|| That, in the opinion of the House, the government of Canada, in consultation with the provinces and territories, should take immediate steps towards abolishing the unelected and unaccountable Senate of Canada.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is time to roll up the red carpet. It is my honour to rise today on behalf of my constituents of to speak to this motion, which I will restate:
|| That, in the opinion of the House, the government of Canada, in consultation with the provinces and territories, should take immediate steps towards abolishing the unelected and unaccountable Senate of Canada.
To that motion I would like to add that the official opposition is fully prepared and ready to co-operate with the government in this task of consulting with the provinces and territories. We have enough experience with co-operation. Our leader, the member for , has led the way in starting to talk to the provinces as a mode of co-operative federalism. The means by which the Senate will be abolished can only proceed through that avenue.
The NDP has, since its very inception, been firmly in support of Senate abolition. Indeed, calls for abolition also came from our predecessor, the CCF. The NDP has also long believed that the people of Canada should be consulted as part of the abolition process. This remains important, but we need to start here, in the House of Commons. We need to send an extremely strong signal that the time has come. We are at a historic moment. People have come to realize that the Senate is an archaic, otiose institution, but we have to start here, in the House of Commons, and send the signal and begin to work with the provinces and territories, something it seems our seems allergic to.
Before I continue, I should say that I am going to be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
It is important to note that the government has put a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada, and the question of abolition is one of the questions. It is also important to clear up confusion. The Supreme Court will not be deciding one way or the other whether the Senate should be abolished. That is a political decision we are starting to initiate here, but it will tell us what the correct amending formula under the Constitution is. There is debate on that. It is almost certain that it is not less than 7/50; that is, seven provinces with 50% of the population. The Constitutional Amendments act will also come into play where certain provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, have to be involved in the amendment. However, it could also be unanimous consent of the provinces along with the federal Parliament. We will wait to see what the Supreme Court says. We will be very interested to see what the Supreme Court says.
The key is to note that with either of those formulas—unanimous consent or 7/50—ultimately the Senate does not have to consent to its own abolishment. With either of those formulas, the Senate can resist, according to the 1982 Constitution Act, but it cannot ultimately block its own abolition, unlike the method the is using with his Bill , in which he is purporting to amend the Constitution by only going to the Parliament with an ill-conceived scheme, when he knows that the Senate's consent is necessary. Under that form of amendment, amendment by the Parliament of Canada alone—which again is not applicable here, and the Prime Minister knows it; that is why he has finally gone to the Supreme Court to get clarity—we need the Senate's consent.
It is a nice turn that the Supreme Court will tell us which amending formula applies, and when we eventually work with the provinces to get the necessary number of provinces and legislatures on board, we will not ultimately be blocked by our friends in the Senate.
Like an Edsel, the Senate was obsolete almost from the moment it was built. Somehow, however, this one is still on the road. However, its lights are broken, the body is totally corroded, the wheels are wobbly and the engine has all but been seized up by dirty oil. It may still have a very plush interior, but it is time to send it to the scrapyard.
The Senate has long ceased to have any meaningful connection to the supposed original reasons for its existence. One of those reasons is the principle of representing the regions, four different regions, and the provinces within the regions.
From as early as the 1930s, reaffirmed in the 1950s and the 1960s, commentators noted that this never was a function seriously carried out by the Senate. It was not built for that. It did not operate in that way. Indeed, over time, in fact, very early on, it was the Privy Council, and it was then taken over by the Supreme Court of Canada, that served as the institution that protected federalism within our constitutional structure. We do not need the Senate for that purpose.
Only a handful of senators, 12, 15 or perhaps 20, make a serious contribution to sober second thought, which is the other major function. They do good work. They are assisted by good staff. They are conscientious. I can bet that they resent the presence of many of their colleagues in the Senate who have brought this institution down around their own ears.
There are good senators. We hope to work with those senators if abolition does not occur before this party forms government in 2015. There are good senators we hope to work with, and I believe we will work with, who generally act in a thoughtful, non-partisan fashion but who, most important, realize, whatever their political stripe—very strongly Conservative, very strongly Liberal, independent—that the Senate is an illegitimate body when it comes to blocking bills coming from the House of Commons. It is those senators with whom we will work on the road to abolition and in any period in which we have to govern with the Senate still in place.
Meanwhile, last year, while whatever the number of senators, 100 or so with the few vacancies that are still there, basked in the comfort of, frankly, sinecure, appearing on average 56 days a year in the Senate, we in the House of Commons were doing the work for the people of Canada.
It is important to note all the controversy over residence and everything else, which my colleagues will speak to in more detail. The senators have no constituency responsibilities, yet they have budgets and they spend much more than we do, frankly, when we add up all their travel expenses. They have no constituency responsibilities. Nobody expects them to engage in that, and they do not do it, yet many of them roam around the country, racking up the miles with no role on the ground that has any legitimacy, and—I will not say “except”—they are great fundraisers. We know many senators come from fundraising backgrounds. They come from a party background. They are there only as a favour for what they did for their party in the past, and they continue in that role.
One of the most significant features of what I would call the structural corruption of the Senate—I am not going to the ethics of individual senators; I am talking about the structural corruption of the body—is how it has served and continues to serve as the means by which two parties, in particular, send out a virtual phalanx of publicly paid individuals to raise money for their parties. One party is doing that a lot better than the other these days. I acknowledge that. The party in power uses its senators extremely deftly. I would be extremely interested to know what, for example, an Auditor General's audit of the Senate would reveal about the use of parliamentary travel funds for fundraising purposes. Let us just say that the Senate is very good at hiding the reasons for travel. At the moment, we do not know the exact reasons some senators have racked up amazing travel budgets.
I indicated at the beginning that the Senate is, frankly, an Edsel. It is an Edsel in a couple of respects. From the beginning, thoughtful commentators knew that it would be a hyperpartisan body that would not be fulfilling the functions originally envisaged.
I would like to read from a wonderfully named book, The Unreformed Senate of Canada, page 45, an objection from the opposition at the time, in 1866-1867, by David Reesor, when he said:
|| [W]e know what the tendency is in England, and what it was in this country when the Government had the appointment of the...Legislative Council; the effect will be to find a place in this House for men distinguished for the aid they have given at elections to certain men or parties, and not as a reward of true merit or legislative ability.
Nothing has changed, nor have the words of Sir John A. Macdonald. He said:
|| There should be a large property qualification for the Upper house which is then the representative of property.
The Senate, having voted down the former leader's climate change accountability act, has shown that it is the continuation of the defence of property that Sir John A. Macdonald wanted the institution to be so many years ago. It is time for that to end.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by wholeheartedly thanking the member for for his speech and the work he does on this file, be it on democratic reform or the issue of what should be done with the Senate.
He is very learned. He is able to shed light on various elements and show us how to approach the issue from a different angle, because the current situation makes no sense. Something can be done.
Thanks to members like him, we will succeed in coming up with a new proposal that is better for all Canadians. Clearly, the Senate is a major problem. Everyone can see that.
