Parliament having been summoned by proclamation to meet this day for the dispatch of business:
The Senate met at 9:30 a.m., the Speaker in the chair.
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, I have the honour to inform you that I have received the following communication from Government House, which reads as follows:
January 22, 2009
I have the honour to inform you that Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada and His Excellency Jean Daniel Lafond will arrive at the Peace Tower at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, the 26th day of January, 2009.
When it has been indicated that all is in readiness, Their Excellencies will proceed to the Chamber of the Senate to formally open the Second Session of the Fortieth Parliament of Canada.
Secretary to the Governor General and Herald Chancellor
The Speaker of the Senate
Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Deputy Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, there have been consultations among the parties, and it has been agreed that photographers may be allowed on the floor of the Senate for this afternoon's meeting, so that they may photograph the swearing-in of new senators with as little disruption as possible.
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, I have the honour to inform you that the Clerk has received certificates from the Registrar General of Canada showing that the following persons, respectively, have been summoned to the Senate:
Fred J. Dickson
Michael L. MacDonald
John D. Wallace
Nancy Greene Raine
Hector Daniel Lang
The Hon. the Speaker having informed the Senate that there were senators without, waiting to be introduced:
The following honourable senators were introduced; presented Her Majesty's writs of summons; took the oath prescribed by law, which was administered by the Clerk; and were seated:
Hon. Fabian Manning, of St. Bride's, Newfoundland and Labrador, introduced between Hon. Marjory LeBreton, P.C., and Hon. Ethel Cochrane;
Hon. Fred J. Dickson, of Halifax, Nova Scotia, introduced between Hon. Marjory LeBreton, P.C., and Hon. Gerald J. Comeau;
Hon. Stephen Greene, of Halifax, Nova Scotia, introduced between Hon. Marjory LeBreton, P.C., and Hon. Gerald J. Comeau;
Hon. Michael L. MacDonald, of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, introduced between Hon. Marjory LeBreton, P.C., and Hon. Donald H. Oliver;
Hon. Michael Duffy, of Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, introduced between Hon. Marjory LeBreton, P.C., and Hon. Wilbert J. Keon;
Hon. Percy Mockler, of St. Leonard, New Brunswick, introduced between Hon. Marjory LeBreton, P.C., and Hon. Gerald J. Comeau;
Hon. John D. Wallace, of Rothesay, New Brunswick, introduced between Hon. Marjory LeBreton, P.C., and Hon. Michael A. Meighen;
Hon. Michel Rivard, of Québec, Quebec, introduced between Hon. Marjory LeBreton, P.C., and Hon. Pierre Claude Nolin;
Hon. Nicole Eaton, of Caledon, Ontario, introduced between Hon. Marjory LeBreton, P.C., and Hon. Michael A. Meighen;
Hon. Irving Gerstein, of Toronto, Ontario, introduced between Hon. Marjory LeBreton, P.C., and Hon. W. David Angus;
Hon. Pamela Wallin, of Kuroki Beach, Saskatchewan, introduced between Hon. Marjory LeBreton, P.C., and Hon. David Tkachuk;
Hon. Nancy Greene Raine, of Sun Peaks, British Columbia, introduced between Hon. Marjory LeBreton, P.C., and Hon. Gerry St. Germain, P.C.;
Hon. Yonah Martin, of Vancouver, British Columbia, introduced between Hon. Marjory LeBreton, P.C., and Hon. Gerry St. Germain, P.C.;
Hon. Richard Neufeld, of Charlie Lake, British Columbia, introduced between Hon. Marjory LeBreton, P.C., and Hon. Gerry St. Germain, P.C.;
Hon. Hector Daniel Lang, of Whitehorse, Yukon, introduced between Hon. Marjory LeBreton, P.C., and Hon. Terry Stratton;
Hon. Patrick Brazeau, of Gatineau, Quebec, introduced between Hon. Marjory LeBreton, P.C., and Hon. Pierre Claude Nolin;
Hon. Leo Housakos, of Laval, Quebec, introduced between Hon. Marjory LeBreton, P.C., and Hon. W. David Angus;
Hon. Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis, of Québec, Quebec, introduced between Hon. Marjory LeBreton, P.C., and Hon. Marcel Prud'homme, P.C.
