| British Columbia
| Northwest Territories
| House of Commons
The Manitoba Legislative
Assembly did not sit during the November to January time period, however
matters of interest to legislators continued to receive public attention.
Electoral Division Boundaries
The Manitoba Electoral Divisions
Boundaries Commission released its final report in December. The
Commission, comprised of Chief Justice Richard Scott, University of
Manitoba President Emöke Szathmáry and Chief Electoral Officer Richard
Balasko, had released a preliminary report in July, and followed up release
of the preliminary report with public hearings. Hearings were held in the
communities of Thompson, The Pas, Portage la Prairie, Steinbach, Dauphin,
Brandon, and Winnipeg. The Commission heard a total of 61 presentations,
and received 140 written submissions from groups and individuals who did not
appear before the Commission.
In the final report, the
Commission recommended that the number of ridings remain the same at 57,
and that the urban and rural split of seats remain at 31 and 26 respectively.
However, the boundaries of many of the ridings have been changed, to
reflect a decade of population shift within the Province. Included in the
recommendations is the disappearance of several ridings and the creation of new
ones, as well as some riding name changes. To come into effect, the new
electoral division boundaries will require passage of pertinent legislation by
the Legislature. Once the electoral division boundaries are enacted into
law, they will come into effect for the first general election following
As a result of Bill 4 - The
Child and Family Services Amendment and Consequential Amendments Act, which
was passed during the last legislative session, the position of Children’s
Advocate will be moved from the auspices of the Department of Family Services
to become an officer of the Legislative Assembly. The Children’s Advocate
will report directly to the Legislative Assembly, and the Standing Committee on
Privileges and Elections will have the authority to refer matters to the
Children’s Advocate for review, report and investigation. A Sub-Committee
of the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections has been conducting the
hiring process for the Children’s Advocate position, and an appointment is
anticipated during the early months of 1999.
On February 5, the Manitoba
cabinet was shuffled. Two Ministers, James Downey and Glen Findlay,
who had previously announced intentions to not seek re-election, were moved out
of cabinet positions and were thanked by the Premier for their commitment and
hard work during their tenure in cabinet. In addition, two new Ministers were
sworn into cabinet, while 6 Ministers were assigned to new portfolios.
Joining the Manitoba cabinet are
Shirley Render, who becomes the Minister of Consumer and Corporate
Affairs, and Mervin Tweed, who is the new Minister of Industry, Trade
and Tourism. Assuming new areas of responsibility within the Manitoba cabinet
are: James McCrae, who moves from Environment and the role of Government
House Leader to the portfolio of Education and Training; Harold Gilleshammer,
the new Minister of Finance who previously served as the Minister of Labour; Darren
Praznik, who moves from Health to become the Minister of Highways and
Transportation and the new Government House Leader; Eric Stefanson, who
takes on the mantle of Minister of Health and Deputy Premier after serving as
the Minister of Finance; Linda McIntosh, who moves from Education and
Training to become the Minister of the Environment; and Michael Radcliffe,
who becomes the Minister of Labour, and who relinquishes the portfolio of
Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs.
Members Not Seeking
Several Members of the
Legislative Assembly have announced their intentions to not seek re-election
during the next provincial general election. Gary Kowalski, who
was first elected in a 1993 by-election and re-elected in 1995 to represent The
Maples constituency, has announced that he will not run again, and will return
to active duty at the City of Winnipeg Police Services. Deputy Premier Jim
Downey, who has represented the Arthur-Virden constituency since 1977, has
also indicated that he will not seek re-election. Mr. Downey was the
Minister of Agriculture during the Sterling Lyon government from 1977 to
1981. More recently he has served in the Manitoba cabinet since 1988, holding a
variety of positions including Minister of Northern and Native Affairs,
Minister Responsible for Seniors, Minister Responsible for Rural Development,
Minister of Energy and Mines, and has been Minister of Industry, Trade and
Tourism since 1993. Minister of Highways and Transportation Glen
Findlay has similarly announced that he too, will not be running again.
