Senate QP: Official residences and the rules around them

Normally the Senate doesn’t sit on Fridays, and on days they do sit, things in the Chamber get underway in the afternoon. Today, however, things were different and not only was the Senate sitting, but early in the morning — though one has to say that the sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows added a particularly lovely glow to the Chamber and the proceedings. Senator Terry Mercer was up first, and wanted to carry on the discussion about John Baird’s stay at Macdonald House in London. Given the conflicting values of the House in media reports, Mercer asked for clarification as to its true value — $500 million, or $800 million. Senator Marjory LeBreton, the government leader and answerer of questions, took the question as notice so that she could get back to him. Mercer asked about the sale of our official residences in the capitals around the world, and if that would be diminishing our presence around the world. LeBreton thought the notion preposterous, and used the sale of the Dublin residence as an example, saying the property was too far removed from the centre of activity there. Mercer wondered what other residences or embassies were up for sale next — Washington DC, Paris? LeBreton laughed off those suggestions.

Senator Day was up next, and brought up the conflict of interest legislation and the declaration of gifts, and how it could be that Baird wouldn’t claim such a stay as a gift. LeBreton said that she couldn’t answer for the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. Day wasn’t satisfied, and declared that there was a hole in the Conflict of Interest Act that needed to be plugged. LeBreton insisted that Baird’s trip didn’t cost any taxpayer money, as though that were the question. Senator Cowan got up to ask a supplemental, and noted that since Baird is the High Commissioner’s boss, there was a problem with the request to stay. LeBreton insisted that this was a hypothetical recounting of events, and when Raymond Chrétien was an ambassador, he said that he had family and friends stay with him all the time — except of course that Chrétien wasn’t inviting his boss, the minister, to stay. After a few more back-and-forth exchanges, Senator Downe got up to ask his own supplemental and brought up that very point — that this was the minister staying. LeBreton insisted that even ministers have friends. Senator Moore then took a supplemental and asked if there was a log about who stayed at the residences. LeBreton said it would be absurd for people to have a log of stays at private residences. Senator Joyal got up next, and said that when he was a minister of the Crown, there were rules against stays by ministers at official residences, even if they were the private residences, and would LeBreton table those rules. LeBreton said that the incident with Ambassador Bouchard that he referenced was a different matter. Joyal wasn’t satisfied, and demanded the rules be tabled, and wouldn’t let LeBreton get away with not answering, though she stuck to her talking points dutifully.

Senator Mitchell was up next, and mentioned the floods happening in Southern Alberta, and wondered what federal resources were being devoted to this disaster. LeBreton said that the government was offering any and all assistance to the region, including Canadian Forces assets being deployed to the region.

Senator Munson marked that it was National Aboriginal Day, and brought up the recent reports about poverty among Aboriginal communities and the negative impacts on them as a result. LeBreton said that they were well aware of the challenges facing First Nations communities, and that education was important to offering opportunities to those communities, which was why they had signed education agreements that had been announced. Senator Dyck asked a supplemental, and brought up the frustration among Aboriginal communities in the face of legislation being imposed upon them with no consultation, and she mentioned the various hunger strikes by leaders. Dyck wondered just what First Nations people had to do in order to be heard by the government. LeBreton wondered how matrimonial property rights would be a bad thing, and noted that Minister Valcourt has met with the various marchers and leaders. While Dyck wanted to press further, time for Question Period expired.

Overall, the second topic and the various exchanges and supplemental questions being asked spontaneously was an example of exactly why Senate QP is superior to the farcical puppet show that takes place in the Commons. When answers weren’t being given, they pressed. Those who had different experience or who found holes in the answers could press from their own vantage points. If only MPs could grow up and learn to conduct their own debates in a similar manner.

Sartorially speaking, snaps go out to Senator Janis Johnson for a nicely cut tan jacket with a black top and trousers, and to Senator Don Meredith for a dark grey suit with a light violet shirt and silver tie. Style citations go out to Senator Don Plett for a grey suit with an eggplant shirt and tie, and to Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen for a black and floral dress with a pink jacket.