The Hon. the Speaker informed the Senate that each of the honourable senators named above had made and subscribed the declaration of qualification required by the Constitution Act, 1867, in the presence of the Clerk of the Senate; the Commissioner appointed to receive and witness the said declaration.
Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Deputy Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I move that the Senate do now adjourn until 1:30 p.m.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
(The Senate adjourned to 1:30 p.m.)
The Senate met at 1:30 p.m., the Speaker in the chair.
The Hon. the Speaker: As there is no business before the Senate, is it your pleasure, honourable senators, that the Senate do now adjourn during pleasure to await the arrival of Her Excellency the Governor General?
(The Senate adjourned during pleasure.)
At 2 p.m., Her Excellency the Governor General proceeded to the Senate Chamber and took her seat upon the Throne. Her Excellency was pleased to command the attendance of the House of Commons, and, that House being come, with their Speaker, Her Excellency was pleased to open the Second Session of the Fortieth Parliament of Canada with the following speech:
Members of the House of Commons,
Ladies and gentlemen,
In these uncertain times, when the world is threatened by a struggling economy, it is imperative that we work together, that we stand beside one another and that we strive for greater solidarity.
Today, in our democratic tradition, Canadians expect that their elected representatives will dedicate their efforts to ensure that Canada emerges stronger from this serious economic crisis.
Once again, the people's representatives have gathered to consider the priorities of another parliamentary session.
Each Throne Speech is a milestone on the remarkable 142-year Canadian journey. Your predecessors, too, were summoned to this chamber at times of great crisis: as Canada struggled to claim her independence, in the shadow of war, during the depth of the Great Depression and at moments when great policy division tugged the very bonds of this union.
Today we meet at a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty. The global credit crunch has dragged the world economy into a crisis whose pull we cannot escape. The nations of the world are grappling with challenges that Canada can address but not avoid.
The Government's agenda and the priorities of Parliament must adapt in response to the deepening crisis. Old assumptions must be tested and old decisions must be rethought. The global economy has weakened since Canadians voted in the last general election. In fact, it has weakened further since Parliament met last month.
Our Government has listened to Canadians who are concerned about how the worldwide recession is affecting their jobs, their savings and their communities. Our Government has reached out to Canadians in all regions, in all communities and from all walks of life.
Our Government has consulted widely:
- with those who work, those who invest, those who create jobs, those who build infrastructure and those who provide non-profit services;
- with municipal, provincial and territorial governments, Aboriginal leaders and representatives of communities;
- in fact, with everyone whose input might help chart a course through the present storm.
Our Government approached the dialogue in a spirit of open and non-partisan cooperation. There is no monopoly on good ideas because we face this crisis together. There can be no pride of authorship — only the satisfaction of identifying solutions that will work for all Canadians.
Acting on the constructive thoughts and suggestions that have been received, our Government will tomorrow present Canada's economic stimulus plan. The plan will protect our economy from immediate threat, while making investments to promote long-term growth.
The economic stimulus plan will be a plan of action.
- Our Government is stimulating the economy, both through direct government action and by encouraging private expenditure.
- Our Government is taking immediate action to build Canada through new investment in infrastructure.
- Our Government is acting to protect the stability of our financial system.
- Our Government is acting to ensure access to credit for businesses and consumers.
- Our Government is acting to support Canadian industries in difficulty — including forestry, manufacturing, automotive, tourism, agriculture — and to protect the families and communities who depend on those jobs.
- Our Government is acting to protect the vulnerable: the unemployed, lower-income Canadians, seniors, Aboriginal Canadians and others hit hardest by the global economic recession.
These actions will be targeted, they will inject immediate stimulus while promoting long-term growth and they will avoid a return to permanent deficits.
These actions will protect the jobs of today while readying our economy to create the jobs of tomorrow.