Findlay, who was first elected in 1986, was re-elected in 1988, 1990 and
1995. He previously served as Minister of Agriculture and Minister
responsible for the Manitoba Telephone System.
Peter Liba has been named as the next Lieutenant
Governor for the province. A former journalist and broadcaster, he had
most recently served as an executive with CanWest Global Communications.
He replaces Yvon Dumont, who has served as Lieutenant Governor
since 1993. It is anticipated that Mr. Liba will be sworn in and commence
his new duties in March.
unexpectedly found themselves back at their desks in the Chamber on Monday,
October 19th to deal with back-to-work legislation. The session had been
recalled the previous Friday when the government decided to introduce
legislation to end a labour dispute between SaskPower (the provincial
electrical utility) and its major union. Among those caught by the short notice
were Speaker Glenn Hagel and the Clerk, Gwenn Ronyk, who had
already departed for New Zealand and the 44th CPA Conference in Wellington.
The legislation was passed early
Monday evening despite the presence in the galleries and elsewhere in the
legislative building of thousands of SaskPower union workers. Apart from
frequent interruptions from coughing and the clearing of throats, Deputy
Speaker Dale Flavel maintained order in the chamber and ensured that the
rally on the front steps passed peacefully.
The House sat for a further four
days as the opposition successfully prolonged the debate on the motion
adjourning the session. A resolution on the farm crisis was passed but little
else was accomplished. Procedural maneuvering became the order of the day as
both sides of the house were determined to demonstrate their forte at
controlling the Assembly's agenda.
The Crown Corporations Committee's
eight month investigation into the Channel Lake Petroleum affair finally drew
to a close on November 23rd when its chair, Pat Lorje (Saskatoon
Southeast) released its final report. Pursuant to a special order of the
Assembly passed last summer, the committee was permitted to table its report
intersessionally by delivering the report to the Clerk of the Assembly
whereupon it was deemed to have been tabled in the Assembly.
Social Sciences Teachers'
Institute on Parliamentary Democracy
The inaugural Social Sciences
Teachers' Institute on Parliamentary Democracy will be held this spring at the
legislature. The Saskatchewan institute is based upon the federal Teachers'
Institute on Canadian Parliamentary Democracy, which was launched in 1996. The
goal of the institute is to grant social sciences teachers a first-hand
perspective of the provincial legislature, its operations, the players involved
and to then contrast this with how it is portrayed in the media and taught in
Speaker Hagel intends the
institute to be an extension of his Parliamentary Outreach Program, which to
date has included visits to schools around the province. Twenty-four teachers
will participate in the first institute from April 18th to 21st.
The period leading up to the
final year of a mandate often bears witness to changes in membership and caucus
roles and Saskatchewan was no exception. First Buckley Belanger
(Athabasca) announced on September 1st his intention to leave the Liberal Party
and cross the floor to join the governing NDP. Mr. Belanger's move was delayed
while he sought a new mandate from his constituents in a byelection called for
October 26th. His victory set a new precedent with a majority of 94% endorsing
On September 21st, Premier Roy
Romanow (Saskatoon Riversdale) shuffled his cabinet to fill two vacancies
caused by the earlier resignations from cabinet of Lorne Calvert (Moose
Jaw Wakamow) and Bob Mitchell (Saskatoon Fairview). They were replaced
by Doreen Hamilton (Regina Wascana Plains), Harry Van Mulligen
(Regina Victoria) and Judy Junor (Saskatoon Eastview). While being a
rookie member of the Assembly due to her recent success in a byelection, Ms.
Junor can draw upon her previous experience as past-president of the
Saskatchewan Union of Nurses in her new role as Associate Minister of Health.
Ms. Hamilton assumes responsibility for the Saskatchewan Property Management
Corporation and the Public Service Commission while Mr. Van Mulligen tackles
reform of the welfare system and poverty in his new role as Social Services
Minister and the added portfolio of Seniors and Disabilities Directorate. As a
former Deputy Speaker, he will already be familiar with many of his new
responsibilities as the Deputy Government House Leader.