Our motion is clear:
|| That, in the opinion of the House, the government of Canada, in consultation with the provinces and territories, should take immediate steps towards abolishing the unelected and unaccountable Senate of Canada.
There are two very important parts to the motion. It is very important to consider the consultation aspect, because we believe that the goal is not to impose anything, but rather to encourage a serious discussion on abolishing the Senate. We need to hear what the provinces have to say about this.
I believe that most people would agree that the Senate has become a completely outdated, undemocratic, antiquated institution in this day and age—an old relic that is no longer relevant.
Originally, the Senate was supposed to review and improve legislation; it was meant to be the chamber of sober second thought. It was designed to represent minorities, as well as the provinces and regions in the legislative process. That was the basic idea, but that was never what actually happened. Ultimately, the Senate never played that role.
The Senate has always been an extremely partisan institution that serves simply to thank party cronies, who are appointed to that chamber to enjoy the associated privileges and to block the bills that are passed by duly elected MPs. This causes many problems. In the end, it all becomes very clear when we ask Canadians what they think.
It is true that, in the beginning, the idea was to provide regional representation, as the mentioned. However, the reality is that this is simply not happening. Senators are supposed to represent certain regions, to be the voice of those regions, but that is not what they are doing.
The Senate was originally created to represent the regions. The reality is that it has never done that. We must not keep the Senate simply because it was a good idea in the beginning. It currently costs Canadians $100 million. It is little more than a cushy job for party cronies who raise money for the party. It should not work like this. We cannot let it continue. It is too appalling. We cannot allow such an illegitimate parliamentary institution to continue.
The Conservative Party has been promising to reform the Senate for a very long time. The Conservatives campaigned on this reform in 2005 and talked about it non-stop. I am convinced that many members of the Conservative Party and people who vote for and support them believe, like we do, that the Senate is very problematic as an institution.
The Conservatives have been in power for seven years now, and almost nothing has been done about this. Of the 789 days during which the House has sat, the Senate has been discussed on just 18. It is ridiculous.
Then we are told that it is a priority and that the opposition is to blame if the reform does not go through. Are you kidding me? Come on. After issuing gag orders more than 30 times, they are now telling us that, this time, it is the opposition's fault if the file does not move forward. It is completely absurd. This is not a priority for the Conservatives at all.
The Conservatives introduce Senate reform bills that make no sense. They introduced Bill last year. They shelved it and have not talked much about it since. Bill poses huge problems and provides that somewhat bogus elections will be held to elect senators. Furthermore, the provinces will be the ones to pay for the elections because it is obviously up to them to deal with them.
Then, the will decide whether or not to appoint the people on the list. Super. I am so delighted. We will really have a Senate that makes sense.
Basically, the principle of electing senators may cause a lot of problems, because our system is not set up for two elected chambers. There is no mechanism available to us for this to work effectively and in practical terms. So a fundamental problem already exists.
Then, eight-year non-renewable mandates are proposed. That will really make these people accountable to Canadians. After being elected, they will not have to be accountable to anyone for the next eight years. They will be all set, with a good pension, nice perks, a good budget. They can travel around and collect money for the Conservative Party as much as they want. It is completely ridiculous. They will never be accountable to the public.
When you read this bill, it is very clear that it was drafted in such a way that the government would not have to consult the provinces. The bill circumvents all parts of the Constitution. It makes small, superficial changes so that the government does not have to talk to the provinces at all. That is not how things work here in Canada. The federal government and the provinces need to talk and the provinces need to communicate with each other in order to move forward, make things work and make Canada into the country we want it to be.
Let us talk about the provinces. Either they have never had senates or they have abolished them. As far as I know, the provincial governments have not crumbled and no apocalypse has occurred because they have no senate. Everyone agrees that a government can operate just fine without this institution and that the good work that is sometimes done by the Senate can be replaced with something else, such as more work in committee or the creation of more commissions of inquiry. There are many other ways of doing this work.
Right now, we have the example of all of our provincial governments. Their legislatures are working just fine without the need for a chamber to which party friends are appointed and where the government spends outrageous amounts of money that, when you get right down to it, do not really serve much of a purpose.
Let us talk about spending. This year, the Senate's budget was increased by $2.5 million. The Conservatives are making cuts everywhere. They are telling employment insurance claimants that investigators will have quotas that will force them to cut people's benefits. Yet, meanwhile, they are saying that the Senate is just fine and they are increasing its budget.
Could someone please explain this to me? In my opinion, something is not right. That is not how I see the Parliament of Canada, and that is not where we should be investing our energy and money.
Some people share this view. I was going to talk about a surprise, but it is actually no surprise, because this idea is likely much more widespread than we know. Former senator Michael Fortier clearly stated that he was in favour of abolishing the Senate. It is really important to hear what he said in his own words. He said:
|| If I had to choose today, I would say that I'm probably closer to closing the place down. I just don't see the usefulness.
He goes on to talk about when he was appointed to the Senate in 2006.
|| I thought it would be a different place than the one I found. I found it to be extremely partisan...on both sides, including my own. And it was very annoying because these people were trying to be members of parliament and they weren't.
That is the problem. They are just taking defeated candidates or close friends of the party, giving them a golden handshake and reimbursing their expenses with taxpayers' money. For example, Senator Wallin racked up tens of thousands of dollars in expenses during the 2011 election campaign. That is completely ridiculous. Our money, Canadians' money, is going to a senator who is campaigning for a political party.
Is that what our non-partisan Senate, the chamber of sober second thought, has come to? That is not how the Senate should be. It is absolutely critical that this motion be adopted. We need to say that it is time to consult the provinces and have a serious discussion about abolishing the Senate.
Mr. Speaker, I stand in the House this morning to join in the debate on a motion put forward by the member for .
I am always happy to discuss changes to the Senate, because the reality is that our government is the only party with a real plan to reform the Senate. We are the only ones taking legitimate action to bring greater accountability and democracy to the Senate. We are the only ones to have a clear plan in the form of a bill before the House.
The NDP talks about abolishing the Senate, yet it is just that: talk. Today those members say they want to “abolish” the Senate, yet just last month the same NDP member for who put forward today's motion said, “...we're open to any kind of reasonable reform”.
The NDP's lead spokesperson on the Senate admitted not too long after that “I can't say exactly what [the Leader of the Opposition] will do in 2015...”. It is true that he cannot say, because the NDP leader refuses to say what he may do come 2015. Yesterday, when asked point blank whether he would appoint senators if his party formed the government, the refused to answer. The real reason the NDP's lead spokesperson on the Senate cannot say what the Leader of the Opposition would do in 2015 is that the NDP has no intention of abolishing the Senate and has the full intention of appointing its own NDP members.
The NDP conspired to appoint its own senators once and it will do it again. When the Liberals, NDP and the Bloc conspired to form a coalition in 2008, the NDP worked out a deal to appoint its own senators. In fact, the NDP's own motion admits that it needs the support of provinces and territories, support it would not likely receive.