Canadians face a difficult year — perhaps several difficult years. In the face of such uncertainty, our Government has developed a clear and focused plan. Our Government will spend what is necessary to stimulate the economy, and invest what is necessary to protect our future prosperity.
As Canadians expect, the economy will be the focus of our Government's actions and of the measures placed before Parliament during the coming year. In pursuing measures to support the economy, our Government will also attend to the other important priorities that it set out in the Speech from the Throne to open the 40th Parliament.
The present crisis is new, but the imperative of concerted action is a challenge to which Parliament has risen many times in our history. What will sustain us today will be the same strengths of character that have pulled Canada through critical times before: unity, determination and constancy of purpose.
Honourable Members of the Senate,
Members of the House of Commons:
As you unite in common effort and in common cause, may Divine Providence be your guide and inspiration.
(The House of Commons withdrew.)
(Her Excellency the Governor General was pleased to retire.)
The sitting was resumed
Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Deputy Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, pursuant to rule 8, I have the honour to present Bill S-1, a pro forma bill entitled: An Act relating to railways, which serves to assert the right of the Senate to deal with other business before proceeding to the consideration of the matters expressed in the Speech from the Throne.
(Bill read first time.)
Consideration at Next Sitting
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, I have the honour to inform you that Her Excellency the Governor General has caused to be placed in my hands a copy of her speech delivered this day from the Throne to the two Houses of Parliament. It is as follows:
Hon. Senators: Dispense!
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, when shall this Speech be taken into consideration?
Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Deputy Leader of the Government) moved:
That the Speech of Her Excellency the Governor General, delivered this day from the Throne to the two Houses of Parliament, be taken into consideration at the next sitting of the Senate.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
(Motion agreed to.)
Motion for Appointment Adopted
Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Deputy Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I move:
That, pursuant to rule 85(1), the Honourable Senators Brown, Carstairs, P.C., Cochrane, Di Nino, Fairbairn, P.C., Hervieux-Payette, P.C., Munson, Robichaud, P.C., and Tkachuk be appointed a Committee of Selection to nominate (a) a Senator to preside as Speaker pro tempore and (b) the Senators to serve on the several select committees, except the Committee on Conflict of Interest for Senators, during the present Session; and
That the Committee of Selection report with all convenient speed the names of the Senators so nominated.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
(Motion agreed to.)
Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Deputy Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I have just been informed that the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate will say a few words.
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, is it the will of the house that we hear from the two leaders for the purpose of greeting our new colleagues?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Congratulations on Appointments
Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)): I thank honourable senators for their patience while I bade farewell to Her Excellency the Governor General.
It gives me great pleasure to introduce a distinguished group of Canadians who have been summoned to the Senate of Canada and have joined us officially this morning. I welcome their families and friends, who join me on this special occasion to witness this milestone in the lives of their loved ones and friends. As well, I welcome back all honourable senators to the chamber and look forward to working with them in the weeks and months ahead.
I will say a few words about each senator to offer a personal perspective on who they are beyond the usual profiles that we read in the media. Each will make an indelible contribution to our country. I will proceed in the same order as their swearing-in.
Senator Fabian Manning has spent most of his life serving the people of his beloved Newfoundland and Labrador. Many family members and friends join Fabian for this occasion: his wife, Sandra; two of their children, Mark and Heather; his brother; and his father, Walter. I was pleased to meet Walter earlier. He is 78 years young. I say it in that way now because the older I get, the younger I get — and I believe this to be the case with Senator Manning's father. Senator Manning's eldest son, Fabian Jr., is working in Alberta and was unable to be here today. His mother, Julia, missed the ceremony as well because of a recent illness.
Those honourable senators who have had the opportunity to watch Senator Fabian Manning perform when he was a member of the other place will know that he will bring that unique Newfoundland and Labradorean way to the Senate. Perhaps Senator Rompkey will help us once in a while as we assist the translators to understand what Fabian has said. All honourable senators welcome Senator Manning and those on this side look forward to him being part of our government and caucus.
