Therefore, honourable senators, in amendment, I move:
That the motion be not now adopted, but that it be amended:
(a)adding the word “and” to the end of paragraph 6 in the English version; and
(b)replacing paragraphs 8 and 9 by the following:
“8. except in the case of the Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators, a senator who changes their affiliation cease to be chair or deputy chair of any committee on which the Senator held such a position.”.
In other words, by deleting paragraphs 8 and 9 from the motion, we can uphold rule 12-2(3), which clearly states that a senator must serve for the duration of the session. Plus, there’s always rule 12-5, which can be used to remove a senator from a committee.
By deleting paragraphs 8 and 9 while maintaining the exception stating that a senator who leaves a group ceases to be a committee chair or deputy chair, we can maintain proportionality, which doesn’t apply to chairs or deputy chairs, and at least we can uphold proportionality with respect to the mandates and equality of senators.
With that, I’m ready for any and all questions. Thank you.
“8. except in the case of the Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators, a senator who changes their affiliation cease to be chair or deputy chair of any committee on which the Senator held such a position.”.
On debate on the amendment.
Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition)
[ + ]
I have a question, but I would also like to enter debate.
Just for clarification, Senator Bellemare, I didn’t want the Speaker to dispense because I wanted to hear the motion again. Maybe I’m not understanding correctly.
I understand where you want the committee seat to go with the senator wherever he or she goes, but are you also saying that if you, for example, are the chair of Finance and you decide in a great conversion moment that you would like to be part of the Conservatives again — that’s, in fact, what you promised you would be when you first came to this place and you’ve now gone to two other places — would you still keep your position as chair of Finance, or would you give up the chairmanship and remain a member?
Thank you, Senator Bellemare, for this amendment. Could you just confirm for me that it is your intention, with this amendment, not to change 12-5 in any way, or do you expect your amendment to have an impact on the existing wording and effect of 12-5?
No, I don’t intend to change anything in the Rules with my amendments. My amendment has the effect of protecting 12-2(3) as it is and to use 12-5 if a group absolutely wants to get a senator off of a committee. It can be done.
I am a little nervous talking numbers with an economist, but you mentioned 20 people and 2 leaving, et cetera. I just wondered if you could frame that against this: On a certain committee, if the CSG lost 8% of its members, one member, they would lose 100% of their seats on that committee. If the PSG loses 9% of their membership, they would lose 100% of their committee. On the other side of the table, on that same committee, if the ISG lost 2% of their members, they would lose 25% of their seats. Can you square that with how you were explaining it?
Absolutely. Senator Tannas, the objective of my motion is in the spirit of a modern Senate where a senator is a senator. A senator has to occupy and exercise his constitutional mandate. The proportionality is a tool to enable senators to have seats.
Remember when the independents arrived? It was very difficult to have them on committees, and it was very hard to have the proportionality confirmed. The proportionality is not the name in itself; the equality of the senator is. If you look at other senates around the world where proportionality is in the rules, there is also this position to ensure that the equality is also there. The proportion is used for an equal mandate and the possibility for each senator to exercise his own constitutional mandate, which is to sit in the Senate and in committees. And in committees where they cannot have value-added, I don’t mind if sometimes a Canadian member becomes a Progressive; that’s not the point. A senator is a senator. If it’s a good senator, the group is there to help senators to be good senators. It’s not there for the group.
This is why I’m so convinced about my amendment, and I hope it’s going to pass because it’s respecting a rule that has been there for so long. Thank you.
Honourable senators, I want to thank Senator Bellemare for introducing her amendment, which gives us an opportunity to think more deeply about this long-standing rule and to think clearly about what it really means when we talk about equality of senators, independence of senators and the portability of committee seats.
Honourable colleagues, the motion that she just amended, as you know, is the outcome of a negotiated agreement on committees that the leaderships of three groups representing about 80% of senators have agreed to. I was not part of those negotiations, but I support the original motion. The provisions of the original motion were negotiated as part of what trade negotiators call a “single undertaking,” which means all parts of the motion are essential to the integrity of the deal that was reached. I will, however, speak only to one part of the original motion, which, of course, has now been excised by Senator Bellemare. I’m referring to clauses 8 and 9.
Colleagues, the issue at hand is the portability of committee seats, specifically the ability of senators who have left a group from which they derived their committee seats to then take their seats with them. It is not about whether senators have the right to have committee seats regardless of which group they belong to or whether they are affiliated with any group. The last comment we heard from Senator Bellemare is a non sequitur. We’re not debating the right of senators to sit on committees. We are debating whether they have the right to take a particular committee seat with them when they leave their group.
The argument for portability has been articulated most recently by Senator Bellemare, but also in a recent op-ed by Senator Cordy in The Hill Times. It boils down to four key points. The first is that current rules allow for portability; second, that prohibitions on portability are contrary to the modernization of the Senate; third, that such prohibitions foster caucus-like behaviour and are inimical to senatorial independence; and fourth, that it is the Senate which awards committee seats to members rather than groups. I will take each point in turn, but first let me articulate the case for the original motion and against the amendment.
The starting point in this debate, honourable senators, is to ask where a member’s committee seats come from. We are not sworn into the upper house with a committee seat attached to our names. All of us have a right to sit on committees, but nobody has the right to sit on a particular committee. This is not about Senate independence or some other high-minded principle, it is about boring math. On most committees, the number of seats available exceeds the number of senators who want to be on those committees. Every time the Senate has to reconstitute committees, as it does now at the start of the second session of the Forty-third Parliament, we have to devise a way to assign a finite number of seats to a large number of senators who want those seats. It is, quite simply, an old-fashioned allocation puzzle, not unlike assigning friends and relatives to tables at a wedding party.
The current approach to assign committee seats is a two-step process. First, we divvy up the seats by recognized groups in the Senate, and then we have each group allocate specific seats to specific members. The first step is relatively easy because it is guided by proportionality, whereby each group gets committee seats roughly commensurate with its numbers in the chamber. The second step is more complicated, and each group has its own protocol for matching seats with senators.
Now, without going into the gory details, the ISG has devised a process that seeks to give all members their preferred choices on a ranked basis while applying a set of criteria, such as seniority, expertise, diversity and so on. ISG senators were involved in the design of the protocol and they willingly take part in its application, which is part and parcel of being a member of the group. I’m sure other groups have similar processes.
