Welcoming remarks in the Senate at the beginning of the 43rd Parliament
Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition):
Thank you, colleagues. Honourable senators, I would like to begin by once again warmly welcoming you all back to this chamber. It’s a pleasure to see each one of you. I look forward to working together with you during this Forty-third Parliament.
I would like to congratulate our colleague, the Honourable George Furey, on his continued role as the Speaker of this house.
Senator Furey has distinguished himself as an excellent Speaker during the previous Parliament. I am certain that all senators are as delighted as I am — and that has been shown already — as he continues in this role.
I also want to recognize our colleagues who recently retired: Senators Andreychuk, Demers, McIntyre, Neufeld and Pratte. I know we will all miss their presence in this chamber, but we wish them well in their next season of life.
As you all know, colleagues, Senator Harder has announced his resignation as the Government Representative in the Senate. I want to take a moment to thank Senator Harder for his many years of service, especially for these last four years.
Senator Harder was given a caucus of 3 and expected to get 53 votes each and every time — no small task.
Senator Harder, we have had many differences of opinions and have expressed those openly, but we have always found a way of working through and around our differences. I can say without hesitation, Senator Harder, that I consider you not only a colleague but, much more important, a friend.
In that vein, I would like to thank Senators Bellemare and Mitchell for their service in their respective roles of Legislative Deputy to the Government Representative in the Senate and Government Liaison.
Colleagues, I am humbled and honoured to have been chosen by our caucus to stand before you today as the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.
Today, at the beginning of the Forty-third Parliament, we find ourselves with a country that is not only divided but increasingly balkanized. As representatives of our regions and advocates for a healthy federation, our voices have never been more important.
Honourable senators, there have been many unexpected changes in this chamber since we last met. I think we were all surprised by the sudden retirement of our friend and colleague Senator André Pratte. We saw the formation of the new Canadian Senators Group. We received many notices of changes of affiliation, and we saw the Senate Liberal caucus transition to the progressive senators group, only to lose official status just days later.
This last development was particularly disappointing for me because, for a few days, the Conservative Senate caucus shared the third floor with the progressive senators group. I was looking forward to being able to refer to the third floor as the “progressive conservative floor.” Perhaps Senator Downe caught wind of the plan and decided to do something about that.
Joking aside, I think it is clear to all of us that these are unusual times for the Senate of Canada. In fact, the Hill Times referred to it as an “’unprecedented’ upheaval.” They quoted Professor Donald Savoie saying:
"We’ve turned the Senate into 100 unguided missiles. Where it’s going to go is still unclear."
I could not agree more. In many ways, the Senate has always served as a ballast to the ship of state. While election results can shift the makeup of the other place suddenly and sometimes drastically, senators have always returned to this chamber after an election to find it largely unchanged. This stability and continuity has served the nation well.
There will be disagreements in this chamber. We all bring different perspectives to this house, and in the past, this has resulted in vigorous debate. This should not change, colleagues. But in the midst of that debate, let us remember that we are colleagues who share a common goal: to see Canadians flourish from coast to coast to coast — Canadians of every demographic, ethnicity, gender and economic status.
Let us remember, colleagues, that while we may disagree on the way forward, we remain united in our vision and in our passion to see a thriving Canada where no one is left out and no one is left behind. Thank you.