Government Agencies and Foundations
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Chair: Hon. Donald H. Oliver (NS)
Deputy Chair: Hon. Joseph A. Day (NB)
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The government’s use of arms-length foundations to implement public policy and programs has grown rapidly in the last decade. In fact, between 1996-1997 and 2004-2005, the federal government has transferred some $10.5 billion to 23 foundations. The report highlights concerns about their accountability, and makes 7 recommendations to increase parliamentary supervision and ensure appropriate governance mechanisms are in place.
The government formally responded in October 2006, saying it welcomed the Senate’s report. Among other changes it had made to accountability provisions, the government amended the Auditor General Act to mandate audits of arms-length foundations.
Re: Proposed SSHRC / Canada Council merger (An Act to implement certain Government Organization Provisions of the Budget)
Sponsor: Hon. William Kelly (ON)
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Bill C-93 was designed to consolidate or terminate a number of government agencies and organizations, measures which the government argued would “save overhead and focus resources” as previously announced in its February 25, 1992 budget.
The bill reached the Senate on April 28, 1993, where it was referred to the National Finance Committee. The committee heard testimony from a large number of witnesses, the majority of whom focused on Part III of the bill which proposed to merge the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) with the Canada Council for the Arts. Witnesses claimed the government had never consulted either of the two agencies or the broader research and arts communities, had failed to conduct any impact analysis, and could not prove the merger would save money or preserve agency expertise.
The National Finance Committee reported back to the Senate but declined to recommend amendments to the bill. Accordingly, Senator Finlay MacDonald (NS), a member of the government caucus, moved to delete Part III saying, in part, "Let us simply agree to pull Part III from this bill. There is no necessity for it. It is bad public policy and it is lousy politics." (Debates, page 3315)
When his motion failed, Bill C-93 proceeded without amendment through third reading. Towards the end of the debate, Senator Michael Pitfield (ON), a former Clerk of the Privy Council, stated categorically that Bill C-93 was "a prime example of the stupidities that well-intentioned ministers can get themselves drawn into." He went on to "pay tribute particularly to Senator MacDonald, who has shown in the best tradition of the Senate that you can have reasonableness and that you can be supporting of the justifiable complaints of the minority. That is what the Senate shines best at doing, sober second thought, and I thank him for showing the way." (Debates, page 3408)
The final vote on June 10, 1993 was tied (39 to 39) and so Bill C-93 went down to defeat. With the exception of the abortion bill in 1991, this marked the first time a government bill had been defeated in the Senate since 1939.
Because the government held a majority in the Senate at the time of the vote, the bill's defeat was possible only because five Conservative Senators chose to vote against it and two abstained. Senator Norman Atkins (ON), one such dissenter, was later reported to say "I didn't come here to be a rubber stamp" and another, Senator Janice Johnson (MB), expressed a similar sentiment when she declared "I'm not a lemming."
Reaction was mixed, but at least one columnist agreed with them. "Senators have every right to act as a chamber of 'sober, second thought'," he wrote. "In killing this bill, seldom have they been so sober and so thoughtful." The executive director of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities concurred. In his opinion, "senators are responsible for a final 'quality check' in our political system. They may arrive in the Red Chamber by way of political favour, but they have every opportunity, once there, to move beyond the confines of simple political affiliation."
An act to establish [ACOA] the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation
Sponsor: Hon. Lowell Murray (ON)
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When the House of Commons Standing Committee on Regional Industrial Expansion conducted a review of the Tourism, Economic and Regional Development Agreements and the Industrial and Regional Development Program in 1987, they found these programs unable to respond adequately to the needs of Atlantic Canada. As a result, the government introduced Bill C-103, creating ACOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation). ACOA was designed to promote economic development in the Atlantic provinces and the Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation (ECBC) was created to finance the development of industry on Cape Breton Island and broaden its economy.
Senator Lowell Murray (ON), a native of Cape Breton, first reviewed the history of Canada's long standing commitment to redress regional disparities when he opened debate in the Senate, presenting the new bill as an improvement on previous arrangements (Debates, pages 3431 to 3432). Other senators representing Nova Scotia, however, adamantly opposed the section in Bill C-103 that replaced the former Cape Breton Development Corporation, (also known as Devco) with the Enterprise Cape Breton Corp. They argued Cape Breton would eventually be damaged by this change, because aid for the region would be dispensed by an agency with no special mandate to concentrate on Cape Breton.
On June 1, 1988, Senator Alisdair Graham (NS) moved to instruct the Senate's National Finance Committee to divide Bill C-103 into two separate bills (Debates, page 3567). He was immediately challenged on a point of order, which the Speaker upheld. However, the Senate as a whole overturned the Speaker's ruling and the National Finance Committee proceeded as instructed, presenting its report a month later. The split bill was therefore returned to the House of Commons which promptly rejected it by a vote of 112 – 10. Three weeks later, the Senate agreed to defer to the Commons and passed the original bill without any amendments whatsoever on August 18, 1988.
Several senators were no less opposed to the bill in August than they had been three months earlier, but publicly acknowledged “they would be fighting a losing battle by trying to push through amendments”. Using a metaphor that compared the ACOA legislation with a boat moving downstream, Senator Royce Frith (ON) declared that senators had tried to warn of "rocks ahead." Since the government had decided to ignore the warning, he added, "all I can say is, bon voyage."