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Motion to Strike Special Committee on Senate Modernization—Debate Adjourned


Hon. James S. Cowan (Leader of the Senate Liberals), pursuant to notice of December 9, 2015, moved:

That a Special Committee on Senate Modernization be appointed to consider methods to make the Senate more effective within the current constitutional framework;

That the committee be composed of fifteen 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 June 1, 2016.


Hon. Serge Joyal: First, I apologize to honourable senators. I have a bad flu today, so my voice might be very low. I am on medication and I promise I won't speak to Senator Andreychuk today.

Honourable senators, I will be very quick. I know that the hour is late, but I would be remiss if I didn't offer some food for thought at this period of the year, whereby tomorrow we're going to be adjourning and coming back on January 26.

I want to remind honourable senators that when the late Senator Nolin introduced the motion to establish the special committee, I seconded it. I want to read to you the words of Senator Nolin when he introduced that motion.

The government also recognizes that the public clearly wants our institution to be much more effective, and we must all work to fulfill this legitimate aspiration. We must pursue this goal quickly and without delay. It may be status quo in terms of the Constitution, but the Senate's institutional transformation must move forward.

That's essentially the framework I understand from the Honourable Senator Cowan and, I think, from the Honourable Senator Carignan. I have not heard Senator Carignan on the floor, but I'm sure he will take part in this debate. That is essentially the objective. The objective is not to change the Constitution. The Constitution was interpreted by the Supreme Court in April 2014 in a lengthy, unanimous ruling. Therefore, we will not be on that committee to change the Constitution or to recommend changes to the Constitution. We know that's beyond our purview.

However, there is a lot of room for transformation. There is a lot of room for improvement and there is a lot of room for initiative to adapt the operation of the Senate, the practices of the Senate, the convention that rules the governing of the Senate and the Rules of the Senate that also govern our institution. In other words, there is a whole realm of initiatives that we could take after deep sober second thought.

It is in that context that last winter, at the end of January, I took the initiative, with the support of Senator Nolin, to organize a symposium at the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa with five leading Canadian scholars. There was Professor Paul Thomas from the University of Manitoba, the home province of our colleague Senator Plett. There was Professor David Smith, who is a distinguished visiting professor at Ryerson University in Toronto and a former emeritus professor at the University of Saskatchewan. There was Professor Stéphane Beaulac from Montreal University. There was Professor Desserud from Prince Edward Island University and Professor Mendez from Ottawa University. In other words, there was input from the various regions of Canada.

Each of them came with documents. It was not just a social gathering to just peruse over the institution. They came with documents. We had that open discussion, I would say, in an academic context.

Following that free exchange, I prepared a report on their contribution. It's 26 pages, in both official languages, entitled, "Working Together: Improving Canada's Appointed Senate." I would seek authorization to table that report. During the Christmas break, senators who still have a genuine interest can read through it. It's user-friendly, not in a language that is so arcane that anyone would feel lost. It's in a practical language, and it contains the substantial proposal from those five learned scholars from all the regions of Canada. That's the first report I would like to table.

Meanwhile, you know I have had a personal interest since joining this chamber. I published a book in 2003, Protecting Canadian Democracy: The Senate You Never Knew. I published that book in 2003, and I have never stopped thinking about our institution.

When the ruling of the Supreme Court was made public on April 25, 2014, more than a year ago, I contacted Professor David Smith and said, "Should we put our minds together to try to analyze the implications of that ruling?" In other words, forget the difficult judicial language used by the court. Let's try to understand the parameters of the ruling so that we can share that with senators who are interested in understanding our institution.

That's what I did last summer, and I have another report, in both official languages, signed by Professor David Smith and me. It is a compendium of all the principles that underlie that decision. It's easy reading. I offer it to you and want to share it with you, honourable senators. We don't know who will be a member of that committee, but it is available for anyone who is deeply interested in the future of this institution. We know that our institution is under stress at this point in time. I want to share that with you at this time of the year. It's not my Christmas gift — you will receive that through the mail — but I think it could be helpful for all of you. With your authorization, I would like to table that.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted to table the reports?

Hon. Senators: Agreed