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Business of the Senate

June 26, 2020

The Hon. the Speaker [ - ]

Honourable senators, there has been an agreement between the leaderships that the leaders will take a few moments to make brief remarks before we suspend for Royal Assent.

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate) [ - ]

Honourable senators, I would like to take a few minutes to offer some personal thoughts on the last few months.

Let me begin by saying that what has transpired since March is not exactly how I envisaged this time playing out, and nor was it how I intended easing my way into my new role as the Government Representative but, as we all know, the best laid plans and so on.

I had thought that between January and June this chamber would see spirited and in-depth debates and studies relating to medical assistance in dying, the reintroduction of UNDRIP and changes to the Parliament of Canada Act. I imagined lengthy and probably heated discussions on emissions targets, tax cuts, defence procurement.

Instead, on March 13, Parliament Hill, and indeed the world, stopped in its tracks and began a fight against the virus that was turning personal lives and our economies upside down.

In this country, everything planned was laid aside and the priority of providing for and protecting Canadians and Canada became job number one.

I want to thank all senators for rising to the occasion. No one expected this situation. Alternate solutions had to be introduced without warning. I also want to thank all senators for their willingness to cooperate and to do what was necessary to put the needs of Canadians first, even though we had our own concerns about our families and loved ones.

The spirit of cooperation demonstrated by my colleagues in leadership roles in advancing the government’s emergency assistance program during this difficult period was truly inspiring, and I thank them for recognizing how urgently we needed to get the work done at the very start of this catastrophe. I especially want to thank my colleagues in the GRO, the Government Representative Office in the Senate, specifically Senator Gagné and Senator LaBoucane-Benson, for their support and their insight as we navigated these uncharted waters. Thanks also go to the GRO staff, who worked tirelessly doing research, organizing, coordinating and writing, and above all, ensuring that the three of us were prepared for all eventualities.

To my leadership colleagues, you and I spent many dozens of hours on the phone, discussing and negotiating a way forward for the emergency government legislation coming our way. These discussions were not always easy. But I admire the passion and commitment with which you advanced the individual interests of your caucus or group, while at the same time understanding the need for compromise in order to reach agreements.

In the end, government legislation passed in an organized and appropriate manner, for which I am grateful. Colleagues, this is due to all leaders appreciating the art of the compromise and being willing to accommodate each other, thereby allowing the Senate to fulfill its responsibilities to Canadians.

Senator Plett, I understand perfectly well your role as leader of the official opposition, and it most definitely is not to make my job easy. But I want to thank you for your honesty and your clarity during these negotiations.

Senator Woo, I admire your steadfast commitment to the objective of building a more independent and less partisan Senate, and keeping this commitment at the forefront during our discussions.

Senator Tannas, I want to acknowledge your calm and business-like approach to our negotiations. This helped us immensely in reaching common ground.

Senator Cordy, your knowledge of this institution and your respectful and insightful contributions were simply invaluable.

Senator Furey, Your Honour, I believe I speak for all my colleagues in thanking you for your leadership during this difficult time and for your inclusive approach to the tough decisions that you were called upon to make.

Our Senate staff also deserves immense praise for putting together virtual meetings, allowing us to study legislation and get input from senators in all corners of this country. Thank you as well to our staff here in the chamber. We couldn’t have accomplished anything if you hadn’t been here to keep the chamber running.

So while there is no guarantee as to how a new normal might unfold, I look forward to all of us being able to meet face to face sooner rather than later. Thank you.

Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition)

Honourable senators, as has already been said by the Leader of the Government, this has undoubtedly been an unusual parliamentary session. We had a delayed start due to the federal election, and not much later we were hit by COVID-19, a pandemic like we have never seen.

Clearly, this session has been unpredictable and certainly not what anyone anticipated.

We have witnessed the creation here in the Senate of two new Senate groups and the disappearance of the Liberal Party of Canada, which has been represented in this chamber since 1867.

We have had to move very quickly on approving emergency measures in order to help Canadians weather the financial crisis brought on by the ongoing pandemic.

We have witnessed a minority government — now isn’t the time to beat on them, but I will take a parting shot — doing everything in its power to do away with parliamentary accountability and oversight, including the refusal to open the federal financial books for Canadians.

Although it has been an unusual parliamentary session, I am also proud of the work we have accomplished together. I am thankful for the collaboration we have reached among various groups, caucuses and the Speaker. Although as Senate leaders we have not always seen eye to eye, it has truly been a pleasure working with each one of you.

Senator Gold, I want you to take that dart board down in your office with my face on it and put it away for the summer. It has been a pleasure, Senator Gold, working with you. Our goal was not to be agreeable on government business. That was never our goal and never our intention. But it has been a pleasure working with you, and I’m certainly looking forward to continuing that in September.

