Speech from the Throne—Motion for Address in Reply

By: The Hon. Rodger Cuzner

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Hon. Rodger Cuzner: Honourable senators, I rise today in reply to the Speech from the Throne. This is my inaugural speech.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Senator Cuzner: Thank you. As I said to Senator Harder and Senator Kutcher, manage your expectations.

The Speech from the Throne was quite some time ago, on November 23, 2021. That may seem like a significant amount of time, but judging by some of the responses that I’ve heard from senators across regarding response times to questions, it’s probably not unreasonable.

First, let me start by offering my sincere thanks to the Senate Administration. From stem to stern, the team here approached the entire onboarding process with clarity, patience, a true desire to help senators get off on the right foot and set them up to succeed. To all of those involved and who continue to serve, I will always be grateful. Thank you.

I should also thank my staff, Archie and Sheldon, for their early work and being able to secure this prime slot of speaking time, the last spot on a Thursday afternoon. Way to go, guys.

Honourable senators, let me take a moment to address an issue that is probably overt and obvious; in fact, it has been referred to several times in the chamber already. It is no secret that for the greater part of my life I have been committed to and have supported, through the good times and the not-so-good times — and sometimes these times aren’t so good — but, regardless, I am proud to say that I am, as has been implied, a capital-L, Leafs fan. Thank you.

I assure you, colleagues, my strong commitment to the Leafs will not preclude me from working across benches with Habs, Jets and Sens fans — all senators — to ensure we do the good work for Canadians.

As for Bruins fans, no guarantees.

Some of you may know, I spent 19 years in the other place and, hopefully, have contributed, to some degree, to the public good. As a proud Cape Bretoner, I can say we hold in high regard our political leaders. I think of Father Andrew Hogan, a proud NDPer; Donald MacInnis, a Progressive Conservative and great friend of the family; and, of course, a political icon in Nova Scotia, Allan J. MacEachen. Allan J. served Canadians both in the Senate and in the other place. If I had been able to see the future, I would have asked him his thoughts on the difference between the two. I was under the impression there would be far more commonalities. Yet, I have been struck by the differences between our two houses.

I would liken this change to a busy construction site where a journeyman carpenter shows up on the job and is assigned the duties of a Red Seal electrician. The carpenter’s obvious lack of understanding of his duties and the basic principles of electricity would probably come to him as a great shock. I will continue to listen and learn from my colleagues and to always try to find a way to contribute.

If I may, let me share with you this senator’s early impressions of my new station.

Know first that I am absolutely impressed with the calibre of Canadians with whom I share the honour of serving in this place. The intellectual horsepower and passionate focus by so many on so many issues important to Canadians, from all groups and a caucus, are readily apparent and quite impressive.

We have distinguished scholars, celebrated journalists, committed social activists, successful business leaders, accomplished advocates, all of whom have made notable and positive contributions. The Indigenous leaders in this place will continue to help chart the path to meaningful reconciliation and a stronger, more inclusive Canada.

The more recent appointments process was reflected upon by the late senator Hugh Segal, who served here from 2005 to 2015. He was a firm believer in the Senate and Senate reform. In 2018, as a reflection, he said:

Good and able people were appointed under both structures, but today, gender, expertise and occupational balance is much stronger, as is the openness to a deliberative debate not driven purely by partisanship . . . .

As noted by Senator Deacon, my colleague from Nova Scotia:

In terms of diversity, of the 96 sitting senators, 83% are independent, 56% are female 34% are Indigenous, Black, People of Colour, or LGBTQ2.

This chamber, colleagues, represents Canada.

I have appreciated watching this talented body do its important work, like reviewing legislation, one of its primary responsibilities, and, when deemed appropriate, offering amendments.

All senators are aware there has been a striking increase in the number of amendments accepted by the other place in recent years. I recall the debate around Senator Cormier’s amendment to Bill C-35, the Canada Early Learning and Child Care Act. I noted the important interventions shared by Senators Cormier, Moodie, Seidman and many others and, in particular, a very personal account by Senator Poirier, who made strong interventions on behalf of French minorities, a group she felt had been overlooked or could have been overlooked by this legislation. The amendment which passed offered the example of the Senate fulfilling its constitutional duties.

We know this chamber can initiate legislation as well. Before arriving in the Senate, I was not aware of the amount of legislation developed by individual senators, and that caught my attention. Many senators have invested considerable time and energy in the development of Senate public bills. These bills are important to the extent they provide the opportunity to advance discussions about a broad spectrum of important issues.

Senator Pate’s bill, Bill S-233, has initiated a greater national discussion around a framework for the universal guaranteed basic income.

Recently, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, The Honourable Marc Miller, introduced government Bill C-71, mentioned yesterday by Senator Arnot, which addresses the issue of “Lost Canadians.” I can only assume Bill S-245, tabled by Senator Martin, provided some of the impetus to prompt this government to act on this issue.

Currently, there are, by my count, 35 Senate public bills at various stages on the Order Paper plus those being studied at committee. Indeed, some senators have achieved success in having their bills receive Royal Assent.

However, in the many conversations I have had with many colleagues, there is a common thread; it suggests there is an issue with the number of Senate public bills. I offer no solution, but I do believe it is a discussion worth having. Perhaps we might find a better balance between the number of Senate public bills while not stifling the opportunity to shine light on important issues.

Honourable senators, I have always been of the belief that one of the true strengths of the Senate is the work done by committees. I recall a seminal report on health care in Canada tabled in 2002 by the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, chaired by then-senator Michael Kirby.

I remember sitting in caucus in the other place when the report came out, along with Senator Ringuette and Senator Cordy. I can tell you, colleagues, while the report was not universally embraced, it did trigger, in my view, the government of the day to act.