Senator Mike Duffy is no stranger to Parliament Hill. He is known across Canada for his coverage and analysis of federal politics. Senator Duffy traces his fervent interest in politics back to the 1960s and fondly recalls, as a young reporter in Nova Scotia, interviewing Prime Minister John Diefenbaker on the campaign train, having been invited aboard by then member of Parliament Bob Coates. I am concerned, however, that Senator Duffy does not remember meeting me on board that train.
I do not know whether I should be concerned about that, Senator Duffy, but I was the dutiful secretary taking notes for Mr. Diefenbaker, although I tried to stay in the background in those days.
Senator Duffy, I look forward to your presence in the Senate. I told some colleagues the other day that I have a whole new following as I shop for groceries in Manotick. People come up to me to ask about Senator Duffy. In any event, Senator Duffy, I assured them that you will likely be pressed into service to speak often because everyone knows you are a great speaker. Senator Duffy, welcome to our caucus and to the Senate. I wish all the best to you and your lovely wife, Heather.
Senator Fred Dickson also understands the importance of public service. He recalls three people in particular who helped to instil these values in him: Horris Reid, the Honourable G.I. Smith, and the Honourable Donnie MacInnes. Many honourable senators remember that a more colourful person never graced the offices of Parliament Hill than Donnie MacInnes. It is wonderful that Senator Dickson chose to honour Donnie MacInnes.
A lawyer by profession, Senator Dickson has spent his life working in the public interest and looks forward to continuing that work as a member of this chamber. Senator Dickson has had a long history of service to the Progressive Conservative Party of Nova Scotia and to the Conservative Party nationally. He will surely enjoy his time in the Senate, as will his wife, Kay.
Senator Stephen Greene brings a wealth of public policy experience to this chamber. Stephen, as many honourable senators know, served as Chief of Staff to Preston Manning in the 1990s and, until recently, was Principal Secretary and Deputy Chief of Staff to the Premier of Nova Scotia. Stephen is especially proud of his beautiful and accomplished daughter, Lana, who is studying chemistry at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Welcome to the Senate, Senator Greene.
Senator Michael MacDonald is a Nova Scotia businessman who, since 1988, has been the owner and president of Fleur de Lis Motel Ltd. He has previously served as executive assistant to two federal cabinet ministers as well as to the Premier of Nova Scotia. He has been involved in politics since his university days. Senator MacDonald is proud to note that his father was president of three different union locals and that he is the youngest of ten children — five of whom are in the visitors' gallery of the Senate today. Senator MacDonald is well-known to many honourable senators. He and I worked together many decades ago and it is wonderful to see him back in Ottawa and in Parliament. It was particularly moving earlier today when Senator MacDonald spoke Gaelic during his oath.
Senator Percy Mockler has been involved in politics as a legislator and an organizer for nearly three decades. He was first elected to the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly in 1982. He has the distinction of being the longest serving francophone Conservative MLA in the history of New Brunswick. Senator Mockler has often said that politics are about "people, friendship, loyalty, principle and commitment." No one personifies those words better than Percy Mockler. His family, colleagues and a host of friends are here today. I joked to someone earlier that Percy brought the whole northern half of New Brunswick to the ceremony, including former Premier Lord, because quite a contingent was present. It is a tribute to Percy and his service to his community that people travel so far to honour him. It is a great privilege to have Percy in the Senate. He and I have travelled many a road together and I look forward to his work in the Senate.
Senator John Wallace is a lawyer and community leader from Saint John, New Brunswick. He was the first president of the Saint John Waterfront Development Partnership, which was a catalyst for further development in the city. As a senator from New Brunswick, Senator Wallace will build upon his record of volunteerism and community service, for which he was honoured in New Brunswick.
Senator Leo Housakos is an avid student of the Canadian political system. He has been a political activist since the age of 16. He is a businessman and community leader. Senator Housakos cofounded the Hellenic Board of Trade in 1993, an organization dedicated to the development of business opportunities and networking in the greater Montreal area. This is a special day for his parents, who immigrated to Canada in 1950 to seek out new opportunities in our fair land. They were able to witness their son entering Canada's Parliament. Welcome, Senator Housakos.
