as provided in subparagraph (g), if a vote is deferred pursuant to rule 9-10, it shall be held at 3:30 p.m. on the next day the Senate sits, after a 15-minute bell, interrupting any proceedings then underway, except another vote or the bells for a vote;
(e)except as provided in subparagraph (g), if a vote is deferred pursuant to rule 4-6(1), it shall be held at 3:30 p.m. on the same day, after a 15-minute bell, interrupting any proceedings then underway, except another vote or the bells for a vote;
(f)except as provided in subparagraph (g), in the case of votes deferred pursuant to other provisions of the Rules, the usual processes for such votes shall hold, with the sitting being suspended, if necessary, at the end of the time otherwise provided for the end of the sitting pursuant to this order; and
(g)if a deferred vote is to be held on a Monday, it shall be held at the end of Question Period, after a 15-minute bell;
17.for greater certainty, leave be considered granted when requested, unless the Speaker, after a sufficient period of time, hears an objection from a senator, either in the Senate Chamber or participating by videoconference;
18.from the time of the adoption of this order:
(a)any return, report or other paper deposited with the Clerk of the Senate pursuant to rule 14-1(6), may be deposited electronically;
(b)the government be authorized to deposit electronically with the Clerk of the Senate any documents relating to its administrative responsibilities, following the process of rule 14-1(6); and
(c)written replies to oral questions and to written questions may be deposited with the Clerk of the Senate electronically following the process of rule 14-1(6), provided that written replies to oral questions be published as an appendix to the Debates of the Senate of the day on which the tabling is recorded in the Journals of the Senate; and
19.the terms of this order cease to have effect, and hybrid sittings cease, at the end of the day on December 18, 2020.
He said: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to the motion that will allow the Senate to hold hybrid sittings, which will give senators in all regions of Canada the opportunity to participate fully in the work of this chamber, either in person or by video conference.
Eight months ago, this motion, indeed the possibility of hybrid proceedings, was unthinkable. In March, Parliament shuttered its doors because COVID-19 was spreading quickly and, in some cases, fatally. I don’t think anyone expected the situation to last for the long term but, as we have come to learn, Canada and the world knew little about the virus in the beginning. And now with more knowledge and study by our health officials, we have come to realize that the situation is not going to change anytime soon. As a result, this chamber must adjust its operating procedures accordingly, so that all senators from every corner of this country are able to participate fully.
Colleagues, we’re wading into uncharted waters but this motion is necessary in order to allow this chamber to operate fully and democratically, and to fulfill our legislative duties as a chamber of sober second thought. Asking colleagues to put themselves or their families at risk by requiring them to travel to and from Ottawa on a weekly basis is not feasible nor desirable. Many senators would be arriving in the capital, currently considered a COVID hotspot by the Government of Ontario, from regions that require self-isolation upon their return home. This is not practicable but, more importantly, it is unreasonable to prohibit senators from doing their jobs. Operating in this hybrid model will allow all colleagues to weigh in and add their voices to debates, and permit them to vote on matters of importance to Canadians.
The Senate administration has worked tirelessly to develop a model that will enable all senators to use technology to participate in sittings. Tests held last week confirmed that our colleagues across Canada should be able to participate fully by video conference. I participated in those tests. I was impressed by the results and delighted to see and hear my colleagues after so many months. The success of this virtual forum will enable all senators to not only share their opinions on government bills but also present their own priorities for consideration by the Senate.
Because the Senate has needed to concentrate almost exclusively on emergency government legislation pertaining to COVID-19 since April, there has been little opportunity for colleagues to introduce motions, inquiries or bills focusing on their own priorities and those of their regions. Having another senator put those motions forward on your behalf is not the same as being present to do it yourself. This is one of the reasons this motion should be approved as quickly as possible.
After consultation with the leaders of all parties and groups, the new motion before us reflects a number of adjustments based upon input received that seeks to better accommodate all senators — senators here in the chamber and senators participating by teleconference.
With the approval of this chamber, the hybrid motion will provide for the speaking rights of all senators. It recognizes that there should be parity of treatment among senators — those attending in person and those attending by video conference — and that proceedings should follow usual practices, including the ability of senators not attending in person to call for a standing vote.
The motion outlines the basic equipment requirements to be provided by the Senate for both security purposes and continuity.
Once the motion is adopted by this chamber, we will hold hybrid sittings as soon as practicable and as soon as the Speaker deems it possible.
All senators, whether attending in person or by video conference, will be considered present at the sitting as long as those who are attending virtually are participating from a designated office or designated residence in Canada.
Colleagues, the ability to cast a vote is an essential duty for senators. Under the approved model, senators participating virtually will hold up an established card during standing votes. The voting process would begin with senators voting “yea” in the chamber, followed by senators voting with the established “yea” card by video conference. Senators voting “nay” would proceed in the same way, followed by those who are abstaining.
For organizational purposes, senators should recognize the importance of providing the Speaker with all information necessary to allow him to proceed with the orderly conduct of business during hybrid sittings. This motion strongly encourages all senators to advise their respective representatives or the Clerk of the Senate if he or she intends to speak and to provide electronic copies of a notice of motion, inquiry, private member’s bill or other document to be presented or tabled as far in advance as possible.
Colleagues, this is reflective of the many practices that all parties and groups have utilized to ensure appropriate lines of communication and to ensure the efficiency of our proceedings, including scroll meetings as well as leadership discussions.
Inevitably, hybrid sittings will bring occasional technical issues. As I said, this is inevitable as we have seen in the other place. Accordingly, the Speaker will have the authority to suspend or adjourn the sitting because of technical issues, but that can be subject to appeal depending on circumstances.
Canada is a vast country and the realities of this pandemic also put the health and safety of those around us, including those who support our proceedings, at a greater risk. The motion has taken this into consideration and has adjusted the start and end times of said sittings accordingly. They are to end no later than 9 p.m. EST Tuesday and Thursday. Should there be a sitting on a Friday, it would not begin until 10 a.m. and end by 4 p.m., or at the end of government business.
