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Senate Successes of Past Year Must Be Further Solidified

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News Release

Senate Successes of Past Year Must Be Further Solidified: Harder 

February 21, 2017

TORONTO - Canada’s Senators must continue to vigorously pursue reforms to the upper chamber if they want to capitalize on public support for the renewal project, says Peter Harder, the Government Representative in the Senate.

Speaking to the Canadian Club of Toronto, Senator Harder said Canadians will take notice if the Senate’s modernization agenda gets hampered by undue delays dealing with legislation or a lack of aggressiveness in policing itself.

“I believe that faith in our project is growing, but we must assure Canadians that we are getting on with our work by comprehensively debating the issues before us and ultimately voting on them in a timely fashion,” he said. “This is something we are working on and could be better at.” 

Senator Harder made his remarks as he and six other Independent senators are about to celebrate the first anniversary of their appointment. They are the first to have been selected under a merit-based, non-partisan process which is designed to build a more independent, accountable, and transparent Senate.  The chamber currently numbers 42 Independents, 39 Conservatives, 19 Independent Liberals and five vacancies.

Senator Harder told listeners that the new appointment process has introduced many extremely qualified Canadians to the Upper House, whose votes are no longer whipped by mainline parties. The new system is helping to change the national conversation about the Senate from patronage, scandal and insignificance to how it can best fulfil the role that the Fathers of Confederation envisioned.

“As change materializes, Canadians are beginning to glimpse the Senate’s important role in helping make good law,” said Senator Harder. He noted, for example, Senators have effected change on bills that include medically-assisted dying, consumer protection and a bill dealing with gender discrimination under the Indian Act.

But he also said that debate can be unnecessarily prolonged, sometimes for partisan purposes.

“Canadians who may be affected by important legislation can’t be kept waiting indefinitely.”

Moreover, he added, the Senate must move quicker to implement a new added oversight mechanism on Senators’ expenses. Many recent controversies remain fresh in Canadians’ minds.

“When all is said and done, our job is not to simply make the Senate look good. Our role is to pursue the business of the country, to make legislation better and to serve the public interest.”  

For more information, please contact:

Brian Laghi
Director of Communications 
613-995-9256 t
613-462-9011 c
brian.laghi@sen.parl.gc.ca

 

 Backgrounder 

The Road to Renewal

A number of notable changes have taken place in the Chamber of sober second thought over the past year. While there is still significant work to do, here are a few examples;

  • Prior to the implementation of a new merit-based appointment process, the Senate numbered 42 Conservatives, 26 Liberals and 13 Independents. Today, it numbers 42 Independents, 39 Conservatives and 19 Senate Liberals. There are five vacancies.
  • Several bills have either been amended in the Senate, or the government has agreed to make changes to bills at the suggestion of the Senators. These bills include; the provision of medical assistance in dying, consumer protections under the Bank Act, new provisions for motor vehicle safety and the elimination of certain discriminatory practices related to Indian Status.
  • Eighty-four reports on bills and other issues have been released by Senate committees since April of last year, including studies on dementia, free trade agreements, infrastructure, Syrian resettlement and obesity, among others.
  • Ten government bills have been sponsored by Independent Senators and another 10 by members of the Government Representative Team. Three Senate Liberals have also sponsored bills as has one Tory. In the past, bills have typically been sponsored by government members of the Senate.
  •  Independent senators now receive proportional representation on committees (40 per cent Independent, 40 per cent Conservative and 20 per cent Senate Liberal. Independent senators have also received increased funding commitments.
  • Senate expenses and attendance records are now published on a publicly accessible website.
  • Ministers attend the Senate’s Question Period on a weekly basis.

Further recommendations from a senate committee on modernization include:

  • Televising Senate debates.
  • Providing the Prime Minister with recommendations on whom to appoint as Speaker.