Senator Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis, who served in the other place from 1984 to 1993, is well-known to many honourable senators. Before entering Parliament, she became the first woman elected to municipal council of the City of Sainte-Foy. When she was elected to the House of Commons in 1984, she gave her full support to the creation of a research centre that specialized in optics and photonics. Only last year, in recognition of her contributions, the Institut national d'optique honoured the senator at its twentieth anniversary celebration.
Suzanne brings tremendous strength and parliamentary experience to the Senate chamber and will be of great assistance to the government and to the Senate as a whole. It was such a pleasure to Suzanne's family here. I knew her when she was a member of Parliament, and it was a pleasure to reacquaint myself.
Senator Patrick Brazeau is a dynamic young leader and a passionate defender of the rights of Aboriginals. In 2006, he was chosen as the National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. In case honourable senators have any ideas, they should know that Senator Brazeau also has a black belt in karate and was a member of the naval reserve on HMCS Carleton in Ottawa. He is also the proud father of three young children, and I am happy to note that a fourth is expected this spring.
Honourable senators on both sides of this chamber have watched Senator Brazeau with awe as he has forged new ground in support of his people. He is a courageous young leader, and I am so honoured that he decided to accept the offer to come to the Senate. We look forward to working with him.
Senator Michel Rivard was the Mayor of Beauport, then later a member of the Quebec National Assembly, where he served as a parliamentary assistant. He served as director of a number of organizations and was President of the Executive Committee of the Communauté Urbaine de Québec. We look forward to him continuing his public service in this chamber. Those honourable senators who know Senator Rivard are aware of his commitment to public service. He will be a great addition to the Senate as a representative from the province of Quebec.
Senator Nicole Eaton has been a lifelong volunteer in a variety of roles. Whether it was the National Ballet of Canada, the Royal Ontario Museum, or the Stratford Festival, Senator Eaton has lent her time, energy and enthusiasm to all of these endeavours. She has also written for the National Post and is co-author of two publications. Two very different pursuits, gardening and politics, are keen interests of Senator Eaton. Those of us on this side are surely glad that politics is one of her keen interests as well, because she has been an incredible asset to the Conservative Party of Canada. On behalf of the government, welcome to the Senate.
By the way, I love gardening, too, so perhaps she can teach me a few new tricks. Gardening is what keeps me sane sometimes.
What can one say about Senator Irving Gerstein? He is a businessman and corporate director. He has been involved in politics for over 40 years and is a member of both the Order of Canada and the Order of Ontario. Many of us are familiar with Senator Gerstein's mother. Dr. Reva Gerstein headed up the policy development operation of our party back in the 1960s under Mr. Stanfield. She is also a Companion of the Order of Canada and Member of the Order of Ontario. Regrettably, she was unable to be here today. However, she sends her best wishes to all of the newly appointed senators, but most particularly to her son Irving.
Irving will probably know that when he was escorted into the chamber today, Senator Segal uttered "fantastic" and everyone laughed. Irving is very enthusiastic about everything he does. He is Chair of the Conservative Fund Canada and has been very successful, we are very happy to say.
Honourable senators may not know that the Prime Minister can mimic people pretty well. Irving is so enthusiastic about what he does that the Prime Minister occasionally rises in caucus to give a report and uses Irving's voice. Everyone laughs because it is almost dead-on. Not to let out caucus secrets, but when Irving joined our caucus, someone yelled to the Prime Minister, "Now you won't have to imitate Irving anymore. He is here and talk for himself."
On behalf of us all, I extend to Irving a very warm welcome to the Senate.
Senator Pamela Wallin is a former diplomat, journalist and entrepreneur, Chancellor of the University of Guelph and is well-know to many Canadians. How many of us have watched Canada AM? Actually, the political panel has never recovered from Pamela, Gerald Caplan and Michael Kirby. How can we forget former senator Michael Kirby?
Senator Wallin has served our country extremely well as Consul General in New York and will be a valuable asset to Parliament now that we are in this economic crisis and our work with the United States is so important. Her expertise and knowledge will be invaluable to this chamber and to the government.
