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Motion to Urge Government to Study Impact of Legislation on Regions and Minorities

Honourable senators, I would first like to thank Senator Oliver for being the only person in his party to applaud my motion. I was truly touched. This motion is quite reasonable and logical when we consider our role as senators and the impact that legislation stemming from government policies has on regions and minorities.

For some time it has seemed to me that in this chamber and its committees we lack the analytical ability that would truly fulfill the mandate given to us on behalf of our respective regions and the minorities concerned. We are missing a key element we need to perform as effectively as we should and fulfill the role we have been given.

Some misinformed or mean-spirited individuals go so far as to say that we are not effective and not accountable. In the parliamentary process, and especially in the decision-making process of the executive branch, are not a wide range of analyses used when legislation, policies and programs are studied?

Are there not infinite hours of work and substantial amounts of public funding invested to provide these analyses in the decision-making process?

In a democratic, open and respectful process, is it not advantageous to provide the impact analyses that led to a decision and a particular piece of legislation?

In our senatorial responsibilities, has there not been in the past a variety of legislation and programs that had a devastating effect on one region or another or on a minority group?

Honourable senators, what I am proposing today is necessary, in order to enhance our effectiveness in the performance of our historic responsibilities. As you know, in 1864, at the Quebec Conference, the Fathers of Confederation laid the foundation for what would become a few years later the Parliament of Canada. They used the British model and adapted it to the Canadian reality. They gave Parliament the power to legislate in the spirit of peace, order and good government.

In 1867, Canada's founders sought to build a nation by uniting a collection of small communities, scattered over vast distances and divided by differences in economy, language, religion, law and education. Canada needed a parliament that would represent the wishes of the Canadian majority, while protecting regional and minority interests.

The Senate was created under the Constitution Act, 1867, to protect regional interests and also to provide minorities with what George-Étienne Cartier called a "power of resistance to oppose the democratic element".

The House of Commons was elected based on representation by population. In 1867, Ontario was the most populous province and its growth was the strongest, but the importance of Quebec and the Maritimes in the national economy outweighed their population size, while their interests were totally different from those of Ontario. Daring not leave matters relating to tariffs, taxation and railways in the sole hands of a House of Commons dominated by Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes insisted on regional representation, equal to that in the Upper House, otherwise there would have been no Confederation.

As you probably know, our Parliament is comprised of three parts: the sovereign, that is the Queen or the Governor General; the Senate, whose members are appointed, and the House of Commons, whose members are elected. Together, they provide the instruments we need to govern ourselves.

The Fathers of Confederation anticipated that Parliament would need a mechanism that would reflect the wishes of the majority, while at the same time protecting the interests of regions and minorities. This mechanism was and still is the Senate. In this respect, Georges Brown said that the Senate was the key to Confederation, the very essence of our compact. He said:

Our Lower Canadian friends have agreed to give us representation by population in the Lower House, on the express condition that they would have equality in the Upper House. On no other condition could we have advanced a step.

This principle of equality also underlies the very raison d'être of the Senate. John A. MacDonald stated in this respect, and I quote:

In order to protect local interests, and to prevent sectional jealousies, it was found requisite that the three great divisions into which British North America is separated, should be represented in the Upper House on the principle of equality.

That is why the Fathers of Confederation expected the Senate to play two key roles. The first was to provide a counterbalance to the democratically elected House of Commons. The second was to protect regional interests and minorities. That is why the role of protecting and representing regional interests is reflected in the structure of the Senate.

An equal voice was given to each region, originally three and later expanded to four, not considering the size of its population. This measure intended that both the less populous provinces and the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec were to be given some protection by the Senate against the wishes of the majority of Canada's population expressed in the decisions of the House of Commons.

There are now 413 seats in Parliament of which about three quarters are in the House of Commons and one quarter in the Senate. Their distribution respects the democratic principle. The population based in central Canada has 55 per cent of all parliamentarians' seats and elects about 60 per cent of the members of the House of Commons. However, the distribution of seats also respects the regional principle — the people who live in the less populated parts of the country enjoy a majority of 54 per cent of the seats in the Senate.

The 105 members of today's Senate come from various backgrounds and represent all of the provinces and territories. The Senate has one third as many members as the House of Commons, and its operating budget is one fifth of the other place's.

The Senate reflects Canada's regional and cultural mosaic. It represents all of Canada's regions and provinces, and more than half of the senators represent the country's least populated regions. All three of Canada's founding peoples — Aboriginal Peoples, the English and the French — are represented in the Senate, as are several of the country's ethnic communities.

