Motion to Cease the Provisions of Motion No. 37 Adopted on March 11, 2020

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Canadian Museum of History, Gatineau Quebec

Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Honourable senators, I rise to urge this chamber to reconsider and repeal the motion adopted without notice and debate on March 11 of this year. The motion presently before us achieves that result.

Rest assured, honourable colleagues, if that motion had been printed on the Order Paper further to a notice, there would have been non-affiliated senators who would have refused their consent to have it passed without debate, and it would not have passed before the COVID adjournment.

The March 11 motion contains many measures of concern. Yesterday I spoke about the creation of additional paid positions, and I won’t repeat my comments.

Today I will focus on the content of the motion restricting the freedom of movement of senators by superceding a part of our Rules. The motion stated:

. . . if a senator ceases to be a member of a particular recognized party or recognized parliamentary group for any reason, he or she simultaneously cease to be a member of any committee of which he or she is then a member, with the resulting vacancy to be filled by the leader or facilitator of the party or group to which the senator had belonged. . .

This provision is a clear departure from the Rules of the Senate. The standard rule 12-2 (3) states:

. . . Senators appointed to the standing committees and the standing joint committees shall serve for the duration of the session.

Honourable senators, this rule goes back to 1982, with the current wording in place since 2012. Structurally, this rule guards against the undue centralization of power in Senate leaderships, an important safeguard for independent decision-making.

The effect of the March 11 motion overriding this rule is to deny senators the right to freely associate with Senate groups of their choosing. Currently, with the March 11 motion still in force, if a senator leaves a group, they will lose their committee seat and cannot participate anymore in that committee as a full member. This is what happened to our colleague Senator Bovey, the new liaison for the Progressive Senate Group, who has been automatically removed from the Foreign Affairs Committee where she had been appointed by a motion adopted by this house on February 20, when she joined the Progressive Senate Group. This punitive consequence is aimed at discouraging senators from becoming non-affiliated or from joining or forming other groups. In turn, this framework of fear and favour is contrary to the equality and free association of senators, centralizing power within leaderships and undermining independent decision-making, as Senator Harder stated a few weeks ago.

In this way, the March 11 motion enhances a traditional mechanism of party discipline, the power of leaderships to control committee seats beyond what we have seen in the past, in the more partisan Senate. This provision is a major step backwards and inconsistent with the reform that I believe most of us, including the Progressives, wish to undertake to build a more independent Senate, that is better able to serve Canadians.

With this motion gone, a proper discussion about the composition of all Senate committees could be initiated. A good place to start negotiations around committee membership would be the fair and transparent rule that senators worked collaboratively to achieve three years ago on June 1, 2017, through the leadership of the Rules Committee chair, the Honourable Senator Joan Fraser — whom I have the honour to succeed as the senator for the division of De Lorimier. Incidentally, De Lorimier was represented way back in the day by the Honourable Senator Dandurand, a very well-known senator for championing reforms at the Senate back at the beginning of the last century.

The rule created on that day respects the equality of non-affiliated senators and all senators’ freedom to associate as they choose. That rule, 12-1 states:

At the beginning of each session, the Senate shall appoint a Committee of Selection composed of nine Senators. The initial membership of the committee, as well as any subsequent change to the membership of the committee, shall, as nearly as practicable, be proportionate to the membership of the recognized parties and recognized parliamentary groups. Senators who are not members of such a party or group shall, for this purpose only, be treated as if they were members of a separate group. . . .

In commenting on the rule change at the time, Senator Fraser said:

We addressed ourselves to the fundamental matter of the Committee of Selection. In so doing, we adopted the principle urged by the Modernization Committee and, both in committee and in discussions that one has, upheld — with great conviction by the new members of the Senate, the Independent Senators Group — the principle of proportionality and the idea that the proportions of recognized parties or groups in the chamber should be reflected in the composition of the Committee of Selection. . . .

So, even non-affiliated Senators are entitled to be equally represented on the Selection Committee as full members. Of course, to ensure that there will be seats allocated, as is right, to non-affiliated senators.

Honourable senators, I will additionally note that the 2017 rule provides guidance on the fair composition of the Selection Committee, which also needs to be revisited with the recognition of the Progressives. However, that is a matter beyond the scope of this motion before us tonight, which will simply repeal the ill-advised measures of the March 11 motion, as I have described, which are extraneous to the formation of the Selection Committee.

In closing, I ask all senators to support a more independent, transparent and accountable Senate; one based on collegiality, equality and freedom of association. To that end, I urge senators to adopt the motion that I table, before we resume our discussions on compositions of our committees: standing or special.

Together we can recommit to the principles of collegiality, equality of senators, freedom of association of senators and the responsible use of public funds. The result would be a more independent, transparent and accountable Senate that enhances public confidence in this institution and in our work. Let us make no mistake, the March 11 motion has damaged the reputation of the Senate and the credibility of the reform message that many of us, particularly the Progressives, were advancing. Thank you. Meegwetch.

The Hon. the Speaker: Will you take a question, Senator Dalphond?

Senator Dalphond: Yes.

Hon. Yuen Pau Woo: On the question of credibility, honesty and decency, I want to ask Senator Dalphond to elaborate on an assertion he made during his speech, which is that Senator Bovey has been stripped of her seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee. I would ask him to please provide the evidence for this assertion. First of all, the Foreign Affairs Committee has not been constituted. Second, her name continues to appear on the Selection Committee report that is on our Order Paper. If, in fact, Senator Dalphond, this is not true, will you apologize to Senator Bovey for making this outrageous statement and apologize to the rest of us who have been accused of doing this dastardly thing?

Senator Dalphond: If apologies have to be made, I suspect that they should be made by those that stand behind this motion of March 11.

That being said, to answer your question, Senator Woo, I invite you to read the Journals of the Senate of May 15. You will see at the very last line that Senator Bovey has ceased to be a member of the committee.

Senator Woo: I will read the journals of May 15, but to my understanding, the Foreign Affairs Committee has not been constituted. You are probably referring to the committee that was set up specifically for the purposes of the review of the free trade agreement.

Can you confirm, and can you confirm to our colleagues here in particular, that Senator Bovey’s name continues to be on the Selection Committee report as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and that no one in the ISG leadership has taken her name off that list?

Senator Dalphond: Honourable senators, if I understand properly, Senator Woo is referring to the Second Report of the Selection Committee, which has been tabled but not voted, so he referred to a draft report. If you want to say that the journal has been superseded by your draft, I’m okay with what you are saying, but I think that the rules say that the journal is what matters. The journal has said that Senator Bovey ceased to be a member of the current and the still-existing Foreign Affairs Committee, pursuant to which the chair is still being paid the additional salary since February.

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