Six Ministers also received new
assignments, with Pat Atkinson (Saskatoon Nutana) and Clay Serby
(Yorkton) switching responsibilities and respectfully taking the Health and
Education portfolios. Berny Wiens (Rosetown-biggar) became Provincial
Secretary while remaining the Intergovernmental and Indian Affairs Minister.
Government House Leader Janice Mackinnon (Saskatoon Idylwyld) adds
responsibility for the Information Highway to her Economic and Co-operative
Development duties while Joanne Crofford (Regina Centre) becomes the new
Labour Minister. Finally Maynard Sonntag (Meadow Lake) takes on the
Post-Secondary Education and Skills Training.
On November 26th, the
independent liberal MLA for Humboldt, Arlene Jule, announced that she
was joining the Saskatchewan Party. In contrast to the route followed two
months earlier by Mr. Belanger but in keeping with the precedents set by her
new colleagues when they formed the Saskatchewan Party in 1997, Ms. Jule stated
that it was unnecessary to seek a new mandate from her constituents in a
byelection as they supported her move.
Finally on January 14th, Ed
Tchorzewski (Regina Dewdney) and Bob Mitchell (Saskatoon Fairview)
announded they were resigning their seats. Mr. Tchorzewski headed to Ottawa to
assume the Chief of Staff position with the federal NDP leader, Alexa
McDonough. Mr. Mitchell intends to pursue his interests closer to home
The standings in the Assembly
now are 40 New Democrats, 9 Saskatchewan Party members, 5 Liberals and 2
Officers of the Assembly
Under revisions made by The
Election Amendment Act, 1998 during the spring 1998 session, the Chief
Electoral Officer is now an Officer of the Legislative Assembly. Previously, the
position was appointed by order-in-council and fell under the Department of
Executive Council. Under the new provisions, an all-party selection committee
was struck to search for a Chief Electoral Officer. On September 28, 1998, the
Board of Internal Economy appointed Jan Baker to the position. She will
serve in an acting capacity until the appointment is confirmed by resolution of
the Assembly when it next convenes (expected in Spring 1999). Ms. Baker has
been employed by the Electoral Office since 1979 and most recently served as
the Acting Chief Electoral Officer.
Garnet Holtzmann, has been contracted to serve as the
interim Legislative Counsel and Law Clerk. The position of Legislative Counsel
and Law Clerk is not unknown to Mr. Holtzmann as he served in this capacity
from 1969 until 1974. Before his retirement in 1992, Mr. Holtzmann had 30 years
of experience in the Department of Justice where he held several key legal
Margaret A. Woods
House of Commons
On December 10, Prime Minister Jean
Chrétien, Randy White (Langley-Abbotsford, Ref.), Michel
Bellehumeur (Berthier-Montcalm, BQ), Alexa McDonough (Halifax, NDP),
Elsie Wayne (Saint John, PC) and Speaker Gilbert Parent paid
tribute to the Member for Windsor--St. Clair, Shaughnessy Cohen, who
died Wednesday, December 9, 1998, of a brain haemorrhage after she collapsed in
the House of Commons. Following the death of Ms. Cohen and, pursuant to
subsection 28(1) of the Parliament Act, on Thursday, December 10, 1998,
the Speaker addressed his warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the
purpose of a writ for the election of a member to fill the vacancy.
At the end of Routine
Proceedings, Don Boudria, Government House Leader moved, in memory of
the late Shaughnessy Cohen, "that this House do now adjourn". The
motion was agreed to. On February 1, 1999, the House returned pursuant to the
Resumption of Sitting
The House passed a motion
concerning late sittings on February 1 and 2. On Monday, February 1, 1999, Bill
C-49, An Act providing for the ratification and the bringing into effect of
the Framework Agreement on First Nation Land Management, was debated at
report stage until 11:30 p.m. On February 2, the Standing Committee on
Finance's pre-budget consultations Report was debated until 11:57 p.m.
