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Senator Ringuette calls on Senators to support comprehensive transformation of the Senate

For Immediate Release


March 28th , 2014



Senator Ringuette calls on Senators to support comprehensive transformation of the Senate



Yesterday, Senator Pierrette Ringuette spoke in support of her proposal for comprehensive changes to Senate rules that will decrease partisanship, promote regional representation, and foster accountability in the Senate.


All of Senator Ringuette’s proposed reforms can be achieved without constitutional or legislative change.


Please find below the full transcript of her remarks.


More information on the motion and proposal for comprehensive Senate reform can be found on Senator Ringuette’s website;



For more information:


Tim Rosenburgh

Office of Senator Pierrette Ringuette

(613) 943-2248






Hon. Pierrette Ringuette, pursuant to notice of March 25, 2014, moved:


That a Special Committee on Senate Transformation be appointed to consider:


1. methods to reduce the role of political parties in the Senate by establishing regional caucuses and systems to provide accountability to citizens;


2. methods to broaden participation of all senators in managing the business of the Senate by establishing a committee to assume those responsibilities, and to provide for equal regional representation on said committee;


3. methods to allow senators to participate in the selection of the Speaker of the Senate by providing a recommendation to the Prime Minister;


4. methods to adapt Question Period to better serve its role as an accountability exercise; and


5. such other matters as may be referred to it by the Senate;


That the committee be composed of nine members, to be nominated by the Committee of Selection and that four members constitute a quorum;


That, the committee have power to send for persons, papers and records; to examine witnesses; and to publish such papers and evidence from day to day as may be ordered by the committee;


That, notwithstanding rule 12-18(2)(b)(i), the committee have power to sit from Monday to Friday, even though the Senate may then be adjourned for a period exceeding one week; and


That the committee be empowered to report from time to time and to submit its final report no later than June 30, 2015.


She said: Honourable senators, the status quo is unacceptable for our citizens and for us.


"They need to be accountable"; "political interference has to be removed"; "regions have to regain their voice in the Senate," and so on.


How many times in the last few years have we heard these comments?


And yet, we seem to be waiting for some outside force to correct the situation. This further confirms that we are not listening, not responsive and, to some extent, supporting the current state of operations.


In my view, knowing the intelligence and experience in this chamber, we can and must rise to the challenge and opportunity to transform the Senate into an innovative chamber that will distinguish us from the other place and give us the efficiency and accountability mechanisms that Canadians from coast to coast to coast require.




The Senate has been the subject of numerous studies since Confederation. Except for the Meech and Charlottetown Accords, which had definite measures, the studies have been gathering dust. We should not be surprised by citizens' skepticism for the Senate and that the Senate is a prime target for politicians' irresponsible partisanship. There is no appetite in this country to open the Constitution, nor should the Senate be the cause of such turmoil.


We can provide internal leadership and change our operations to better reflect Canadians' aspirations. May I remind you that the Senate has from time to time since Confederation adjusted its operation to meet the challenges of the day. I agree that this transformation motion is a major change, but it is feasible and innovative in its approach.


That being said, I believe that 90 per cent of the changes that Canadians want to see from the Senate can be put in place without constitutional or legislative amendments. We can do it ourselves.


In the last decade, and particularly the last few years, Canadians want an independent, less partisan Senate. They also want accountability measures along with greater regional perspective from us.


The motion and proposal to transform the Senate meets most of the citizens' requests via new Senate rules which can be operational in a very short period of time, as long as we have the will to do so.


I do realize that such fundamental transformation will be difficult for many senators to accept and adopt. However, if the private sector can change to adapt to market realities, certainly we can do the same on our road to progress.


I do believe that the transformation proposal is a clear blueprint on how we can move forward. It rationalizes operating principles for an efficient, modern Senate meeting the public's demand while respecting our Constitution.


This transformation proposal will replace certain rules to establish a non-partisan oriented Senate. The proposal will do the following: remove the partisan roles of government and opposition leaders, deputy leaders and whip; set up four regional caucuses; establish a mode for nominating the Speaker and Speaker pro tempore by senators; and establish an upper house affairs committee. Its roles would include fulfilling the requirements of government and opposition leaders in terms of the legislative process, would populate the committees, setting time allocation and coordinating upper house activities.


The proposal would also revise Question Period to focus on committee chairs reporting and responding to questions regarding committee activities; set a more rigid procedural structure that would allow for less delay in dealing with bills; and establish rules for the removal of committee chairs and caucus leaders. Committees shall include equal representation from all regions and allow for minority opinions to be included in committee reports.




It provides all the elements to regain public confidence, with greatly reduced political influence and regional accountability sessions twice a year. Remember that real accountability for the members of the other place generally occurs once every four years, at election time.


Abolishing the positions of government leader and opposition leader and establishing an elected upper house affairs committee to manage the agenda in the Senate is a major step in removing political influence and also provides senators with more management input.


Senators would elect candidates for the positions of Speaker and Speaker pro tempore, as well as regional caucus chair and vice-chair. Sitting in regional caucuses and having equal regional representation in all our standing committees will bring regional perspective to a higher level in our deliberations.


Redirecting our current Question Period, which for too many is just questions with no answers, to a weekly 90-minute report period on committee activities will give all of us and the public a continuous update on our very important committee work.




Our work in committee is our greatest strength and it reinforces our "raison d'être." These measures will improve the quality of Senate governance, independence and accountability.




The transformation proposal does not create an imbalance of power between the two houses. It will offer Canadians an upper house different yet still complementary to the House of Commons. It will bring greater efficiencies to review legislation with a greater regional outlook.


The transformation proposal respects the fundamental features and essential characteristics of the Senate as embedded in the Constitution: independence, long-term perspective, continuity, professional and life experience, and regional equality.


All of these characteristics differentiate the Senate from the other place, which was the purpose of its design within our Constitution at the time of Confederation. The Senate was the institution that enabled the creation of our country. If anyone wants to change its fundamental characteristics, they will eventually have to open the Constitution, with all the risks and perils.


Personally, I am tired of our being a political football at every election, and between elections by political leaders who should be more responsible and mature with our Constitution, our provinces, territories and country. The Senate was the institution central to the creation of our federation, and we must honour, respect and enforce the pact.


We, as a chamber of sober second thought, are able to analyze legislation in great detail as to how it will affect Canadians, and we engage in the study of complex issues of concern to citizens. Why are we mute to fully reviewing our operations in response to citizens' discontent?


Except for Senator's Nolin's inquiries and Senator Greene's op- ed article, we have thus far been content to whisper in the corridors, with no action taken. This may be crude to some, but it needs to be said. We need to be grounded in reality if we are to move towards a more transparent, responsive and efficient chamber.


Our rules and operations have somewhat evolved in the same manner as those of the House of Commons. If we operate in the same way, are we not an unneeded duplication of the other place? It was certainly not the desire nor the vision of the Fathers of Confederation.


We have the responsibility and the opportunity to respond positively to citizens' concerns and expectations regarding how we will work for them in the future and probably prevent another constitutional crisis.


The wait-and-see attitude as to what politicians of all stripes will do to this valued institution is not acceptable since we have the necessary tools to transform the Senate.


This transformation proposal provides a concrete plan for change, enabling us to operate with a totally different approach from the other place.


It may not be perfect, but I propose it in good faith and invite you, if you so wish, to provide your own proposal to the special committee. We should not hesitate to form and mandate that special committee. Transformation should be a priority for all of us.


I'm at your disposal if at any time you want me to answer questions or make a presentation. I've studied this concept and the rules that need to be changed for it to operate positively for each and every one of us and, therefore, for the citizens of this country.


Thank you very much.