Third reading of Bill C-62, An Act to amend An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying), No. 2

By: The Hon. Peter Harder

Share this post:

Hon. Peter Harder: Honourable senators, I rise on behalf of our colleague Frances Lankin, who is not able to be here, and I will say a few words that she has asked me to express on her behalf. I would like to add a few comments after that with respect to my own views and experience.

Senator Lankin first asks me to thank colleagues for including some thoughts from her on the record at third reading of Bill C-62:

I can’t be in the chamber but have been following Senate debates all week. Thank you to all colleagues for what has been a very thoughtful and important discussion.

Most of the issues I would like to speak to if I could be there in person have been explored from many perspectives by others. I won’t repeat those things. I want to add my voice in support of this bill from my own personal and professional perspective as a former provincial Minister of Health and as a member of this chamber of our bicameral Parliament.

While the various expert opinions — which, in this case, are split — provide evidence-based advice to the development of public policy, the final decision on what public policy will be proposed, how and when that policy is implemented and the other considerations that must be taken into account falls in the end to ministers, governments, legislatures and Parliament.

The final step is and should be an exercise in democratic governance, which includes the requirement to respect collaborative federalism and federal-provincial-territorial, or FPT, jurisdictional realities. I support the FPT assessment that a three-year extension before the provision of MAID comes into effect is in the best overall interests of Canadians and responsible law-making. I understand from first-hand government and legislative experience the considerations that are before ministers.

The second perspective I bring to this is as a member of this institution and a structured consideration of the scope of my role as a senator. Whatever our individual preference regarding the proposed bill is, we must always consider the role of the Senate in our parliamentary system. A bill that passes the democratically elected and accountable chamber — in a minority government to boot — must be treated with considered respect and appropriate deference. For many reasons, I support this bill, and I urge colleagues to do the same.

That is Senator Frances Lankin.

Colleagues, I enter this debate somewhat reluctantly, frankly because of my recent personal experience, but I also do so in some respects because so many senators missed the debate eight years ago. For those of us who were here eight years ago, it has to be the most important public policy debate I have been a party to in this chamber, and if you read the record, the one in which I believe the Senate rose to insightful debate. We learned from each other and reached amendments to the bill that was before us, which we sent to the other chamber.

The other chamber considered and accepted some amendments, but not all. I want to read to you the words of the then-government representative when the message came from the other place:

Honourable senators, I do not propose to speak long because we have, over the course of the last two and a half weeks, debated extensively the matters before us, and we all understand the situation that we now face with a message from the House of Commons. I think it is important for me to say a few words with respect to where we are with the message and the motion that I have tabled.

I believe that the Senate has done its work. We have, through the exercise of debate and the work of the Senate, engaged Canadians on the issues involving Bill C-14.

We have, through our amendments, perfected the bill to a great degree and provoked, in the other chamber, yet another debate of reflection, and in the broader public, a debate with respect to the amendments that we made.

This is the role of the Senate, to provoke, to inquire, to make recommendations for improvement, to urge the government to consider our reflections.

The role of the House of Commons and the government is to consider the recommendations that we have made, to take seriously the amendments and the views of the Senate, and I believe they have done that. They have done that in a respectful fashion, by seeking to accommodate and engage the other chamber with respect to the amendments that have been brought forward.

That is their role. They are the representatives of the people, and the government will be held accountable for the implementation of the bill that, hopefully, this chamber will conclude later today is worthy of Royal Assent.

I reference this because this is not a debate that has come to us only in the last few weeks. It is, in a sense, a conversation this chamber has had with the other chamber for the last eight years. In the last iteration, we made recommendations to the other chamber, which they accepted, and now, on reflection, are saying, after consultations that we envisaged they would engage in, that the system is not ready.

I think it’s important for us institutionally to understand our role and the restraint with which we should exercise our judgment. I want to quote not from the previous Government Representative but from our former colleague Ian Shugart. It was his first and last speech, but it is worthy of reflection where he spoke of restraint. This is from June 20, 2023:

. . . we have the seeds of constitutional crisis. An essential ingredient in avoiding or resolving such a crisis will be the practice of restraint. Our Constitution is black-letter law and convention — practices developed over decades and centuries, in which the instinct to exercise raw power is restrained for the common good. Absent restraint, the convention that the Senate’s duty is to scrutinize, amend and pass legislation — balanced against deference to the chamber that most directly reflects the will of the people — is incomplete.

In other words, colleagues, I believe that the bill before us and its passage, which I endorse, would be an appropriate exercise of the Senate’s role that is deliberative and respectful, but is ultimately one of restraint. I would encourage you to adopt this bill.

Share this post: