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Perspectives — February 26-28, 2019
March 5, 2019
OPINION

Last week in the Senate: conversations with the Canadian Labour Congress, reviewing key legislation and remembering a former colleague.


Government

Last week, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the national voice of the labour movement representing more than 3.3 million members, held a major lobby on Parliament Hill, meeting with more than 100 MPs and senators.

I had the opportunity to speak with representatives from Quebec and the Maritimes. During our meeting, they called for two things: universal pharmacare and better protection for workers when private companies restructure or go bankrupt.

With respect to pharmacare, the CLC is calling for prescription drug coverage for everyone, regardless of income, age or where someone lives. This is based on the principles of universality, accessibility and comprehensiveness, which means establishing a National Drug Formulary to ensure better choice and best value for money. The CLC wants the plan to be administered and implemented by the public sector.

As to protecting pension plans, the CLC wants bankruptcy legislation changed so that workers and retirees are no longer at the bottom of the list of creditors when a company goes bankrupt. The CLC is also calling on the federal government to work with the provinces and territories to put a nationwide pension plan in place.

These matters undoubtedly raise constitutional issues related to provincial and federal jurisdictions. Nevertheless, they warrant the Senate’s consideration. As a labour market economist, I understand these causes and I believe that the Senate, through its committees, can play an important role in studying these issues for the benefit of all Canadians.


Opposition

The ongoing scandal involving alleged obstruction of justice related to the SNC-Lavalin affair continues to deservedly draw attention across Canada, and the Senate is no exception. Debate continued this week in the Senate regarding what role the Upper Chamber will play in getting to the bottom of this serious issue.

Senators continued their hearings this week into Bill C-69, and found a growing chorus of concerns from governments across the country.

We heard from the Governments of Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Saskatchewan, with each of them raising concerns about the potential impact this bill would have on Canadians who depend on resource development for their livelihood.

Premier Rachel Notley from Alberta told Senators that Bill C-69 “is not how you build a country” and that the Act needs to be rewritten.

I would like to extend the thanks of Canadians to each of the government representatives who put forward concrete proposals to improve the bill. I can promise them that Opposition senators will continue to stand up for their concerns.

We all want a bill that contains common sense environmental protections, but it’s not in anyone’s interest to pass legislation that attacks our resource sector.

This topic is important enough to merit travel by this committee, to hear first-hand from people who will be affected by these proposed changes. I look forward to the Committee of Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources finalizing its travel schedule soon, and getting to hear from Canadians outside of Ottawa.


Independent Senate Liberals

Last week I paid tribute to our friend and former senator, the Honourable Pierre De Bané. His passing on January 9, 2019, is a loss to all Canadians. He was an unparalleled public servant who spoke his mind in Parliament for 45 years.

A refugee to this country, he was a passionate optimist about the future of Canada and what her people could accomplish. He would often say that, as an outsider, he was grateful to Canada for welcoming him here, and that gratitude gave rise to a sincere sense of obligation to his fellow Canadians.

He became the first Member of Parliament of Arab descent in 1968 when he was elected in the riding of Matane, Quebec. During the parliamentary recesses of that first term, he hitched a trailer to his car and travelled across his riding, visiting every village and listening to his constituents. His hard work was rewarded with re-election in four subsequent elections.

In 1984, he was called to the Senate where he served with the same principles that had served him so well in the other place. Over the next three decades, he remained true to his beliefs and never wavered on his principled approach to public service.

Pierre loved hard work, cultural nuances and celebrating the achievements of everyone he met. He was a friend to all, because he believed that every human being has intrinsic dignity. For that, we will never forget him.