Substantive Equality of Canada’s Official Languages Bill
Bill to Amend--Official Languages Committee Authorized to Study Subject Matter
May 31, 2022
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Motion No. 41. As you know, this motion is very similar to Motion No. 42, which we will also be debating later this day.
I oppose both of these motions for the same reasons and will thus make most of my remarks on the motion before us now, although my arguments apply equally to both motions.
The motion before us now is asking:
That, in accordance with rule 10-11(1), the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages be authorized to examine the subject matter of Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act, to enact the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act and to make related amendments to other Acts, introduced in the House of Commons on March 1, 2022, in advance of the said bill coming before the Senate; and
That, for the purposes of this study, the committee be authorized to meet even though the Senate may then be sitting or adjourned, with the application of rules 12-18(1) and 12-18(2) being suspended in relation thereto.
Colleagues, pre-studies are a legitimate tool for the Senate to use at its discretion. They have been used many times in the past and will, undoubtedly, be used again. However, when considering whether to authorize a pre-study, it is imperative that the Senate consider if the request qualifies as a legitimate use of pre-studies.
The Senate rules do not give any criteria regarding whether or when pre-studies should be used. Rule 10-11(1) simply says:
The subject matter of a bill originating in the House of Commons may be referred to a standing committee for study at any time before the bill is received in the Senate.
This means, colleagues, that in order to determine the criteria of what constitutes the legitimate use of a pre-study, we need to take a look at the historical practice of the Senate, and then we must consider the purpose of the requests before us in that context.
Over the last 150 years, 193 pre-studies have been approved by this chamber. That is fewer than four bills per year. Of those, 103 were bills that went to the National Finance Committee or the Banking Committee, and the majority were bills amending the Income Tax Act, the Bank Act and the Combines Investigation Act.
In other words, they addressed matters typically dealing with budget bills or the implementation of other policy measures with broad support. The issue to be considered in committee pre‑studies was rarely whether the policy should be implemented, but rather how.
These were pre-studies initiated for procedural or policy purposes. This is a legitimate use of pre-studies in the Senate.
Pre-studies that are authorized for procedural purposes fall roughly into three categories. One, they can be implemented for the purpose of soliciting amendments prior to passage in the House of Commons. This is done in order to prevent having a Ping-Pong match between the two houses where the legislation goes back and forth with amendments.
To prevent this, the government will ask the Senate to consider a bill ahead of time so that any proposed amendments can be incorporated into the bill on the House of Commons side. The last time a pre-study was used this way was for Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and others, in 2014. On March 24, 2015, Senator Grant Mitchell told this chamber that in his view this was an excellent reason for a pre-study. I will quote Senator Mitchell. I will not do it in Senator Mitchell’s voice, although I would like to try:
We have had an experience in the not-too-distant past where a Senate pre-study of the Fair Elections Act did result in amendments being accepted by the house, before the bill got out of the house, because they were done in parallel. With that in mind and with the minister establishing an open mind, that’s a very positive argument for a pre-study.
I have not very often agreed with Senator Grant Mitchell, but I do here. This is an example of a legitimate reason for a pre-study. But colleagues, that is not what we have before us today.
The second legitimate reason for the House of Commons to request a pre-study from the Senate is to draw from specific expertise of the Senate. If the government thinks that a bill will receive a better study in the Senate than in the House, and it often does, because it is very technical, and the Senate has subject-matter expertise, then a pre-study makes sense.
We saw this in 2019 with Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages, and Bill C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families. In each case, colleagues, the Senate had expertise which the House leaned on in order to draft better legislation. Our Aboriginal Peoples Committee made numerous amendments, many of which were accepted by the House and incorporated into this legislation.
There have been numerous other times when the government has tapped the expertise of the Senate through an in-depth pre‑study on bills specific to the Bank Act, anti-trust laws and more. There are examples of legitimate uses of pre-studies.
However, in the two cases before us today, there is no indication that this is what the government has in mind. On the contrary, the Senate seems to be viewed as a bit of a nuisance that the government is hoping to get out of the way as quickly as possible.
The third legitimate reason for a pre-study is to expedite the passage of a bill when it reaches the Senate. We have seen this with pre-studies used for budget measures, COVID-related bills and bills that are coming as a result of a decision of the Supreme Court when there is an established deadline.
For example, the Senate conducted a pre-study in 2014 on Bill C-36, an Act to amend the Criminal Code in response to the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Attorney General of Canada v. Bedford and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. The Supreme Court had struck down part of the Criminal Code and gave a deadline to Parliament to redraft the legislation. A pre-study was necessary and legitimate to ensure that we met this deadline.
The same thing happened with Bill C-14, the assisted suicide bill. Parliament had a limited window to respond to the court’s decision, and the Senate took that seriously and undertook a pre‑study.
This happened again on Bill C-7, when the legislation on assisted suicide had to be amended due to another court decision. All of these are excellent examples of the legitimate use of a pre‑study in order to respond to an urgent need to pass legislation. But, once again, that is not the case with either Bill C-11 or Bill C-13.
There is no court-appointed mandate and no impending due date that are pressing us to hurry up. On the contrary, colleagues, these bills both need ample time to be exposed to sunlight. There is no consensus on the issues, and there are many concerns.
Pre-studies undertaken because the government is pre‑emptively seeking amendments, planning to intentionally defer to the expertise of the Senate, or there is a need to expedite the passage of critical time-sensitive legislation are legitimate.
This is what we saw during the years of the Harper government.
Between 2006 and 2013, pre-studies were used for seven budget bills, two bills regarding changes to the Criminal Code and two bills on Employment Insurance.
Between 2013 and 2015, the Second Session of the Forty-first Parliament, pre-studies were used for four budget bills in order to appropriately expedite their implementation, two bills on Indigenous or Northern Affairs because the Senate had expertise on these matters and one bill on the Elections Act because many senators were at that time current or former party officials with lots of expertise on elections.
Furthermore, when it came to the Canada Elections Act, the House of Commons waited for the Senate committee to give their suggested amendments so that they could incorporate them into the legislation.
There was also one pre-study on a bill to amend the Criminal Code that I mentioned earlier, which made changes in response to a Supreme Court decision on prostitution, along with one pre‑study on citizenship and one on national security.
So, in nine years, there were 11 budget bills. Non-budget bills totalled 10, or an average of one per year, which included bills on which the Senate had specific expertise or were urgent.
This is entirely different than what we see the government leader in the Senate proposing today.
While legitimate pre-studies are initiated for procedural or policy reasons, the pre-studies we are being asked to approve today have been initiated entirely for political purposes. Rather than seeking to improve legislation, the government seems to be intent on bypassing sober second thought in order to rush the bills through unnecessarily. This, colleagues, is not the role of this chamber.
But this is not the first time this government has tried to use pre-studies as a means of compensating for their ineptitude.
In 2017, former senator Joseph Day said:
The House of Commons should not take for granted that we will bypass or circumvent our normal and traditional practices in order to compensate its own failings in managing its agenda.
