Not all the Senate's work is done on Parliament Hill. Senators act as advocates for their communities or for causes they hold dear. Often these will be the subject of statements, inquiries or other actions in the Senate, but senators can help in many other ways - speaking at conferences or fundraisers, organizing and attending events, fostering public debate or just lending their credibility and parliamentary connections to a cause.
Senators are also active in interparliamentary diplomacy, an arena that is increasingly important in international relations. Most senators are members of at least one parliamentary association - groups of legislators from around the world, who work together to effect change on an international scale. Alongside colleagues from the House of Commons, senators take part in visiting delegations to build diplomatic relations, organize conferences and give training sessions in democratic governance abroad, conduct research and otherwise take advantage of their international connections to advance Canadian interests.
This year, Canada's Parliament took part in 12 parliamentary associations and four official interparliamentary groups, as well as many unofficial friendship groups and other coalitions of parliamentarians with common interests.
Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie
Canada-China Legislative Association
PROFILES: OUTSIDE THE SENATE
Championing Senate Reform
The Federation of the Provinces is a worthwhile
sounding board for the concerns of premiers, but
because it convenes only a few times a year, there is
not ongoing input into federal legislation. Only an
elected Senate in Session in conjunction with the House
of Commons can be capable of continuous input into
proposed federal legislation backed up with a vote and
if necessary a veto by a majority of provincially
elected representatives. . . .
Our nation needs a counter-balance to federal parties that pursue party interests by buying votes on the national credit card. Only a reformed Senate can prevent any future return to a single federal party putting its interests ahead of national interests.
Senator Bert Brown, Calgary Herald, May 8, 2008
Senator Bert Brown is only the second Canadian senator
to be picked by a provincial electorate, in the only
province with an electoral process for Senate
candidates (Alberta). Since his appointment on the
advice of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2007,
however, he has been working to change that.
Senator Brown criss-crossed the country in 2008-09, meeting with the premier or intergovernmental affairs minister of every province and territory to discuss provincial Senate elections. He prepared a package on Senate reform for provincial politicians, which was sent to every MLA and MNA in the country. To involve the public in reform discussions, he published more than 30 articles and letters to the editor on the subject in Canadian newspapers. He also started work on a YouTube channel devoted to interviews with public figures about Senate reform, to be launched early in the next fiscal year. Senator Brown firmly believes that senators should be elected as strong representatives of their province's or territory's interests, and is doing everything in his power to encourage others to follow Alberta's example.
In recent years, senators have brought forth many proposals for reforming their house of Parliament. These include ones to hold a referendum on its abolition; to add Senate seats to better represent the growing population in western provinces; to do away with the requirement of owning $4,000 in property to qualify for a Senate seat; and to eliminate political party affiliation in the Senate.
Honourable senators, I rise today to ask you to join
with me in supporting the people of Zimbabwe at this
important time as they struggle and, in many cases,
lose their lives in attempting to bring change and
justice to their country. Zimbabweans deserve an open
and transparent election process in which all parties
can campaign and citizens can exercise their political
rights without fear of persecution and retribution. . .
I call on the Government of Canada to continue its proactive efforts, particularly, in impressing upon SADDC leaders that the time is now. The issue is critical, and it could be turned around to get the forces supporting President Mugabe to respect the international norms and the rule of law for campaign elections and for peace to return for its citizens.
Senator Raynell Andreychuk, Debates of the Senate, June 18, 2008
International opposition to reported human rights
abuses by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's regime
has been smoldering for years. The Senate, for
instance, urged Canada to recall its ambassador in
2007. The crisis deepened with Zimbabwe's election in
March 2008, with allegations of vote fixing and
brutality to opposition members and voters.
This year, many senators worked toward finding solutions to the strife in Zimbabwe. Co-founder and Co-chair of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association, Senator Raynell Andreychuk helped organize the first parliamentary delegation allowed into the country to observe the post-election situation (April 2008). She also was part of a June delegation to several nearby African countries, where the situation in Zimbabwe was on the agenda in each, and she pursued the question with leaders at the African Union summit in January 2009. In addition, she worked through the international group Parliamentarians for Global Action to help Zimbabwean parliamentarians leave the country to share information with, and muster support from, other nations.
Senator Donald Oliver also played a direct role in Canada's diplomacy on the issue. In April 2008, he joined Canada's ambassador to Zimbabwe in Mauritius. They held bilateral meetings with African heads of state and foreign ministers, lobbying for an African solution to the ongoing crisis. Senator Sharon Carstairs continued to work for the rights of Zimbabwean parliamentarians under the Mugabe regime. As Chair of the Human Rights of Parliamentarians Committee of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, she reported on the cases of eight members of Zimbabwe's Parliament who had been allegedly displaced, beaten, jailed or tortured by government agents.
