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Perspectives — May 7-11, 2018
May 15, 2018

Last week at the Senate: the Transportation Modernization Act, the 100th anniversary of the expansion of the electoral franchise to women in Nova Scotia and the representation of smaller communities in the Senate 


Since the introduction of the government’s Transportation Modernization Act, Senators have analyzed Bill C-49 and heard from multiple stakeholders from across the country related to their concerns with different aspects of the legislation.

Valid concerns have been raised with this omnibus legislation that touch on many issues related to transportation in Canada. After its review of the legislation, the Senate Committee on Transportation and Communications adopted 18 amendments, which had the support of Senators from every group and caucus represented in the Upper Chamber.

Despite the strong support these amendments received from senators, 15 were completely rejected by the government. Only two were accepted without changes while three of the amendments were partially supported, but with changes.

The insistence of the Upper Chamber on two of the amendments that were rejected by the government without valid reasons shows the cross-party concern with the Government's response. A particularly critical amendment to ensure that the shippers of goods to and from Atlantic Canada are not entirely at the mercy of a single rail carrier was among the changes rejected by the government.

When a bill is clearly flawed, Senators are required to listen to the Canadians who appear before them and to convey those concerns to the Government.

The Senate's approach on this issue has been non-partisan and in keeping with its constitutional responsibilities. It is now incumbent upon the Trudeau Government to listen to the very real concerns that have been raised with Senators by Canadians. 

Senate Liberals

This year we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the expansion of the electoral franchise to women in Nova Scotia.

The expansion of the vote to women may have been granted 100 years ago, but it was the result of many years of legislative efforts dating back to 1891.

In his opposition to a bill in 1893 to expand the vote to women, James Wilberforce Longley, Nova Scotia’s Attorney General at the time, spoke about the “sanctity of separate spheres whereby women should be protected from the baseness of politics.”

In response to his comments a letter to the editor of the Halifax Herald summed up perfectly the view of many women at that time. The letter stated:

With due respect to Mr. Longley for his chivalrous desire to save us from self-destruction, we will take the risk of the strain upon our delicate “moral fibre” of depositing a ballot once in four years. Mr. Longley’s high-flown rhetoric to the contrary, it is ballots not “personal charms” that count with politicians.

Leaders in Nova Scotia, both women and men, have worked hard to improve opportunities for women in my province. Women have come a long way since Confederation when they couldn’t vote, but there is still much to be done. It was refreshing to see after the federal election of 2015 that 50 per cent of the Federal Cabinet was comprised of women. This is a great step in the right direction.

Independent Senators Group

To ensure that Maritimers are treated with fairness and respect and have access to the same policy remedies to provide reasonable shipping rates as other regions, the Senate insisted on sending C-49, the government’s transportation modernization legislation, back to the House of Commons. In so doing, we honoured the Senate’s constitutional responsibility to represent smaller regions. 

C-49 gives shippers who operate where either CN or CP have a monopoly a remedy called long-haul interswitching. There are two exclusion zones: for shippers whose nearest interchange point is in the Quebec-Windsor corridor or in the Vancouver-Kamloops corridor. Stakeholders in northern Quebec and northern British Columbia pointed out that this would put them at a disadvantage, and the House of Commons made exceptions to the exclusions to accommodate them. But the exclusion zones also made the remedy inaccessible to Maritime ports and shippers who operate where CN has a monopoly; in the Senate Transportation and Communications committee I introduced an amendment to correct this oversight, but the House of Commons did not accept it.

As Senator Peter Harder wrote in his recent policy paper, the Senate is “a voice for smaller regions and minority interests so that they are not drowned out by the larger and louder voices. This is why membership in the Senate is by region […]. The notion of regional equity was necessary to strike Canada’s Confederation bargain. Without it, there would be no Canada.” Let the other place have a specific debate on the unequal treatment of the Maritimes.