On February 5, the House
concurred in a motion disagreeing with the amendments made by the Senate to
Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Competition Act and to make consequential and
related amendments to other Acts. The motion contains new proposed
amendments to the Bill.
Private Members' Business
On February 2, 1999, Bill C-306,
An Act to amend the Bank Act (bank charges) in the name of Denis
Paradis (Brome-Missisquoi) was placed on the order of precedence of Private
Members' Business, pursuant to Standing Order 87(6). Pursuant to changes in the
Standing Orders adopted on November 30, 1998, this is the first application of
this new Standing Order which allows an item to be placed on the order of
precedence when the sponsoring Member has obtained the signatures of 100
Members supporting the item in question. On February 2, the sponsor of Bill
C-306 was changed to Nick Discepola (Vaudreuil--Soulanges).
Ways and Means – Budget –
Designation of Order of the Day
The Minister of Finance, Paul
Martin presented the Budget at 4:15 p.m., on Tuesday, February 16, 1999.
February 17 and 18 were designated as the first two of four days for the
resumption of the Budget Debate.
A general election was held on
30 November 1998. The Parti Québécois, led by Lucien Bouchard, returned
76 Members and formed the Government. The Québec Liberal Party, whose leader is
Jean Charest, forms the Official Opposition with 48 Members. The Action
Démocratique du Québec Party had one Member elected, Mario Dumont, its
One hundred of the 125 Members
were reelected, and the Assembly now has 29 women Members. The new Cabinet is
composed of 27 Ministers (prior to the autumn 1998 Cabinet shuffle, there were
26), 8 of whom are women. Four new Members were appointed to the Cabinet of Mr.
Bouchard, which includes the new Minister of Justice, Linda Goupil, and
the former chairperson of the Committee on the status of women, Diane
Lemieux, who is now Minister of State for Labour and Employment.
Both the Government House
Leader, Jacques Brassard, and the Official Opposition House Leader, Pierre
Paradis, were reappointed by their respective leaders.
The 1st Session of the 36th
Legislature is expected to open on Tuesday, 9 March 1999. The Assembly will
then elect its Speaker and Deputy Speakers. In the following days, the
parliamentary committees will also proceed to the election of their chairmen
In mid-December, the National
Assembly organized a one-day welcoming session for Members during which
practical information on the Assembly was provided. Several documents were
distributed (including the new edition of the Standing Orders) and various
workshops were held, thus allowing Members to better understand the
organization of the Assembly and of its committees, the legislative process,
the working conditions of Members and office organization, the various services
provided to Members and, finally, the duties and obligations of Members and
their impact on personal and family life. A total of 37 Members attended this
The same type of activity was
held a few days later, but this time for the benefit of Members' staff (44
persons attended). Another information session is scheduled to be held on 9
March for the spouses of Members.
Secretariat of the Assembly
Translation : Sylvia Ford
of the Assembly
Division of the Northwest
Territories and the creation of Nunavut and a new Northwest Territories
continued to dominate the agenda and time of Members in the Assembly prior to
the Christmas break.
Members approved minor amendments
to numerous pieces of legislation that will be duplicated for Nunavut by the Nunavut
Act. This in itself is a historical event as the Legislative Assembly of
the Northwest Territories is passing legislation for the jurisdiction of
Nunavut, although all legislation was approved in consultation with the Interim
Commissioner of Nunavut.
One significant piece of
legislation was the Nunavut Judicial System Implementation Act. This new
Act deals with the composition, powers and officers of the Nunavut Court of
Justice and the Court of Appeal of Nunavut and designates Youth Courts for
Nunavut. The legislation will allow for the creation of a single-tiered court
system, the only one in Canada.
discussions included the Western Members voting down (by a margin of seven to
six) a recommendation from the Northwest Territories Electoral Boundaries
Commission that suggested the city of Yellowknife should have two more seats in
the new NWT Legislative Assembly for the 1999 General Election. This would have
increased the membership from 14 Members to 16 Members to meet the obligation
under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms with respect to fair and equal
representation. A group of concerned citizens, the Friends of Democracy, has
taken legal action requesting that the courts overturn the Assembly's decision.
