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Perspectives — December 12-14, 2017
Perspectives — December 12-14, 2017
December 20, 2017
OPINION

Last week at the Senate: reflections on 2017, a committee report on the government’s proposed tax reforms, a bill to rename the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act and a bill to create a visual arts laureate for Parliament.

Government

The weeks preceding the parliamentary recess were filled with activity, both in the Senate Chamber and at its committees. 

Senators and all their support staff can be proud of the work accomplished in the fall session.

Eight government bills received Royal Assent, along with a number of Senate public bills. This was an ambitious agenda that affected every aspect of Canadian society. 

I would like to draw special attention to the passage of Bill S-3, which, thanks to the leadership of this House, was improved in order to reduce discrimination against Indigenous women. Indigenous Senators and Senators from all groups played a key role in passing this bill. 

In my view, this important legislation represents a step toward truth and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Perhaps, in this 150th year of Canada’s existence, this marks the start of a more just future for all.

Protecting the rights and interests of minority groups has always been one of the Senate’s fundamental goals. The past few months have demonstrated our ability to work cooperatively to carry out our duties. I am certain that we will continue working for the benefit of all Canadians in 2018.

But the weeks ahead are an opportunity for us to go home and rekindle our ties with the communities we represent and to spend restful time with family.

I would like to wish all Senators and Senate staff happy holidays and a new year filled with love and joy.


Opposition

On Wednesday, December 13, after months of public hearings across Canada on the controversial tax reform by the Trudeau government, the Senate National Finance Committee released a report in which they urged the government to abandon implementation entirely or at very least delay until 2019, so that proper analysis can be made. Senator Mockler explained, “If the government wishes to implement tax reform it must do so carefully, cautiously and with consideration for how it will affect Canadians.” Senators from all parties agreed that more consideration was necessary prior to implementation.

The report recommended that the Finance Minister withdraw changes with respect to Canadian-controlled private corporations and that the government undertake a review of the current tax system with the goal of reducing complexity, ensuring economic competitiveness and enhancing overall fairness.

To make matters worse, the original tax changes were introduced during the summer holiday and harvest season, a time critical for many small business owners and farmers to make ends meet.  Just this past week, Minister Morneau released the details regarding “income sprinkling”. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) stated in a release that the new income sprinkling changes are a “lump of coal” for small business. “How our government expects small businesses to understand the new rules and make any needed changes to their corporate structures in two and a half weeks is beyond me.” The CFIB remains concerned that the Canada Revenue Agency make determinations as to whether a firm qualifies for the exemptions the government outlined this week. 


Senate Liberals

In the week of December 11, Bill S-210 passed third reading in the Senate. Its purpose is simple, and the bill contains a single clause to reflect this. Bill S-210 will repeal the short title of the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, which dealt with polygamy, national age of marriage, forced marriage and provocation.

This bill will not change any laws, nor belittle the seriousness of crimes listed within the Act. On the contrary- I have fought for over 30 years against female genital mutilation and forced marriages in Canada, and will continue to do so.

Instead, this bill will undo and heal the damage done by divisive language in our laws. By placing the words “cultural” and “barbaric” together, the short title implied that people who committed the crime were not responsible for their heinous acts. Instead, they were committed crimes because of their culture.

The implications in that title had the power to divide us as Canadians. Several communities felt that the title was directed at them, and felt alienated. It also hurt victims, who felt that speaking out would paint their entire culture as barbaric. Finally, it hurt public discussion by distracting from real problems that lead to the heinous crimes in the act.

What I aim to do with Bill S-210 is unite Canadians, and undo the damage done by the divisive short title. Once these wounds have healed, Canadians from all communities can work together and seek ways to end the truly horrifying practices in the act.


Independent Senators Group

On Thursday, December 14, Bill S-234, Visual Artist Laureate for Parliament, passed Committee stage and was tabled in the Senate for third reading. After passing Senate third reading it goes to the House of Commons for consideration, and, we hope, passage. As sponsor, I presented it on December 13th, 2017 to the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. This would be a two-year creative posting, honouring a visual artist of national distinction. The position will serve as arts ambassador and creator of works related to Parliament, reflecting the work of Parliamentarians and societal issues being discussed by both Houses.

I believe the Visual Artist Laureate will be inspiring to all, opening new doors for many, youth, new Canadians, and citizens of all ages, diversities and regions of Canada. The visual arts are a language our children and youth understand. I contest by visually presenting what happens in the two Chambers of Parliament the engagement of youth will increase, as will their understanding of civil society and our democratic system. Creating this position will also demonstrate Parliament’s leadership in underlining the importance of the arts in every societal and the significant contributions of artists. The Visual Artist Laureate will complement the Poet Laureate.

Artists reflect on multiple issues, just as we do in the Senate. They challenge, nudge, question and present social issues, often bringing issues to the fore long before society recognizes them. Thus, a Visual Artist Laureate will assist the Senate in greater understanding of various societal aspects.