Moved second reading of Bill C-3, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Canada Labour Code.
He said: Honourable senators, it is my honour to rise before you today to make my maiden speech in this place on Bill C-3, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Canada Labour Code. I don’t think there could be a better piece of legislation to mark the occasion for me than Bill C-3. Many people have asked me why I chose to become a senator and what will guide me in my role. I simply said, “If it is good for the country, it is good for me.” I believe the bill before us today is good for the country, and I would like to explain why it deserves our support.
The bill is about learning lessons from this pandemic to make things better and to provide stronger protection for sick workers — Canadians — and to provide access to our health care system in the future. The pandemic has taught us that anything less is unacceptable for our economic, social and mental well-being. This bill recognizes the fundamental right of workers to be able to freely, without threats of job security and financial security, take time off from work to look after their health and well-being.
It also recognizes a fundamental right for workers in the health care sector to be able to go to work unimpeded and without threat of intimidation, while at the same time ensuring that constitutional rights to strike, peacefully assemble and freedom of expression are protected.
The pandemic has exposed many gaps and shortcomings in our society. It has shown the best and worst, both of us as people and of the programs and protections that Canadians rely on for their economic, social and physical well-being.
I want to talk about the gaps that have been exposed, and why we need Bill C-3. For workers, the pandemic laid bare how little employment protection they’ve had for sickness, not only for themselves but also for their employers in the health care system, as workers are forced to decide between their financial well-being and their physical well-being.
To put this in context, try to understand a person who works in a federal jurisdiction for minimum wage having to take time off to deal with their sickness and losing a day’s pay, or two days’ pay or three days’ pay, simply because their employer does not provide paid sick leave. For that worker, the challenge will be to see if they can make rent, if they can buy groceries and if they can take care of their family.
Honourable senators, we all know this is unacceptable in our country. Bill C-3 is an attempt to remedy that. I know we have much work to do at the provincial and territorial levels, but fundamentally this goes to the heart of the concern for people who have risen to the occasion when this pandemic hit our country. They did not run and hide. They went to work to ensure the services that we want were provided despite the fact they knew they could get sick, despite the fact they knew they could lose time from work and not get paid, and yet they performed their service. This bill has risen to the occasion to address their concern.
Equally and symbolically, by the federal government tabling this legislation, it also sends a signal to our provincial and territorial governments that we must do better to protect workers in this country. I hope you will guide us as we move forward.
Our federation is unique. Many different jurisdictions are responsible for the Labour Code, and we must respect that, but equally, the federal government can provide leadership, and I believe Bill C-3 does exactly that.
Currently the federal jurisdiction provides three days of paid leave that can be used for personal illnesses and injury. Only two provinces have permanent paid sick leave. Prince Edward Island provides for one day of paid sick leave after five years of continuous employment with their employer — one day after five years of service. Quebec provides for two days of paid leave after a year — two days. Most recently, British Columbia, as of January 1, 2021, provides employees with five days of paid sick leave. As you can see with these statistics, we have a long way to go in this country and this is just part of that journey.
In 2019, Canadian workers took an average of 8.5 days of leave for illness and disability. Clearly, the existing leave entitlement in the Canada Labour Code is not enough as currently designed.
The broader issue in regard to the passage of Bill C-3 will set a process so our federal government will have to engage with the provinces and territories on how we can do better, and I think that is the rightful place for a federal government to be — to show leadership but at the same time to work with the provinces and territories to ensure we can do better.
Honourable senators, you know and I know we’re not yet out of this pandemic. We may have much distance yet to travel. As we are about to adjourn, a new virus is upon us. We don’t know what the consequences to the economy and working people will be, but we know one thing: The efforts in this bill will certainly give workers more certainty; should they get sick or have to take time off in the federal jurisdiction, they will benefit from this legislation. They are looking forward to the passage of this bill.
It’s always been a challenge for working people, of course, to advance their interests and their collective interests. I don’t need to tell you about the millions of workers in this country who are working in precarious conditions every single day. They don’t complain about it. They’re hoping that their elected representatives and their representatives in the Senate would do better to understand their challenges and the difficulties they face. I think this bill goes to the heart of that.
I want to thank honourable senators for their efforts in improving the bill. There has been a lot of collaboration in this chamber to say, as we look at the bill as it was tabled, we could do better. Those efforts were recognized in the other place. There have been some changes and improvements to the bill. I want to thank colleagues who have collaborated, who have provided guidance, assistance and leadership, and who have helped me, of course, with the work I was doing. Once again, it shows that the Senate is playing an important role in improving government legislation, which is part of our responsibility in this chamber.
The bill will provide federal jurisdiction workers something that no other workers in this country currently have, which is 10 paid sick days. You see many of these workers in your journeys in life. When you go through an airport, whether it’s today or tomorrow or over the holidays, take the time to recognize that many of the workers in the airport work for minimum wage and don’t have paid sick leave. This legislation will touch their lives.
Think of all the trucks and highways and roads you see constantly that are in the federal jurisdiction and bring goods and services to us during this important, difficult time. Many of those truck drivers work long hours, yet they don’t have the protection of paid sick days. This legislation will change that reality.
