Senator Dalphond: Minister, thank you for being with us today, and thank you for this bill, which incorporates the Senate’s new operational reality into the Parliament of Canada Act. Am I correct in assuming from your responses so far that the government intends to leave the rest entirely up to the Senate, and that the next steps in modernization must come from within the Senate and not from the government?
Mr. LeBlanc: Senator Dalphond, as a government, we are constantly on the lookout for good ideas to help improve how Parliament works, and especially to improve the rules governing the House of Commons. As for reforms to the Rules of the Senate, we obviously have no opinion on that. It is up to the Senate to make decisions about any changes, modernizations or updates you deem appropriate.
Senator, you know the Canadian Constitution better than I do, but we believe that we are relatively limited in what we can do to change the basic structure of the Senate, as I mentioned earlier when talking about former prime minister Stephen Harper’s government.
We believe in the existing system, with a more open and transparent appointment process. We also really enjoyed seeing how the Senate itself formed its own different groups. We think that can improve bills coming from the House of Commons as well as Canadian public policy.
As a result, we are not looking to make other changes to the appointment process. We believe that we took a step in the right direction. We will maintain the appointment process as was announced.
In the coming weeks, we will probably be making other appointments in response to the advisory boards’ recommendations. As you said earlier, we’ll let the Senate make its own decisions about how to structure its institution. As a show of respect, we have no opinion on the matter, if that’s what you were asking.
Senator Dalphond: I have a question about the appointments process, which I fully support. Might there be some way to speed it up a little? We currently have no fewer than 15 vacancies in the Senate, and a quarter of the seats for Western Canada are vacant.
Mr. LeBlanc: Thank you, Senator Dalphond. You’re absolutely right. We are about to fill several vacant Senate seats, and I hope that will happen in the next few weeks.
To be honest, it’s harder for the advisory boards to discuss potential candidates virtually than in person. The same goes for simple procedures such as background checks. Before someone is appointed to the Senate, security agencies conduct background checks. We’re seeing significant delays in getting the results of those background checks from the security and intelligence agencies. It’s a completely normal process, but COVID is causing lengthy delays. That is a way too detailed and technical explanation, but we do realize we need to move quickly. I have reason to believe that there will be far fewer than 15 vacancies a few weeks from now.
Senator Dalphond: Thank you, minister. I look forward to the next appointments.