Senators usually get one or more of the choices they picked, but virtually all members don’t end up getting all of their choices because of excess demand. It is important to stress here that the difference between a senator who got a seat and another who did not get a seat isn’t that the one who got the seat is more intrinsically deserving of the seat. It is simply that the agreed-upon protocol for seat allocation produced a result that was favourable to said senators, which is why the removal of that seat by a senator who subsequently leaves the group is a violation of the protocol that the senator willingly joined in order to get the seat. Let’s be very clear: The senator got the seat at the expense of a colleague. Taking the seat away from the group would be an affront to procedural fairness and an insult to colleagues who played by the group’s rules.
The underlying point here, colleagues, is that while senators have a right to sit on committees, they do not have an entitlement to any particular committee seat. Seats on particular committees can only be assigned through what is essentially a process of negotiation. For a senator to then assert his or her right to that seat in contravention of the negotiated agreement is a fallacy of logic and an abuse of procedural fairness.
What then, colleagues, do we make of the fact that the current rules allow for portability? This is central to the argument that Senator Bellemare has made and to what Senator Cordy had said in her op-ed. Senator Cordy makes a further point that portability of committee seats is essential for Senate modernization, which is an avowed objective of the Progressive Senate Group.
Well, colleagues, you cannot be for modernization and against rule changes. At the very least, a pro-modernization stance would imply that you are open to some rule changes, including the rule about portability of committee seats. Hence, the argument in favour of portability, based on the fact that it is currently in the rules, isn’t really an argument; it is simply a restatement of the status quo.
The real question is whether the status quo is still relevant and if it, in fact, is consistent with our shared objective of modernization. For starters, the original motion, stopping portability, would allow for procedural fairness. To me, that sounds very much in the spirit of Senate modernization.
Now, I can only speculate as to the thinking of senators when the portability rule was introduced many years ago. At the time, and indeed for most of the Senate’s history, there were, for all intents and purposes, only two groups in the upper house, so the question of Senate seat assignment was less complicated than we have today. There was a great deal less fluidity in the composition of the Senate compared to the last four years, and very little mobility of senators between caucuses. Hence the question of Senate seat portability was very likely a non-issue for most of the Senate’s history.
In any event, in the old world of whipped caucuses, the portability rule we’re talking about here, 12-2(3), was usually trumped by rule 12-5, which Senator Bellemare and Senator Cordy both support. Rule 12-5, you will recall from Senator Saint-Germain’s description, allows the leadership of a caucus or group to replace a senator on a committee with the stroke of a pen. A recalcitrant senator in a whipped, partisan caucus would very likely have been stripped of his or her seat long before the decision was made to leave the caucus, hence rendering moot the question of portability.
It is in this context that it is very curious that Senators Bellemare and Cordy would defend rule 12-5 at the same time as advocating for portability. Insofar as they are for senators keeping their seats permanently, by far the bigger threat is rule 12-5 than 12-2(3), because the former, rule 12-5, can be used at any time during a senator’s membership in a group or caucus. While the intent of rule 12-5 is to make temporary changes, there is nothing preventing a temporary change from becoming a permanent one.
We’re not debating rule 12-5 here, but there is a glaring inconsistency in any argument that relies on rule 12-5 as a reason to keep rule 12-2(3).
This raises the third of the arguments put forward in favour of portability, which is that the original motion encourages caucus-like behaviour. An assertion is not a fact. Respect for and adherence to an agreed-upon procedure to allocate scarce committee seats is not the same as being whipped. Procedural fairness is about decency; it is not about the arbitrary powers of group leaders.
Proponents of portability would like us to think that the issue is one of senatorial independence. This is a red herring. It is an issue of independence only in the sense that a senator wants to be liberated from any responsibility he or she may have to the group from which the seat was obtained. In effect, to do as they please in the belief that they have an absolute right to that particular seat on the committee, regardless of how the seat was obtained. Never mind that other senators were deprived of that very seat because they, too, followed the agreed-upon protocol for seat assignment.
Now, colleagues, I understand that nobody likes to have something taken away from them that was previously in their possession. To use a technical term, that “sucks,” but how much it “sucks” should depend on your entitlement to the item in the first place. If you were bequeathed a treasure and the treasure was expropriated by decree, it should “suck” a lot. But if you received this item at the expense of someone else because you were the lucky beneficiary of a negotiated process, it shouldn’t “suck” very much, especially not if you willingly participated in the process along with other members of the group and then chose to leave that group.
Senator Cordy has given yet another argument that Senator Bellemare did not raise, so I will only attribute this to Senator Cordy, and it is that the Senate ultimately assigns committee seats rather than groups. She is referring, of course, to the fact that it is the report of the Selection Committee that details the allocation of seats to members that is then voted upon by the Senate as a whole.
I believe her point is that any need to respect a group process for assigning seats is nullified by the fact that the Senate as a whole makes the final decision on who sits on what committee. But this is a deflection, because the Senate as a whole played zero role in brokering the allocation of seats or in coming up with the precise configuration of committee memberships. That painstaking work took place at the group level, and it involved a process of negotiation based on internal protocols that were agreed upon by the respective memberships.
The fact that the Senate blesses the work of the groups does not take away the obligation and responsibility for procedural fairness at the group level.
I will say, though, that Senator Cordy’s invocation of the Senate’s role in blessing committee seat negotiations raises an interesting point: there may be a different way of organizing the Senate seat assignment process so that there can be portability. Indeed, if senators were assigned their seats through an all-Senate process rather than by group negotiations, a case could be made that seats belong to individual senators, at least for the duration of the session.
In that scenario — this is where the entire Senate comes to a decision on how seats are allocated — there would be no violation of the seat-assignment process if senators choose to change groups and, therefore, portability would not be a problem. But just think about the scenario I painted, and good luck to anyone trying to come up with a Senate-wide system of assigning committee seats by individual member.
Now, colleagues, it may well be that Senator Cordy and other senators in favour of portability are fundamentally against the process of committee assignment via caucuses and groups, and maybe they would like to see a Senate-wide selection process. This is a respectable position, but it is not the one we are currently debating. As it stands, advocates of portability want to have it both ways: allocation of seats by group as well as portability. From the perspective of procedural integrity, this position is not coherent.
