Canada should Indigenize the Senate

Hard to see any government making such a significant change, given the constitutional and institutional impact and the likely Charter issues that such a policy would raise. About 17 percent of the current government’s Senate appointments are Indigenous.

And of course, given that such an ongoing process of new senators being Indigenous, this would require national and provincial consensus for future governments to follow such an approach. Not going to happen:

The appointment of Inuk leader Mary Simon as Canada’s 30th Governor-General is a vital step toward recognizing the significance of Indigenous peoples in Canada’s past, present and future. A northerner with decades of experience and a woman grounded in culture, she represents a true shift in Canada – and beyond.

We are all celebrating. In early July, Kahnawà:ke, Que., elected its first woman and 2SLGBTQ+ member as Grand Chief. And now RoseAnne Archibald is the first woman to be Assembly of First Nations National Chief. I agree with those who say this is an era of matriarchs.

This paradigm shift gives me hope, especially after a Canada Day unlike any other. There were fewer fireworks and less flag-waving, while orange shirts appeared to outnumber red-and-white ones in some communities. The nation took pause to reflect on the disturbing discoveries of children’s remains outside of former residential schools.

Canadians are increasingly recognizing the horror of their country’s deep-rooted colonial past and have begun looking for, and demanding, remedies. Now is the time for change.

One place where significant and meaningful change is immediately possible is in the Canadian Senate, which might be this country’s ultimate colonial institution. A remnant of the undemocratic legislative councils that governed the colonies before Confederation, the Senate was created both to represent the provinces, but more importantly, also as a check on elected government. Like the House of Lords in Britain, Canada’s Senate was created to safeguard the interests of propertied elites.

Following a series of scandals and a larger conversation about the purpose and nature of the institution, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau disbanded the Liberal caucus in the Senate several years ago. In its place, he vowed to appoint only independent senators, which would be recommended by the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments, established in 2016. The effect has been positive, and already he has appointed 60 senators – a majority of its current members – in this way.

Further Senate reform should be Mr. Trudeau’s next step. He can reform the Senate to be not only independent but also Indigenous, which would mean a vital shift in how Canada is governed and power is shared. Indeed, Mr. Trudeau should ask the Senate advisory board to recommend only exceptional Indigenous candidates who are well-regarded by recognized Indigenous communities.

Transforming the Senate to truly reflect and include a majority Indigenous representation would be a significant gesture toward reconciliation. It would have natural legitimacy as a custodial body safeguarding the land and all peoples. In using his discretion to establish this new convention, Mr. Trudeau would set Canada on a new and more equitable constitutional path. “Indigenizing” the Senate could be among the Prime Minister’s most consequential legacies.

Of course, Indigenous perspectives vary and not all will welcome a dedicated parliamentary chamber within an apparatus some view as illegitimate. An Indigenized Senate would grapple with adequately representing the diversity of Indigenous perspectives, Nations and interests while preserving Canada’s constitutional commitment to bilingualism and representation of the provinces.

An Indigenous Senate would continue to scrutinize and improve legislation, while at the same time place Indigenous perspectives at the heart of Parliament and at the centre of our national conversation. It would exercise its responsibilities on behalf of all residents of this land – not only Indigenous ones.

With today’s 105 senators serving until age 75, the transition to a fully Indigenized Senate would happen over several decades. This would allow the Senate’s newest members to learn its traditions while also providing time for new practices to evolve.

In an interview before retiring as a senator, Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman and former judge Murray Sinclair referred to his vision of the Senate as a “council of elders” that would provide thoughtful, non-partisan government oversight. An Indigenized Senate takes Justice Sinclair’s vision at face value – and to heart – and considers that his idea might be applied literally.

Ultimately, reconciliation will mean ceding and sharing power. The Prime Minister, acting of his own initiative, could and should demonstrate his commitment to Indigenous people with this act of political imagination.

Kluane Adamek has served as the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Yukon Regional Chief since January, 2018. She is a proud northerner and citizen of Kluane First Nation. Regional Chief Adamek belongs to the Dakl’aweidi (Killer Whale) Clan and comes from a diverse background with Tlingit, Southern Tutchone, German and Irish origins.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-canada-should-indigenize-its-senate/

Feminist Senators are critical actors in women’s representation

Interesting take. Would also benefit from possible impact of visible minority and Indigenous senators:

The results of the federal election have produced much scrutiny over the number of women in Canadian Parliament. The Senate is nearing gender parity, with 60 percent of Prime Minister Trudeau’s appointments being women. Gender and politics scholarship has shown that meaningful representation of women’s interests is likely to occur not just because of a critical mass of women, but because of the presence of critical actors. It seems that a group of independent feminist senators have the potential to be critical actors in the representation of Canadian women’s policy interests. Their efforts will be ones to watch in the next Parliament.