The matter is scheduled to be heard in early spring.
However, division was not the
only issue demanding the time and attention of Members of the Legislative
On November 26th, 1998, the
report of the Conflict Commissioner into allegations against Premier Don
Morin was released. Mr. Morin was found guilty of contravening sections of
the Executive Council and Legislative Assembly Act. The Commissioner found
that Mr. Morin had used his position for personal gain.
The following day, Mr. Morin
resigned as Premier pending consideration of the Commissioner's report by the
entire Legislature. He remained in office as the Member for Tu Nedhe. Goo
Arlooktoo, Deputy Premier assumed the job of Acting Premier until Members
could elect a new Premier.
The Assembly set aside two days
in the House to discuss the conflict report and deal with the recommendations
from the Commissioner. After several passionate speeches from both ministers
and members, a motion was passed to accept the Commissioner's findings, thereby
affirming the finding of guilt. The motion also set up an independent panel to
review the NWT's Conflict of Interest legislation.
In a concurrent process, Mr.
Morin appealed the Commissioner's findings to the NWT Supreme Court saying that
the process used in the public inquiry was biased and not conducted in
accordance with the rules of natural justice. Early in the new year, Supreme
Court Justice John Vertes rejected the appeal and said that the
Legislative Assembly has the right to discipline its Members and had delegated
this authority to the Conflict Commissioner by establishing this process in
legislation. His conclusion was that the courts could not intervene in these
The Territorial Leadership
Committee met on December 10 and elected Jim Antoine as the Premier of
the NWT. Prior to his election as Premier, Mr. Antoine, the Member for
Nahendeh, was the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Transportation, and Public
Works and Services.
On January 1, David Hamilton,
the Chief Electoral Officer, issued the writ for the election of 19 Members to
the first Nunavut Legislative Assembly.
January and early February were
quiet months around the Assembly as many of the Members who represent
constituencies in Nunavut were campaigning for election to the Nunavut
Legislative Assembly. However, Western MLAs did take advantage of the time to
continue planning for the new Northwest Territories.
Western Members met with leaders
of the Aboriginal Summit in late January and agreed to establish a working
group to explore the principles for a political accord. The accord will set out
the ongoing relationship between the Government and Legislative Assembly of the
Northwest Territories, Western aboriginal governments and the Federal
In addition to dealing with the
numerous pieces of division-related legislation the Session also saw the
introduction and passage of the third Private Member's Public Bill when
Yellowknife South MLA Seamus Henry introduced An Act to Amend the
Public Highways Act and the Motor Vehicles Act. This act amends the
legislation to remove the maximum speed limit that may be established by the
The Special Committee on Western
Identity has also put its activities in high gear by contracting artists to
begin work on a new Mace for the Northwest Territories. The Mace will not be
unveiled until the Members of the 14th Assembly take office in the fall. Work
has also begun on collecting designs and suggestions for a new flag and a new
Coat-of-Arms for the Northwest Territories
NWT Legislative Assembly
On November 30th 1998, the Third
Session of the Thirty Sixth Parliament resumed after a four month recess.
Members returned in order to consider the Nisga'a Final Agreement Act. This
act gives force of law to the Nisga'a Final Agreement, which British Columbia
has been negotiating with the Nisga'a people and the Canadian government since
At the introduction of the bill
in the Legislative Assembly, a delegation of the Nisga'a Nation, in full
ceremonial dress, was welcomed at the entrance of the Parliament Buildings. The
welcoming ceremonies represented an atonement for the reception accorded the
Nisga'a in 1887, when the first Nisga'a delegation to present land claims arrived
at the Parliament Buildings and was turned away by Premier William Smithe.