More importantly, it would also send a message to the workers in this country, who have sacrificed so much in this very difficult moment of the pandemic, that we have their backs.
Paid sick leave will support employees experiencing temporary illness in three ways. It will protect their income so they don’t have to worry whether or not they meet their grocery bill or rent bill at the end of the month. It will protect their jobs by preserving their relationships with their employers while on sick leave. Third, it will protect their health by allowing them to recover more quickly at home, rather than continuing to go to work while sick. It also promotes a healthier workplace by encouraging sick workers not to go to work, reducing the risk of spread of communicable disease.
Regarding earning paid sick leave, employees will earn one day of medical leave with pay after 30 days of continuous employment with the same employer to a maximum of 10 days in a year. Accumulating sick leave will begin on the first day of employment. After the first 30 days, the employee will receive access to three paid sick days to better protect employees at the beginning of their employment. Unused sick days in every calendar year will be carried forward and then deducted from the 10 days’ entitlement the following year. For example, an employee who has six paid sick leave days will be able to earn a maximum of four days in the next calendar year. The government has amended the bill to provide three days after the first 30 days concerning the views, of course, of the opposition in the other house and many of those who have testified to the Senate Social Affairs Committee and senators who have been arguing that we should do better in regard to this section of the bill.
The goal is expanding paid sick leave across the provinces and territories. The change to the Canada Labour Code will send a powerful signal to workers across this country that we need to build a stronger safety net for them, and hopefully, of course, our provincial counterparts across this country will sit down with the federal government and figure out how to do better. Although this only applies to approximately 1 million workers in the federal jurisdiction, the government has committed to take a leadership role in working with the provinces and territories to make sick leave a reality for all workers across this country.
Bill C-3 also deals with the issues of health care workers’ protection. Health care workers have long faced difficult working conditions, including violence and threats of violence in the workplace. This situation is exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government of Canada has taken action, introducing amendments to the Criminal Code to enhance the existing protection for health workers and ensuring that everyone can access health care services safely across this great country of ours. These amendments will create a specific intimidation offence and a specific obstructing access offence to protect health care workers and persons seeking health care in this country.
For many health care workers, this amendment to the Criminal Code responds to a long-standing concern about their ability to work in an environment free from violence and threats. Preliminary results emerging from the 2021 National Physician Health Survey provided to me by the Canadian Medical Association suggested over 75% of physicians have experienced intimidation, bullying and harassment in the workplace, and the issue is even more pronounced for women — 80%. More than 33% of those reporting experienced it at least a few times a month.
Honourable senators, we are fortunate to work in this environment. We don’t have to face harassment and violence to come to work. We don’t have to perform our services with a threat over our head. We don’t go to our jobs, day in and day out, knowing full well that we will experience the same harassment we experienced the day before, because this chamber has recognized that it’s unacceptable. Why is it that health care workers in this country can’t have the same benefit we enjoy every single day while doing our jobs? I think this legislation gets to the heart of the issue and sends a clear message.
In 2019, a report conducted by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health entitled Violence Facing Health Care Workers in Canada documented that health care workers have rates of workplace violence four times higher than any other professional, despite most of this violence being unreported. Most Canadians would not know the statistics, because when we show up at the hospital we get the care we require. Those people don’t run away from their responsibilities, despite the adversarial conditions they work in. They remain there to perform their services and to ensure Canadians can access the health care they need in this country. They do it because they recognize that they can make a difference in the lives of those who come to receive the services they deserve.
Everyone deserves to be safe when working and providing medical care. It goes without saying. Health care workers and those who assist them must be able to perform their duties without harm or intimidation, and Canadians seeking health care or visiting a sick family member must be able to access the service safely.
The Government of Canada is sending a strong signal that intimidating health care workers and those seeking access to health care services is not acceptable, nor is the obstruction of access to health care facilities. The amendment will create a new sentencing provision in the Criminal Code that will require courts to consider more serious penalties for offenders who target health care workers engaging in their duties, or who impede others in obtaining health care services. An individual who tries to make health care workers or a person trying to access health care fearful — or to stop them from providing or accessing health care — could be charged with a new intimidation offence and be subject to a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years when prosecuted by indictment.
This does not make protesting outside of a hospital where employees are on strike at health care facilities illegal. The federal government is committed to upholding and defending the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. These changes to the law will respect workers’ freedom to take labour action and organize, as well as Canadians’ freedom to voice their concern and protest in a safe and peaceful manner. This is fundamental to our constitution, and all of us would agree that this cannot be trampled upon. This is fundamental to what this country is about. Honourable senators, I know this legislation may not meet the expectations of all in this chamber, but I can tell you that it goes a long way.