Our recently retired colleague Senator Mercer added:
This pre-study will continue to allow the House of Commons to treat the Senate with little or no respect. This pre-study will continue to allow the House of Commons to be lazy and too lazy to get their work done in a timely fashion. Canadians expect better than that. Voters expect better than that. . . .
I have a message for the House of Commons: Stop wasting our time and get off your butts and do your job. Public expectation is that the House of Commons will do its job. We expect the House of Commons to do its job because everyone knows we’re ready to do ours and I will not be supporting a pre-study.
Amen, Senator Mercer.
Regardless of which party is in power, using pre-studies to try to make up for lost time has been long considered a bad idea.
In 2015, again, my friend Senator Grant Mitchell said:
It is a concern, particularly for the opposition side, often to permit or agree with pre-studies. Often there are good reasons given. One reason is the pressure of time. That is the least good reason and often that’s because the House of Commons didn’t show the Senate adequate respect and just dumped the bill on us at the last minute. . . .
Colleagues, I’m not opposed to the Senate authorizing pre‑studies which are for legitimate purposes. But that is not the case before us today.
The House is not pre-emptively and proactively seeking amendments, nor does it have any intention of soliciting the expertise of the Senate in deference to us, nor is there a need to expedite the passage of critical, time-sensitive legislation. Instead, they just want us to hurry up.
This government and this Government Representative in the Senate are seeking to normalize the practice of pre-studies by suggesting that they are a way of ensuring in this chamber that “. . . there be sufficient time for adequate study and debate regardless of how quickly or not legislation arrives.”
I will again quote Senator Gold:
. . . the authority to pre-study proposed legislation is within our power and affords us the time to properly scrutinize legislation without prejudice to the time . . .
Colleagues, with respect, this is nonsense. The Senate doesn’t need to pre-study in order to have sufficient time to do our job properly. Our timetable is in our own hands, not the government’s.
Senator Gold is making the absurd suggestion that the Senate should rush the bills now so we do not have to rush them later. I would argue that we should not be rushing them at all.
The legislation Senator Gold is referring to is not part of a budget implementation act. It does not amend the Income Tax Act. It does not implement policy which has already been considered and approved by the other place. In fact, we have every expectation that before we receive either of these bills in this chamber, they will be amended in the other place, possibly making our work redundant and a complete waste of time.
MP Chris Bittle, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, acknowledged that amendments to Bill C-11 were likely a couple of months ago when he said:
We are eager to see this bill before committee and to engage in discussion on how to make it better, ensuring its principles and what we and the minister have set out are met. There is room for amendments and room for discussion, and the proper place is in committee. . . .
The Senate is supposed to provide sober second thought, but that is difficult to do when we won’t even have the final copy of the bill.
This is not a new concern. Our previous colleague Senator Joan Fraser raised it back in 2014 when she said:
As the Leader of the Opposition has just suggested, what exactly are they going to be studying? We don’t know what’s going to be coming to us from the House of Commons. I would gather, from listening on the weekend to various interviews with the minister in charge, Mr. Poilievre, that the bill will be stuck in the House of Commons committee for the next month. Is it still going to be the same bill when it gets out? If not, why are we doing the pre-study?
Senator Mercer made a similar observation in 2017 when he said:
My fundamental question: What if we had time to do the pre-study and in the process, by some miracle, something happened down the hall and they changed something in the budget, they found something wrong and they fixed it while we’re up here wasting our time studying something that’s different? We want to study what’s actually going to be before us.
Last week, Minister Petitpas Taylor launched the consultations for preparations of the 2023-28 plan for official languages. These are very important this year because they will help to inform the work of parliamentarians on Bill C-13. So why is the government rushing Bill C-13 in committee while it launches consultations with the Canadian public on how this bill could be improved and implemented? Would it not make more sense, colleagues, for the Senate to wait until the results of the consultation are in its hands before we do our review of the bill?
Colleagues, the only reason we would be required to expedite these bills is to facilitate the government’s political agenda before it has concurrence in the other place. This is an affront to the role of the Senate, and especially a Senate which the Prime Minister says he wants to be apolitical.
Senator Gold said himself:
I stand here as the Government Representative, and I’m telling you I do not know when it will arrive. It is nonetheless a top priority of the government that is doing all it can to get it to the finish line. . . .
The legislation is “. . . a top priority of the government . . .” so we should apparently just jump into line and accelerate its passage into law.
I would remind Senator Gold that the working majority which the government wrangled out on supply and confidence measures does not give them a majority in the public’s eyes. Politically, they were granted a minority. So it is absurd to suggest that just because something is a priority to them, it suddenly becomes a priority to all Canadians and the Senate should be expected to treat them like they have a majority.
If they want to speed things up, then the NDP-Liberal government has the tools it needs at its disposal. It has the majority of votes in that chamber, and they don’t need our help to get their work done.
I understand that even though they have a working majority in the House, they still can’t get anything done in a timely fashion. But that, colleagues, is not our responsibility to solve.
Colleagues, pre-studies are legitimate when used for the right reasons, but this government wants to use them simply to make up for its own ineptitude. And I would argue that when a government gets in a hurry to pass legislation which has no clear policy or procedural reason to be expedited, we better slow down and take a careful second look.
Contrary to what this government wants us to believe, time is an essential ingredient in the democratic process, especially when a bill is as controversial as these two bills are.
Time allows for increased public awareness, increased public debate and increased public buy-in. It is not just senators who need to be convinced that legislation is worth supporting, colleagues; it is Canadians who also need to be convinced, and this takes time.
Having studies run concurrently in both the House of Commons and the Senate is a terrible way to create public policy. It gives everyone the impression that something is being rammed through Parliament, and it does nothing but stoke the fires of cynicism and suspicion.
I would argue that in today’s environment, that is the last thing we need. We need to restore trust in our public institutions. We need to take the time necessary to do so. Otherwise, we are merely pouring fuel on the fires of disinformation and conspiracy theories.
Senator Dasko spoke for many of us when she said:
. . . We also need assurances that the committee will have the time it needs to do its work. When I hear about the urgent need to pass a bill, I can’t help but wonder whether we will really have the time to review a bill. If we keep hearing about the urgent need, it most certainly raises questions about whether we will be given the time.
It raises questions, indeed, colleagues. On the one hand, we are supposedly not being rushed, but on the other hand, the motion calls for the committees to be able to sit while the Senate is sitting and even when it is adjourned. It is urgent, but take your time. But don’t take too long because it is a priority.
There is no clear rationale for these pre-studies, and we need to deny these motions.
Colleagues, the Senate provides an important role by providing sober second thought. This means that after the other place has sent us the legislation, we take a second, unhurried look at it. We need to be cautious of using pre-studies and only approve them if there is a clear legitimate reason to do so.