Before I sum up, I want to talk about math again because it has come up a number of times and Senator Tannas brought it up as well. Senator Bellemare gave us the hypothetical situation of the 20 plus 2 and the 20 minus 2, creating a situation where you go up 10% and you go down 10%. Her case is that that changes the fundamental proportionality on a given committee.
Let’s work through the math. In a realistic situation, it’s not just two groups. It’s three or four, as we know. All you have to do is imagine a third group with 10 members. The 10-member group stays unchanged. We’re talking about 50 members in total. The first group of 20 goes up 2, and the second group of 20 goes down 2 to 18. The proportionality numbers in that scenario for a committee of 9 or 12 do not change even with the movement of 2 members from one group to another. Take my word for it. You can do the math yourself.
The fact is, a simple change of numbers within a group does not translate in the same way and with the same power to a small committee of 9 or 12 or 15. Again, do the math yourselves.
This argument that somehow proportionality is violated because one or two members leave is not sustained. Again, don’t take my word for it. Do the math.
Colleagues, to sum up, much as some would like to make this motion a debate about Senate independence and senatorial autonomy, the less-glamorous reality is that committee seat assignment is a routine allocation puzzle that has to be solved through negotiations. Negotiations only work if the parties subject themselves to the rules of the negotiated agreement and respect both the outcomes and the procedures that led to those outcomes. If there is a principle at stake in this motion, it is that of procedural fairness. Senators do not have a divine right to a given committee seat. They receive the seat on a particular committee by willingly participating in a group process that resulted in a favourable outcome for them, but at the expense of other senators. If they leave that group, the seat should not go with them. That is the intent of the original motion, and that is why I do not support the amendment. I hope you will vote against it, and I hope we can quickly go to the main motion and vote for it so that we can quickly form our committees and get on with the work of the upper house.
I want to thank the honourable senators who brought forward Motion No. 37, and Senator Bellemare for giving us the opportunity to look closely.
Senator Woo, to the extent that you can indicate to us in the negotiations and in the discussions about changing the rule with regard to portability, was there any consideration given to a Senate-wide process that could be based on a degree of proportional representation but following something similar to what the ISG does, which is allowing each senator to indicate preferences and to have chairs and deputy chairs elected?
I was not part of the negotiations. I should not comment on them. All I can say is what you just described, which is a Senate-wide process that allocates seats based on some degree of proportionality, is exactly the way the process was conducted, because proportionality determines how many seats each group gets. The only variant there is that then each group has its own internal process for deciding how they divvy up the seats.
Senator Woo, this is really an interesting and perplexing debate. I come from an old era. I’ve only been here for 12 years, but I was here at the time this place was partisan and terrible and badly needed reform.
I’ll tell you this: at least for the first few years that I was here, all our time in this chamber was spent debating government legislation, motions and holding the government to account, and not spending all this time worrying about procedure and infrastructure. In the 12 years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen the number of hours and days we spent, considering the remuneration we get from Canadians and considering the limited time we sit.
My question is a simple one, Senator Woo. I have a hard time keeping track of who is in which caucus. My most recent understanding is Senator Bellemare is in the ISG, and my understanding is you’re still leader of the ISG. Once upon a time, when this place was terribly run and very partisan and horrible, we dealt with these issues within our caucus. Why are we independent senators and Conservatives and ISGs and CSGs being engaged by your caucus when this should be debated amongst yourselves? In this chamber, every committee member is elected. That’s the rule. Sometimes it’s bypassed, and there’s a negotiation between the leadership and we come to an accommodation. In the parliaments I’ve been here, sometimes the seats belong to the senators in perpetuitas for the parliament. Other times, the agreement was the caucuses would control those seats. Can’t you guys get your act together?
Yes, honourable senators, I do have a question that I’d like to ask. Senator Woo says you can’t be for modernization and against rule changes. We aren’t against rule changes; we are against changes that would shift the power away from individual senators and instead give the power to the leaders.
The ISG principles indicate:
. . . the ISG will actively promote changes in Senate rules and practices that improve the functioning of the Chamber and the work of committees.
He himself indicates that 12-5 is more egregious than 12-3, so why impose a change on 12-3 without addressing 12-5? Can he explain how this change will see senators held hostage by leaders while achieving that goal?
Can he explain why this change is part of this motion at all, rather than a separate motion that could be fairly debated while also allowing committees to get up and running in the meantime?
The answer to your question is my speech, and I won’t read it again. I’ll just very quickly say that the issue of modernization and rule changes is quite simply this: You and some of your colleagues, and others in this room, who argue for portability, use the current rule as a kind of totem, as if that is the reason why we should have portability. All I am saying is that in itself doesn’t tell us anything, particularly not if you also claim to be in favour of modernization. Being in favour of modernization doesn’t mean we change all the rules, but at the very least, it should mean you are open to the principle of changing some rules, which therefore by logic means that citing a rule in defence of a particular practice doesn’t do anything in terms of the debate. It simply says you are restating the status quo. That’s fine, but it’s not an argument in favour of portability as such.
I want to hear why portability is consistent with modernization, and that is what my speech tried to do. I’d be happy to speak with you privately and go over the speech again if you like, to address the other items in your question.
Senator, when you were called to the Senate were you appointed to a group or were you appointed to defend the interests of your region and the interests of Canadians? Do you believe that the individual senators or that the groups are the foundation of the Senate?
In terms of your reasoning, you have quite a way with words. It’s wonderful; you’re like a magician. However, there is a problem of vision because you put the groups at the centre of everything when it is senators who should be at the centre of the Senate and the groups should be there to help the senators. Do you not agree?
Not at all. When I was appointed to the Senate, I was not appointed to a particular committee seat. So when I got to the Senate, I learned that we are entitled to sit on committees. I quickly found out that the way to get on a committee was to join a group, because that was the way seats were assigned. When I got to the group, I learned there was a process for assigning seats. It seemed pretty fair and transparent. By the way, I never got the seats I choose, and I’m the facilitator. It’s true. I’ll live with it.
So it’s not that the group is more important than the senator. It’s that insofar as committee seats are concerned, there has to be a way to allocate them, and the way I chose to subject myself was to the group that had a process that I felt was pretty decent. I subjected myself to it and I lost. Too bad for me.
Colleagues, I’m happy to enter the debate, although briefly, to make a couple of remarks in support of Senator Bellemare’s amendment to this motion.
