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Senate Reform Inquiry—Debate Continued

On the Order:

          Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Mercer, calling the attention of the

          Senate to Senate Reform and how the Senate and its Senators can achieve reforms and

          improve the function of the Senate by examining the role of Senators in their Regions.

 

Hon. A. Raynell Andreychuk: Honourable senators, I rise today because I was compelled to

respond to some of Senator Mercer’s comments in the context of his inquiry, and this matter stands

at the fifteenth day.

 

The inquiry calls attention to how the Senate can improve the way it functions by examining the role

of senators in their regions. Without question, this is a topic worthy of debate, and Senator Mercer

presented his case well.

 

Senators’ provincial and territorial roles are critical. They are central to the way the Senate

functions and complements the work of the other place, as well as the social compact upon which

our confederation was constructed. Senator Nolin made some excellent points on this matter when

he spoke to a similar inquiry on the Senate’s role in representing the regions of the Canadian

federation.

 

I would like to add a precautionary note to one of the key premises put forward for this debate. I

would like to respond to Senator Mercer’s inference that partisanship has eroded senators’ abilities

to uphold their regions’ best interests. My own reading of Canada’s political history and institutions ]

yields a different perspective.

 

Canada’s democracy is deeply rooted in the Westminster parliamentary system. This is a system in

which partisanship and party discipline constitute a critical organizational mechanism. Parties help

structure our parliamentary democracy into government and opposition. They also help Canadians

identify, relate to and participate in politics.

 

As aggregators of public interest, political parties provide a mechanism through which public opinion

is refined and developed into policy proposals and positions. Our parties are where we organize our

defence of policy ideas, as well as our counter-arguments and rebuttals.

 

Discipline within governing parties brings stability to the political system by legitimizing individuals

and institutions in government. Opposition parties, for their part, provide a legitimate outlet for dissent

and the exercise of public accountability. So, although I do not consider myself overly partisan, I am

surprised to see the rush to criticize partisanship.

 

Professor Lori Turnbull, the late Professor Emeritus Peter Aucoin and University of Victoria PhD

candidate Mark Jarvis are particularly articulate on this issue. In their 2011 book, Democratizing

the Constitution, Reforming Responsible Government, they wrote:

          Party discipline has been a fact of parliamentary democracy in Canada from the outset of

          responsible government.

          . . . By design, the accountability process of responsible parliamentary government is

          adversarial and thus partisan.

 

Yet, in ongoing discussions about Senate reform, the Senate is often said to have grown excessively

partisan. It is argued that the Senate is independent from the so-called ‘‘confidence chamber.’’ It is

said, therefore, that senators should resist party discipline and use our privileges to speak freely.

 

Senator Lowell Murray had a useful response to this perspective. He used to say that political

parties provided the best defence of the freedom of speech, because no single group could influence

the perspective of an entire political party. Senator Mercer proposes that partisanship has

compromised our abilities to represent our provinces and regions. Using Senator Lowell Murray’s

logic, however, I suggest that partisanship does not constitute an imposition on our ability to speak

freely. It is, rather, a vehicle that we use by choice. We use our political affiliations to advance our

regions’ interests within the context of a broader framework for upholding the national good.

 

Partisanship is part of the process that helps us move from diverse and often competing interests

towards well-reasoned positions and, ultimately, policy decisions, and it helps us to do so without

descending into the sort of fragmented stalemate that is so common in less disciplined or structured

legislatures.

 

Allow me again to quote from Jarvis, Aucoin and Turnbull:

          Partisanship is to robust democratic politics what competition is to an open economic

          marketplace.

          Partisanship flows from the fundamental democratic right to have one’s own political views,

          to organize politically with others of similar views, and, most important, to stand in opposition

          to others, whether these others are in power or not, and in the majority or not.

The authors later add:

          Any efforts to improve democracy by eliminating partisanship are doomed to failure.

          The entire parliamentary process is predicated on partisan politics, which sees institutionalized

          adversarialism as the best means of securing democracy.

 

I am not opposed to senators meeting in multi-partisan regional caucuses, as proposed by Senator

Mercer. A great deal of valuable work is done in all-party parliamentary associations. These groups

are formed on the basis that their members share an interest or belief in a certain cause or issue that

transcends political ideology. But, as senators know, when we walk out of our all-party associations,

we use the information in a manner that is generally translated into our own political positions.

 

It is in our party caucuses that we further refine the merits of our perspectives. Working with our

fellow caucus members, we look for ways to bring those ideas forward as parts of a broader

political vision.

 

My guess is that we would see the same process unfold around meetings of senators in regional

groupings. All parliamentarians have certain perspectives, ideologies and opinions. They hold these

points of view as individuals first and foremost, but they will tend to advocate the positions in

coordination with like-minded parliamentarians.

Decades of experience show coordination within party structures to be an expedient way of working

within our parliamentary system.