The new Parliament will start in the coming weeks, and politicians will descend on Parliament Hill ready to get to work. They certainly haven’t forgotten the near-constitutional crisis at the end of the last Parliament. The Liberal government pushed many pieces of legislation through the House of Commons only to have them stall in the Senate. While some bills were passed, a few significant pieces of legislation died on the Senate’s Order Paper. Amidst the intensity of the last legislative session, a cadre of feminist independent senators worked hard to ensure that the interests of Canadian women were represented. When Parliament starts up again, these senators will surely continue to work together to pursue feminist initiatives in policy-making.

For decades, the Senate has had a better balance of men and women than the House of Commons has. However, we have no studies that show whether the presence of women senators has led to the effective representation of Canadian women’s policy interests.

In recent years, research on women’s representation has shifted focus. Rather than looking just at the number of women in Parliament, researchers are looking at the critical actors who represent women’s interests. We know that increasing the number of women in a legislature is likely to improve the representation of women’s policy interests. However, researchers have found the most important factor is that there are actually people in Parliament who are willing to stand up for women. The group of feminist Canadian senators could be those critical actors.

The new Senate appointment process allows individuals to nominate others or apply directly, and it emphasizes proficiency over partisanship. As a result, many feminists with specific expertise have been appointed as independent senators with free rein to form their own alliances.

Under the new appointment system, a number of Canadian feminist powerhouses have been introduced to Parliament. They bring with them a myriad of experience advocating for women’s interests. Donna Dasko helped found Equal Voice, which is a nonpartisan organization that supports women running for office in Canada. Kim Pate was formerly the director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, which advocates for women in the criminal justice system. Another senator who has fought for women’s rights is Marilou McPhedran, who was instrumental in getting section 15 equality rights into the CanadianCharter of Rights and Freedoms, and who helped to found the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund. Mary Coyle has also promoted the rights of women and Indigenous peoples, setting up the First Peoples Fund to provide microfinancing to First Nations and Métis communities in Canada. Before entering politics, Frances Lankin was an active member of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, where she acted as the provincial spokesperson for the Equal Pay Coalition. Rosemary Moodie comes from a career in maternal medicine, where she advocated for the expansion of quality health care to marginalized populations. The specific expertise that these senators bring to Parliament informs their work in the Senate.

There are also senators who have particular experience with advising governments on women’s issues. Wanda Thomas Bernard was the chair of the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Nancy Hartling cochaired the New Brunswick Minister’s Working Group on Violence Against Women. Julie Miville-Dechêne was the chair of the Quebec government’s Conseil du statut de la femme. These formidable women represent a few of the feminist senators who, along with many other senators, are working hard to represent women’s interests in the chamber as well.

With this influx of wide-ranging expertise, there have been questions about whether ad hoc Senate caucuses will form on different issues, especially because Liberal senators were removed from the party’s national caucus. Former senator Hugh Segal has been a supporter of that change. With the removal of party discipline, he says, “you could have a caucus on women’s issues, you could have a caucus on defence, you could have a caucus on First Nations issues, you could have regional caucuses.” The efforts of feminist senators seem to be an example of that prediction at work.

In fact, Pate, McPhedran and Coyle allied with NDP MP Christine Moore to found the Canadian Association of Feminist Parliamentarians in late 2018. It already has more than 60 members, and it is working on getting parliamentary approval. The association demonstrates the drive for collaboration and support among Canadian feminist senators.

In an illustration of collaboration between feminist senators, Senator Dasko has worked with her colleagues on oversight of Bill C-78, an Act to Amend the Divorce Act, which she identifies as a bill with vast importance for women: “I took on the responsibility for delving into it. A responsibility on behalf of a small group of senators, feminists as we were, who wanted to make sure that we understood the bill and made changes where we felt necessary.” She recounts a time when the group strategized that she would take the lead. Another senator gave her seat on the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee to Senator Dasko as a replacement, to ensure that she could deliberate and vote on the Divorce Act at the committee stage (since she had studied the bill’s subject matter and its weaknesses). This access to expertise is an example of the benefits of a cooperative feminist group.

