Motion to Affect Committee Membership—Amendment by Senator Bellemare – Sen. Harder

By: The Hon. Peter Harder

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Hon. Peter Harder: Colleagues, I’m happy to enter the debate, although briefly, to make a couple of remarks in support of Senator Bellemare’s amendment to this motion.

Let me start by saying that I really do admire the leadership in this place. They have a very difficult task, and the negotiations are made more complex with the number of groups. Therefore, it is my institutional bias to support agreements that have been reached amongst leaders.

Senator Plett: Hear, hear.

Senator Harder: However, let me underscore that this is not one, because one leader did not agree. It is very important when Senator Plett agrees to something, but he doesn’t run the show alone.

Let me say at the start that I respect the attempt by leaders to reach a compromise. I can’t speak for Senator Cordy, but I do believe a compromise could have been reached on all of the matters before us, save this one. It astounds me that the leadership chose to bring it to debate here, in a rather divisive fashion, rather than seek to accommodate all the views and separate this issue, particularly with the amendment that does not bring into contention chairs, deputy chairs and other leadership roles on committees.

Senator Woo says we shouldn’t be devoted to the Rules as they exist. I totally agree with that. However, I find it the height of irony that the first rule we want to get to is the one that underlines and strengthens the individual senator’s role and gives the power to the leaders.

This is a debate about power. I understand that leaders find it easier to manage things if they have the power. My position is that the power comes from the senator and that the senator should, once appointed to a committee, continue to sit on that committee. I acknowledge that if they left a leadership role, it should not be taken with them, but it underscores our equality in terms of how we came here and what our area of focus ought to be. I would wish you not to underscore, by reinforcing leadership strength, grace and favour over the independence of senators.

So wouldn’t it be wise to encourage in the discussion in your groups and caucuses to just take that out and move forward quickly, as we should, and let the existing process be followed with the Rules as they existed?

I also want to pay tribute to the fact that in the last Parliament we accepted that rule; that is to say we made a temporary adjustment to ignore the portability. That was done, I want to remind everybody, with all-leader agreement. This is being done without all-leader agreement, and therefore undermining and altering the power balance in the Senate. I think it would be very distasteful.

I do understand that the leadership wishes this matter to be debated — if at all — quickly and have this motion passed quickly. I think we all want to get on with our committees. I am not here to suggest that we delay, but I am here to suggest that we do not have the vote on this until we have a virtual sitting next week, so that all senators, including those who aren’t here, are able to vote. I don’t mean that as a delaying tactic; I mean that as a respectful tactic.

We have talked about the importance of involving those who, for various reasons related to COVID, are unable to be here. Let’s hear from them too. Again, I do respect the leadership, but I do think it’s time, every once in a while, for the membership to say, “Hold on now; we want every group to be part of this and feel comfortable with the motion” — particularly when you’re reversing the existing Rules.

With that, colleagues, I hope that you will support Senator Bellemare’s proposal. I think it’s creative, it’s meant in the spirit of compromise, and I hope that it can be accepted as such.

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