1st Session, 42nd Parliament,
Volume 150, Issue 3

Tuesday, December 8, 2015
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker

Speech from the Throne

Motion for Address in Reply— Debate Adjourned

The Senate proceeded to consideration of His Excellency the Governor General’s Speech from the Throne at the opening of the First Session of the Forty-second Parliament.

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer, seconded by the Honourable Senator Cordy, moved:

That the following Address be presented to His Excellency the Governor General of Canada:

To His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order of Canada, Chancellor and Commander of the Order of Military Merit, Chancellor and Commander of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada.


We, Her Majesty’s most loyal and dutiful subjects, the Senate of Canada in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Excellency for the gracious Speech which Your Excellency has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.

She said: Honourable senators, it is a great honour to rise today to move adoption of the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne.


Today I rise to speak in reply to the Speech from the Throne read by Governor General Johnston, but first I would like to congratulate the Speaker of the Senate, the Honourable George Furey.


I know you will all agree with me that Senator Furey has worked hard on behalf of all of us to restore our institution’s integrity, and we all look forward to working with you as well.

I would also like to thank Senator Housakos for all his hard work.


I would like to thank Governor General Johnston and his wife for their presence in the Senate, where His Excellency read the Speech from the Throne.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Prime Minister Trudeau and his team for the vision set out in the Speech from the Throne. It sends a clear message, and all Canadians will see that the government had them in mind when preparing its agenda.

Honourable senators, the Governor General called on us to work together with a renewed spirit of innovation, openness and collaboration. He then outlined five main objectives, which I would now like to elaborate on.


First, a clear priority was the growth of the middle class, an optimistic and practical vision that will be achieved by carefully crafting lower taxes for the middle class, strengthening the employment insurance system, enhancing pension plans and working with the provinces to develop a health accord. The objective is grand, but it is encouraging to see the specific steps outlined that will make achieving this possible.

It is essential that among these steps, the federal government works with the provinces to support Canada’s youth from low- and middle-income families. We need to make post-secondary education more affordable for those who are willing to work hard to pursue it. What is more, we need to have an economy that is ready to receive these young people so they can pay down their debt right away and begin contributing to our economy.

According to Statistics Canada’s 2014 survey, Graduating in Canada: Profile, Labour Market Outcomes and Student Debt of the Class of 2009-2010, 43 per cent of college graduates owe close to $15,000 by the end of their studies, and 50 per cent of students pursuing bachelor degrees owed debt averaging closer to $27,000.


These young people are smart, energetic and eager to contribute, but too many of them carry a tremendous debt from pursuing their studies even before they have started working. To strengthen our country, we need to invest in the education of our youth and remind them that they should be willing to as well. This must be a strong priority for us going forward.


Second, the government is committed to open and transparent government.


Parliament will work with greater transparency and openness by introducing electoral reform and by giving MPs more power. Part of this will also affect our very own chamber. We know that the appointments of senators will be reformed, stressing a non-partisan approach.

Honourable senators, for me it is a privilege to work alongside the members of this chamber, and it has been encouraging to see us all work hard to improve and evolve. I would like to thank Senators Massicotte and Greene for their efforts in starting the conversation on how we modernize our institution. I would also like to thank Senators Housakos, Mitchell, Cordy, Wells and Batters for introducing effective ways to communicate about the work we do as senators.

Honourable senators, I would be remiss if I did not thank our leadership of Senators Cowan, Fraser, Munson, Carignan, Martin and Marshall for all the work they have done in the last session and continue to do on our behalf.

Our ultimate goal as senators is to better represent the Canadian national interest and the rights of minorities and to ensure those views are protected in our legislative process. I welcome any additional measures that will strengthen our resolve in pursuing this goal.

I have faith we will work in a non-partisan manner together as Canadians have demanded of us. As my leader Senator Cowan has stated, we have to fix this from within, and I agree.


Third, the government will prove to Canadians and to the world that a clean environment and a strong economy go hand in hand. We cannot have one without the other. The Governor General stated that protecting the environment and growing the economy are not incompatible goals. In fact, our future success demands that we do both.

I agree with the government, but I must point out that our concern for the environment and the economy must not overshadow our obligation to protect human rights. How we choose to promote economic growth and tackle climate change will have a direct impact on the rights of all populations.


Typically, discussions around climate change revolve around the economy, environment and science. These are all necessary conversations, but more and more information from these spheres demands that we question: How will all of this affect us as human beings?

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights found multiple links between climate change and how its effects stand to violate human rights, particularly by those already living in poverty.

According to the UN, climate change stands to directly violate the rights of many in Canada and abroad. The right to food, water, health, adequate housing, life and self-determination are all at threat. If Canada truly wants to be a leader in mitigating the effects of climate change, we must find ways to comprehensively tackle these issues in addition to the economic and environmental challenges.


