Canada, Senate Debates, “Statement by Minister of Public Works and Minister of State (Mines)”, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess (11 June 1981)

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Date: 1981-06-11
By: Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Canada, Senate Debates, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess, 1981 at 2521-2522.
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SENATE DEBATES — June 11, 1981

[Page 2521]



Hon. Lowell Murray: Honourable senators, I have a question for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Was the Minister of Public Works speaking for the government yesterday when he advocated that municipalities be given recognition in the Canadian Constitution? I quote the minister:

Municipal government deserves and warrants a secure place in the constitution and a better share of tax resources to carry out its responsibilities.

My particular interest is in the constitutional regulation of municipalities and whether the minister was speaking for the government in that respect.

Hon. Raymond J. Perrault (Leader of the Government): Certainly, honourable senators, in this particular instance, the Honourable Paul Cosgrove was speaking on his own behalf. However, there is the theory held by many Canadians that municipalities are entities of emerging importance in this country and that they should be accorded a greater role. That view is held by many people across a number of party lines.

The point which should be made clear is that after the Constitution is Canadianized or brought home from Great Britain, before us will lie many further opportunities to change and amend the Constitution and other matters in this country. Indeed, this intent has been expressed by the Right Honourable the Prime Minister and many spokesmen for the government on many occasions. Certainly, a consideration of the increasing importance of municipalities is one of the questions which should be reviewed by those in public life when they come to deal with future constitutional changes.

Senator Murray: If the Minister of Public Works was not speaking for the government, as the leader has just indicated, was the Minister of State (Mines) speaking for the government when she said the following:

I don’t think it is nesessary to have municipalities formally recognized.

Senator Perrault: Honourable senators, one point that should be made abundantly clear is that there has always been a great degree of freedom of speech and action in the Liberal caucus, whether it be in this chamber or in the other place. It may surprise members of the official opposition that Liberal ministers from time to time both explore and discuss publicly some of their views about the future of various institutions and programs in the country. That is not an unusual or extraordinary process, certainly as far as supporters of the government are concerned. The widest possible latitude is offered to members of our party, and that shall continue to be the case.

Senator Murray: Honourable senators, the doctrines of cabinet solidarity and collective responsibility exist precisely so that the Canadian people can know what the policy of the governmentis and can understand that, when a minister speaks, the minister is speaking not for himself or herself and giving a personal, off-the-cuff opinion but is speaking for the government.

I ask the minister how Canadians are to know when a minister is giving a personal opinion on a matter of public policy and when that minister is speaking for the government.

Senator Perrault: May I remind Senator Murray, who was one of the architects of policy for the previous government, that the then Secretary of State for External Affairs went to an international meeting and stated that there must be an enormous improvement in the degree and quantity of aid to the underprivileged nations of the world, and did so at precisely the same time as the Minister of Finance, a cabinet colleague of the Secretary of State for External Affairs, was calling for cutbacks in foreign aid? Surely the senator is not

[Page 2522]

suggesting that that was an example of Conservative cabinet solidarity?

However, in the case which he has cited here this afternoon—

Senator Murray: “Cases.”

Senator Perrault: In the cases he has cited here this afternoon, the matters discussed by the minister have not been fully developed and finalized by cabinet. In the meantime, individual members of cabinet are surely at liberty, and should be at liberty, to discuss with their constituents and other Canadians their views with respect to those policies, pending a time when a cabinet decision is taken. Their freedom in that regard has always existed.

Hon. Martial Asselin: No, no.

Senator Perrault: And, may I say, this freedom seems to be in remarkable contrast to the actions which I cited earlier, the contradictory statements by the two former Conservative ministers. During the same week they made contradictory statements about a policy which surely had been adopted in cabinet.

Senator Asselin: Name them.

Senator Murray: Honourable senators, I don’t want to debate—

Hon. Jacques Flynn (Leader of the Opposition):—the irrelevancies.

Senator Murray: I do not want to debate the constitutional practice, but the reason why there is cabinet secrecy, again, is so that ministers can debate in private their differences on matters of public policy; then later, when ministers go public, it is assumed that those differences have been resolved in the secrecy of the cabinet chamber and that the Canadian people are, therefore, in a position to know that when a minister speaks on a matter of public policy that minister is speaking for the government.

Finally, without prolonging this unduly, let me ask the minister whether his colleague, the Minister of State (Mines), the Honourable Judy Erola, is speaking for the government when she says in an interview that opinion is divided among federal cabinet members on what status should be accorded municipal government. Is that the fact?

Senator Perrault: Well, honourable senators, the matter has yet to be resolved in cabinet. The other day, for example—

Senator Flynn: Why don’t you say “yes”?

Senator Perrault: The other day in Ottawa, for example— and this is worthy of some consideration—the minister responsible for housing in this country, the Honourable Paul Cosgrove, convened a meeting of certain regional parliamentarians, Conservatives, Liberals, members of the NDP and others to discuss with them the future of housing policy in the country. Senators were included in these consultations. During the course of that meeting the minister suggested initiatives that he, personally, thought might be helpful. It remains to be seen whether all of the initiatives which he espouses personally will ultimately be supported by his cabinet colleagues. But this process of dialogue is surely a useful one. There is a continuing dialogue involving ministers and other members of Parliament with groups, organizations and individuals. Following adoption, of a policy in cabinet, certainly the doctrine of cabinet solidarity is in effect—as the Honourable the Leader of the Opposition indicates by nodding his head in agreement.

Senator Flynn: Yes.

Senator Perrault: But surely it is useful for ministers to attempt to set forth some of their personal views as a prelude to that cabinet decision-making process.

Senator Flynn: May I suggest to the Leader of the Government that he look at the question which was put to him and compare his reply with an alternative, which would have been, very simply, to say “Yes”?

Hon. G. I. Smith: He is too defensive about it.

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