Senate enters new year embracing openness
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.