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Perspectives — April 9-11, 2019
April 17, 2019
OPINION

Last week in the Senate: Canadians' opinion on independent Senate appointments, concerns about Bills C-48 and C-69 and honouring Canadian volunteers.


Government

The Senate was conceived as a chamber of sober second thought — an appointed body that would counterbalance the representation-by-population of the elected House of Commons to ensure smaller provinces would not be overwhelmed by larger provinces. During a recent trip to parts of Atlantic Canada, I noted that the increasingly independent Senate is living up to that intention, perhaps more so than ever before.

Prior to the current government’s commitment to appointing only independent senators, members of the Upper Chamber almost exclusively supported bills along party lines, leading Canadians in regions to believe their views weren’t being fully heard within Parliament. These recent reforms to the Upper Chamber are helping to give new life to the goals of Confederation.

Newly appointed senators no longer sit with established national parties and are not directed how to vote. They can speak up more freely when reviewing legislation on behalf of regional interests and minority groups. Indeed, the government has agreed with Senate changes to more than a quarter of bills.

The Senate is also becoming more and more diverse, and as such its membership is a better reflection of Canada. For example, nearly half of senators are women and more than 10% have Indigenous roots.

A new poll suggests 77% of Canadians want future governments to continue with the new Senate appointment process. It’s clear that the growing independence of the Senate is a positive development that Canadians overwhelmingly support.


Opposition

Last week, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley appeared via videoconference in front of the Senate Transportation and Communications Committee. She spoke with conviction and clarity about Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act.

Calling the bill “a stampede of stupid,” the premier made an appeal to all Canadians: “Don’t block us. Back us. Toss C-48 in the garbage where it belongs.”

The transportation committee was in B.C. last week and will be in Saskatchewan and Alberta later this month to hear directly from Canadians on C-48. Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources was in Western Canada last week.

Hearings in Vancouver, Calgary, Fort McMurray, Saskatoon and Winnipeg showed the real depth of concern that exists about Bill C-69, the Impact Assessment Act, and the impact it will have on the Canadian economy.

Conservative senators are very concerned about the impact that these Liberal bills will have on the Canadian economy, which is why our caucus has pressed to make sure the committees reviewing bills C‑48 and C-69 are able to travel to hear concerns from across the country.

Originally, Liberal senators and Trudeau-appointed Independent senators resisted the call to travel. We are pleased they reversed their decision, and now have the chance to hear directly from these communities.

Senators will be in Eastern Canada later this month, and I am hopeful that the thoughtful feedback being given by Canadians will lead to significant changes to both Bill C-48 and C-69.


Senate Liberals 

As Chair of the Senate Special Committee on the Charitable Sector, it always gives me great pleasure to speak about Canada’s volunteers.

Last week, during our last formal hearings, it was particularly fitting for National Volunteer Week that our committee heard from a very special panel from the voluntary sector. During our round table, we heard over and over again about the importance of the sector and the tremendous impact our volunteers have.

We are indeed a compassionate and volunteer nation. About 12.7 million people in Canada are volunteers, accounting for 1.96 billion unpaid hours, which is the equivalent of about 1 million full-time jobs. Well more than half — 57% — of Canadian charities have no paid staff, and contribute $86.6 billion or roughly 4% to Canada’s overall economic activity each year.

Established to study Canada’s charitable, non-profit, and voluntary sector and its many challenges, our committee’s mandate is to examine the impact of federal and provincial laws and policies governing charities, non-profit organizations, foundations, and similar groups, and to examine the impact of the voluntary sector in Canada. We look forward to working on our final report and hope we can be helpful to our friends in the voluntary sector.

Finally, in celebration of National Volunteer Week, I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of Canada’s volunteers. Your enthusiasm and selfless dedication to helping others helps us all.