Canada, Senate Debates, “Reform of the Senate—Statement by Prime Minister”, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess (29 January 1981)
By: Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Canada, Senate Debates, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess, 1981 at 1610-1612.
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SENATE DEBATES — January 29, 1981
REFORM OF THE SENATE—STATEMENT OF PRIME MINISTER
Hon. Lowell Murray: Honourable senators, I have good news and bad news for the Senate. The good news is that I am not going to make the speech that I had intended to make later this afternoon on the inquiry standing in my name.
An Hon. Senator: Reconsider.
An Hon. Senator: Explain.
Senator Murray: I shall put that off until we meet again. The bad news is that I have another question, this one for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I want to ask it now since we will not be sitting next week and since, when we return, we will probably have before us the report of the Special Joint Committee on the Constitution.
Will the government leader report to us on the negotiations that have apparently been taking place between the Minister of Justice and members of the Senate concerning possible amendments to the government’s resolution as it affects this house?
I ask the question in view of references to those negotiations made by the Right Honourable the Prime Minister in the
course of a press conference held with Canadian journalists while he was overseas.
Hon. Raymond J. Perrault (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, the way the Minister of Justice has been in continuing contact with various members of the Senate with respect to this very important constitutional package is very heartening.
Senator Donahoe: We never heard from him.
Senator Perrault: Certainly, the contribution by members of the Senate, from both the government side and the opposition side, to the special joint committee has been quite outstanding. A number of comments have been made about the excellence of Senate participation.
I have discussed with the Minister of Justice certain questions arising from the Senate report prepared by the subcommittee of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. The views expressed by members of that subcommittee through the report have been of great interest to the Minister of Justice and other members of the government. A number of ideas based upon the report and other sources have been studied in relation to the constitutional package.
Senator Murray: The Right Honourable the Prime Minister referred specifically to negotiations that were taking place between the Minister of Justice and the Senate. He alluded, as well, to specific propositions that were being made with his— that is to say, the Prime Minister’s—authorization by the minister to the Senate.
I am asking the Leader of the Government in the Senate now to advise us of the nature of those propositions and who represented the Senate in these negotiations with the Honourable the Minister of Justice.
Senator Perrault: Honourable senators, I am sure, are aware of the fact that there has been a great deal of consultation involving not only members of Parliament from both houses but various individuals representing organizations from coast to coast. A number of senators, including those in opposition—
Senator Murray: Including?
Senator Perrault:—including those in opposition have discussed, from time to time, the role of the Senate in Canada. That has been the principal nature of the discussions with the minister. There is no final draft of any proposal in existence. Perhaps the future role of the Senate and its place in the new tnnstitution are matters that could be discussed with the Constitution at some point.
Senator Murray: I do not want to pursue this too far, or further than is necessary, but we are not getting much information from the leader on a matter that the Prime Minister felt quite free—quite free—to talk about in discussions with journalists on board his plane on January 13 while en route from Dakar to Brasilia.
Reference was made by the Prime Minister to “negotiations” with the Senate, and reference was made by him to the “few” senators who are not satisfied, and he went on to say that he did not know whether the particular proposition that was being made by the Minister of Justice, with his authorization, would satisfy those “few” senators who are not satisfied, et cetera, et cetera. I could quote chapter and verse from the transcript. I will not do that, except to say that the Prime Minister was discussing the possibility of a specific amendment, or perhaps several specific amendments, relating to the Senate. Let me read a couple of sentences.
One of the problems is that some of the questions that were asked of the Prime Minister were inaudible for purposes of preparing the transcript, but the Prime Minister’s response, which is in French—and I would ask the government leader to pay particular attention to what the Prime Minister said—was as follows:
I must say frankly that this was one of the proposals put by Mr. Chrétien to the Senate—
I repeat “to the Senate”
—with my authorization. I do not know what the situation is at the present time, but the reply to your question is yes, probably. This depends on other aspects of the negotiation—
Once again, I underline the word “negotiation”.
—but as for this particular idea which had been submitted, Mr. Chrétien and myself have examined it and have given our authorization. However, I cannot give you the exact details of these negotiations with the senators. What I am saying basically is that I do not know whether this would satisfy the few senators who are not satisfied, and if not, whether it would be worth it to make this particular change. And it is probably on this point that the negotiations are still going on.
The questions I put to the leader will, I think, be obvious, and will be of interest to all honourable senators, and they are: What proposition was the Prime Minister talking about? To whom was it made? Who was purporting to speak on behalf of the Senate in these negotiations?
Senator Perrault: Honourable senators, there have been negotiations with the Honourable the Minister of Justice and discussions concerning such matters as the future of the Senate as presently constituted, the bicameral nature of Parliament, proposals for future change and reform in our parliamentary institutions, the relationship between the Senate and the Queen and the Office of Governor General, regional concerns and other matters of that kind.
When the Prime Minister made his statement, there was not any agreed upon proposal in existence. Discussions were, however, under way. There have been a number of senators who, as individuals, have been in contact with the Minister of Justice, and perhaps members of the opposition have written to the Minister of Justice, or perhaps they have communicated their ideas through their representatives who serve on the joint committee. Certainly, many submissions have been made with respect to the Senate.
The discussions with Mr. Chrétien have not been restricted solely to the position of the second chamber in Parliament. They have related to other matters of interest to honourable senators, such as referendum procedures and a number of other matters of the type which have been discussed at great length in the committee. The subject matter of these negotiations will be debated in this chamber once the report of the Special Joint Committee on the Constitution is before us. I would welcome the opportunity to meet with the Leader of the Opposition to discuss with him his views with respect to the various sections of that committee report, including those sections relating to the Senate. Whatever meetings have been held, whatever negotiations have been held, they have been designed to make the position of the Senate on a number of matters better understood by Mr. Chrétien and other members of the government, and to enhance Canadian parliamentary democracy and the position of both houses of Parliament in that democracy.
Hon. Allister Grosart: I wonder if I might ask the Leader of the Government if there have been any undertakings made on behalf of the Senate in these negotiations.
Senator Perrault: Honourable senators, I cannot say there is an official undertaking on behalf of the Senate. I think honourable senators have demonstrated in the past that they vote according to their consciences and according to their views, and I think most honourable senators are waiting for the report of the joint committee to appear. Honourable senators want to see what is in the report.
I would find it very difficult to give any ironclad guarantees or firm undertakings before a report has been prepared. That, it seems to me, would be a mindless type of guarantee. While I think many of us, through witnessing the committee proceedings, have some views as to some of the recommendations which may come from the joint committee, the report has yet to be written. When that report arrives in the Senate, then I think the senators of both parties represented here will be in a better position to decide what they are going to do. However, a formal undertaking delivered to the government with some ironclad guarantee is not in existence.
Senator Grosart: I have a supplementary. Has there been any kind of informal undertaking given of official support from the government majority in the Senate?
Senator Perrault: No.
Senator Grosart: I have a further supplementary. Would the Leader of the Government not agree that there appears to be an incongruity between his statement that it would be quite improper to enter into any undertakings while the matter is under consideration by a special joint committee, and his statement that negotiations are taking place in exactly the same context?
Senator Perrault: No, I do not think there is any incongruity.