S-2 PARLIAMENT OF CANADA ACT - SECOND READING
Honourable senators, I’m back, and perhaps more appropriately, it’s back. A few short months ago, having risen to seek support for Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other Acts, I stand again to reacquaint you with the particulars of the same bill in this new Parliament. Indeed, I was tempted to move fifth reading of the bill a few moments ago, but I didn’t want to inspire the Speaker’s ire. The bill is now known as Bill S-2, and I stand to move the bill.
Before moving forward, I would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. I do so in recognition of the remarks of the Governor General who noted, in the recent Speech from the Throne, that this acknowledgement is not merely a symbolic declaration but a real reflection of our history. I can think of no more important bill than the one before us, which speaks to the role of our Parliament as an occasion to follow the advice of the Governor General.
Let me start by saying that the legislation and objectives laid out in Bill S-2 are precisely the same as those we voted on last spring. As you know, the bill did not come to a vote in the other place prior to the calling of the federal election, regrettably. This is an issue I’ll speak a little more about towards the end of my comments.
For the moment, though, I’d like to discuss the need for this bill and to outline its specifics, to both remind those who were here during the spring debate and to provide some detail to new senators sworn in just recently.
As I mentioned in the spring, this legislation would update the Parliament of Canada Act to better reflect the new reality here in the Senate. Those who are new to this place are no doubt familiar with the changes brought about in the aftermath of the 2015 election, given that this is the process that brought you here. Nonetheless, perhaps some history bears repeating to set the context.
Upon the implementation of the new appointment process of independent senators begun in 2016, many of us have spent much time looking for the most effective ways to organize ourselves in pursuit of our duties as reviewers of legislation and practitioners of sober second reflection.
During that period, of course, other senators, many of whom are here today, preferred sitting within established party caucuses. That approach had its organizational merits, of course, not the least of which was its ability to provide support to newcomers and to structure Senate debate. Nonetheless, the system was changing and, speaking for myself, the organizational task was a daunting one. There was no road map, and yet no shortage of advice on how best to go forward.
For example, some suggested that senators sit within regional caucuses for the purposes of establishing committee representation and the sharing of resources. Others wondered whether it might be better to establish affinity groups under which members would come together dependent on a particular issue.
While academics and policy experts debated these issues, senators were being appointed at a fairly regular pace. And one thing most would agree on was that the new members couldn’t function as 105 independent silos. So as more and more colleagues were appointed, senators began coming together in support of each other and subsequently organizing themselves into various groups.
While we’ve often been feeling our way since then — and frankly continue to do so — we have begun to put a new stamp on the institution. These efforts, through much trial and error and also through much goodwill, have led us to where we are today: a very different Senate with five separate groups but still operating in large part on the structure built for a very different time.
The bill we are now debating brings these realities into alignment with new legislation that attempts to treat all senators fairly and which provides this body with increased consultative powers.
To the credit of all senators, the upper chamber has recognized the changes occurring from within and acted upon them. There was a willingness among all members, including those who preferred a two-party arrangement, to make adjustments to the strict rules and procedures of the Senate towards a more modernized approach.
The core premise that all senators are equal led to the sensible review and modification of rules and practices in order to ensure committee seating for new colleagues and for the equitable treatment of all caucuses and groups in the Senate as they came into being. Bill S-2, as did Bill S-4 before it, is a bill that simply catches up to and cements into law many of the practices and sessional orders this chamber has already instituted.
Since 2016, 60 senators have been appointed through the independent, merit-based advisory board process. Also since then, three non-partisan groups have formed in the Senate: the Independent Senators Group, the Canadian Senators Group and the Progressive Senate Group.
As these groups established themselves, the Senate amended its internal rules to accommodate them and to provide them with research funding and committee assignments proportionate to their numbers. Along with the Conservative Party caucus and the Government Representative Office, Bill S-2 reflects a multi-dimensional Senate, and just as the other place provides its leadership in a multi-group chamber under this bill so will the Senate.
The proposed legislation also fulfills a policy commitment to update the act and reflect the Senate’s new, less partisan role. Amending the Parliament of Canada Act is a continuation of the commitment made by the Prime Minister when the establishment of the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments was announced in December 2015. That was the first step in a process that is now resulting in this legislative change to the act.
Before discussing the substance of the changes, I’d like to take a moment to thank and congratulate all senators, leaders and facilitators, especially Senators Plett, Woo, Cordy and Tannas, whose cooperative spirit has brought us to this point.
Prior to the drafting of Bill S-4 in the last Parliament, comprehensive consultations were held with all leaders, their perspectives were heard and the proposed legislation, then brought forward and now brought forward again, reflects those discussions. The government recognized its responsibility to consult with those who would be most affected by any changes to the act.
