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Perspectives — March 18-22, 2019
March 27, 2019
OPINION

Last week in the Senate: The first televised Senate sitting, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act and the Act to Ensure a Barrier-Free Canada.

Government

 Last week marked the beginning of a new era in the Senate of Canada. Monday, March 18 marked the first time that the Chamber proceedings were video broadcast, thus enabling people across the country and around the world to witness the valuable work that Canadian senators are doing.

Broadcasting the daily proceedings in the Senate of Canada is a key element to making the institution more transparent and accountable.  Those who watch the Senate deliberations on television or online will get an unprecedented view of how Canada’s upper house complements the work of the House of Commons by reviewing and advising on legislation proposed on behalf of Canadians.

The Government Representative Office (GRO) — which consists of Senator Peter Harder, Senator Diane Bellemare, and I — has the responsibility to help shepherd government legislation through the Senate, ensuring that it is thoroughly and efficiently reviewed.

Of course, the GRO is also committed to supporting Senate modernization by advocating for a more independent, accountable, responsible and transparent Senate — one that conducts its deliberations in a less partisan manner.

While the GRO plays a key role in championing renewal of this venerable Canadian institution, Senate modernization was a priority before the GRO was created, and senators from all groups have played important roles in the process. The decision to broadcast the daily Senate proceedings on television and online represents another significant milestone.

To stream the Senate proceedings online, please visit sencanada.ca. Deliberations will also be broadcast on the Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC).


Opposition

Last week, I joined many of my colleagues from all political backgrounds in an open discussion with Indigenous leaders from the Aboriginal Equity Partners and Indian Resource Council organizations. This delegation travelled to Ottawa to express its dissatisfaction with the government’s Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act.

The government’s proposed legislation will block opportunities for Indigenous economic self-determination, which will negatively impact the health and well-being of their families and communities.

Bill C-48, combined with the proposed Impact Assessment Act, Bill C-69, will prevent communities who are conducting or trying to conduct responsible oil production on their territories from receiving the full value of our resources. The delegation of Indigenous leaders raised serious and heartbreaking situations faced by their communities due to poverty. Bruce Dumont, former president of the Métis Nation of British Columbia, said: “We believe that market access for Canadian oil will help raise communities out of poverty. We believe this economic development can go hand in hand with protecting British Columbia’s northwest coast.”

The federal government should maintain strong regulations to allow for the safe passage of all vessels through Canadian waters rather than impose measures that target the development of a single industry at a cost for First Nations on B.C.’s coast.

More than 30 First Nations in this region have negotiated ownership positions in pipeline projects. These projects have the potential to lift thousands of Indigenous people out of poverty. Shamefully, Bill C-48 strips that all away from them. 


Senate Liberals

Last week, I was pleased to stand in the Senate to deliver remarks that, for the first time ever, were video broadcast. It was particularly fitting because, 42 years ago, I was the first Member of Parliament to deliver a televised speech in the House of Commons.

Finally, Canadians can also watch senators delivering their messages during our proceedings. We are leading by example in terms of the quality of debate in this Chamber and the non-partisan nature of our remarks that reflect the various perspectives found here.

I don’t imagine the Senate’s ratings will be astronomical, but everyone will be able to watch the work we do. They will be listening, and since they will be listening, we have to make sure that we are listening to each other.

We have to understand that if we want Canadians to hear what we’re talking about, we have to prove that we’re also listening to what those around us are saying. I can assure you that when cameras were installed in the House of Commons, parliamentarians changed their behaviour from that moment on, knowing that thousands of people could be watching them on television.

The new cameras in our Chamber provide us with a wonderful opportunity to project the image of the new Senate. We have one chance to make a good impression with Canadians, and we hope to do better in the days to come. 


Independent Senators Group

Last week in the Senate Chamber, I rose to speak in support of Bill C-81, An Act to Ensure a Barrier-Free Canada, or the Accessible Canada Act.

This bill will help ensure an inclusive Canada that is accessible to all. The goals of the bill, I would dare say, are not up for debate. We all agree that accessibility and inclusion are fundamental Canadian values.

Accessibility is more than a theory. Accessibility is a rights framework that requires us to shift our thinking beyond a focus on disabilities. Accessibility encourages us to see the reality of the spectrum of abilities where inclusivity is the guiding principle for theory and for practice within our institutions and systems where universal design benefits us all.

Accessibility means that the abilities of all individuals are respected and supported, not just tolerated or accommodated to the minimum required by law.

A framework of accessibility, as is outlined in Bill C-81, will ensure that lived rights are real for all Canadians.

This bill is a mechanism for us as parliamentarians to keep the promises of equality made by Canada in constitutional and international human rights law.

Equality rights are at the core of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms entrenched within our Constitution. Guarantees of equality to all persons before and under the law go far beyond formal words in section 15 of the Charter. Upholding this right to equality is why we need Bill C-81.