Motion to Amend the Rules of the Senate—Debate
Hon. Paul J. Massicotte: Honourable senators, as you know, more than four and a half years after the publication of the Auditor General’s report and two years after the recommendation by the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, an audit process adapted to the parliamentary context was finally proposed to review our parliamentary expenditures. Senator Dean moved a motion to amend the Rules of the Senate to create a standing committee on audit and oversight.
I rise today to express my support for the proposed process. This process is the result of a lengthy study and discussions aimed at finding a fair balance between the independence needed for a legitimate audit process and our parliamentary privilege to manage our own affairs, which guarantees us the freedom we need to carry out our duties.
I also want to take this opportunity to make five changes to the motion by way of amendment. Four of them simply seek to correct technical issues, and one is more substantial.
First, I would like to reaffirm why this new audit and oversight committee is so important in the context of our efforts to modernize the Senate and restore its legitimacy.
The main objective of this committee is to reassure taxpayers that senators spend their money wisely, all according to the most appropriate rules and policies. Our current model, where only senators via the Internal Economy Committee supervise, review and approve the expenses of their colleagues, does not meet the needs of the public for trust and reliability, nor is it remotely in sync with basic modern governance principles that are applied in other parts or organizations of our society, whether private or public.
The model proposed by the Auditor General in 2015 was quite radical. It proposed the creation of an audit committee where a majority of members, including the chair, would come from outside the Senate. It also proposed a fully independent oversight and accounting body. That model is thorough, but also cumbersome and very costly, and would clearly conflict with our parliamentary privilege for self-management.
As an alternative to the Auditor General’s recommendation, our then Internal Economy Committee suggested creating a committee on audit and oversight composed entirely of senators who did not sit on the Internal Economy Committee with the authority to employ auditors and experts to confirm that our spending is appropriate. However, this model did not really remedy the glaring weaknesses of our existing governance system, where, in the end, senators still approved other senators’ expenses.
With Senator Dean’s proposal, the introduction of two qualified external members out of the five members who compose the committee brings the crucial element of independence that was missing. Some will say that this is not enough, since senators will still hold a majority in the presidency of the committee. I’ve had the same reservation. If you recall, the last time I spoke about this issue — two years ago — I proposed to totally externalize the process to an auditor.
Of course, I understand that a majority of external members on the committee could be interpreted by the courts as a renunciation of our parliamentary privilege to manage our internal affairs without outside interference. This could bring about considerable legal risks for our institution.
To compensate for the impossibility of appointing a majority of external members to the committee, we have decided to publish their opinions in the annual reports.
Of course, it would be possible and desirable for votes by committee members who are senators to be made public. I think such a mechanism would give external members sufficient latitude to express their opinions during discussions with members who are senators. That would allay the concerns of Canadians who want the new committee, with a majority of senators, to be less partial than the current auditing system.
I will now present the amendments that I would like to make to Senator Dean’s motion. If I may, I would like to ask for my colleagues’ consent to distribute a copy of chapter 12 of the Rules of the Senate along with my motion to amend so they can see and better understand Senator Dean’s and my proposed amendments.
I’ll begin with a substantive amendment, the most important one, which can be found in point number 2 of my motion. I propose to delete paragraph (c) of the new rule 12-7(17), created by point number 5 of Senator Dean’s motion.
Paragraph (c) directs the Standing Committee on Audit and Oversight to do the following, and I quote:
make recommendations to the Senate concerning the internal and external audit plans;
This paragraph could be interpreted as an obligation on the committee’s part to obtain Senate approval for each audit exercise it chooses to undertake. This goes against the principle of good governance, particularly the principle of independence, whereby an audit committee should be able to handle its own affairs, on its own, to do its work properly. I’m afraid that if we keep this paragraph, Canadians might be inclined to question our good faith and suspect the Senate of wanting to maintain some discretion to be able to avoid any audits likely to embarrass a senator.
That is why I propose deleting that paragraph, so as to avoid any risk of ambiguity.
Let me move to the explanation of the clerical corrections. We noticed some typos after Senator Dean tabled his motion in December. The first clerical modification I propose in point number one of my motion is in the French version of point number 3 of Senator Dean’s motion. I suggest replacing the introduction of section 12.5 of the Rules of the Senate with an edited text.
The second clerical modification in point number 3 of my motion is within point number 14 of the French version of Senator Dean’s motion. The numbering of the rule that is modified is actually rule 12-22(2) and not 12-22(1).
The third clerical modification in point number 4 of my motion is in the English version of the introductory wording in point number 15 of Senator Dean’s motion. The rule that is modified is rule number 12-22(7) and (8) and not 12-3(7) and (8).
The last clerical correction in point number 5 of my motion is in number 15 of Senator Dean’s motion. It creates a new rule number 12-22(7) that was wrongly numbered 12-23(7).
As Senator Dean’s notice of motion was already signed and delivered, it was not possible to edit it. With his agreement, we chose to correct the errors in the same motion that also proposed to delete paragraph 12-27(17)(c).
To conclude, honourable senators, once these modifications are approved, I believe we will have reached the best audit and oversight system possible, given our need to vote, preserve the integrity of our parliamentary structure and restore public confidence in a key institution that is meant to serve Canadians. This can’t wait any longer.
Motion in Amendment
Therefore, honourable senators, in amendment, I move:
That the motion be not now adopted, but that it be amended:
1.in the French version of point number 3, by replacing the proposed new text by the following:
“12-5. Sauf dans le cas des membres d’office, des membres du Comité permanent sur l’éthique et les conflits d’intérêts des sénateurs et des membres du Comité permanent de l’audit et de la surveillance, le remplacement d’un membre d’un comité peut s’effectuer au moyen d’un avis remis au greffier du Sénat, qui le fait consigner aux Journaux du Sénat. Cet avis est signé :”;
2.in paragraph (b) of point number 5, by deleting paragraph (c) in the proposed new text and renumbering the remaining paragraphs in consequence;
3.in the French version of point number 14, in the proposed new text, by replacing the rule number “12-22. (1)” by “12-22. (2)”;
4.in the English version of point number 15, in the introductory wording, by replacing the words “new rules 12-3(7) and (8)” by “new rules 12-22(7) and (8)”; and
5.in point number 15, in the proposed new text, by replacing the rule number “12-3. (7)” by “12-22. (7)”.
I’m certain that you all followed what I said and that you understand. It was very clear. Thank you very much for your attention.