NEWS

A Modern Senate for a Modern Canada – Speech

Posted October 1st, 2013 in blog, Press Release, Speech/Remarks by Doug Black

SpeakingOn September 28, 2013, I outlined my 7-point action plan to improve the Senate’s relationship with Canadians in an address to the Progressive Conservative Youth of Alberta (PCYA) in Sylvan Lake, Alberta. In my speech I also spoke at length about the need for Albertans to continue to show leadership in the Senate reform debate. Finally, I discussed the important role of the Senate in Canada’s democracy and the need for fundamental reforms to give the Senate true legitimacy and accountability.

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Read my 7-point plan for the Senate

Read a transcript of my speech

 

 

 

 

 

Op-Ed: A 7-Point Plan to Improve the Senate (The Globe and Mail)

Posted September 4th, 2013 in blog, Op-Ed by Doug Black

Canadians prefer reforming the Senate to abolishing it – 48.7%  versus 40.9% – and almost no one wants to leave it as is. Indeed, Quebec is the only province in which a majority favours abolition, which means that support for reform in almost every province is even stronger than the national average would suggest. I think this demonstrates that most Canadians recognize that the Senate can play a valuable role in balancing power in our diverse federation. To get the ball rolling, I am bringing forward a 7-point action plan to improve the Senate’s relationship with Canadians. My op-ed in the Globe and Mail today follows and further details of the plan can be found below.


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Doug Black

September 4, 2013

Since taking my seat in the Senate this past February, I have identified a number of simple and practical steps that the Senate could take to improve its relationship with Canadians. When we begin a new session this fall, I plan to bring to the table my 7-point action plan to get the ball rolling.

To ensure greater accountability, the Senate should:

1) tighten proof of residency requirements, because provincial and territorial representation is one of the core functions of Senators

2) add external members to its audit committee, as is done in the UK’s House of Lords

3) support legislation that would prevent MPs and Senators convicted of serious crimes from receiving their parliamentary pensions

To increase transparency and public trust, the Senate should:

4) clearly define “Senate Business” in its expense policies, so that rules are stringent enough to protect the interests of Canadian taxpayers, but not so restrictive that they handcuff Senators to Ottawa and prevent them from getting out and listening to Canadians

5) require more detailed online disclosure of Senators’ travel and hospitality expenses

6) webcast live video of debate in the Senate Chamber, as is done in Australia, the United States, the UK and countless other upper chambers around the world

Finally, to improve its engagement with the public, the Senate should:

7) launch a two-way dialogue with Canadians to improve understanding of its current role in Canada’s democracy and explore what role Canadians want it to play in the future

This plan is not meant to be comprehensive, but I hope that it will start to move the Senate in the right direction. Canadians expect and deserve a Senate that is accountable, transparent and responsive.

Albertans tell me that they are frustrated with the current state of affairs in the Senate, and some see abolition as the only solution. I share their frustrations.

And yet, digging deeper, I find that very few want a system of government in which a House of Commons dominated by Ontario and Quebec is the only body that determines Canada’s laws. We are an uncommonly diverse nation and we deserve a more balanced distribution of power than that.

The decision to include the Senate in Canada’s Parliament was not an accident of history. It was the product of reflection and choice by the Fathers of Confederation, who understood that an upper chamber could foster national unity by equally representing regional interests. Since then we have embraced cooperation and compromise in Canada’s governance and, as a result, our country will soon celebrate its 150th birthday as one of the most free and prosperous societies in the world.

This 7-point action plan to improve the Senate’s relationship with Canadians is a starting point, not a substitute, for the fundamental reforms needed to transform the Senate into a truly legitimate, effective and modern institution.

It is my hope that implementing this plan will help align the Senate’s practices with the public’s expectations and thus help to advance the conversation around more meaningful reforms. That conversation must be a serious one about the future of Canada’s democracy, free from unnecessary distractions. How Canadians govern themselves is much more important than the current problems dominating the headlines.

Doug Black is an Alberta elected Senator. You can find him on Twitter at @DougBlackAB.

Please click here to read the article on the Globe & Mail’s website.

 


Further details on my 7-point plan:

Part One: Accountability

  • Provincial and territorial representation is one of the core functions of Senators. All Senators should provide the following proof that they reside in the province or territory that they represent:
    • driver’s license
    • income tax return
    • health care card
    • a signed letter confirming that they vote in the province
  • To restore public trust and ensure the legitimate use of taxpayer dollars, external members should be added to the Audit Subcommittee of the Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, as is done in the UK’s House of Lords. These external members would have deep experience and sterling reputations in the corporate administration/audit community and would provide independent and objective contributions to the Subcommittee’s work, including the development and approval of audit plans.
  • Parliament should support legislation that would prevent MPs and Senators convicted of serious crimes from receiving their parliamentary pensions. New Brunswick MP John Williamson introduced such legislation in the House of Commons earlier this year.

Part Two: Transparency

  • The Senate should provide Canadians with clarity as to what are and what are not eligible expenses. As I said last month, the rules must be stringent enough to protect the interests of Canadian taxpayers, but not so restrictive that they handcuff Senators to Ottawa and prevent them from getting out and listening to Canadians.
  • The Senate should disclose online the travel and hospitality expenses of Senators on a more detailed basis, albeit in a way that protects privacy where appropriate and minimizes administrative burden. Canadians must also take into consideration that a Senator from Montreal will necessarily have lower travel costs than one from Nunavut. I have been concerned by media reports making unfair comparisons of Senators’ travel expenses without acknowledging the obvious effect of distance from Ottawa. I am happy to tell Albertans that I currently post all of my travel, hospitality and office expenses here on my website.
  • The Senate should improve the accessibility and transparency of its legislative function by webcasting live video of debate in the Chamber,  as is done in Australia, the United States, the UK and countless other upper chambers around the world. Senate debates are open to the public. There is no reason why those in Ottawa should have the ability to watch the Senate in action while those back home in Alberta cannot.