Monday sittings will begin at 6 p.m. EST and end no later than 9 p.m., or at the end of government business. Wednesday sittings will begin at 2 p.m. EST and end at 4 p.m., or at the end of the government business, to allow for the possibility of committee meetings. This is consistent with how our Wednesday sittings had been structured in the previous Parliament.
These times will accommodate senators in all regions.
Many senators are facing impossible choices when it comes to striking a balance between health and safety, respecting provincial jurisdictions and performing Senate duties. The hybrid sittings will enable senators to participate fully in debates without having to travel across our vast country during the second wave of the pandemic. We owe the Speaker and the Senate administration a debt of thanks for all of the work they have done to date in preparing for the hybrid sittings, including the practice runs they organized to ensure that the sittings of the Senate would go smoothly and that no senator would be forgotten.
I would personally like to thank the Senate leaders and their offices for their constructive input over the past few weeks. In my view, the consensus-building process we have followed to get to this outcome is consistent with the best traditions of this place: collaboration, consultation, listening to each other and, crucially, avoiding the delegitimization of opposite views. By doing this, we’re moving forward in a positive way. In the end, as is most often the case, it is a consensus that was yielded through just a few minor compromises on every side of this chamber. It’s a process that I hope we can replicate very soon to address other outstanding issues that we are facing in this chamber.
Finally, I thank all senators for their patience and input, both professional and personal, during this challenging period in all of our lives. I would ask that senators pass this motion as quickly as possible so that members of this chamber can participate fully and have their own voice on the record in all matters important to them and to their regions. Thank you very much.
Senator Dagenais, you have a question?
I would like to draw your attention to paragraph 3, which states that “hybrid sittings be considered, for all purposes, proceedings of the Senate,” and to the phrase “designated residence within Canada.” That means that if a senator is travelling outside Canada, be it with a parliamentary association or for committee work, they can’t attend the hybrid sitting even if they have time. We all know we can tune in to Senate sittings on an iPad or laptop anywhere in Canada, so is this for security reasons? Why does this motion specify that senators can participate in hybrid sittings only if they are in Canada?
Thank you for your question. This issue was addressed in a number of conversations among leaders, which remain confidential, and within groups and caucuses. Here is a basic principle: change only what is strictly necessary to set up a hybrid system. According to our rules and method of operation, we must sit here in Canada. That means it is important for people to be in Canada in order to participate in hybrid sittings. That is why all the groups came to a consensus to maintain that basic principle governing our work in the Senate.
Let’s consider the example of a senator who is out of the country for some reason and can’t return to Canada right away. If that senator is detained outside the country because of the pandemic or because they’re exhibiting symptoms, that senator won’t be able to take part in the hybrid sitting at all.
Yes, the motion is very clear. Senators must be in Canada to take part.
Senator Gold, I would like to ask a question about clause 4 of your proposed motion requiring senators to use a desktop or laptop computer and headphones as provided by the Senate.
Can you please confirm if the computer needs to be Senate-provided or just the headphones? On multiple occasions during the pandemic, I have had various issues with my Senate computer, including being bumped from Teams and Zoom, not receiving Senate emails for two- to three-week stretches at a time, making me totally reliant on my staff to constantly forward me links to access Teams and Zoom meetings.
The Information Services Directorate has tried to resolve these issues on four occasions, but have been unable to rectify them. For now, I have been getting onto Teams and Zoom through my personal email, which I access largely through my personal computer. ISD sent a new computer, which I had to send right back due to issues flagged with its configuration.
One of the stipulations in this motion for hybrid sittings is that only Senate computers may be used to participate fully in these sittings. Can this restriction be loosened until these issues can be ironed out so I can participate fully and democratically, virtually, when I need to? Thank you.
Thank you for your question. I’m unhappy to hear that you are continuing to have problems. I would encourage you to continue to work with IT services to resolve whatever problems there might be with your hardware or the configuration of the computer.
We know that there are also problems that many might face with connectivity generally because internet access is not uniformly great throughout this country, especially in rural areas. That’s why we had in this motion — and this was good input from the groups in the process — that you can participate in a designated residence or office if, for example, you have technical problems with connectivity or just poor internet service where you may live. It was clear from the beginning and throughout our discussions with the administration, the Speaker and the groups, that we had to use Senate-provided equipment. That, unfortunately, in your case appears to be a problem that I hope can be resolved soon, but that is how it has to remain.
Honourable senators, I want to add my voice to what Senator Gold has already said, and it will probably not surprise many of you that some of us on this side of the chamber have not been quite as enthusiastic about these hybrid sittings as others have been. Nevertheless, in the spirit of cooperation, as we always do, we will again cooperate here. But, before we do that, we will at least put some of our concerns on the record.
I assure you, colleagues, that I will take just a few minutes to voice some of my typical concerns that may have led us to this. Then I will talk specifically about the hybrid motion itself, how we got to it, and how we managed to, as Senator Gold has said, actually reach somewhat of a consensus at leadership. This is something we need to know, and I need to let all of my colleagues know: This is a democratic institution and everybody will have the right to vote the way they choose on this particular motion, regardless of any agreement the leaders may have had.
First of all, colleagues, in the last months we have seen from this government a lack of accountability, a desire not to be present and a desire not to have Parliament operating. Prime Minister Trudeau despises all opposition, whether it’s in the House of Commons, the Senate, his own cabinet or his own caucus, and we have seen that time and again — powerful women and some maybe less powerful men being removed from his cabinet.
Prime Minister Trudeau has used the ongoing pandemic crisis to prevent, block, cover up and prorogue, thereby jeopardizing accountability and transparency in our democratic system of Parliament.
Prime Minister Trudeau is distracted by his own Liberal scandals and is focused on his party’s survival instead of being focused on the well-being of Canadians. In the first months of this pandemic, he was hiding in his cottage while all other leaders across the country were in their offices working.
Hybrid or virtual sittings should only be used — and the argument can be made that, well, that’s why they are being used — for the duration of the pandemic. And, indeed, this has a sunset clause, which is very important. Accountability and democracy in Parliament are crucial, regardless of who is in government. The current unusual circumstances have forced Parliament to adapt. When things get back to normal, Parliament also has to get back to normal.