Let me start by saying that I really do admire the leadership in this place. They have a very difficult task, and the negotiations are made more complex with the number of groups. Therefore, it is my institutional bias to support agreements that have been reached amongst leaders.
However, let me underscore that this is not one, because one leader did not agree. It is very important when Senator Plett agrees to something, but he doesn’t run the show alone.
Let me say at the start that I respect the attempt by leaders to reach a compromise. I can’t speak for Senator Cordy, but I do believe a compromise could have been reached on all of the matters before us, save this one. It astounds me that the leadership chose to bring it to debate here, in a rather divisive fashion, rather than seek to accommodate all the views and separate this issue, particularly with the amendment that does not bring into contention chairs, deputy chairs and other leadership roles on committees.
Senator Woo says we shouldn’t be devoted to the Rules as they exist. I totally agree with that. However, I find it the height of irony that the first rule we want to get to is the one that underlines and strengthens the individual senator’s role and gives the power to the leaders.
This is a debate about power. I understand that leaders find it easier to manage things if they have the power. My position is that the power comes from the senator and that the senator should, once appointed to a committee, continue to sit on that committee. I acknowledge that if they left a leadership role, it should not be taken with them, but it underscores our equality in terms of how we came here and what our area of focus ought to be. I would wish you not to underscore, by reinforcing leadership strength, grace and favour over the independence of senators.
So wouldn’t it be wise to encourage in the discussion in your groups and caucuses to just take that out and move forward quickly, as we should, and let the existing process be followed with the Rules as they existed?
I also want to pay tribute to the fact that in the last Parliament we accepted that rule; that is to say we made a temporary adjustment to ignore the portability. That was done, I want to remind everybody, with all-leader agreement. This is being done without all-leader agreement, and therefore undermining and altering the power balance in the Senate. I think it would be very distasteful.
I do understand that the leadership wishes this matter to be debated — if at all — quickly and have this motion passed quickly. I think we all want to get on with our committees. I am not here to suggest that we delay, but I am here to suggest that we do not have the vote on this until we have a virtual sitting next week, so that all senators, including those who aren’t here, are able to vote. I don’t mean that as a delaying tactic; I mean that as a respectful tactic.
We have talked about the importance of involving those who, for various reasons related to COVID, are unable to be here. Let’s hear from them too. Again, I do respect the leadership, but I do think it’s time, every once in a while, for the membership to say, “Hold on now; we want every group to be part of this and feel comfortable with the motion” — particularly when you’re reversing the existing Rules.
With that, colleagues, I hope that you will support Senator Bellemare’s proposal. I think it’s creative, it’s meant in the spirit of compromise, and I hope that it can be accepted as such.
Oh, that we had the days of old. It was so much easier. You could look across the aisle at a Liberal and you knew he was a Liberal, and a Liberal is a Liberal is a Liberal. We knew who we were and why we were here. We knew who had appointed us, and we had promised the person who appointed us that we would stay true to our beliefs. Of course, Senator Bellemare is one of those who were appointed to a particular group; and she committed to that group, as have others.
I find myself in a unique position today, and I say this with respect, some admiration and, indeed, a lot of humour. This is the first time I have ever been able to say a hearty “amen” to everything Senator Woo has said. That in itself is cause for praise and some celebration.
Senator Harder and I used to agree on issues. As a matter of fact, Senator Harder was quite happy when I, as the whip, and later on as the leader of this caucus, would work with him.
Yes, and my cousin. He was happy when I would work with him. He knows very well that many of the agreements we made were not always unanimous among the leaders.
Colleagues, we still live in a democratic society, and when we appoint or elect people to do certain things, we give them a certain amount of responsibility to negotiate on our behalf. I really appreciate my caucus — and I say this sincerely — for the confidence they have placed in me to negotiate on behalf of our Conservative caucus. They trust me and then they support me. That does not mean they always agree with me, and we have many battles behind closed doors, as do all other groups. Overall, when we’re in public, we do not have battles. That does not mean they always vote the way I would prefer. We have had votes in this chamber where I have not agreed with my caucus colleagues and we have voted differently. I know we have some coming up in the very near future. I’m not looking forward to those.
I want to say a few words, because there’s not much I can add to what Senator Woo said. Senator Woo clearly prepared his notes. I did not. I scratched out some notes as people were speaking. I think I heard Senator Mercer talk about why was there not a separate motion on this particular issue. In fact, we tried to get one. It was my suggestion that we have a separate motion, and there was some agreement on that. That agreement then fell apart because the smallest group couldn’t agree with that and the way that separate motion would be handled.
It was clearly agreed to. The composition of the committees was agreed to by all four leaders, and those were very amicable discussions as far as the proportionality of seats was concerned. We all had a calculator, and we all decided what our percentage was.
It’s clearly not what the Conservatives want, and we came into this kicking and screaming for a few years that proportionality was the wrong way to go and we should have more seats, but we finally relented. Well, we got beaten into submission. We now accept that there is proportionality, so the committee seats were decided in proportionality and agreed to, Senator Harder, by all four leaders.
Every senator has the right to a committee, nobody’s arguing that, but not even in my caucus does every senator have a right to the committee that they want. Senator Woo made the distinction on how the ISG sets their appointments.
Terry Stratton was the whip when I first came into this august chamber. Terry was from Winnipeg, and we were long-time friends and colleagues. He was the hardest whip that I had the pleasure of working under, but there are some who say I cut my teeth on the way he was the whip and maybe I did. I respected Terry. He came to me when I first came here and he said, “Don, I want three committee choices from you on a piece of paper. That’s what we ask everybody, to give us three choices. You’re probably going to get one of your three choices, but you will not get two.” He had a rule that you would not get two. I asked him, “What if no one wants all three of the ones I’m asking for?” He said, “You’re not going to get them. You’re going to get one.” That’s what I got. That was his way of operating.
We ask all of our senators to give us a list of committees they want. As a leadership team, we then decide where they go, and they all get one. Every senator deserves to have one.
Senator Saint-Germain said that they had agreed to give the GRO two committee seats. We have agreed to give a non-affiliated senator one committee seat. If that senator leaves that position, that senator will not take the committee seat with her.
