Senator Claude Carignan's Speech on the modernization of the Senate (broadcasting the debates of the Senate)

December 6, 2016

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Honourable senators, I am pleased to contribute to the debate on the modernization of the Senate, particularly the issue of broadcasting the debates of the Senate.

 

A few years ago, we began modernizing our institution to make it more effective, more transparent, and more accountable to Canadians. The Modernization Committee has been working to that end. However, I would like to remind you, dear colleagues, that several changes have been made to how our institution operates.

 

Our Rules have been revised, Communications has been revamped from top to bottom, and our code of ethics is now one of the most stringent in the world. We have put in place the most advanced expense reporting mechanisms in Canada. We have established a one-of-a-kind independent arbitration system to resolve disputes concerning expenses. The rules for expenses have been clarified and further clarifications will be made soon. Those are a few of the changes that we have worked on together.

 

Of course, we still have work to do. However, we can be proud of what has been accomplished. I would like to quote from the tenth report on Senate modernization, which deals with the Senate's mission statement.

 

The Senate is the appointed Upper House in Canada's bicameral Parliament. It plays an important complementary role to the elected House of Commons by:

 

(i) Providing independent "sober second thought" to legislation, with particular respect to Canada's national interests, aboriginal peoples, regions, minorities and under-represented segments of Canada's populations;

 

I completely agree with that mission statement. In order to fulfill its role, the Senate has debates, asks questions of the government, conducts studies, does research, and offers opposing points of view. The Senate plays a fundamental role in Canadian democracy and an active role in shaping our country's laws. In addition, the Senate stands up for minorities and protects the rights of the regions.

 

However, because the work of the Senate is not televised, unlike the work of its committees, Canadians are misinformed about the concrete action being taken by senators in shaping our country's legislative body. Canadians do not see how much discussion and debate occurs regarding bills that will affect them after they are given Royal Assent.

 

Broadcasting our proceedings will surely be a new and important step on our journey toward transparency in the Senate and in our efforts to make the public aware of senators' legislative work.

 

The Senate recently decided to broadcast its debates on the Internet. This initiative was part of our effort to be more transparent, and it provided us with an inexpensive, temporary solution.

 

However, it is 2016 and will soon be 2017, and the lack of visual exposure gives people the impression that the Senate is outdated. Let's be honest about this, dear colleagues, the Senate is archaic. We should therefore take advantage of the upcoming move to do things differently.

 

I have been a senator for a little over seven years, and I am often impressed by the quality of our debates. In this chamber, we work with high-calibre people with impressive records who bring great wisdom and perspective to our debates. Unfortunately, too few Canadians are able to witness these high-quality exchanges.

 

The televising of our debates would make our work more democratic and would certainly help people get a sense of the Senate's relevance and its members' contribution to the legislative process.

 

Televising Question Period, particularly when a minister is visiting, will help strengthen the government's accountability, which is a very good thing.

 

In general, our Question Period with a minister is conducted with courtesy and more thorough answers are given. Canadians would certainly gain in having access to those Question Periods. And hopefully, people, including MPs, will see that a Question Period can be conducted politely, without heckling.

 

The House of Commons started televising its debates in 1977. This was done following a report on the topic written in 1967. Our colleagues in the other place took 10 years to evaluate how this could be done. There were good reasons for such a long period.

 

Should we decide to go ahead with televising our debates, we have to make sure that our Rules are changed in order to ensure that debate is conducted with predictability and with good pace.

 

Our Committee on the Modernization of the Senate has proposed changes on how the Order Paper is prepared and distributed and how debates should be conducted in the chamber. These changes must be made concurrently with the arrival of television in the chamber.

 

I will be discussing the proposals from the committee in the next few days, but I stress the fact that such modifications must be made before we start televising our debates.

 

Colleagues, I will therefore support the adoption of the eighth report of the Special Committee on Modernization. We have come this far, and this stage is an important one in our efforts to make the Senate more efficient, more transparent and more accountable to Canadians.

 

I invite you all to support the adoption of this report as soon as possible. Thank you.

 

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