Prime Minister Trudeau has become a leader who promises everything, delivers nothing and blames everyone else. The Trudeau government is shamefully using the pandemic to avoid accountability, and they are doing it in the house with their virtual sittings. Prime Minister Trudeau is distracted with his own Liberal scandals. He is focused on his party’s survival instead of being focused on the well-being of Canadians. Prime Minister Trudeau despises all opposition.
These are interesting times, to say the least. The world, Canada included, has been faced with the COVID-19 pandemic that led to the current economic crisis and, in fact, what we are debating today.
Specifically, here in Canada, we have witnessed the jeopardizing of our democratic system. The Trudeau government shamefully refused to reopen Parliament in order to avoid accountability during the pandemic and, indeed, the financial crisis. They have put our country into debt. The Trudeau government refused to provide a fiscal update and, when they finally provided a snapshot, Canadians learned that we had hit a record high $343-billion deficit and spending levels not seen since the Second World War. Furthermore, this government has the longest record of governing without a budget.
Liberal scandals: In the $900 million scandal, Prime Minister Trudeau attempted to bail out his friends at WE, who have close ties with his own family.
Corruption and chaos: A third investigation by the Ethics Commissioner into Prime Minister Trudeau is ongoing, this time regarding his involvement in the $900 million scandal. Canadians will remember the previous two: the Aga Khan’s luxury island vacation and the SNC-Lavalin scandal. The ongoing $900 million scandal has forced former minister Bill Morneau to resign, and the former minister was also subject to investigation by the Ethics Commissioner.
Liberals and their friends at WE are currently being investigated by the Ethics Commissioner; Trudeau and Morneau by the Commissioner of Lobbying; by the Procurement Ombudsman, WE and government; the RCMP, WE; the Commissioner of Official Languages, Minister Joly; Elections Canada, the previous minister of finance, Bill Morneau. Cover up: The Prime Minister tried to cover up his own scandal by closing Parliament completely with prorogation, thereby putting an end to all parliamentary committee work, but, more specifically, ending the inquiries into his very own $900 million scandal with his friends.
Then the Trudeau government announced that it would make an opposition day motion on a special committee to look into their scandals and their ethical conduct. The government would consider this a confidence vote that would trigger an election. Even the pandemic cannot contain the Liberal’s entitlement and arrogance. At a time when Canadians are looking for stability and leadership, Prime Minister Trudeau has given them corruption, chaos, and cover-ups while threatening to drop the writ in the middle of a pandemic.
Conservatives will continue to hold Justin Trudeau and his government accountable. No matter how hard the Prime Minister tries to block scrutiny, Conservatives will keep fighting for answers that all Canadians deserve.
On the motion before us today, I have been called an obstructionist by the leader of the ISG in the newspapers. The Conservatives are obstructing the movement of this motion is what I read. The leader of the Canadian Senators Group called me an obstructionist. I have only asked for answers.
When we had meetings — Senator Gold said they were in camera and I don’t remember that, but be that as it may, I will try to choose my words very carefully — we debated. We had meeting after meeting where I asked, where I suggested this has to go to the entire Senate. Before we spend $400,000, I said, “the Senate needs to talk about this.” Senator Batters asked the question, and our Leader of the Government said CIBA approved it. It’s something for the Senate to approve. That’s why we are here today to vote on this motion, which I will support.
This is something for this entire chamber. It is not just to vote on whether we want hybrid sittings but, indeed, whether we can spend $400,000 plus. That question should have come here first and then we should have done this. Now we are in a position where we need to vote on this today so that we can turn the switch for next Tuesday. That’s not the way to run an operation like this.
Having said that, Senator Gold again rightfully said that we had reached a consensus. I will tell you, colleagues — not because I think I need more credit than anyone else — that I would suggest 75% of the changes that were made to the hybrid sitting motion were made by me. I suggested these.
Thank you. They were good changes that everybody agreed to; there was consensus. I was not an obstructionist. I wanted something that was better than what was being offered to us. I knew we were going to have this eventually and, indeed, we probably have to whether I like it or whether I want it or not.
I don’t believe we do; I think we have 50-plus senators in the chamber here today. We have no restrictions in this country that prevent anyone from flying here. We have senators from Nova Scotia, from Newfoundland and Labrador here. They are probably going to have to isolate when they go home, but they are here. The first time we came here during the pandemic, I had to isolate for two weeks until my government gave me an exemption. There is nothing preventing any senator from coming here to debate and take part.
Now we are trying to make sure that everyone has an opportunity, colleagues, but we are not taking away anyone’s parliamentary privilege by not having hybrid sittings. Do you know when we will take away someone’s parliamentary privilege? When Senator McCallum cannot get on because her Senate device isn’t working properly. She will be losing her parliamentary privilege because she will be cut out, whether it’s because of where she lives or because of the device the Senate has given her.
We have areas in this vast country that have horrible internet service, which is one of the reasons why we agreed that people could go to a designated office or a different residence and go online at that office or residence to accommodate, but this will not solve everything. I live in the city of Winnipeg. Until a week or maybe two weeks ago, I had horrible service when I went on whatever meetings I had. I was on multiple Zoom meetings, and I was constantly getting poor internet service. It said it on my screen.
I went to Bell Canada again. I had very recently upgraded the television set. In order to do that, I needed to upgrade my internet. So I asked Bell for the top internet service that I could get, and I thought they had given it to me. When I couldn’t get proper service, somebody in administration or IT here in the Senate suggested I ask them again, and I did. They came out and again upgraded me to what they now say is the best. I don’t know what changed in the last two months. Now, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve had great service.
If I’m having that problem in the city of Winnipeg, what problems are many of our colleagues who live in rural areas going to have? It’s not going to be good. What’s going to happen in the middle of a sponsor’s speech or a critic’s speech and they lose internet service? We can’t move on.
People will have their parliamentary privilege taken away because of the hybrid motion. Trust me on that. As I said, I’m on CIBA. I’m on the Subcommittee on Long Term Vision and Plan. I have a number of different Zoom meetings. First of all, I still don’t understand — I asked the question at the last CIBA meeting, and I haven’t been provided the answer — why I have to go on a half hour or 45 minutes early to onboard. Will 95 senators have to onboard? I’m not sure. I haven’t been provided the answer. How long ahead of time do senators who want to be online have to go on? These are problems that haven’t been answered.