There was one amendment that made it into the legislation in the other place. Honourable senators, the loss of a family member is one of great grief and sorrow. The loss of a child is devastating. Sometimes it has profound consequences on the mental well-being and has a dire effect on one’s work. Based on a report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, in 2016 there were 2,720 deaths of children under the age of 18, and 3,063 stillbirths. There is an amendment in Bill C-3 to provide eight weeks of leave for parents who are confronted with this unspeakable tragedy. This is a compassionate amendment that will support parents when they need it the most. None of us will disagree that this is the right thing to do.
In conclusion, this legislation is about building a better Canada from the lessons we have learned during the pandemic. I know there is more to do, but more importantly, colleagues, what Bill C-3 outlines in these two sections will move this country in a significant way. There are far too many people who work in precarious conditions in this country. They need to know that we are listening to them and that we are hearing their voices for change so they can work in better conditions. It is critical for us to understand how profound this legislation is to working people. I had the privilege of representing over 3 million of them for 22 years. I never thought I would be in this chamber to continue in this effort with fellow colleagues.
Bill C-3 will provide statutory protections for nearly 1 million workers to have paid sick days — the first of any jurisdiction in this country. It gets us to the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development, or OECD, standard around the world. It’s unfortunate that it took a pandemic to get our attention, but, as they say, it is never too late. It will also protect the physical and mental health of health care workers who are working hard to save the lives of Canadians stricken by COVID, as well as those administering the vaccines that protect millions of Canadians from contracting the disease.
I want to recognize, of course, my Senate colleagues and the witnesses who have come to testify before the Senate committee to make the arguments they did about why we should pass this bill. The Canadian Medical Association can’t thank us enough for passing this legislation. The Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, the leading health care union in this country, pleaded with me to get this done. They have had members die during this pandemic while providing health care services because they didn’t have access to PPE and didn’t have sick leave. When the pandemic hit, they couldn’t stay home to do their jobs. They had to show up.
CUPE represents health care workers in many parts of this country as well as custodial workers who are faced with violence, and yet they go to work every single day to meet their responsibilities. Unifor health care workers, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, the National Union of Public and General Employees, or NUPGE, and the Canadian Labour Congress, all of these organizations have urged us to pass this legislation because it will send a clear message to these workers, who again will have to don their helmets and protective suits to ensure that, as this new variant has hit our country’s shores, they will be there to do what is necessary, as they have done before.
I want to thank you, honourable senators, for listening to my remarks. More importantly, thank you for your service and friendship.
Thank you, Senator Yussuff, for a very inspiring speech.
I was looking at the pre-study that was done by our Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. There was a concern raised with respect to a lack of clarity around what’s known as the “stacking” of rights. Essentially, through your good work and that of the union movement, as well as the good employee relations of many, many organizations within the federal regulation — I’m thinking of banks and other large institutions that come under federal oversight — sick leave benefits exist within much of the federally regulated workforce.
The question that was asked, and the lack of clarity that was pointed out by the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, was whether or not this legislation was intended to be on top of existing benefits that employees have or whether this is a minimum that all employees should have. Can you provide clarity on that? There was a recommendation that some clarity be put into the bill, but I don’t think it made it into the bill. Could you comment? Maybe it did and I missed it. We’re moving quickly here. Could you comment on this, please, and give us some clarity?
You are right, this issue was raised with the witnesses who came before the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology; both by my former colleagues and friends that I was working with at Federally Regulated Employers — Transportation and Communications and other witnesses.
I think the minister did circulate a letter saying they are going to have to address this in the regulations. More importantly, the 10 days is for workers working in the federal jurisdiction, and I think it is important that the government clarify this in the regulation. I think it’s contained in this letter.
Thank you, Senator Yussuff, for your presentation. It was very informative.
Naturally, I am in favour of this bill. It is about having decent work, minimum standards and public health, at a time when people who are not protected find it difficult to stay home when they have a communicable disease, since they are not always aware they do. I believe that this is a very important aspect of this bill.
My question revolves around the ability or the willingness of businesses in this matter.
I know that this bill covers federally regulated businesses. These are generally larger firms that already offer benefits. From what I know about this, the Canada Labour Code has often been amended as a result of negotiations between the big unions and businesses.
Does this bill have a meaningful and significant impact, or were the large firms already offering these minimum benefits?
Also, do you still want the Canada Labour Code to be amended in future, as part of negotiations between major associations or the union movement and businesses?
As you know, a number of workers and employers already, of course, provide for paid sick leave through their negotiated process or outside of that. The reality is there are far too many workers for whom it’s not covered because they didn’t have success at the bargaining table to achieve the 10 days of paid sick leave.
I think these amendments are going to improve the opportunity for those who do not have it, but at the same time, for those who exceed the code, I think it shows that efforts by their employers and their unions is something that we can learn from. More importantly, I think within the provincial jurisdiction, where 90% of workers reside in this country, we have a long way to go. Based on the statistics I provided this morning — whether in Prince Edward Island or in Quebec or more recently in British Columbia — we know there are tremendous gaps. In Ontario, there are just emergency measures that provide for sick days. There are no permanent amendments in the code in Ontario. I think that will be the discussion we need to have.