Fourth, the government’s agenda reflects that Canada’s strength is its diversity. The Governor General of Canada said, and I quote:

Canadians elected a government to bring us together, not to set us against one another. Canada is strong because of our differences, not in spite of them.


There is no doubt that we are in a great country and live together as equals. Canada is a place where diversity flourishes, and we see strength in our differences. We know diversity and adversity can be catalysts for greatness, and in Canada we proudly provide the foundation people need to create a better future for themselves and, in turn, create a better Canada.

In line with our legacy of acceptance and diversity, I am eager to see the 25,000 Syrian refugees be resettled here by the end of February 2016.

Honourable senators, I have often visited the refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, and I have spoken with those affected by the war in Syria. As someone who has seen the pain in many camps, I’m very grateful that we will create a haven for people who have lost everything.

Honourable senators, fighting on the front lines can take different forms. We get to choose what battles we fight. The people of Syria are tired of bombs, no matter who they are coming from. What they want is peace. What they want is to go home.

When I was in Cila at the border of Turkey and Syria, I spoke to a little girl. She was 12 years old. Her home had been barrel bombed, and she had lost her limbs because of it. She was sitting in a makeshift wheelchair and had propped a book on her wheelchair while her sister turned pages for her.

Her request to me was simple. She said, “Please help us stop the bombing. Tell Canadians to help us finish our studies. I want to grow up and be a teacher. I want to go home to Syria.”

Humanitarian aid is necessary. The refugee crisis is real, and we need to give people hope. We need to give humanity an opportunity for a better future, but ultimately, we need to foster peace in the region. We need to foster peace in Syria. This, too, must be a key goal of our government. We can and must play a key role in facilitating a formal peace process. We, as a country, know how to build peace processes. We are known for our expertise.

Honourable senators, I work with women in Lebanon in an organization called Mobaderoon. They are working with groups to see how they can bring peace amongst themselves. What these women have said to me is, “You could take 25,000, you could take 50,000, you could take 75,000, you could take 100,000, but we do not want to go outside Syria. We want you to help us bring peace to Syria.”

Further, the protection of our diversity, as the Governor General noted, requires protection of our languages.


In addition, the government will encourage the use of Canada’s official languages, and for that I am thankful. French and English are very important in this country. In my province, British Columbia, parents really want their children to be able to learn French. There aren’t enough classes. When my grandson wanted to learn French at school, there was no space for him in a class. His mother tried to register him at 11 different schools. The school year began and there was still no room for my grandson. His name was placed on many waiting lists. Two months after the beginning of classes, he was finally accepted.

I believe that in our bilingual country, all children should learn and speak both official languages. That is our heritage. We must not deny our children the right to speak our official languages. The government must invest in this.

I also call on the government to allocate resources to help immigrants and refugees who come from francophone countries and live outside Quebec learn English.

Fifth, the government is committed to providing greater security and opportunity for Canadians. The government said that to contribute to greater peace throughout the world, it will renew Canada’s commitment to United Nations peacekeeping operations.


Honourable senators, in 2000, Canada played an instrumental role in the passing of United Nations Resolution 1325. The goal of the resolution is twofold: to recognize that war is experienced uniquely by women and to stress the fact that women play a key role in peace-making processes and need to be guaranteed a place at those talks.

We made this commitment along with many other nations in 2000. This was a unanimous resolution at the United Nations, and yet many peace talks have occurred without adequate female representation. If we do not have inclusive talks, peace will fail.


We are living in a fragile time, and we must protect anything that will guarantee sustainable peace.

I ask the government, especially Minister of Defence Sajjan, to remember to include women as a pivotal part of decision making in any peacemaking operation our country carries out.

I’m very pleased that the government has talked about the fact that our need for security must also be balanced with the protection of our rights. We must stay vigilant about protecting a healthy balance between the two.


Recognizing that Canada is, fundamentally, a safe and peaceful country, the government will continue to work to keep all Canadians safe, while at the same time protecting our cherished rights and freedoms.


I urge the government to now amend Bill C-51 to introduce an oversight body so that we may ensure that such a balance is protected. Striking this balance will set the tone for the generations to come, and it is important that we get it right.

Honourable senators, as I said to you, I recently visited a refugee camp. I met a young girl who had lost her hand in the conflict. When I met her, she had carefully crafted a hand out of clay and decorated it. I was heartbroken when I saw she decorated it with splashes of red to represent her own blood that had been spilled in the war. She took my hand and placed her clay hand into it and said to me, “Please hold my hand; keep it and keep holding it when you go to Canada.”

Honourable senators, we have a responsibility to our future generations, both Canadian children and children all over the world, to leave a world that is better for them, not worse. I was encouraged by the Speech from the Throne, because it laid out a clear vision for a better future. The words spoken by our Governor General set forth an ambitious agenda for our government. It also set forth an optimistic vision for the type of country Canada will become. This is a reality we’re striving for, one that Canadians deserve and that our children will be proud to be a part of.

Thank you very much for your attention.