There have been many practices that have happened.
Two practices have happened. Two practices happened before we approved the motion. We didn’t approve a motion, yet we are practising how we are going to do this. Well, those of us who did not attend any of these sessions expect that we will be afforded the opportunity to practice and know that we will be able to get on properly on Tuesday because we felt we should wait until this motion passed, until we had negotiated the motion. Because without question, some of the amendments that we now have, the changed motion — as a matter of fact, there were so many that we didn’t do it by amendment. We had Senator Gold withdraw a motion and present a new motion because there were that many changes.
If we would not have gotten that, I put Senator Gold on notice that if these don’t go through, I will present those amendments in the chamber. We could have possibly had a different scrap here but, as Senator Gold said, we did get consensus.
Let me just finish with this: We will want answers. I really take exception to senators suggesting that just because we want accountability, just because we want things to be run in a certain way, just because we want some transparency, that makes us obstructionist. I think all leaders will agree that in most of our leaders’ calls, I offer and get as much as I give. These are mutual. We win some; we lose some.
Senator Saint-Germain, myself, Senator Tannas and Senator Cordy — unfortunately, things fell off the rails somewhere — spent two and a half or three hours negotiating all of the committees in this place, all of the chairs and deputy chairs. There was very little disagreement. It happened because we agreed with it. Do I agree that the Conservatives should not have the majority of the chairs? No, I don’t. I think we should have them all. But I also know we won’t get them all, so you decide you are going to give a little bit and that’s why we have negotiations.
Senator Woo has been in those negotiations with me. I think both of us always started negotiations with more than we expected to get, but at the end, you give. That’s what we did here. Colleagues, as I said, at the end of the day, I will at the very least allow this to pass on division. I say “on division” because I have apprehensions, not because I don’t understand that we need to do something. I do, colleagues.
I have many of my own colleagues that are not here today because of travel restrictions when they go back home, because of family issues and so on. I want to respect that; I want to respect anybody in the other groups that are in the same situation. I hope this doesn’t come back and bite me sometime. I know I’m pretty careless. Most of you are wearing masks while you are sitting here. I’m much too careless; I understand that. I hope it doesn’t come back and bite me some time. But we want to work together. Disagreement isn’t obstructing, colleagues. Disagreeing is democratic.
With that, colleagues, I assure you there will be enough votes in this chamber that this will pass. Whether on a standing vote or on division, this will pass today.
Thank you for your speech, Senator Plett, and thank you for being here in the chamber. Your presence helps keep the Senate running smoothly. I find this reassuring.
My question has to do with assessing the investments involved in holding hybrid sittings. These investments represent a capital expenditure, which is therefore amortized over several weeks. Are you in a position to compare this capital expenditure, amortized over several weeks or even months, with the cost of a week of sittings for which we are all here in the chamber in Ottawa?
I guess my answer to that, Senator Forest, is that sounds to me an awful lot like somebody who doesn’t want to be here in Ottawa and make this a permanent thing. If we all stay home and make this permanent, we can rent this out, I’m sure, to somebody else. We can sell this building and make a whole lot of money for the Senate, but I don’t think that’s what you want.
There is absolutely no reason why I would want to compare those two, because I think it’s my duty. When I was appointed in 2009, I swore an oath that I would do my level best to do my job as a senator and to be here. We take attendance for that reason. You and I are both here today because we believe we can do a better job from here than from home.
I understand where you’re coming from and, like you, I want to be here, but we’re talking about transparency and comparing various capital costs. Senator Plett, you said in June that the pandemic was coming to an end. We need to adapt. The situation is changing, and we’ll be dealing with this pandemic indefinitely. It is important to make a logical, objective comparison. My question is not about whether we want to be here or not, but rather about comparing a capital expenditure amortized over a period of several months to a one-time weekly expense. In the interest of transparency, I would simply like to know whether you made that comparison.
I’m not sure whether I heard you say, Senator Forest, that I had said in June that the pandemic was over. Did I hear that correctly? And do you have that recorded somewhere? I don’t remember when I was appointed as a public health officer to make such an assertion. I’m really quite perplexed where that would have come from. Nevertheless, I certainly do not believe I ever said in June that the pandemic was over. However, in answer to your specific question, no, I have not made that comparison. I have no plans to make that comparison. I suspect if we ask Canadians what we should do, they would say, “Let’s abolish the Senate and we’ll all save a lot of money.” You and I don’t believe in that. We believe that we have a lot to give and we should be doing that here.
I have been here for every sitting since this pandemic started. I was one of the first people to suggest to the Speaker, when the pandemic first came in —and I won’t be quite as adamant as my good friend Donald Trump south of the border, since Minister Freeland wanted to raise “south of the border” the other day, I will — that he close this down. It was not that the pandemic had ended but that the pandemic was indeed here and we should close this down, go home and wait to see what would happen. I think it was the right decision when we did that. I think now the time is to be here, be counted. Nevertheless, I’m not alone in making this decision and I will accept the decision of this chamber, which will in all likelihood be that next week we have hybrid sittings.
Senator Plett, my question is around individuals who would like to be here. As we know, there are many amongst us who have significant illnesses. They’re suffering from cancer, they may be on drug therapy that causes them to be immunocompromised, they may have spouses and other family members who, in travelling out and returning back into their homes, might expose them inadvertently to risk. Not to mention the fact that we don’t control our environments very well these days, distancing is often a challenge and that, in fact, the whole question of aerosolization of the virus is a challenge. Is it unsafe or not to be in a plane, and so on and so forth.
Do you consider the individuals who have very solid good reasons — health concerns, their own illnesses, their own inability to be here? Should they not be allowed to participate in sessions in Senate sittings, and have access to every senator’s right that you and I might have if we were in the Senate, in the chamber?
