Honourable senators, before proceeding to Motion No. 89, the leaders have all asked for time to make a few statements before we adjourn for the summer break. We’re going to do that now and then we will return to the Order Paper.
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate)
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Honourable colleagues, this has been a shocking, worrisome and historic year. When I took on the job of Government Representative in the Senate, it never occurred to me that within weeks of the opening of the Forty-third Parliament, the government would be forced to abandon its planned business and divert all of its attention to the protection and support of Canadians, as a deadly virus spread across the country and around the world.
This institution managed. Frankly, we did better than simply manage. It wasn’t easy, but senators negotiated and prioritized, we insisted on occasion and we conceded on occasion. And for every decision we reached in our mission to continue Senate operations, there were dozens of people in the background making it happen.
I would first like to thank Speaker Furey for guiding us through this uncertain time. We all understand that this pandemic was an unprecedented threat and yet we also understood that Parliament, this chamber, could not shutter its doors and ignore the business of Canadians. Through Speaker Furey’s office, and with the tireless efforts of his staff, we were able to get to work and, at the same time, allow all colleagues to participate and weigh in, whether from their home offices or from their dining-room tables.
When we consider that such an endeavour had never been attempted before and the speed with which we were able to connect with each other, I give great credit and thanks to our IT staff. And I extend a very special thank you to our Senate clerks, the table officers and the pages for ensuring the smooth running of a much more sparsely attended chamber.
Senate committees and the review and study of legislation are arguably the most essential functions of this chamber. We owe a debt of gratitude to the committee clerks, the interpreters and the committee attendants who worked behind the scenes to see to it that we could do our jobs to the best of our ability. And I must not forget to also recognize and thank the Parliamentary Protective Service officers who manned the doors in rain, snow or shine.
I owe a huge thank you to my GRO colleagues Senator Gagné and Senator LaBoucane-Benson. Their advice and patience were invaluable to me and to our team as we navigated these uncharted waters. The three of us could not have functioned at all without the consistent and reliable assistance, advice and research of everyone on the GRO team. They are extraordinary and I salute them.
To my colleagues, leaders of the groups, for the many hours of meetings, phone calls, messages and texts, I want to thank Senator Plett, Senator Woo, Senator Tannas and Senator Cordy. It wasn’t always easy or convenient. Politics gets in the way sometimes, but our personal relationships were strong. I’m proud of the work we accomplished together on behalf of Canadians and I’m proud of the way in which we were able to hammer out our differences without rancour or animosity, even if at times we may have disappointed each other.
Finally, I owe much to my wife Nancy, who supports me in this newest chapter in my professional life. Frankly, without her encouragement this past year would have been far, far more difficult.
Colleagues, I hope this summer you all finally get to spend time with those you love and that, when we return, the world will have changed sufficiently so that we can all greet each other in person for the first time in a very long time. I look forward to it. Once again, thank you all very much.
Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition)
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Honourable senators, what a year it has been. Much has happened since I gave thanks before our suspension last June. This time last year, we were all hoping that our fall session would be fully in person by the time we regathered. Alas, here we are. Our hybrid sittings have sustained us this year — yes, often making suspensions for technical difficulties all the more frequent, but they have kept us meeting.
Reflecting on this year reminds me of how, in many ways, it has been a troubling year for many of us. It has been challenging in our personal lives. We long for life to return to normal. We miss seeing our extended families. Loved ones have been lost. My heart goes out to all who have had a painful year personally.
News stories this year have been tragic and deeply troubling. Canada was confronted with the state of some long-term care homes, grappling with the reality of many of them suffering with COVID-19 outbreaks in poor conditions. The Governor General had to resign in a swirl of controversy. More recently, we confronted the finding of children’s graves in Kamloops, in Brandon and in Cowessess. The act of terror against a Muslim family in London also troubled us all. These have been horrifying truths that we have had no choice but to face head on.
It has also been a heavy year in the Red Chamber. Bill C-7 passed through our walls, making death an available option to Canadians with disabilities. It’s no secret I did not support this legislation. It was emotionally heavy for me and many of my colleagues to watch this bill gain so much support in both the House and the Senate despite widespread concerns voiced by our disability communities. I still believe we really did fail our disability community, colleagues.
