Point of Order raised requesting the Speaker to review Senator Dalphond’s actions
May 6, 2021 (Ottawa, ON) - The Honourable Don Plett, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, issued the following statement:
Honourable senators, I am rising today on a point of order. I am doing this reluctantly. I spent a great deal of time contemplating, even as late as the lunch hour, whether to go ahead with this, because I did not want my point of order to be deemed something I am doing out of personal gain or trying to get any personal satisfaction. However, I believe, as leader of the Conservative caucus, Leader of the Opposition and indeed one of the leaders of this august chamber, we need to have rules, they need to be adhered to and we need to have discipline.
Your Honour and honourable colleagues, on April 26, Senator Dalphond sent the Interim Clerk of the Senate a letter raising what he referred to as a question of privilege. The following day, the clerk sent an email to all senators and their staff, plus several members of the Senate Administration, giving notice of said question of privilege. Senator Dalphond’s letter, in both official languages, was attached to the notice.
On April 27, 2021, CBC published an article from The Canadian Press entitled — and this is one of the reasons why I feel strongly that I need to defend my own caucus — “Tory senators hold up start of parliamentary review of assisted dying.”
Let me begin, Your Honour and colleagues, by highlighting the accusations Senator Dalphond made against me personally.
In his letter of April 26, Senator Dalphond says:
Specifically, Senator Plett refuses to identify a member from the Conservative Caucus to join the special joint committee and to sign a notice identifying all Senate members on the special joint committee . . . .
By withholding his signature on the notice to the Clerk of the Senate, Senator Plett is showing utmost disrespect for the Senate and its motion; for the House of Commons and its message; and for the content of section 5 of the Act, requiring the MAiD review by a joint committee. These actions are impeding the Senate’s basic functions, here a critical review mandated by law, to be conducted by special joint committee. . . .
In the Canadian Press article, Senator Dalphond is quoted several times, where he stated, “He wants a blank cheque, which I’m not ready to give.” He was speaking, of course, about me. He added:
The ego of one man is preventing the system to work, which I find is close to showing contempt for Parliament.
He then continued:
[Plett] is showing complete disregard and disrespect for the Senate, for the House of Commons and for the bill that provides for a committee to be set up as soon as possible.
Senator Dalphond concluded with, “It’s really taking the Senate hostage, the House of Commons hostage.”
To summarize, Senator Dalphond publicly accused me of refusing to identify a Conservative senator to serve on a joint committee and refusing to sign the notice mentioned in the motion adopted by the Senate on the joint committee. I was thereby solely preventing the system from working, impeding the basic functioning of the Senate. I was showing utmost disrespect, not only to the Senate but also to the House of Commons. I was contravening a law of Canada: I was taking Parliament hostage.
People reading Senator Dalphond’s letter and his comments in the press would think that Don Plett had all the MPs and senators locked up somewhere and was asking for ransom or some other demand. I don’t think a parliamentarian can accuse a colleague of a more serious charge, with the exception perhaps of criminal charges or treason. Clearly, for such accusations to be laid against a fellow parliamentarian, something terrible must have been done.
So let’s look at the facts, Your Honour.
On April 20, 2021, the Senate adopted a motion to strike a special joint committee on medical assistance in dying. The motion contained the following section:
That the five senators to be members of the committee be named after consultations and agreement between the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and the leader or facilitator of any other recognized party or recognized parliamentary group in the Senate, by means of a notice signed by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and the leader or facilitator of any other recognized party or recognized parliamentary group in the Senate, and filed with the Clerk of the Senate no later than the end of the day on April 23, 2021, with the names of the senators named as members being recorded in the Journals of the Senate . . . .
You will note, Your Honour, that the motion did not specify how the members of the committee would be chosen other than by consultation and agreement between the leaders and facilitators.
The motion did not indicate how many members of each group in the Senate were to be appointed, contrary to the motion passed by the House of Commons. The motion did not specify from which group the co-chair or the vice-chair would come, also unlike what the House did. It was clear to everyone who bothered to read the motion that these matters had to be negotiated and agreed upon by all groups.
You will also notice, Your Honour, that the motion did not contain any mechanism in case the notice was not filed on April 23. Clearly the government, when tabling the motion, did not think that April 23 was such a crucial date. No one was to lose anything. The negotiations would continue.
The Leader of the Government convened all leaders for a call to discuss these matters. We quickly arrived at an agreement. There would be two members from the Independent Senators Group and one from each of the opposition, the Canadian Senators Group and the Progressive Senate Group. There was another agreement: The Conservative member would be co-chair.
