29 May 2015
Yesterday in the Senate Question Period, Senator Mitchell asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether he would commit to bringing Bill C-279, the transgender rights bill, to a vote. This is their exchange. [Please note that Senator Carignan spoke in French. His words have been translated]
Hon. Grant Mitchell: I have a question for the Leader of the Government that follows on, in one sense, from the rights question and the mental health question that preceded, because it concerns Bill C-279, which is the transgender rights bill.
The Senate received that bill about two years ago. As we know, the government can call a vote on these kinds of things any time they would like. I respect the fact that Senator Batters has yet to speak and is scheduled to speak next week. I encourage that be done.
My question is to ask the Leader of the Government whether he would put his full authority behind pressing his deputy leader to allow for a vote as soon as possible after Senator Batters speaks so that we could get a vote on Bill C-279 for the many people in the transgender community, their families, supporters and all Canadians who are concerned about rights and have been waiting for over two years.
Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): Senator, allow me to remind you that we proposed amending the Rules of the Senate to allow time allocation or a means of ending debate or forcing a vote on a private member's bill. The goal was to allow a bill's critic or sponsor to move this motion to force a vote on the bill. Unfortunately, your side strongly objected to a change in the Rules.
Therefore, we must apply the current Rules and let senators continue to debate and study the bill. I invite you to put pressure on your leadership if you wish to change your position on amending the Rules. That would allow you to move this motion in order to advance debate.
Senator Mitchell: I appreciate the cagey comeback, completely and utterly disingenuous, because what that initiative would require would be that if I wanted a vote on a bill that I'm sponsoring as an opposition member, I could move to have it, but I'd still have to get the support from the government side, the majority, in order to get the vote. What I'm doing right now is just asking you to help me get the support on the other side to get the vote. I just want a vote. These people have been waiting for two years. It was passed in House of Commons by a majority, with 18 Conservatives, including the late Jim Flaherty and the former Minister John Baird.
I'm asking you and doing exactly what you're saying, what your initiative would have done. We don't have closure. All we have is the opportunity to ask. This is my opportunity.
Will you please see that we get a vote on the report immediately after Senator Batters speaks and that we move to third reading? Senator Plett and others can speak, but we can do that within a day or two. Certainly we're getting a budget bill. What is the budget bill going to cover, $250 billion? We're doing that in two weeks. This has been two years. Could you not just ask your members to allow for a vote? That's all we're asking.
Senator Carignan: That is exactly what I was saying. The amendment would enable a vote to be held. It's not a way to limit debate; it's a way to force a vote at a specific time. Unfortunately, you rejected this amendment to the Rules of the Senate, and as a result, you cannot use this tool as a way to take positive action toward advancing your bill. As you know, from our perspective, this is an interesting private member's bill on which everyone can vote their conscience. We each have the right to study the bill and vote as we see fit. We all get a chance to study it properly.
Senator Mitchell: It sounds like we've made some progress, but now we have to establish that you're not going to be whipped and you get to vote your conscience. That's great. Let's get that on the record. Let's reinforce that. The Conservatives will be able to vote their conscience on this bill. That's fantastic.
What I am saying, and I want to make this clear, is that I get your point about the initiative we turned down, but what you're not getting is that the initiative that we turned down is exactly what, in effect, I'm doing now. That initiative would allow me to ask the Conservatives to vote on giving me a vote. I'm being that much more efficient, trying to reduce government, trying to reduce red tape.
I'm simply asking: Will you put the weight of you and your office behind getting a vote on this bill, Bill C-279, at report and quickly after that at third reading? Could you do that before the end of the session for the sake of all these people?
Senator Carignan: I hope I didn't miss parts of the question, because I forgot to put in my earpiece for the interpretation.
Senator Mitchell: You are allowed to vote your conscience. There will be no whip.
Senator Carignan: I can assure you that, on this side, ever since I have been in the Senate, every one of the senators I have seen vote has always done so according to his or her conscience.
Senator Mitchell: I am not for an instant doubting the exercise of conscience on that side. What I doubt is the sincerity of your response to my basic fundamental request to simply have a vote on a bill that was passed by elected members, who were probably representing 60 per cent in total of the popular vote in Canada. It was passed by members on the other side. Could we, after two years, have a vote on that? You get a budget bill worth $250 billion through here in two weeks. Isn't two years getting to be a little bit long for this bill?
Senator Carignan: Senator, we will refer the proposed rules to the representatives of your caucus, and if they agree to adopt the amendment to the Rules without delay, you will have all of the tools you need to move your bill forward.
Please click here to read this exchange in French / Veuillez appuyer ici pour lire cet échange en français