To reflect on this year properly, we should also acknowledge the shortfalls of the government. It has been troubling to witness Trudeau’s minority government continue to push forward policies that do not help Canadians in the long run. The government has put us in trillions of dollars of debt, unemployment levels are up, the Bank of Canada cannot seem to stop printing money and our annual inflation rate has hit its highest level in a decade.
Certainly, we have not gone without moments that deserve rejoicing. We have seen bills come forward that have brought Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action to life. We have recently seen the passage of Conservative MP’s private members’ bills: Bill C-208, Bill C-210, Bill C-218, Bill C-220 and Bill C-228. Our debates bring me joy and it is an honour to be in the same room discussing Canadian legislation with all of you. Truly, it is an honour.
Colleagues, throughout the disappointments from the government and our lively debates, you have remained steadfast in your commitment to serving Canadians and representing them here in the Senate. We can never forget that this place — this chamber, our committees, our seats — all exist to act as sober second thought in the Canadian democratic system. What an honour it is to hold these positions.
Senator Gold, I know you will miss my vaccine questions during your summer break. It certainly makes my job easier, knowing that you understand my role as the opposition. And I look forward to bringing my best questions forward come September. It continues to be a pleasure to work with you.
I also want to thank Nancy for keeping you motivated, keeping you active, and please bring my best regards to Mrs. Gold.
Senator Woo, Senator Saint-Germain and Senator Tannas, it has been a pleasure working with you here. Senator Cordy, instead of sparring in the Senate, I look forward to again playing a game of golf with you and Bob in the Villages of Florida — a lot more fun there than here.
Thank you, Your Honour, for all you do to keep us in line. I can only imagine that your job has become even more difficult with our hybrid sittings, so we applaud you for your dedication to maintaining order and excellence in this chamber.
I also want to extend my gratitude to our Speaker pro tempore. I appreciate your strictness when you preside. Truly, in Committee of the Whole, it has been a pleasure working with you, as well as the way you have kept ministers in line, Speaker pro tempore, always with integrity and a smile.
Perhaps it goes without saying that I am deeply proud of our Conservative caucus. Thank you to my leadership team: our deputy leader, Senator Martin; our whip, Senator Seidman; our deputy whip, Senator Housakos; and of course, Senator Poirier, who has had a difficult year and we miss her. Your dedication is resolute and inspiring.
To our entire Conservative caucus, it is an absolute pleasure to be on the same team as all of you. I learn from all of you each and every day. Our Conservative caucus proudly represents the Canadians from coast to coast to coast who identify with the values of the Conservative Party of Canada, including the 6,155,662 who voted Conservative in October of 2019.
Canadians are increasingly hungry for a government that is truly transparent, trustworthy and competent, for a strong national defence and for a recovery plan that puts our economy back on track to thrive. It is an honour to represent these values under the banner of the Conservative Party of Canada and the Senate of Canada.
To all of our office staff, thank you for everything you do. We could not do what we do without you. We wish you all a wonderful summer. And a special thanks to my own staff: thank you for your loyalty and expertise.
To the Senate Administration that does endless work behind the scenes to keep our sessions running, our technology up to date, our payrolls coming — even giving raises to our staff without us knowing about it — and our words translated, thank you.
A special thank you to the pages. We wish you all the very best. We wish it could have been a different year for you.
Thank you to the Office of the Usher of the Black Rod for your dedication, to Blair Armitage whom we will not be seeing this fall as he will be retiring today, I believe.
Thank you, Blair, for all the work you have done, as well as the Clerk of the Senate and others. Thank you all so much.
To all of those who work to keep our building running, including our security, it is such a pleasure to feel so safe and well taken care of here, and we appreciate you deeply.
To the people who clean the building, it certainly does not go unnoticed, especially this year as we grappled with the new reality of doing business during a global pandemic.
Colleagues, it has been a long and hard year for many. I thank you all for your dedication to what you do and what you stand for. We may not agree, but we all stand for what we believe. I hope that you all have a wonderful rest this summer in preparation for our sessions in the fall.
Honourable senators, I look forward to seeing you all again soon. Take care and stay safe.
Honourable senators, this is my second end-of-session message during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I find myself again sending good wishes on our departure when I haven’t even had the chance to send good wishes to many of you on our arrival at the beginning of 2020.