Senator Woo, I want to echo Senator Gold’s comments. Again, we have not always been on the same side of an issue, but I’ve played hockey with my elbows up in the corners and that’s the way I do my politics, and it’s been a pleasure and I wish you well in the summer.

Senator Tannas; it has been a pleasure working with Senator Tannas. It was a bigger pleasure working with Senator Tannas a year ago than it is now, but nevertheless we still work together.

Senator Cordy; not only do I enjoy working with her, I enjoy playing golf with her in Florida when we are out there together.

I also want to echo the comments about the Speaker. Speaker, you have had a tremendously difficult job at times, but we certainly appreciate all the work you have done and continue to do, and I am happy to call you not only a colleague but a friend.

I am especially proud of the role of the opposition and the role that they have played in this session. I am proud to be part of a larger team that represents the best interests of Canadians across the country.

As a parliamentarian, I value my Conservative caucus colleagues and I value the principles that we stand for. I also want to recognize my deputy leader, Senator Yonah Martin, my whip, Senator Judith G. Seidman, my deputy whip, Senator Percy Mockler — who am I forgetting? — I think that is my team. It’s been a pleasure working with all of them.

Having the benefit and significance to be able to say that I represent, and our caucus represents, 6,155,622 Canadians that voted for the Conservatives in the last election, is not only rewarding, but it also allows me to carry out what they asked us to do, and that is to keep the Trudeau government in check and accountable.

Keeping the government to account is a crucial responsibility and one that cannot be done by a single person alone. I want to take this opportunity to thank our entire caucus for the excellent work that they have accomplished over the last few months.

I am also grateful for our staff, who have worked diligently in supporting us in the heavy responsibilities we carry as senators. I wish to especially thank my own staff for their ongoing devotion.

I want to just simply tell people here that I am not entirely responsible for writing all my own speeches. I have had a lot of good help in that, and I certainly appreciate each one of them.

I want to personally thank the Senate Administration. You go above and beyond in ensuring the smooth functioning of the Senate. Senators could not carry out their duties without you — from translation to communications, PPS to ISD, corporate security to property and services, pages to the Usher of the Black Rod’s office, from the Library of Parliament to the clerk’s office, the Speaker’s office and everyone else within this institution. Please know that your dedication and diligent work do not go unnoticed.

We have been hit hard by very unusual times — times that have forced us to adapt and work differently. We have had to juggle the work at home and at work. We have had to balance it in ways that we’ve never had to do before.

Please allow me to acknowledge all of our staff who are parents of young children. The pandemic has forced you to become teachers overnight in addition to your ongoing professional responsibilities, but you have continued to ensure the good functioning of the Senate and have proved me right that we can come here to sit and function well. For that, I wish to wholeheartedly thank all of you.

Honourable senators, it is time to say goodbye for the summer, but please continue to be safe. I look forward to seeing you all very soon. Thank you.

Hon. Yuen Pau Woo [ - ]

Honourable senators, it is customary at the end of a session to review what we have accomplished in the past months since Parliament was convened, but the last several months were at least as memorable for what we were not able to do as they were for what we were able to accomplish.

Among the things we weren’t able to do is the departure of some of our fellow senators who retired during the time of the shutdown and who will be retiring in the summer months. We will therefore not have the opportunity while they are still here to give them a proper send-off. I refer, of course, to Senator Mitchell, Senator McInnis and, in a few months, Senator Lillian Dyck. It also applies, of course, to staffers, members of the Senate Administration, pages and others who work in the Senate family who, for one reason or another, may be moving on to other pursuits and we will not have the opportunity to properly say goodbye to them in this chamber.

If I could use this opportunity to mention one in particular, a staffer in the Independent Senators Group secretariat, Megan Lee. This is her last day. She will be moving on to other pursuits in Ottawa.

We were also unable to form committees in the last seven months. A few have been formed, as we all know, but most committees were not formed and they were not able to do the studies that they are well known for. We were not able to participate in interparliamentary association work and travel. Many of us were not able to advance the causes that we are passionate about on the Hill in Ottawa. Most importantly of all, we were not able to sit in this chamber in regular sessions. This is most acutely felt by those of our colleagues who were not able to come to the emergency sessions since the middle of March and in the last two weeks of our sittings. All of them, I know, have been paying close attention to what we do in this chamber and it has been an immense frustration for them to be viewing us from afar and not being able to be in the thick of the action, so to speak.

There is more than meets the eye to the work of senators in their formal role in Ottawa because we know that all senators, whether they were here or not, have been working hard in their communities and discharging their duties as senators outside of being in the chamber and in committees. A number of senators have self-selected into groups to have discussions and exchanges on issues of importance to the country — particularly in the context of COVID — broadly aligned with the mandates of Senate standing committees, but not in any way trying to usurp the role of Senate standing committees. I think of the work of senators discussing basic income and talking about foreign affairs in the wake of the coronavirus. I think of the senators who have come together to talk about energy and environmental issues, arts and culture, Indigenous issues and, of course, anti-black racism. The Senate may not have been meeting, but senators have been hard at work.

