Canada, Senate Debates, “Aspects of Senate Study”, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess (11 June 1980)


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Date: 1980-06-11
By: Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Canada, Senate Debates, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess, 1980 at 441-444.
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SENATE DEBATES — June 11, 1980

[Page 441]

THE CONSTITUTION

ASPECTS OF SENATE STUDY

Hon. Jacques Flynn (Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, I have a question for the Leader of the Government which will be preparatory to the continuation of the debate. Can he tell us at what point in the discussions aimed at developing a new Canadian Constitution, the subjects of immigration, cultural policy and social affairs will come up for consideration? Do they form part ofa second list of items to be discussed after September, or before?

I understand that the Leader of the Government does not want the Senate to discuss anything else but the reform of the Senate or a new Senate, and the entrenchment in the Constitution of our individual and collective rights including linguistic rights. When shall we discuss all the other matters?

Hon. Raymond J. Perrault (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I shall take that question as notice. Certainly the subjects mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition were not inscribed on the list of subjects which are to be given priority attention between now and September. The information requested by Senator Flynn may be available; certainly an attempt will be made to secure it.

I wish to make it clear, honourable senators, that there is no attempt on the part of the government to circumscribe efforts by honourable senators to investigate other aspects of constitutional reform. What we are discussing, however, in the resolution before the Senate is whether or not one specific aspect of constitutional change and reform—namely, change affecting the second chamber of Parliament—shall be studied by a subcommittee of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. That does not preclude the possibility of studies in other directions, at some point.

Senator Flynn: I would ask the Leader of the Government, if we are not circumscribing efforts to investigate other aspects of constitutional reform, why he opposed the amendment that I proposed yesterday?

[Page 442]

Senator Perrault: I hope to speak to that amendment, as I said yesterday. I reiterate what I havejust said, that before the September deadline I am certain there will be other opportunities for honourable senators and Senate committees to study more fully the list of items, and perhaps items that are not on the proposed priority list.

[Translation]

Hon. Martial Asselin: A supplementary, Mr. Speaker. Is the Leader of the Government trying to tell us that he will accept our amendment?

Senator Flynn: Or another one?

Senator Asselin: Or another one for the same purpose? If he decides to accept our amendment, the debate is over. Why wait until tomorrow to agree to the motion?

Senator Flynn: Or until next week?

[English]

Senator Perrault: Well, honourable senators, this question has been asked many times in the Senate chamber. It is not for me to impugn the opposition, but I do want to assure honourable senators once again that it may well be that a committee of the Senate will wish to study other aspects of the so-called constitutional “package.” However, there could be great merit in the Senate investigating, as one of its priorities, the very future of this chamber of Parliament.

[Translation]

Senator Asselin: The government leader is still not answering questions. I am simply asking him: does he intend to accept the amendment proposed by the official opposition? If so, I have prepared a speech, but I will put it aside and work on something else until the matter is settled. Does he answer yes or no that tomorrow, if he speaks for the government, or if Senator Frith speaks for the government, he will tell us that he accepts our amendment?

[English]

Senator Perrault: As I stated yesterday, my present inclination is not to accept the amendment.

Senator Frith: Since I was referred to in the question I can answer it very quickly. My answer is, No.

[Translation]

Senator Asselin: Therefore, if the government leader says, “No, we will not accept your amendment,” he cannot add that he will favour other discussions on constitutional matters because the amendment proposed by the opposition is the very basis for constitutional review.

So if he decides not to accept our amendment, this means that the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs will not study anything other than the content of Senator Lamontagne’s motion.

[English]

Senator Perrault: Naturally, in the course of the debate, the Leader of the Government could be persuaded to follow some other course of action. Let me say, however, that various options are now being considered actively by government supporters. Certain courses of action would facilitate the work of honourable senators and might broaden it to include other items.

At the present time we are considering a resolution sponsored by Senator Lamontagne, a resolution which most of us believe to be of great merit and deserving of support. Support of the motion does not rule out the possibility of later Senate consideration of other aspects of constitutional change.

[Translation]

Senator Asselin: Does that mean that the leader, on behalf of the government he represents, will never accept the excellent suggestions made by the official opposition, as has been his wont in the past? Give me one example of a suggestion which was made by the official opposition and accepted by your government. There have not been any. For our part, during the last session, we have accepted suggestions made by the official opposition in the other place. But you, because of your obstinacy—I know the government leader and I know he will never accept a suggestion from the official opposition simply because it does not come from his government. The party line is deeply ingrained in him.

Hon. Giltlas L. Molgat: The question?

Senator Asselin: That is the question. I have asked it.

[English]

Senator Perrault: Honourable senators, I have difficulty in discerning whether or not there was a question implicit in that long statement just made by Senator Asselin; but for him to ascribe less than worthy motives to the government, I think, is unfair. The government supporters here have been very supportive of and open to suggestions made by the opposition. I would remind honourable senators that this debate has not yet been completed, and it may well be that those who serve in the opposition will be persuaded, before this debate is over, to support the government’s view in this matter.

Senator Asselin: You did not receive such instructions from your boss.

[Translation]

Hon. Arthur Tremblay: A supplementary question. I hope the Leader of the Government will think it is a real question.

If I have understood correctly, he has alluded to reflections which are currently being made by his colleagues according to which the substance of the intent of the amendment moved by Senator Flynn will finally be accepted, albeit under another form maybe, but accepted nonetheless by the other side of the house. Did I understand correctly that this was the gist of some of his remarks a little while ago? I expect it was.

