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Perspectives – March 28-30, 2017
April 4, 2017
OPINION

A busy Senate session, the new Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, and a debate on artificial intelligence and robotics were some of last week’s highlights.

Government

Senators Peter Harder, Diane Bellemare and Grant Mitchell thanked the honourable Senator Claude Carignan for his dedication and leadership on behalf of the Senate and Canadians, while being leader of the Conservative Caucus. The Government Representative Team looks forward to working towards a modernized and independent Senate with the new Conservative leadership of Senators Larry Smith, Yonah Martin and David Wells.

The Senate was active during last week’s proceedings, moving government bills, C-40, Appropriation Act No. 5, 2016-2017, and C-41, Appropriation Bill No. 1, 2017-2018, to royal assent.

Senator Harder spoke in the Chamber on Bill C-6, An Act to Amend the Citizenship Act. A proposed amendment would improve procedural fairness in the process of revoking citizenship for fraud or false representation.

Senator Harder reminded senators that this bill has been in the Senate since June of last year, a protracted and unnecessary amount of time for senators to consider a policy commitment specifically mandated by Canadians in the 2015 election.

The study of two government bills began in Senate committees with ministers appearing. Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, is a time-sensitive piece of legislation that will save lives. Bill C-30, Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement Implementation Act, ‎represents a major economic opportunity for Canadians, and a significant policy achievement by successive governments. The CETA agreement will eliminate tariffs on a large number of goods and provide benefits to numerous sectors across the Canadian economy.


Opposition

First, I would like to thank the Senate Communications team for producing this eNewsletter. The Senate of Canada is using state of the art technology to connect with Canadians. The Conservative Senate Caucus is pleased to participate in this initiative. 

On February 28th, Senator Claude Carignan announced that he was stepping down as Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and Leader of the Conservative Senate Caucus. I was honoured to be chosen by my peers to lead our talented team. I will ensure that our caucus will continue, as we have been doing since the last election, to engage in constructive opposition and to keep the Liberal government accountable. Since 2011, our caucus has worked tirelessly to turn the Senate into a more modern, transparent, accountable and efficient institution. We have already made great strides.

My colleagues Senator Yonah Martin (deputy leader), Senator Don Plett (whip) and Senator David Wells (caucus chair) look forward to serving Canadians in these leadership roles.


Senate Liberals

In the spring of 2014, the Independent Senate Liberals launched their Open Caucus initiative, opening their caucus doors to all Canadians to join in discussing and debating issues of national importance in a non-partisan manner.

Last week, we held an Open Caucus meeting on the rapidly emerging field of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). Four expert witnesses, with a range of backgrounds from biotechnology to roboethics to social policy, led the discussion, highlighting the potential advantages and challenges that Canadians face as these technologies become more integrated in our lives.

Senator Claudette Tardif, who co-chairs our Open Caucus meetings with Senator Art Eggleton, raised one of these issues in the Senate Chamber on Thursday. She asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate what the Government of Canada is doing to address the integration of robotics and AI into our society, specifically as it pertains to innovation, jobs and ethics.

She also noted the suggestion from the panelists that Canada would benefit from a national strategy. We need a clear policy direction, as well as a means of fostering Canadian innovation and preparing our social infrastructure to deal with the new challenges and opportunities that are arising from these technological advances. 

This Open Caucus meeting on robotics and artificial intelligence was the first of two parts; on May 3, we will be discussing these issues in the context of their military applications. For more information on these and other meetings, please visit the Liberal Senate Forum website.