SENATE QUESTION PERIOD
Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Opposition): Government Leader, my question is for you. We recently learned through the media that the government is reviewing its financial plan for the construction of the new Champlain Bridge, in part because it has decided to eliminate the toll on this significant infrastructure, which was one of the main sources of financing. We have also learned that the company building the bridge is apparently having difficulty meeting its obligations primarily because of the tight budget and the desire to restructure the financial arrangement.
My question is simple: Will the new Champlain Bridge be ready by December 1, 2018, according to the original schedule?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable Leader of the Opposition for his question and will take notice and respond to him.
Hon. James S. Cowan (Leader of the Senate Liberals): My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. This week we were delighted to welcome seven new senators to our midst, but, as you know, there are a number of vacancies across the country, including two in my own province of Nova Scotia. It won’t surprise you to know there are a number of people interested in exactly how that process is proceeding.
One of the initiatives that we adopted at our caucus when we became independent was to invite Canadians to send us questions, which we would ask of the government. You will appreciate that I can’t give the names of people who asked me to ask this question. Nonetheless, the question is this: Can you tell us exactly where we are in the process of the selection of new senators for vacancies that exist particularly in Nova Scotia, and, in particular, has the government selected the two provincial representatives from, in my case, Nova Scotia to join the three federal representatives on the panel that will make recommendations to the Prime Minister?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for his question. I have no information at this point as to the specific timing. I would encourage you to encourage those who are interested — and I hope there are many — to consult the website of the independent advisory committee, which has a website with the rules and procedures referenced for their attention.
I would, if the Senate will indulge me, take this opportunity to respond to a question posed by Senator Batters two days ago with respect to the nominations of the senators who joined me in this house on Tuesday. I have consulted with them and can report to this chamber that Senator Murray Sinclair was nominated by the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg; Senator André Pratte, le Conseil du patrimoine du Québec; Senator Chantal Petitclerc, Défi sportif AlterGo; Senator Frances Lankin, United Way of Greater Toronto and York Region; Senator Gagné, Société franco- manitobaine; and Senator Omidvar, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.
I would congratulate all of these organizations for their nominations.
Hon. A. Raynell Andreychuk: I have a supplementary question to Senator Cowan’s question. Senator Harder, welcome to the Senate.
It has been the practice that, if we are seeking information, as the Government Representative you would undertake to contact the government who set up the selection process to endeavour to get the information for us. I think Senator Cowan’s question was rightly put to you, and I would encourage you to use your office to endeavour to get the information and to place it before all of us, which would be the best way for all of us to be informed.
Senator Harder: Thank you, Senator Andreychuk. If I could, I would be happy to do that. I do want to make sure Canadians are well aware of a website that they could consult, and I’m sure they are all reading Hansard in the Senate, and they could thereby benefit from my answer.
Senator Cowan: Senator Harder, my question had to do with whether they have selected the two representatives from Nova Scotia and, if not, why not.
Senator Harder: As I indicated, I don’t have that information, and I’ll respond accordingly.
Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Opposition): I have a supplementary question since the leader has thrown the door wide open on the issue of the website. It is a source of information, but the main source of information is the government. Since you have ties to the government, you could provide us with that information. For example, the advisory committee’s website indicates that a nominee must own land or a building with a value of at least $4,000 when nominated, which was not necessarily the case, and which has not always been enforced, a decision that I understand and respect. However, there can be a discrepancy between what one may read on a website and the actual information from the government. As you are the Leader of the Government, we expect that you will give us the proper accurate information, which comes directly from the executive and not a website.
Hon. Jean-Guy Dagenais: Government Leader, the Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs is examining the sensitive matter of suicide in the Canadian Armed Forces. This week in the other place, an emergency debate was held regarding the urgent need for action in Aboriginal communities due to a wave of suicides and suicide attempts. In both cases, I think urgent action is needed. The previous government put everything in place. In December 2012, this chamber and the other place both passed framework legislation on suicide prevention. It provides for consultations with provincial and territorial governments. It also provides for greater consistency in how we get the message out there regarding suicide prevention.
My question is as follows: Who, in the current government, is ensuring follow-up on commitments made under that legislation, and is it possible to find out where this file stands?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): Senator, I will seek that information and present it to the Senate.
Senator Dagenais: Government Leader, I heard your response. I don’t have access to the Privy Council, as you do, and you understand that addressing this matter must be a priority, as some Liberal parliamentarians have said. I understand that you don’t have an answer right away, but I imagine that you will get back to us with one very soon. Thank you, leader.
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, I wish to draw your attention to the presence in the gallery of Her Excellency Inara Murniece, Speaker of the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia; the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Chairman of the Group for Interparliamentary Relations with Canada of the Saeima; the Head of the Speaker’s Office; Foreign Affairs Advisor to the Speaker; the Head of the Public Relations Department of the Saeima; the Senior Consultant of the Saeima Protocol Division; and Mr. Juris Audarins, His Excellency, Ambassador the Republic of Latvia to Canada.