We have had senators leave our caucus. Senator Bellemare said no one does this intentionally; no one plans this. That is the furthest thing from being accurate. Of course they plan this. We have had people leave our caucus that absolutely planned to leave and took their committee seat with them. Then we had people that we thought might leave, and we made sure that we had the committee seat.
I know Senator Woo can attest to one that left his group and took the committee seat with them at their expense and to our delight because that particular senator mostly voted the way we voted in that committee. We were quite happy with that. I may have even been a little instrumental in saying, “Don’t tell them you’re leaving, just leave first.” We all do this.
Crossing the floor has repercussions. Senator Bellemare used the example of the U.S. Senate. I’m not sure why she used the U.S. Senate, but I made a note. I’m not sure where the comparison is. She said they don’t have majorities. Of course they have majorities. Two parties are fighting for a majority in the Senate right now. We can all hope that the right side will win that, and we will all send President Trump our congratulations when they do.
Every senator deserves to have a seat and should have one. However, colleagues, when a senator makes a commitment to serve, especially in a small group, for the life of me, I can’t understand why the Liberals or the Progressives would not want this. If they lose a member, they lose the committee; they have nobody.
That is not right if any one of their senators leaves and they no longer are represented on a committee, because the first thing they will say, and rightfully so, is, “We have this number of people, and we deserve a committee seat.” This is what this does. It doesn’t require you to vote the way your group wants you to vote. It requires you to sit there as a member of the ISG, PSG or the CSG.
We are all honourable, at least we all have the title, but people use this and will continue to use this. As I said, there were senators who left our caucus that clearly knew they were leaving, and they left and took it with them.
Senator Tannas was a member of the Conservative caucus and should still be. He was elected as a Conservative. However, Senator Tannas did one thing that I really appreciated. On the Friday before he was part of forming the CSG, Senator Tannas and I had a telephone conversation. I was running for the leadership the next week, and Senator Tannas said, “Don, if I leave, I will leave before that vote because I should not come to that vote, have influence on that decision, and then leave days later.” He let me know. Right then we were on a break. We didn’t have a committee, so a committee wasn’t an issue.
Colleagues, I don’t want to start repeating myself or repeating what Senator Woo said, but this whole deal was negotiated. We wanted to do a separate motion. All we wanted, colleagues, was a commitment. Senator Harder said, “Let’s not delay this.” We wanted a commitment that there would be a vote.
Committees need to start running. We have legislation coming. Why is the opposition standing here and asking that we form committees? It’s not the opposition’s role to make sure the committees are operating. It’s the Leader of the Government’s role.
The reason I’m doing this is because I told the Leader of the Government, “If you want Conservative caucus support for any legislation moving forward, legislation will go to committees. We will not fast track anymore legislation the way we have done.” If I say that to the government leader, then I also have to say I’m not going to stand in the way of these committees getting formed and moving forward. There is urgency.
With the highest degree of respect, yes, we might have a hybrid sitting. They’re going to try. The motion has passed.
We have Zoom calls. Yesterday, I had a Zoom call where we had issues. Anyone who thinks we will not have issues in the coming days and weeks, we will.
As I said when I spoke yesterday about the hybrid motion, with the highest respect, every senator was able — unless it was because of COVID, unless they were personally ill — to have been here this week to vote on this motion, but they have given us the right to vote on their behalf. That is what we need to do. We need to vote with some degree of urgency on this amendment. We need to vote on the main motion so we can get our selection committee up and running and they can populate the committees, they can constitute the committees, and we can move forward with the government legislation that is coming. There are many colleagues here that will want to send their private members’ bills to committees. They can only go to committees if we start the committees.
Colleagues, we have been told in the past not to delay. We’re trying to move forward, and I trust that all colleagues will at least do what many colleagues have said. Senator Dalphond has repeatedly said to me, “All I ask is that you allow it to come to a vote. Don’t call dinner breaks, don’t have bells, don’t filibuster. Let it go to a vote.” So I agree in this case today with Senator Dalphond; let’s go to a vote. Thank you, colleagues.
This question relates to terminology you just used in your speech, and it picks up on terminology you used yesterday as well. Particularly you are talking about senators who are not able to be with us. It is a very good thing, Senator Plett, that today you actually acknowledged there are some senators who cannot be with us. They cannot be with us because this is a super-spreader environment and they are in genuine personal health risks or under legal impediments.
The second part of my question relates to you talking about how senators not here are allowing us to vote on their behalf. Senator Plett, would it not be more accurate to acknowledge that the senators who are not able to be with us are actually sacrificing their right to be here? They are not allowing us to vote on their behalf. Are they not sacrificing their right to be here precisely because of the dedication that we get on with the urgent business we need to undertake, and at this point we can only do it in this chamber?
Well, first of all, Senator McPhedran, in regard to your terminology and your accusations that I had said something, Senator Moodie asked me a question yesterday about whether I did not agree that people who had a compromised immune system, had any issues such as that, that they shouldn’t be able to be on Zoom or some other mechanism — and it’s not Zoom when we do it in hybrid — and I emphatically said, “yes.” I agreed with her and I agree with her today, and I take exception that you would suggest anything else.
As far as senators allowing us to vote for them, I’m speaking on behalf of my caucus. Nobody sacrificed their right to be here. They are not here for a number of different issues, but they would be able to be here if they had decided to. But they have allowed us, as their caucus colleagues, to vote on their behalf.
Thank you, Your Honour. Can I ask Senator Plett — this is according to the transcript made available to us — did you not say, “There is nothing preventing any senator from coming here to debate and take part”?
Thank you, Your Honour. I’m going to try to be brief on this issue, on the amendment from Senator Bellemare.
For me, I can vote on both sides of these equations and feel comfortable. What I’m not comfortable with is the amount of time we’ve spent on process in this new Trudeau-reformed Senate. It is unprecedented and extraordinary. We have been summoned here to do work on government legislation, to hold the government to account and to debate motions and inquiries that are important to the regions of the country we represent. That’s why we came here.
We didn’t come here to spend hours and days on the process. These are things that were resolved in the Westminster parliamentary system. I’ve talked about it in the past. It is designed and functions very well. Each of us go back to our respective caucuses and iron out these issues. Then the leadership gets together, and that’s why they get paid.
No, a senator is not a senator. Sorry, Senator Bellemare. You were not just a senator who was a senator who was a senator. You were Deputy Leader of the Government. Senator Gold is not just a senator who is a senator who is a senator. He represents the government in this chamber.