Abolishing the Senate requires reopening the Constitution. The NDP knows it cannot get the support of the provinces to abolish the Senate. That is why it has never put forward a legitimate plan in the form of a bill to do so. The NDP's real plan is to appoint its own senators. It will create a constitutional sideshow and appoint NDP senators while reform continues to be delayed by constitutional wrangling. Creating a constitutional sideshow not only helps the NDP hide behind the premiers so it can appoint its own senators; it also has the added benefit of distracting Canadians from its dangerous and reckless tax and spend schemes, like its $21 billion job-killing carbon tax.
If the NDP were serious about changes to the Senate, it would have put forward a real plan. Instead it resorts to an empty motion. Rather than discuss real and achievable Senate reform, like term limits and getting provinces to hold Senate elections, NDP members call for constitutional battles with the provinces, and the hypocrisy does not end there.
The claims that he wants to abolish the Senate, yet he just recently tabled a private member's bill to increase the Senate's powers. The NDP leader's bill reads that “The Governor in Council shall...appoint a Parliamentary Budget Officer after consultation with the leader of every recognized party in both Houses of Parliament...”. If the NDP leader really supported abolition, then why did he put forward a plan to increase the Senate's powers? It is because the NDP knows that, when senators are selected by Canadians, it will no longer be able to appoint its own NDP senators, as it conspired to do in 2008.
Our government has always been clear about our commitment to bring reform to the Senate Chamber, including processes for Canadians to select their Senate representatives. We pledged to do this in our most recent election platform, and we repeated our promise in the Speech from the Throne. We even took another step toward a more democratic and accountable Senate by seeking clarification from the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Senate makes, reviews and passes laws that affect Canadians every day, and it is not right that senators have no democratic mandate from the people they represent, nor that they can sit in the other place for decades at a time.
The Senate can be a place where a broader range of experience and expertise can be brought to bear on the issues facing our country. Unfortunately, I believe that the contributions of the Senate are overshadowed by the fact that senators are selected and appointed through a process that is neither formal nor transparent, with no democratic mandate whatsoever from Canadians. Moreover, there are no strict limits on the number of years an individual can sit in the Senate. Taken together, the Senate's effectiveness and legitimacy suffer from its democratic deficit.
We must then ask ourselves this simple question: Is this good enough? Our answer is no. Our government has long believed that the Senate status quo is unacceptable, and therefore it must change in order to reach its full potential as an effective and democratic institution.
While recommendations on how to reform the Senate have differed, and differ still, there is one consistent theme that runs throughout. Nearly all reports and studies agree that the Senate is an important democratic institution and that reform is needed to increase legitimacy in the context of a modern democratic country.
It is clear that while there may be different approaches to solving the problem, reform is the best course of action to actually achieve change to the status quo of the Senate.
Senate reform of any kind has proven to be a complicated process. Under our constitution, reforming fundamental aspects of the Senate, such as its powers or the representation of the provinces, requires at least the support of seven provinces representing 50% of the population of the provinces.
Achieving the necessary level of provincial support for particular fundamental reforms is a complex and lengthy process with no guarantee of success. Abolishing the Senate, for example, at the very minimum requires the consent of at least seven out of ten provinces, if not unanimous consent of all provinces and territories.
Canadians do not want drawn-out constitutional battles, battles that would detract from what Canadians want their government to focus on: jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. At a time when the global economy is still fragile and Canadians are rightly worried about their savings, their retirement and their financial future, long drawn-out constitutional clashes with the provinces would be a recipe for sideshows distracting the government's attention from the economy.
Added to this is the fact that there is no consensus among provinces to pursue large wholesale reform. The NDP's own motion admits that it needs the support of the provinces and territories, support it knows it does not have.
Our government believes that Senate reform is needed now. The NDP does not want reform now. It wants to delay, to keep the status quo and to keep Canadians from electing their own senators. Getting into constitutional battles with the provinces is a good way for the NDP to delay change to the Senate, so that the NDP can appoint its own senators.
Canadians deserve better. Canadians deserve a say in who represents them in the Senate. That is why we are moving forward with the Senate reform bill. Through this bill our government is taking immediate and concrete action to increase the democracy in our upper chamber and to work co-operatively with the provinces and territories.
The Senate reform bill includes two initiatives that would help bring real reform to the Senate. First, the bill provides a suggested framework to provinces and territories that wish to establish democratic consultation processes to give Canadians a say in who represents them in the Senate. Second, it introduces term limits for senators appointed after October 2008, which would ensure that the Senate is refreshed with new ideas on a more frequent basis and would allow Canadians to select their Senate representatives at regular intervals.
On Senate elections, we have consistently encouraged provinces and territories to implement a democratic process for the selection of Senate nominees.
The framework in the Senate reform act is meant to provide enough details to facilitate the development of provincial or territorial legislation without limiting provinces and territories in the establishment of a consultation process or the precise detail of such a process, which may differ between jurisdictions as local needs may demand. This is, after all, a co-operative venture. Provinces and territories would not be required to implement the framework precisely as written; rather, they would be encouraged to adapt the framework that best suits the needs of their unique circumstances. As we have seen with legislation introduced in New Brunswick, they have adapted the legislation to fit the realities of that province.
The approach proposed in the Senate reform act has already been successful, and this type of reform has already gained a toehold in our Senate. In 2007, the recommended the appointment of Bert Brown to the Senate. In 2012, he appointed the first female elected senator, Betty Unger, and in 2013, he appointed Doug Black to the Senate. Senators Brown, Unger and Black were elected as senators-in-waiting by Alberta voters in selection processes held under the authority of Alberta's Senatorial Selection Act, which was introduced in 1989.
Alberta may have been the first province to pass this type of legislation and to see its nominees appointed, but it is not the only province that has taken steps to facilitate reform. In 2009, Saskatchewan passed the Senate Nominee Election Act, which enables a provincial government to hold a constitutional process on Senate nominees. In British Columbia, a bill has been introduced that would provide the provincial government with the authority to hold consultation processes. In New Brunswick, a bill has been introduced in the legislature to hold Senate nominee processes by 2016. More broadly, I would encourage all our colleagues in all provincial and territorial legislatures and assemblies to consider supporting and moving forward with similar initiatives.
In addition to encouraging the implementation of democratic selection processes for Senate nominees, the Senate reform act would also limit Senate terms, which can span several decades under the current rules. Under the act, senators would be subject to a single nine-year non-renewable term. Limiting the terms of senators can be accomplished by Parliament through section 44 of the Constitution Act of 1982. Similarly, in 1965, Parliament, acting alone, introduced a mandatory retirement age of 75 for senators. Prior to that, senators were appointed for life.
I believe it is fair to say that while many in this House agree that changes to the Senate are necessary, we sometimes disagree on the way forward. In order to underline our commitment to Senate reform, our government has taken another step toward a more democratic and accountable Senate by seeking clarification from the Supreme Court of Canada.
In contrast to the position of other parties, it is clear that our government's approach is the practical and reasonable way forward. It is the approach that can truly achieve results. In fact, the stated positions of the opposition parties are essentially arguments in favour of the status quo. Their proposals have such a low chance of success that they might as well not even propose them at all.