Without question, I would support that. That is not what this motion speaks to. This motion will now allow anybody who, for your reasons, cannot travel, it’s not safe to travel. However, it will also allow me to do so, if I just simply do not feel like coming and I say, “Well, we have hybrid sittings, I can do this from home.” We don’t have a motion like that. If we wouldn’t have the hybrid sittings and you would bring a certificate from a doctor, you would not be docked any days and you wouldn’t have to be here. And I would be more than happy to accommodate people with compromised immune systems.
However, we are doing much more than that. I travel home. I was fortunate enough, because I had been home for three weeks now, that I could visit my mother. It’s not that warm in Manitoba anymore and I had to do it outside. She is 92 years old; she’s in a personal care home. Even though I get the exemption when I travel home, the long-term care facility doesn’t give me that exemption. I have to be home for two weeks even to see her outside. Now I can’t see her inside because we have to designate two people. One of those is my wife and the other is my sister. But I managed, because I had been home three weeks, to see her. I won’t see my mother again until Christmas time. I guess I could say, “Really, she is 92 years old. I’m her designated caregiver.” That should also be a good enough reason. I just simply choose that it isn’t.
But, senator, if people have weakened immune systems, I would prefer they stay home because I certainly don’t want to, in any way, ever have it suggested that I was in some way responsible. I’m very careful when I travel home, even though I have the exemption, not to go and meet certain people, not to go into certain areas.
Because I sure don’t want to be accused of being the “super spreader.” So yes, senator, I would agree that those people should have a way of being able to take part without being here.
Thank you for some of the comments you’ve made this afternoon about Canadians looking for us to do our work — looking for us to be here. You have talked about our important service, and you’ve talked about that you still have lots of questions. I also want to acknowledge the work you have done with leadership to make some significant changes throughout this package.
I’m wondering today, Tuesday, if there are any questions you are looking for answers to — you’ve mentioned some this afternoon — that we have not heard about that could be an obstacle, a barrier, for us being up and running next week. Is there anything else that we have to put on the table that you are still wondering about that might get in the way of our work, all things happening the way they should today, to be able to execute next Tuesday?
Thank you, senator. My biggest concern is clearly that nobody has their parliamentary privilege taken away because they have not been able to take part when, again I’ll refer to Senator McCallum, because she raised the issue of her computer, whether it’s that or whether it’s online services. The questions that I had were basically in the onboarding, you know, that some of these committees — some I just go on at the last minute, and that seems to work fine. I was on one with the cattle feeders today. There was no onboarding. I went in on Zoom, and bang, we had a meeting. Yet it seems that here in many committees we need the onboarding. I asked the question at the last CIBA meeting, “How will that work?” I haven’t had that question answered. I would like that question answered. It’s not going to play into my vote today. But I would like that question answered, for sure.
I may well have a lot of questions if I go onto one of these practice sessions that they have had. As I said, we did not attend these — and we didn’t attend them for very specific reasons — not because we were boycotting but because we believed inherently that this should be voted on before we do that. Once I take one of those practice sessions, I may have a million questions.
Thank you colleagues for your attention. I rise today to speak in support of Senator Gold’s motion. Let’s switch the channel a little. I am fully appreciative of Senator Plett’s questions, unanswered as they may be. I understand and appreciate the constructive role he has played in bringing a new motion to us that is eminently more palatable.
I travelled today to Ottawa, like many of you did, by air, and, frankly, I was a little surprised by how much fuller the airplane was than I thought it would be. Until and unless our airlines get back on some kind of schedule, I imagine this will continue to be our experience. So, disinfecting, hand washing and masking are going to be the orders of the day to keep the entire Senate community, the people we interact with, our families and our communities safe.
I want to, however, provide us with a modicum of comfort. I realize change is really hard, especially for those of us who are senior citizens and especially for those of us who are technologically challenged, like me. I want to provide us with a modicum of comfort by taking a short tour of those parliaments around the world that have implemented various forms of hybrid sittings to allow parliamentarians to fulfill their responsibilities in a safe environment.
They are using online video conferencing like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, Cisco web meetings, Google Hangouts and something called Jitsi. They are changing, therefore, the way they vote, how they conduct themselves, how they hold plenary sessions and how they hold governments to account. For example, as early as March this year, let’s think back to that time — we were I think fairly paralyzed — the Belgian House of Representatives amended its rules of procedure to allow members to be considered present at selected plenary meetings, even when they were not physically present in the chamber, and to vote electronically or by email.
Again, as far back as April, the British House of Commons implemented a temporary hybrid system that allowed a limited number of MPs to sit in the chamber under strict physical distancing rules, while the rest participated in the session using Zoom. This is very much akin to what Senator Gold is proposing.
In May, the parliament of Latvia, known as the Saeima began using a new e-Saeima platform that allows plenary sittings to be held remotely, with MPs debating and voting in real time. The work of the Saeima remains open to the public, and sittings can be followed live on the Saeima website.
Other countries that have implemented virtual or hybrid sittings at some point during the pandemic include Argentina, Belgium as I mentioned, Brazil, Chile, Latvia, Namibia, Paraguay, Poland, Romania, South Africa, Spain, Tanzania, the European Parliament, the Maldives and the United Kingdom. Countries that have conducted virtual committee meetings at some point during the pandemic include Australia, Croatia, Cuba, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Iceland, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, Thailand, the Netherlands and the Ukraine. Of course, let’s add Canada to this list, because our House of Commons has been meeting virtually, and we ourselves have held certain committees and Senate and social affairs virtually.
To some extent, we come to this a little late, and perhaps there is a benefit to being Johnny-come-lately, because we can learn from the missteps and the improvements that other jurisdictions have made.
So I will say that hybrid sittings are essential even if they are not perfect. I agree they are not perfect.
The only way we will get to perfection, I believe, is when things are normalized, when Canadians are safe because we have a vaccine that is accessible to us. Until then, I don’t think we should let perfection stand in the way of good. It is indeed a brave new world out there, and we must embrace it. Thank you.
Honourable senators, I rise today to voice my opposition to this motion.
Even in the face of this pandemic, we have been making in-person Senate sittings work, and it has worked safely for the past eight months, with a smaller crew of staff and senators. We should explore further options for making these in-person sittings larger and more inclusive while preserving safety measures rather than creating a virtual system that may create more problems than it solves.