I’m hoping that as a result of the passage of this bill there will be far more engagement across this country to recognize that all Canadians, regardless of the jurisdiction they work in, should have paid sick days as a fundamental right of going to work. We know what this pandemic has revealed. If you have any symptom of the virus and you go to work because you have to, and you can’t take the time off, you are going to affect others. It’s going to have a profound effect on the workplace and it could have a profound effect on the colleagues you work with.
Given our efforts to try and prevent Canadians from getting sick — through vaccinations, through wearing masks and washing hands — we need to recognize that paid sick days give workers the comfort to ensure they can take time off when they need it. Equally, I think we need to recognize both employers and unions need to work harder to ensure all workers in this country have paid sick leave as a fundamental right of going to work every single day. It is something that is the norm in a lot of European jurisdictions. In Canada, we have a long way to go to achieve those same objectives.
Like most Canadians, I was horrified by the sight of angry mobs of people intimidating hospital workers and patients outside of hospitals, screaming abuse at parents and children outside of vaccination clinics, but I also worry about unintended consequences. When I look at this bill, I am concerned about the prospect of a provincial government misusing this bill against strikers, especially health care workers, outside of a hospital during a strike where emotions are running high.
With your background in the labour movement, what assurances can you offer me and Canadians that there are going to be sufficient safeguards that this legislation is not misused to affect the right to strike and the right of strikers to protest outside of health facilities?
Thank you for very kindly, senator, for your question.
As you know, when the Minister of Justice did come to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, this question was asked of him on the record. He stated very clearly that this is not the objective of the legislation and those fundamental rights are protected.
As a former leader of the Canadian Labour Congress and having spent a lot of time on picket lines and protests, I understand fundamentally what those rights are all about. I think there are safeguards, but of course we still have an independent judiciary in this country. Should any provincial jurisdiction overstep the limitations that are in this legislation, we have a course of action to restore those imbalances should they happen. But I am very conscious of this fact. That is why I asked the minister the question when he came before the Legal Committee.
As many have mentioned, Bill C-3 is welcome and it is also long overdue. The issues that this bill is seeking to alleviate — the expansion of paid sick leave and sadly needed protections for health care workers to counter violence, harassment and aggression — were identified at the very outset of this pandemic almost two years ago. The government has been pressed continuously to bring the legislation forward. It’s here now and it’s important that we process this as quickly as we can.
However, Senator Yussuff, as you have stated, this legislation covers only those workers under federal jurisdiction, which amounts to less than 10% of the Canadian workforce. My question is geared to the implementation of the standards and the protections in this bill.
We have optimism about this legislation, but the danger we have all seen many times before is that hope and optimism do not always translate into legislation and implementation of a new law.
Given your long professional experience with Canadian unions and the worker environment, do you have specific suggestions or strategies that you are promoting or will promote in order to ensure that federal and provincial negotiation occurs, and there is a much wider implementation process of the protections of this law?
Once this bill is passed, there is no question that the reality that we are now faced with is how we will engage at the provincial and territorial level to broaden the scope of workers’ protections in those jurisdictions.
As you know, this federation of ours has always been a bit of a challenge. It has its optimistic moments when things happen and there are times when we struggle.
A long time ago, not so long ago, we started some work to bring forward protection for domestic violence. When we started the effort, not a single province, including the federal government, had protection for workers suffering from domestic violence. In a very short period of time, in less than seven years, every single jurisdiction in this country now has legislation that protects workers from domestic violence. It allows them to take paid time off to achieve that.
I know some provinces might resist bringing in paid sick days for workers in various jurisdictions, but I am convinced that the labour movement will see this as an opportunity to push even harder. Other activists and groups will join them in that effort, of course, to try to get our province — I am hoping equally, as the Minister of Labour has indicated in his letter, he will convene his provincial counterpart very shortly to have a very fundamental discussion on how they can work together to achieve this objective.
Our federal government certainly has provided many supports to the provinces to help them achieve some equality in regard to how we have dealt with this pandemic. I’m hoping similarly the federal government provides some leadership with the provinces to ensure they can bring in sick leave to complement what we are doing here in the federal jurisdiction.
Thank you very much for taking on the sponsorship of this bill. This is a very important bill, requiring 10 paid sick leave days for federally regulated workers. It’s especially important now with the new COVID variant that we have been confronted with. It is very important that the federal government has taken a leadership role in this area.
As a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, a number of issues were raised which you referred to in your speech. One of them is an issue that I have just a little bit of confusion on, and that is the coming into force of this law. It was raised at our committee. I’m left with a little bit of confusion about it. At one point there was a suggestion that, in fact, it wouldn’t come into force until negotiations were done, and this didn’t seem to be quite right. I don’t know if there is any truth to this.
Obviously, negotiations with the provinces are going to be difficult, because I can name at least one province, the one where I live, where I think there will be a lot of kicking and screaming before they move in the same direction as the federal government.
My question is: Can you provide some clarity to the issue of the coming into force of the bill and of the law, this being especially important now in terms of paid sick leave given the new COVID situation that we are in?
In regard to the implementation of this bill, the federal government does not require provincial consent, of course, to implement the law.
