Last week at the Senate: Persons Day, international trade, Vimy Ridge oaks and the situation in Myanmar.
Recently, we celebrated Persons Day in Canada. October 18 marked the 89th anniversary of the historic ruling that recognized Canadian women as ‘persons’ under the law and granted them the right to serve as senators.
By fighting tirelessly for women’s equality, Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney, and Henrietta Muir Edwards – the Famous Five – set Canada on a course toward real democracy.
The Persons Case was a major step forward for equality and opened the door for women to participate in our democracy and our parliamentary institutions. While much progress has been made since the Famous Five won their landmark case, work remains to ensure that all people, no matter their gender identity, can participate freely and fully in our society.
Over the past month, seven distinguished Canadians have been appointed to serve as independent senators. Four of these individuals are women; Beverley Busson, Paula Simons, Patti LaBoucane-Benson, and Josée Forest-Niesing. This brings the total number of women in the Senate to 46, which translates into 45% of the 101 senators currently serving.
The legacy of the Famous Five continues. The goal of achieving at least 50% women in the Senate is now closer than ever. The current Senate appointment process ensures senators are independent, reflect Canada’s diversity, and can tackle the broad range of challenges and opportunities facing our country.
Equality for all is of paramount importance. It is up to each of us as Canadians to help build a democracy where everyone’s voice is heard.
The Senate will finally study Bill C-79, An Act to implement the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership between Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, otherwise referred to as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership Implementation Act (CPTPP).
The CPTPP succeeds the original TPP agreement signed by the previous Conservative government. It represents a tremendous opportunity to position Canada to enter into a free trade relationship with 11 key economies in the Asia-Pacific region.
CPTPP partners have a collective population of 495 million people, with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of Can $13.5 trillion, or 13.5% of global GDP.
The ratification of the CPTPP is predicted to grow Canada’s economy by approximately $4.2 billion through preferential access to these markets. The expected gains will benefit a wide range of sectors including financial services, fish and seafood, forestry, agriculture and agri-food, as well as metals and minerals.
The first six countries to ratify will be instrumental in determining the pace at which tariffs are reduced for those who ratify later.
If Canada is not in this first mover class of six, our competitors will benefit from tariff reductions while Canadian companies face higher barriers. Ratifying now means that Canadian companies will have a greater opportunity to become suppliers of choice in these important markets.
The Senate is now tasked with studying Bill C-79 under very strict time constraints, due to the government’s delay in moving it forward.
Last year, for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Jim Landry of Saint John, New Brunswick, organized the planting of nearly one hundred Vimy Ridge Oak trees throughout Prince Edward Island and my home province of New Brunswick. Now this year, Jim is continuing to honour our First World War veterans by cycling 1,000 km across Belgium and France and raising money for the Alzheimer’s Society in Saint John. He calls it the 1000 km Memory Ride.
Jim actually began his trek on Prince Edward Island and in New Brunswick on September 20, cycling 400 km throughout those provinces and planting oaks in ceremonies along the way. He arrived in Ypres on October 1, picking up his bicycle for the European part of his tour.
Over the next ten days, Jim cycled 600 km through Belgium and France, spending time visiting the battlefields and monuments along the way, and posting stirring photographs and videos of his travels on his Facebook page. He ultimately finished by planting his Vimy Ridge oak tree in a park in the city of Arras, just a short distance from the Vimy Ridge Memorial.
Year after year, individuals – like Jim Landry and his journey of remembrance through the battlefields of France and Belgium – pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. They are to be commended for their unwavering commitment to honouring Canada’s fallen.
On October 2, the Senate unanimously adopted a motion that recognizes that crimes against humanity and genocide have been committed by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities. It also revokes the honorary Canadian citizenship of Aung San Suu Kyi. The Senate has come together with our colleagues in the House of Commons and now have a unified voice of parliament.
We need to send a strong signal here in Canada and around the world that if you're an accomplice of a genocide, you are not welcome here. Certainly not as an honorary Canadian citizen. Stripping Aung San Suu Kyi of her honorary citizenship sends an important message. She has been complicit in stripping the security and citizenship of thousands of Rohingya. This has led to their flight, their murder, their rapes and their current deplorable situation. It is an appropriate message to send to her, to Myanmar and to the world.
The crisis is not over. As of August 2018, close to 2000 Rohingya continue to flee each month to Bangladesh as a result of ongoing violence and oppression. There continues to be a humanitarian crisis where hundreds of thousands continue to live in refugee camps. Canada must continue to support the ongoing humanitarian and peace initiatives in the region.