Across Canada, other organizations and businesses have returned to in-person work with modifications for safety in this pandemic. Why not Parliament? A virtual system of Parliament requires significant trade-offs. As a detailed House of Commons study found in June, a hybrid sitting would require double the number of staff to be present. They must be present in person, not virtually. It compromises the ability of senators to do much of our work that happens behind the scenes. The in-person meetings, the pull-aside conversations in the Senate Chamber or in the hallways, the negotiations that occur and the relationships that form when senators work in the same place physically.
I have even persuaded other senators to vote a certain way through conversations in the chamber while the whips are walking down the aisle right before a vote.
Some of you will remember the debates we had in 2016 on the assisted suicide legislation. Many senators have pointed to that debate as the most meaningful of their careers, in large part due to the personal and emotional nature of our discussion. We will soon have another assisted suicide bill before us, Bill C-7. How will that debate translate online? This is quite literally a matter of life and death. Virtual discussions are a poor substitute for in-person debate on issues of such magnitude.
The hybrid sitting motion before us today requires senators to compromise transparency, accountability, and even our effectiveness as parliamentarians. It lessens a senator’s ability to challenge the government, and establishes dangerous precedents for the erosion of the rights of senators within the chamber. Oddly, the specific terms of this particular hybrid motion ignore many of the lessons our House of Commons colleagues have learned through that chamber’s experiment with virtual Parliament.
As you know, honourable senators, one of our most fundamental roles as senators is to represent our regions in this place. Virtual Parliament jeopardizes that critical purpose. Problems with internet connectivity, especially in rural and remote areas, mean that senators may not have the opportunity to voice their region’s concerns in this chamber. This could also mean a senator could miss a crucial vote or fail to hear a significant portion of debate that might influence how he or she chooses to vote on any given matter. I submit that dropped connectivity should be considered a breach of parliamentary privilege, as it creates a circumstance outside a senator’s control that impedes a senator from carrying out his or her duties in the Senate.
Another pitfall of virtual Parliament is the potential for abuse or manipulation of the system. Members connecting virtually are subject to the control of one chair; in the case of the Senate Chamber, that would be the Speaker. Respectfully, I would not expect this to be a problem with you, Speaker, but we have seen committee chairs in the House of Commons abruptly adjourn virtual meetings by cutting the mics of protesting members whose opposition is clearly in order. Whereas a senator attending a sitting in person could continue to protest and their objections would be seen by others, members attending virtually from their homes have no other recourse. This creates a terrible precedent.
I see several specific problems with the motion for hybrid Senate sittings before us today. First is the vague wording throughout the motion. It says that video conference technology will be approved “from time to time by the Speaker” in consultation with caucus leaders. It asks senators to submit documents to the clerk “as far in advance as possible.” What do these terms mean? More precise language is necessary, honourable senators.
My major concern with this motion and the vagueness of its language is that it leaves the door open for the Speaker, who is appointed by the government, to assume additional powers. The Speaker of the Senate plays a different role in the Senate than the Speaker of the House of Commons does. Unlike in the Commons, the Senate speaker is a servant of this chamber, traditionally known as the first among equals. But some of the language in this motion suggests an opening for the encroachment of the Speaker’s powers over the will of senators. For example, clause 5, which governs variance from usual Senate procedures for technical reasons, and clause 9, which gives the Speaker the right to adjourn for technical reasons, are subject to appeal to the Senate only if technically feasible. What does that mean? Does it mean that there will be situations in which the Senate cannot appeal the decision of the Speaker in either changing the procedures of the Senate or adjourning it altogether? This is unacceptable.
Clause 8 indicates that the Speaker is authorized to suspend the sitting as required for technical and other reasons. I am very uncomfortable with how vague that is. What else could fall under other reasons, and who is to determine what a valid other reason is? All senators should reflect carefully on the potential ramifications of giving the Speaker of the Senate such undefined power, particularly when no right of appeal to the chamber is specified in that section. The language in the bill is much too vague for such substantial powers.
Furthermore, this sets a dangerous precedent. We as a chamber must retain the right to appeal decisions of the speaker, especially decisions of suspension or adjournment, because they necessarily involve ending or silencing debate. We must avoid imprecise language that leaves any shred of doubt about a senator’s rights in this regard, temporarily or otherwise.
I have serious concerns about clause 11, which allows for the adjournment of debate on a privilege motion. Parliamentary privilege is the protection of our ability to carry out our parliamentary functions as senators in this place, and it is of paramount importance. The Rules of the Senate, at rule 13-1, state:
The preservation of the privileges of the Senate is the duty of every Senator and has priority over every other matter before the Senate.
We should not allow the adjournment of debate on the crucial matter of a parliamentary privilege motion, particularly when the hybrid system of Parliament we are using is likely to increase the incidence of privilege infractions.
I have many concerns about the mechanics of a hybrid Parliament, particularly around debate and voting. I find it puzzling that the voting procedure and the voting order laid out in this motion is so different than the one the House of Commons has been using for several weeks.
In one important example, the House of Commons discovered very quickly that in order for the camera to be triggered and show each member as they vote, it was necessary for each MP attending virtually to speak a full sentence stating their intended vote. This Senate motion proposes no such requirement. Senators online are simply to hold up voting cards. It is my understanding that this voting card system is based on the hybrid system used in British Columbia. However, it is also my understanding that the B.C. legislature does not allow the use of those voting cards for standing votes. Instead, each member must state their vote verbally.
Under the system laid out in this motion, senators sitting in person in the Senate Chamber will not be able to see the image of each online senator as they vote. As far as I can tell, neither will the public. Instead, the clerk or speaker will simply call out the senator’s name and record their vote. I have a huge issue with the lack of public accountability in this proposed system. It is not good enough for the Clerk or the Speaker to simply state that he or she saw a senator vote. Even setting aside the potential for abuse under such a system, this does not make the Senate transparent to Canadians.
