The United Church of Canada Act Private Bill to Amend—Second Reading
1st Session, 42nd Parliament
Volume 150, Issue 243
Thursday, November 1, 2018
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker
Question of Privilege
Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Honourable senators, today I gave notice to the Clerk of the Senate, Mr. Richard Denis, that I would be raising a question of privilege. As my letter stated, I feel my ability to vote in an association of which I am a full and paid member was obstructed.
Parliamentary associations, as per their constitution, must, “. . . conform to Canadian parliamentary practice and rules of procedure.”
However, I respectfully submit this was not the case on October 30, 2018. I was alerted to the breach of privilege in the late morning of October 31, 2018, and, as such, missed the window to serve proper notice yesterday, hence my raising this issue today as it was the first opportunity to do so.
Later today, I will elaborate on what I believe was a breach of privilege and on the remedy I am seeking from you, Mr. Speaker. Thank you.
The United Church of Canada Act
Private Bill to Amend—Second Reading
Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Honourable senators, I am pleased to rise today on Bill S-1003, An Act to amend the United Church of Canada Act. While I am technically the critic, I want to express my support for this bill.
I should tell you I have some qualifications to speak on this, having been a member of the United Church of Canada before I married a Catholic.
The United Church of Canada, when it was created in 1924, was a different organization from the one that exists today. The governance structure identified in that act made sense at the time. However, the reality is both financial and volunteer resources are becoming scarcer for the church. Hence, the desire to spend less on governance. By changing the governance structure as outlined in the bill, the United Church will have an opportunity to focus more of its resources on its important work such as its global and community work, faith formation and so forth.
It is important to note, colleagues, these suggested changes are the result of a years-long process undertaken by the church itself.
Following the 2012 General Council meeting in Ottawa, a Comprehensive Review Task Group was appointed to consult with the church on ways to restructure. The task group set out on their mission and consulted widely with congregations, presbyteries and conferences, individuals in the church both in person and through modern means such as online surveys. An interim report was tabled, feedback received and a final report with recommendations presented to the 42nd General Council in Corner Brook in 2015.
After considerable discussion and debate, significant changes were approved, including the change from four “courts” as they are called — they are pastoral charge, presbytery, conference and general council — to three councils, a local community of faith or congregation, a regional council and a national general council. The size of the general council has also been shrunk from 50 voting members, plus 20 or more “corresponding members,” to 18 members total, enabling the new executive to work in a very different and more engaged way. An office of vocation would also be established to handle personnel matters related to the council, a job previously handled by volunteers at the presbytery level.
The report also provided more transparency on how the regional and general councils would be funded going forward. In the past, it may not have been clear to those giving to the mission and service fund of the church that some of those funds went toward administration and governance. With this new structure, it will be much clearer how the governing councils are funded and how mission and service donations will be spent.
Once these changes were approved at the general council, the church began a “remit” process, whereby these questions were sent to the entire church for approval. The recommendations for changes needed to be voted on and approved by a majority of pastoral charges and a majority of presbyteries across the country.
In June 2017, the results were reported back, with the church voting overwhelmingly in favour of the three major changes.
On the question of the three council model, 74 presbyteries voted for and seven against, in addition to 1,672 pastoral charges voting for and 222 against. These numbers are similar to those on the question of the establishment of an office of vocation and the implementation of a new funding model.
This past July, the 43rd General Council convened in Oshawa and voted to enact the remits, thus finalizing the internal church process. All that remain in order for the church to implement these approved changes are the amendments which are found in this bill.
So, honourable senators, that is why I ask you to support the swift passage of Bill S-1003.
Question of Privilege
Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Thank you, Your Honour.
Honourable senators, it gives me no great joy to bring forward this point of privilege. I’ve been a member of this chamber for going on 10 years, and I was delighted to attend my first interparliamentary conference, the Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region, in Inari, Finland, in September of this year. It was for me a very enriching experience. Over my years serving in the Northwest Territories legislature, I participated in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association international conferences and regional seminars.
While my experience in this place with parliamentary associations has been more limited than those of many of my Senate colleagues, veteran parliamentarians more familiar with the operation of parliamentary associations on the Hill have told me that there is a long and well-established tradition of parliamentary associations operating in a collegial manner. This is, of course, because it is most beneficial to Canada to present a united voice in interfacing with other countries, but also because these organizations have long prided themselves on being non-partisan.
I would be naive, Your Honour, if I did not know — or mention in this address that I know — that there were partisan political motives behind the move to unseat the chair at this meeting; at least, I believe that is what was going on. However, as I have said, I believe there is no place for partisanship in these parliamentary committees, except in ensuring a fair representation of all political parties and organizations in the Canadian parliamentary delegations.
More important, if a group of parliamentarians are going to organize to throw their partisan political weight around, let them do so with respect and dignity, and let them do so with respect to parliamentary traditions and the constitution of the parliamentary association.
As I stated in my letter to the Clerk, on the evening of October 30, 2018, I attended the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association meeting. A point of order was raised, claiming that the meeting was not convened in accordance with the association’s constitution. A procedural clerk confirmed this, and the meeting was subsequently adjourned by the chair. That ruling by the chair was not challenged.
The majority of parliamentarians in attendance then left the room and, indeed, the building. I left with them, thinking the meeting was over. However, I learned in the late morning of October 31, 2018, that after adjournment the meeting had been deemed reconvened by the honourable member for Etobicoke Centre, despite his lacking the authority to do so, and that the same member had named himself chair of the association.
It is my submission, Your Honour, that the member for Etobicoke Centre obstructed my privilege to vote in the affairs of the association, of which I am a paid member. I ask Your Honour to find that my parliamentary privileges were breached.
In aid of that, I would recite to Your Honour the Constitution of the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association, part 4, which states that the association functions “. . . within the mandate of the Speakers of the Senate and House of Commons . . . .” And part 6 names both Speakers as “Honorary Chairs.”
I am appealing to you, Your Honour, as a parliamentarian, a member of the Senate of Canada, to not only acknowledge that there is a prima facie case of breach of privilege, but also to find that the association’s members had not been given any notice of a call for nominations to replace the chair of the committee and, consequently, that any subsequent meeting convened without the appropriate notice was not done so in accordance with parliamentary procedure and the association’s bylaws.
However, if you find no breach of my parliamentary privileges, I would be grateful for any advice you might choose to give that would comment on the importance of maintaining dignity and respect for each other in undertaking our parliamentary duties and representing this great democracy in interfaces with other countries. It is embarrassing that the Parliamentary Protective Service was called in an attempt to maintain order at a parliamentary association meeting.
Therefore, Your Honour, in accordance with rule 13-2(1)(d) of the Rules of the Senate, I am requesting that you work with your colleague in the other place to ensure that another meeting is convened that gives the appropriate notice and enables fellow parliamentarians and me to exercise our voting privileges. Thank you.