That Senate study was followed by the Romanow report which strongly advocated for a major injection of federal funding by the government, which was subsequently materialized through two health accords in 2003 and 2004. There have been many studies since.

Honourable senators, central to the strength of Senate committees is a very simple power. The power is in the question. I have been impressed that when senators arrive at committee, they have their homework done. They are driven to ask delving questions to senior government officials, academics, representatives from various stakeholder groups. They play no favourites.

In the other place, quite often questions are posed in order to place their party’s position in a better light. Senators are motivated to find the truth so that the recommendations can be presented to best help Canadians.

Likewise, I have been impressed with the two committees of which I am a member: the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans and the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications. The Fisheries and Oceans Committee is chaired by Senator Manning, an old friend, who is always fair, organized, collegial and respectful. The Chair of Transport and Communications Committee, Senator Housakos, has been great so far.

Senator Housakos: Give me time.

Some Hon. Senators: Oh, oh!

Senator Cuzner: Colleagues, it is the power of the question that yields the success of Senate committees. With regard to the power of daily Question Period, I’m not so sold on that.

Your Honour and colleagues, make no mistake; I would in no way want to diminish the opportunity for the opposition to hold the government of the day to account — never. However, colleagues, if you will allow me to pose this question: Is the current format for Senate Question Period the best vehicle to do this?

An Hon. Senator: No.

Senator Cuzner: I watch Senator Gold — and, I assume, Senator Harder before him — try to reply to important questions that may arise as a result of anything — something that may have happened in 1 of the 130 different federal departments or 1 of the 46 Crown corporations, or an action taken by any of the 450,000 federal employees.

In the other place, besides the Prime Minister, there are 37 ministers who can answer those questions, along with 39 parliamentary secretaries — each having the benefit of ministerial staff and a team of departmental officials and communications professionals who brief them daily.

Now, I have a world of respect for Senator Gold and his staff, but his challenge is daunting. It is like being handed a soup spoon while standing beside the swimming pool at the Château Laurier and being asked to empty it.

In contrast, having witnessed and taken part in several ministerial Question Periods in this chamber, I believe that format is much more productive and beneficial. Once again, it is the power of the question. That power yields far more accurate and informed responses. All senators who participate ask good, relevant questions and, in most cases, get good, pertinent answers immediately.

Likewise, I am fully aware that the official opposition in the Senate has a limited number of procedural levers to pull in order to perform their duties — that is to say, hold the government to account. The current Leader of the Opposition has an intimate relationship with each of these levers and is masterful at engaging them. He is tough and focused, and he is doing what he needs to do to succeed.

With regard to what might appear to us newbies in this place as a tremendous squandering of time and talent, with various procedural interruptions and delays, I will only say this: We shouldn’t be too quick to judge. Should there be a change in government — sometimes that happens — and an incoming government demonstrates an aggressive agenda that might cause concern to senators and Canadians, one might find themselves looking for those same levers.

I see this newly evolving Senate as a worthwhile experiment with huge potential. However, should there be a change in government, don’t be surprised if the experiment has a whole new team of lab instructors. That being said, I still believe that so much could be done —

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: I’m sorry to interrupt you, senator, but I believe honourable senators could grant an additional five minutes so that you could complete your speech.

Senator Cuzner: Three minutes?

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Three minutes, honourable senators?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Cuzner: Let’s make it five. Do I hear seven?

Some Hon. Senators: Oh, oh!

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Five minutes.

Senator Cuzner: That being said, I still believe very much in this institution.

Again, colleagues, I want to quote Hugh Segal, who said about Senate reform that past appointments were “. . . largely driven by partisan directives from the parliamentary wings of the two old-line parties.”

He went on to say:

Creating a mirror Upper Chamber with the same divisions and tensions as the lower and elected House was not what the negotiators of Confederation had in mind. . . .

I am sure former Senator Segal would also believe that the recently adopted Rules changes were a positive step for this place. I tip my hat to those senators who have worked on this type of reform over the years.

I’m also mindful that reform of the Senate does not mean that we ignore our traditions or histories. Many men and women have come before us here. They were important actors in building the story of Canada. I say this because the history of this place, the other place and generations of governments is sometimes best viewed through the lens of time.

I acknowledge that the many Conservative governments of Macdonald, Diefenbaker, Mulroney and others in between, and the Liberal governments of Laurier, Pearson, Trudeau and Chrétien, have helped shape this government. To echo Senator Oh’s comments today, I believe that we live in the greatest country in the world.

Now that you have an appreciation for my limited understanding of this chamber, I have one concern that I wish to share. This concern has been growing, and it is shared by many people in the world of politics.

In 2019, the Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, commented at the Justice Committee in the other place, “I’m deeply concerned about my country right now, its politics and where it’s headed.”

Many Canadians thought this quote was a bit odd at the time. I did not. Throughout my time in politics, I have witnessed a marked shift in political culture in this country. The increased toxicity in our political discourse is often cited as a major reason why good people are leaving and heading for the exits. This should worry us all. We need to understand that you can disagree with policies, but we need to respect those who have come forward to serve the public good.

Ian Shugart said in this place just short of a year ago:

Honourable senators, whether it is what we say to or about each other, or how we learn again to listen and dialogue with others who don’t share our outlook, or how we guard the health of our institutions — we need to relearn the virtue of restraint.

Colleagues, I believe we have a healthy discourse in this chamber. We need to continue to provide leadership on this issue. We are charged with not only maintaining our institutions but also leaving them a better place upon our departure.

In closing, honourable senators, I’m honoured to serve in this chamber with this collective of capable, caring and committed senators. My time in politics has shown me that much can be achieved when people of goodwill work together to find solutions and propose initiatives that support and help Canadians. Thank you.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

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