Third report (interim) of the Special Senate Committee on Senate Modernization, entitled Senate Modernization: Moving Forward (Committees)Published on 6 October 2016 Hansard and Statements by Senator Art Eggleton (retired)
Hon. Art Eggleton:
Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Recommendation 21 in the modernization report. I think the purpose behind Recommendation 21 is best put on page 21 of the modernization report, where it says:
If the Senate is truly to take up the task of modernizing itself to account for contemporary realities, it is of crucial importance that it change its rules so that senators who are not affiliated with a political party caucus are given equal consideration in the Senate’s procedural and administrative rules and practices.
There are three recommendations in the report that I think are vital to proceed with as quickly as possible, which relate to that statement I just read: Recommendation 7, which deals with the new reality of having not just party caucuses but also other kinds of caucuses or groups within our midst; Recommendation 8, which deals with the question of how resources are allocated amongst these various groups — resources for research and for staffing, et cetera, which have traditionally been given to the political party entities in this chamber; and the third one is the one I’m speaking on, Recommendation 21, which deals with how we compose the committees that we serve on from this house.
So the preamble, very similar to the statement I just read, says:
That the Senate direct the Senate Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament to amend the Rules of the Senate to change the process for determining the composition of the Committee of Selection and the composition of each standing committee, using the process set out below as the basis for such changes. The committee members leave it to the procedural experts to craft appropriate language to give effect to the objectives of the committee and the principles underlying the objectives.
What follows then are eight steps for how we would proceed to change the Committee of Selection and the standing committees so that in fact we have this kind of a proportional representation, equal representation, within the chamber.
Step one says that the Committee of Selection shall be composed of 8 to 12 members and, second, that the leaders, facilitators or convenors, as the case may be — that’s new language, of course — of all recognized political parties, caucuses or groups shall meet and agree on the size and proportional composition of the Committees of Selection. The people who occupy those positions get together and determine the composition of the Committee of Selection.
The size and proportional composition of the selection shall be determined in five sitting days. This is the standard procedure now at the commencement of a new Parliament or a session of Parliament. A session of Parliament is one that would begin after a prorogation and another Speech from the Throne, and traditionally in majority government circumstances we usually get one approximately halfway. In a four-year term, as we are in before the next election, it would be around the two-year mark, which would put it probably about a year from now. That’s approximate. It is up to the government as to when there is to be a prorogation.
I point that out because these rules, when they are in place, would take effect with a prorogation or a new Parliament. At the end, I will talk about the need to do something now and how I think we could do that, but let me carry on with the rule here.
So that’s step one. Further, step one says the composition of the Committee of Selection must adhere to the following principles or requirements: All caucuses or groups must have a minimum of one representative.
So the Conservatives, Liberals, independents, and perhaps the Government Representative as well, would be part of that.
As closely as possible, membership on the Committee of Selection shall be in proportion to each caucus’s or group’s standing in the Senate. Now, they would be recommending as to the numbers from each of the groups — not the people but the numbers.
The leaders, convenors or facilitators, as the case may be, of each party, caucus or group in the Senate shall be non-voting ex officio members of the Committee of Selection.
On to step two: Each caucus or group shall select, according to a process of its choosing, the senator or senators from among their caucus or group who will occupy a seat or seats, as the case may be, on the Committee of Selection.
So each caucus will decide. In the past it’s been the leadership that has decided these things. We’re saying each caucus should decide that. The leaders may recommend to the caucus, but the caucus should indicate its will.
The leaders, facilitators and convenors of two largest caucuses or groups —
I think that language is pretty well what they use now. There may be other caucuses or groups where you need a mover and a seconder, so I think that’s quite fine.
— shall present a motion in the Senate setting out the size and the composition of the Committee based on the individual selections made by each caucus or group.
As it is now, it has to be, in fact, adopted in this chamber. This is the formalizing process.
Step four: The Committee of Selection, then, when it’s up and operating, shall determine the number of seats on each standing committee of the Senate to be allocated to the members of each caucus or group in proportion to that group’s or caucus’s standing in the Senate. They won’t again say who; they will say, “Here are the numbers on the basis of the proportional representation within this body.”
Second, each caucus or group shall select its nominee or nominees for membership to each committee by a process of their choosing. Again, it is the caucus — not just the leadership, but the caucus will then decide who will be the people that will fill those seats.
Now, step five: The Committee of Selection shall allocate the positions — so we have the populated committees by the caucuses, determined on the proportional representation that the Selection Committee works on. Then we have this:
The Committee of Selection shall allocate the positions of chair, vice chair and third member of a steering committee . . .
The steering committee is officially known as the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure, but we all call it the “steering committee.” It has traditionally had three people on it: chair, deputy chair and a third person, and we’re not suggesting any quarrel with that. We’re saying, though, that they should decide amongst the different groups who would be the chair. Maybe a Conservative should be the chair of this group, and maybe an independent should be chair of that group.
You could have a situation — and likely, I think, would have a situation — where the three positions of the steering committee would be held by the three different groups putting everybody into one of three groups at this point in time — I know there could be more — the Conservatives, independent Liberals and the independents.
They would then determine members of each caucus or group in proportion to that group’s or caucus’s standing in the Senate, although not any individual senator in that group. They won’t populate the thing; they will just determine who gets what position, which group or party gets what position.
In any allocation, the chair and deputy chair positions shall not be occupied by senators who are members of the same caucus or grouping, and probably that should apply to all three positions.