Everyone on the call agreed. This was unanimous. We were following historical precedent and convention that since the House co-chair was from the government, the Senate co-chair would be from the opposition.
As for the position of vice-chair, both the ISG and the PSG claimed that they should get it. All leaders agreed that the leadership of the ISG and the PSG would consult and come to an agreement between themselves and the others would follow suit.
Then, on Friday, April 23, before the deadline set in the motion, Senators Woo and Cordy sent a letter stating that since they had failed to reach an agreement on the vice-chair position, they had decided to go back on the agreement and that the opposition was no longer guaranteed the position of co-chair. This, Your Honour, meant that the entire agreement was negated, because that’s what was discussed. It was one agreement: two members of the ISG, one member of the Conservatives, one member of the PSG, one member of the CSG — and the Conservatives would get the co-chair. That was one agreement.
Our negotiations were back to the starting point. The number of seats each caucus or group had was up in the air. So were the positions of co-chair and vice-chair. Senator Gold then decided that the notice that had to be signed by all the leaders would not be circulated. I did not refuse to sign a notice on Friday, April 23. Simply, I was not asked to sign an agreement on April 23. I was not asked to sign it because it was clear for all involved that the deal we had reached amongst leaders was unravelling.
Senator Dalphond was well aware of all of those facts when he wrote his letter the following Monday and gave his interview to the Canadian Press. In fact, colleagues, he was on the call when the agreement was made — when the leaders reached this agreement in the first place.
Now that I have outlined the facts, let me highlight why I believe Senator Dalphond’s letter and interview are in contravention of Senate Rules.
Your Honour, I believe Senator Dalphond contravened the Rules of the Senate in four different ways.
First, he used unparliamentary language. Rule 6-13(1) of the Rules of the Senate state, “All personal, sharp or taxing speeches are unparliamentary and are out of order.”
There is no doubt that the language used by Senator Dalphond is personal, sharp and taxing. Accusing a fellow senator of showing contempt to both houses of Parliament is a very grave accusation, colleagues. Senator Dalphond’s letter, which he knew would be largely distributed, was part of the Senate proceedings as a question of privilege. Its content, therefore, is subject to rule 6-13(1).
Also, Senator Dalphond decided to double down on his unparliamentary language in his interview with the Canadian Press. He cannot plead the fact that his words were uttered in the heat of debate after he put them in writing in the two official languages to be distributed around the Senate.
He then turned around and shared his profound insults about me with a journalist. Clearly Senator Dalphond willfully used unparliamentary language in his letter of April 26, which violates the Rules of the Senate.
Second, Senator Dalphond impugned motives to me. Your Honour, allow me to quote you from a decision on a point of order by Senator Bellemare on unparliamentary language rendered on November 15, 2016. You stated:
I would therefore ask senators to avoid unnecessarily impugning motives to senators who enter debate. That has no place in debate; we are debating the substance of motions and bills, not what goes behind any particular senator’s personal reason for doing it.
This is precisely what Senator Dalphond did. He not only signalled the fact that I did not sign the notice on membership — something that we saw was false — he impugned motives to me. He accused me of, in his words, “preventing the system to work.” And what is even more intolerable in this instance is that he did all this in such a manner that prevented me from having the opportunity to defend myself. I could not explain my position.
Senator Dalphond knew very well that by sending the question of privilege, then withdrawing it without any apology, his accusations would stand without affording me the chance to set the record straight or to defend myself. He impugned motives to me, contrary to the Rules of the Senate, and did this knowing perfectly well that I would not be able to provide an explanation.
Third, Senator Dalphond deliberately misled the Senate in his letter of April 26. I already laid out the facts. I did not refuse to sign a notice. This notice was not circulated. Senator Dalphond knew that when he wrote his letter, and he knew the reason the letter was not circulated was that two groups, including his own, reneged on a deal that they had made two days earlier. I repeat: Senator Dalphond was part of the telephone conversation when all the groups agreed on how the committee was structured. He knew the deal, and he knew that some leaders did not honour their word. He knew Senator Gold decided not to circulate the notice. He knew that I did not refuse to give the name of the Conservative member on the joint committee, but Senator Dalphond willfully decided to present to the Senate, via his question of privilege, a series of alternate facts that did not reflect the reality. He willfully misled the Senate, thereby breaching our rules.
Finally, Senator Dalphond used confidential information obtained in confidence, and this contrary to the duty of a senator to act in good faith.
As I stated on April 20, the motion of April 20 was essentially an invitation to the leaders to negotiate the compensation of the joint committee. Since 1867, our institution, like all democratic parliamentary chambers in the world, has relied on processes of negotiation to move legislation, set the agenda, populate committees, and the list goes on.