Senator Dasko says she finds that “with the ISG senators, there are a lot of women…it really is a quite congenial work environment. I think we try to get along and we get along very well. I think we work very collaboratively.”

Before the Senate reform, senators’ memberships in party caucuses meant that they did a lot of collaborating behind closed doors, in caucus meetings. We cannot know the specifics of what feminist alliances might have been formed there, or the effects that they had. Now, a group of openly feminist senators operates within the context of a more independent Senate. This provides evidence that some members of the Senate are working in the interests of Canadian women.

Source: Feminist Senators are critical actors in women’s representation

Senate survey offers better picture of diversity among Chamber staff

Good to see these data collection efforts and their sharing despite their limitations:

New numbers suggest the Senate’s hiring of women, Indigenous people, and visible minorities is on par with each group’s availability in the workforce, but behind on employing those with disabilities.

An estimated 2.6 per cent of Senate staff are people with disabilities, though they represent 4.4 per cent of the available workforce, according to new data collected from some Senate staff.

At the June 6 Senate Internal Economy, Budgets, and Administration meeting Diane McCullagh, the Senate’s chief human resources officer, reported on her office’s efforts to get better statistics through a voluntary survey of staff in both the administration and Senators’ offices. Because it’s an opt-in survey, the Senate doesn’t have diversity data on all its staff.

The latest push brought in 266 responses, Ms. McCullagh said, and pooled with past efforts, the Senate now has information for 596 people. That represents 81.5 per cent of the 731 employees at the time of the survey, conducted between March 29 and April 26.

Three per cent of Senate staff recorded identify as Indigenous, compared to an estimated 3.4 per cent workforce availability, Ms. McCullagh told Senators. Similarly, among visible minorities, the Senate is a few points off, hiring 12.45 per cent, compared to an estimated workforce availability of 13 per cent. Women represented 60 per cent of those surveyed, well above the 52.5 per cent workforce availability.

Where the Senate is falling behind, it isn’t far, said Ms. McCullagh, but the Senate has “work to do” to hire more people with disabilities.

Breakdown of diversity for staff in the House of Commons, Senate, and public service, according to 2018 data reported by each body. Graph created with Infogram

Ms. McCullagh acknowledged the limitations in the data, noting people are “still fearful” of singling themselves out. But the numbers can still help establish “benchmarks against which we can measure our progress going forward,” she said.

The search for better statistics emerged following a June 2018 report, Diversity in the Senate: From Aspiration to Action, from Internal Economy’s Subcommittee on Diversity.

The new data shows a shift from the 2016 numbers the committee studied, though that report only looked at the Senate’s employees, and didn’t include staff working in Senators’ offices. As of March 2016, among the 354 employees, women represented 59 per cent, visible minorities 15.3 per cent, people with disabilities 5.6 per cent, and Aboriginal people 3.4 per cent.

The new data puts the Senate behind the core public services in all areas, except hiring women, and ahead of the House of Commons only in its hiring of women and Indigenous people.

Of the 192,467 that made up the core public service as of March 31, 2018, women represented 54.8 per cent, according to the most recent report on employment equity. That’s slightly up from the estimated workforce availability of 52.5 per cent for the same year. Indigenous people represented 5.1 per cent of the public service (compared to 3.4 per cent workforce availability), people with disabilities accounted for 5.3 per cent (compared to 4.4 per cent), and visible minorities were 15.7 per cent (compared to 13 per cent workforce availability).

In the House of Commons, as of June 2018, 48 per cent of the House administration’s 2,479 employees were women, two per cent were Aboriginal persons, 13 per cent were visible minorities (up from 10 per cent the previous year), and three per cent were people with disabilities (down from two per cent in 2017).

Senators also asked Ms. McCullagh’s team to start tracking regional representation among staff, and while she didn’t have that data, she said the Senate has a wider reach than it has in the past.

Source: Senate survey offers better picture of diversity among Chamber staff

Improve, then use, name-blind recruitment to boost Senate staff diversity: committee – The Hill Times

Ironically, the Senate staffer numbers are not too bad — out of 354 employees, there were 54 people who identify as visible minorities (15.3 per cent, about the same percentage who are also Canadian citizens), 20 people with disabilities (5.6 per cent), 12 Aboriginal people (3.4 per cent), and 209 women (59 per cent) as of March 31, 2016. However, the point on under-representation of Indigenous staff at more senior levels is of note:

A name-blind recruitment project could help improve Senate staff diversity, but only if done properly, according to the head of a Senate group studying employment equity in the Upper Chamber’s administration.