Senator Plett is not just any other senator, he represents the official opposition in this Parliament. That’s who they are. The Speaker is one amongst equals in terms of process in this place, but he has a status that is different, both diplomatically, representing the chamber and appointed by the government.
The other thing I highlight, colleagues; this is not an elected body, it is a hybrid of the House of Commons and Westminster and the upper chamber. It was designed to be an appointed body. That is why the Speaker is not elected, for example. It’s one of the few Westminster Parliaments where the Speaker is not elected by this institution because it is not an elected body.
We are a political body, even though today’s government doesn’t want to recognize it. We have leadership in this place, and despite this charade and facade of independence, no, this place has not become any more independent. The Westminster definition of independence — independent parliamentarians don’t sit in a caucus group. It doesn’t matter if it has a political title, it doesn’t matter if it’s called CSG or PSG, it’s a caucus group. You’re not independent, you’re reliant on that particular caucus group.
That’s why I don’t have any philosophical problem with your proposal, but by the same token, I understand Senator Woo and Senator Plett, because we have given our caucuses, when we signed up with our caucuses, certain privileges. Senator Tannas and Senator Plett and Senator Woo have certain privileges when they sit down and negotiate on the basis of proportionality.
Committees have always been set up in this place by proportionality. It’s not an elected body. We have a history of being appointed. We ourselves are appointed by prime ministers. There is the principle, if we want to exercise it, of electing positions on committees, but that means becoming truly independent, not in theory; scrapping caucuses and leadership. Do you want to try that, Senator Bellemare? We already have four caucuses amongst ourselves. Members of the CSG with their leadership can’t come to terms with certain things because you don’t accept the majority decision.
I know in our caucus we have it out. We have debates and discussions, and in the end the leader takes a decision, and he is in power because he has the support of the majority of his caucus.
Now, if the minority are upset, you can pout, or leave and join the CSG or the PSG. That’s how this place works. Let’s stop wasting time.
When I’ve been speaking to former senators — giants of this place when I came here — Senator Cowan and Senator Joyal and Senator Tkachuk. They are telling me, “Guys, do you do any work on behalf of taxpayers?”
The energy sector in Western Canada is suffering. COVID is eating up our economy. We sent out half a trillion dollars through this door with no parliamentary oversight. None. Not in this chamber or in the other. We have an excuse, we’re in a pandemic, but nonetheless Canadians will have it wrapped around their neck over the next 20 years.
There are things going on around the world in Artsakh, in Hong Kong. We don’t debate these things, we let them go by quickly, but we’re going to spend three or four hours and have bells and votes on issues that are just logistics in this place.
Colleagues, we get appointed to this place. You get to choose the party or the caucus you want to serve in, and you have your debates amongst the caucus members, and you live with “Some days you win and some days you lose.” That’s the process. That’s not our main, core job here. Our main, core job is to represent our provinces, minority voices, Indigenous people, issues like autism. That’s what used to be done in this place. This place used to have historic reports, historic inquiries, historic debates on things that governments listened to 15 or 20 years ago. When is the last time we had an inquiry or a motion in this place where the Prime Minister or the ministers of the Crown stood up and listened to this place?
If we continue to navel gaze, if we continue to have these false debates that should be done behind the scenes — and the Westminster model was designed to be very British and very proper, the garbage was done in caucus behind the scenes, not on the floor of the institution that Canadians are watching and paying for. This place should have substantive debates on substantive issues.
Again, I implore all of you to go back and look at some of the things that worked before we embarked on this reform process, and not change things that aren’t broken. Let’s change things that need to be fixed. But let’s not change things that don’t need to be fixed just because a politician decided to make it part of his political agenda because it served his purposes at that particular point in time.
Colleagues, let’s have this vote. Let’s have this decision taken and let’s move on because, either way, it’s not going to change a lot of things except for a number of senators who will feel more secure to speak more freely when they are sitting around those committee tables.
Colleagues, I keep reminding everyone, your independence comes from your tenure: the fact that you’re here until the age of 75. If your leadership decides to push you to support something you’re not comfortable with, you can sit as a true independent. People have done it in this chamber for years. Not many are really independent right now. I don’t know the status of everyone, but my understanding is there are three or four independent senators. Everybody else is sitting in a caucus or group. You have to accept, Senator Bellemare, that sometimes your caucus as a collective will take a decision you like, and sometimes they will take a decision you don’t. Don’t think that every time Senator Plett and my caucus takes a decision that I’m happy about it. But I take a decision to make my compromises, and I take a decision about where I push my caucus and say, “I’m not in agreement.” But we don’t do that on the Senate floor. Thank you, colleagues.
As you know, senator, together, we’ve been able to reach agreements to solve problems through negotiation. We want to negotiate. We’re not asking for much. We’re asking to have a vote next Tuesday, with all honourable senators participating, on hybrid sittings. Nobody thought we’d get to that today. There’s no hurry. There’s no bill before the chamber. I don’t want you to give Canadians the impression that we’re delaying the passage of legislation. We can blame the other place for the delay, but I don’t think anyone here has done anything to cause a delay.
I’d like you to correct one thing. We didn’t delay the passage of bills. Don’t you believe that it would be normal to accept that all senators, during the hybrid session next Tuesday, be able to speak in order to state their views? Earlier, you said that “a senator is a senator,” but the only time they truly are a senator is when they vote. Furthermore, they aren’t here. Next Tuesday, during the hybrid session, they will have the right to vote on a motion that we deem to be vital and concerns the freedom of “portability” of a senator’s position. I support the senator’s motion that the leadership positions must be controlled by the leadership. At the time, I was part of the leadership of a caucus and I participated, but I believe that “portability” is a principle.
Do you have an example of a bill that was delayed? Don’t you believe that it would be normal to give absent senators the opportunity to vote next Tuesday?
Senator Dawson, I didn’t say that passage of government bills was delayed, but we’re making the Senate look bad to Canadians on substantive issues. For example, over the past few months, we’ve spent $353 billion and we haven’t carried out the appropriate verifications. This is about process, and we’re spending hours debating a process that was better managed by each caucus. That was the only argument that I defended. I completely agree with you, Senator Dawson, we’ve been working together for years and this chamber has a long history as a chamber of consensus.
