This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

Skip to Content

Letter to Senator Peter Harder


January 11, 2017


The Honourable Peter Harder
Government Representative in the Senate
Senate of Canada
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0A4


Dear Senator Harder,

I hope your new year is off to a good start and that you are catching up on some well-deserved rest and relaxation. There certainly was no lack of excitement in the Senate in 2016 and surely more to come in 2017. One might argue that the Senate of Canada has seen more than its fair share of excitement over the past few years.

While I wouldn’t necessarily disagree, I will say that I believe the Senate of Canada is a better institution because of what it has gone through in recent years.

We certainly have made plenty of changes for the better. While I know you are aware of some of the steps the Senate has taken to become more efficient, transparent and accountable, many of these changes precede your appointment and may not be as familiar to you.

I thought, what better time than the start of a new year to elaborate on those measures you seem less familiar with and look ahead to those we are about to embark on now that we’ve had the time to study and reflect on them.

It goes without saying you are aware of the forensic audit of Senators’ expenses that took place from 2013 to 2015.  However, are you aware that it was at the invitation of Senators themselves that the Auditor General of Canada conducted this audit?

In June of 2013, the Senate took the unprecedented step of inviting the Auditor General of Canada to conduct a comprehensive audit of Senate expenditures, including Senators’ expenses. After this exhaustive 2 year process that covered the period between April of 2011 and April 2013, the OAG released a report in June 2015 that although has since been called into question for its methods and heavy handed determinations, is still being used as a tool in the Senate’s modernization. Its recommendations are reflected in the adoption of the new expense disclosure model and independent oversight measures that have been implemented and others that are being considered for further implementation.

One such independent oversight measure, that incidentally was put in place before the OAG even completed their audit, was the Senate’s adoption of a new Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code that is considered to be among the toughest in the Commonwealth.

Adopted in June 2014, our code contains clear processes to deal with breaches and it is enforced by the independent Office of the Senate Ethics Officer, which itself was established in 2005. Lyse Ricard is the current Senate Ethics Officer.

In May 2015 ahead of the release of the AG report the Senate implemented another measure of independent oversight, the Dispute Resolution Process. Created by the Senate itself, this independent, arm’s length process ensures Senators are not sitting in judgement of themselves and each other on administrative matters such as expenses.  The Dispute Resolution Process includes an independent arbitration mechanism with highly regarded former Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie adjudicating. It has been applauded broadly.

Perhaps less familiar to you than the audit and the AG Report would be the Senate’s 25th report and the significant changes contained within.

In May of 2013, the Senate adopted the 25th Report which implemented notable changes including but not limited to requiring proof of residence (Senators must sign a declaration of residency and provide supporting documentation in the form of a provincial health card, driver's license and assessment from the CRA on an annual basis), adopting definitions of “National Capital accommodation” and “provincial residence,” and removing the concept of “the honour principle” from Senate Administrative Rules.

Long before the AG report the Senate had also made several rule changes and clarifications governing expense provision rules pertaining to procurement, hospitality, employee contracts and travel.

For example, in June of 2012, the Senate Travel Policy was adopted, bringing together all the guidelines from several sources into one central policy using the approved policy framework. In July 2013 the Senate travel policy was amended to require specific details about the purpose of a trip and receipts for all taxi expenses.  Further changes were made in June 2014 when the Senate restricted per diems paid to Senators staying in the National Capital Region.

The Senate also put in place a new procurement policy, centralizing contracting authorities in Finance and Procurement rather than Human Resources having delegated authority to hire Senators’ staff including personnel services contracts.

And since then we have gone even further where contracts are concerned. As part of the aforementioned newly unveiled expense disclosure model, details of all contracts are now disclosed including the purpose of the contract and the name of the provider.

Please correct me if I am wrong but I believe you were subject to the former disclosure model only once. The new model would have been in its implementation stages when you joined the Senate. However, its implementation certainly began long before that time.