In a report tabled June 21 with the Senate’s Internal Economy, Budgets, and Administration Committee—a powerful group of Senators that handles the Chamber’s legal and financial matters—its Subcommittee on Diversity said the administration should “consider implementing a name-blind recruitment pilot project and evaluate whether name-blind recruitment could be expanded for hiring by the Senate administration and potentially by individual Senators’ offices.”

The recommendation was one of 10 made by the subcommittee chaired by Liberal Senator Mobina Jaffer (British Columbia) following a study of a 2016 report on diversity among the 354 members of the Senate administrative staff—authored by high-ranking officials in the Senate bureaucracy—and diversity in the Senate workforce more generally, including in Senators’ offices.

The subcommittee—which also includes Conservative Senator Elizabeth Marshall (Newfoundland and Labrador) and Independent Senator Raymonde Saint-Germain (De la Vallière, Que.)—was struck in late 2016and began its study the following spring, holding five meetings between March 1, 2017 and May 8, 2018.

But there should be major improvements to the name-blind recruitment project tried out in the federal public service before it gets used in the Senate, said Sen. Jaffer, who told The Hill Times she first wants Senate staff to study where the public service pilot project went wrong.

Run between April and October 2017, the goal of the name-blind recruitment pilot run by the Public Service Commission and Treasury Board Secretariat was to “determine whether concealing personal information…which could lead to the identification of a candidate’s origin from job applications, had an impact on the screening decisions made by reviewers when compared to the traditional assessment method where all personal information was presented.” The idea was to see if a hiring manager is biased by the name they see on the resume, or other such personal information about the potential new recruit.

The analysis, limited to those who self-declared as visible minorities, ultimately concluded that there was “no net benefit or disadvantage with the NBR assessment method for visible minorities,” though there were some problems identified with the method itself.

During a March 20 appearance by Treasury Board President Scott Brison (Kings-Hants, N.S.) at the Senate’s Question Period, Independent Senator Ratna Omidvar (Ontario) raised the methodology issues with him.

“First, the hiring managers who were recruited for this project volunteered. I would suggest that creates a certain lack of purity, if I can use that word. The second is that the hiring managers made their decisions knowing that their decisions and the comparative results would be subject to review,” she said.

Mr. Brison acknowledged there were problems with the pilot project’s method, and said he has told Treasury Board, a central agency that acts as the employer of the public service, that he wants “to actually continue to apply the name-blind hiring pilot and to potentially apply it in departments or agencies wherein there is less diversity, to apply it in certain departments and agencies and in regions, to actually continue to work to this.”

Of the results themselves, Mr. Brison said: “The good news is that the pilot came back and said that they did not find, necessarily, a bias or discriminatory hiring practices within the government of Canada.”

Sen. Jaffer said Mr. Brison’s response was disappointing.

“So to say there is no bias, he was happy to see there is no bias, that’s stretching it. There is,” she said, pointing to her years as chair of the Senate’s Human Rights Committee where she used to hear about people not wanting to voluntarily self-identify as belonging to a minority or marginalized group because they didn’t want to be seen as different.

“I am concerned that the public service has not done a good job [with the project], and I’m hoping that the Senate will show the way.”

Setting the tone and setting the example is a key tenet for Sen. Jaffer in her work to improve diversity in the Senate, after experiences in the halls of Parliament that she describes as “soul destroying.”

Sen. Jaffer is the first South Asian woman to be appointed to the Senate and, among other incidents, said she has been stopped from using entrances to Parliamentary Precinct buildings, even while wearing her Senate pin showing that she is a Senator.

And if these things can happen to her, as a Senator, she said it worries her what those lower in the pecking order experience.

“If it happens to me, what is happening to people who work here? I represent them too. If I don’t speak up, then I let them down, too, [and] they have much more to lose.”

Despite it not being in her nature to rock the boat, she said it’s important that she speak out and do things to make changes, drawing on experiences dating back to being the first South Asian woman to practise law in Canada.