For example, the official opposition claims to be for abolishing the Senate. Aside from the very obvious sideshow that the NDP is attempting to create, abolition is not possible for one major reason: there is no consensus among the provinces to abolish the Senate. Since the NDP members are unwilling or unable to put forward a real plan to abolish the Senate, we have done it for them by seeking clarity from the Supreme Court of Canada.
Then there is the Liberal Party, who in its 13 years in power did nothing to make the Senate more democratic or accountable. Even when it was given the chance to put senators elected by Canadians into the Senate, the Liberal Party refused—not once, but three times. The Liberals do not support Senate reform, and their 13-year record of inaction demonstrates their opposition. They have been clear about this.
In closing, we are the only party with a real plan to reform the Senate. Our government is dedicated to reforming the Senate so that hard-working Canadians across our great country can select their Senate representatives.
My constituents tell me that they want change. Canadians want change. I believe that the time for change in the Senate has come. Frankly, if the NDP wants to change the Senate, it would not be blocking the Senate reform act at every opportunity. In an attempt to filibuster our Senate reform bill, the NDP put up 40 speakers. Since 2006, the Senate reform act has been blocked 18 times by the NDP, including last week, when the NDP blocked a motion to pass the Senate reform act.
The NDP member who put forward the motion we are debating today stated that, “With any motion on an important subject, you have to get to the point where parties’ positions are clear”.
If the member for is struggling with his party's position, as he seems to be, then he should look no further than the words of his own leader, who stated yesterday that “laws should only be made by people who are elected”.
The NDP members say that they want laws made by people who are elected. The NDP should stop dodging the issue and support our real Senate reform plan, which will provide for Senate elections. The NDP has blocked our attempts for an elected Senate 18 times. However, I am willing to give the NDP yet another chance to support our reasonable and achievable reform.
I would like unanimous consent to propose that notwithstanding any standing order or usual practice of the House, Bill , be deemed to have been read the whole second time and referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, institutional reform, if not done wisely, might create more bad than good. It is a well-known tenet of political science that tomorrow's political difficulties are often the result of today's ill-conceived institutional reforms.
I will show that this is exactly what will happen if the House makes the mistake of supporting the motion moved today by the hon. member for on behalf of the NDP caucus. This motion urges the Government of Canada, in consultation with the provinces and territories, to take immediate steps towards abolishing the Senate of Canada.
Let us list all the problems that implementing this motion would cause. First, we would have to open the Constitution. In these times of economic uncertainty, where the governments in our federation have to work together to protect Canadians' jobs, the NDP is asking them to put a great deal of their energy into constitutional negotiations.
Second, the NDP must tell us whether it really believes that all the governments in our federation are willing to open the Constitution to deal solely with the issue of the Senate. If the NDP thinks that is true, then I suggest they go talk to the current Government of Quebec.
As Professor Benoît Pelletier, from the University of Ottawa, said to Hill Times on February 18, 2013:
|| I don't see the abolition of the Senate to be something that would get the approval of all the necessary provinces that would have to give their approval. I'm sure that different provinces, including Quebec, would like other subjects to be discussed at the same table. We would eventually get something as large, as wide, and as substantial as the Meech Lake Accord or even the Charlottetown agreement.
The NDP may want a new round of mega-constitutional negotiations, but Canadians put constitutional talks at the bottom of their current priorities, and rightly so.
Third, has the NDP taken into account the fact that the constitutional rule to abolish the Senate almost certainly requires the unanimous consent of the provinces? Most experts think that, if the 7-50 rule—seven provinces representing at least 50% of the population—is needed to change the nature of the Senate, then the consent of the House and the unanimity of the provinces is needed to abolish the Senate, and this would likely be confirmed by the Supreme Court.
In the February 18 edition of The Hill Times, Bruce Ryder, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, reminded us of this when he said that the support of 10 provinces was needed. In any case, I would like to remind all hon. members of something that has not yet been mentioned: the Parliament of Canada has passed regional veto legislation. The regional veto act would therefore have to be abolished so that none of the provinces would have the opportunity to veto changes to the Senate or its abolishment.
Fourth, since the NDP keeps saying that it wants to impose a costly referendum on Canadians on this issue, has the party considered what question should be asked and what majority would be required? A question that gives Canadians only one alternative—to abolish the Senate or not—would not do justice to the variety of opinions Canadians have about the Senate.
As for the majority required for abolition, is the NDP thinking of a simple majority at the national level? That will not do because the provincial governments and legislative assemblies that would have voted to keep the Senate would feel, with reason, that their constitutional duty is to have the wishes of their voters prevail.
So we are talking about a simple majority within each province. The probability of attaining such a majority 10 times from coast to coast is so low that you have to wonder why public funds should be spent on such a referendum.
Therefore, we see that abolishing the Senate would represent a major change to the federation, requiring the unanimous support of the provinces under the rules for amending the Constitution. This is very unlikely to happen. As a matter of fact, only three provinces have indicated they are currently in favour of abolishing the Senate.
I think the best conclusion we may reach on this ill-advised motion is the one given by Peter Russell, Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto. He was quoted in Hill Times on February 18, 2013. Dr. Russell said:
|| They [the NDP] really haven't done much homework on the pros and cons of bicameralism. I don't know if they honestly know how to spell the word.
Professor Russell said this. Indeed, if we followed the NDP's plan, Canada would become the only large federation in the world to have a single federal chamber. If we were to lose our upper chamber, then we would also lose the useful role it plays in our political system, which benefits Canadians, particularly the regions and minorities.
This is precisely the role that the Fathers of Confederation set out for the Senate, the role of sober second thought. Since senators are not elected, they play their role with moderation and almost always give the elected chamber, the House of Commons, the last word.
However, with sober second thought, senators can detect mistakes and inaccuracies, and can ask members to amend their bills in the interest of taxpayers and citizens.
Allow me to cite some recent examples of sober second thought executed by our colleagues of the other chamber. In 2006, the House accepted 55 Senate amendments to improve the Federal Accountability Act. In 2008, the Senate convinced the government not to proceed with changes to the Canadian film tax credit. It was an infamous censorship provision that would have allowed the minister to deny a film tax credit where it would be, according to the minister, contrary to a vague notion of public policy. There was a huge outcry from everywhere in Canada. Thank God we had a Liberal senator who saw the mistake and corrected it in the House.
It was in 2012, after rejecting Liberal amendments to the Safe Streets and Communities Act in the House, that the amendments were made in the Senate and then accepted in the House. Currently, the NDP bill, Bill , is being carefully scrutinized by the Senate after a number of sports leagues and several provinces raised concerns that the House had failed to provide the necessary level of scrutiny before passing it.
As we see, the Senate has always provided useful amendments and clarifications to bills passed by the House, while rarely obstructing the general will of this chamber. In fact, between 1945 and today, I have enough fingers to count the bills passed by the House of Commons that were rejected by the Senate. The Senate performs an important checking role in the Canadian federation by providing an opportunity for sober second thought on bills passed by the House, a complementary chamber of scrutiny and amendment. This is precisely why the Senate was created by the Fathers of Confederation. It would be particularly unwise to abolish a chamber of scrutiny, since we are currently dealing with the most secretive government in Canadian history. What federal institutions need is more oversight, not less oversight.
