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Increasingly independent Senate ends year with full house

Committees being asked to meet during extended break period to deal with important legislation.

The Senate has adjourned for the winter break after a busy fall session that saw 10 Government bills become law and 11 new independent Senators appointed to the institution of sober second thought.

For the first time in eight years, all the 105 seats in the Red Chamber are filled.

The current Government created an independent advisory board with a mandate to provide merit-based recommendations for Senate appointments. So far, 49 independent Senators have been appointed under the new process, while many more have left partisan caucuses in favour of independence.

The Senate is also becoming increasingly diverse. The proportion of women in the Senate has risen from 37 per cent to 47 per cent under the new appointment process. The proportion of Senators with Indigenous roots has risen to 11 per cent.

“Canadians can see themselves reflected in the diversity of the Senate. It’s important that the chamber of sober second thought represent voices from coast to coast to coast,” said Senator Peter Harder, the Government Representative in the Senate.

The Senate’s growing independence is evident in how it examines and improves legislation. So far this session, the Senate has successfully amended more than a quarter of Government bills that have become law.

Committee work

Senator Harder also noted that a delay in construction of Canada’s new Senate building should not preclude committees from meeting to discuss important bills that include C-69, which changes the rules for the assessment of major projects, and C-48, to formalize a crude oil tanker moratorium on the north coast of B.C.

The Senate sitting is set to resume on February 19 following a historic move from Centre Block to its temporary home in the former train station but Senate committees can resume meetings as soon as January 28.

“Canadians expect us to be at work,” said Sen. Harder. “It is important that Senate committees be able to meet as soon as January 28 to consider these key pieces of Government legislation.”

He noted that several ministers have already said they will be available to appear at committees.

New laws

New laws this fall include Bill C-76, which makes it easier for Canadians to vote, Bill C-51, which clarifies and strengthens sexual assault laws, and Bill C-65, to help prevent workplace harassment and violence.

Two new laws also allowed Canada to join international agreements: Bill C-47 enabled Canada to join the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, while Bill C-79 enabled the implementation of a free trade agreement with 10 Asia-Pacific countries.

Several Government bills also advanced from second reading to the committee stage, for in-depth review, in the final week of the fall sitting, including:

  • Bill C-48, to formalize a crude oil tanker moratorium on the north coast of B.C.;
  • Bill C-55, to make is easier to designate a marine protected area;
  • Bill C-59, which modernizes the law governing Canada’s national security agencies;
  • Bill C-68, which restores protections for fish and fish habitats;
  • Bill C-69, which changes the rules for the assessment of major projects; and
  • Bill C-71, legislation to regulate firearms in Canada.

Committee review of Bill C-58, legislation to update access to information laws, is well underway.

Two more bills are awaiting second reading in the Senate. Bill C-75 aims to make the criminal justice system more modern and efficient, and to reduce delays in criminal proceedings. Bill C-81 aims to enhance the full and equal participation of all persons, especially persons with disabilities, in society.

Increasingly independent Senate ends year with full house