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The Senate - Motion to Strike Special Committee on Senate Modernization—Debate Continued

 

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Nolin, seconded by the Honourable Senator Joyal, P.C.:

That a Special Committee on Senate Modernization be appointed to consider methods to make the Senate more effective, more transparent and more responsible, within the current constitutional framework, in order, in part, to increase public confidence in the Senate;

That the committee be composed of nine members, to be nominated by the Committee of Selection, and that five members constitute a quorum;

That the committee have the power to send for persons, papers and records; to examine witnesses; and to publish such papers and evidence from day to day as may be ordered by the committee;

That the committee be authorized to hire outside experts;

That, notwithstanding rule 12-18(2)(b)(i), the committee have the power to sit from Monday to Friday, even though the Senate may then be adjourned for a period exceeding one week; and

That the committee be empowered to report from time to time and to submit its final report no later than December 31, 2015.

Hon. Serge Joyal: Honourable senators, as you recall, this motion was moved by the late Senator Nolin.

I would like today to use the opportunity of our last sitting to remind you of the contribution and the debt that I think we owe to the late Senator Nolin. He had been sitting with us in the Second Session of the Forty-first Parliament as Deputy Speaker and then Speaker. I personally had the privilege of becoming a friend of his, even though we were aligned in different parties.

I will always remember that in 1995, when we had to face a referendum in Quebec, there was a "no" committee and a "yes" committee. He happened to chair the "no" committee, with me representing the Liberal Party and him of course the Progressive Conservative Party, joining in our personal effort to fight for Canada.

I was listening to Senator Stewart Olsen earlier today during Senators' Statements, and the image of soldiers in trenches came to my mind. The thought of Senator Nolin came back to me because we were really soldiers in trenches at that time. As you know, we fought very strongly for Canada in those days. You know the end result of the referendum. We came within a hair of losing the country.

I wish today to remind you what we owe to Senator Nolin as a true Canadian and a formidable senator, never negating his allegiance to the PC Party and the Tories. I fully respect and recognize that.

At a point in time, he made a distinction between party allegiance and party discipline. By party discipline, I mean of course the whip and the fact that a member would not be free to vote his mind, his convictions and his personal involvement in policies and issues. We all know how Senator Nolin felt about that. It is not, in fact, allegiance to a party that can be an obstacle to being independent. It is the fact that at a point in time it might blur the opinion of somebody to a point whereby the person is led to vote contrary to what the person feels and is convinced about standing for.

The motion is on the Order Paper, and today is the last day.

I would really like to say a few words because Senator Nolin and I discussed this. Of course, we realized that there were concerns on both sides about this motion to create a committee made up of senators to, as the motion states, consider methods to make the Senate more effective, more transparent and more responsible, within the current constitutional framework, in order, in part, to increase public confidence in the Senate.

I think that the objective of the motion is still very valid. Certainly none of us will feel any reserve in regard to the obligation we will have in the next Parliament to address the issue front and center. When I discussed that with Senator Nolin in the fall of 2014, we came to the conclusion that one way to move forward, even though the motion was stalled on the Order Paper, to use the common language, there was still room to reflect and think of what could be the road forward, the avenues that we would have to see for the future.

Hence came the idea of organizing a symposium at a university and inviting scholars from Canada — from west, centre, east and Quebec — to reflect on the avenues of modernizing and renewing, making the Senate more transparent and more accountable to public opinion in Canada.

There is no doubt, as I said very quickly yesterday, that this is the challenge we bring in our summer baggage for a return with some kind of, I would say, enlightenment to be able to face that challenge.

We organized a seminar at the University of Ottawa on January 28, 2015. Senator Bellemare attended. I'm indebted to her not only for her attendance but participation and exchange with the scholars, Professor Paul Thomas from Manitoba; Professor Don Desserud from Saint John, New Brunswick, who some of you might know, certainly; Professor David Smith from Ryerson University in Ontario, Professor Emeritus from Saskatchewan —

— and Professor Stéphane Beaulac, a constitutional law professor at the University of Montreal.

All those scholars were invited with a specific theme that they addressed and there was an exchange of views after their presentations. Each of them came with a text and we spent the month after the symposium uniting those texts into a report. We now have the report. It's being translated.

I suggest, honourable senators, that when we reconvene in the fall, I will reintroduce the same motion and table the report in both languages. Each of you should read the report. There will be food for thought in that report.

We could, on a common basis, accept the idea that a group of us could be charged to review the recommendations. I know there are 10 recommendations that address various aspects of our activities in the Senate. On that basis, we could, with your contribution and support, come forward with a proposal that could be debated after that in the chamber, maybe in Committee of the Whole.

I know that Senator Tkachuk understands and supports that kind of formula whereby we could spend an afternoon debating that. As you know, when Parliament convenes, the agenda is light, so we could certainly devote an afternoon to that.

Honourable senators, those are the suggestions that I would like to leave with you. As I say, in memory of former Senator Nolin, we would honour his legacy to continue to reflect along these lines with the freedom that we have to take the stand we want, according to what we feel and according to our own commitment to the institution. It would be a clear signal that his legacy is still living and that we will be able to build on that.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

(On motion of Senator Martin, debate adjourned.)