Again, in 2017, Senator Day said:
I am generally cautious about pre-study. I know it’s in the Rules. I know it can be a useful tool from time to time. But in my view, it takes us away from being a chamber of sober second thought. It puts us into a concurrent role with the House of Commons, and that has always caused me concern. . . .
Pre-studies of legislation distract from the role we traditionally have of providing sober second thought.
This is why, as Senator Harder put it, pre-studies should be occasional. In May of 2018, Senator Harder said:
. . . the use of pre-study in this chamber is occasional where the appropriate circumstances present themselves. Obviously, that has been more regularly on budget matters.
Senator Raynell Andreychuk noted the same fact in 2011 — when we were in government, I might add — saying “. . . a pre-study is not the normal course of conduct of committees.”
Rather than enabling us to do better work, pre-studies — which have no legitimate basis — hobble us in our work. They do not allow us to do a proper examination of legislation and inhibit our responsibility to provide sober second thought.
Colleagues, I am having a great deal of difficulty seeing the rationale in the motions before us. By the time a pre-study on any of these bills could be started, we would only have two to three weeks left before our summer recess. I’m not sure what to make of this. Does the government expect us to complete a pre-study of highly contentious bills in two to three weeks? Committees typically get one time slot a week.
What if they manage to get the bills over to us before July? Do they expect us to deal with them prior to the summer recess? If so, are they planning on bringing the House back in the summer in order to deal with our amendments? Not likely. Colleagues, we all know they would do no such thing. They would be quite happy for us to rush it through this chamber and even sit in July, but there is no way on this earth that they would deal with any of our amendments until the end of September at the very earliest. The only thing a pre-study would do is serve as an incentive for us to rush through our work instead of taking the time necessary to do it right.
At this point, I can’t help but find myself agreeing with the words of my friend Senator Jane Cordy that she made in April 2014 when she said:
Honourable senators, if I believed a pre-study would make a difference, I would be the first in line to promote it; but I do not believe that it would make a difference. If I believed that the voices of Canadians would be listened to in a pre-study, I would be first in line to promote the pre-study; but I don’t believe that a pre-study would do this. If I believed that the committee doing the pre-study would use the time to travel to the regions of Canada to let Canadians talk to them, I would promote the pre-study; but . . . I do not believe that this will happen.
Colleagues, a pre-study is a tool for urgent matters, yet none of these bills are urgent. The government waited for years to table them and did not care when they delayed it further by proroguing Parliament and then calling an unnecessary election that not one Canadian wanted.
Senator Gold is trying to defend the indefensible. We should defeat these motions, colleagues, and get back to doing the good, important work of the Senate.
Do you have a question?
Will the senator take a question?
Since I’m not rising on debate, I will not even try to smuggle in references and counter-arguments to much of what you said. Thank you for your speech, senator, but some of your assumptions, certainly with regards to the government’s intentions on this bill, are simply not true. I’m on record to that effect, but I will turn to my question.
You quite properly identified, senator, how Senate pre-studies of Bill C-91 and Bill C-92 were legitimate, in your taxonomy, because they resulted in enhancements and improvements of the bills. You cited, and properly so, the expertise of our Aboriginal Peoples Committee.
Would you not agree that the same logic applies to Bill C-13, which is now before us? Our Official Languages Committee has a unique expertise, a unique composition — indeed, this chamber is unique, because linguistic minorities are appointed and represented very well in this chamber.
As everyone in this chamber knows or ought to know, the Official Languages Committee has spent years, if not decades, on this issue and wants to review this bill thoroughly in the same way as was done for Bill C-91 and Bill C-92. Should they not, therefore, Senator Plett, be afforded an opportunity to do so?
Since you are asking me the question, I will, in the words of your answers occasionally — not usually — answer with one word: no.
Would the senator take another question?
Again, we all, I think, appreciated the way in which you packaged the history of pre-studies in previous Parliaments and the taxonomy that you presented, but in my reading of, at least, the Forty-first Parliament, when you were in government, I am having difficulty finding where some of the bills where your government initiated pre-studies fit. I can cite a few of them, but I will focus simply on one: Bill C-51, the Anti‑terrorism Act, 2015, a major piece of legislation that you introduced that effected significant changes to our national security and defence regime, many of which have been changed by subsequent acts. You’ll recall that a pre-study was authorized for that bill. Can you please explain how that fits into the rationale and the taxonomy of those?
While you’re at it, because I don’t want to abuse my time, you could also, perhaps, refer to how Bill C-15, on the devolution of the Northwest Territories Act fits in, and the changes to the Citizenship Act as well.
Well, Senator Gold, no, I cannot, because it’s a long time ago. You haven’t done the investigation on that, clearly, as you just said, and I haven’t either. I believe we were in a minority Parliament for those, and so that clearly would be one.
The NDP-Liberal government is not in a minority over there. They can get us their bills any time they want, and so I would say no, it is not the same.
I did allude to some bills going to the National Security and Defence Committee, that we had supported the pre-studies. There are occasions when we need them, and in this case, Senator Gold, when we are at the sunset of our session, you are bringing us bills for a pre-study that we will not even have time to properly get into.
Let’s take Bill C-11, and I spoke more on Bill C-13 — or my debate was on Bill C-13 — but it applies to both. The Transport and Communications Committee typically meets on a Wednesday, so this is probably too late for them to meet tomorrow. As a matter of fact, the Energy Committee has taken their spot to deal with another one of the government bills, and so they won’t meet tomorrow. The earliest they can have their meeting and get organized is Wednesday of next week. Likely the earliest they would have witnesses is the following week.
Senator Gold, I have asked you the question: When do you expect us to leave here? If you’re expecting us to stay here until the end of August, then tell us that, and then we’ll adjust our calendar. If we’re supposed to be here until the end of June — the House of Commons is rising on June 21 — and you are asking us to do something that is in no way reasonably possible for us even to get into, to rush something through that has no reason, when this government themselves prorogued Parliament and called an election when they were promising these bills.
Now they have them over there — they are stalled over there — and you are the only one who seems to see an urgency here. They don’t seem to think there is an urgency. You seem to think there is an urgency, but you tell us to take as much time as we want. Well, if we can take as much time as we want, then what is the urgency? Why would we have a pre-study? If your answer will be that with the pre-study we will have more committee slots, we won’t. The committee slots aren’t there. If we did what we have asked for this chamber and this government to do, which is to get back to normal Senate hours and sittings, we wouldn’t have a lot of these problems.
These problems exist because of your government, Senator Gold, not because of us. You’re taking time away from the Senate, and now you’re asking us to rush something through. And the words you always use are “This is the government’s priority.” If this is their priority, where are the bills?
Senator Plett, thank you for the answer, but you will allow me to respectfully say that I have done the research. Every bill that I mentioned, Bill C-15, Bill C-23, Bill C-33, Bill C-24, Bill C-36, Bill C-51 and others, were all pre-studied at a time when your government had a majority in the House and a majority in the Senate.