“It’s not because I think that’s my role in life. I don’t go looking for it, because I don’t have time for it. It destroys you, it kills a part of me every time,” she said. “Anyone working in the Senate or in the House who feels that they have not been treated fairly, they should know they’re no longer alone. There are services, there are structures that can help and they shouldn’t suffer in silence.”

Senate needs to reflect Canada, says Sen. Jaffer

Sen. Jaffer said the Senate administration has been putting in a genuine effort to improve the diversity of its staff over the years.

Back in 2005, then-Conservative Senator Donald Oliver called the Senate out for “glaring” and  “problematic” systemic racism after a report foundthat there had been no visible minorities appointed to senior and middle management positions between 2000 and 2004 and that visible minorities made up only 6.8 per cent of the Senate’s 425 employees.

Throughout years of upheaval and change in the Senate, it’s remained an administrative priority to act on recommendations Senators have made in response to subsequent diversity reports, Sen. Jaffer said.

In 2014, the Senate’s Internal Economy Committee adopted a two-year Diversity and Accessibility Action Plan for the administration to act on, which included measures to ensure that representation of designated group members was monitored, along with the Senate’s “employment systems to identify systemic barriers and eliminate adverse impacts on the designated groups.”

According to the fifth report of the Senate’s Advisory Committee on Diversity and Accessibility, as of March 31, 2016, among the Senate’s 354 employees (which doesn’t include staff in Senators’ individual offices) there were 54 people who identify as visible minorities (15.3 per cent), 20 people with disabilities (5.6 per cent), 12 Aboriginal people (3.4 per cent), and 209 women (59 per cent).

“We had the auditors here, we had huge changeover, we had independent Senators—those all cause issues for the staff, the administration. Even then they were loyal in implementing, so I have lots of gratitude for that,” she said.

In the House of Commons, as of June 2017, 48 per cent of the House administration’s 2,234 employees were women, two per cent were Aboriginal persons, 10 per cent were visible minorities, and four per cent were people with disabilities.

The most recent report on employment equity in the core public service, covering the 2016-17 fiscal year, said that of the 181,674 employees tallied in March 2016, 54.4 per cent were women (compared to an estimated workforce availability of 52.5 per cent), 5.2 per cent were Aboriginal persons (against an estimated workforce availability of 3.4 per cent), 5.6 per cent were people with disabilities (compared to 4.4 per cent workforce availability), and 14.5 per cent were visible minorities (compared to 13 per cent).

But more work needs to be done, especially in encouraging and emphasizing the hiring of Aboriginal Canadians and veterans, the Senate subcommittee said.

It recommended that the Senate create an Aboriginal Young Interns program, expand its efforts to recruit staff from outside of the National Capital Region, and explore ways to target veterans in its recruitment efforts.

As of March 31, 2016, there were no Aboriginal people in the Senate’s manager occupational category and their representation in the professionals occupational category was below their national workforce availability.

The Senate, and all of the country’s institutions, need to reflect Canada, Sen. Jaffer said, or risk becoming irrelevant, and hitting the benchmark of workforce availability—the estimated availability in designated groups as a percentage of the entire workforce population—is not good enough.

“We’ve got to have people from different groups in management,” she said. “And until people get into management, we will not arrive at a proper goal because it’s the management that makes the decisions for hiring; it’s the management that sets the tone.”

The Senate administration has until June 13, 2019 to report back to the Senate Internal Economy Committee on steps it has taken to put in place the subcommittee’s recommendations.

via Improve, then use, name-blind recruitment to boost Senate staff diversity: committee – The Hill Times

Why the Senate is unpredictable — and its independents not so independent: Éric Grenier

Good detailed analysis, including voting records of individual senators, by Grenier:

The Senate is gumming up the work of the Liberal government, slowing the process that turns bills into law because the government cannot reliably count on a majority of senators lining up behind it, according to an analysis of votes in the upper chamber.

But the numbers also show this isn’t due to the independent senators named to the Red Chamber by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In fact, these independent senators have voted closely with the government — more often than the “Senate Liberals” cut loose from the party in 2014.

The Senate is currently divided into three groupings: Conservatives, Liberals and an Independent Senators Group (ISG). There are also a few non-affiliated senators, including Peter Harder, the government representative responsible for guiding the government’s agenda through the Senate.

The Conservative senators form part of the party’s parliamentary caucus, along with Conservative MPs from the House of Commons. But the Liberal senators were ejected from that caucus in 2014 by Trudeau, a move aimed at reducing partisanship in the upper chamber.

