Motion that No Senate Committee be Considered a Standing or Special Committee for the Remainder of the Current Session

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Honourable senators, I would like to provide some reasons in support of the motion in my name seeking to ensure that no additional salary is paid to chairs and deputy chairs of Senate committees for the remainder of the session until amendments are made to the Parliament of Canada Act.

COVID-19 and the resulting serious economic crisis, including the financially precarious situation of millions of Canadians and the massive deficits in public funds, make it necessary now more than ever for us to question some of our practices, including that of paying additional salaries to chairs and deputy chairs of our standing and special committees.

For example, on March 11, 2020, a motion was passed, in the middle of a pandemic and recession, allowing for six additional senators to benefit from a pay increase of $12,500 or $6,200 as chair or deputy chair of a committee, in addition to our current base salary of $157,600 after the $3,000 increase of February 1, 2020, that several senators, including myself, decided to donate to charity to help Canadians who are struggling during this time. This March 11 motion brings to more than 50 the number of positions for which any one of 96 sitting senators would be eligible for an additional salary.

With all due respect, I think it is time to backtrack.

Honourable senators, did you know that in 1873, the Act relating to the Indemnity to Members and the Salaries of the Speakers, of both Houses of Parliament, which is known today as the Salaries Act, only provided for additional salaries for ministers, including the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Commons?

Today, the salaries of MPs and senators, as well as both Speakers, are set out in the Parliament of Canada Act. An additional salary for the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons was added in 1906. In 1920, the position of Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons was added, and 50 years later, in 1975, an amendment added the positions of Deputy Chair and Assistant Deputy Chair of the Committee of the Whole House of Commons. It wasn’t until 1947 that the first addition was made for the Senate, allowing additional salaries for the Leader of the Government and the Leader of the Opposition. In 1998, a new amendment provided for an additional salary for the Speaker pro tempore.

Honourable senators, it is only since 2001 that the positions of chair and deputy chair of the then 15 Senate standing committees entitled the holders to an additional salary, adding about 30 paid positions. Simply put, between 1867 and 2001 — for over a century — these positions did not entitle their holders to any additional salary or, of course, improved pension benefits.

Moreover, in 2001, the situation changed, as I said, adding 30 positions. This was done not at the request of the Senate but only to mirror the proposed additional pay to equivalent positions in the House of Commons. In the other place, that change was moved by the then government in order to add at least 18 new paid positions to be shared among the members of each caucus, in addition to ministers and parliamentary secretaries, for a total of 74 MPs of the governing party receiving additional pay.

This has also meant that 36 new paid positions will go to opposition parties, as there are two deputy chairs for all committees in the House of Commons. There was not much opposition to such an amendment except from one party, the Canadian Alliance party.

In 2003, another amendment extended the entitlement to chairs and deputy chairs of special committees. When this amendment was being considered by the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, former senator Serge Joyal questioned the need — and, indeed, the wisdom — to pay additional salaries to the chairs and deputy chairs of any committee.

On June 17, 2003, he stated:

. . . in practice, this position does not entail many more responsibilities or work than other members or senators who do preparatory work in relation to bills, attend all committee meetings, prepare questions and, occasionally, amendments. . . .

Why provide an additional benefit to someone who is often chosen in a particular way? As much as possible, we must strive to maintain a certain balance of this system and avoid introducing elements that seek to differentiate the work of members and senators. . . .

We are adding a great many names to the list of individuals in Parliament eligible to receive additional remuneration.

Who is not getting a little extra under the current system? The only ones left are the foot soldiers, those without titles, the grumblers and the dragons.

The entire system is designed to provide rewards, which seems to affect how parliamentarians behave. . . .

In fact, the addition in 2001 and 2003 of over 30 paid positions in the Senate resulted in an unnecessary breach of the principle of equality among all senators and strengthened the positions of the leadership of the then two existing caucuses, then in the positions to designate those entitled to these positions. With the emergence of new groups, the distribution of chairs and deputy chairs has become the object of intense negotiations where each group fights to have a maximum of paid positions to share among its members. Moreover, this has led to the artificial creation of additional paid positions to please more people.

For example, in the last Parliament, further to an agreement between all groups in the Senate, 10 additional paid deputy chair positions were created to sit as second deputy chair. Senator Day was designated by the leaders to explain the deal in the chamber on November 7, 2017. Following his speech, he was asked by Senator Tardif why only 10 committees will have two paid deputy chairs while seven other committees would have, under steering, a third unpaid member. Specifically Senator Tardif asked, “Do you view this as a fair and equitable away of proceeding?” Senator Day replied:

No. But, like so many agreements, this is a compromise. This has gone through a lot of iterations. I personally started negotiating from the point of view that I thought every committee should have two equal co-deputy chairs, like the House of Commons. There were those around the table who didn’t want any. This is the compromise that we reached.

To say that it’s based on understandable logic would be misleading you. . . .

In other words, it’s not the outcome of logic or of any principle but rather the outcome of a deal.

Senators, the same is true of the March 11, 2020, motion. The motion created six additional paid positions to enforce a deal, the whole notwithstanding the Rules of the Senate. Among these six positions, there are the chair and deputy chair of the Selection Committee.

The case of the Committee of Selection is of particular interest. Let’s remember that just seven years ago, the Rules of the Senate were amended to designate this committee as being neither a standing committee nor a special committee. Senator Carignan proposed this change following a public controversy involving the payment for several years of an additional salary — $11,200 at the time — to the chair of a committee that had met infrequently.

