This is arguably the most active year the upper house in Canada has seen in years.
The Senate had major victories and major setbacks in 2014, and Alberta Senator Doug Black believe the Senate will continue to have a role to play, in being the sober second thought for the House of Commons moving forward.
“It’s been a tremendous year in the Senate, and it has been an busy year for the Senate,” he said.
As an elected senator for Alberta, Black said that he has accomplished two things this year that made the year go by with pride for himself as a Senator, but more importantly as an Albertan.
“I focused principally on two issues this year, one was doing what I could to bring the issue forward, to the federal government, that the issue of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) isn’t working for Alberta,” Black said in an interview with the Lloydminster Source. He added that in mid-December he was talking about the issue with governmental agencies in Ottawa.
“I wish I could say that I was making progress, but at this moment I can’t, but certainly we are moving the issue forward to ensure that Ottawa knows that the TFWP is punishing Alberta,” he said.
Black said that there is a real reluctancy in moving the file forward.
“For reasons I’m not sure, and I’ll be really honest about it. Having said that, everywhere I traveled, thousands of kilometres this summer, all I heard about is how the TFWP is penalizing Albertans,” he said.
Black pointed to the provincial government and their handling of the program, “Premier (Jim) Prentice and Jobs, Skills, Training Minister (Ric) McIver are doing a tremendous job of trying to advance the file.”
The second issue that Black has been working on this year is the energy file. He says that he spends countless hours working to move it forward to benefit the people of Alberta, and all of Canada.
“We must ensure that we get our oil and gas to international markets,” he said. “With the price of energy and the price of oil falling, the problems are becoming more dramatic for Albertans. “We must be able to get our heavy oil, our gas to markets besides the United States. Which means infrastructure and means pipelines.”
Moving into 2015, Black said that he will continue doing the same but with more aggression.
“If we do not get this right we are not going to enjoy the prosperity that we have moving forward,” he said.
Some of the biggest news to come from the Senate happened in early 2014.
In late April, the Supreme Court of Canada announced that the reforms the prime minister was trying to make to the upper house were unconstitutional. Black said that the while the Supreme Court struck down any substantial change that the government could do to the upper chamber, work on his seven-point plan has been put into high gear this year.
“I have a seven-point plan for Senate revival, unfortunately here in Ottawa things don’t move as quickly as they do in Alberta,” he said.
“I will say that we are making progress on the seven points.”
Black said that as a Senator he has learned the power of patience.
“Things move like a glacier in the Senate, but the glacier is moving,” he said.
With the ruling the Supreme Court handed down, Black said that a group of Senators have taken it upon themselves to reform themselves.
“It’s a slow process, but I believe that in 2015 you will see progress that will make the Senate more open and a little bit more effective communications,” he said.
The Senate was put into negative light, during the mid-year with the announcement that senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy, and Pamela Wallin had broken rules. After weeks of debate, the three senators were kicked from the upper chamber until after 2015.
Black said after that occurred, senators asked the auditor general to investigate the expenses of all senators.
“The auditor general will now audit 100 senators, and every expenditure those senators have made over a two-year period,” he said.
“Right now, there are about 40 to 50 auditors on this file, and it will cost Canadians millions of dollars.
“I don’t think it was the right decision, I think that we should have had spot audits. In my office alone, I was only eligible for two months of that expense period that was being audited, and I spent over 60 hours with the auditor going through the expenses. Black summed up those hours as a waste.
Black said the report from the auditor will come out in 2015, and he expects some bumps because of it.
With 2015 fast approaching, Black said that the need for the Senate has never been stronger.
“I would say that there has likely never been more of a need for sober second thought in government,” Black said. “Things are so extraordinarily complicated right now, and the amount of bills that come to the House of Commons is a) huge volume and b) very complicated.
“I see on my committee work and I see very interesting conversation work that only the Senate can have.”
Black said that the House of Commons isn’t built to talk about the issues that are being talked about in the Senate.
“I would say that the Senate is more important than ever,” he said, adding that it has done great work this year and will continue to do great work next year as well.