Though they still caucus together in the Senate, they no longer co-ordinate with their colleagues in the House.

The ISG is formed of senators who left their former Conservative or Liberal caucuses, as well as those put in the Senate by Trudeau as part of the government’s pledge to appoint non-partisan senators nominated by an independent commission.

As the opposition in the Senate, the Conservatives have voted against the government’s position the most often, siding with Harder in just 25 per cent of all 48 recorded votes held since Harder took office. (This includes votes on both government and non-government bills and motions.)

But the swing votes in the Senate have not been the gaggle of independents, but rather the Senate Liberals, who have voted with Harder only 78.5 per cent of the time.

Votes in the Senate

The independents, by comparison, have been much more co-operative. Independents appointed by Trudeau’s predecessors voted with Harder 88 per cent of the time, while independents named by the prime minister have stood with Harder in 94.5 per cent of recorded votes.

This makes Trudeau’s independents — as a bloc — the most reliable votes that Harder can count upon in the Senate.

Senate Liberal swing votes

This bloc is not large enough for Harder to easily steer the government’s legislation through the Senate.

With 98 senators — excluding Speaker George Furey and Jacques Demers, who has been away due to poor health — Harder needs 49 votes to pass legislation when all senators are in the chamber.

In addition to himself, Harder can count on the support of his deputy, Diane Bellemare, and government liaison Grant Mitchell. The independents named by Trudeau increase his vote total to 29.

Adding the six independent senators appointed by past prime ministers who frequently vote with the government bumps that number to 35 — still short of a majority.

So in order to pass legislation, Harder needs most of the votes from the 18 Liberals, making them the Senate’s decisive swing votes.

Source: Why the Senate is unpredictable — and its independents not so independent – Politics – CBC News

Liberals’ citizenship bill [C-6] to proceed with some Senate amendments

Being debated and voted on in the House Monday June 12.

Expect that the Senate will/should declare victory given two out of three amendments accepted, including the most important one of restoring procedural protections for those accused of fraud or misrepresentation:

Far more people lose their citizenship because it was obtained fraudulently, and the Senate wants to amend the bill in order to give those people a chance at a court hearing before their status is stripped away.

Hussen said the government will accept that proposal, albeit with some modifications of its own, including giving the minister the authority to make decisions when an individual requests it.

Hussen’s hand was partially forced by a recent Federal Court decision that said people have a right to challenge the revocation of their citizenship, although predecessor John McCallum had earlier suggested he would support the amendment.

“This amendment recognizes the government’s commitment to enhancing the citizenship revocation process to strengthen procedural fairness, while ensuring that the integrity of our citizenship program is maintained,” Hussen said in a statement.

The government will also accept a Senate recommendation that would make it easier for children to obtain citizenship without a Canadian parent.

But they are rejecting efforts to raise the upper age for citizenship language and knowledge requirements from 54 to 59, saying it’s out of step with the goal of making citizenship easier to obtain. The current law requires those between the ages of 14 to 64 to pass those tests; the Liberals want it changed to 18 to 54.

Hussen thanked the Senate for its work making the bill “even stronger and for providing an example of productive collaboration on strengthening important legislation.”

The Senate has the choice of accepting the government’s decision, rejecting it, or proposing further amendments of its own, which could further delay the legislation.

Source: Liberals’ citizenship bill to proceed with some Senate amendments – The Globe and Mail

Increasingly activist Senate plans amendments to Liberal budget bill — again [Service Fees Act escalator clause?]

Will be interesting to see if the concern over automatic indexing of alcohol excise taxes is followed by the same concern for the automatic indexing of government service fees (Budget bill will increase service fees with less accountability, say critics):

At least two parts of Bill C-44, the omnibus legislation that implements the government’s budget priorities, are likely to see substantial amendments when the bill arrives in the chamber next week. It’s not yet certain they have enough votes to pass, but both have some support in all three groups of senators.

Under an amendment that will come from independent Sen. André Pratte, the section of the bill that creates the Canada Infrastructure Bank — a new agency that would use public funds to help attract private investment for infrastructure projects — would be separated out for further study in the fall.

Pratte said it’s highly unusual for a large financial agency to be created through omnibus legislation, and the Senate must take care to properly consider it.

“We simply lack time, because summer recess is approaching,” he said. “It’s a 3oo-page bill, and the infrastructure bank is a new, complex institution, and an important one. We need to study it in depth to make sure we get it right.”