Some of you may remember how long we fought in this place to broadcast video of Senate deliberations to Canadians. We have only started doing so within the last two years, and now we are considering a hybrid parliamentary system where many senators’ votes are not visible to the chamber and to the public on-screen. That is completely unacceptable and it should concern us all. As senators, voting is our most important obligation, and we have a responsibility to be transparent and accountable in the way we cast our votes. Just as they say, “justice must not only be done; justice must also be seen to be done.” So too must voting be seen to be done.
Added to this is my concern about what else will be visible to senators, both in the chamber and online during Senate sittings. Will we be able to see, for example, which senators online have indicated a request to speak? I watched the Internal Economy Committee meeting conducted on Zoom last week when the committee was discussing the important issue of the $100 million Senate financial statements. The chair, the Honourable Senator Marwah, said he could not see the raised hands of any of the three committee members online who had been waiting for a turn to speak. One of those affected senators was our own opposition leader, the Honourable Senator Plett, who expressed frustration at the experience. If hybrid sittings were to operate in a similar fashion, the situation would be profoundly frustrating for us all.
If our intervention is inadvertently missed by the clerk or the speaker, or if we have an internet connection issue that drops our access to the online Senate sitting during a debate or vote, we are supposed to contact Senate IT via phone. I have a lot of questions about how that will work. Will this be the same main IT number the entire Senate’s 900 employees use? What if the line is busy, as it frequently is, or several senators lose connectivity at the same time? What if it happens outside of normal Senate IT working hours? What if the entire Senate server goes down for an extended period of time, as happened in late June while we were sitting in this chamber and the government leader, right at that time, was trying to persuade us about the merits of virtual Parliament.
If senators in the chamber could see the senators attending virtually, we might be able to alert the Speaker or the Clerk to the problem. If the Speaker and the Clerk are the only ones able to see who is requesting to speak and how senators are voting, there is no public accountability. This prevents us as senators from doing our jobs properly. As you know, honourable senators, being able to see what other senators are doing during the sitting and how they are voting can, at times, be key to how we discharge our duties in this place and the strategic choices we make.
Speaking of strategy, I am also concerned about several provisions in this motion that remove or restrict tools that are especially important to the opposition in the Senate. This is especially disturbing considering the Trudeau government’s previously stated goal to eliminate the opposition in the Senate. Among these are the provisions in clause 7 that mandate earlier end times of Senate sittings. This necessarily advantages the government, whose business in the Senate’s daily schedule would be completed by that time, while potentially short-changing the opposition and all other independent senators.
In that vein, I find it odd that, in clause 14, the motion includes a provision to “strongly encourage all senators” to give advance notice “as far in advance as possible” to the Clerk if they intend to intervene or table documents during the sitting. First, it’s bizarre for a motion to strongly encourage anything. That’s language for an email, not a Senate motion and proposed sessional order.
Finally, honourable senators, because this motion lists a December 18 end date, why are we spending what will likely be a massive amount of taxpayers’ dollars on a system that may only be in place for a measly six weeks? In comparison, the House of Commons has had an operational hybrid system for most of the last six months. The amount of money the Senate has already spent on hybrid Parliament had not been disclosed prior to today, not only to the public, and not even to every senator in this place. Senator Gold referenced a $400,000 cost amount in Question Period today, but no final cost has yet been provided. This amount was apparently approved behind closed doors, hidden from public scrutiny. That is not transparency. That is not accountability. Withholding that information from senators voting on this motion fails to give us the information we need to determine whether a significant amount of taxpayers’ dollars is being spent wisely and whether this move to a hybrid Parliament is worth the expense if it’s in place for only six weeks.
In conclusion, I have grave concerns about a hybrid Parliament in general, but especially with the parameters outlined in this motion. There are many red flags in this proposal: the increased potential for the misuse or undermining of our parliamentary processes, the threat to the effective representation of the interests of our regions in Parliament and the ceding of some of our most important parliamentary rights as senators.
This motion has many flaws and demands the application of our sober second thought, honourable senators. I hope you will keep all of this in mind as you vote on this motion.
Senator Batters, just one question, and I think you answered it at the very end of your intervention. You are fairly faithful in watching CIBA meetings, and I know that.
In all of your watching of CIBA meetings, you never saw that there was $400,000 being spent, so this was not out there for the public to see. Is that correct?
That is correct. I was Deputy Chair of CIBA until April and, since that time, I’ve watched each of the public meetings that CIBA has had. That motion was not approved by CIBA in public, so I’m assuming it must have been done in camera, which is in private.
I want to thank my colleagues from all groups who have participated in the debate so far. I found the opinions that were shared very interesting.
Senators talked about the fact that expenditures of around $400,000 were not approved in a transparent manner because the process was done in camera. Today, Canadians know that it will cost $400,000, and I am not complaining. I think it is a good thing.
I understand, however, why Senator Plett responded to my colleague Senator Forest’s question by saying that this is not a matter of cost, but a matter of principle. If we save hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel expenses, plane tickets, and restaurant and hotel bills because some senators prefer to stay home for health reasons, then that should be taken into consideration. But I understand that, in the end, those savings are not what is important. Cost is not a determining factor.
Internet access is an important factor. I am very aware of that, since Senator Lovelace Nicholas lives in a part of New Brunswick where adequate internet services are not available. It is incredible that in a country as rich and developed as ours, people are still being treated as second-class citizens when it comes to internet services, despite promises made by the federal and provincial governments. This is a real problem. The fact that internet is not available everywhere should be taken into consideration in a broader debate. As Senator Plett said in response to Senator Forest’s questions, at the end of the day, what is at stake here is not just a matter of principle, it is a fundamental matter of principle about what kind of Parliament we want and what kind of democracy we want.
In my opinion, it is important for the Senate to reclaim its role as a chamber of sober second thought and not be hastily called back on Monday to pass a bill on Thursday. Our committees must be able to meet to study bills and hear witnesses. Unfortunately, since March, this role has been limited. We heard witnesses in Committee of the Whole, but they were always ministers or government representatives who came to present only one perspective, the government’s perspective. I would have liked to hear from business and union representatives. I would have liked to hear from health care stakeholders. That opportunity was taken away from us.
