2nd Session, 41st Parliament,

Volume 149, Issue 161

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Honourable Leo Housakos, Speaker

Income Tax Act

Bill to Amend—Disposition of Bill—Motion and Motion in Amendment—Vote Deferred

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Motion No. 117 and its amendment.

Honourable senators, we are at a tipping point. Today, as we debate Motion No. 117, Canadians are watching. They are frustrated and, frankly, I cannot blame them. I am also frustrated.

Instead of using my own words to restate what my colleagues have said, I will use the words of a Canadian who wrote to all of us over the weekend. Mr. Mike Brecht from Saskatoon stated:

I am writing with respect to the decision by the Senate to vote against the Speaker of the Senate on his ruling with respect to Bill C-377. The Speaker clearly laid out his case which goes back to Rule of Order established in 1991. He also referenced former Speaker Kinsella’s ruling “proposing to use a government motion to determine the dispatch of non-government business violates a fundamental distinction in our rules and practices.”

By voting against the Speaker’s decision you have just put the last nail in the coffin of the Senate. If there is no longer a distinction between how government business and other business are treated in the Senate, there is no longer any use for the Senate as “sober second thought” as all future business will already be decided by the House of Commons.

Until now I was one who believed the Senate still had an honourable place in parliamentary proceedings in Canada but after your vote against the Speaker’s ruling you have clearly removed that last sliver of defence of necessity of the Senate. In closing I ask you as a concerned Canadian taxpayer to vote against the motion and properly debate C-377 at a future sitting.

From a very disappointed taxpayer.

Honourable senators, to reiterate what he has said, if we vote for this motion, we are making the Senate a redundant institution.

I reflected all weekend on this letter, wondering what more can be said? How can we truly reveal and understand what is happening in this chamber right now? It is unlike anything we have seen in many, many years.

Today we have become entangled in heated discussions. Frustrations are running deep through this chamber. Let us step back from that — step back from the current emotions we all feel and reflect on what is about to happen. We are on the verge of doing something that will profoundly affect our institution. What Mr. Brecht’s letter said to me is that, once again, we are about to lose the trust of the very public that we serve. We will make ourselves redundant.

I wish to reflect further on this point. I believe some members in this chamber are forgetting that our duty is to no other individual other than Canadians. Our duty is only to Canadians and to no one else.

Honourable senators, the motion today is bigger than one motion. It is bigger than us. Therefore, I believe from that perspective everything is at a tipping point.

Our institution is under siege. We have faced a punishing year — no one can deny this fact — and when we return home, we will all be thinking never again will we want a year like we have just had. We have had suspensions, we underwent a highly publish sized audit, and at times reading the news it felt as though “scandal” had become synonymous with “Senate.” Yet, let us not forget why we went through the audit in the first place: We wanted to regain the trust of Canadians. Why? Because it was our duty to serve them. If we do not have their trust, how can we serve them?

The trust of Canadians in our credibility as an institution is not only a worthy goal but also our responsibility. Its importance cannot be overstressed, nor can this point be debated: We agreed that this was important when we agreed to the audit. So why, today, are we reversing our commitment to Canadians?

I ask the senators who are voting for this motion how their actions today — that will disrupt our democracy and our democratic process — are serving the goal to regain the public’s trust in our institution?

After deep reflection, I am convinced that I cannot elucidate any more clearly than other senators have as to why supporting this motion is wrong. Instead, I wish to make only one appeal today — an appeal to reason.

Honourable senators, I should not feel so defeatist about an appeal to reason in this chamber. We are, after all, supposed to be the chamber of sober second thought. In the other place, reason takes a back seat to partisan politics, but here reason and rational thought are supposed to be a standard across the board. Regardless of political affiliation, reason must win in this chamber.

As the chamber of sober second thought, we are not supposed to fall prey to partisan gains. We should not make rash decisions out of concern for poll numbers or re-election numbers. We serve national interest and we serve Canadians. In theory, our job is simple, yet it is crucial to ensuring the balance of our democracy. We ensure that reason, fairness and fact prevail in what will become the law of our great nation.

