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Perspectives — October 17-19, 2017
Perspectives — October 17-19, 2017
October 24, 2017
OPINION

Senate modernization, the start of a new study on the government’s proposed small business tax, questions about both indigenous and women’s rights were some of the highlights from the Senate this week.

Government

An important part of our work as senators is to engage groups of Canadians and talk about the work we are doing in the Chamber and in committee.

I had the pleasure of addressing two different groups this past week and was happy to answer questions on a range of issues. While the two groups were quite different, questions for both focused on the “how” of the Senate—how do Senators contribute to public policy development and the legislative process? Indeed, one audience member said that when it comes to crafting public policy, “Ottawa is where sausage is made,” aptly describing the often-messy process legislators know so well.

More experienced senators and political observers know how cyclical this “messiness” can be—with December and June being notable for very long sitting days.

But it does not have to be that way.

In the past few months, there has been much debate about the Senate’s Westminster origins. Yet, it may come as a surprise to some that, at Westminster, the House of Lords is bound by a long-standing convention that government business should be considered in a reasonable time. This would be a good practice to follow in our own Upper Chamber. 

Canada’s Senate may not have strict time limits built into its rules, but the public expects the Senate to debate, deliberate and decide on legislation passed by the elected chamber in both a thorough and timely manner.


Opposition

It was a busy week in the Senate of Canada. The Senate National Finance Committee saw countless witnesses to discuss the implications of the Small Business Tax Changes on the Canadian middle class. The Senate Conservative caucus demanded that the Minister of Finance be transparent with Canadians when it comes to his private numbered corporations by disclosing its holdings.

Natural Resource Minister Jim Carr appeared before Senate Question Period giving senators an opportunity to discuss the recently cancelled Energy East pipeline project. The Senate Conservative Caucus maintains that the Prime Minister and the Canadian Government should be pushing for Canadian oil and gas by supporting projects like Energy Easy to ensure growth in production and in Canadian markets.

The Senate National Finance Committee has been approved to travel across Canada to hear from Canadians on the impacts of the Small Business Tax Changes. They will be starting in Ontario and making their way out west before heading east to Atlantic Canada to ensure they have the opportunity to hear from Canadians from across the country. 


Senate Liberals

On Thursday, I asked the Government Representative in the Senate, Senator Harder, questions regarding Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration). After the House of Commons further amended Bill S-3 by removing a Senate amendment aimed at eliminating all gender-based discrimination in the registration provisions of the Indian Act, a message was sent back to the Senate.

The bill has been at message stage in the Senate since June 21, 2017. Over the summer, the government contracted Mr. Stewart Clatworthy, a demographer, to provide statistics on how various amendments to remove gender-based discrimination in the Indian Act will affect the number of people who become eligible for registration as status Indians.   

According to some news articles, that work has been completed and the government has received these numbers. I asked Senator Harder if the government had received this data and when will the government make this information public.

In addition, I asked Senator Harder to also find out how much the government paid Mr. Clatworthy for this data and what level or reliability they assign to his data. We are all anxious to move forward on this issue and work towards eliminating discrimination against women and their descendants in the Indian Act. 


Independent Senators Group

This week we catch a glimpse of the Senate through the eyes of Independent Senator Kim Pate (Ontario).

This week, I spoke in Chamber about ongoing struggles for equality and our senatorial responsibilities to remedy the circumstances that render the most marginalized vulnerable.

October 17 was International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. I urged colleagues to recognize the need for a model national anti-poverty plan that addresses income security, housing, health, food security, education and employment. Guaranteed livable income initiatives hold significant promise. 

October 18 marked the 88th anniversary of the Persons Case, the court case brought by five Canadian women that resulted in women being declared persons and thereby being eligible to serve in the Senate. On October 19, we invited this year’s six recipients of the Governor General’s Persons Case Award to be recognized in the Chamber.

October 19, 2017 also marked the tenth anniversary of Ashley Smith’s death, alone in a segregation cell, as correctional staff looked on. We owe it to Ashley’s memory, to her family and to all women before and since who face the kinds of inhumane conditions to which she was subjected, to decarcerate and to demand the elimination of all forms of segregation and solitary confinement.

Much has been accomplished since the days of the Famous Five and so much more remains to be done.