Hon. Donald Neil Plett: Colleagues, this bill was introduced in the other place just over a year ago on March 20. It came to this chamber last fall and has been the subject of much debate and discussion.
At second reading it was debated over 12 sittings by 18 senators who spoke to it and by many others who asked questions. At committee we sat for more than 30 hours and heard from 81 witnesses, including two cabinet ministers.
The report stage covered four more sittings, with four senators speaking to the report.
Today we find ourselves at what is expected to be the last third reading speech, having heard from 14 senators. I am being told there might be one more senator who will want to speak. I say this not only to commend all senators for their participation but to illustrate that we have covered a lot of ground with this bill and have heard arguments from many different perspectives.
Yet in spite of the participation and rigorous examination, I admit that I am concerned. I am concerned that we find ourselves exactly where we were before we began looking at this bill. I suspect that if we had voted on this bill when it arrived in this chamber, the outcome would have been exactly the same as it will be when we are finished here tonight.
After all the time, research, debate, testimony, letters, emails, phone calls, discussions, questions, answers and non-answers, we are finishing right where we began.
The Senate Committee on National Security and Defence did an outstanding job examining this bill and bringing in amendments to improve it. These were simply ignored by this chamber. When we sought to reintroduce these individually, they were again unceremoniously rejected without true consideration.
Colleagues, how is it possible that so many senators who claim to be independent consistently vote as a block in support of the Liberal Party, and despite the evidence? How is this nonpartisan?
If ISG senators were truly independent, we would at least see their votes proportionately reflect the views of Canadians — maybe not all the time but at least some of the time? Yet that is far from what is happening. Instead, we are repeatedly seeing a wholesale endorsement of the government’s agenda.
I understand there may be some concern amongst senators opposite that it is not the appropriate role of this chamber to challenge the elected house. I would remind you that amending legislation in this house in no way prevents the other place from rejecting those amendments. This has happened many times in this parliamentary session, and repeatedly throughout history.
Our job is to give sober second thought to the legislation that appears before us. At times, this includes challenging the very premise of what is being proposed. If we repeatedly fail to do this, it brings into question the usefulness of this chamber. We have a responsibility to look beyond the talking points, challenge assumptions, and require evidence-based policy.
This has not happened with Bill C-71.