The fact is that there is still a minority Parliament in the House of Commons. There is obstruction at every step of the way, and that is well known to those who wish to know. The fact also remains that the government in the House of Commons has scheduled 14 hours of hearings on Bill C-11 just this week. If the Senate committee is willing to work more than one session a week, they can avail themselves of slots that we made available through the adjusted hybrid motion. We do not agree that there is time for the Senate to make progress on Bill C-13 and to begin a study of Bill C-13. It will be seized of it at such time as we receive the bill, and we would be doing our duty to dig in. Would you not agree that this is a proper use of Senate time and taxpayer resources for us to address these important public policy issues?
No, I actually would not, Senator Gold. If more committee meetings are held over there, the fewer we can have over here. How does that possibly help us if they take more? You say we made more committee spots available to them. Whose committee spots?
If you didn’t say that, I misunderstood you. You said they have slotted more, and if the other parties — and again we’re blaming everybody else — will only cooperate with this NDP-Liberal majority government, then they will be able to hold more committee meetings. They have tools in their tool box. The NDP has promised them. You, I, and everybody in this chamber know that. They have the tools in their tool box to get us the bills.
So, no, Senator Gold, we do not have the committee spots available. We are being asked every day, “Can we have a committee meeting here?” “Can we have one there?” We don’t have the spots available to them. So find us the spots available before you ask us to do something that is not possible.
Honourable senators, as an Acadian senator from New Brunswick, I want to speak briefly today on Motion No. 41, which would allow us to conduct a pre-study of Bill C-13. This bill seeks to modernize the Official Languages Act.
Since this quasi-constitutional act passed in 1969, and thanks to amendments made since that time, the Acadian people have benefited greatly from its implementation, which has contributed to the development and advancement of many sectors of Acadian society. Its implementation has contributed to the existence of strong economic, educational, cultural and social institutions in Acadia.
Honourable senators, allow me to remind you that the purpose of the Official Languages Act is to:
. . . ensure respect for English and French as the official languages of Canada and ensure equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all federal institutions, in particular with respect to their use in parliamentary proceedings, in legislative and other instruments, in the administration of justice, in communicating with or providing services to the public and in carrying out the work of federal institutions . . . .
It also aims to support the development of French and English linguistic minority communities and generally advance the equality of status and use of the English and French languages within Canadian society. Finally, it set out the powers, duties and functions of federal institutions with respect to the official languages of Canada.
The Supreme Court of Canada has reaffirmed its quasi-constitutional nature, notably in the case Thibodeau v. Air Canada in the following matter:
. . . the OLA has a special status: “. . . it belongs to that privileged category of quasi-constitutional legislation which reflects ‘certain basic goals of our society’ . . . ”
Between 2017 and 2019, the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages conducted an important study on modernizing that act. That study led to the release of several reports that had a major impact on the bill currently being considered in the other place. The committee made 20 recommendations that sought to address issues with the implementation of the act under four main themes: leadership and cooperation, compliance, enforcement principles and judicial bilingualism.
That study, while stimulating reflection and discussions on the work done in the other place, clearly brought to light the scope and complexity of the Official Languages Act, as well as the need to ensure sufficient time to conduct an in-depth and rigorous study of a new bill to amend it.
Colleagues, a pre-study would give us the time needed and the opportunity to better understand all of Bill C-13’s provisions and the associated issues identified by various experts and witnesses.
Indirectly, it would also help us achieve an important educational goal, as it would enable Canadians who are following our work here in the Senate to learn more about what is in the bill before it is introduced in this chamber.
At present, and even though Bill C-13 was just referred to a committee in the other place, we do not know when it will be introduced in this place. Let us take advantage of the time being provided to begin our work as legislators by carrying out a pre‑study.
As I have already pointed out in this chamber, and as was said today, the Rules of the Senate allow us to examine the subject matter of a bill before that piece of legislation is passed by the House of Commons.
Honourable senators, considering the growing fragility of the French language in Canada, considering the issues of all linguistic minority communities and, finally, considering the extraordinary involvement of all stakeholders in the modernization process of the Official Languages Act and given its importance for the future of our country, I sincerely believe that a pre-study would allow us to deeply examine certain issues identified and to prepare us for the important study of this legislation when it arrives in this chamber.
Esteemed colleagues, my argument in favour of a pre-study is simple: Let’s use all the time at our disposal to fully exercise our role as legislators by undertaking a rigorous review of Bill C-13 with a pre-study. Appropriate amendments should be made to the Official Languages Act so that it can meet the current and future needs and aspirations of all citizens. Canadians deserve it. Let’s begin the work now by adopting this motion.
Thank you for your attention.
Thank you, Senator Cormier. You say that a pre-study will help, but you didn’t say why. Why would we not be able to do all of the things you were suggesting in a regular study if the House could ever get their act together and get us the legislation? They haven’t even started committee meetings over there.
I don’t think there is anybody in this chamber who believes that bill is coming to us the way that bill is written today. So we’re going to have a piece of legislation that will come to us different than what it is today.
It is now May 31. If the Official Languages Committee meets on Mondays, you would have a maximum of three Mondays, that is if you could get started and have meetings next week on Monday, which is not really realistic. So there would be two meetings. I cannot see what you can accomplish in those two meetings when you are studying a bill the contents of which you don’t even know.
Aside from the fact that you really want to support this government — I can understand that — but aside from that, why is a pre-study better than a study after we have the bill? What makes it better?
Thank you for the question, senator. I don’t want to support the government; I want to support Canadians. We have been waiting for this bill. We have done an important study for two years on this bill. It had an impact; the work of the Senate did have an impact on the legislation in the other place.
Doing a pre-study would allow us to deepen certain questions that are really important. It’s a complex bill. I don’t sensibly think we can do the work in two or three weeks, but it’s important for us to start that work right now.
The raison d’être of the pre-study is not to finish by the end of June; it’s to start the process, which is very important. Also, the House of Commons can hear what we have to say here when we meet people during the pre-study.
For me, there is no issue of rushing the bill. That’s not my raison d’être; my raison d’être is to start the conversation right now and not wait until the fall. Start it right now. It is not to rush the adoption of the bill but to make sure that Canadians can hear what the committee can do as a pre-study.
That’s my raison d’être, senator.
I’ll say it again: I’m not here to support the government; I’m here to support Canadians, especially linguistic minorities in Canada, who have been waiting and working on this bill for so long. I think they deserve this. They deserve a pre-study. Thank you.
Would Senator Cormier take another question?
Senator Cormier, you understand, of course, the importance of defending both official languages. Any minute now the House of Commons will be voting to refer the bill to a committee following second reading stage.
Over the next few days, the House of Commons committee should be starting to study the provisions of the bill to modernize the Official Languages Act; the debate will be held first in the House of Commons and then in the Senate.
Doesn’t the committee have other important topics to study on official languages, to ensure that the government respects both of our official languages?
Thank you very much for your question. Indeed, there are other topics to discuss. In fact, the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages is currently conducting a study on francophone immigration.
