Hon. Diane Bellemare moved the adoption of the report.
She said: Honourable senators, I am not sure if you read the report. Some of you read it carefully, I’m sure. The fact remains that it is rather opaque, since it proposes changes. I will briefly go over what it contains.
Last April, the Rules Committee wrote to the Clerk of the Senate, inviting the Senate Administration to identify changes to the Rules of the Senate that the committee may wish to consider. Over the course of two meetings on June 14, 2022, and September 27, 2022, the Clerk, accompanied by other senior officials, outlined a number of potential issues. After further consideration by the committee, the report before you today reflects the changes that the committee agreed to.
Many of the changes reflect minor corrections, errors in translation or elements that are no longer required due to legislative changes. I will not go into detail on these items, but they include such things as the removal of the prohibition on smoking in Senate and committee proceedings. Since 1988, the Non-smokers’ Health Act has prohibited smoking in federal workplaces, making those provisions of the Rules obsolete.
However, there are some elements that require some explanation, and I will address each of these in turn.
Rule 10-10, as it now stands, deals with the preparation and printing of Senate bills. It hasn’t undergone a major review since the rule that existed prior to that, which was adopted in 1923. As a result, it hasn’t kept up with modern practices, particularly the new bill format implemented in 2016 by the three federal entities that draft legislation, the Senate, the House of Commons and the Department of Justice.
The Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel recommended that the rule be repealed in its entirety because its component parts — form of amending bill, typographical indications of amendments, explanatory notes on amending bill and reprints of Senate bills — have not been strictly followed for many years and hearken back to a time when legislative information could be difficult to obtain.
In its place, the law clerk proposed a new rule 10-10, which would enable the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel to make administrative and typographical corrections to bills. That would simplify that clause-by-clause consideration, reduce the risk of errors in legislative texts and minimize the risk of having to adopt additional amendments to correct errors introduced into bills throughout the legislative process before the two chambers of Parliament. The proposed wording is similar to that of House of Commons Standing Order 154.
Rule 12-23(6) currently requires a committee report recommending amendments to a bill to:
. . . have attached to it a printed copy of the bill on which the amendments are clearly written. The chair or deputy chair shall sign or initial this copy of the bill as well as all the amendments.
In practice, this has resulted in a time-consuming process where amendments were physically cut and pasted into a copy of the bill. The committee learned that in recent years this process was replaced by attaching a copy of the committee’s report to the bill. However, as this copy is not required at any subsequent stage of the legislative process, it serves no purpose, and its continuation is not necessary.
Rule 12-26 requires committees to table reports on financial expenditures in the previous session. Progressive changes to the Senate’s proactive disclosure requirements, in accordance with provisions contained in the Access to Information Act, have rendered these reporting requirements redundant, as this information is already required by legislation to be reported publicly on at least a quarterly basis.
As the reports under rule 12-26 cover the period of a session rather than a quarter or fiscal year, these reports can cause confusion, since the same information is reported in different ways. As such, the committee is recommending that rules 12-26(2) through 12-26(4) be deleted. As noted, this reporting practice has been overtaken by other reporting requirements, thus rendering this requirement redundant. It will in no way reduce the transparency surrounding committee spending.
Rule 14-1(6) provides that when a rule, statute or order requires a report or other document to be filed with the Senate, it may be deposited with the Clerk. As a result, officials from government departments and agencies must go to the Clerk’s office to hand in physical copies of the hundreds of annual reports and other documents that are required to be tabled in the Senate.
As part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Senate adopted sessional orders that allow for these documents to be deposited with the Clerk’s office electronically. While this was initially done as a result of COVID-19 — to limit the number of people needing to enter the Senate of Canada building — it was quickly found to have benefits outside the context of the pandemic. When these documents are deposited electronically, it is easier to compile them, disseminate them to senators and the public as needed, and archive them. It also helps reduce paper consumption, which is consistent with the Senate’s environmental goals.
There is currently a sessional order authorizing this practice to continue, but the committee recommends that it be written into the Rules through an amendment.
Finally, the committee is proposing a new rule 1-1(3), which would allow the Speaker of the Senate or the chair of a committee to authorize reasonable adjustments to the application of a rule or practice in order to allow a senator’s full and equal participation in the Senate. This rule entrenches a long-standing but informal practice where the Speaker and senators have exercised discretion, compassion and common sense to allow senators to continue to participate, even though they may not be able to strictly conform to certain provisions of the Rules.
It should be noted that this is intended to allow minor variances in order to allow senators to continue to participate in proceedings within the current context. Substantive changes to that context itself should only be addressed through a substantive motion adopted by the Senate.
Now, before I conclude, I would like to highlight one element of the clerk’s proposal that is not included in this report, and that has to do with consideration of reports from the Standing Senate Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators.
The clerk had identified potential challenges with the timelines within which a report concerning a senator must be considered and the possibility that a vote on the report may need to be put forward before the senator in question has been given the opportunity to speak to it. Before addressing this point of timing, the committee wanted to consult with the Ethics Committee, which is why it was not included in this report. However, those consultations have taken place, and potential amendments to the Rules in that regard will be put to our committee for consideration. If adopted, a further report will follow.
On that, I thank you very much, and I hope you will adopt this report in due time.