On behalf of all honourable senators, I welcome you to the Senate of Canada.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
Hon. Joan Fraser (Deputy Leader of the Senate Liberals): I have a supplementary question to an earlier round. It can be a stand- alone question, if you wish, Your Honour.
Back to the matter of appointments, leader, I’m sure we have all seen the cri de coeur from Alberta about the dire shortage of judges, and it’s not a problem only in Alberta. To the best of my knowledge, the government’s response has been, “We’re putting in place a proper appointment process that will be transparent, et cetera, et cetera,” with no timeline attached.
Well, that is sort of what they said about nominations to this place, and it was a very plausible response because the new nominations process was in fact a real innovation; it was the first time since Confederation that this particular approach to nominations to the Senate had been launched.
But the nomination of judges is not a new system. Fine processes have been established over the years to nominate judges. The quality of the Canadian judiciary stands, I believe, in extremely high regard around the world, so it’s not that the old processes didn’t work.
Can you give us some indication of when we may expect to see those vacant judgeships filled?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I’ll take notice of your question and respond.
Hon. Bob Runciman: Senator Harder, the Trudeau government was elected nearly six months ago, but the justice minister has not even appointed members to the Federal Judicial Advisory Committee, which screens candidates. We know the consequences of justice delayed are cases thrown out and the guilty going free.
If the Minister of Justice can find time to attend a Bay Street law firm’s $500-a-plate fundraiser, why can’t she roll up her sleeves and get to work to make sure our courts are staffed properly?
Senator Harder: I take note of your question and will respond.
Hon. David Tkachuk: I have a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I’d like to welcome Senator Harder to the Senate. Congratulations on your appointment.
Senator Harder, you were the head of the Prime Minister’s transition team. Were guidelines or policies put in place for how members of the transition team were to conduct themselves as to future government appointments?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): Designated members of the transition team were subject to the post-employment conflict of interest guidelines, which prevented anybody involved in the transition process to undertake lobbying activity. And as a member of that, obviously I was subject to that prohibition.
Senator Tkachuk: Were there any other members of the transition team — obviously besides yourself — who received government appointments?
Senator Harder: Well, the people involved in transition included members of the Prime Minister’s staff — then Prime Minister designate — some of whom are in various government roles with the Prime Minister and other ministers.
With respect to other appointments that I’m aware of, the only one I can reference, if my memory serves me right, is Mr. Mendelsohn, who was announced as a senior official in the Privy Council Office by the Clerk of the Privy Council.
Hon. Denise Batters: I would also reference the new UN ambassador.
Senator Harder, my question is to you, the leader of the Trudeau government in the Senate. Senator Harder, transportation infrastructure in the form of pipelines is a vital issue for my home province of Saskatchewan. Energy East could transport the equivalent of 1,600 rail cars of crude oil per day across Canada more safely than rail.
Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Trudeau’s principal secretary, said this about pipelines in 2012:
Truth be told, we don’t think there ought to be a carbon- based energy industry by the middle of the century. That’s our policy in Canada and it’s our policy all over the world.
Senator Harder, is the position of Mr. Butts on pipelines in the Canadian oil industry also the policy of the Trudeau government?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): The policy of the Government of Canada is articulated by the Prime Minister and the minister responsible.
Senator Batters: Wow.
Hon. Rose-May Poirier: Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Currently, immigrants between the ages of 18 and 65 must know one of the country’s two official languages to obtain Canadian citizenship. The Liberal government announced plans to change that requirement to 18 to 55 years of age.
The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages released a report in December 2014. This is what it says on page 27:
Several recent studies found that proficiency in the official languages is a key determinant in the integration of immigrants.
Even so, on April 11, Minister McCallum told the committee that his department has done no research or consultations to justify making this change. How can they say that this change will benefit newcomers when studies say the opposite?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I will consult and return with information for the senator.
Senator Poirier: I would also like to point out that many Canadian citizens over 55 who are in good health can live for many more years. Given the needs in our communities across Canada, how can people benefit from the services they are entitled to, be that health care or just going to a convenience store or a restaurant, if they don’t know one of our two official languages? I think this decision is unacceptable. I would therefore like the government to tell me how these people are supposed to live in this country for another 30 or 40 years if they don’t speak one of Canada’s official languages.
Senator Harder: Again, I thank the honourable senator for her question and her supplementary, and I will return with an appropriate answer.
Hon. Leo Housakos: Welcome to the Leader of the Government in the Senate.
I just want to remind him that during Question Period, when senators in this house, like Senator Batters, pose a question, as Leader of the Government in the Senate and with all the privileges you have being named by the Prime Minister as Leader of the Government in the Senate and the resources that go with that position, you have a moral obligation to answer senators’ questions.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.
Some Hon. Senators: Oh, oh.