Bill C-13 addresses this immigration issue, among others, and proposes that the Minister of Immigration adopt a national policy on francophone immigration. In the context of a pre-study, we would have the opportunity to delve further into certain aspects, such as francophone immigration, for example. This of course would be useful with respect to modernizing the Official Languages Act, but I should also say — and I agree with you on this — that the issue of francophone immigration is an extremely important theme for the future of official language minority communities and for all Canadians.
Would you take a question, Senator Cormier?
I notice you have a motion on the Order Paper to authorize the committee to meet at their approved time on any Monday that immediately precedes a sitting Tuesday, consistent with the recommendations of the Selection Committee. Would this not help manage the workload?
Also, am I correct in thinking that you had hoped to have a committee meeting this past Monday? Can you explain why you were not able to have that meeting?
The committee chair and committee members had nothing to do with the fact that the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages was not able to sit on Monday.
I am speaking for myself, and not for the other committee members. The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages expressed a genuine desire to work on the modernization of the Official Languages Act, and it is committed to diligently and meaningfully studying this issue.
We hope to meet as often as possible to get this job done, but, yes, some of the decisions that were made prevented us from meeting as often as we would have liked.
I think that we need to undertake this work that is so important to Canadians as soon as possible.
Honourable senators, I want to speak on this important debate. I don’t want to debate the merits of Bill C-13 or Bill C-11, but my comments will equally apply to both the motions on the Order Paper, the current one and the one to follow.
Clearly, there is no urgency requirement, colleagues, in order to have a pre-study. I think anybody who attempts to make the argument that a pre-study is urgently needed here is doing nothing more than acquiescing to what may be the government’s agenda, for political reasons.
Senator Plett made a very compelling case in his speech about all the examples where pre-studies have been used. It’s an important tool in Parliament. It’s a tool we use whenever there is an urgent public interest in order to address an issue. We have seen it done time and time again. More often, it seems to happen toward the end of a parliamentary session because government wants to get something out before we rise either for the summer break or for the Christmas break. It’s not done ever, to my knowledge, because all of a sudden they — successive governments — want Parliament to dive into an issue for as long a time as possible, study it and analyze it because it’s so important.
That seems to be the impression we’re getting from our honourable colleague Senator Cormier.
So if this is such an urgent and pressing issue in the case of Bill C-13 and Bill C-11, why has the government putzed around for seven years before in both these instances of moving legislation forward? They haven’t because, clearly, there hasn’t been an outcry.
In the case of Bill C-13 and Bill C-11, if they don’t pass by the end of June — and, clearly, the government’s objective is to get it out of the House and this chamber as quickly as possible before we rise — but if it doesn’t happen, what will happen?
We have been operating with our Official Languages Act now for a very long time before this has come before us. Our Telecommunications Act and Broadcasting Act have been neglected for decades by governments. For this government, it wasn’t much of a priority either because they tried to drop it in this chamber on the eve of prorogation last year around this time, before they were going into an election.
I have come to the conclusion that this pre-study is an attempt to do what governments historically have done when it’s not an urgent public issue: They usually try to use a pre-study and try to ram stuff through Parliament because it’s controversial. There is no consensus; there are two sides that just don’t agree. As a result, governments don’t like for such bills to linger. They don’t like them to linger in the House or in the Senate.
Well, I’m sorry to the executive branch of government, but as we have experienced with Bill C-11 — it was called Bill C-10 in the previous Parliament — we all understood what the government was doing and we stood up on the eve of the last prorogation as parliamentarians, in consensus, and we said that it required an in-depth debate. I was happy to hear Senator Cormier, who all of a sudden embraces pre-studies, say that it required a long and lengthy debate.
Now to the fundamentals of reality, Senator Gold. Again, we look at the life of this session before we rise for the summer. Normally, it would be at the end of June. Again, Senator Plett appropriately highlighted the challenges we’re currently having for our committees to meet in the actual times that we require to do our work, let alone add pre-study requirements to the government agenda, which is already taking up all our resources. As the House is adding more resources, the chamber here gets hurt with that reality as well.
If I can remind people of another government motion — and we should start reviewing these government motions a little more diligently when they are tabled — we were promised when we accepted the last government motion to extend until the end of June hybrid and virtual sittings that somehow that will be a catalyst in returning our committees to their times of two meetings a week, because we all have come to the realization that we’re not producing the output of work the way we used to as a chamber.
We were given the commitment that, if we support that government motion, committees will get their two slots a week and we’ll get back to getting this place revving forward and doing its work.
Now in addition to the government not delivering on that promise, they want us to add a pre-study to two particular bills that none of us see the urgency of getting out before June. All of us see that they are contentious bills and require in-depth study. We know that many, many witnesses have expressed a desire to come before the respective committees in order to address the issues. Yet the government continues to insist that we need to have a pre-study.
Furthermore — and I don’t want to repeat everything that Senator Plett said, because his speech was an outstanding one — the truth of the matter is these two chambers are independent in our Westminster model. If committees are going to do their respective work in a diligent fashion, they also have the right to amend bills, right?
We should not assume that they are going to be steamrolled through a House committee without amendments and steamrolled through this chamber and a Senate committee without amendments, particularly when we know that both these bills are controversial and that many stakeholders have concerns.
We have an obligation to independently hear the committees on both houses. We have an obligation to hear the debate in terms of second and third readings. What we particularly have an obligation to do in this place is to take the politics outside of all bills, including government bills, which inadvertently will happen on the other side. That is why it is called the House of Commons.
I think only where necessary should we accept the use of this tool of allowing pre-studies to happen in extenuating circumstances. We’ve done it many times when there is a public need, when we’re dealing with an existential crisis that requires funding and there is a general consensus and we know that there is a consensus from the public in order to get money bills through here quickly. We did it through COVID non-stop. If there is a particular crisis or emergency of sorts, again, we understand that we have to make exceptions, and then the traditional parliamentary rules in order to accommodate those public interests.
But, government leader, in both these instances, there is no emergency — we all know it and you know it — other than the fact that the government doesn’t want these two contentious issues to be dragged out in either part of our two chambers, because like any government they don’t like to get a headline where someone is criticizing their agenda.
The other thing I have to highlight, colleagues, is that this particular Trudeau government has not been very good at identifying emergencies. The last time that they had this chamber debating on something which was an emergency it was called the Emergencies Act, if you all recall. Some of us were up on our feet questioning that emergency at the time, and there were other senators who were embracing that emergency as the Prime Minister was running to a press gallery to basically say, “Sorry, I’m pulling the plug now, it is not as big an emergency as it was yesterday.”
So there is a track record here, government leader, of this government not being good at identifying emergencies and dealing with emergencies.
Again, I asked the question last week when this motion was tabled. I never got a legitimate answer from the government leader. Given the resource challenges that we have as a chamber and as a Parliament, given the fact that no one has made a compelling case that there is an outcry by the Canadian public either for Bill C-13 or for Bill C-11 to be rammed through this Parliament without thorough debate, the reality is even if we accept this pre-study, I still have not had an answer from this government: What is a timeline that you think is reasonable for this bill, government leader, to become law?