In that time, eight of our colleagues have retired, and our farewells to them have not been as we would have wished them to be. Over the summer, two more colleagues will retire: Senator Munson and Senator Stewart Olsen. While we had the opportunity to honour Jim, we will not have the chance to formally toast our colleague from New Brunswick.
To Senator Stewart Olsen, we say thank you, adieu and warm wishes for a happy and healthy retirement.
We are now half a decade into the Senate reforms of 2016 and will soon welcome to our ranks three new members appointed under the arm’s-length independent panel process. The Senate today is more diverse than it has ever been and demonstrates greater independence from partisan forces in the House of Commons than in the past.
The Canadian public supports the new approach to Senate appointments and the fact that new senators sit as nonpartisan members. Indeed, 80% of us today belong to parliamentary groups that are not part of a political caucus and do not align with a party in the other place.
Regardless of your views on a less-partisan Senate, we face long-standing challenges related to the legitimacy and credibility of the institution that we need to tackle collectively. That is a matter for a different speech, but I hope the end of another session — a most unique session — is an opportunity to reflect on just how we continue to work on Senate modernization when we return in the fall.
We have shown that we can rise to disruptions, such as COVID-19, which was a unique test of institutional resilience. I want to offer once again my thanks to the Senate Administration for helping us respond through adjustments in just about everything we do, from rules to physical space to technology to human resource management. While our response was not perfect, the proof of success is in the fact that infections in the Senate family were kept to a minimum, and we were able to continue our work.
I hope we will take the summer to reflect upon what we have learned from our response to COVID-19 and how we prepare for the next disruption.
We did not have a business continuity plan when COVID-19 struck — to be fair, no parliaments did — but we put one in place in due course and executed it reasonably well. The question is how we might now embed elements of our recent experience into the regular functioning of the Senate, both as a matter of good practice and as a buffer for future disruptions.
To be specific, what should we carry over from our largely successful experiment in virtual and hybrid sittings for the ongoing work of Senate sittings, committee meetings and the like? I believe the benefits of doing so in terms of efficiency, cost savings and a lower carbon footprint are compelling.
Let me conclude by thanking all staff across the Senate — cleaners, pages, clerks, translators, advisers and more — for your service to this institution in a most unusual and challenging period. I also offer my personal thanks to colleagues in the Senate leadership — the Speaker, the Speaker pro tempore, Senators Gold, Plett, Tannas and Cordy — for your willingness to solve problems together even in the face of occasional strong disagreements.
A special thank you to the ISG leadership team — Senators Saint-Germain, Omidvar and Duncan — who were supported by our very capable ISG Secretariat in serving not just the ISG membership but the entire Senate for the greater good of our institution.
Colleagues, I wish you all a safe, restful and rejuvenating summer recess and look forward to seeing you again in the fall, hopefully in person. And happy Canada Day.
Honourable senators, it has been an unforgettable year; I think we can all agree. We got through it together here in the Senate of Canada.
Canadians received the vital financial support they needed, and we engaged on other priority initiatives of the Government of Canada in a thoughtful way and in a timely fashion. We accomplished this because we are blessed with such dedicated and capable staff who met challenge after challenge and kept us and our institution in business.
To all members of the Senate family, we say thank you and bravo. You are our heroes, and it is an honour to work with each and every one of you. We hope you rest well and enjoy much-deserved time with your families over the summer, in addition to the inevitable preparations for a busy fall.
I was awestruck by the way our administration delivered innovative technology solutions that helped us do our work, but I must say that I hope this is the last we see of each other on Zoom.
I firmly believe that we do our best work when we are together and in person, but I have to admit that “Zooming” was a unique experience that has, for me, created some lasting memories. For example, I will not forget the majesty of Senator MacDonald’s china cabinet, especially in the early days of hybrid sittings. Like a sentinel, it presided over our hearings.
I admired the beautiful artwork surrounding many senators, from Indigenous pieces to Group of Seven paintings to grandchildren’s colouring.
I’m envious of Senator Cormier’s beautiful piano and greatly enjoyed the night he serenaded us with a lively number while we waited for a vote.
I’m curious about those snazzy gold tassels attached to Senator Harder’s Canadian flag and what they mean. I plan to ask him about it when I see him next.