In spite of these events, the March 11 motion, given without notice of debate, restored additional salaries for the Committee of Selection. Consequently, the chair receives a salary of $12,500 and the deputy chair receives $6,200. Furthermore, this motion created a second paid deputy chair position for four committees. Naturally, the addition of six paid positions is better than the addition of 11, as was done in 2017, and yet, it still isn’t good enough. Therefore, if this motion isn’t withdrawn, when we return in May and finally establish standing committees, some of them will have a steering committee with a third paid member. In most committees, the third member won’t be paid even though they will carry out the same tasks and duties.

The transactional distribution of paid positions is not a good thing. For many, it appears as a kind of culture of entitlement and it is damaging the reputation of the Senate, as we have seen in the media. As the government contemplates amendments to the Parliament of Canada Act to reflect the new reality in the Senate, including the end of the partisan duopoly and the emergence of new groups independent from political parties, there is a need for a policy that is not modelled after the House of Commons but rather is specific to the new Senate. In my view, this policy should be a return to the long-established practice of no additional pay for chairs and deputy chairs. The Senate is made of talented and devoted individuals and I trust there will be many volunteers for these positions of committee chairs and deputy chairs, even in the absence of additional pay.

Indeed, in the U.K. House of Lords, the model for the Senate, the chairs of all the committees, select or special, do not receive any additional compensation. In the U.S. Senate, chair or vice-chair positions do not entitle their holders to any additional remuneration. These positions are considered prestigious and there are no shortages of candidates despite the additional workload and stress that the roles involve.

Speaking of the U.S. Senate, out of the 100 elected senators, only 3 are entitled to a small additional salary, the president pro tempore, the leader of the majority and the leader of the minority. Some may say that the U.S. senators are rich people, much richer than we are, but this is not the principle that answers the issue. In contrast, here in the Senate, we currently have 96 appointed senators and over 50 offices entitling their holders to additional salaries including, further to the adoption of the March 11 motion, 45 chairs and deputy chairs.

Once the audit committee is set up and the special committee on COVID is put in place, there will be at least four more paid positions for a total of 49. Incidentally, there are now 21 senators in the Conservative caucus, which as a whole is entitled to about the same number of paid positions under the current act as implemented by our Rules and our motions applied notwithstanding the rules.

With respect, this makes no sense. Going forward, I invite the current government to eliminate extra pay for Senate chairs and deputy chairs when amending the Parliament of Canada Act. The government should limit additional pay to one, two or three persons in the leadership of each recognized group in the Senate, including the GRO.

In conclusion, such changes will bring us in line with the U.S. Senate and will also permanently end the temptation to twist the existing rules to artificially create a standing committee or additional paid positions to be shared between groups — a temptation that seems to be irresistible considering the November 17, 2017, motion and the March 11, 2020, motion.

Until the Parliament of Canada Act is amended, I invite us not to remain idle, especially in light of the current economic crisis. Through a sessional order, the adoption of my motion will end the additional pay to all chairs and deputy chairs, and will demonstrate to Canadians that we did our work for them, including as chair or vice-chair, without any additional remuneration.

Thank you very much. Meegwetch.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Hon. Julie Miville-Dechêne: I have a question for Senator Dalphond.

The Hon. the Speaker: Senator Dalphond, your time has expired, but Senator Miville-Dechêne would like to ask you a question. Would you like five more minutes? Is leave granted?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Miville-Dechêne: Senator Dalphond, thank you for sharing this story, which I had not heard. I must say that I also have some serious concerns about the additional remuneration for these different committees. I have never been a committee chair, but I’ve heard that the chair does extra work, which warrants remuneration. I would like you to address that argument.

Second, is there such a big difference between the remuneration for House of Commons chairs, who are obviously paid, and that paid by the Senate? That said, in these COVID-19 times, as Canadians are struggling, I think this is the perfect time to ask questions about the additional remuneration. Thank you.

Senator Dalphond: I thank Senator Miville-Dechêne for this friendly question, because she is raising an important point.

When we have the opportunity to study this matter further, we will find, for example, that having 50 chair and deputy chair positions represents half the Senate. It’s not the same in the House of Commons. In that chamber, the number of chairs, deputy chairs and even second deputy chairs totals just 75 out of the 337 members. The ratio is not the same.

With regard to the work of the chair and deputy chair, I believe that you were the deputy chair of a committee last year in the previous Parliament. I saw from attending some of those committee meetings that being the deputy chair of that committee is a tough job. I’m sure that the chair was also very actively engaged with the members of his committee. I know that takes a lot of time and energy because I myself proposed many amendments to a number of bills that were examined by that committee. It took me weeks to draft those proposed amendments and to send them to my colleagues, including Senator McIntyre, with whom I had an excellent relationship. I worked on about 15 amendments to the Criminal Code. I also sponsored the bill to amend the Divorce Act, which took inordinate amounts of time. I spent days discussing amendments with representatives from the Department of Justice, reading that lengthy act and so on. All of that was done outside committee meetings, and I did not ask for extra pay.

I think everyone here wants to work in good conscience and in good faith and bring their best effort to the table. Why should some of us be paid more as an incentive to serve as chair or deputy chair? I think that’s wrong. I think those positions should be assigned to the people most qualified to discharge the duties.

Plus, it doesn’t need to be paid. Many people take on these jobs without remuneration, and many American senators do it as committee chairs too. They spend days working on national security, interviewing judicial candidates, reviewing budgets, and so on. Everything they work on is 10 times bigger than what we work on, and they don’t get paid more to do it.

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