Bill S-4—Consideration of Subject Matter in Committee of the Whole—Senator Cordy

By: The Hon. Jane Cordy

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Senator Cordy: Welcome, minister, it’s great to have you in the Senate. I’m sure your dad would be pleased that you are a witness in the Senate, but I’m sure he’d also be pretty surprised that we’re meeting by Zoom today.

I will be sharing my time with Senator Dalphond. I want to express my appreciation as others have done for the consultation, minister, that you had with all leaders in the chamber regarding the legislation that will impact all of us. I agree with what Senator Plett said yesterday in the chamber when he said: “The role of consensus-driven change is especially important in the current Senate . . ..” I share his view and yours. I know that this is the preferred way to move forward.

I know that many of us have been pleased to see the promised updates to the Parliament of Canada Act that reflect these changes that we’ve been making to our own rules and practices for quite some time. Indeed, these legislative updates will also reflect your government’s commitment to parliamentary reform.

In my speech at second reading, I noted that in your former role as house leader that you reached out to our former colleague Senator Cowan to offer to work with him and others should any changes be required to the Parliament of Canada Act. In response, he called your attention to the 2001 Rules Committee report from the Senate and its recommendation to amend the act to reflect all recognized parties and groups, as is the case in the other place. It was five years ago since that exchange took place and changes within our institution have yet to be reflected in updates, and this bill does that. It’s been five years and I’m very pleased that this bill is before us and I’m very pleased with the amendments that you brought forward in this piece of legislation.

I wonder if you could tell us what the delay was? Why did it take five years to bring forward this piece of legislation?

Mr. LeBlanc: Senator Cordy, always a privilege to see you from my neighbouring province of Nova Scotia. I’m very happy to see you and I hope you’re well. Thank you again, Senator Cordy.

You and your fellow Senate leaders acknowledged our effort to try and understand priorities of different groups in the Senate by talking to different leaders in the Senate. Senator Gold, with whom obviously I work closely, was very much of the view that that was the best way for the government to proceed. We obviously enthusiastically accepted Senator Gold’s suggestion, and he and I were able to have those conversations. He is a very valuable support to me, to the Prime Minister, and to our house leader in terms of how we can achieve consensus in the Senate, where possible, to make legislation better for Canada. That’s something that we all have in common.

Senator Cordy, you’re right, it’s taken too long. In conversations with some of your colleagues, even a year ago, I think we acknowledged that this could and should have been done, perhaps on a more expedited basis. Obviously, in recent months it’s been a number of events with the pandemic and so on. You’re right, as the new appointees arrived in the Senate, particularly in the 2015 to 2019 period, we saw the Senate structure itself in ways that obviously you and your colleagues thought appropriate. We respected that. It has certainly been clear to us in the last year and a half, and my conversation with Senator Woo and others after the election of 2019 certainly made it clear to me that the government should proceed with this legislation. We’re happy to do so. We recognize that it’s taken some time and we regret that. Obviously we will be governed by how the Senate pronounces itself, but we, the house leader in conversations with me and Senator Gold and others, hope and will need all honourable senators’ help with our parliamentary colleagues in the House of Commons to see if we can’t have the legislation adopted, obviously, before we finish in June, go to Royal Assent and then we can work on the supply bill piece. I recognize, Senator Cordy, the delay is not ideal.

Senator Cordy: Thank you, minister. I will hand off the rest of my time to Senator Dalphond.

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