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Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration

Thirty-eighth Report of Committee--Debate Adjourned

April 30, 2019


Hon. Leo Housakos (Acting Deputy Leader of the Opposition)
[20:02]

Honourable colleagues, I do intend to be brief on this issue, given the fact that I’ve always assumed that there was some consensus on this motion, which has clear objectives to do nothing other than to reinforce the independence of this institution.

The spirit of independence is the basis in which this motion was tabled both by myself and Senator Saint-Germain.

There is nothing more important, of course, than the role of the Clerk of the Senate and Clerk of the Parliaments in this institution, a position that serves in supporting the Speaker in his work in the Speaker’s office and supporting leadership in all caucuses and all senators in our work here. The role of the Clerk of the Senate and Clerk of the Parliaments is a role where he is at the service of this institution, an institution that is part and parcel of our parliamentary system. We all recognize that, traditionally, it has been the Privy Council and the Prime Minister’s Office that has appointed the Clerk of the Senate and Clerk of the Parliaments, but it doesn’t necessarily make it right.

We have, over the last few years, evolved and tried to work very hard in making the place transparent and accountable, and I believe this motion, if it does anything, it basically serves to give an added value to the actual role itself and to have the Clerk of the Senate and the Clerk of the Parliaments appreciate his independence rather than be beholden by the person by whom he had to be interviewed and signed off on.

Now, the Government Leader, of course, after the remarks of the chair of Internal Economy, asked a question with regard to the legality of this initiative and asked him a question in terms of what this chamber has done to see if it meets legal standards. At the end of the day, this is a chamber of Parliament. We make laws in this country. We make legislation in this country. It’s not the executive branch that dictates to this chamber laws and legislation.

Furthermore, I also want to correct and point out to the Government Leader that the Clerk of the Senate is the Clerk of the Senate, and he has the title the Clerk of the Parliaments, but he doesn’t have any administrative role with the House of Commons. Of course, the term, Senator Harder, Clerk of the Parliaments, implies the duration of the Parliament because, of course, this is the upper chamber that opens a new Parliament and closes an old Parliament. That’s why he has that title. In no way, shape or form does the Clerk of the Senate in any way infringe upon the responsibilities of the Clerk of the House of Commons in an administrative fashion.

I believe that this is the sage thing for us to do. We’re going to have a vetting process in place approved by Internal Economy, taking into consideration, of course, the role of the Speaker and having his involvement in the process.

For me, we’re not so preoccupied by the process itself. It’s more the symbolism, which I think will help to give complete independence without any inkling of a doubt to the position and role.

And Government Leader, with all due respect, if the Prime Minister of Canada can accept advice from independent vetting bodies to name senators, he can certainly take the advice of the upper chamber of Parliament when it comes to recommending names for a role that serves exclusively this Parliament. In no shape, way or form is the Clerk of the Senate an instrument of the executive branch.

For all those reasons, I think it’s only one small step towards a continued process of independence. I also want to point out to the Government Leader that we’re in no hurry to get this done. We’ve gone through the process and it seems like the process might take a few months longer. By the end of the day, it might not even be a problem for your government to deal with. It’s probably to be a problem for a future government to deal with. I can tell you, Senator Harder, the position I have vis-à-vis the important independence of this role today in opposition is the same position I held when I served another role in a previous government, and it will be the same position that I will keep and maintain when a new government is sworn in in the fall.

I really don’t have much more to add than that. I hope that this chamber will unanimously support this motion. I think it makes a lot of sense. And we can continue to go forward. Thank you.

Hon. Pierrette Ringuette
[20:06]

Will Senator Housakos take a few questions?

Senator Housakos
[20:07]

Yes.

Senator Ringuette
[20:07]

Senator Housakos, on issues like this one, you would usually refer to the mother of Parliaments in the U.K., the House of Lords and so forth. Has the committee done any research with regard to the House of Lords and how they move about with the Clerk of the House of Lords?