Honourable senators, I fear that we have done an ill-fettered job communicating this to Canadians, so their frustration is understood. But we have spent a punishing year working to regain the trust of Canadians. I am very proud of this chamber and the work we all do. But today we are threatening all the good work that is a done here and once again sending the wrong message to Canadians.

An appeal to reason should not be made with the defeatist feeling that I currently feel — one that I hope my Conservative colleagues will prove me wrong in feeling. Today is as much a responsibility to recommit to the sanctity of this chamber as any other day that we have fought to do so this year.

My final charge is this. To my honourable Conservative senators who are choosing to vote in support of this motion because they made up their own minds to do so before coming into this chamber, consider what side of history you want to be on today. Do you want to participate in a further deterioration of our sacred institution, or are you going to maintain your independence of thought?

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We have heard the words of Speaker Kinsella — and even our current Speaker, Senator Housakos — saying that this motion should not stand. You know that reason is on their side in this decision. I appeal not to your partisan values or emotions. No, today I appeal to reason. Each of you must maintain a tight grip on your independence of thought because the future of our democracy is reliant upon this one simple fact. No matter what we have said before this date or even what has been said today, nothing will matter except for what you choose to vote. Today it is crucial that you exercise independence of thought. The rebuilding of credibility to Canadians is reliant on this. It is reliant on you.

For the past year, we have all committed to strengthening the trust of Canadians in our institution. Every single one of us has done this, of that I am certain, but today we demonstrate that actions speak louder than words. Enough talk about credibility of the Senate as an institution. Canadians are done with talking. They want to see — and they deserve — action from me, from you, from us.

This vote is our chance to act, to speak directly to Canadians, because this is the truth. Talk gets drowned out by action. What we vote to do with this motion today will speak louder than any statement that is made on this motion, than any interview that can be given, than any tweet that can be sent. The vote today is our message to those we serve.

I am a very proud Canadian senator, and I believe that this institution has a crucial role to play in our democracy, but rewriting the rules to play to partisan favours is not part of our role. All it will do is weaken our credibility and further polarize us from the very public we are supposed to be serving. It goes against everything this chamber stands for. It goes against the reason for our roles.

Colleagues, in the last few years we’ve had the suspensions and we’ve had a very open audit. It has been a punishing audit, and I feel that after it, a lot of people would understand that we were doing the right thing. But when we pass this motion, what we are doing is destroying our institution, because we know what will happen with this bill; it will immediately go to the court, and it will be held unconstitutional. Sadly, the damage will be further to our institution and not to the unions.

Hon. Jane Cordy: I’m wondering if I can ask a question. We heard earlier this afternoon that the reporting of non-labour activities was not in the bill, yet when I read the bill, section 149.01(3)(b)(vii.1) states:

a statement with a reasonable estimate of the percentage of time dedicated by persons referred to in subparagraph (vii) to each of political activities, lobbying activities and other non-labour relations activities, . . . .

This is a pretty broad definition. I think we heard earlier that this could include such things as volunteering to be your child’s Scout leader or Girl Guide leader or that you are president of the parent-teacher association at your child’s school, trying to make the school a better place for learning for your children, that all of these could in fact be captured under “non-labour relations activities” — which, in fact, is in the bill, for those who bothered to read the bill.

Do you think this section is pretty broad and would in fact encompass all of the things that Senator Baker mentioned earlier?

Senator Jaffer: Senator Cordy, thank you very much for asking me that question. As you know, I am a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, and this was one question I asked many of the witnesses that appeared before us.

What concerns me is yes, we can find out about how much union members earn; yes, we can find out about how many political activities they have, if that’s what we want. But to also want them to set out “other non-labour relations activities” is a bit too rich. I asked, “So does that mean if the union member is a Cub leader, it also must be included on the list?”

Honourable senators, that’s what we are asking of union members. We would never accept it if we were asked to set out all the charitable organizations that we work on. This bill is just unconstitutional.

 

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