More than 30 per cent of senators are women, a much higher proportion than in other upper chambers around the world.

But representation in the Senate is not limited to geographic constituencies. Some senators speak on behalf of veterans, prisoners, the elderly, seasonal workers, the poor and the young.

During the first half of the 20th century, the Senate was dominated almost exclusively by men from three sectors: law, business and agriculture. About forty years ago, well-known Canadian journalist Grattan O'Leary was appointed to the Senate. His appointment started an important tradition: the upper chamber should always include at least one well-known journalist.

Since the appointment of Senator James Gladstone, also about 40 years ago, the Senate has always included Aboriginal senators.

In fact, the Senate today probably represents our country's population better than do most of the upper houses in the G7 countries. Among our senators, we have a union leader, a hockey player, a musician, an actor, teachers, doctors, farmers, engineers and even a fashion designer.

This is why the Senate has given itself the task of protecting the rights and interests of Canadians from all regions, especially minority groups and individuals who do not often have the opportunity to make their opinion known to Parliament. The make-up of the Senate has changed considerably over time and positively so for the public. We must have the instruments we need to do our job.

In 1980, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs identified four roles for the Senate in its Report on Certain Aspects of the Canadian Constitution, all complementary to functions of the House of Commons. They were: a revising legislative role; an investigative role; a regional representative role and a protector of linguistic and other minorities role. These are roles that the Senate has historically played.

Senators must accord greater importance to the regional impact of laws and policies. They are in regular contact with individuals and representatives of business, universities, schools, community groups and interest groups in their region. They are therefore in a position to ensure the interests of their regions are taken into account when government policy is formulated.

In the context of policy formulation, it is common practice for each government department to try to measure the impact of these policies not only on the public at large, but on regions and minorities, more specifically. We know, then, that such studies anticipating the effects of proposed policies and legislation already exist.

It is my opinion that senators must have access to them in order to know not only the objectives of the government, but, primarily, to know the potential positive impact of a bill presented as the government in office hopes and, if possible, in situations where there is a negative impact, to enable us to propose constructive measures to mitigate the negative effects.

Each of us has an example of legislation and programs that have had a negative impact on our regions or minorities, since Confederation or even more recently.

For Atlantic Canada, I can enumerate many examples of a national policy that has had a devastating economic impact, where tariffs were imposed and disrupted our trade pattern. One example is the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which removed traffic from Halifax port and the surrounding financial services. More recent examples include the change from unemployment insurance to Employment Insurance, the removal of transportation subsidies for agricultural and forest products, and the issuance of work visas for foreign workers instead of helping Canadians to acquire those jobs.

What about the National Energy Program and its impact in the West? What about the impact of various regional economic programs, from tax incentives in the 1960s to FRED, the Fund for Rural Economic Development, in 1966? Then we moved on in 1969 to the Regional Development Incentives Act, in 1973 to the general development agreements, called ERDAs, then called cooperative agreements, in 1982 to DRIE, the Department of Regional Industrial Expansion, and then in 1988 to regional agencies.

Yes, all of the above were brought in by different-striped governments. Some of these issues have been resolved with time, but others are still looming in the regions. Did the Senate do the right job at the right time for the regions on those issues?

I do not want to judge the past, but I certainly want to influence the way we proceed in the future. I will not support a government bill that is not accompanied by an impact study for the regions and for the minorities. This is the minimum that the government can do to respect our responsibilities. Proceeding without an impact study would have been like asking Dr. Keon to operate without a scalpel, or asking Tommy Banks to perform without a piano.

Honourable senators, because of our jobs, because of our historic responsibility, because of today's technology and because we know that impact studies are already conducted on legislation, it is our responsibility to ask for and obtain the tools necessary to increase our efficiency. Give us not only the tool box, but put the tools in the box.

Someone recently told me that the most effective changes to an organization are those that are done from within. Senator Segal has a motion to televise the proceedings of the Senate, and I certainly agree with that. Not all Canadians understand the work that we do.

Similarly, there are changes that we need to implement in regards to the rules. It is absolutely inefficient to adjourn this motion today and receive another senator's position in 15 sitting days. The rules should be changed to five sitting days. However, we will talk about that in a later motion to review our rules. Adopting my motion is a good start.

This motion therefore expresses the wish that the Senate urge the government to accompany all government bills by a social and economical impact study on regions and minorities. The Senate has a historical and constitutional obligation, in accordance with the role of the Senate, to represent and protect minorities and regions.