Senator Housakos
[20:07]

I don’t believe there was ever a requirement for that. No one brought that issue up. There was unanimous support for this motion, as you remember, when it was tabled in the chamber and sent to Internal Economy. Again, I’m the number one proponent of respecting the process and procedures of the Westminster model. We’re based on it, but we’re not beholden to it if this chamber decides unanimously to change a process that gives this chamber more independence.

Furthermore, we all recognize that there is executive strength in the Westminster model. There is the government side and the opposition side, and those roles have been designed for a reason, but in this particular instance, I don’t see how the Clerk of the Parliaments in any shape, way or form, as I said earlier, is an instrument of government. It doesn’t have any impact on the government. We currently have a prime minister who has blotted the whole principle of independence. He says he has named independent senators. I don’t see what the problem is. It’s not even taking a step further. In naming the chief servant of this institution who serves senators, being chosen and vetted by senators, what would be the problem?

Senator Ringuette
[20:08]

Senator Housakos, the principle that we have on Parliament Hill with regard to the clerk of either house is no different from its application at the provincial level. For instance, in New Brunswick, the government in council appoints the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly. Have you looked at what the legislative assemblies are doing?

We need to do some research before moving forward. It seems that not a lot of research has been done.

In response to provincial legislatures, if you find that the process you’re proposing or agreeing with in this chamber, then would you send a letter to Jason Kenney to say that his new government should ask the Legislative Assembly of Alberta to select their own clerk?

Senator Housakos
[20:10]

Senator Ringuette, this chamber is supreme. Every independent Parliament across this country is supreme. It’s not for you and I to dictate to Premier Kenney. It’s not for you and I to dictate to the House of Commons, but it is for you and I to decide what this chamber does.

I don’t need to do research to recognize how the Westminster model operates in this country. We also don’t need research to understand that in the Westminster model, coast to coast to coast, there is a government and opposition. This chamber has decided to embrace this new experiment —

Senator Ringuette
[20:10]

We don’t have an opposition.

Senator Housakos
[20:10]

If I may finish, senator, this chamber has decided to experiment with independent caucus groups. We’ve taken that decision. We’ve accepted to have independent senators serve in this chamber and given the role and the place that, in the Westminster model, hasn’t existed. Based on your question and your premise, we should also have some in-depth research to find out if this experiment that we’ve embarked on over the last two years actually fits any other provincial legislature and, of course, the Westminster model and the House of Lords. If it doesn’t, I guess we shouldn’t be moving forward with some of the reform changes Prime Minister Trudeau has imposed on this chamber. But we are malleable. We are open to suggestions. We are open to making the place as transparent and as accountable as possible. In this particular instance, having this chamber independently choose its clerk, it just fits in within the principle of accountability and transparency, which I’m sure you support.

Hon. Terry M. Mercer (Deputy Leader of the Senate Liberals)
[20:11]

I move adjournment of the debate in the name of Senator Day.

The Hon. the Speaker
[20:11]

Just a moment, please.

Senator Housakos, will you take another question?

Senator Housakos
[20:11]

Absolutely.

Hon. Renée Dupuis
[20:11]

Senator, I want to better understand what is being proposed in the report of Internal Economy. If I understand correctly, it is proposing that the Senate submit to the Governor in Council its recommendation on the nomination for the position of Clerk, in collaboration with the Speaker. Do I also understand correctly that this does not change the Public Service Employment Act, which states in section 130 that the Governor in Council appoints the Clerk of the Senate?

Senator Housakos
[20:12]

This has no bearing on the act. In the end, it is the Prime Minister who has the final say. The process we want to bring in aims to give these powers to the Internal Economy Committee and the Selection Committee, and as far as I know, a representative from the Speaker’s office, which is entirely reasonable given that the Clerk of the Senate works closely with the Speaker. It’s as simple as that, and it has no bearing on the existing legislation.