Because given our agenda the next three to four weeks both in the House and in the Senate it is very unrealistic to think even if there is a pre-study, even if a majority of senators here will stand up to support the government on this motion, I still find it difficult to believe, realistically, that this bill can pass, unless the government thinks that it is such an emergency that they are willing to keep Parliament here past the month of June through July and August — which, by the way, you had the right to do last year as well and chose not to, right? We need clarity on all of those things, government leader, and we have not had it up to this point.
For all of those reasons I have highlighted and outlined, I do not believe, colleagues, that this is in any way a compelling case for a pre-study, neither on Bill C-13 nor on Bill C-11, and, of course, we’ll leave it to the good judgment of this chamber to decide. Thank you very much.
I am not certain my comments will contribute much to the discussion, but we shall see.
I rise today in support of Senator Gagné’s motion proposing that the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages be authorized to study the subject matter of Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act, to enact the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act and to make related amendments to other Acts.
I am a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages and have been part of the study on modernizing this law, and I am convinced that such a study will enrich debate in the House of Commons and the Senate. This pre-study will not prevent the Senate from conducting a proper study once the bill arrives here. Believe me when I say that we have waited too long for this bill to rush it through.
In recent sessions, senators have debated whether it would be appropriate to conduct a pre-study of Bill C-11. That discussion is also relevant to the debate on the pre-study of Bill C-13. In particular, several senators emphasized the benefits of the two chambers maintaining a dialogue in order to achieve a more refined final product that better represents what stakeholders and Canadians are looking for. I share this view as well.
The context of the pandemic and the hybrid session format makes it difficult to follow the usual committee meeting schedule. The uncertainty of committee schedules and the labour shortage that also affects the Senate is another reason to have a pre-study of Bill C-13 at the Official Languages Committee. It would be unfortunate, in my view, not to take advantage of the valuable meeting time that is available in the coming weeks to study the subject matter of the bill and to get ahead of the game. Giving ourselves time should be a priority in such an uncertain environment.
As Senator Saint-Germain pointed out in her speech on the pre-study of Bill C-11, many pre-studies of non-budgetary bills have been conducted in previous parliaments, including under previous governments. Therefore, we would be continuing a well-established practice. I thank the senator for providing the historical context in this chamber.
Also, the current political environment suggests that there will be sufficient time to do a proper study of this bill, in addition to the pre-study. This is a bill that official language minority communities have been awaiting for over 30 years. I believe that we need to give time and proper consideration to this quasi-constitutional piece of legislation, which is at the heart of Canada’s social contract.
I sincerely believe that, by proposing a pre-study with no constraints related to exchanges and procedure as we approach the end of the session, this motion offers us a reasonable and judicious way to begin our work.
Many of the stakeholders who have been waiting a long time for this have already expressed their concerns about some aspects of the bill. They are ready and we are ready, so why wait?
For one thing, a pre-study would enable us to be proactive in our study of the following aspects.
Stakeholders want Treasury Board to be designated as a central agency responsible for implementing the bill as a whole, but the bill makes Canadian Heritage responsible for exercising leadership in relation to the implementation of this act. We have to examine the complex issue of the central agency.
Next, the clause about francophone immigration policy does not explicitly state that the policy must increase the demographic weight of French-speaking Canada. Should this clause be amended to clarify its remedial purpose?
Many stakeholders are concerned about the fact that this bill does not contain a provision requiring the government to include linguistic provisions in agreements with the provinces and territories. What jurisdictional issues prevent the government from including a clause requiring linguistic provisions? Are there viable alternatives that could satisfy stakeholders?
The bill does not contain a provision for the disposal of federal real property, a long-standing request by stakeholders to facilitate the acquisition of such property by French-language school boards whose infrastructure is insufficient to meet the needs of their communities.
Finally, we must also consider how the bill will affect the English-speaking minority in Quebec. The Quebec Community Groups Network has expressed significant concerns about various issues that deserve our attention.
The Official Languages Committee has particular expertise in the reform of the Official Languages Act, having conducted an extensive study on this subject matter during the Forty-second Parliament. We should build on this expertise by initiating a pre-study as soon as possible, in parallel with the study of the bill by the Standing Committee on Official Languages in the other place. The other place could benefit from our knowledge. A productive dialogue between these two committees would be an asset to stakeholders and to Canadians.
This bill is long overdue and we need to do it justice. Esteemed colleagues, I urge you to support this motion to ensure that we can start studying the substance of Bill C-13 as soon as possible.
Thank you for your attention.
Senator Moncion, I’m curious; you seem to suggest that if these committees sat and examined these pieces of legislation that somehow the House would respond to it. Do you have assurances that is their intention?
Thank you for the question. No, we do not have that assurance. However, for the last couple of years we have conducted a study of the Official Languages Act and the reforms we were looking for in the act. The government did take notice of the amount of work, and the number of recommendations we provided to them. When they were working on the new legislation, they were inspired by what had been created and prepared by the Official Languages Committee. Six different reports were provided to the Minister of Official Languages, Ms. Joly, and the government did take notice. The minister also had extensive consultation with stakeholders, but thorough work was done within the Senate.
I understand that Senate committees study issues and forward those reports to government, hoping they will listen and respond — sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t, as I well know from the MAID legislation.
However, are you suggesting that during this brief period where pre-study might happen for a day between now and the end of session, they have agreed to pause and wait until we’ve completed our study before they send us the final bill?
I am not sure that I understand your point correctly. In terms of the pre-study, we know that by putting forth this motion and agreeing to have this pre-study now, this matter will go into the fall so that when we come back we will be able to continue our pre-study. There is no timeline such that we have to be done by the end of June. We will be working with our colleagues within the Official Languages Committee.
I’m not sure if I am answering your question.
I will try again.
If you think this work is so important, that they will listen and that the studies will continue into the fall, then you are assuming they are not trying to rush this legislation forward; and that if there is a pre-study — somehow, magically — we will receive these bills and we will be asked to pass them before the end of this session.
I can speak for Bill C-13, and it will not be passed by June. However, a lot of work can start now.
Would the senator take another question? Thank you.
This debate is very important for me. It seems to me that a non-urgent situation sounds urgent. I’m a senator from New Brunswick, La Société de l’Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick spoke with me and said they prefer that we not rush things. We have heard that we are not going to rush things. At the same time, they said they would prefer that a pre-study not be done because of the official languages implications of Bill C-13 and what is going on in Quebec in terms of its impact on official languages in New Brunswick. They want to have time and space to let things unfold in a non-urgent environment.
I’m in the awkward position of hearing the debate in favour of a pre-study while trying to represent a region in which an association that is directly affected has urged me to not support a pre-study.
How would you respond to that? We have a significant part of our province — the only bilingual province in Canada — for which I feel I provide some representation, along with other colleagues from New Brunswick.
