Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, committee members.
What an honour it is to be here with you today on this traditional territory of the Algonquin peoples. We talked about this last night. Had it not been for all the ways in which settlers like me were welcomed to this land, we would not have succeeded individually or collectively.
As you mentioned, Mr. Chair, I have the great privilege of being accompanied by Mr. Ian McCowan.
As Minister for Democratic Institutions, I have a mandate to deliver on the government's commitment to strengthen the openness and fairness of our democratic institutions. This committee—your committee—plays an important role in delivering on this commitment. I sincerely believe that it can lead the way in elevating the tone and the conduct of how we represent ourselves in committees, in the House, and to our constituents, and how we deliberate on the issues that matter most to Canadians.
As part of my mandate, I have the lead role in all matters relating to the development and implementation of the process with respect to the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments. Think of me as the custodian of the process. I can answer any questions you may have about its establishment, including the advisory board's terms of reference and the criteria being used to assess candidates.
The advisory board is an independent, arm's-length body. As such, I am not in a position to speak on their behalf.
As many of us agree, the Senate plays an important role in our democratic system; however, its legitimacy has suffered because of the partisan nature of the appointment system. It has become a place where political ties are often perceived as being more important than the best interests of Canadians. The new merit-based process to advise the Prime Minister on Senate appointments was designed to remove that partisan element and to help reinvigorate the Senate.
Before getting into the details of the process, I think it's important to have an understanding of the four principles that reinforce its legitimacy and effectiveness.
First, the process recognizes the important role that the Senate has in providing sober second thought and regional representation, as well as representation for minorities. Second, the process respects the constitutional framework by maintaining the Governor General's power to appoint senators on the advice of the Prime Minister. Third, the process includes elements to promote transparency and accountability, including public merit-based criteria for Senate nominees, public terms of reference for the advisory board, and public reporting on the process itself. Fourth, the process is designed to select Senate nominees who can conduct themselves in an independent, non-partisan fashion.
Canadians have asked for change, yes, but they do not wish our government to enter into constitutional negotiations. This new process delivers on that. The government is also fully confident that the new process respects our constitutional framework.
The key component of the new process is the independent advisory board, which has a mandate to provide the Prime Minister with non-binding merit-based recommendations on Senate appointments. The advisory board consists of five members: a federal chair and two other permanent federal members, whom you have met, and two ad hoc provincial members from each of the provinces or the territories where vacancies exist.
You've met the chair of the advisory board, Ms. Huguette Labelle. She has been recognized many times for her senior leadership roles in public service, and her years of experience do provide her with a solid basis to meet the challenges of leading the advisory process. You may also be interested to know that she brings with her a depth of knowledge on matters related to transparency as past chair of Transparency International.
Professor Daniel Jutras and Dr. Indira Samarasekera have been here before.
All of the advisory board members are impressive. I could take all of the time we have here together talking about each one of them individually, but what I want to leave you with is the confidence that they represent a range of experiences, from all walks of life, whether it's education, constitutional law, science, medicine, or the arts.
There are two phases to the process we have introduced. In the transitional phase, which is well under way, the advisory board is responsible for providing the Prime Minister with a shortlist for five vacancies in three provinces: two in Manitoba, two in Ontario, and one in Quebec. In this phase the advisory board was mandated to consult with a wide variety of groups, including indigenous, linguistic, minority, and ethnic communities; provincial, territorial, and municipal organizations; labour organizations; community-based groups; arts councils; and provincial and territorial chambers of commerce.
The idea was to allow the board to hear from a diverse range of individuals and bring forward a list that includes people from a diversity of backgrounds and experiences, but also with knowledge of the Senate. The permanent phase will begin shortly after the completion of the transitional phase and the appointments of the first five senators. In the permanent phase, the remaining vacancies will be filled from the seven provinces where vacancies currently exist.
In the permanent phase all Canadians will be able to apply directly for appointment to the Senate. Let me tell you a bit about the criteria. In both phases the advisory board will assess potential candidates on the basis of transparent, merit-based criteria. These criteria are public. They include the following: candidates—and I believe you have the criteria—must have a record of achievement and leadership either in service to their community, the public, their profession, or their field of expertise; candidates will need to possess outstanding and proven personal qualities in terms of public life, ethics, and integrity; candidates are expected to have an ability to bring a perspective and contribution to the work of the Senate that is clearly independent and non-partisan; and candidates must have demonstrated an understanding of the Senate's role in our constitutional framework, including the role of the Senate as an independent body of sober second thought, the role it plays in regional representation, and the representation it provides to minorities.
These criteria will be applied in a way that respects the importance of gender balance and Canada's diversity in the selection process. The public criteria will provide an important framework for the entire process both in terms of ensuring that candidates of the highest standard are selected, but also to allow Canadians to hold us accountable to this process.
I'd now like to talk about our commitment to carry out an open and transparent process. As I mentioned earlier, one of the foundational principles of this process is the importance of transparency and accountability. In that context each step of the process has been designed to be as open and transparent as possible. The merit-based criteria for Senate nominees was published online so that all Canadians could see the qualifications and skill sets that the advisory board has been using to assess candidates.
When the advisory board was appointed, the government published the terms of reference setting out the board's mandate. The advisory board itself established a public website calling for nominations during the transitional phase and has reached out broadly to consult with organizations.
The permanent phase of the advisory process will feature an open application process to which any qualified Canadian can submit an application. There is a requirement that the advisory board provide us with a report on their activities after each cycle of appointments. I believe this is an unprecedented level of openness in a process that has been previously shrouded in secrecy.
That said, in order to attract the best and brightest candidates a degree of confidentiality is required in order for the process to succeed, just as is the case with any other job competition. We want to ensure that all qualified individuals from diverse backgrounds have the confidence to put their names forward without fearing that at the end of the process their names or other personal information will be publicized. It's for that reason that the names of unsuccessful candidates will not be received.
I'm happy to answer any questions that you may have. I had three lines to read, yet the chair has waved and said the time is up.