Last week in the Senate: the Senate’s move to its temporary home in the former Government Conference Centre, increasing transparency in the Canadian tax system and addressing gender-based violence through legislation.
When the Senate of Canada resumes sitting in 2019 it will be in a new space, a beautifully renovated building in what was previously Ottawa’s train station and then Government Conference Centre.
For the next 10 years, Centre Block will be undergoing much-needed renovations to bring this landmark building into the 21st century.
That means only 43 of senators sitting today can look forward to returning to Centre Block as a senator. For most, including me, mandatory retirement will mean that the coming weeks will be the last serving as parliamentarians in Centre Block.
I am already nostalgic.
This building has heard from remarkable people and witnessed extraordinary events.
The words of great leaders, from Winston Churchill to Nelson Mandela to Malala Yousafzai, have resonated within these walls.
It was to Centre Block, in 1982, where Canada’s Constitution came home, and with it, the Charter of Rights of Freedoms.
These documents serve senators each and every day as we continue the task of nation building, humbly following the steps of the great leaders and parliamentarians before us.
Within these walls, senators have debated issues reflecting the challenges of our time: from medically-assisted dying, to protecting Canada’s environment, to ensuring sustainable economic growth.
In the coming weeks, as the sounds of construction equipment replace the sounds of debate in these buildings, we will carry on with our duty to Canadians.
We are the Senate of Canada, and even if we work outside these walls, our devotion to Canada will endure.
Last week marked an important milestone in the ongoing quest for openness and transparency in the Canadian tax system with the passage in the Senate of Bill S-243, the Fairness for All Canadian Taxpayers Act. Bill S-243 would require the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to report on all convictions for overseas tax evasion, to study and to report to Parliament regularly on the tax gap (the difference between what is owed in taxes and what is actually collected), and to cooperate with the Parliamentary Budget Officer in his independent study of the tax gap.
If this bill passes the House of Commons, Canada would finally join a list of countries that publish estimates of their respective tax gaps, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and a host of others.
Bill S-243 is particularly timely in light of the November 20 report of the Auditor General of Canada on the Canada Revenue Agency, which once again called into question the CRA’s reporting on its work. In fact, in a passage that neatly encapsulates the motivation for Bill S-243, the report declared:
“It is also important for parliamentarians and the public to have complete and transparent information. They need to assess whether the agency is meeting the government’s objective to crack down on non-compliant taxpayers, so that all taxpayers pay the right amount of taxes.”
Bill S-243 will now go to the House of Commons for study and debate.
As parliamentarians, it is our responsibility to legislate in accordance with Canadian Charter values of dignity, equality and inclusive democracy. We must uphold these values, especially when legislating on complex issues like gender-based and domestic violence.
When legislating on gender-based and domestic violence, we must respect the strength of women by supporting and empowering them, not by circumventing their right to make choices about their lives. We must also commit to ensuring substantive equality by analyzing the experiences of women within the framework of intersectionality.
Gender-based violence is a complex issue that impacts the lives of women and girls in every part of the world. To fully understand the scope of domestic violence, we have to understand that gender-based violence is part of the global oppression of women.
There will never be one legislative solution that will prevent domestic violence. The issues are more complex and far-reaching. When drafting legislative solutions and developing a national strategy to prevent domestic violence, first and foremost we must be diligent and attentive to the needs of women. This means that we cannot jump to legislative conclusions without thoroughly understanding the impacts that would be felt by women and their children.
To effectively address domestic violence, we need holistic solutions that do not compromise the strength of women, the intersectionality of their experiences and their right to make their own choices as capable adults.