For the Senate to properly fulfill its role as a chamber of sober second thought, the has to choose good senators who are exceptional because of their hard-working nature, rigour, expertise and moral strength.
Unfortunately, the has made some very dubious appointments. Instead of appointing highly qualified individuals, he has chosen some people whose sole qualification was as Conservative Party partisans. The Prime Minister is to be held accountable for these bad choices, not the Senate as an institution. The Prime Minister must also be held accountable for the constitutional mess that his own Senate reform would create. He wants to elect senators without changing anything else in the Constitution. Let me describe how much damage that would do to our country.
Many Canadians would like their senators elected rather than appointed, and that is understandable. It would be more democratic. However, what would happen if, as proposed by the Conservative government, we changed the way Senate seats were filled, without changing our Constitution accordingly?
If we went along with the Conservative Senate reform proposal, we would have: no dispute settlement mechanism between the Senate and the House if both were elected; continued under-representation of Alberta and British Columbia with only six senators each, when New Brunswick and Nova Scotia hold 10 senators when they have five to six times less than Alberta and British Columbia; U.S.-style, now Italian-style and Mexican-style gridlock between two elected chambers unable to solve disagreements; and bitter constitutional disputes regarding the number of senatorial seats to which each province would be entitled. Fortunately, the Supreme Court is likely to confirm that such ill-conceived Senate reform cannot be done unilaterally by an act of Parliament alone.
Therefore, first things first: will the provinces be able to reach an agreement on the distribution of senatorial seats? If they do, we can then figure out which constitutional powers we should attribute to the Senate in order to create healthy complementarities with the House rather than paralyzing duplication, after which we can agree on the process to elect senators and federally amend the Constitution accordingly.
Abolition of the Senate would represent a major change to the federation requiring the unanimous support of the provinces under the rules for amending the Constitution. This is very unlikely to happen. Furthermore, the Senate serves a useful function by improving or correcting bills that pass through the House.
As long as the provinces fail to agree on the number of senators to which each one is entitled, we must avoid the kind of constitutional chaos that an elected Senate would cause.
Instead, let us keep the accountable for the quality of the individuals he appoints to the upper house. Let the Senate continue playing the role conferred upon it by the Fathers of Confederation, the chamber of scrutiny and the chamber of sober second thought.
Mr. Speaker, I wanted to comment on the fine speech from my colleague, the member for . She is a member of this House, not yet old enough to serve in the Senate. I think that is evidence enough in support of this motion, a sufficiently compelling argument on which to actually rest my case.
However there is yet more evidence, so I will not rest it there. I am sure she and my colleague from , whose motion this is, have greater expectations of me.
If I might, I will say what a pleasure it is to share the privilege of representing the citizens of the east end of Toronto with the member for . We stand back to back in our common cause of serving the people of the east end of the city. I stand with him today in full support of this motion.
Today's motion is part of a larger progressive vision and plan that we in the NDP have for reforming the electoral and parliamentary systems of Canada.
This is about bringing a more fulsome democracy to Canada, about making representation more meaningful and real, about making sure we have a system whereby the citizens of this country can be sure that they are able to remove us from this place when those of us who occupy this place fail to do our job properly. It is this latter point that is relevant, I believe, to today's motion, to this part of our democracy project.
Let me say at the outset of this speech that it is my desire as an MP to always conduct myself in a dignified and civil manner as befitting this institution. Whatever one wants to say about the conduct and language that is appropriate to this place does not really matter because there are, in any case, some very clear, explicit expectations of my constituents for my conduct.
A speech about the Senate poses a huge challenge to that, because the subject matter is not in fact dignified and is not civil. The institution has become ugly, crude and sordid, and an argument for its abolition cannot avoid but shine a light on that and speak in plain terms about that.
As a new MP, I am not so used to and familiar with this place yet that the Senate and the senator seem normal to me. There is something quite unusual about this collection of people who have made this place home till kingdom come or they are 75 years old. This ought to be a place where we are able to be, only by the will and grace of those who sent us here. We ought to feel lucky about that. We ought to never take for granted the privilege we have to be in this House to represent the views of our constituents on the important issues of the day.
We ought to be well aware, every day, that the privilege is in our constituents' hands to withdraw or withhold should we slip and fail in our duty, or should they change their minds, or should time and events simply overtake us and our usefulness to them.
It was a very strange experience early on in my tenure here—and strange perhaps that I remember it really well—the day I sat down on a joint House of Commons-Senate committee, substituting for one my colleagues, next to a senator. Here was this man, sitting on this committee nominally for the same purpose as the rest of us sitting around the table, reviewing and scrutinizing legislation, studying the issues of the day, with no one to go back to, no one to account to, no constituency, no events that weekend to get back to the riding for, just collecting a salary until the inevitable. He was entirely unaccountable.
This is to argue that the institution is fundamentally undemocratic and that it represents a deep distrust of democracy. It is and it does. It is a comforting backstop for those who are concerned about the wisdom of the elected, and by extension the wisdom of the electors. There are facts aplenty served up over the course of time to undermine the justifications of that institution.
To focus on the issue of accountability seems a bit naive. There is an unassailable truth to those arguments, but there is a bigger truth that seems to make those finer, higher arguments somewhat moot.
The once described the Senate as a relic of the 19th century. Were it only that, then there may be something pointedly historical about it and some historical justification for keeping it alive, for reforming it, for modernizing it perhaps. This argument might take the shape of tradition versus more modern democratic notions about institutions.
However, it is actually substantially worse and considerably sadder than simply that. The institution, even for what it was, has degenerated and become corrupted beyond rehabilitation. It is not even about what the senators are doing here, or what terms and conditions they operate under, but what they have done to get here.
The Senate is the pension. The work has already been done, their masters have been served and this is the deferred compensation for that work.
I am not a historian, and maybe the institution knew better times. Maybe someone took seriously—and apparently the Liberals still do—the notion of second sober thought. On the other hand, some people say that it has always been thus, and I enjoyed the quote from my colleague by Sir John A. Macdonald about this being the chamber of the propertied. I only know what the Senate has been throughout my adult life: a crass, crude and corrupted institution.
Look what we have there.
We have Senator Doug Finley who is the former national campaign director and director of political operations for the Conservative Party in 2006 and 2008. He was charged for overspending the Canada Elections Act spending limit and falsifying tax claims in the 2006 election. Over the last three years, he has cost the taxpayer just shy of $730,000.
We have Senator Irving Gerstein, chief fundraiser and chair of the Conservative Fund Canada. He is the largest fundraiser for the Conservative Party and was charged in 2011 with violating the Canada Elections Act. He was involved in filing false tax claims and exceeding federal spending limits on campaign advertisements. Senator Gerstein has cost the taxpayer just shy of $1 million over the last three years.