The Nisga'a delegation recreated the original scene, arriving in canoe and
walking in procession to the steps of the Legislature where they met Premier
Clark and were escorted through the ceremonial gates. Choirs and dancers from
the Nisga'a nation and local schools performed during the ceremonies.
At the commencement of second
reading on December 2, Chief Joseph Gosnell of the Nisga'a Nation gave
an impassioned address from the Bar of the House, entreating the Members of the
Legislative Assembly to reflect on the significance of the Nisga'a Final
Agreement Act for all British Columbians, and indeed, all Canadians.
Under the treaty, the Nisga'a
Nation will receive title in fee simple to 1,930 square km of Crown land in the
Upper Nass Valley in north-western British Columbia and approximately $200
million in compensation payments and government projects over several years.
Self-government powers are also included in the treaty. Due to its importance
and comprehensive scope, all parties agreed that Members of the Legislative
Assembly would proceed with the bill on the basis of a free vote. Upon
adjournment, the Committee of the Whole suspended consideration of Chapter 6 of
the Schedule to the Nisga'a Final Agreement Act.
In other business, Judith
Reid, representing the B.C. Liberal Party, was elected as MLA for
Parksville-Qualicum in the December 14th by-election resulting from Paul
Reitsma's resignation. Mr. Reitsma resigned on June 23, 1998 under pressure
of recall. Ms. Reid took her seat in the House on January 13, 1999. A January
29th cabinet shuffle saw Gordon Wilson resign as leader of the
Progressive Democratic Alliance and take the oath to become the NDP's Minister
of Aboriginal Affairs and Minister Responsible for the B.C. Ferry Corporation.
The party standings in the Legislative Assembly are now 40 NDP, 34 Liberal and
The House adjourned on February
1st. Liberal members spoke against the motion to adjourn for over four hours
before it finally passed on recorded division.
The Select Standing Committee on
Agriculture and Fisheries held an organizational meeting on July 30th. New
Democrat MLA and Deputy Speaker Bill Hartley was elected Chair and
Liberal MLA Bill Barisoff was elected Deputy Chair. The committee has
received the Agri-Food Policy Development Document prepared by the Ministry of
Agriculture and expects to hold provincewide public consultations on the
document this fall.
The Select Standing Committee on
Public Accounts met to consider the Auditor General report on Earthquake
Preparedness. This audit focused on evaluating the hazards, risks and
vulnerabilities in the event of a major earthquake and plans for response and
recovery. The committee also reviewed the Auditor General report on Managing
the Cost of Drug Therapies and Fostering Appropriate Drug Use.
The Special Committee to Appoint
an Ombudsman is reviewing over two hundred applications for the position. The
committee expects to report its recommendation to the Legislative Assembly
early this year.
The Special Committee on the Freedom
of Information and Protection of Privacy Act elected New Democrat Rick
Kasper as Chair in November. He replaced Moe Sihota, who moved into
cabinet as Minister Responsible for the Public Service. The committee is
conducting a mandatory four-year review of the Freedom of Information and
Protection of Privacy Act.
The Special Committee on the
Multilateral Agreement on Investment has concluded the first phase of its
mandate, during which it heard comments on the potential impacts of the MAI
from 87 specialists from British Columbia, Canada, the United States and
Europe, and tabled its First Report. Liberal members of the committee withdrew
from the committee's work in mid-October when New Democrat Steve Orcherton's
motion to reject the fundamental basis of the MAI negotiations passed despite
their protests. Liberal committee members claimed they had not received notice
on the motion and felt that the motion prejudged the committee's work before
having heard from British Columbians. The expert witness phase of the
committee's work, including the tabling of the committee's First Report,
therefore concluded with the participation of only NDP committee members. The
committee has now begun its second phase, with public hearings around the
province. After consulting with British Columbians, the committee will develop
recommendations on the issues arising out of the MAI for its final report to
the Legislature in the spring of 1999.