Even so, the experience of recent months has demonstrated a glaring weakness in our institutional design, and it is that we don’t have a business continuity plan. We’ve had some discussion about this already, about the use of video conferencing technology, and different senators have different views. To me, it is extraordinary that an institution of this importance in our country does not have the ability to meet outside of this chamber and has not embraced the technology that any well-functioning organization in this country has already done. Now, of course, there are obstacles to be overcome; but surely lesson that we have learned in the last few months is that whether or not we need to use that technology, we need to put it in place and we need to be ready for a time, whether it is a second wave or some other catastrophe, that may require us to meet by means other than being physically present in Ottawa. You all know the oath that we swore. It has the call of a summons to come. I would like to think that in the 21st century one would have a modern interpretation of the summons as including plugging in your computer and turning on your video conferencing app.

Honourable senators, business continuity and the ability to meet remotely should be part of our modernization agenda. This is something that has been ongoing in our chamber for many years already. This is an additional item that I know our Senate Administration will be working on over the summer.

Of course, the modernization agenda goes much beyond physical infrastructure and meeting by technology. It is also about the improved effectiveness of the Senate. What I like to see is the greater independence and the lessening of partisanship in our upper house. I’m so delighted that we have had a major development, even in the midst of COVID-19 in the last few months, with the emergence of three recognized parliamentary groups that are not part of a partisan caucus. Now the clear majority of this chamber belongs to groups that are non-partisan and that want to advance a future in the Senate that is based on criteria that goes beyond partisan considerations.

We saw this play out in the last two weeks, where there were different ways of providing opposition to the government. It was reflected in the welcome reality of a more variegated type of opposition in this chamber that advances a diverse set of issues with which to challenge the government. There was a Committee of the Whole on supply. There was also a Committee of the Whole on systemic racism. I’m very proud of my colleagues in the ISG who provided some leadership on those issues.

There are many other items on the modernization agenda that have moved forward. It’s not the time to address them. I’m very pleased that we were able to make progress on a number of fronts. I would single out the Audit and Oversight Committee which is now on its way to being formed, again, due to the work of senators from all sides and with much deliberation and care.

It leaves me now to offer my thanks and gratitude to so many colleagues and friends who have made the last seven months of sitting a success and a pleasure. I want to start with my ISG colleagues, who have provided me with support in spite of some difficult times. I want to especially thank the leadership team of Senator Saint-Germain, Senator Omidvar and Senator Duncan, but all ISG members have been a source of strength for me and for the leadership team, and the secretariat that has provided steadfast support to our work.

I want to thank the Senate Administration and all the workers of the Senate, from the security staff to the cleaning staff to Black Rod, and so many others who make it possible for us to do our work successfully. We thanked some of the pages here in person, but I want all the pages to know that we deeply appreciate their work, and for those who are leaving, we wish them well.

I offer a special thanks to my fellow leaders. I fully reciprocate the kind words from Senator Plett and Senator Gold. It really is a pleasure to work with you. It’s not easy at times, but we always seem to find a way to go forward and to take the broader interests of the Senate and of this country into consideration.

Your Honour, I want to thank you again for your leadership on a variety of fronts, particularly in dealing with the difficult circumstances around how we and you have had to make some tough decisions that haven’t pleased everyone. However, I believe you’ve held the broadest interests in your heart and have made those decisions in good conscience.

Colleagues in the chamber and those of you who are watching via SenVu, I want to wish all of you a safe, happy, restful and rejuvenating summer. I look forward to seeing you all in the fall.

Hon. Robert Black [ - ]

Honourable senators, I’m speaking today on behalf of the Canadian Senators Group interim leader, Senator Tannas, and on behalf of the whole CSG.

I echo the sentiments that have been shared thus far, so I will try not to be too repetitive. It certainly has been an unusual session. I am sure we all wish we had been able to hold more sittings over the last number of months to get more legislation passed and more work done for Canadians.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic happened, which none of us could have predicted, and this really threw a wrench into our plans. Bills we thought would be passed by now are still awaiting debate in the House of Commons, committee studies many of us would like to undertake are on hold and important conversations have been unable to take place.

I am hopeful we will be able to return to a somewhat regular schedule come the fall. If not, I and our group hopes that we will be able to find some workable technological solution, as proposed by a motion that CSG put forward, in order to meet remotely.

It has also been a period of continued change in the Senate, with the establishment of our group, the Canadian Senators Group, and the Progressive Senators Group. I am sure there will be more changes to come, with the appointment of new senators, the potential for new groups and movement within all of the groups. I look forward to these changes, along with my colleagues in the Senate of Canada.

