One Year Anniversary

Page Contents
  • Summary of Activities
  • Speech: "The Senate: In the Long-Term Interests ofCanadians"

  • Summary of Activities


    By Senator Douglas Roche, O.C.
    An Address to the Avenue of Nations Rotary Club, Edmonton
    September 16, 1999

    In my first year as a Senator, I have rediscovered the value of the CanadianSenate.

    It is a much calmer place than the cantankerous House Of Commonswhere I served for 12 years. The media highlight the constant confrontationin the Commons, but virtually ignore the quieter debate in the Chamber of"sober second thought."

    That is too bad and there is not much I can do about it - except toopen my Home Page on the Internet to state what one Senator is doing.

    Taxpayers need to know that for their 47 million dollars a year,which amounts to $1.65 per Canadian, the Senate is a very productive place.The Senate's total portion of the federal budget is 0.3 per cent. It is themost cost-effective legislature anywhere in Canada.

    The number, size, and complexity of bills have increased significantly.Individual Senators and Senate committees explore contentious topics andissues in greater depth and with more freedom from the partisan politicaldynamics that characterise the House of Commons. Canadians benefit from having this more thorough, systematic, and clarifyingreview of legislation.

    In the past year, the Senate examined 65 bills and made 55amendments. The Senate also produced four far-reaching pieces oflegislation concerning double taxation, combating bribery and the corruptionof public officials, the preclearance of travellers and goods, and theestablishment of a liability regime for international air transportation.The Senate held 540 committee meetings, issued 107 reports, and spent 1,100hours studying legislation and hearing more than 1,900 witnesses.

    It has been at the forefront on issues of great importance to Canadians,producing committee reports on hormone additives to our food supply, bankmergers, child custody access, euthanasia and assisted suicide, youthanti-smoking initiatives, human rights protection, literacy, andenvironmental matters, to name but a few from the past year.

    I would like to mention particularly the work of the Senate Social AffairsCommittee and its report, Social Cohesion. It has been described as the most thoughtful commentary on the long-term consequences ofglobalization to come out of Ottawa. While governments set prioritiesbudget by budget, it has fallen to the Senate to step back and examine whathas happened to Canadian society in the drive to restructure the economy andfurther liberalize markets and trade. Economic and social policy should notbe treated as separate areas of government activity. The Committee heardfrom academics, business leaders, bankers, union representatives, publicservants, community activists, church leaders, and concerned individuals.The conclusion was that Canada had failed to address the social fallout ofeconomic restructuring. We are faced with the challenge of ensuring thatinternational economic integration does not lead to domestic socialdisintegration. The cost of social polarization is too high for everyCanadian.

    The Senate clearly strengthens the regional and demographic characteristicsof Canada as a whole. It not only provides a longer process for thescrutiny of legislation, it allows that legislation to be examined from adifferent point of view, bringing together wide knowledge and expertise.

    Highly complex legislation and issues that embrace difficult ethical andpolitical dimensions is increasingly the norm in a maturing and transformingsociety such as Canada. Interests are expressed from an ever-greatervariety of viewpoints, with Senate representation increasing among women,native peoples, and minority communities. The Senate improves equality inour Parliament. For example, of 105 Senate seats, 32 are now held by women,a higher proportion than in any other legislature in Canada.

    The influential and on-going work that many Senators have done for the moremarginalized in our society should be noted. The poor, the illiterate, theaged, children and visible minorities have all found strong voices andrepresentation of their interests in Canadian governance. Senate bills havesought to broaden human rights legislation to protect Canadians with lowincomes from discrimination at the hands of federal agencies. Effortscontinue to be made at promoting literacy. The Senate's focused approach tothe needs of Canadian society knits together national constituencies ofpeople who are given a greater voice in Parliament.

    Talk of abolition of the Senate comes from those who do not understand whatthe Senate does. The Senate needs to be reformed, not abolished.

    No one is more anxious for Senate reform than myself. It is quiteappropriate to question the continued practice of appointing Senators. Aswe move into the 21st century with the current expansion of democraticprocesses everywhere, a legislative body that is appointed, rather thanelected, will have difficulty maintaining credibility. But debate overSenate reform should be informed, with better public understanding of whatthe Senate actually does, and how the Senate can only be changed by dueConstitutional process.