I also realize that several of my colleagues are older than I am, and I myself am no longer that young. I know that sometimes having to travel across the entire country to come here puts them at risk. These senators must decide if they want to take that risk to participate in our democracy. The question we should ask ourselves is, can we balance their participation in our democracy with reducing the risks they must take? We must fulfil our democratic duties and, to the extent possible, go back to working in our usual manner. That means holding hybrid sittings so that senators with health issues do not have to choose between staying at home, which means not fulfilling their duties, and taking a big risk by coming here.
Legislation passed not too long ago now allows employees to stay home to avoid being unnecessarily exposed to risk. Why would we force our colleagues to be exposed to risk? Let’s be logical here.
This motion from the Government Representative in the Senate would allow us to resume our important duties and allow everyone to participate, either in person or by video conference. I think this is a compromise and a highly satisfactory arrangement. Some colleagues may lose their internet connection during a debate, or they may miss part of my speech and lose sleep for a few days. However, I think our privileges need to be interpreted realistically to take the unique context of the pandemic into account.
For these reasons, I will not hesitate to support the motion of the Government Representative in the Senate.
Honourable senators, I didn’t intend to speak on this particular motion, and I promise to be brief.
I understand clearly the need for it. I understand the reflex, why, under these circumstances, leadership has sat down and tried to find a safe and adequate way for us to continue to do our business.
I also want to highlight that I don’t think cost is the fundamental issue, because there is never too high a price to pay for democracy. I want to really discuss and bring my views in regard to something more fundamental than the cost of it or even the challenges to our procedures, rules and rights as parliamentarians, and that’s principle. That is also important: that Parliament and parliamentarians stand up for principle and stand up for the people we represent on principle.
This pandemic is sneaky. It’s dangerous. I know first-hand, unfortunately. And I can tell you that I’m one of the lucky ones because I haven’t suffered the consequences that many other Canadians have.
But I can also tell you this: There are Canadians who, on a day-to-day basis, are exposed to immense risk because of this virus, Canadians who are working in health care — doctors, nurses, managers in hospitals, teachers, security people are front-line providers in terms of security, public transportation workers and truck drivers in this country who are working harder and longer hours than ever before.
Honourable senators, like I said, I hadn’t prepared to speak on this particular issue and I intend to be brief. To highlight some of the things I said earlier, for me this is not a question of putting a price tag on democracy. My colleague Senator Batters appropriately pointed out in her speech, as did Senator Plett, some of the difficulties we will face with a hybrid system. At the end of the day, there will be challenges for the Speaker, there will be challenges dealing with procedures, there will be fundamental challenges dealing with questions of privilege, which are so essential to our democracy and so essential to this particular chamber.
For me, my deep reservations are how to deal with those in a short period of time but my bigger reservation is, again, a question of privilege, a question of how Canadians see the most important element of our democracy, which is our two parliamentary chambers. Canadians depend on our democracy to see them through difficult times, and right now we’re going through an existential crisis that we face coast to coast to coast, a crisis that is leading us into another crisis: a fiscal crisis that will be of catastrophic proportion.
We still don’t know the longevity of this particular virus. Like I said at the beginning of my speech, I don’t want to belittle this virus. Like I said, I have had first-hand experience with it and it’s not a pleasant experience. It’s a tough experience. Again, my heart goes out to all Canadians who have lost loved ones. Many have spent days and weeks in hospitals on ventilators and continue to suffer from the risks, not to mention the mental anguish that Canadians face.
Despite those challenges, we see on a day-to-day basis, and we have highlighted some professionals in this country who go to work every morning and put in 24-hour days 7 days a week. There are truck drivers delivering produce coast to coast. On a day-to-day basis there are health care providers looking COVID in the eye. My wife is one of them. She never complains, she never gets up in the morning and says “I’m hiding under the bed.” And despite her husband getting COVID, she hasn’t had it even though she has been working on the front lines now for six months.
Teachers are back to work. We see it on a day-to-day basis, coast to coast. Our restaurant businesses and hotel businesses are being killed in this country because we are social distancing and we’re asking people not to show up at restaurants in my city of Montreal. Yet the cooks, the chefs, the workers, the owners are still going to that restaurant every day, providing opportunities for three square meals so we can call them in through Uber Eats, SkipTheDishes or picking them up.
For me, it’s a principle of Parliament, during the most important existential crisis, and we’re going home to hide. And that has been my concern from day one. We’ve done it in the House of Commons and we’ve done it here in the Senate. This current government thought it was really a leadership moment when they decided to prorogue Parliament in the middle of this crisis. We all know it had nothing to do with the crisis, but that’s a whole other debate for another time.
All I’m simply saying at this particular point is we need to send a message to Canadians that we’re ready to face this challenge too, that we’re not going to put our privileges, our safety and what’s good for our skin first. I know Canadians first-hand who are suffering 35, 40% hits to their businesses. I know Canadians who are working for private corporations and are working from home, who are working virtually, but they’re taking a pay cut. I know people who are working for organizations and have been put on furlough. I know people who were collecting decent salaries working in challenging jobs, and are now living off a couple of thousand dollars a month in government subsidies.
We have to think about these people first and give them some encouragement, give them an injection of hope. I have to say, over the last few months we parliamentarians, both in the House of Commons and the Senate, have put our interests ahead of the interests of taxpayers and Canadians, both from a health care point of view and from the point of view of fiscal responsibility.
And I’ll highlight something else as parliamentarians: we have spent far more time on debates and negotiations between leaderships about virtual meetings and about other navel-gazing issues here in Parliament rather than the $350 billion we’ve thrown out the door. So when we’re spending five minutes of debate on close to half a trillion dollars and we’re going to be spending hours and days of debate on a virtual sitting, that to me also highlights the decay in our political system. And we’re responsible for that, colleagues, because we were summoned to a place where we enjoy, through virtue of our appointment, independence. I’ve said it before. Nobody can tell you what to do: not your caucus leadership, not the Prime Minister who appointed you or the former prime ministers who appointed us. But it’s time that we stand up and show leadership when it comes to these issues. And, like I said, let’s start worrying about Canadians and their health concerns and their risks and their financial situations, just as much as we’re worried about our own. Thank you, colleagues.