Your Honour and colleagues, in the chamber and those watching, thank you for your time, your commitment and many efforts over the past number of months. I would also like to thank my CSG colleagues for their work over the past number of months in getting this group off the ground and for just being wonderful to work with. I am proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in our limited time in Ottawa since last fall, and I look forward to what is to come.

Thank you also to the CSG’s newly established research bureau and parliamentary operations teams, with whom I look forward to continuing to collaborate. Thanks to my colleagues in my office with whom I work closely every day and who help me sound good when I stand here before you.

I want to say a special thanks to our families, who are supporting us and who stand firmly behind us as we work for the good of all Canadians.

I want to thank all of the staff who make it possible for our Senate sittings to function. They are the clerks, the stenographers, the interpreters, the technology team, our wonderful pages, the Chamber Operations staff whom we don’t see here, the committee clerks and staff, the Parliamentary Protective Service, the maintenance staff, those in the mailrooms and delivery trucks and everyone else. Thank you. We couldn’t do any of this without you, and your work is deeply appreciated.

Thank you for your vital contribution.

Colleagues, I wish you all a wonderful summer with family and friends. I am hopeful that when we meet again things will have returned to a new normal, and we will be able to hit the ground running and do important work for Canadians.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t say how excited I am to be going home to spend more time with my family — my wife, our children and grandchildren, Jackson and Connor — over the summer months. Here’s to hoping we can be in larger groups as the summer progresses so that we can spend some well-deserved time with extended family and friends.

Colleagues, be safe and stay healthy. Thank you. Meegwetch.

Hon. Peter Harder [ - ]

Honourable senators, I hope that you all appreciate how strange this is for me. I look around, and I’m reminded of the Vinyl Café line: “We May Not Be Big But We’re Small.”

I am honoured to speak on behalf of the Progressive Senators Group and our leader Senator Jane Cordy. Many of this group have not been able to participate because of COVID restrictions, but on behalf of everyone in the group, I want to take the opportunity to thank those here and those who are watching.

The last six months have been a great disruption in our personal and our professional lives, and the way in which we work and play. I have a list of specific groups in the Senate that I would like to thank. As I looked at the list and went through it, I thought that every one of these groups and individuals in them have had their workplaces changed as a result of COVID-19 — how they do their work, and how they’re supporting and undertaking new work to keep us safe and to allow us to conduct the work that we are doing in new, different and innovative ways.

Think of the Table Officers, the Black Rod, the clerks, the committee directorates, the pages, the interpreters, the stenographers, Information Services, Parliamentary Protective Services, client services, and the custodial staff — whom I’m sure have wiped these desks more in the last six months than the last seven years — the Senate Administration and the support staff in our offices. The work that is necessary for us to continue has adapted, and we should all be grateful for that.

I’d like to thank the leadership. If you don’t mind, I’d like to especially thank the Government Representative Office. I know something of the job, and I admire how you have conducted yourselves. I’m grateful for the professionalism, the good humour and the wonderful company that you are. I’m particularly glad that I’m not there.

I’d like to thank the other leaders. Listening to a different perspective doesn’t always change my mind, but it is appreciated that the leadership in this place is dedicated to the well-being of the Senate, and that the collaboration we see happening is very much appreciated by all senators.

I would like to end with a few comments in accordance with some comments that were made earlier. Senator Cormier, in his statement at the beginning of this session, referenced the soon-to-depart Senator Lillian Dyck. Senator Woo did so similarly. That is a major loss for the Senate. Senator Dyck, as chair of the Aboriginal Affairs Committee as well as in her work outside of the committee, has been a senator of great distinction, and she will be retiring in the course of the summer. That is a significant loss for the PSG. In fact, it risks the well-being and the continuity of the Progressive Senators Group. This is not my opportunity to do a sales pitch, of course, but I was delighted to hear the positive references for the creation of the group, and I leave it to you to allow that to continue.

Finally, Your Honour, I want to thank you for your ongoing friendship, your wisdom and your ability to see through the arguments that are presented to you and come out with the best judgment available. That is consistent, it is welcomed and it is necessary in a chamber like this.

I wish you all a safe respite from this place. I know your work and dedication to your tasks will continue. I hope that when we meet in September, whatever the disruption of the time might be, that we continue to keep in mind that the purpose behind why we’re here is to serve Canadians and make this institution of Parliament even more effective than it has been. Thank you.

Hon. Raymonde Gagné (Legislative Deputy to the Government Representative in the Senate) [ - ]

Honourable senators, with leave of the Senate and notwithstanding rule 5-5(j), I move:

That the sitting be suspended to the call of the chair, with the bells to ring for five minutes before the sitting resumes.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted, honourable senators?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Hon. the Speaker [ - ]

Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(Motion agreed to.)

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