The BC Electoral Boundaries
Commission presented its report to the Speaker early in December. The report
recommends four new ridings, which would increase the total number of seats
from 75 to 79. Two new ridings in Surrey would be created, along with one on
the Burnaby-Coquitlam border and one in Chilliwack. The commission will be
holding public hearings on its recommendations early this year and will publish
its final report within six months. If accepted by the Legislative Assembly,
the new ridings could be in place by the next provincial election.
Canada's first Prime Minister,
Sir John A. Macdonald, once described the Senate as the chamber of
"sober second thought". It is a description, almost a sobriquet,
which has stuck ever since. What it has come to mean in the late twentieth
century became evident during the weeks of February when Parliament returned to
business following the Christmas adjournment.
Thus far this session, the
Senate has amended numerous government bills already passed by the House of
Commons. The Commons subsequently accepted all of these amendments without
significant objection. The situation changed, however, when the Senate amended
Bill C-20, an Act to amend the Competition Act. During debate on third
reading, December 9, 1998, Senator Donald Oliver proposed an amendment
to delete clause 19 in the bill protecting whistle-blowing employees. According
to the Senator, this protection as drafted was poorly conceived and unnecessary
because effective remedies were already available in law. The Senate accepted
this proposition, adopted the amendment, and passed the bill December 10,
sending an appropriate message to the House of Commons seeking its concurrence
in the amendment.
On February 9, the Senate
received a return message from the House of Commons rejecting the Senate
amendment to Bill C-20. In its message, the Commons asserted that the
protection of whistle-blowing employees provided in the bill was in the public
interest and reflected the opinion of a great majority of Canadians. Later in
the week, the message together with a motion of Senator Alasdair Graham,
the Leader of the Government, to concur in the message was referred to a
standing committee for consideration. The Committee on Banking, Trade and
Commerce reported February 16 recommending that the Commons message should be
In the end, the Senate accepted
the decision of the House of Commons. In doing so, however, Senator John
Lynch-Staunton, the Leader of the Opposition, took note the fact that the
Commons had taken the opportunity created by the Senate's amendment to improve
the original clause 19. These improvements, he stated, addressed concerns that
had been expressed during Senate committee hearings on the bill.
Another bill that prompted
declarations about the Senate' s role in the legislative process was Bill C-59,
an Act to amend the Insurance Companies Act. Again, it was Senator
Lynch-Staunton who made the case for the Senate's obligation to carefully
review all bills coming from the House of Commons. This task was particularly
necessary with respect to Bill C-59 since it had passed through report stage
and third reading, according to the Senator, with little debate in a matter of
minutes. Consequently, the Senator claimed that the Senate would have to do
"double duty" since it would have to study the bill without the
benefit of any input from the Commons. To the general applause of the Chamber,
Senator Lynch-Staunton could not resist pointing to the irony in the present
situation - despite all the criticism heaped on the Senate, it was the
appointed body that was properly fulfilling its constitutional responsibility
in assessing bills in depth. It was a fact not lost on Senator Sharon
Carstairs, the Deputy Leader of the Government who hoped that the bill
would receive that kind of study and debate "that both Houses of
Parliament should provide to any piece of legislation."
Bill C-59 was referred to the
Standing Committee on Banking Trade and Commerce February 4, one day after
Senator Richard Kroft had moved the motion for second reading. The
Committee reported on the bill February 16 without amendment, but with some
comments. The report noted that the bill had contained two parchment errors.
The report also explained that the committee chair, Senator Michael Kirby,
would be writing to the Superintendent of Financial Institutions to seek
assurances about the information that would be made available to policyholders
who would be affected by the demutualization of the insurance companies.
This letter from the
Superintendent of Financial Institutions became part of the debate on the third
reading of Bill C-59. Senators from both sides of the floor were agreed on the
need to obtain assurances from the Superintendent that policyholders would be
properly and correctly informed of their rights and of the implications of
demutualization particularly with respect to the tax consequences. The bill
received third reading February 18.
