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Senate successes of past year must be further solidified

Senator Peter Harder speaks to the Canadian Club of Toronto about Senate renewal.

February 21, 2017 — Canada’s Senators must continue to vigorously pursue reforms to the upper chamber if they want to capitalize on public support for the renewal project, says Peter Harder, the Government Representative in the Senate.

Speaking to the Canadian Club of Toronto, Senator Harder said Canadians will take notice if the Senate’s modernization agenda gets hampered by undue delays dealing with legislation or a lack of aggressiveness in policing itself.

“I believe that faith in our project is growing, but we must assure Canadians that we are getting on with our work by comprehensively debating the issues before us and ultimately voting on them in a timely fashion,” he said. “This is something we are working on and could be better at.”

Senator Harder made his remarks as he and six other Independent senators are about to celebrate the first anniversary of their appointment. They are the first to have been selected under a merit-based, non-partisan process which is designed to build a more independent, accountable, and transparent Senate.  The chamber currently numbers 42 Independents, 39 Conservatives, 19 Independent Liberals and five vacancies.

Senator Harder told listeners that the new appointment process has introduced many extremely qualified Canadians to the Upper House, whose votes are no longer whipped by mainline parties. The new system is helping to change the national conversation about the Senate from patronage, scandal and insignificance to how it can best fulfil the role that the Fathers of Confederation envisioned.

“As change materializes, Canadians are beginning to glimpse the Senate’s important role in helping make good law,” said Senator Harder. He noted, for example, Senators have effected change on bills that include medically-assisted dying, consumer protection and a bill dealing with gender discrimination under the Indian Act.

But he also said that debate can be unnecessarily prolonged, sometimes for partisan purposes.

“Canadians who may be affected by important legislation can’t be kept waiting indefinitely.”

Moreover, he added, the Senate must move quicker to implement a new added oversight mechanism on Senators’ expenses. Many recent controversies remain fresh in Canadians’ minds.

“When all is said and done, our job is not to simply make the Senate look good. Our role is to pursue the business of the country, to make legislation better and to serve the public interest.”

Senate successes of past year must be further solidified