I completely agree that if, for example, there’s no consensus, we can delay the decision by one week. That wouldn’t be the end of the world. I agree more with you than with the leaders. Furthermore, if the leaders have come to an agreement that has the support of their caucuses, we need to respect that. Otherwise, we will keep getting caught up in arguments that go nowhere. Aside from government bills, there’s something else we can do to oversee the government. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, a massive crisis in Canada. Have we done anything in the past six months to see whether the government had an adequate response to the pandemic? Are there things that could be improved? Were the $350 billion of taxpayer money well spent by the government? Is there anything this chamber could have done to ensure that the money was spent properly? We didn’t do that, but now we’re spending hours on this. We’re here tonight. We don’t sit often. Senator Pate and Senator Moodie have worthwhile motions on the agenda. We need to do our job. That is my only argument.
I agree. However, you said the decision could be delayed by one week. If that’s the case, why not put the question back on the agenda for next Tuesday and get a consensus so we can settle the issue? To us, this is a matter of principle. This isn’t a case of proceduritis or dilly-dallying. It’s a matter of principle. As Senator Bellemare proposed, we think senators should have the option of leaving a committee. People have left a caucus and kept a committee seat, and nobody has died as a result. We want to keep that provision, and we think those who are absent should have the right to speak.
Senator Dawson, I never said I was against Senator Bellemare’s amendment.
I believe your argument makes sense. At the same time, all I am saying is that we gave the power to our leaders. When we become members of a caucus, we allow our leaders to negotiate on behalf of each member, and you did the same thing. As I say, I personally have no problem delaying all this for a week. We can even put it off for three weeks. It’s not the end of the world. We have more important things to do here. At the same time, I am saying that I delegated my leader to negotiate on my behalf, and I think everyone did the same. I think it is odd that a member of the ISG is completely against his own caucus, because if I understand correctly, this entire discussion took place in caucus several days before we came here. That is the only argument I wanted to make.
Honourable senators, I hesitate to jump into this debate because so much has been said already. I agree with much of what has been said in every quarter of this august chamber.
I want to say that we all, every single one of us, represent Canadians. We represent our regions. We are here to do work on behalf of Canadians and on behalf of our regions.
Senator Housakos, I agree with you; we’ve completed some amazing inquiries. I’ve been privileged to be part of a number of them, and it has been very rewarding work.
I feel very strongly — and I’m in agreement with Senator Bellemare’s amendment to the motion — that if members of this chamber move from one group to another, they should be able to take their committee seats with them. We’ve had rulings from prior Speakers on this. I go back to June 9, 2007, long before I was in this chamber, where that was upheld by the Speaker in a ruling.
I do feel very strongly, though, that every senator in this chamber has a right to speak their mind and have a vote. With that, Your Honour, I hope we can have this vote next week when the hybrid model is up. I appreciate that some of our colleagues are not able to be here because of health concerns or health concerns in their communities or rules in their communities, and we should give them the opportunity to participate.
Senator Saint-Germain spoke of the principle of fairness, and I applaud the principle of fairness. I think this enhances the principle of fairness. We’ve talked about the principle of equality. I believe having the vote when everybody has an opportunity to speak and to vote is that equality.
I do not accept this motion, as originally presented, as one of equality, and I do not happen to see the motion, as originally put forward before the amendment, as one of modernization. Quite frankly, I see it as regression. I don’t understand how denying individual senators their right of individuality is constructive reform. If we’re really talking about reform, we have to talk about what the roles of senators are. So I can’t accept the original motion, but I certainly accept the amendment.
Some countries are building walls. Let’s take a look at those walls. I don’t believe walls encourage debate. I don’t believe that walls encourage understanding. I don’t believe that walls encourage arms out around the world to make this place a better place. In fact, for me, walls do not conjure positive meaning at all.
I worry that, without Senator Bellemare’s amendment, we’re beginning to build walls in this place, and I don’t think that helps us do the work of Canadians. I would hope that the Senate of Canada would not consider building this wall but would instead consider building a positive environment in which we all can do our work constructively.
I came here to work across the aisle. We’ve managed to do so. I’m proud of the ad hoc groups we’ve had during the pandemic and I think that has shown the collegiality in this place. At the same time, groups of us from all over have been able to draw attention to regional and sectoral challenges during the pandemic we face.
Colleagues, I feel now is the time to underline the principle of fairness, equality and the freedom of association enshrined in our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It’s a fundamental right for all of us to be able to have freedom of movement, and if we as a chamber can’t enhance and live up to that freedom of movement, I don’t think we’re giving the proper tone to our colleague Canadians.
I agree with the words that Senator Cordy wrote in The Hill Times article, and I do feel that Senator Bellemare’s amendment will help us and will ensure modernization underlining equality, fairness and proportionality. Thank you.
Everyone talks about fairness and representation. I look around here. I’m from Nova Scotia. We have 10 senators from Nova Scotia. How many people here are from Nova Scotia? One. How many people are here from New Brunswick? I see two. How many people are here from Prince Edward Island? Three. And how many people from Newfoundland and Labrador? Three. We have about seven or eight from Atlantic Canada.
One of the frustrations I had by not being here was for the first while, I was in isolation in Nova Scotia. When I returned, I had to go into isolation for two weeks. I’m going to stay this week and be here next week, but when I go back, I have to spend two weeks in isolation there. It was okay to be in isolation in the summertime. I live in a nice area on a nice lake, and I could isolate in a boat in the middle of the lake if I wanted. That was fine.
Is it really fair that we have a group of people here voting, on a regular basis, on rules and laws that affect all Canadians when certain regions, because of geography and local rules in provinces where isolation is required, are disadvantaged by not having people here to vote? The reason the hybrid version that we’ll have next Tuesday is a big deal for us is that instead of having one Nova Scotian voting here on Tuesday, I suspect that we’ll have seven or eight, and that means that my province is going to be much better represented via hybrid. That applies to the other Atlantic provinces as well. I didn’t do the numbers for all of them.
I agree with you, and I think we have to realize our senator from the Yukon is not here and the difficulty, so I feel very strongly that you are correct. For fairness, we need to give everybody the opportunity to vote, and hence the hybrid model that we’ve agreed to.