Here is my question: When are the government leader and his colleagues going to get their act together on this? It seems to me that in view of the work schedule and the Prime Minister’s insistence, which is loudly echoed by the premiers of the rest of Canada, we should deal with this matter of constitutional reform with despatch. He even mentioned “dead-

[Page 443]

lines”. It seems to me that if we in the Senate take too long to get our act together in matters such as these, if we take too long to get to work, we are not respecting the wishes of the first ministers. We might also be adding substance to some aspects of the reputation we have been given.

Senator Lamontagne: You are right; that is true.

[English]

Senator Perrault: Honourable senators, a good deal of time has been spent by the opposition in this chamber in the process of, in effect, debating the motion on the amendment. If the honourable senator is accusing government supporters in this chamber of an unconscionable delay in the process of studying constitutional change, let me remind the opposition that they insisted upon advancing an amendment to an excellent resolution which could have been passed by now and be under discussion in committee. Of course, it is their perfect right to propose amendments, but, in light of that, to blame the government for the resultant delay is a rather remarkable accusation.

[Translation]

Senator Tremblay: I have a supplementary. In such a case I do not understand why the other side is considering accepting the substance of the amendment. Either they refuse it unequivocally or else they wonder about the possibility of accepting it. Therefore, we did not cause any unconscionable delay by suggesting this improvement to the main motion since the other side is considering agreeing to it.

[English]

Senator Perrault: Honourable senators, as you know, we have discussed this at great length. The government supporters in this chamber are fair and open-minded. We are seeking ways whereby the Senate shall be able to make as constructive a contribution as possible to this constitutional dialogue and debate. We believe there is, however, as far as honourable senators are concerned, a list of priorities.

Honourable senators know more about the second chamber than any other group of Canadians anywhere. It seems to me that this matter of the future of the second chamber, the Senate, should be given some priority, and that is the nature of the resolution advanced by Senator Lamontagne. It does not rule out the possibility of further Senate consideration of constitutional change, perhaps by authorizing the Special Committee of the Senate on the Constitution to complete its report. There could be other routes, involving the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Surely, honourable senators, as reasonable representatives of their regions, can understand the resolution advanced by Senator Lamontagne, which establishes certain priorities of great importance to the future of this chamber and of this country.

Senator Flynn: The future of the country is more important than the future of this chamber.

Hon. G. I. Smith: I should like to address a question to the Leader of the Government in view of his comments. I would observe that it does not strike me that the future of the Senate is at the core of our constitutional problems. Therefore, it does not strike me that it should be a matter of priority in constitutional reform to which people should be addressing themselves.

In any event, in view of the comments made by the Leader of the Government about the select committee of the Senate that considered constitutional matters, including the Senate, in the Parliament that ended in March, 1979, is that report going to be completed and made available to whatever body may be selected to study this motion or any similar motion that may pass the Senate?

Senator Perrault: Honourable senators, that is one of the options that I would be pleased to discuss with the Leader of the Opposition. We should work in common cause here. Regardless of party affiliation, as Canadians we should interest ourselves in giving new meaning and vibrancy to Confederation and to the Constitution. Of course, the future of this country is more important than any institutions, including the Senate, which happen to be part of the constitutional process. I advance a view—which I know is shared by many honourable senators-that because of the knowledge that honourable senators possess of the second chamber, there is certain expertise which we are in a unique position to provide to the nation. That does not exclude the contribution of Senate expertise in other constitutional directions. Indeed, implicit in the Lamontagne resolution are the possibilities of consideration of other matters, and honourable senators are aware of that fact.

Senator Smith (Colchester): With respect to the select committee of the Senate, which worked so long and which was supposed to—and I believe did—constitute a fair sample of the wisdom which reposes in the Senate, does the leader not consider the report and work of that committee to be useful instruments to assist in further study?

Senator Perrault: I know that Senator Smith has great confidence in his leader. I would like to meet with his leader to discuss possible options and courses of action for the Senate with respect to the constitutional dialogue and debate. I do not think there is much ultimate value in prolonging at this particular time a discussion about which courses of action may be available. There are a number of courses of action which are available.

Senator Smith (Colchester): Of course I have great confidence in my leader. I will not comment on the confidence I have in certain other honourable gentlemen who are conspicuous in this discussion, but I would ask the Leader of the Government again if he would care to direct his attention to the question I asked, namely, is he prepared to see that the select committee, to which I referred, has an opportunity to place its report before the Senate which, in turn, could place it before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, if that committee is the one to study this motion?

Senator Perrault: Yes, that is a distinct possibility.

[Page 444]

Senator Flynn: Honourable senators, in view of the fact that the Leader of the Government has indicated that he might change his mind and yield to some extent to meet the wishes of the official opposition, would the deputy leader reconsider his firm and negative answer to any possibility of changing his attitude and that of the mover of the motion?

It seems to me that the deputy leader, by saying no at this time and before he has had a chance to discuss this matter with the Leader of the Government, was not sure what reasons he had to oppose the amendment. He was sure what stand he would take but he was trying to find reasons to say no. Now that the leader has cut the grass from under his feet I suppose he would be prepared to change his attitude.

Senator Frith: The question was whether it was my intention to support the amendment. My answer was no. Senator Flynn: But you were not prepared to proceed this afternoon, so you were looking for reasons to say no.

Senator Asselin: lt would have been easy to say no this afternoon.

Senator Flynn: I suppose the conciliatory attitude of the Leader of the Government must have weakened his stand.

Senator Frith: My intention at the present time and my intention at the time of the question with reference to the amendment has not changed at all.

Senator Flynn: You are as stubborn as Senator Lamontagne.

Senator Frith: I am honoured to be so associated.

Senator Flynn: You can have it.

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