The list goes on, of course, with bagmen, backroom boys and failed candidates in the Senate.
Not to be outdone, the Liberals have enshrined their own set of past political operatives in the Senate. For example, Senator David Smith is a former national Liberal campaign co-chair. He cost the taxpayers $935,000 over the last three years. Senators Cowan, Robichaud, Mitchell, Campbell, all former Liberal Party operatives, each cost the taxpayers either side of a million bucks over the last years, and the list goes on.
The Senate was never justified on any grounds, but at least the red chamber had the facade and aura of dignity. However, that is no more. That has fallen away and with it has gone the possibility of recovery. A seat in the red chamber is the crude patronage of a twisted cynical political game that has been played out between those two parties since Confederation. It is the pork of political bagmen and operatives of Liberals and Conservatives. The party that wins the election gets to bring its insiders to feed at the trough of the Canadian Senate; wealthy enough men and women gorging themselves at the expense of the taxpayer for doing the dirty work of their party.
Senate reform has been the mantra of this , but there has been no rush, we note. He has had seven years to deliver on that promise, but what he has delivered instead was 58 of his own to feed at the Senate trough; taking a seat as the head of all of but six other prime ministers in the pantheon of patronage.
With Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Mac Harb, it has come down to audits and investigations over housing allowances and travel expenses. Do senators live where they say they live?
It makes one wish we could go back to debating the principles and the value of the relic. Perhaps it is a debate without a different conclusion, but at least a debate of a higher order. However, the plumbing is backed up on this relic. There is no reviving it or getting rid of the stench. This unconstitutional, undemocratic relic deserves better than the crass feeding trough it has become.
Mr. Speaker, as always, I am proud to rise in the House as the elected member of Parliament for Timmins—James Bay, chosen by the people of James Bay to come and represent them in the House of Commons.
Listening to the discussion this morning about the motion to address the need to begin the process of abolishing the Senate, I remembered, because of my Conservative colleagues, that there was a time when we were actually talking about reform and bringing this anachronism into the 21st century. The Conservatives promised reform. However, they agreed that if they were not going to get reform, they would abolish it, because it is a system that has proven to be deeply entrenched against any form of reform.
Unfortunately, our colleagues in the Conservative Party seem to have fallen off the straight and narrow and have fallen into the cesspool of rum bottle politics in Ottawa. They have gone the route of the Liberals in terms of filling the Senate with a lot of very dodgy appointments: friends of the party, hacks, and people who flip pancakes at Conservative fundraisers. In seven years, they have not come forward with a real plan for democratic reform in the Senate. Therefore, we get back to the original question of abolition.
My colleagues in the Liberal Party are very angry this morning, as they are about any efforts to hold their friends in the system of unaccountable, unelected friends of the party to account.
What we are talking about is not an obscure constitutional debating point. What we are talking about goes to the very heart of democratic accountability in Canada in the 21st century, that being whether a group of people who believe that they have a certain amount of privilege and a lack of accountability should have the right and the power to block the duly elected members of this House, and in doing so, to block the democratic will of the country.
We have to place this motion in the context of the times. There is growing anger and frustration among Canadian citizens, who see the Senate refusing to show any level of accountability and senators thumbing their noses at the Canadian people and showing absolute contempt. Then we are told in the House, by the Liberals, especially, and the Conservatives that as we are not able, as democratically elected members, to hold senators to account. They are somehow above us. I do not believe that this is a principle that any democratic country should accept.
Today the level of frustration has reached a point that we have to, as Parliament, hold those members to account. We have Senator Anne Cools using her position as an unelected senator to stop the Parliamentary Budget Officer from providing information to democratically elected members of Parliament, and by extension, the Canadian people. It is unacceptable. She said that it is a breach of her privilege. That is what senators believe they exist on: their privileges. She called it constitutional vandalism. I will say that there are constitutional vandals, and they are in the red chamber.
Over her career, Senator Anne Cools has been erratic and has said some pretty bizarre things. However, what the Canadian people need to know is that we cannot get rid of her. She is there until she is 75, whether she shows up for work or not, just like the famous Senator Andy Thompson of Mexico. For seven years the guy never showed up for work. Canadians are not even able to remove them. Therefore, Senator Anne Cools can interfere with the work of democratically elected members of Parliament, and that seems okay, because that is her privilege.
Pamela Wallin, who apparently lives on Palmerston Avenue in Toronto, claims to represent the people of Saskatchewan. Pamela Wallin, who is on the board of directors of an oil sands development company, stood up to help defeat a bill that was brought forward to deal with catastrophic climate change. It was passed by the duly elected members of the House of Commons, and she bragged about killing the bill. She said it was a nuisance. Of course, it was nuisance to her. The little people of this country are probably a nuisance to her. However, she gets her perks paid for by the little people who are a nuisance to her.
The situation is unacceptable. We have not even touched on the fact that the senators sit on the boards of major corporations, the banks, the financial sector and private health care interests, and they get to participate in debate and change laws in the country while serving their friends in private industry.
This is not an institution that went wrong somewhere along the way. It was founded on wrong principles, and it needs to be held to account.
One hundred and forty-some years ago, when Canada was establishing its system of governance, the mutton chops who met in Prince Edward Island looked to the House of Lords in England. The House of Lords was set up because England had its long history of class exclusion and hereditary rights. The British Parliament was set up with the House of Lords above the House of the common people. The language itself speaks volumes. They needed a check and balance on the rights of the common people.
For people back home watching this, the common people are Canadians. We did not have a history of peerage and an aristocracy, so what they decided to come up with was the Senate for the check and balance. In some ways they chose something worse. Rather than what the British had, with its lords and men with titles, the Fathers of Confederation decided to pick cronies and friends of the party.
I think of G.K. Chesterton who, comparing England to Ireland, said that what was worse than being priest-ridden was being squire-ridden. However, Canadians have an even worse choice. We are crony-ridden. That is not a balance for legislative approval in a modern democracy.
It is interesting when we see the young tour guides taking people around and showing the Senate. They are fed the fiction that they are supposed to tell people about all the work the Senate does. They say that one of John A. Macdonald's founding principles was that the Senate was there to protect the rights of minorities. That sounds good, but John A. Macdonald was not talking about linguistic minorities, first nations, or new Canadians. What John A. Macdonald said was that we must protect the rights of minorities, because the rich will always be fewer in number than the poor. That was the founding principle. It was a system set up to protect the powerful.
Here we have today the so-called seven years of Senate reform that can be summed up in Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau. That is what the Conservatives have given us. It is like a bad reality TV show. If we look at the goings on in the Senate, it is like Les Bougon. We are going around in our Armani suits. Instead of Honey Boo Boo, we have Pamela Boo Boo. At least Honey Boo Boo has something we could actually think is kind of cute once in a while.
What we are seeing with the senators right now is a scandal. It actually cuts to a constitutional issue. They were chosen by the . He has told Canadians that he can personally vet all their residency requirements, yet Pamela Wallin has a health card for Ontario. She is either a resident of Ontario or the people of Ontario are somehow being defrauded. If she is a resident of Ontario, she is not eligible to say that she is a resident of Saskatchewan. It is not good enough to say that her heart is in Saskatchewan or that she goes back to Saskatchewan. She is either a resident or she is not.