To be equally lauded was Pamela's membership on the Independent Panel on Canada's Future Role in Afghanistan under the chairmanship of the Honourable John Manley. I believe, and have said many times, that Pamela put a human face on the situation in Afghanistan. Having been there, she explained to Canadians, better than most, the challenges that our soldiers face in Afghanistan.
In 1995, the citizens of her hometown of Wadena, Saskatchewan, dedicated a street in her honour. Actually, Senator Duffy, I was in Wadena in 1965 as well on a train with Mr. Diefenbaker, but I do not remember meeting Pamela. She probably was not even born then.
Welcome, Pamela. It is a great honour that you have joined the Parliament of Canada as a member of the Senate.
Who would need an introduction to Nancy Greene Raine? She was Canada's female athlete of the last century, named so by the Canadian Press and Broadcast News. She won gold and silver medals in alpine skiing at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics and overall World Cup titles in 1967 and 1968. At the age of 24, when she had retired from competitive sport, she served on a federal task force on sports in Canada, and 95 per cent of its recommendations were implemented by the government of the day.
As honourable senators know, Senator Nancy Greene Raine is a proponent of small business and tourism. She will be a tremendous voice not only for the citizens of British Columbia in the Senate, but for all of the people who have worked so hard on amateur sport in telling their stories.
I said to the senator that this is a particularly wonderful honour for me because I remember being in awe of her. I was afraid to ski down a little hill in the Gatineau Hills. I thought those were big hills. I did manage to do it, though. Senator Raine is a true hero of mine and I am sure of all senators. Her addition to Parliament and to the Senate is to be celebrated and welcomed.
Senator Richard Neufeld has served as a British Columbia MLA for nearly 20 years. I believe he was first elected in 1991, prior to which he was a business owner. He was elected in the riding of Peace River North and most recently served as British Columbia's Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.
Senator Neufeld has a long and distinguished career in elected politics in British Columbia and will bring a wealth of experience to this chamber, to Ottawa, to the government and to Parliament, particularly because so many issues are facing the forestry and mining industries in these tough economic times. Senator Neufeld's expertise in these areas will be extremely valuable.
Honourable senators, as an aside, it pleased me to no end when I learned that Senator Neufeld and his wife Montana enjoy restoring antique cars and motorcycles. Those in this chamber know that every once in a while I get into this little story about my retired mechanic husband and our yard filled with old cars. I now have someone who can at least sympathize with me.
Welcome, Senator Neufeld.
Senator Dan Lang was elected to the Yukon Legislative Assembly in 1974 and served for an impressive five consecutive terms, retiring in 1992. Since leaving the legislature, he has worked in the real estate industry. During his tenure in elected office, he served in several portfolios, which gives him particular insight into the issues facing the North. Senator Lang is pleased to be a representative of the North and he looks forward to working on issues of northern sovereignty, among others.
Senator Lang and I had a long chat the other day, trading some old Erik Nielsen stories, but we will not go into those today.
This is a particularly important appointment because the government places a great deal of emphasis on the issue of northern sovereignty. I find it extremely gratifying that this file is receiving the attention it deserves. When I worked for Prime Minister Diefenbaker, he established the Roads to Resources program as well as the community of Inuvik in the Northwest Territories.
Welcome, Senator Lang. I hope you enjoy your position here in the Senate. I know we will enjoy having you here.
Senator Yonah Martin has been an educator for 21 years, having taught English to students in grades 6 to 12. She has been instrumental in building ties between cultural communities in British Columbia. Senator Martin is the co-founder of the Corean Canadian Coactive society and has served on the Multicultural Advisory Council of B.C. She was born in Seoul, South Korea, and immigrated to Canada in 1972. She is Canada's first Korean-born senator. Senator Martin, welcome to the Senate.
Honourable senators, I hope that you will join with me in welcoming our new senators. As I said the other day, it is not very often that a leader of any party can get up and say that he or she has doubled his or her caucus in one day but that is almost what has happened.
