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Perspectives — September 19-21, 2017
Perspectives — September 19-21, 2017
September 27, 2017
OPINION

Senate modernization, the federal government’s proposed small business tax, the passing of Allan MacEachen and Canada’s clogged refugee claimant system were some of the topics addressed in the Senate last week.

Government

The week before the Senate resumed sitting after the summer recess, I had the privilege of taking part in a conference entitled “The New Senate.”

Organized by the Canadian Study of Parliament Group, I was on a panel with Senators Dupuis, Massicotte, and Tkachuk. The event allowed me to reflect on the robust bicameralism that is the trademark of the New Senate.

I shared three main points:

  • That the New Senate is the new reality. The institutional changes that have been made – both internally and through appointments – are here to stay.
  • We are making it work. The fresh approach of the Government to the Senate, combined with the efforts of senators from all groups, have contributed to a more complementary and effective upper house.
  • We can make it work better. With the creation of a business committee and an independent expense oversight body, we can continue to improve this chamber, making the New Senate less partisan and more independent, transparent and accountable.

At the conference, and once again this week, I am reminded of a simple and guiding truth: that the business of Canadians is the business of the Senate. And I, for one, am glad to be back to business.


Opposition

Senators are working diligently to understand the impact of the unfair tax changes being implemented by the Liberal government.

Higher taxes only help the government continue its spending spree. Local farmers, small store owners, plumbers, electricians etc., are not the tax cheats that the Liberals are making them out to be.  These new policies will hurt the very people that they claiming to help.

On Sept. 21, before the House of Common Finance Committee, Mark Wales, Chair of the Agriculture & Agri-Food Labour Task Force summed up one of the issues proposed by the Liberals; “Being able to transfer that family farm from one generation to the next, to the next, is a part of our history and we need to keep that going, and we need to make sure that it is not fair that there is an advantage to selling to someone non-related to you rather than your own children.  That is fundamentally wrong.”

The CFIB conducted a survey which revealed that 88% of businesses in Canada said it would be harder for them to grow their small business after these tax changes.  There is no economic analysis that would support such action from the government.  We will oppose these unfair tax changes.  Conservatives have a proven track record for reducing taxes on small businesses and running a balanced budget.  Small businesses need to examine how they would be impacted and communicate with MPs and Senators to express their concerns.  I invite you to email me at: larry.smith@sen.parl.gc.ca


Senate Liberals

Last week, we paid tribute to one of our more remarkable former colleagues, the Honourable Allan J. MacEachen, whom Andrew Coyne described as “a close contender for the greatest parliamentarian in Canadian history.” 

Allan J., as he was known, was a Cape Bretoner through and through. He may have travelled throughout Canada and the world, but his heart and his soul always belonged to Cape Breton, and that is where he has always returned, and that is where his mortal remains were laid to rest the same moment at which the fall Senate sittings commenced.

Senator MacEachen took his role as a parliamentarian very seriously, no matter in which chamber he served. He said, on numerous occasions, that he did not come to the Senate to join a debating club or an advisory body but rather to be a member of a serious legislative chamber.

In his unpublished memoir, Senator MacEachen wrote about Dr. Moses Coady, citing six critical principles of the original Antigonish movement that ended with these words: "...the ultimate objective of the movement is a full and abundant life for everyone in the community."

Allan J. spent his life pursuing this objective for everyone in his communities of Cape Breton and Canada, and, as Prime Minister Trudeau concluded at the memorial service in Antigonish:

“Inspired by his example, let us honour him by recommitting ourselves as Canadians to continuing his work . . . [where] ‘good enough’ is never good enough, and better is always possible.”


Independent Senators Group

This week, we catch a glimpse of the Senate through the eyes of Independent Senator Ratna Omidvar (Ontario). 

Earlier this month, my office filed an Access to Information request with the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) asking for updated numbers on its caseload and vacant seats. 

Its subsequent disclosure indicates that its current intake of claims for refugee protection exceeds its operational capacity. There are over 34,000 refugee protection cases awaiting a decision at the moment – a figure that is growing by the day. Meanwhile, the number of vacant seats within its adjudicating divisions has more than doubled from this time last year to 40. Together, these problems have contributed to significant delays. The projected wait time for refugee protection claimants now rests at 16 months, and is expected to worsen without greater investment. 

I firmly believe it is essential that we retain public confidence in our immigration system. The IRB must be able to make decisions on claims in a way that is both fast and fair. Without new government appointments to the Immigration and Refugee Appeals Divisions, this backlog will continue to extend wait times further.   

On Tuesday, I asked Senator Peter Harder, Leader of the Government in the Senate, what the government’s plans are to fill these vacancies and address this backlog. I was happy to hear that Senator Harder will bring this to the attention of the government, and look forward to a robust response from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.