Senate

On November 23rd, the Senate made headline news as it was the backdrop to the opening of Canada’s 44th Parliament. Our new, state-of-the-art Chamber, inaugurated in 2019, welcomed Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada, the Prime Minister, and other dignitaries for the Speech from the Throne.

By all accounts, it was a momentous day, particularly for Indigenous Peoples, as Canada’s first Indigenous person to serve as the Queen’s representative read the Government’s agenda and legislative priorities for the upcoming session. Her appointment this summer goes beyond symbolism and firsts, as she has dedicated her life to reconciliation, and I know she is as committed as ever to making this an integral part of her mandate.

Some may wonder why the Speech, which is read by the Governor General, but crafted by the Prime Minister’s Office, is delivered in the Senate Chamber. As this is the Government’s agenda, it would only seem appropriate that it be read in the House of Commons by members of the Government, similarly to the Budget Speech. However, as a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, we have adopted many traditions from our British cousins and the Westminster System.

The Speech is not held in the House of Commons because, by tradition, the Queen and senators are forbidden from entering the Lower Chamber which explains why the thrones – the actual seats on which the monarch would sit on – are located in the Senate Chamber. In fact, Queen Elizabeth II herself sat in her Canadian throne on two occasions, in 1957 and again in 1977, to deliver the Speech from the Throne.

The opening of Parliament was also the first opportunity to formally introduce eight new Senators who were appointed earlier this summer, three of which are from Québec. With these most recent appointments, there are currently 57 Senators out of 93 who have been appointed to the Senate on the advice of Prime Minister Trudeau through an independent, non-partisan Senate appointment process in which an advisory body reviews applications based on merit and constitutional requirements.

What some pundits initially coined as the “Trudeau Senate Experiment” has, in my humble opinion, made the institution stronger, more independent and influential, and in a position to better serve Canadians. And Canadians agree. In a Nanos poll commissioned by my colleague Donna Dasko earlier this year, Canadians are overwhelmingly in favour of a more independent, non-partisan Senate and one that is composed of Senators appointed through this new process.

As many might already know, the Senate was originally created to better ensure the protection of regional interests, and linguistic and religious rights, in addition to being a counterweight to cabinet and the House of Commons. This responsibility continues today and has, over the years, expanded to include the rights of all minorities in general. Senators have a responsibility to be the voice of the voiceless.

What is more, Canadians should be encouraged to know that today’s Senate is one of the most diverse parliamentary institutions in the world. Among the most recent appointees, we have Senators of Guyanese, Cameroonian and Trinidadian heritage. We also have Senators from around the world hailing from such places as Pakistan, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Iran and Vietnam, to name but a few. Furthermore, we have more or less achieved gender parity in the Chamber – 46 out of 93 Senators are women. Nearly 12% of Senators identify as Indigenous. This is all-around great news and Canadians should be proud that the Senate is increasingly becoming a reflection of Canada’s cultural mosaic and demographical landscape. The diversity of the current composition of the Senate brings a wealth of knowledge and experience that further contributes to our work in defending, protecting and advocating for minority rights.

The new Parliament will certainly be an exciting and unpredictable one due, in part, to its minority status. With the road map it has laid out in the Speech from the Throne, the Liberals must now get to work and fulfill its ambitious legislative agenda as we slowly recover from the pandemic and economic hardships of the last 20 months. Without being obstructionist, but rather by being practical, targeted and strategic, I know Senators are ready to debate, consider and improve legislation for all Canadians, particularly minorities, while concurrently conducting in-depth studies on matters of national importance in the hope of influencing future policy initiatives.

The Honourable Tony Loffreda, CPA, sits as an Independent Canadian Senator from Quebec.

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