Fostering French Minorities
I find the plight of French-speaking communities
outside Quebec most worrisome. The "CBC squeeze" will
have a disastrous effect on these minority communities
across Canada. The cuts will result in limited national
news in French, fewer regional and local programs and
hours of programming. . . . This is particularly
disturbing when one considers that, in some instances,
francophone communities are losing the only program
they had in their language.
Senator Claudette Tardif, blog post, April 2, 2009
Many provinces have among their senators at least one
who is a member of an official language minority - be
it an Anglophone from Quebec, or a Francophone outside
it. Two such senators were particularly active
advocates this year.
Continuing her long advocacy for official language minority communities in her home province of Alberta, Senator Claudette Tardif took part in May 2008 in the opening of the first bilingual health care centre in her province. Through Question Period and interviews, she brought attention to the impact of the CBC's funding shortfalls on its French radio and television programs, vital services to francophone communities outside Quebec. She advocated appointing bilingual Supreme Court judges. She stressed the importance of Canada's linguistic duality in an academic article. She also participated in a round table on linguistic duality in Québec City and the intercultural conference on second languages in Edmonton.
As chair of the Senate Committee on Official Languages, Franco-Manitoban Senator Maria Chaput has led many studies on gaps in service to linguistic minorities in Canada, and she has long been an advocate in the Senate chamber. For the past few years, however, she has also been working to make sure that census questions reflect the demographic weight of French speakers in Canada. "The services offered and funds allocated to official-language minority communities depend on Statistics Canada census findings," she wrote in fall 2008. "It is therefore important that measurement tools be properly calibrated to gauge the vitality of the French language across the country." This year, she also successfully counselled against proposed electoral boundaries in Manitoba that she felt would have disadvantaged francophone voters.
Supporting Military Families
Military spouses work constantly to reconcile the
demands of military life with their status as
civilians. They have had to adapt to these constraints
and to the resulting regular disruptions in their own
professional lives. The moral strength and discretion
they demonstrate are worthy of our admiration. I have
always been overwhelmed by their will to take charge of
their lives. They never give up. They are my heroes and
Senator Lucie Pépin, Debates of the Senate, May 7, 2008
The Senate is well known for its frankness on military
policy; the Senate Committee on National Security and
Defence is prolific in its reports and frequently
weighs in about the strength and endeavours of the
Canadians Forces. Its subcommittee on veterans also
studies the services and support veterans
It's not only those who are directly involved in the military who are affected by it, however. Senator Lucie Pépin has striven to give a voice to, and to increase the visibility of, the spouses and families of members of the Canadian Forces. Although these men and women are not in uniform, they share in the sacrifices of those who serve under the Canadian flag. In 2008-09, Senator Pépin crossed the country visiting military family resource centres. At each, she met with military spouses to listen to their concerns, motivate them, offer her support and take part in their activities.
Providing a Diplomatic Forum
Throughout these exchanges, I was a happy witness, like
all of us I hope, of the essence of our role as
parliamentarians of the OSCE, and the unique
contribution of our organization to regional security
and economic exchange. As we have all heard many times,
there is a profound interdependence among these issues.
The foundation of our organization is to nurture a
clear dialogue, more important now than ever if we hope
to find lasting peace in the OSCE region. We must not
forget, particularly with reference to events in
Georgia, that the diversity of viewpoints expressed in
this assembly is rooted in the values that we all
Senator Consiglio Di Nino, remarks at the closing session of the Fall 2008 OSCE PA Meeting, September 20, 2008
In September 2008, Toronto played host to the annual
fall meetings of the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA).
Members, who hail from Parliaments across Europe as
well as Canada and the United States, were welcomed by
their host, Senate Speaker Noël Kinsella, and the head
of the Canadian delegation, Senator Consiglio Di
In keeping with the theme of the conference, "The OSCE in an Open World: Trade, Migration and Security," there were three subjects of discussion planned for the fall meetings: the Economic/Environmental Dimension, the Security and Political Dimension and the Human Dimension. But the topics to be covered under the Security and Political Dimension were amended close to the time of the conference to address a critical situation: the escalating conflict between OSCE members of Georgia and Russia over the South Ossetia region of Georgia. The OSCE PA meetings in Toronto were the first time that Russian and Georgian officials had discussed the situation in an open forum. Participants included Speaker Kinsella, Senator Di Nino and Assembly Vice-President, Senator Jerahmiel Grafstein, who took part in discussion of the role the OSCE could play in helping Georgia and Russia find a solution. Though issues remained unresolved, the meeting provided an important first step towards an open global debate on an issue critical to European, and indeed world, security.