Thank you for the question, and it is an important one. I think people believe that a pre-study is something that will be done right away and that we will approve the bill by the end of June. That is not the purpose of the pre-study.
It is important that people in your province are concerned about issues of a linguistic nature, and the fact that you are hearing them is also important. I understand the loyalty you have towards the people of your province, just as I have loyalty for the people of my province.
It is important to understand that with this pre-study we are not pushing to have this bill passed by June. We want to start our work on specific issues that are very contentious right now. We want to work with our francophone colleagues who represent Canadians from coast to coast to coast in order to find resolutions within what is being provided to have the best bill we can for linguistic minorities in Canada.
This bill has been 50 years in the making. The last bill we had was 50 years ago. It was amended along the way, but what we currently have is not what is needed for minorities in our country, whether in Quebec or outside of Quebec.
Senator Quinn, I’m sorry, but the time for debate with Senator Moncion has expired.
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Motion No. 41, to authorize a pre-study of Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act, to enact the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act and to make related amendments to other Acts.
Again, the government is asking us to do a pre-study of a bill that may not have moved far enough through the House of Commons.
In our recent debates on Senator Gold’s motion, much was said about the Senate being responsible for the use of its time. Indeed, esteemed colleagues, the Senate is an independent legislative body that manages its affairs according to its rules, practices, customs and traditions.
Although the Senate, as conceived by the Fathers of Confederation, is a chamber of sober second thought, it also has a duty to undertake inquiries in order to hold the government accountable for its decisions. We conduct these inquiries of our own free will and at our own direction. Furthermore, you know as well as I do that the Senate has the power to legislate, except in the case of money bills.
Let’s return to the Senate’s main role of taking a second look at government bills and, more generally, at bills passed by the House of Commons.
We must undertake this task with consideration for our specific mandate of representing the regions and protecting minorities. The Senate was created as a counterbalance to an elected chamber that represents the people, but where the anglophone majority could overwhelm the francophone minority. The equal representation of regions thus became a foundational principle and ensured greater protection for less populated provinces.
Confederation in 1867 was made possible by this commitment to a Senate serving as the counterbalance to the government and supporting the principle of equitable representation of the regions.
The Senate is then one of the three fundamental pillars of the democratic system that make up the Parliament of Canada. It is a pivotal player in shaping our body of law, and its role cannot be trivialized or relegated to that of a mere advisory body. When legislation is passed in the House of Commons, it is sent back to us for a thoughtful and, ideally, non-partisan second look.
The Senate is known and respected for its thorough and studious review of legislation. Similarly, Senate studies regularly end up influencing the passage of public bills because of their quality.
The predecessor to Bill C-13 is Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts. It was introduced for first reading on June 15, 2021, a few days before the summer recess and a few weeks before the prorogation of Parliament, which occurred in August 2021 and came as no surprise to anyone. When we look at the history of Bill C-32, we can see that it went through first reading on June 15, 2021, but the second reading, committee review and third reading stages were not completed.
The Trudeau government waited five years and eight months to introduce its bill to modernize the Official Languages Act, with the only result being that the bill was introduced in the other place at first reading and then it was never debated.
So, yes, I was quite surprised when I learned that we would be debating a motion regarding a pre-study of Bill C-13. This government dragged its feet for so long on this file that the fact it is asking us now to do a pre-study of this bill seems very odd indeed.
I would remind colleagues that the Senate does not normally begin studying a bill before the other place has completed its study. Bill C-13 is still at second reading in the House of Commons at this time. After four sittings during which the House debated this bill, the government adopted a time allocation motion on May 20, which means that the bill will be referred to the Standing Committee on Official Languages today.
Aside from the fact that the government, for unknown reasons, suddenly seems inclined to expedite the study of this bill, there is absolutely no reason the Senate should bow to the government’s will and abandon its customary and constitutional practice of carrying out a second review of the bill once it has been passed in the other place.
During debate on Motion No. 41, Senator Gold and Senator Saint-Germain quoted statements I made when I was government leader in support of the pre-study of certain bills. Indeed, as I said earlier, I recognize that a pre-study can be useful under certain specific circumstances. However, it must not become routine, because that would distance the Senate from its fundamental role as a chamber of sober second thought. Most importantly, a second study carried out by the Senate must not supplant committee work in the House of Commons.
Therefore, when considering a pre-study, the bill to be studied must at a minimum be in the legislative process in the other place, the committee study must ideally have been completed and amendments must have been presented. There must be a certain urgency to moving the bill along, whether because the end of the session is imminent, or there is a legal requirement or the bill has such a narrow but important application that it is vital to deal with it as quickly as possible. Those are some elements that need to be considered. However, the Senate is master of its own schedule and it may take into account any other consideration in determining the pertinence of a pre-study of a bill. I must insist that pre-studies should not become the norm, but rather the exception.
In that sense, Professor Paul G. Thomas, in a work edited by our former colleague, Senator Joyal, entitled Protecting Canadian Democracy: The Senate You Never Knew, rightly points out, and I quote:
The original role of the Senate was to complement . . . the House of Commons, which . . . was seen as the centre of political life in the country.
Other than the pre-studies on supply bills that are usually done in the Senate, six pre-studies were done under my leadership in two years, in 2013 and in 2014. With two exceptions, namely the pre-studies for bills C-15 and C-23, all of these pre-studies were done after second reading stage in the House of Commons, and especially after the committees tasked with studying them held their meetings.
Bill C-15 was a bill to implement certain provisions of the Northwest Territories Land and Resources Devolution Agreement, a very specific bill limited to a region. With regard to Bill C-23 on reforming the Elections Act, the House of Commons committee began its meetings before the Senate did, but we agreed with the government that we would conduct a parallel study so that the government could benefit from the considerable electoral experience of several senators. This was actually effective, because several amendments that were made in the House of Commons came from the Senate.
If you will bear with me, we could take a look at some of the examples of pre-studies we did in the Senate when I was the government leader.
The committee concluded its study of Bill C-24 on citizenship on June 3, 2014, and the Senate started its pre-study on June 10, 2014. A House of Commons committee finished studying Bill C-36, to amend the Criminal Code in response to a Supreme Court ruling, on July 15, 2014, and the Senate started its pre-study on September 9, 2014.
A House of Commons committee finished its study of Bill C-51, An Act to enact the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and the Secure Air Travel Act, on March 31, 2015, and the Senate started its pre-study on March 30, 2015.
Honourable senators, I don’t think I could be accused of excessive or inappropriate use of pre-studies in the Senate. In nearly every case, the Senate committee started its study after the House of Commons committee completed its own study and had already heard from witnesses and made amendments, all before the pre-study.
I reread the statement Senator Gagné made when she moved her motion, and, frankly, I did not see even a shred of justification for a pre-study of Bill C-13.