Many senators also oppose a measure in the bill that creates an annual inflationary increase in the excise tax on alcohol. A special briefing for senators on that aspect of the bill took place on Thursday afternoon.

Sen. Claude Carignan, who sits on the Senate banking committee and was the Conservative caucus leader until recently, said Conservatives will look favourably on both potential amendments.

“If somebody moves a motion to split the bill (to take out the infrastructure bank)…probably, we will support this initiative,” he said.

The alcohol tax is also a concern, he added. “I can confirm that many senators on our side have a problem, first, with raised taxes, but also to do with an automatic system of inflation. We have concerns because it’s something where you raise taxes without Parliament authorization.”

If the whole Conservative caucus votes for the amendments, the support of just a dozen other senators would be needed for passage.

Source: Increasingly activist Senate plans amendments to Liberal budget bill — again | National Post

Senate changes definition of a ‘caucus,’ ending Liberal, Conservative duopoly

Will be interesting to see how this evolves and how many caucuses, and their respective focuses, emerge:

The Senate has just voted for a major shake-up of how members of the Red Chamber align themselves by allowing nine or more members to form a caucus, a substantial break from tradition that has historically seen the place organized along party lines.

Members of the Senate adopted a key recommendation of the modernization committee’s report — released last fall — which removes the requirement that a caucus only be formed by those who are members of a political party registered under the Canada Elections Act.

Thus, in theory, there could now be a proliferation of caucuses along regional lines, something that has been favoured by Peter Harder, the government’s representative in the Senate, in the past for organizational purposes.

There could also be the creation of more narrowly-focused caucus groups, like senators who support environmental causes, or the military, an Indigenous or women’s caucus. The possibilities are nearly endless as long as there are at least nine senators who agree to band together, and their group is created for parliamentary and/or political purposes, requirements that are not overly stringent. (A senator, however, cannot be a member of more than one caucus.)

The change is a personal victory for Harder, and his reform agenda, as he has sought to dislodge the Conservative and Liberal duopoly in the Senate.

“I think it’s a victory for the Senate. This is the first major, permanent adjustment to the Senate rules and procedures coming out of the modernization committee,” Harder said in an interview with CBC News. “I just think its important for senators to be given the framework … to form affinities [and] I don’t have a road map or expectations or a design here.”

Harder said regional caucuses could form but he isn’t pushing for that type of division now, adding the process will “play out organically.”

When asked if there was demand by senators within the chamber to form new caucuses, Harder said yes. “Why else would it have been accepted by the Senate?”

The motion directs the Senate rules committee to now formalize the changes, and then requests the internal economy committee — which effectively governs the chamber and adjudicates complaints — to draw-up budgets for these prospective new caucuses, to help hire staff for “secretariats” and pursue research projects. The motion was adopted by a voice vote, so it is not clear how much support it had from the existing parties.

Source: Senate changes definition of a ‘caucus,’ ending Liberal, Conservative duopoly – Politics – CBC News

C-6 Citizenship Senate Debates – Amendments update

As somewhat expected, the amendment allowing minors to submit citizenship applications independently, passed 47 to 24 votes (a similar amendment had been defeated during the House’s review of C-6).

As also expected, the Conservative amendment to “repeal the repeal” of the residency requirements was defeated, 51 to 28 votes.

No one argued about the intent of the amendment to allow minors to submit applications independently.

The main arguments used against this amendment were thus less substantive and more process. Senator Harder noted that the waiver provision of 5(3) had been used for 14 cases since January 2015 (always refreshing to have actual numbers rather than only individual cases cited). The “success” rate was 97 percent (not sure how this number was arrived as 13/14 is 93 percent), with applications processed in a “timely manner.”

Other points made by Senator Harder and other independent senators were around the point whether this amendment would be more appropriately considered in a broader review of the Citizenship Act rather than the more narrow focus of C-6.

In response, Senator Jaffer, the co-sponsor of the Bill, provided a number of examples that the amendment would cover. She noted that compassionate grounds cases can take many years and had largely been used for the “most extreme” cases and had largely been used for medical reasons. She had been “promised’ many times  that “We will deal with it in a few years,” with no follow-up and thus was skeptical of such assurances.