All this to say, with gentle humour, that we have invited each other into our homes, and I think we are, in new ways, closer and more connected than we imagined possible across thousands of kilometres. I believe it will enrich our perspectives and our relationships as we turn to future work.
In closing, colleagues, we in the Canadian Senators Group are looking forward with optimism to us all being together again in Ottawa, working on behalf of the people of our great country and helping them resume, or achieve for the first time, success, happiness and security for themselves and their families.
Honourable senators, I would like to begin by acknowledging that I am joining you from Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaq people.
On behalf of the Progressive Senate Group, or PSG, I wish to echo the sentiments expressed by the other leaders today. Honourable senators, throughout the course of this session, we have worked together to improve the lives of Canadians. I look forward to resuming that work when we return. And please, God, as others have said, let it be in person.
We have also continued to face ongoing logistical challenges with our new way of work, but I would like to offer gratitude to all of those who have been working on these challenges and finding solutions for us. The employees who have continued to go above and beyond to adapt to our new circumstances deserve our thanks and, hopefully, as others have said, some time to rest and relax this summer.
To the Speaker’s office, Information Services, the translators and interpreters, the maintenance staff, the pages and clerks, as well as the rest of the employees in the Chamber Operations and Procedure Office, Communications, Broadcasting, Protective Services and Corporate Security, the employees of the Library of Parliament, and to all the other employees of Senate Administration and the staff whom we rely on in our own offices, we appreciate all the work that you do for us. We thank you so much for that support.
Thank you to Senator Furey and your staff during these challenging times and to Senator Ringuette, our Speaker pro tempore.
I also want to salute the leaders of all the groups, Senator Gold, Senator Woo, Senator Plett and Senator Tannas. We have not always agreed on the best path forward, but we’ve worked on finding ways to do what is best for Canadians. It is a pleasure to work with each of you. I want to wish a happy birthday to Senator Gold, whose birthday is tomorrow. If he were in Newfoundland, he could be celebrating at this moment, because it’s after midnight.
To Senator Plett, golf sounds like a great idea, and I can’t wait to golf with both you and Betty. For everybody else, we have a rule that there’s not to be any politics when we golf and particularly when we have dinner later, but both Senator Plett and my husband, Bob, never follow that rule. Betty and I both have to remind them of it many times.
I do hope that everyone can take some time this summer to reflect on recent events. Particularly, I’m thinking of the horrific act of anti-Muslim terrorism in London, Ontario, earlier this month and the discovery of the remains of First Nations children on the grounds of former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
Honourable senators, we are all proud of our country, but honourable senators, we must do better. We must confront the past and chart a new course forward. There are many opportunities for us to do better, and I look forward to working toward tangible progress on issues like racism and reconciliation when we return.
I’m pleased to note that when we do return, we will be joined by new colleagues. I look forward to welcoming future senators Bernadette Clement, James Quinn, and Hassan Yussuff to the upper chamber. The addition of new ideas and new perspectives is always valuable to the work we do here.
As we wind down today’s sitting, we must also say goodbye to our friends and colleagues, Senator Jim Munson and Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen, who will be leaving us over the course of the summer. We will miss them. The chamber won’t quite be the same without them. Jim and Carolyn, you have both made a positive difference.
Jim, we in the Progressive Senate Group will miss you, but we will toast you again at our group’s social next Tuesday evening — a Zoom social, of course. That’s the only kind we have these days, it seems.
Honourable senators and staff, I wish you a safe and a restful summer.
To all the members of our group, the Progressive Senate Group, you are incredible senators and caring people. I love working with each of you. My sincere hope is that we can all meet in person this fall. To our PSG staff, we are truly blessed to have such a great team. Thanks to each of you.
Thanks to our leadership team of Senator Dalphond, Senator Bovey and Senator Francis — and Senator Dawson for a while. It’s been a pleasure working with each of you. I know we’ve had many long meetings. That’s the thing with Zoom; we have to call special meetings. There’s no just getting together for two minutes behind the chamber. It’s always calling for a special meeting. Thank you for always being so patient and helpful, and for sharing your ideas and suggestions.
Honourable senators, I hope that we are all able to spend more time with family and friends this summer, and who knows, maybe this fall. I look forward to seeing all of you in person. Thank you very much.