OTTAWA — As the Senate debates the futures of three embattled Conservative members, important work of its various standing committees has been put on hold.
Senator Catherine Callbeck sits on the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance and the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, while Senator Elizabeth Hubley, the deputy opposition whip, is deputy chairwoman of the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans and a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights.
“Every senator is preoccupied with these motions. There is not much opportunity to get on with other things,” said Callbeck. “I have been able to ask some questions in question period, such as I did on things pertaining to my province, like federal job cuts, where we are getting cut 10 to 12 per cent by 2014 and the national average is less than five. Also, on the cuts made to the Canadian Tourism Commission. That’s a major industry in our province.”
She has also had the chance to speak on bringing back the mandatory census, the significance of small business and is working to introduce an inquiry to negotiate a new health accord, something she says is extremely important to Canadians.
“We have statements at the beginning and then you have question period. This is where I have been able to get some of those things done.”
But with the Senate tied up with debate on the future of senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, those important issues have been sidelined.
“It seems the rest of the days — and we are sitting long, long days — everything is consumed with these motions,” she added. “The two committees that I am on, their work has been stalled completely.”
The agriculture and forestry committee had been scheduled to meet Tuesday night, a meeting that was cancelled. And the finance committee is set to meet next week.
Hubley said the fisheries committee, which had just completed its study on the lobster industry, is stalled on its study of the farmed stock and wild stock fishery.
She has been able to start an inquiry into child welfare across the country with the hope of delving deeper into foster care and developing a national strategy for care of children in care.
“That work hasn’t stopped.”
But with the prorogation of all Senate committees and the restricting of each, “things fell off the order paper.”
“There is important work that the Senate does and that it will hopefully be getting back to that very, very shortly.”
Hubley pointed to the Kirby Report on Mental Illness, a senate report that called on government to provide more money for what it deemed a health crisis.
“The issues that the senators study are broad and they are pointed and they are needed,” she added. “The way that the Senate can approach those studies is in a non-partisan manner. It’s work that should be done and there is a great advantage and a great value to the work that the Senate does because of those features, that it is not an elected body.”
Both Callbeck and Hubley feel that the Senate plays a vital role in this country.
“Having both chambers, having that sober second thought that oversees how the legislation is coming down, how it is going to impact, especially on minority groups and regions, is why it was put there in the first place,” said Hubley.
Callbeck noted, “Committee work… is the heart and the soul of the Senate. I was on a standing committee for years, social affairs, science and technology, and that is the committee that did the mental health study. That really got some action from government.”
She noted the agriculture committee is currently working on a research and innovation study but, with the current climate in the senate, work on that study has been stalled since the committee isn’t able to meet.
“Senate committees are not allowed to meet while the senate is sitting unless there is permission from the Senate. To my knowledge, no committee has gotten permission to sit,” said Callbeck. “We can’t move forward.”
Both women agree that expense scandal has left a black mark on the Senate and has done a great deal of damage to its image. And, they say, it will forever change the Senate as Canadians now know it.