Actually, honourable senators, there are more reasons to refuse this pre-study than there are to authorize it. The first and most important reason is that this pre-study flies in the face of the very reason the Senate exists. A number of us point out every once in a while that we are a chamber of sober second thought, which is what the Senate was conceived to be. It is becoming increasingly worrisome to see the government use the Senate to advance its own legislative agenda, either through pre-studies or by simply introducing government bills in the Senate. In doing so, the government is adding to the Senate’s workload and preventing it from fulfilling its duty of sober second thought, relying on the wisdom and vast expertise of its members.
Also, as I have already amply demonstrated, no one has provided us with any evidence of whatever urgency might justify a pre-study. Quite the opposite is true. While I am in no way denying the importance of modernizing the Official Languages Act, I believe that this must be done in an orderly, careful manner, taking the time to do it properly, without putting the cart before the horse.
In response to a question from Senator Plett, Senator Gagné said the following to justify a pre-study of Bill C-13:
I believe that’s one more reason to conduct a pre-study, in order to guide the government and inform its analysis.
You see, colleagues, with all due respect to Senator Gagné, this statement clearly illustrates that the government’s representatives in the Senate do not have a clear understanding of the duties of our institution. If we want to guide the government and inform its analyses, our preferred tool is our power of inquiry. That is how we should be informing the government’s actions, as much as possible. Using pre-studies to guide and inform the government would pervert our own actions. It would essentially turn us into an advisory committee and betray the role we have played in the federation since 1867.
To give Senator Gold some credit, when he was trying to justify a pre-study of C-11, he at least could point to the somewhat more extensive history of that bill’s predecessor, Bill C-10. He certainly did not convince us, but at least he had a few slightly more substantial arguments to rely on.
In the case of Bill C-13, other than the text of the bill itself, we are faced with a complete lack of analysis, debate, testimony or any kind of serious thought from the other place. Asking us to proceed with a pre-study of Bill C-13 is tantamount to asking us to do the work of the House of Commons, which is certainly not our role. I have said it and I will say it over and over again, this is a chamber of sober second thought whose objective is to enrich the work of the House of Commons and improve bills, not to do the House’s work.
If we constantly stray from our purpose and allow ourselves to be drawn into the legislative vagaries of the government, our very essence will be lost, and we will certainly lose our way in the confusion of purposes, not to mention it will be difficult to distinguish between the two chambers.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, in preparing for this speech, I had a quick look at the book edited by our former colleague Senator Joyal on the history and functions of the Senate. The book is entitled Protecting Canadian Democracy: The Senate You Never Knew, and I highly recommend reading it.
To explain the importance of sober second thought, I have selected a passage written by Professor C.E.S. Franks, who recounted a situation that occurred in the Senate as follows:
The “Son of Sam” Bill. In October 1997, Bill C-220, with unanimous consent and without amendment passed second reading, committee, and third reading stages in the House of Commons all in one day and was forwarded to the Senate. The bill, a private members’ bill amending the Criminal Code and Copyright Act to prevent convicted persons from profiting by writing works describing their crimes, was essentially similar to bill that had died on the Order Paper of the previous Parliament. That bill had received Third Reading in the House despite potentially serious concerns expressed by the House committee that had examined it: that it exceeded the criminal law power, that its effect would reach beyond the incarceration period, and that it addressed a problem that was already being resolved intergovernmentally.
Pardon the interruption, Senator Carignan. Are you asking for five more minutes?
Is leave granted?
I will continue reading the quote.
At second reading in the Senate several senators expressed concern that the bill, as reintroduced, had received so little attention in the Commons. Its supporters pointed out that the bill’s predecessor had been examined by a Commons committee and, despite the expressed concerns, had been passed unanimously. However, the Senate’s Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs held thirteen meetings on the bill and examined it in considerable detail, hearing from almost thirty witnesses, including among others representatives from the Canadian Bar Association, the Writers’ Union of Canada, the Department of Justice, and the Elizabeth Fry Society.
Following this study and in light of the many concerns presented at public hearings:
. . . the Committee recommended that the bill not proceed, and the full Senate adopted this recommendation without division.
The Senate’s decision on this bill was based on a far more intensive investigation than occurred in the Commons . . .
What does this example show us? It shows us that if the Senate properly and meticulously performs its role, it is beyond question essential to our democracy. I therefore urge honourable senators to not be led astray and to focus on our fundamental role of being a chamber that complements the House of Commons.
I will be voting against Motion No. 41. Thank you.
Senator Carignan, would you take a question?
Here is my question. In 2019, the Senate began its pre-studies on Bill C-15, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, and Bill C-91, the Indigenous Languages Act. If I am not mistaken about the order in which the bills were introduced and referred to committee, Bill C-19 was referred to a committee in the other place on February 20, 2019. The committee started hearing witnesses on February 21, 2019, and the Senate agreed to start a pre-study around one week later. There is a good example of when the Senate made a decision on one of the Indigenous language bills that was very important for this country. Could you comment on why the Senate would have decided to conduct a pre-study on that bill but there is no good reason to have a pre‑study on the official languages bill now?
I do not want to repeat my speech in my response, because I do not have enough time. The important thing is to avoid a slippery slope where eventually we stop playing our role as the chamber of sober second thought. This morning I made the following observation: At the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, we are studying a bill for which 75 amendments were proposed. I was listening to us and I realized that we are quite skilled at taking a second look at bills, but maybe less so at reviewing them the first time around.
We allotted seven or eight meetings, and there are several technical aspects of government policy to address as well. I think that I would like to be able to benefit from the discussions among MPs and the direction they plan to take from a policy perspective in the House of Commons on a bill of this nature, so that we can learn from these discussions and the witnesses. Senators could then complete their study with the testimonies they will have not heard, including evidence from lobbyists that were not heard at the other place, and look at them from a certain distance. I think that is the rule in the Senate and one we should maintain, except in special situations.
As I already mentioned, when I was government leader, for most of the pre-studies we did, the work was already done at the other place. The committee had concluded its study, the witnesses had been heard, and almost all of the amendments had been proposed, because, as you know, at the House of Commons the amendments are mostly presented in committee.
It was moved by the Honourable Senator Gagné, seconded by the Honourable Senator Gold that — may I dispense?
It was moved by the Honourable Senator Gagné, seconded by the Honourable Senator Gold:
That, in accordance with rule 10-11(1), the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages be authorized to examine the subject matter of Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act, to enact the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act and to make related amendments to other Acts, introduced in the House of Commons on March 1, 2022, in advance of the said bill coming before the Senate; and
That, for the purposes of this study, the committee be authorized to meet even though the Senate may then be sitting or adjourned, with the application of rules 12-18(1) and 12-18(2) being suspended in relation thereto.
If you are opposed to the motion, please say “no.”
All those who are in favour of the motion and who are present in the Senate Chamber, please say “yea.”
Those opposed to the motion and who are in the Senate Chamber, please say “nay.”
I believe the “yeas” have it.
Is there an agreement on a bell?
Call in the senators for a vote at 5:42.