One of the best lines in last week’s debates was delivered on Tuesday by Senator Batters (MB). In the midst of severely criticizing Prime Minister Trudeau’s promise to appoint non-partisan senators, claiming we’ll still end up with liberals, she said “Could it be, honourable senators, that sunny ways are giving way to foggy days?”
Very nice … I love a cryptic bon mot even when I don’t agree with the debater’s arguments. But as the week progressed, I began to think her clever phrase might actually be a signal of future behaviour rather than just a rhetorical device.
On Wednesday, a newly minted independent, Senator Wallace (NB), kicked off a debate on the inherent unfairness of previous Selection Committees which determine who sits on which committees. Dissatisfaction with this process is widespread amongst senators. At a Modernization Workshop held in the last week of October, a unanimous resolution was passed to change the practice. It was attended by about half the current senators. One of the main changes we proposed was that all senators should vote (by secret ballot) on committee membership. I’m told that the Liberal caucus subsequently voted to adopt all the Workshop’s resolutions.
Nevertheless, the Selection Committee (5 Conservatives, 4 Liberals) went ahead as if nothing has changed. On Thursday, they asked the Senate to adopt their committee assignments. Altogether, 5 senators were entirely left out of committee assignments (all were former members of the Conservative caucus). Only two independent senators (myself and Senator Cools (ON)), were assigned and then only to one main committee each, notwithstanding that most senators are members of at least two committees. And to top it off, the long-standing practice of matching standings in the Chamber with the number of seats assigned to each group on a committee was flagrantly abused. Instead of 8 members on a 15 member committee, for example, the Conservatives were assigned 10 seats. Independents, on the other hand, should arguably occupy at least one seat on every committee given current standings. They were, as I said, largely ignored.
Talk about foggy days! Is this how the Senate’s leaders intend to manipulate procedures in the future? Is that why, on Thursday, when I moved to send the report back to committee for reconsideration, the motion was defeated by a count of 35 to 17? I wasn’t surprised that all but 2 Conservatives voted against my motion. What did startle me was that 6 Liberals joined the Conservatives in their opposition. You can see the list of how everybody voted here (just scroll down to the 1700 mark).
Well, it’s early days yet. At least the Senate agreed Friday to form a Special Committee on Senate Modernization. I will persist in remaining optimistic, and hope that it won’t be yet another exercise in obfuscation.
Posted On Dec 14 09:49AM
How very disapointing that 2/3 of your colleagues still do not 'get it'! The dictator is no longer in charge and they are free to vote for a better way of doing things.