The same is true for Mike Duffy. First he lived behind door number one down in Cavendish. He had not been there in months. Then it was door number two in Charlottetown. Now it is door number three, back in Kanata. He is paying the money back, but he did not rip the Canadian taxpayers off. He just did not understand the form that said that his primary residence was within 100 kilometres of Ottawa. He did not understand that, and every single year, he ticked the box and walked out with $20,000. We see the same with Senator Patterson, of no fixed address.
The senators, all of these men and women, because they tell us that they are eligible for the money, get to collect the money. That is the frustration. They are taking money from taxpayers. They have an institution where it is their word, their pinky swear, that they are entitled to walk out the door with $20,000 in travel expenses and to represent regions they do not live in. They do not have to prove anything to the Canadian people, because they see themselves as above us. That is not a credible system for governance in the 21st century.
We need to deal with the system. Senators refuse to reform, year after year. They have been defiant about it. It has to come back to the House of Commons and then to the Canadian people. If we asked the Canadian people what they would do, they would get rid of them.
Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to speak to the NDP opposition motion in front of us today in the House. I will read it for the benefit of people who are watching this debate. The proposed motion states:
|| That, in the opinion of the House, the government of Canada, in consultation with the provinces and territories, should take immediate steps towards abolishing the unelected and unaccountable Senate of Canada.
There are numerous problems with this proposal. The first problem is that in many people's expert opinion, abolition of the Senate would be a fundamental constitutional amendment, and as such would require the unanimous consent of 11 legislatures in this country, that is, all 10 provinces and the Parliament of Canada. In addition, the precedent has been set in two referenda on separation that were held in the province of Quebec, and on the referendum on the Charlottetown Accord, that not only would 10 provincial legislatures and the Parliament of Canada need to agree to abolish the Senate, but that popular referenda or one single national referendum would be required to support that decision by these 11 Parliaments. From a practical point of view, abolition of the Senate is really a political impossibility.
In considering provinces like New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island, many of these provinces entered Confederation with the condition that they would be allotted a certain number of senators in the upper chamber. This was the deal that brought Newfoundland into Confederation in 1949. It was the deal that brought Prince Edward Island into Confederation, I think it was in 1871. It was the deal that brought the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, along with the United Province of Canada, into Confederation in 1867. These were fundamental to their entry into the federation, and for the opposition members to so blithely and casually suggest that we abolish the Senate shows either remarkable naïveté or, frankly, irresponsibility.
These provinces today would likely never agree to the abolition of the Senate, by reason that it guarantees them a certain amount of representation in both the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada. In fact, as much as people may not like this point, the reality is that Prince Edward Island, with some 140,000 Canadians, has 8 parliamentarians. It has four senators in the upper chamber and four members of Parliament, and the two are inextricably linked. They are linked because the number of members in this House of Commons, from a provincial division, cannot fall below the number of senators from that particular region of the country. Therefore, why would the people of Prince Edward Island ever agree to the abolition of the Senate? They would not only lose their four parliamentarians in the upper chamber, it would put at risk the number of parliamentarians, of which they have four, in the lower chamber. In fact, they might be reduced to only two members of Parliament, or even possibly one and a half members of Parliament. The people in a province like P.E.I. are being asked, through a motion like this, to consider going from eight parliamentarians, four senators and four members of Parliament, to one and a half members of Parliament.
After thinking through the implications of this motion, members may think the proposer is either uninformed or is being irresponsible.
I could speak about New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and I could speak about the Province of Quebec. The fact is, the Province of Quebec has long had requests for amendments to the Constitution.
Before we would even be able to address the abolition of the Senate and the Constitution of Canada, the outstanding requests that came from Meech Lake, and later partially through Charlottetown, would be at the front of the line when it comes to amending the Constitution. I do not think Canadians, either in the rest of Canada or in Quebec, want to reopen those divisive constitutional debates that we had in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There again, I think the motion is not a serious proposal for change.
Finally, with respect to why the motion is not serious and why it should not pass, the Senate is an important chamber. The ongoing present difficulties aside, the fact is that all major western democracies have a bicameral national legislature. All major democracies have two chambers in their national parliament, national congress, national legislature, national system, and there is a reason for that. Laws need to be made cautiously and passed with a great deal of review. There needs to be checks and balances in a system in order to ensure there is not undue concentration of power and that the power of the state does not run roughshod over minority rights and the rights of individuals and regions of the country.
The most important reason that the motion should not be adopted is because the Senate is an important part of this Parliament of Canada. It was set up to provide a balance to the majoritarianism in the lower chamber. We passed a riding redistribution act about a year ago that has resulted in new ridings for this country. The opposition opposed that because it does not believe this chamber should be representative of its population.
We, as a government, believe this chamber ought to be representative of the population, that each vote in each riding should have the same weight across the country. In order to offset that majoritarianism in this chamber, we have an upper chamber that balances the smaller regions of the country against the larger regions. This is the way it is with chambers in other democracies, for example, like the United States, where each state has two senators. A large state like New York, with millions of people, has two senators, and small states like Hawaii and Alaska also have two senators each. The reason for that is to offset the tyranny of the majority, as it has often been said, of the lower chamber. That is why the Senate is an important institution and that is why the Senate cannot be abolished.
The solution to the ongoing problems in the Senate that we have seen more recently is not its abolition. The solution is to make the Senate more accountable. The solution is to establish term limits for senators, who now are there to age 75, and to establish popular consultations whereby senators can be appointed by the government.
The Government of Canada has made a reference to the Supreme Court because of the questions about the boundaries. We, as a Parliament, can amend current law in Canada to bring about these two broad reforms, the term limits for senators and the popular election of senators, in a way that does not require us to reopen the Constitution. A couple of months ago, the government asked the Supreme Court for a reference as to what the bounds are in legislation for us to introduce new term limits; what the bounds are in terms of us enacting popular consultations for senators; what the bounds are for the constitutional requirements of net worth and property qualifications in the province from which senators are appointed; and, what the bounds are for the abolition of the Senate. That latter question is actually fairly clear.
There have been a number of references and rulings by the Supreme Court that, in my view, have made it quite clear that the abolition of the Senate at the very least requires a two-thirds, 50% plus 1, amendment, or the unanimous consent of all 10 provincial legislatures and the Parliament of Canada.
We hope this reference will come back expeditiously so that we as a Parliament can move quickly to enact the reforms proposed in Bill , the Senate reform act. It is my hope that the court will find the time to give the Government of Canada its reference by the end of this calendar year.
That is the solution to the Senate. It is to allow Canadians to render judgment on the performance of the Senate. It is up to Canadians to elect the senators they think are best able to sit in the Senate and to decide whether to hold senators to account for their performances in their previous terms. That is exactly what this reform act for the Senate would do. This act would ensure accountability in the upper chamber, that the chamber is where the business of the nation carries on and that Canadians can have faith that laws are being verified before they are passed and given royal assent.