I have been negotiating matters in the Senate on behalf of the Conservative caucus for quite some time now. And I take my role very seriously. I try always to stick to my word. After the motion on the joint committee was adopted, I, like my other colleagues, negotiated in good faith. We reached a compromise. As I said, some leaders decided to go back on that deal. I was blindsided, just as was the Leader of the Government. Then out of the blue, I get accused of undermining a Senate process when essentially the rug was pulled out from under me and other leaders.
The Senate business, colleagues, depends on behind-the-scenes negotiations that can be, at times, amicable and, at other times, quite heated, but the beauty of the process, Your Honour and colleagues, is that things can eventually be worked out in the end.
Senator Dalphond’s question of privilege sets a dangerous precedent. First, it uses private conversations among the leaders as fuel for personal attacks. Second, he wrongly accuses a senator of dirty, underhanded tactics that are unquestionably based on inaccurate information. There was an agreement. Some of the leaders reneged on that agreement. I, like Senator Gold and Senator Tannas, insisted that the leaders honour their word. There was no abuse of process by me. One could suggest that there was an abuse of process when the leaders reneged on their agreement. However, as I said, we all worked it out in the end, as we always do.
I wish to thank Senator Gold for the role that he played in getting us all back to the negotiating table. Chairing such a meeting requires much finesse.
The fact that Senator Dalphond has started a precedent of using these private conversations to attack a leader could severely undermine the business of the Senate. Each leader has to remain confident that their conversations will remain private unless agreed to otherwise.
Your Honour, I would ask you to reflect on your decision given on May 2, 2019, on a question of privilege pertaining to an agreement that was leaked to the media. To quote that decision:
Honourable senators know that private discussions about matters of concern to the Senate are invaluable to the proper functioning of this place. These exchanges may involve the Government, representatives of the various caucuses, or individual senators. Ours is a very human institution, and these informal consultations help create shared understandings as to the expected course of Senate business. They also provide clarity that may otherwise be lacking.
I would submit, Your Honour, that the same words apply to the matter at hand. As a Senate with five different groups, negotiations can be long and difficult. We need to know, as leaders, that what is discussed during these negotiations will remain confidential and that our positions can be outlined and opinions expressed freely without prejudice.
Senator Dalphond’s question of privilege and interviews with the media on this matter are not helpful and, indeed, are harmful to the Senate. By using confidential conversations that were part of a process set up by the Leader of the Government, Senator Dalphond is endangering an already fragile equilibrium that we have in the Senate. We cannot expect this place to function if there is not a minimum level of trust and respect between all leaders.
So, Your Honour, to summarize, Senator Dalphond breached the rules in four different manners. One, he used personal, sharp and taxing speech; two, he impugned motives to me; three, he willfully misled the Senate; and four, he used confidential negotiations to attack me in public thereby jeopardizing the Senate functioning.
In conclusion, Your Honour, again, I wish I did not have to raise this point of order. I take no pleasure in this. I was hoping that Senator Dalphond would realize what he was accusing me of and would retract it himself when he withdrew his question of privilege.
I was hoping Senator Dalphond would himself stand up on a point of order this week to retract his statements, to apologize, not to me, colleagues — not to me; I don’t need an apology — but to the Senate. But Senator Dalphond chose not to do this. He willfully let his attacks against me stand when he sent his letter to withdraw his question of privilege. Let me quote that letter:
Dear Mr. Lafrenière, I write further to my written notice of a question of privilege as submitted on April 26, 2021. I understand that the process provided for in Senator Gold’s motion on April 20 has been complied with. As a consequence, the alleged breach has ended and the remedy sought has become moot. I, therefore, withdraw my notice. Respectfully, Pierre J. Dalphond.
He is implying that, because of what he did, we managed to do what was right and what we should have done all along when we had never done anything wrong. We had reached an agreement, and the withdrawal here does not indicate that.
This is why I have to do what I am doing today. I would therefore ask you, Your Honour, to rule that Senator Dalphond did indeed breach the Rules of the Senate with his letter on April 26. His refusal to apologize or retract said letter when he simply withdrew the question of privilege. I would suggest that as an aggravating factor. Rule 6-13(3) of the Rules of the Senate states that:
A Senator who has used unparliamentary words and who does not explain or retract them or offer an apology acceptable to the Senate shall be disciplined as the Senate may determine.
Should you rule, Your Honour, that Senator Dalphond breached the rules, I reserve my right to ask that the words of Senator Dalphond be taken down in writing by the clerk as provided for in rule 6-13(2) and to table a motion asking the Senate to discipline him in accordance with rule 6-13(3). Thank you.