So far, the full Senate has approved three amendments:

  1. Restoration of procedural protections in cases of fraud and misrepresentation (Senator McCoy, see Senate amends Liberal citizenship bill to allow court hearings in fraud casesThe Senate has voted to amend the citizenship law to allow Canadians the right to a court hearing before their citizenship is stripped for fraud or misrepresentation);
  2. Raising the language and knowledge exemption age to 60 from 55 (Senator Griffin); and,
  3. Providing minors the right to submit an application on their own (Senators Oh and Jaffer)

The fourth amendment, sponsored by Senators From and Stewart-Olsen, would have “repealed the repeal” of the four years out of six physical presence, along with the minimum number of days required. This prompted a point of order by Senator Lankin asking that the Speaker rule the proposed amendment out of order as it negated the relevant provisions of Bill C-6. In the end, the Speaker allowed the amendment which was defeated 51 to 28.

Source: Debates 11 AprilDebates 12 April

Government looks to counter what Harder calls Conservatives’ ‘coordinated’ stall tactics in Senate and House @TheHillTimes

Bill C-6 appears to the “poster child” for these delaying tactics:

One of the examples of legislative slowdown that Sen. Harder cited is Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act.

The legislation addresses promises made by the Liberals during the last election campaign to amend parts of the previous Conservative government’s Bill C-24.

The legislation has had a slow slog through the Senate. It’s been before the Upper Chamber since it passed the House of Commons without amendments on June 17, 2016, and was debated eight times at second reading between September and December 2016.

As of deadline, it had received six days of debate at third reading. Amendments are being put forward, with at least two amendments passing by deadline, meaning the bill will have to return to the House.

The bill it is repealing, Bill C-24 spent four days total in the Senate, between first reading and royal assent.

Sen. Harder said both approaches are wrong, and the holdup on this and other bills have impacts on Canadians, or “want-to-be-Canadians,” in the case of Bill C-6.

“Our legislative agenda is very much tied to bringing what the government feels are important matters of conclusion to the Canadian public,” said Sen. Harder.

“All senators have a duty to review Government legislation, but also to decide in a reasonable timeframe, putting aside partisan gamesmanship and focusing on public policy,” Mr. Harder said in the paper. He also argued that the future reputation of the Senate does rely in part its ability to process government business.

“The final weeks of each Senate sitting—in June and December—are quite chaotic, as the Senate pulls out all the procedural stops to expedite government legislation, trying to do in two weeks what it could have done in two months. Government bills should not be rushed through the Chamber in extremis following a successful round of horse-trading,” Sen. Harder wrote.

Now, with six weeks to go until the scheduled end of the sitting, Sen. Harder in the interview, wouldn’t commit to not using time allocation in the remainder of the session to get things passed.

While the discussion paper is anticipated to go to the Senate Modernization Committee for further consideration, Sen. Harder said he’s hoping to work with the Senate leadership and all Senators to either find an agreeable approach to manage debate on bills, or to try out his proposal of a business committee on an experimental basis to get through to the summer.

“That’s all open to discussions amongst leaders and I hope that we can find some middle ground as to how to move forward,” Sen. Harder said.

Source: Government looks to counter what Harder calls Conservatives’ ‘coordinated’ stall tactics in Senate and House – The Hill Times

In response to John Ibbitson’s article and my retweet (To truly reinvent itself, the Senate must first prove its value), Senator Housakos and I engaged in a long Twitter debate where he placed the blame on the Independent Senators Group and tried to argue that the delays were not excessive and reflected the need for debate. In our back and forth, over the time required, we compared C-6 with both its predecessor, C-24 (2014) and C-14, assisted dying, dealing with a more complex and controversial issue.

C-6 has been in the Senate for 298 days and counting, C-14 took 31 days, C-24 16 days. Table below provides details.

C-6 2016 C-14 (assisted dying) 2016 C-24 2014
Committee Pre-Study

17 May 2016

03 Jun 2014

First Reading

17 Jun 2016

31 May 2016

16 Jun 2014

Second Reading

15 Dec 2016

03 Jun 2016

17 Jun 2014

Committee

07 Mar 2017

07 Jun 2016

18 Jun 2014

Third Reading Ongoing

15 Jun 2016

19 Jun 2014

Royal Assent

17 Jun 2016

19 Jun 2014

Total number of days 298 (11 April 2016)

31

16

And an op-ed by former Senator Hugh Segal on the need for equal treatment of all three groups: independents, conservatives and liberals:

The Senate must move past partisan paralysis