The implementation of this new disclosure model began almost immediately after the tabling of the AG report in June 2015. The Subcommittee on Communications was tasked with reviewing this recommendation and bringing forth a new model of disclosure. This took several months and several conversations as administration staff researched and presented various models, taking into consideration elements such as costing and timelines, to the subcommittee. The subcommittee consulted with all Senators on this new model and once there was consensus Senate Administration was given the go-ahead to begin implementation.  This process, which included building the IT infrastructure and staff training, took several months but the result is that we were able to go live with this new model before the end of 2016.

It is the same process that has been taking place regarding the implementation of an independent oversight body.

Of course, contrary to what was implied in the year-end interview you did with Canadian Press, you are well aware of this because you and I have had discussions about independent oversight specifically. As is my practice when it comes to matters of such great importance to and impact on the Senate of Canada, I consulted all members of Senate leadership on the issue of an independent oversight body. As you and I discussed, once we were done with disclosure we were able to focus on oversight and the audit subcommittee was tasked with studying different models and bringing forward a concrete recommendation to the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration.  And as you and I also discussed, they are expected to bring forth just such a recommendation as soon as we return from the current break.

I have to admit, I was troubled when I read your comments to Canadian Press.  I was troubled that either we haven’t done a good enough job communicating to you and other newly appointed Senators all of the steps we have taken to be more efficient, transparent an accountable or that as a member of Senate leadership, you would misinform Canadians on the work that has been and is being done by your colleagues.

As you know, communicating with Canadians about the work being done by the Senate, whether legislatively or in our efforts to be more open and accountable, is a priority for the Senate.

Transforming our communications approach is another element of the work that was done prior to your appointment. As we discussed with you and your fellow government representatives in a meeting a few weeks before Christmas, Senators have completely transformed the way in which we communicate with Canadians.

In 2014, the Senate embarked on a functional review of our communications directorate that resulted in the Blueprint report tabled in February of 2015. We have relied on that report and its recommendations in completely overhauling our communications which has resulted in the service we now receive.

Under the new approach, the Senate is engaging Canadians on social media platforms and posting content about senators and their work on the new digital magazine called SenCAPlus. And the adoption of new media relations processes allows the Senate to provide answers more promptly and efficiently to Canadians through traditional media.
I understand that our communications approach is the only one that you and other newly appointed Senators know during your time in the Senate but I assure you, it has undergone a major transformation that was a long time in the works. It is a major component of our commitment to being more open.

Another step the Senate has taken to be more open and accountable to Canadians is to conduct meetings of Internal Economy in public and to promptly upload audio and full transcripts to our website. The unprecedented decision to do so was a simple but important one taken by the members of the committee in a vote last winter. We did so because we believe that Canadians have every right to know not only how their hard earned tax dollars are being spent but how and why the decisions to do so are made.  This level of openness is unrivalled by the House of Commons.

I’m sure you will agree that all of the measures I’ve outlined in this letter, particularly the openness of Internal, opening our “books” to the AG, implementing a new disclosure model and the creation of several independent oversight mechanisms and offices with another in the works, are proof not only that the Senate is serious when it says it is committed to efficiency, transparency and accountability but that the Senate itself is actually an example to other legislative chambers on how to be more so.

None of what we have done would have been possible without all of us putting our differences aside and working together for the good of the institution. I want to thank every Senator for their hard work and willingness to do what was necessary to get us to where we are today and where we are going in the days and years ahead. I especially want to thank our former Speaker, the late Pierre Claude Nolin, our Deputy Chair on Internal Economy Senator Jane Cordy, her predecessor Speaker George Furey, our third member of Steering Senator David Wells and every one of my CIBA colleagues past and present for their diligence.

I appreciate that it can be frustrating at times that the “Chamber of Sober Second Thought” doesn’t always move at the lightning speed  some would prefer, whether it be reviewing policies and legislation or implementing measures of transparency and accountability for how tax dollars are spent. However, it has been our experience and is ultimately our obligation to ensure we give all matters before us the careful consideration they require. It is, after all, our purpose.

And I sincerely hope that you can appreciate that comments to the media about the Senate having a long way to go toward implementing change not only appear to be extremely dismissive of the hard work done by your colleagues but, one might argue, are also very unhelpful to the institution in its attempts to regain the trust of the people we serve.

Kind Regards,


Leo Housakos