Part Three: Public Engagement

  • The Senate should initiate a two-way dialogue with Canadians to help improve public understanding of the Chamber’s role in Parliament. As we think about the future of the Senate, it is important to understand its role as envisioned at Confederation and its contemporary function. We must also understand what role Canadians want it to play in the future.

Interview with CBC’s The National on Expenses – August 14, 2013

Posted August 15th, 2013 in blog by Doug Black

Screen Shot 2013-08-15 at 2.42.47 PMI spoke with CBC’s The National yesterday from Canmore regarding my decision to post detailed quarterly expense reports on my website as part of my personal commitment to accountability and transparency. You can view the interview here (segment starts at 12m30s). To view my expense reports and other information that I think is important to share with Albertans, please visit the Accountability section of my website.

 

 

 

“Alberta senator Doug Black is only member of upper chamber to post spending details online”

Posted July 20th, 2013 in Article, blog by Doug Black

2012 Alberta Senate Nominee ElectionBy Jordan Press, Postmedia News

July 19, 2013

OTTAWA — Only one of the country’s more than 100 senators lists spending details online along with his attendance record — showing how often he is in the Senate chamber, and how he spends taxpayer dollars.

The expense reports from Sen. Doug Black, who was appointed to the Senate in January, provide some details about what he expensed to the Senate, including the amount spent on hotel stays, flights, and per diem claims for him, his staff and his spouse.

The simple-to-read forms, which Black posts on his personal website, provide more information than any other senator currently in the upper chamber and give insight into how senators spend money just as the red chamber deals with an ongoing spending scandal.

“Expenses and attendance and these kinds of matters can become a tremendous distraction to people unless you put it out there,” the Conservative senator said in an interview from Calgary.

Without posting spending details, Black said he would “continually” have to explain how he is using money.

Black should know. Last year, Black repaid $28,000 in expenses to the University of Calgary, some of which appeared to violate the school’s spending policy.

Speaking about the controversy for the first time, Black said he had “made a mistake” for claiming about $5,000 in expenses that appeared to be ineligible under university rules, but which the university approved. He said he wrote a cheque for the $5,000, then decided on his own volition to repay the entire $28,000.

“It’s very simple. I made a simple mistake, which I acknowledged. The university made a simple mistake, which it acknowledged,” Black said.

“I acknowledged the mistake and I cleaned it up.”

He resigned from the board of the university last year not because of the controversy, but because he was leaving a number of boards in preparation for sitting in the Senate.

“My resignation…had nothing to do with this (the controversy) at all,” Black said. “It’s the linkage people make and it’s simply not accurate.”

Black placed first in the 2012 Alberta Senate elections, which put him first in line to replace Liberal Joyce Fairbairn after she resigned due to health issues. During that campaign, he vowed to put his expenses online.

Black said he felt he needed to publicly post his Senate expenses as quickly as possible after taking his seat in the upper chamber. The controversy from the University of Calgary hasn’t “directly influenced” his decision to post his expenses online.

“Naturally, it’s in my mind,” Black said. “I’m cognizant of it, but it’s not the driver. I made a commitment and I’m fulfilling it.”

Reviewing the expense reports shows Black spends $1,135 on flights between Ottawa and Calgary (he periodically pays the same amount to bring his spouse to Ottawa), took a $9.63 cab ride in Calgary on April 26, paid $2,000 in rent in May for a secondary home in the capital, and spent $10.46 on April 23 for batteries.

There are some details that the expense forms don’t show. For instance, taxi fees for Black on April 9 for about $9 don’t say how far or where he went in Calgary. Some of those details are missing, he said, because he wants to protect the privacy of people he meets.

“There’s a balance there. Certainly we can put more detail, but I also have to be concerned with privacy,” Black said. “I have to be respectful of others.”

Senators provide high-level overviews of their spending throughout the year. Their quarterly reports show totals for spending by category, including regular travel to and from Ottawa, but don’t give details of how the money was spent.

There is currently no way to publicly access those details unless a senator decides to make them public.

Senate attendance records are also difficult to access. The Senate’s attendance register is available for the public to review, but only by visiting the Senate’s administration’s office in-person in Ottawa.

Black’s staff post online scans of his attendance records submitted to the registry. It shows how many sitting days the Senate had during a month, how many days Black missed and how many more leave days he has before he starts losing pay under Senate rules.

Auditor general Michael Ferguson’s office will scrutinize those rules as part of its audit of Senate spending and oversight. The Senate called Ferguson in last month amid revelations of a pattern of improper expenses claims by Sen. Mike Duffy.

The work could take more than a year to complete, although Ferguson has said he would provide interim results. Whether any senators are named in Ferguson’s final report is unclear.

Senators have privately expressed concern that the decision to bring in the auditor general appeared to lump all senators in with Duffy, now the subject of a criminal investigation. There is equal concern about allowing Ferguson’s office a chance to probe every corner of the Senate’s finances amid fears that he could find wrongdoing beyond what has already been made public.

Black said he’s ready to welcome auditors into his office if asked: “We’re ready. The files are there. We’ll put out a cup of coffee.”

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

 

Please click here to read the story on the Calgary Herald’s website.