There is a need to bring some regulatory regime that will complement the implementation of the law, and there is a process for doing so. In doing that, regulations have to be gazetted. The government can pass an order-in-council to move that process along much quicker than the traditional way, which will take about 90 days.
There has been discussion with a recognition that the federal government will need to consult with employers, unions and others with regard to the implementation. I believe that can be done in a very short time. This legislation can be enforced and be taken advantage of by workers in the federal jurisdiction certainly within the next 60 days, as we will be in this position. It is my hope that the minister and his staff will work diligently during the holidays to try to accomplish that. There is a mechanism. I know from my past that there are ways for the government to do so, if they desire.
With regard to the negotiation with the province, you are right to acknowledge this reality; I don’t think the province will simply come to the table and say, “Thank you very much, we’ll do what you ask us to do.” It has never worked that way. I don’t think it will work that day on this bill.
I think there is a lot of goodwill to recognize that workers at the provincial jurisdiction equally, as they have been in the federal jurisdiction, are the ones who have kept this economy going. Those workers deserve the recognition that, when they get sick, they should not have to lose pay to go to work. It is a way to fight the pandemic. It is a way to win this fight against the pandemic. It is also a way to send a message to those workers that what they are doing to keep this country going matters, and we are going to have their backs.
I hope that our provincial leaders will listen to the advice of the federal government, and take some leadership from them as to how they can work together to achieve the greater good of Canadians right across this country.
Honourable senators, I want to thank Senator Yussuff for his tremendous work on this bill.
Yesterday, our group came under some significant pressure not to refuse leave, such that we would have allowed the bill to be passed last night. I won’t say there was intimidation, but there was pressure, and a lot of it. In fact, when we refused leave that was requested by Senator Gold, I heard a senator shout, “Shame.”
I would like to, for the sake of some of the new senators, and also to remind those of us who have been here longer, what should be happening now at second reading of this bill.
We should have a speech from the government sponsor; we have had that. We should have a speech from the critic; we don’t have that. We should have speeches from others, and we are, in fact, having that. We should, as senators, be sitting and listening and thinking about the intention of this bill, and considering whether or not it is worthy for further consideration. That’s what a second reading vote, which we will shortly have, is about. It is a vote to ratify if the bill is worthy of further consideration. Typically, then, once we have that vote, and if it passes, we would refer it to committee for study.
In this case, we had a pre-study done by the committee. But even in matters of pre-study, we would refer it back to the committee for clause-by-clause consideration. They would also examine the bill in its final form and see if there had been changes from the pre-study, and see if their concerns that had been outlined and enumerated in pre-study — which is one of the reasons why, sometimes, pre-study gets done — were dealt with by the government and amendments put forward in the House of Commons.
In this particular case, there were changes made. There were concerns raised by the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs that were largely ignored. There is a whole new section in the bill dealing with bereavement leave. In Senator Yussuff’s speech, I noticed that it was the last thing he talked about because it was a last-minute addition that was done in the House of Commons for wonderfully good reasons. Nonetheless, the details of this amendment and this whole new section were hot off the press last night.
I would expect that normally the committee that completed the pre-study would have some work that they would do in order to bring us clause-by-clause consideration, potential amendments and a final report before third reading. That’s how it should work. If that worked, then at that point we would have a bill with potentially some Senate amendments, or at least we would have a report that said all our concerns were dealt with, or not; this is still a concern, and this is still a concern. We could then say that the important quality control component of what we do was finished. That part of our sober second thought was done, and we could now move on to a fully informed debate in third reading of the merits of the bill as it was before us. None of this will happen. Why?
We have heard in some quarters that the bill is so urgent that we just simply can’t wait. Senator McPhedran raised the fact that a number of these issues have been around since before COVID, and they were certainly highlighted during COVID, but we are two years into it. I think it is debatable, at least, just how urgent this bill is and that it get passed with us waving it through.
We also heard, even though there were last-minute amendments and a lot of drama in the House of Commons, that we can’t put through any amendments to improve the bill in any way because the House of Commons has gone home, so there is no point in putting amendments forward. That speaks volumes about a number of things that I won’t even bother to get into right now.
The final one that always signals that there are problems with the bill is the famous letter from the minister that things will get fixed, and I see that features with this bill as well.
So colleagues, in a few minutes we will be asked to forgo our rights and obligations instead of doing our full and complete job on a bill with, to say the least, a very unusual legislative journey through the House of Commons.
It’s a bill that brings significant permanent changes to the Criminal Code and employment law in Canada and is arguably not an emergency bill to address COVID-19. There are a lot of flashing red lights for sober second thought on the bill, notwithstanding the important and positive impact the bill intends to have on Canadian workers.
I submit to you that this is a shame. It’s a shame that we will not be able to do our full and complete duty with proper time and all the levers we have to improve the bill.
In June, when we ended the last session, I think we all felt a great sense of pride that we had done our work, had done it well and were looking forward to better days ahead. I don’t feel that way today. I think there is some reflection and potentially some action in the future that we need to take in order that we at all times are able to do the job that the Constitution and Canadians expect from us. Thank you.