Honourable senators, I did not intend to speak to this subject today, but a lot of things have been said, and I have really enjoyed hearing the comments on both sides of the issue. I noticed that all of this can be summarized quite easily. On the one hand, we are talking about principles of interpretation.
Some people, who are not legal experts, are saying that under the principles of interpretation, the exception takes precedence over the rule. Honourable colleagues, I would like to remind you that rule 12-2, which is based on rule 60, was adopted in 1982, over 40 years ago. That rule is clear. Rule 12-5, which Senator Woo is hoping to use to remove senators that he doesn’t want from his committee, was not adopted until 1983, 18 months after the main rule.
The main rule is the one that must guide us. Why is it the main rule? Because the mission of the Selection Committee, once it is appointed, is to recommend men and women from this chamber to sit on the various Senate committees, once they have been appointed, that is. They are not appointed by the Selection Committee or by the groups that made representations to the Selection Committee. They are appointed because the Selection Committee’s report was tabled here in this chamber and adopted by the Senate. Rule 12-2 is very explicit about that.
Senators shall serve for the remainder of the session. You are appointed by the Senate because the Senate trusts you are able to do the job on the following committees. Then you are appointed to serve until the end of this session. Normally, sessions don’t last four years as in the previous Parliament, but that’s the rule.
You’re not appointed by your group to a committee. That’s something I’m shocked to hear, as a matter of fact. Senator Woo said that seats are obtained from the groups. No, Senator Woo, they’re not obtained from the groups. They might be obtained through the mechanism of the groups, but they are not obtained from you and they are not obtained from your group. They are obtained from the Senate as a whole, the Senate as an institution. And the Senate vests the trust and the Senate can remove the trust, not the leaders. That’s the basic principle of rule 12-2.
As a matter of fact, we can look at the practice in the other place and, yes, there are many parties in the other place. Do you know that in the other place, once you have been appointed to a committee by the House of Commons, you cannot be removed by your leader? You can be replaced, but it’s meant to be a temporary replacement, and once you are able to resume your function because you were out of town, you were sick or otherwise, you resume your seat. Only the House of Commons can replace you, and that means a report from the appropriate committee will come back to the floor, and then the House of Commons will vote on it. We know this.
We saw some members from the other place cross the floor. One crossed from the Liberal to the Conservative side. I’m sure they were very happy. In the Martin times, we saw one leaving the Conservative side to go to the Liberal side, and I guess some other people were happy that day. I can give you the name of an NDP member from Repentigny who crossed the floor to join the Bloc. They have remained on their committees — for six weeks, a month or three months — until there was a report from the select committee of the House of Commons proposing they be replaced. And until this report was voted on and adopted by the House of Commons, these people remained on their committees. This is the principle.
But here, through a desire to grab power to the ultimate limit, some leaders are seeing the exception in the rules as being the guiding principle. This is a complete perversion of the text.
Rule 12-2(3) is the principle, and that is the principle I’m standing up and speaking for today. This principle rests on the thinking that this place has invested its confidence in a person, when that place has appointed that person on a committee, and that place is the one that can remove the trust — not the leaders, not the groups.
I think if we are going to move forward in a reformed Senate, it’s a Senate where there should be more independence. I was asked to come here. I took time before accepting the appointment because I wasn’t sure about this place. I wasn’t sure about the old practices, the old duopoly and if the time had come to reform the Senate. I took a week before I said yes to the Prime Minister. I don’t know how many of you took a week before answering, but I did. Finally, I said yes, I am going because I believe this place can be reformed, because it has a role to play that it didn’t play in the past because it was under the duopoly, under the dictatorship of the parties.
This should stop. This must stop. The independence of each of us is critical for our future as an institution. What has been proposed by the leadership of the ISG runs exactly contrary to what we are trying to do in reform.
I’m so disappointed to see that the leadership of the ISG is like the leadership of the old Conservatives. So this is moving, transforming that group into another group that defines itself as opposing the Conservatives but being similar in functioning.
The time has come for all of us to make a choice. Do we believe in the reforms? If we do, we have to support the amendment proposed by Senator Bellemare. Thank you.
Senator Dalphond, you were quite clear that nobody appointed you to any seat when you were a member of the ISG, that Senator Woo did not. Indeed, Senator Woo said you ran elections. So I guess that’s a valid argument there.
Does the PSG have elections to see what committee you may or may not serve on, when all of this is done, to start with? We know you want the right to take it with you, but how about the first time around? Do you have the right to demand one as well? Or will somebody suggest that you serve on a particular committee? I’m assuming it may be Legal; maybe not. Would that be appointed? How would you get that position?
Thank you, Senator Plett, for the questions. I’m sorry to realize you didn’t read the op-ed written by Jane Cordy, our leader. She has explained clearly that we have, as all the groups should have, some kind of mechanism to find out who is interested in what and to go along with the short list when they go to the Selection Committee. But this is not selecting people. We have the advantage of being a small group, so we can collegially decide who wants to go on which committee. Perhaps it’s more difficult when you’re 20 in number; maybe it’s more difficult when you’re 44. I understand it’s part of the internal mechanism, but the fact remains that it is only an internal mechanism. It’s not appointing people. It’s really making some recommendations. The Senate makes the appointment.
You also made it clear that you want complete autonomy. You don’t want to be beholden to anybody. You don’t want to be told what to do by anybody. Yet you chose to go and sit in a group. If you couldn’t get along with the ISG, why didn’t you do what you claimed you wanted to do and sit as non-affiliated? But you decided to join a group.
Again, when there is a group, there’s a certain amount of — I don’t know; more than camaraderie — order that needs to be in any organization. Surely you, as a jurist, as a judge, would most certainly agree on some order. I’m assuming that may be why you wanted to join the PSG. But if you want complete and total autonomy, why would you not just sit as non-affiliated? Then nobody would be able to give you any direction.
I don’t know if this is really linked to the motion in the amendment we have before us, but I can tell you that, in our group, it’s not a problem. I feel quite comfortable to share my views with my colleagues, and they share their views with me. We’re not whipped in any way, and it’s no problem.
Honourable senators, I move the adjournment of the debate in my name. If I may, my leader is not here, and a lot of things were said about her. I will read a speech from her tomorrow on this issue. I think it’s important that she gets her voice. Since you don’t want her to vote next Tuesday, she could at least be heard tomorrow, so I move that the debate be adjourned in my name.