 

The same calculus applies to our regional interests: No matter how they organize themselves,

different senators will arrive at differing opinions as to the policies that would be best to promote

their regional interests. It is through parties that we have organized ourselves over decades, if not

centuries, to settle such disputes.

 

Our parties provide the broad ideological frameworks for advancing our policies, be they rooted in

regions, electoral districts or minority communities. Regional caucuses may provide useful space for

discussion, but they will not supplement the usefulness of party caucuses in developing our ideas as

part of a broader political framework, nor will they supplant our use of partisan advocacy to argue

the merits of our perspectives. The institutionalized adversarialism of our Westminster parliamentary

system ensures that we do this.

 

I would, therefore, suggest that the problems so many people have pointed out in the way the Senate

operates are, in fact, not a result of partisanship at all. They are, rather, the consequences of some

questionable parliamentary behaviours. Could it be the demonization, disrespect and

misrepresentation of our political competitors and the parliamentary functions they perform that is

the problem?

 

If recent commentary from the press and various interest groups is anything to go by, Canadians

believe such behaviours to be unbecoming of a civilized, discursive Parliament. It is this sort of

behaviour, not partisanship, against which we should fight to restore our legitimacy in the eyes of the

public.

Some senators have suggested that if we are less partisan, we will be more independent. To this I

respond that it is not partisanship but how it is practised that should be scrutinized.

 

In welcoming Senator Mercer to this chamber in 2003, the Senate leadership on both sides of the

chamber detailed his deeply rooted Liberal credentials, and I was very impressed with these. Both

leaders spoke of these credentials as an asset, as proof of a history of public service. I remember

being impressed with Senator Mercer’s dedication and work for his party and, indeed, for the

country.

 

More recently, when members opposite found themselves in a new situation in this chamber, many

took out their Liberal Party cards and declared they were still part of their party and proud of it.

What they were forced to do and how it changed their practices in this chamber, I must respect that,

but if some of us on this side choose to function within our party structures, that should also be

respected.

 

Although I choose to coordinate within my party, my independence is exercised in my every action

in this place. I must constantly weigh my personal integrity and responsibilities against the positions

of my party and my constituents. Throughout this process, I place particular emphasis on my

responsibilities towards my region. Whatever choices I make in discharging my duties as a senator,

as I have for more than twenty years, come with consequences that I alone must live with.

 

History suggests that partisanship is here to say, but respect for individuals and institutions that make

up this place is something that we must all constantly work at. So let us look at our duties to uphold

the needs and interests of our regions as a constant challenge for each of us, and let us acknowledge

that not only one change in this place will make that task easier. Let us instead commit to

understanding the full complexity of the issues that must be addressed in our ongoing efforts to make

the Senate a more accountable and effective institution.

Thank you.

 

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Hon. Leo Housakos (Acting Speaker): If no other senator wishes to speak, the item

Hon. Pierre Claude Nolin: Would the honourable senator accept a question?

 

Senator Andreychuk: Yes.

Senator Nolin: Senator Andreychuk, the Supreme Court discussed at length the responsibility of

senators to give a second, independent look at what comes from the House of Commons.

How do you reconcile what you just said with what the Supreme Court ruled three weeks ago?

Senator Andreychuk: I would not quite take your interpretation on what the Supreme Court said.

However, I may address that in another one of my speeches.

 

I believe that the Supreme Court is justifying that we are different from the House of Commons and

that we should be ever mindful of that. Those of us who have perhaps mimicked or followed too

closely the behaviour, tactics and approaches of the House of Commons should reconsider. That’s

the essence of what I’m saying. We know we’re a different house, and it is our responsibility to act

that way.

 

To say now I’m independent, when I came into this place, I was independent. It is not easy to part

company with one’s party. I suggest in some cases it’s not easy to stay within the context of one’s

party. To say that if I claim suddenly that I’m independent I will be better off, I don’t think so.

I feel that I’ve been independent throughout my time here. Independence to me means that I have a

right and a responsibility. So I have a responsibility to the people of Saskatchewan, my region; I have

a responsibility to other senators here; I have a responsibility to this institution; I have a responsibility

to my leader and to my party. I must take into account what the House of Commons is doing in

legislation. I do not take that we should ignore what they do; I think we should take it into account.

There has been a rush from the uninformed press to say ‘‘if we were just more independent.’’ I

think those who want to be more independent are really saying, ‘‘I’d like to be more independent, do

what I would like and not suffer the consequences.’’

 

I’ve lived through 21 years in this place, as you have, Senator Nolin— we came here together —

weighing and judging all of these competing responsibilities, and I’ve done it as independently as I

have wanted to. I have never felt threatened. I have sometimes been cajoled. I have been told I’m

on the wrong side of the issue, but that’s what debate is all about. Whether the debate is in our

caucus, in the public or here, I go home and I ask myself, ‘‘What should I do?’’ I have never felt

that I couldn’t take action that I firmly believed in. What more independence do I need?

