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End of Session Speech

Honourable senators, it is customary at the end of a session to review what we have accomplished in the past months since Parliament was convened, but the last several months were at least as memorable for what we were not able to do as they were for what we were able to accomplish.

Among the things we weren’t able to do is the departure of some of our fellow senators who retired during the time of the shutdown and who will be retiring in the summer months. We will therefore not have the opportunity while they are still here to give them a proper send-off. I refer, of course, to Senator Mitchell, Senator McInnis and, in a few months, Senator Lillian Dyck. It also applies, of course, to staffers, members of the Senate Administration, pages and others who work in the Senate family who, for one reason or another, may be moving on to other pursuits and we will not have the opportunity to properly say goodbye to them in this chamber.

If I could use this opportunity to mention one in particular, a staffer in the Independent Senators Group secretariat, Megan Lee. This is her last day. She will be moving on to other pursuits in Ottawa.

We were also unable to form committees in the last seven months. A few have been formed, as we all know, but most committees were not formed and they were not able to do the studies that they are well known for. We were not able to participate in interparliamentary association work and travel. Many of us were not able to advance the causes that we are passionate about on the Hill in Ottawa. Most importantly of all, we were not able to sit in this chamber in regular sessions. This is most acutely felt by those of our colleagues who were not able to come to the emergency sessions since the middle of March and in the last two weeks of our sittings. All of them, I know, have been paying close attention to what we do in this chamber and it has been an immense frustration for them to be viewing us from afar and not being able to be in the thick of the action, so to speak.

There is more than meets the eye to the work of senators in their formal role in Ottawa because we know that all senators, whether they were here or not, have been working hard in their communities and discharging their duties as senators outside of being in the chamber and in committees. A number of senators have self-selected into groups to have discussions and exchanges on issues of importance to the country — particularly in the context of COVID — broadly aligned with the mandates of Senate standing committees, but not in any way trying to usurp the role of Senate standing committees. I think of the work of senators discussing basic income and talking about foreign affairs in the wake of the coronavirus. I think of the senators who have come together to talk about energy and environmental issues, arts and culture, Indigenous issues and, of course, anti-black racism. The Senate may not have been meeting, but senators have been hard at work.

Even so, the experience of recent months has demonstrated a glaring weakness in our institutional design, and it is that we don’t have a business continuity plan. We’ve had some discussion about this already, about the use of video conferencing technology, and different senators have different views. To me, it is extraordinary that an institution of this importance in our country does not have the ability to meet outside of this chamber and has not embraced the technology that any well-functioning organization in this country has already done. Now, of course, there are obstacles to be overcome; but surely lesson that we have learned in the last few months is that whether or not we need to use that technology, we need to put it in place and we need to be ready for a time, whether it is a second wave or some other catastrophe, that may require us to meet by means other than being physically present in Ottawa. You all know the oath that we swore. It has the call of a summons to come. I would like to think that in the 21st century one would have a modern interpretation of the summons as including plugging in your computer and turning on your video conferencing app.

Honourable senators, business continuity and the ability to meet remotely should be part of our modernization agenda. This is something that has been ongoing in our chamber for many years already. This is an additional item that I know our Senate Administration will be working on over the summer.

Of course, the modernization agenda goes much beyond physical infrastructure and meeting by technology. It is also about the improved effectiveness of the Senate. What I like to see is the greater independence and the lessening of partisanship in our upper house. I’m so delighted that we have had a major development, even in the midst of COVID-19 in the last few months, with the emergence of three recognized parliamentary groups that are not part of a partisan caucus. Now the clear majority of this chamber belongs to groups that are non-partisan and that want to advance a future in the Senate that is based on criteria that goes beyond partisan considerations.

We saw this play out in the last two weeks, where there were different ways of providing opposition to the government. It was reflected in the welcome reality of a more variegated type of opposition in this chamber that advances a diverse set of issues with which to challenge the government. There was a Committee of the Whole on supply. There was also a Committee of the Whole on systemic racism. I’m very proud of my colleagues in the ISG who provided some leadership on those issues.

There are many other items on the modernization agenda that have moved forward. It’s not the time to address them. I’m very pleased that we were able to make progress on a number of fronts. I would single out the Audit and Oversight Committee which is now on its way to being formed, again, due to the work of senators from all sides and with much deliberation and care.

It leaves me now to offer my thanks and gratitude to so many colleagues and friends who have made the last seven months of sitting a success and a pleasure. I want to start with my ISG colleagues, who have provided me with support in spite of some difficult times. I want to especially thank the leadership team of Senator Saint-Germain, Senator Omidvar and Senator Duncan, but all ISG members have been a source of strength for me and for the leadership team, and the secretariat that has provided steadfast support to our work.

I want to thank the Senate Administration and all the workers of the Senate, from the security staff to the cleaning staff to Black Rod, and so many others who make it possible for us to do our work successfully. We thanked some of the pages here in person, but I want all the pages to know that we deeply appreciate their work, and for those who are leaving, we wish them well.

I offer a special thanks to my fellow leaders. I fully reciprocate the kind words from Senator Plett and Senator Gold. It really is a pleasure to work with you. It’s not easy at times, but we always seem to find a way to go forward and to take the broader interests of the Senate and of this country into consideration.

Your Honour, I want to thank you again for your leadership on a variety of fronts, particularly in dealing with the difficult circumstances around how we and you have had to make some tough decisions that haven’t pleased everyone. However, I believe you’ve held the broadest interests in your heart and have made those decisions in good conscience.

Colleagues in the chamber and those of you who are watching via SenVu, I want to wish all of you a safe, happy, restful and rejuvenating summer. I look forward to seeing you all in the fall.