Se­nate en­ters new year em­brac­ing open­ness

The Delhi News-Record - - OPINION - LEO HOUSAKOS

In or­der to know where the Se­nate is go­ing in 2017, one need only look where we went in 2016.

As mem­bers of Canada’s “house of sober sec­ond thought,” we’ve faced our chal­lenges. We’ve heard Cana­di­ans. And we have con­tin­ued to make changes to bet­ter meet Cana­di­ans’ ex­pec­ta­tions.

Cana­di­ans pay taxes with the ex­pec­ta­tion that their money will be used re­spect­fully and pru­dently. That’s why we’re en­sur­ing trans­parency and ac­ces­si­bil­ity go hand in hand with good gov­er­nance.

As chair of the Se­nate com­mit­tee on in­ter­nal econ­omy, bud­gets and ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Se­nate sub­com­mit­tee on com­mu­ni­ca­tions, I am proud of the steps my col­leagues and I are tak­ing to en­sure greater ac­count­abil­ity to and di­a­logue with Cana­di­ans. It starts with com­plete open­ness. Cana­di­ans can now at­tend the meet­ings of the in­ter­nal econ­omy com­mit­tee or lis­ten in real time. Our com­mit­tee up­loads au­dio and full tran­scripts from these meet­ings to our web­site as quickly as we can trans­late them.

We took this un­prece­dented step of open­ing up our meet­ings so Cana­di­ans can see and hear not only how their tax dol­lars are be­ing put to use, but also how and why those de­ci­sions are made.

(The House of Com­mons’s equiv­a­lent board of in­ter­nal econ­omy is held in pri­vate and up­loads se­lec­tive min­utes of meet­ings af­ter months of de­lay.)

Fur­ther­more, the Se­nate adopted a new method of dis­clos­ing in­for­ma­tion about each sen­a­tor’s ex­penses. A more de­tailed break­down of travel ex­penses and ser­vice con­tracts are avail­able on­line. At­ten­dance records are now also pub­lished on­line.

To match the trans­parency, we have built on our com­mit­ment to bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate the work done in the Se­nate with Cana­di­ans.

The re­sult has been a com­mu­ni­ca­tions strat­egy that in­cludes live-tweet­ing the progress of leg­is­la­tion dur­ing de­bates in the cham­ber and livestream­ing news con­fer­ences and dis­cus­sion pan­els.

The Se­nate shares con­tent on Face­book. We post pho­tos on In­sta­gram. We pub­lish con­tent almost daily to SenCAPlus, our new dig­i­tal mag­a­zine.

These for­mal changes have helped us high­light the strong sub­stance of the up­per cham­ber. And this sub­stance is as crit­i­cal as ever.

When de­bat­ing Bill C-14, the gov­ern­ment’s med­i­cal as­sis­tance in dy­ing leg­is­la­tion, sen­a­tors dove into the deep eth­i­cal di­men­sions of the leg­is­la­tion. Im­por­tant amend­ments were made and ac­cepted by the Com­mons, in­clud­ing bar­ri­ers on ben­e­fi­cia­ries’ abil­ity to in­cite the as­sisted death of a loved one, re­quire­ments that pal­lia­tive care be of­fered first and the cre­ation of a time­line for in­de­pen­dent study once le­gal­ized.

Much of our work takes place in com­mit­tees, which re­lease reg­u­lar sub­stan­tive re­ports on is­sues that af­fect Cana­di­ans. Re­cent re­ports have cov­ered intellectual prop­erty, re­duc­ing in­ter­nal trade bar­ri­ers and cre­at­ing a pipe­line strat­egy that bal­ances eco­nomic growth, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and in­dige­nous rights.

This is just the tip of the ice­berg in terms of the se­ri­ous work sen­a­tors do.

The up­per cham­ber forms part of the bedrock of our coun­try, as the Fa­thers of Con­fed­er­a­tion so aptly stressed. The Se­nate has al­ways had a vi­tal con­sti­tu­tional role to play in de­lib­er­at­ing over House of Com­mons leg­is­la­tion, propos­ing its own leg­is­la­tion and in con­duct­ing in-depth, in­de­pen­dent re­search on pub­lic is­sues.

Go­ing into 2017, we’re con­fi­dent the Se­nate’s im­proved and im­prov­ing open­ness will con­tinue to a go a long way in help­ing Cana­di­ans see how es­sen­tial and re­spon­sive our in­sti­tu­tion is.

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