Thank you, Senator Tannas. I want to say up front that I wish to associate myself with everything you said. I agree with you completely. I would like to say every single senator probably agrees with you, though I don’t know that to be the case, but I would say with certainty the majority would agree with you. Others have spoken to this in other bills and other situations at other times, and it continues.
There is a time for the Senate to engage on this, and I think now it is the time as we look to enter a new sitting in the new year. I would like to ask you if you would be willing to work with other senators, representative of each of the groups, to develop a proposal or a plan for engaging this Senate in a principle statement about what we expect in our relationship with the House of Commons in exchange of information, and to engage in developing a strategy for talking to the federal government; moving, passing a motion; essentially how we move the ball from A to B to get to a place where we are able to do the valuable work. Because one of the things you didn’t say, but I know that you believe, is that unless we are able to do that, Canadians aren’t well served. There isn’t value for the money they are paying for the operation of the Senate, and bills with mistakes, missed opportunities and a profound impact — good and bad — on Canadians will go through this place without the attentive review they need. Thank you for the opportunity to enlist your leadership on this issue.
Thank you. I agree. It’s time. We need to commit to ourselves, and maybe that’s the Christmas feeling we get out of this — that we commit to ourselves that when we do not have our backs to the wall, we will soberly and carefully come up with a proposal for that kind of statement and that kind of interaction with the House of Commons, such that we really do break this incredible cycle we’re in; being forced to surrender our job for time.
Hon. Leo Housakos (Acting Leader of the Opposition)
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Senator Tannas, I understand your perspective, and you have heard me many times echo that perspective in this chamber.
Wouldn’t you think in this particular instance, given that this bill has gone through the House of Commons with unanimous support from all parties on that side, that we have an obligation as an upper chamber to respect the democratic will of the democratic house?
Second, there are a number of amendments so far in this Forty-fourth Parliament — the example you bring up — but there were many more amendments and proposals of amendments by the Senate Chamber in the Forty-third Parliament that have been ignored. Would you agree that if we had more distinguished colleagues from this chamber in the governing national caucus on the other side on a weekly basis — I know our colleagues laugh, but I come from an era in which we had some influence on building legislation at the national caucus — would you agree with that statement?
I would agree. In fact, in your speech last night you raised your discomfort with this method of dealing with legislation. I agree with that.
On the question of unanimity in the House of Commons and how that ought to be a signal for us to waive our rights and obligations, I could argue the opposite. We are here to divorce ourselves from politics, and believe me, we would have to be the most naive creatures on the planet to think what happened with this bill didn’t involve a whole bunch of politics last night. It should be one of the first things we look at when there’s something unanimous coming from the House.
We had another example of it. It was maybe a result on Bill C-4; a result that we were all hoping for, that we would pass that bill. But the fact it came unanimously should be a cause for pause for us, not the green light to wave the thing through without our having done our jobs.
Senator Tannas, I appreciated how you raised some of the different parts of normal debate which have not been happening on some of these measures. I would put to you another one that I have been noticing frequently. The government leader in the Senate generally has not been giving speeches on these major government bills to allow senators the substantial opportunity we have to be able to ask the government leader questions, to hear, first, a lengthy perspective from the government’s point of view as to why the bill is important and then to give senators the opportunity for a much lengthier and more detailed period of time from someone who is in the Privy Council to answer questions. Would you agree that is also an important component, which, for too many government bills, has not been happening?
I sure don’t want to make my friend and colleague Senator Gold uncomfortable, but you are right, Senator Batters. Senator George Baker, whose memory lives on in the chamber here — if we know him well enough, he is probably home in Newfoundland watching right now — used to talk about how the courts followed and based judgments on transcripts from the Senate.
One of the most important things that we have as an officer of the government is that we can ask a question of — and in fact we did it on Bill C-15 last spring where Senator Gold made declarations that could ultimately be important in court in the future.
So if for no other reason than that, I would say it doesn’t have to be an epic speech, but to get up, say some words and allow questions like that to be put on the record is something I would hope maybe Senator Gold might think about in the future.
My question has two parts. Here is the first. I agree with everything you said except for the last sentence. You said in your first sentence that your group came under some significant pressure yesterday, and you even talked about intimidation. Those were your words. You said you did not agree with that and that you even heard the word “shame.” I also heard that word and I think that it is unparliamentary and unacceptable.
My question for you is this: How should we interpret the last sentence of your speech today? You said that this bill brings significant changes to the Labour Code and the Criminal Code, but you ended by saying, “this is a shame.” How should we interpret that, when you just complained about the use of that word at the beginning of your speech?
I completely agree with you, but aren’t you yourself applying pressure and intimidation by using those terms?
Here’s the second part of my question. You talked about how the usual procedure wasn’t followed. I agree. In the context of our work, shouldn’t we mention the fact that we are agreeing to limit committee work because our representatives, be they facilitators or leaders, agreed on a course of action that the government is forcing us to adopt or at least trying to force us to adopt? Shouldn’t that aspect be part of the work that you said was a good idea?