The reputation of the Senate is
founded in large measure on the work of its committees. This is particularly
true of the investigative work of committees. During the Christmas adjournment,
two reports of special committees were deposited with the Clerk and debate on
them was started during February. The first deposited report was that of the
Special Committee on Security and Intelligence which had received a mandate to
examine various issues relating to terrorism in late March of 1998. On February
16, the Chair, Senator William Kelly began debate on the
adoption of the report. In the course of his remarks, the Senator touched upon
the scope of the committee's review assessing problems of security including
conventional terrorism, the use of the immigration system by potential
terrorists and cyber-terrorism. In his conclusion, Senator Kelly highlighted
one recommendation of the report to establish a Senate standing committee to
review on a continuing basis the work of the national security and intelligence
The second report deposited with
the Clerk was an interim report of the Special Committee on Transportation
Safety and Security. In moving the motion for its consideration, Senator Michael
Forrestall, the Chair, began by reviewing the committee's work to date
covering the entire range of ground, sea and air transportation as well as
related technical issues and regulatory structures. The focus of the
committee's efforts, as the Senator explained, is safety and there are numerous
problems that must be address soon if the transportation system is to maintain
essential standards into the next century.
Aside from the reports of these
two Special Committees and others presented by Standing Committees, the Senate
makes occasional use of the Committee of the Whole. It did again recently to
receive evidence from the Privacy Commissioner. On February 18, Bruce
Phillips took his seat at a table placed just inside the bar of the Senate
to make a statement and answer questions on the problem of privacy and
confidentiality in an age being rapidly affected by computer technology. One
series of questions related to a topic that has been the focus of debate
recently in the Senate concerned possible access to census information. Other
questions raised concerns about computer access to collections of personal
information and the possible threat to privacy. This topic is bound to come up
again in the Senate after Bill C-54 dealing with the protection of personal
information gathered in the pursuit o commercial activities is presented for
consideration following its passage in the House of Commons.
Question of Privilege:
The first day the Senate sat in
February, Senator Noel Kinsella, the Acting Deputy Leader of the
Opposition, raised a question of privilege objecting to the lewd depiction of
the Minister of Canadian Heritage in Hustler magazine as part of its campaign
to oppose Bill C-55 and U.S.-based split-run publications. The Senator claimed
that the degrading portrayal of the Minister was an attack on all
parliamentarians and that it could have a chilling impact on the process of
debate in Parliament. Other Senators also participated in the debate. Senator Anne
Cools spoke of her experiences with the media; Senator Carstairs mentioned
the difficulties faced by women who seek political careers and Senator Joan
Fraser questioned the possible conflict between parliamentary privilege and
freedom of the press.
The Speaker made his ruling
February 16. Although the Speaker was sympathetic to the problem raised in the
question of privilege, Senator Gildas Molgat ruled that it did not
satisfy three of the four conditions stipulated in rule 43 to be recognized
prima facie as a question of privilege. While the matter was certainly raised
at the first opportunity, the complaint did not directly involve a Senator nor
was it clear whether it constituted a serious breech. In addition, the Speaker
suggested that there were other procedures available to handle the problem.
Once the Speaker had made his ruling,
Senator Kinsella gave notice of his intention to move a motion rejecting the
actions taken by Hustler magazine. The Senate adopted the motion two
days later on February 18 after a short debate.
When the Senate returned, its
first obligation was to pay tribute to the service and memory of Senator Peter
Bosa who died December 10, 1998 following a lengthy illness. A few days
later, several Senators spoke to in acknowledgment of the public career of
Senator Dalia Wood who submitted her resignation due to illness
effective January 31. As a result of these two events, the membership in the
Senate stands at Liberals 53, Progressive Conservatives 43, and Independents 5
with 3 vacancies.
Finally, the Senate marked a
happier occasion when on February 10, several Senators spoke to congratulate
Senator Marcel Prud'homme on the 35th anniversary of
his parliamentary career.