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

By: The Hon. Marty Klyne

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Senator Klyne: Welcome, minister, and thank you for joining us. We’re grateful for your time.

My first question is along the lines of questions from my colleagues Senators Cormier, Omidvar and Downe.

In the last number of years, Indigenous representation in the Senate has been at a level unprecedented in history. It occurs to me that one advantage of an open and unbiased merit-based application and nomination system is that the process can attract strong candidates from many walks of life, maybe those who have not necessarily had deep involvement with a political party. For example, you might see candidates who do not meet the criteria but ultimately contribute to the makeup of a Senate that more closely represents Canada’s demographics for gender, race and broader representations within regions.

Could you comment on this point?

Mr. LeBlanc: Thank you.

Senator, it shouldn’t surprise you that I share entirely your view that all of us can and should do everything we can to encourage all of those voices to apply to this independent process to indicate their willingness to serve. Certainly, I think I can speak for the government when I say that once the independent advisory group reviews the different applications and gives the Prime Minister a list of names, I know he is also focused on those very values that you properly described, as have a number of your colleagues in our conversation this afternoon.

There’s an opportunity for all of us to work to encourage those persons to indicate their desire to serve in the Senate, but as somebody sitting inside the cabinet and the government, if and when I were consulted, I would have views not dissimilar to yours or those of your colleagues who have spoken today, such as Senator Downe just before you and a number of others.

In your chamber, there are examples, as you said, of extraordinary Canadians who are serving Canada in a way that makes our Parliament a much better place, and our legislation and public policy that much stronger.

Insofar as anything we can do as a government to continue that important evolution, we would want to do everything we can.

Senator Klyne: Thank you, minister.

Second, one thing I appreciate about the current organization of the Senate is that no group has a majority, which encourages senators to work together, pragmatically. In my view, this leads to more than reaching out to build support for proposals; it leads to the vibrant and productive exchange of ideas and the need to make the case on substance. With no group having a majority, there is the reduction of dynamics of discipline and even the reduction of peer pressure or groupthink.

Do you have any thoughts on the risks of “majoritarianism” in the Senate, and how does this plurality of parliamentary groups address that risk?

Mr. LeBlanc: Thank you for a very thoughtful question.

My insights into this are informed from the conversations I have had with a number of friends I’ve developed over the years who serve in the Senate with you. You’re right. As someone who follows these issues and is an observer of Senate deliberations and discussions around government legislation, we have seen a constructive process of improvement taking place in terms of legislation that ultimately gets adopted and proceeds to Royal Assent.

I’m not sure how appropriate it is for a member of the House of Commons to have views on different Senate groups. None of them is in a majority context at the present moment, but should one land in that particular context, I have every faith and confidence that the Senate as an institution will find the right and proper way to reflect that circumstance. But our job as a government is to receive the benefit of the deliberations of the Senate and to receive the important work done by committees of the Senate in terms of public policy studies. I know that my cabinet colleagues are very enthusiastic about their opportunities to appear before committees or to work with committees that prepare very important public policy reports.

That is a constant source of nourishment and improvement for us as a government, but I will watch with great interest how the Senate decides to structure itself according to those different groups. It’s a good question. I never actually thought about it, but I hope Senator Gold was squirming in his chair, because I’m sure he has thought about it.

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