Thank you, Senator Dupuis, and you’re absolutely right. I would not want to be quoted that this bill is a shame. It is not. It is very worthy and will provide further quality to the experience of employees under federal jurisdiction. I think it will provide important leadership for other provinces to follow. What I meant is it’s an important bill, and it is a shame that it doesn’t get the value from us that it deserves and — I would say, arguably, given the rather chaotic end to the bill in the House of Commons — that it quite rightly may need. So on that, I thank you for the opportunity to clarify.
With respect to your second question on the procedure, we actually just a few days ago reintroduced something that goes toward laying down a procedure to fast track that would require transparency and require someone to stand up in a debate and say, “This is why this should be fast-tracked,” and explain to us and to Canadians why the normal processes that were thoughtfully put in place over the last 152 years need to be cut away so that we can quickly get something done. At least we would have that discussion in the open rather than at a leaders’ meeting or with arm-twisting in the chamber to do something.
So you’re quite right. That needs to be part of the reflection that we take, and we should take it again before our backs are to the wall and we are in this exact same situation again.
Thank you, Senator Tannas, for your comments. The preliminary part of my question is my usual rant at this time of the year in parliamentary life. You will hear it in December, and you’ll hear a similar rant in June: When are we going to get our act together and defeat or not debate a bill that they desperately want across the street in the House of Commons?
It’s not good to have the power to do it if you never use the power to do it. Yes, this is not the legislation to do it on because this is an important piece of legislation for Canadian workers. But, time after time, they say, “Oh, the House of Commons is leaving today. By the way, here are two bills that we must have before you can go home.” Well, guess what? We are the masters of our own fate. We can table the bill, ignore the bill, not do anything with the bill or we could defeat the bill. But, sooner or later, this chamber needs to stand up and say, “No, I’m sorry. This is June 28. We’re going home. We’ll see you in September,” and let them deal with the problem that they have created. It’s not a problem that is created by senators.
Senator Tannas — I have to get a question in here so I haven’t broken any of the rules — would you agree that we, collectively as 105 senators, need to find that moment and that piece of legislation that we will either leave on the Order Paper or defeat just to get the government’s attention — and not just the government’s attention, but the attention of all members of the House of Commons — so that we should treat each other with respect because this is not respect.
I think the whole thing that we need to do is try and escape — this feels very much like the days when you and I and others were part of caucuses, we accepted the whip and we didn’t ask a lot of questions. We had a job to do, and that was to push through what our colleagues on the other side needed us to push through. I think it’s an evolution that we need to go through and we need to do it purposefully.
With respect to defeating something, I hear you. Something that could be just as effective is to amend a bill after they’ve gone home, do our work, send the amendments to an empty house and then see how important it really is. That is the other thing that we may want to do is just simply restate that it doesn’t matter whether the House of Commons goes home or doesn’t go home; if we see amendments that are needed, we will do them. That may be an easier, simpler and probably more frequent case that we run into — like this one, potentially — where we could do our job without blowing up the world.
Thank you for those very important comments, senator. You raised a fundamental question about the role of the Senate.
I would like to hear your thoughts on two subjects.
First of all, isn’t there a distinction to be made between carefully reviewing legislation, even legislation unanimously passed by the House of Commons, and respecting the House of Commons when it responds to our proposed amendments? Should the fact that a bill passed unanimously be a determining factor at the outset, when we are considering it? I’m not sure. When the other place sends back its responses to our proposals, showing deference to the elected chamber is important.
My second point is this: Shouldn’t we direct our comments not only to the government, but also sometimes to the opposition in the Senate who, in the case of the conversion therapy bill, for example, ensured that the bill passed without this chamber having a real debate at second or third reading, or even a pre‑study of the bill?
That bill was passed in just one afternoon, without any real debate or analysis. We failed to fulfill our constitutional duty, but I don’t think we could blame the government that time.
I agree. I think it is incumbent upon all of us, on all sides of the chamber, to have on our Senate hat of sober second thought when we are confronted with these kinds of situations. That could easily, as it did, come in a motion from the Leader of the Opposition.
You’re right; we missed an opportunity. It’s not the fault of the Leader of the Opposition. He put forward the motion for good reasons and because he thought it was the right thing to do. It was our job — mine, other leaders and, indeed, every senator’s — to have jumped up and asked for further clarification or whatever needed to be done. We did not do that, and so we passed a bill that perhaps we should have spent more time on, or maybe not. Your point is well taken, Senator Dalphond. Thank you.
I agree with much of what you’re saying. Your comments are very wise. They also give us an opening to question our processes and talk about the modernization of the Senate.
I have a question about your comments on the need for speeches to be given by the Government Representative in the Senate. Don’t you think it’s time we asked the minister responsible for a bill to come and present it to us in the Senate? We could set aside time for that presentation, which would be open and different from a Committee of the Whole. The senator presenting the bill would come answer our questions before we study it, perhaps at second reading. The fact that there are sponsors for bills in the Senate doesn’t mean there couldn’t be a spokesperson. What’s more, the minister responsible could appear before us to present his or her bill so that we could ask him or her questions. We can debate whether this exercise should be done at second reading or third reading, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.