This is a note: It should be noted that historic practice has been that certain chairs of committees, such as the National Finance Committee, have been allocated to senators who are not members of the party in government. That’s been a tradition; if you want to keep it going, it is so noted here.
Now, step six. The Committee of Selection, after having completed the membership of each committee and having allocated chair, deputy chair and third-member positions of a steering committee to each group or caucus — so not the individuals — in accordance with the choices made by each caucus or group, shall present a report. I’m sorry; this is after, then, each caucus has made their choices. They shall then present a report on the full membership of each committee to the Senate. Again, the Senate has to adopt the Selection Committee report.
Step seven: Each standing committee shall meet to elect its chair, deputy chair and third member of its steering committee, in accordance with the report of the Committee of Selection on the allocation of such seats, by secret ballot if contested.
So let’s say there’s a particular committee that has a Conservative chair, and two of the Conservative members decide to run for that chair position. There would be a secret ballot for all members of the committee to decide who the chair of the committee would be.
When it comes to selecting who populates the committees, this should be done by the individual caucuses. But when it comes to the chair, deputy chair and the steering committee, all members of that committee will make that decision and will make it by secret ballot if there is, in fact, a contest.
That brings us to step eight. If the foregoing selection election process results in opposition or government caucuses not being represented on the Subcommittee of Agenda and Procedure of a committee, the leaders — government caucus or representative — the leaders or designate of the unrepresented caucuses will become ex officio members of that subcommittee when they are considering government legislation.
One could understand the logic of the Government Representative. If there’s government legislation and there are no positions on the steering committee for the Government Representative, then the Government Representative — there would be a discussion of that in the steering committee, the procedure that is to be followed in processing the bill. The same point has been made about the opposition.
We are evolving our system, which is not so much the traditional Westminster system. I won’t go into that any further, though; that’s for another day. But I think this evolution was at a stage in the Modernization Committee, a consideration where it felt that there should be some recognition of those traditional functions of opposition and government.
That’s the rationale behind step eight, and they’re ex officio members.
On an ongoing basis, logically, changes happen during the year, and so the Committee of Selection will continue to meet as necessary during the session to recommend to the Senate any changes in the committee framework or membership, after consultations with each caucus or group. There is a Committee of Selection presently in existence, and it probably has much the same kind of authority, if necessary, so it is logical that it would continue to operate.
Those are the eight steps in the ongoing procedure with respect to Committee of Selection. As I pointed out, this would go to the Rules Committee. The Rules Committee would then determine how to put this in language that fits the Rules of the Senate and amend the current rules.
How long will that take? I don’t know. It could take a month or two; it could take several months for all of that to be done. I hope that wouldn’t be the case. I hope it would be done expeditiously.
However, there is a situation that presently exists that I think requires attention. Twenty-seven per cent of the current membership of this chamber is independents — 27 per cent. They have 17 per cent of the membership on committees. That is out of whack with the notion of proportionality that the Modernization Committee puts forward. But we keep hearing that there are another 20 on the way any day now. There were actually 21 vacancies after Senator Johnson retired. When those are filled, then the independents will be 40 per cent of the membership of this chamber, with only 17 per cent of the positions on the standing committees, or the Selection Committee for that matter, or other committees, the Internal Economy Committee or the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Committee. I strongly believe that needs attention sooner rather than later.
I have thought about three different ways that might be done, and I’d like to suggest they be considered by members of the chamber as we proceed with this debate. Plus they may have other ideas. There might be better ideas and maybe modifications of this idea.
First of all, the possibility of putting a deadline —
The Hon. the Speaker: Excuse me, senator. Your time has expired. Are you asking for more time?
Senator Eggleton: Yes, I am.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted, honourable senators?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Eggleton: The first would be to put a deadline on when the Rules Committee reports back. They may not particularly like that. But I do note that one of the other recommendations, No. 7, does have that on it. They ask them to report back by November 30. So it’s possible. I think 7, 8 and 21 are the three recommendations that need quick attention, and it’s possible to put that kind of a deadline on all three. That’s one option.
The second option is one that was reached in the spring, I think largely between the work of Senator Cowan and Senator Carignan, for the Liberals and Conservatives to vacate some of the positions, on an ad hoc basis, so that independents could occupy them. A similar kind of process could be used to arrive at something that’s more proportional.
The third is what I would call the use of the term “notwithstanding.” Now “notwithstanding,” we did it about 15 minutes ago. Did you notice? Fifteen minutes ago we used that phrase, and we use it every week. We use it every week to allow for cabinet ministers to come here and be part of Question Period, because the rules don’t provide for that. So we say notwithstanding this rule and that rule we will have a cabinet minister in here.
If we feel that this needs to proceed at pace and is getting bogged down, or one of those other two options I suggested aren’t working, then we could say that notwithstanding the rules as they exist, we will proceed to have some process put in place. It would probably be some modification of this Recommendation 21 to proceed promptly with the appointment with changes in the committees so that we, in fact, have that proportional representation.
That is something to consider when the 20 or 21 new people arrive, because then we get to the situation where it’s 40 per cent membership but only 17 per cent on the committees.
I put this forward, both to recommend these steps as being a new process for the Selection Committee that tries to recognize the realities of this Senate Chamber as it is today and is becoming, but at the same time to suggest that we all give some further consideration to how we might take an earlier position on bringing about a better reflection of the Senate Chamber in our standing committees. Thank you.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.