Honourable senators, I wish to reiterate how honoured and privileged I am to welcome so many new colleagues, with such varied backgrounds, who can bring so much to the Senate, to Parliament, and to the overall operation of Parliament Hill. I am sure I speak for all of us in welcoming them and realizing that all of them can vastly improve the dialogue in the Senate. Hopefully, the anticipated improvements will suffuse to the House of Commons and to Parliament in general.
Hon. James S. Cowan (Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, on behalf of the opposition, I join my friend the Leader of the Government in the Senate in welcoming our new colleagues.
For some time now, we on this side of the house have been pressing the Prime Minister to fulfil his duty, arguably his constitutional obligation, to fill vacancies as they occur. My colleagues Senators Banks and Moore have been particularly active and vocal.
We are glad that the Prime Minister has taken our advice. Perhaps this is a sign of things to come for us all.
My colleagues on the government side can speak for themselves, but I am sure they are delighted to have reinforcements sent to the front. This additional presence will make the functioning of this place, in committee and in the chamber, much easier for us all. We urge our newest colleagues to participate fully in the work of the Senate — both in the chamber and committee.
Do not believe everything you have heard or read about this place. See and judge for yourselves; I think you will be pleasantly surprised. My own experience, now coming up to four years, has been that most of our colleagues, be they government, opposition, or independent, work very hard and make great contributions to the Senate, to the public policy debate and to their communities. However, like any institution, the Senate can be improved. I encourage you to look for opportunities to make those improvements and to engage fully in the debate on democratic reform — not just with respect to the Senate but with respect to the other place as well.
All of us would wish that this institution be as effective as it can be. Term limits, election of senators, reallocation of seats, even abolition of the Senate, are legitimate subjects for debate. However, any such proposals must be considered carefully to avoid unintended consequences. We have all had experiences in organizations where changing one component without considering the impact of that change elsewhere has led to unintended, unforeseen and often unwelcome consequences for the organization as a whole.
Honourable senators, it seems perfectly sensible to me that after 140 years we would want to examine whether or not the system of governance designed by the Fathers of Confederation in the 1860s serves our interests in the 21st century. Let us not fall into the trap of changing one institution without examining the other related institutions at the same time.
Underlying all of this, of course, is the paramount responsibility to comply with the provisions of our Constitution. Major changes to the Senate, or to the House of Commons, for that matter, can only be made after consultation with the provinces — our partners in Confederation — and with the consent of at least seven provinces representing at least 50 per cent of the population. Some have argued that changes of a fundamental nature to this institution would actually require the unanimous consent of the provinces.
It is highly unlikely that our fellow citizens would want us to embark on another round of federal-provincial constitutional negotiations when the nation is in the midst of a major economic crisis. In my view, the time for that debate is not now. The Parliament of Canada and legislatures at both the federal and provincial levels ought to be focused on the economic challenges that face Canada and the world.
The time for political bickering and partisan posturing is over. The country needs its parliamentarians to work together to find solutions to the economic crisis.
Honourable senators, the Senate has often worked across party lines to produce tremendous results. On numerous occasions, Senators from both sides of this chamber have put aside partisan differences to come together in committee deliberations to provide the best possible solutions for Canadians. This chamber has often witnessed senators choosing the good of the country over the good of the party.
The Senate is, of course, a political institution, and most of us have political affiliations, but our first duty is to Canada and the Canadian people, especially in times like these. I urge our newest colleagues to continue the tradition of finding bipartisan solutions to national issues.
The expertise and professionalism of those who work in the Senate provide honourable senators with the resources and support we need to fulfil our mandate. As senators, we are well served by the officers of the Senate, the staff in the chamber and committees, and our own capable assistants and advisers. If we utilize all of these resources to maximum advantage, we will individually and collectively succeed in doing what this great institution is noted for: carefully scrutinizing legislation, making sound and reasonable public policy decisions and producing thoughtful and influential reports on the major issues of the day.
Once again, welcome to the Senate. I look forward to working with each of you in the coming session, and to the new ideas and fresh approaches that you bring to our assembly.
(The Senate adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m.)