I’m not sure, but I think it’s a question we could consider. It is important, and we did send a message some time ago — on Senator Plett’s initiative, as Leader of the Opposition — that “no minister, no bill,” was the saying. We wanted the minister to appear at committee; the committee we delegate to do some of the heavy lifting research that needs to be done on a bill.
Senator Plett and the opposition said the minister needs to appear at committee. If he doesn’t, the bill doesn’t come back to the chamber. I think that laid down a nice precedent for ministers to attend committee.
We should consider whether ministers should attend committee or whether we should simply rely on Senator Gold — or future government leaders in the Senate, in their capacity as officers of the government — to provide whatever necessary assurances or statements of clarity that we need. However, I couldn’t say definitively right now whether that is something we should do.
Thank you, senator. I agree with most of what you have said. Even though I will likely vote for the bill today and I don’t believe this is the moment for brinkmanship of any kind, I think this is an appropriate time to have this discussion. No doubt — as Senator Mercer pointed out — we will see the same situation again and we will beat ourselves on the chest and say, “Here we go again.”
We have a systemic problem and the Senate needs a systemic fix to this problem. During the six years I have been in the Senate, we have discussed all kinds of problems and solutions, we tabled the Senate Modernization report, and yet we’ve made no progress.
Senator Tannas, as a result of your intervention, when we return, can we expect to see a motion from you or others — but since you’ve raised this question, a motion from you — on dealing with the systems problem, possibly in the way Senator Lankin has identified? We absolutely need a solution so that we do not again find ourselves in the situation where we are hurried, rushed and not able to do the work we are supposed to do, even though we are the unelected people. I will put that as a proviso.
First, let me say that I will take on that responsibility, and I thank you for your comments. Over the break, I will try to assemble something of a consultative process amongst those who are interested, which could result in a motion that I can put forward on behalf of whatever group that is.
I also want to thank everyone for participating in this discussion. It is painfully obvious to me that I’m sitting in the comfort of my home right now, having left Ottawa yesterday morning, while a number of senators and all the staff are working an extra day so that we can have this conversation. It requires us to do the necessary work, given what we have done at CSG to bring this to light. Thank you to all. I appreciate all the comments.
I want to start by thanking my honourable colleague Senator Yussuff for his eloquent speech. It was well put. I am honoured to have been appointed to the Senate and sworn in on the same day as Senator Yussuff.
During my call with the Prime Minister about becoming a senator, he said to me:
You’re not always going to agree with the policies put forward by my government. Your job is to add value to them. At the end of the discussion, you still may not agree with what my government is putting forward, but that’s doing your job. I want you to do your job.
Yesterday evening, in Senator Housakos’s eloquent speech, he said we shouldn’t be a rubber-stamping type of process. I certainly didn’t enter this chamber with the idea that I would be part of a rubber-stamping process. My first three weeks in the Senate has taught me some early lessons that maybe, in fact, we are going down that road. For those who have been here much longer than I, it sounds like this has been a challenge for some time.
I agree with all of the comments made by various senators about ensuring that the reputation of this institution is paramount — not only for ourselves, but for the parliamentary and legislative processes and, above all, for the people of Canada.
Senator Tannas, would you not agree that it’s important that we heed the advice I was given by our Prime Minister and which was repeated by the Honourable Leader of the Opposition here in the Senate?
Thank you, Senator Quinn. I agree. When all is said and done, one of the most important legacies of Prime Minister Trudeau will be the changes he has brought to the Senate — if we choose to seize it, accept what they mean to the Senate, and make the changes we need to make in order to do what we’re doing in the chamber, but also in our interaction with the House of Commons. I look forward to proceeding with that work with all senators.
Senator Tannas, with the emergence of the Omicron variant and the rise in cases of COVID-19, would you be in favour of allowing workers to have immediate access to measures that would let them stay home if they fall ill or have even mild symptoms, instead of going to work and infecting others at their workplace because they’re afraid of missing out on income? Would you agree to implement this measure to reassure them that they’re not required to go to work out of fear of not being paid? In my opinion, that is why it is urgent that we pass this bill.
I understand everything you said, and I agree that this business of forcing us to pass bills quickly on the eve of the holiday break is definitely getting to be a habit. I understand all that, and you’re right, but I would like to know what you think about the situation we’re facing today.
I’m not sure that it will immediately come into force, even if we pass it today. There are regulations that need to be done to clarify things.
We are two years into this, and there have been other responses and measures put in place to afford people the ability to take time off when they have COVID and not suffer financial ruin as a result. This isn’t news; we’re not just realizing now that folks are in a situation. Further, I think any employer that is still in business has a strategy to deal with this, which is there in the short term.
That said, this bill and our current situation with COVID highlight the need for these benefits, as Senator Yussuff so eloquently spoke to. The sooner the better, obviously, but it isn’t going to be tomorrow, that’s for sure. Thank you.