 

Senator Nolin: I definitely agree with you. Basically, you’re saying, ‘‘I’m partisan, but I’m not

blinded by being partisan.’’ Do you agree with that?

Senator Andreychuk: I’m going to take that as a compliment coming from you, Senator Nolin,

because that’s precisely it.

I also know that I have taken action that there have been consequences for. I may be removed from

a committee or I may not participate in some activity here because the leaders and the whips have

some control, but I’ve taken that as a small price for doing what I want to do.

 

Hon. Joseph A. Day: I see that the time is up.

The Hon. the Acting Speaker: Do you have a question, senator?

Senator Day: I have a short question, and I’m sure the answer will be equally as short.

The Hon. the Acting Speaker: Would you like to request five more minutes?

Senator Day: It won’t take us five minutes.

The Hon. the Acting Speaker: Senator Day.

 

Senator Day: Thank you. I wanted to thank the honourable senator for her thoughtful presentation

and remarks, and I look forward to reflecting on a number of the points that you made.

One point that jumped out at me, and I thought I would ask you to clarify, you indicated fairly early

on in your speech that we are an adversarial body and thus partisan. Is it your thesis that we must

be partisan if we’re an adversarial group and there’s no other way to have an adversarial

organization that has adversarial parts to it other than by being partisan?

 

Senator Andreychuk:

That’s not an easy answer. Perhaps we

could continue this debate because it’s very important to me.

I think we start with beliefs, values and ideologies. What the Westminster model does is provide a

mechanism through a party structure to have reasoned debate so that we can come to some

consensus and decision.

 

Theoretically, we could organize ourselves with absolutely no parties here, but I would still suggest

that we would find ourselves in ideological groupings, and that’s still somewhat a partisan idea.

But we’re under a Westminster model, and thatas Senator Joyal can tell youdoes lead to some

organized activity, and that’s what political parties are. I think it is a disservice to political parties

today to be saying that they’re negative. Maybe we haven’t been operating appropriately in them,

but I think the Westminster model is a structure that has withstood the test of time. So if we

completely destroy political parties, where would we go?

 

I’ve lived in Africa where the experiments were to have only one party, wherein everyone will be in

the party and have discourse and debate. The problem was that there was one leader, elected by

whatever mechanism. What you got was one voice in the end because it synthesized down to the

person who ultimately had to take decisions in the government.

 

I think, to this point, parties have their place. Can we have other structures complementing them?

Can we diminish them, change them and put more democracy into party politics? Of course we can,

and that’s where I want the emphasis to be, rather than this very quick answer of ‘‘get rid of

parties, be independent.’’

You’re sitting on that side because you believe in certain things, and I respect that. I’m sitting here

because I believe in certain things. I don’t believe everything everyone over here believes, nor do

you over there. The parties help us organize.

 

Senator Day: Those comments will be helpful in interpreting your comments. I suppose the point that

we can all agree on is the definition of partisanship, and Senator Nolin in his questioning brought that

out as well. The public has a view of what partisanship is these days, which may not be the same

definition you’re using in your comments.

Senator Andreychuk: That’s our challenge.

 

The Hon. the Acting Speaker: Senator Lang, do you have a question?

Hon. Daniel Lang: I think we have a couple more minutes here, and I would like to ask a brief

question of Senator Andreychuk.

First, I agree with a lot of what you’ve said. As a preamble, I was in a legislature that was totally

independent. I spent four years as a member in that particular political environment, and we then

moved on to party politics.

 

I can tell you, in those four years, every night was the Night of the Long Knives. You didn’t know

who your friends were or who was going to support you. At the end of the day, very few people

took responsibility for the big decisions that had to be made. In fact, everybody did what they could

to avoid decisions because that way they weren’t responsible.

 

So my question to Senator Andreychuk would be this: Let’s look at the Senate hypothetically and

say there is no partisanship here; we have 105 members who are totally independent. Does the

senator think that we could get our work done in a timely manner and provide leadership for the

people of Canada if we did not have organized political parties?

 

Senator Andreychuk: I think you’ve answered my question by the way you’ve stated it.

Yes, if we had 105 independent senators, I think we would be drawn toward creating some

organization, and we would have to delegate a lot of our responsibilities to that party. We wouldn’t

have whips. We wouldn’t have leaders, I guess, at the start. If you read some of the previous

history, you go from chaos to organized chaos to some rules and responsibilities, and I think the

parties are where there is movement and change, and you can influence your party.

 

What we’ve lost, I think, are the good debates we used to have and being very proud that we have

different opinions. I’ve watched over the years where you either agree with me or somehow your

opinion doesn’t have weight. So I think it’s a question of respect of the differences because our

society is so diverse.

 

We should find some way to express opposing points of views and understand that we reflect the

Canada of today. It isn’t just about us; it’s about representing all those diverse points of view, and it

is sometimes very emotionally difficult. I agree with you that we need organization.

 

(On motion of Senator Fraser, debate adjourned.)