Senator Housakos: My question, leader, is in regard to Bombardier in Montreal and the free market economy that I think deserves to operate with free hands. There is a private company that came forward and offered a major order to Bombardier regarding a C Series aircraft that they would showcase and champion around the world.
Canadians are concerned, leader, that your government might be doling out $1 billion of taxpayer money without any conditions and no strings attached. Your government is ignoring a private sector solution that would cost taxpayers not a dime and would preserve thousands of jobs in my city, yet your government has kneecapped a major opportunity for Bombardier by overriding Toronto City Council and Toronto Port Authority, blocking any development at the Toronto City Airport.
Leader, why won’t the Trudeau government protect Canadian jobs and Bombardier by allowing Toronto City Airport to expand?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you, senator, for your question. I believe it has been answered publicly in the other chamber by the minister, and I will have a specific response in the days ahead.
Hon. Vernon White: To the Leader of the Government in the Senate, again congratulations and welcome.
Minister Garneau and Minister Goodale have been asked similar questions about airport security in Canada, both here and in committee, where they gave similar responses, one being that they do not know the answer.
In our airports we have airport authorities, CATSA, police, CBSA, NAV CANADA, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada — I can go on and on — who have responsibilities at our airports. But for this place to focus on ensuring we ask government what they are doing to make sure the next Brussels doesn’t happen in Canada, we need to know who is responsible for airport security. If you could answer that question for me now or bring it forward later.
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I will bring it forward as appropriate.
Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: I will ask a question that I was hoping to ask of Minister Garneau yesterday but maybe didn’t have time because of the verbosity of some of my honourable colleagues.
Some Hon. Senators: Oh, oh!
Senator Patterson: Air transportation is the only means of year- round access to most communities in the North. Indeed, in my home territory of Nunavut, there are no roads between communities or to Southern Canada. So the need to maintain safe and acceptable airports is vital to the well-being of northerners and the northern economy; yet the Airports Capital Assistance Program frankly has not provided significant funds for the territories.
The recently released Canada Transportation Act Review Report references a number of submissions to improve the safety of small northern and remote airports, yet no money was specifically promised to the North in the recent budget.
My questions are the following: Does the government plan to significantly increase funding for the Airports Capital Assistance Program, as recommended by the review? Will the department carve out a dedicated northern program with funding and eligibility criteria that recognize the unique challenges and exceptional needs of the North?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for his question and assure him that I will ensure an appropriate response from Mr. Garneau and other appropriate government officials.
Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): I also did not have the opportunity to ask my question yesterday. To the Leader of the Government in the Senate, I wanted to ask Minister Garneau about an urgent project in the Lower Mainland, Metro Vancouver. During the election, Justin Trudeau made pledges and promises to British Columbians. The Broadway corridor, which includes UBC and the second largest business district, is an important health and social sciences precinct. It services literally hundreds of thousands of people. Budget 2016 did not allocate enough funding to cover even a portion of these important projects, which were part of the election promises. When and how will these projects be completed? Could I ask you to provide the answer to us?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question. Yes, of course, I will be happy to take your question and ensure a response.
For the consideration of all senators, verbose and non-verbose, the government has agreed in the ministerial Question Period here to go to 40 minutes beginning the week after next, so we can enjoy more interaction with ministers who are here.
Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Opposition): Leader, our colleague, Senator Dagenais, spoke earlier about the death of former minister Jean Lapierre. The night before the plane crash — not to make a connection between the accident and the Magdalen Islands airport runway — the mayor of the Magdalen Islands municipality, Jonathan Lapierre, was calling for the airport runway to be extended in order to ensure the safety of passengers travelling to the Magdalen Islands, despite weather conditions that can be tricky at times. Can the Leader of the Government confirm that the government plans to do something about this?
The recent budget includes investments for the Magdalen Islands airport, including for hangar facilities and firefighting services. However, there are no provisions for extending the airport runway. Can the leader of the government tell us whether the government will invest in extending the Magdalen Islands runway and, if so, when?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I’ll take notice of your question and will come back with an answer shortly.
Hon. Don Meredith: Government leader, this is a question as well that I had for the minister yesterday — unfortunately, I was not able to ask this question — with respect to the Blue Sky Policy. Since 2006, when it was adopted by Canada, 85 countries have signed on to that agreement with respect to air traffic. We know that the cost of air travel in Canada is increasing and that lack of competition exists within Canada.
I would ask you, senator, to inquire with the minister with respect to expansion and the allocation of more airlines coming into Canada, especially from international destinations, in our major hubs of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, as well as domestic travel. The Transport Committee has studied extensively the reduction in the number of Canadian passengers going to the U.S. to travel to other destinations in Canada, which, in my opinion — as I sat on that committee previously — was a loss to our economy.
My question would be to determine whether there would be further competition. We recently saw the grounding of a new airline that started up in Winnipeg. What is the opportunity for further competition in Canada to allow for Canadians to travel more frequently across this country?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for his question. I will respond to his question and also take his comments as a gesture of support for such an initiative.