    An informal workshop I held at the University of Alberta earlier this yearshowed that Senate reform cannot be separated from other aspects of theConstitution, i.e. it cannot be dealt with in isolation. The interests ofAlbertans will only be served when the number of Alberta seats is increasedin a Constitutional process that includes the election of Senators. The federal government should take a greater leadership role in preparing theway for Constitutional change.

    * * *

    When I delivered my Maiden Speech to the Senate, I pledged to move forwardon what have been called the last and greatest of the century's unfulfilledachievements. One is the elimination of gross inequality and massivepoverty, the other is to free the world from the captivity of nuclearweapons.

    I praised the Alberta government for reducing the deficit and creating thefastest growing economy in Canada. I supported the economic benefits of the'Alberta Advantage', but expressed my concern with the rising numbers ofthose who are being left behind. Ever-larger segments of Canada'spopulation have no stake in maintaining a stable and prosperous society.

    The rising numbers of the impoverished amidst increasing plenty is both achallenge and an indictment of our society. As chair of the ParklandInstitute's public policy forum "Poverty Amidst Plenty" held at theUniversity of Alberta last March, my eyes were opened to the shrinkingmiddle class and the ever-widening gap between rich and poor. Governmentshave ignored the plight of the poor under an ideology, whether calledneo-liberalism or neo- conservatism, proclaiming that government should cedeto free markets in order to foster opportunity and wealth. This ideologyundermines the ethical and moral foundation upon which society is built bypropagating the irrelevance of social investment. Equitable economic andsocial development is essential to strengthen Canadian society for thecoming Millennium.

    Last November in Edmonton, I participated in a remarkable internationalconference on the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of HumanRights. There I called for a shift of our focus as a society upward andoutward to concentrate on a new right that is coming into view; the humanright to peace. The influence of militarism is felt in all facets of ourlife -- economic, political, and even spiritual. Our toil, resources, and livelihoods are all involved; so is the structure of society.We must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. We fight wars thatshould not be fought. We spend exorbitant funds on militarism at theexpense of the poor. In so doing, we spurn the values of justice, peace,and opportunity in favour of violence.

    In my role as International Chairman of the Middle Powers Initiative, anetwork of international organizations dedicated to the abolition of nuclearweapons, and now also as a Senator, I am attempting to cultivate theconditions for true human security. I have sought to foster the growth ofpeace out of the beliefs and actions of people within their specifichistorical, socio-cultural, and economic context.

    Over the course of the past year, I have witnessed great challenges to theseideals and beliefs. I watched with anguish the carnage of Kosovo and NATO'sdestruction of Yugoslavia and its people. I took a strong stand againstthis action, and what I believed to be its disregard for the United Nationsand international law.

    Indiscriminate bombing in the Balkans stifled movement forward in the humansecurity agenda. I maintain that the air war in Kosovo was born out offailed diplomacy that was clouded by the spectre of militarism at everyturn. As violence and distrust continue unabated in the region, it isincreasingly obvious that it was a short-term militaristic solution to anentrenched political problem. Believing that militarism buys peace isintellectually misguided and only ensures future discord.

    With the diminishment of the U.N. and international law, the window ofopportunity for engendering trust between the major powers in the post-Cold War years is closing. In April the Senate unanimously adopted myMotion calling on the Government of Canada to urge NATO to begin a review ofits nuclear weapons policy at its 50th Anniversary Summit in Washington. Inthe Summit's final communiqué, it was clear that NATO was ready to open thisdoor, but Canada must continue pressing to open the door wider.

    It is an extraordinary affront to humanity for nuclear weapons States andtheir allies to persist in claiming that these weapons are required for their security. The world continues to be held hostage by the willingness,in effect, the very intent, to launch such an attack. Last week, Iintroduced in the Senate a Motion calling on the Government of Canada tourge all the nuclear powers to put their nuclear weapons on de-alert status.The abolition of nuclear weapons and, with it, the advancement ofinternational law, remains the world's most pressing need. The retentionand proliferation of nuclear weapons is the single greatest challenge toworld security.

    Canada, particularly from its place as a member of the U.N. SecurityCouncil, has a responsibility to work to protect that vast area of humanitythat is vulnerable, weakened, and in great danger of human rightsviolations. It is not enough to express moral concern. We also need moralcourage. And we must strengthen the political agenda to ensure the buildingof conditions for peace and prosperity for people and respect for theirhuman rights. To strive for anything less than a just, humane and peacefulworld would be unworthy of Canada's Parliament.