In general terms, Bill S-2 would extend official status to the new groups that have formed. It would include a spelled-out role in Senate governance and the appointment processes. Leaders of the groups would receive allowances commensurate with the relative number of seats held by their group in the Senate. More specifically, Bill S-2 would first ensure that the largest group outside the government or opposition caucuses would receive allowances equivalent to those provided to the opposition. The next two largest groups would receive approximately half of the allowances the opposition receives.
These new allowances would begin on July 1, 2022, and will assist the recognized parties or groups to fulfill their role of providing sober second advice.
Secondly, the bill amends the Parliament of Canada Act and makes consequential and related amendments to other acts that allow the leader or facilitator of all recognized parties and groups in the Senate to make membership changes to the Senate Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration. This would simply confirm what currently exists.
As well, the bill provides that all leaders are consulted on appointments of the following officers or agents of Parliament: the Senate Ethics Officer, the Auditor General, the Commissioner of Lobbying, the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, the Information Commissioner and the Parliamentary Budget Officer. All leaders’ input would also be required regarding the appointment of senators to the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, NSICOP. The appointments of these officers and agents are crucial to the functioning of government and, by extrapolation, the country.
Third, Bill S-2 would amend the Emergencies Act to provide that at least one senator from each group be represented on any parliamentary committee that is formed under this act. Currently, the Emergencies Act requires that a parliamentary review committee of both the House and Senate be established for the purpose of reviewing the government’s exercise of these powers following the declaration of an emergency. Under the current statute, the membership of this committee includes at least one member from each recognized party in the House of Commons and at least one senator from each party in the Senate. The formal recognition of the ISG, PSG and CSG proposed in Bill S-2 would allow each group a seat on this important body.
Finally, Bill S-2 will add the titles of Government Representative in the Senate, Legislative Deputy to the Government Representative in the Senate and Government Liaison, where appropriate, to reflect the current model of the Government Representative Office. Again, this confirms what is already in practice.
Bill S-2 would also propose to retain leadership allowances for the government and the opposition — five positions each — and provides leadership allowances for the three other largest recognized parties or groups — four positions each.
Because Bill S-2 deals with the Senate’s institutional framework and organizational processes, the government has determined, rightly in my view, that this bill should originate in the Senate and that it should be discussed and debated here first since we are the members most affected by these changes. That was why Bill S-4 started here in the last Parliament.
Now, because of the long-standing conventions of not permitting the Senate to expend public funds, Bill S-2 contains a non-appropriation clause, which would only permit the bill to be brought into force once monies have been appropriated by Parliament. Passing this bill in the Senate and moving it forward to the other place will allow the proper chamber to introduce the legislation necessary to finalize the amendments. This has been a long time in the making. The Senate demand for such legislation began several years ago. I can personally attest to that and have the bruises to prove it. It is in the interest of all senators to move Bill S-2 forward so that it can be sent to the other place as soon as possible. We mustn’t waste the opportunity.
But I would be remiss if I did not take this occasion to address the fact that we find ourselves dealing with this bill after just having done so a few months ago. The last month of the last Parliament we dealt with it, and now the first month of the new Parliament we’re back to dealing with it.
The original Bill S-4 required significant review, discussion, consultation and accommodation amongst all groups within the Senate. In large part, we succeeded in our mission and dispatched Bill S-4 to the other place. We are being given a second chance to do the same with Bill S-2, and this time with the expectation that the Parliament of Canada Act will be studied, put to a vote in the other place, and finally have the act reflected in the reality of the Senate of the 21st century.
It took two parliaments for changes to the act to come forward. It is a reflection of the accommodations we have made over many years. To have worked so hard and pursued our own due diligence and then not to have the bill come forward to the other place was a disappointment to me and, I expect, to many others in this chamber.
I look forward to a respectful review of this legislation in the other place, just as I know that bills coming from the other place will be treated with thoughtfulness and respect by this chamber.
But, colleagues, Bill S-2 is a considerate piece of legislation. It provides for equal treatment of leadership and reinforces the equality afforded to all groups in terms of consultation; something currently occurring in practice but not cemented into law.
Bill S-2 can be considered an evolutionary piece of legislation. It need not be revolutionary to meet our demands. The government is not mandating changes within this legislation. Rather, Bill S-2 can be described as a permissive bill — not a prescriptive one — which, coincidentally, is exactly how we get most things done in this chamber.
Finally, Bill S-2 is not by any means the last word on Senate reform or modernization. It is, however, the legislative change that we need to move forward and address other practices within the competence of the chamber itself that will advance further modernization. This bill reflects what we are, and it doesn’t preclude any further changes to reflect what Canadians want the Senate to be in the future. Thank you.