The NDP's motion on the abolition of the Senate is not a serious one. It is not something that any serious leader or party would propose. It is not only practically and politically impossible, but it would reopen the divisive constitutional debates and referenda that we saw in the 1990s and late 1980s. It would also, frankly, further concentrate power in the executive branch of our government to the detriment of Parliament. For all of those reasons, it is not a serious proposal. Frankly, it is a proposal to make hay while the sun shines on the current controversies in the Senate and speaks to the fact that the official opposition is not ready for prime time, not ready for government.
I could go on about the challenges the Senate has, but the reality is this. From time to time there are controversies in this chamber about particular members and ministers in the cabinet. That happens in all governments. Nobody is suggesting that we abolish this chamber because of controversies. I am not minimizing the controversies in the Senate. The reality is that the Senate needs to be reformed. There were reforms introduced in the House of Lords in the Westminster parliament. We have the last Parliament with an unelected, completely appointed upper chamber that has no popular consultations or vetting process by which senators are appointed.
It is high time for Canada, Parliament and Canadians to have an upper chamber that has term limits of nine years, as it is in the current bill, though eight years would be acceptable to many of us, and to have popular consultations or elections of senators. That is well past its due date. We need to put that in place, and put that in place quickly. Frankly, I think the government would be prepared, with the consent of all members of the House, to rapidly pass that legislation through the chamber so it can proceed to the Senate where it would be debated and passed.
That is the very important reason for why we need to achieve Senate reform. If we do not achieve Senate reform, all we are doing is delegitimizing the Parliament of Canada. Canadians have been turning out in lower and lower voter numbers in recent elections. Canadians increasingly do not trust political institutions. That has been shown in surveys over the last number of years. There was one survey recently that indicated that trend continues. We bring it upon ourselves as parliamentarians when we propose things we know are just making politics, that have no practical chance of ever being adopted into law and, further, that would weaken this institution.
I will be happy to take questions on this issue. This it is not a serious proposal from the opposition. It is irresponsible, if not naive. It shows a remarkable lack of understanding about how upper chambers have been structured around democracies of the world in order to provide a check on majoritism of the lower chamber.
There is a solution, however, to making the Senate accountable and to allowing Canadians a say in the performance of the hundred or so senators in the upper chamber, and that is to put in place term limits and to allow for the election of senators.
Instead of debating this motion on the floor of the House, what we should be doing is debating the government's Bill , the Senate reform act, which will introduce those two fundamental changes into the upper chamber and ensure that the upper chamber is modernized and remains relevant for the 21st century and for Canada's democracy.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise to support the motion brought forward by the very able member for .
The motion is worth reading, if not savouring:
|| That, in the opinion of the House, the government of Canada, in consultation with the provinces and territories, should take immediate steps towards abolishing the unelected and unaccountable Senate of Canada.
We are talking about abolishing the Senate. This is music to my ears. We should take these steps toward making Canada a better democracy. I am very proud to be a member of a party that is pushing for such a long overdue reform. I really hope we get support from all sides of the House for the motion.
I am of view that when we talk about issues like this, we have to step back and take somewhat of a romantic view of the times we are in. Rather than focusing on the day-to-day details of the activity of life, it is important to think of this issue in the context of the historical period in which we are living.
It is important to not think about how the debate and discussion we are having here is going to be reflected in the newspapers, but how we are going to look back on this period 100 years from now. That is how we have to look at this. It is a major structural change being proposed, not for the first time in Canada. We have gone through many structural changes in the development of our democracy. We have to look at how Canadians will view our efforts today and over the coming months and how future generations of Canadians will view this.
To help with this task of contextualizing the debates read, I often like to read political biographies. I know that is probably a little boring for some, but I think it is extremely important to put this into context. I have just finished a wonderful biography written by Professor Michael Cross of Dalhousie University, who spent 10 years researching and writing about Robert Baldwin, one of the fathers of responsible government in Canada, along with his father and LaFontaine. This is the famous Baldwin-LaFontaine team that brought us responsible government.
I would advise all members to take a look at this book as we go through this debate about whether we should abolish the Senate.
A lot of people would ask why they should read a biography of Robert Baldwin, the man who brought municipal reform to Canada, the man who brought responsible government. Because it is important to see how dedicated he was to transforming Canadian democracy and to improving democracy in Canada. His triumph of responsible government means our government is more responsible to the people than to the monarchy.
If we look back at Robert Baldwin's time in the mid-1800s to the 21st century, if people from the 22nd century look back to where we are now, I think they may see people who have as much passion as Robert Baldwin, putting forward proposals such as the one today.
I will be sharing my time, Mr. Speaker.
The reforms of responsible government were achieved in a uniquely Canadian way, without revolution. That shows the value of the House, that it allows for debate and that it is where these debates should take place and that it is the institution that should make the decisions for Canada.
We need to abolish the Senate because it is proving to be shackle around the neck of Canadian democracy. Even the mighty Conservative Party, with its Reform roots, has fallen victim to its power to undermine public control of politics in our country.
The and his predecessors from the Reform Party and the Alliance Party have all promised to reform the Senate. Indeed, the Prime Minister described the Senate as a relic of the 19th century, a relic of the Baldwin era. In 2004 he that he would not name appointed people to the Senate.
However, I fear the Senate has the better of him and his party, to where their real passion for reform of this institution has been beaten down to where what we now have put before us, through the Senate, is a watered down bill. Surprisingly and astoundingly members on the other side of the House are defending the Senate, calling it a valuable institution. If I had heard that 10 years ago, I would have thought I was dreaming.
After tabling several bills for Senate reform that all have gone nowhere—and I have to say mainly due to lack of effort—the has now appointed 58 senators.
If the originators of this western Reform movement—then Alliance and then eventually merged with the Progressive Conservatives—had stood up on the podiums during those times and said they promised to defend the Senate when they got a majority government, people would have walked out of the halls and torn up their membership. I really do find it astounding that this is really the debate going on here.
As outlined earlier by my colleagues and the newspapers and electronic media, the behaviours of senators Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin show why the Senate is no longer relevant and really needs to be abolished. This is an institution whose members within did work that was important to the country, perhaps at one point. Really, this has fallen off the agenda and they are really not doing us proud. It is becoming a joke institution, and that is too bad.
The reforms that are put forward by the Conservatives really are weak and limpid and they will not accomplish what they are after.
The Senate costs Canadians $92 million each year, and even more important, the Senate blocks legislation passed by the House of Commons. This is the elected House. This is where legislation should originate, and the Senate now and for a long time has been blocking important legislation that Canadians want.
It is not really based on any sense of sober second thought, as was the past romantic view of this institution. It is really partisan politics at play here.
Some senators try to practise this view, and in fact I have great respect for Senator Dallaire. I think he has served this country well. Perhaps he would have been the type of senator who would have upheld ethical values. I do not think many of them are doing that now, and I do not think there is any way to curb that, other than by abolishing the Senate.
We are faced with many failed attempts at legislation from that side of the House, of course, but now there is a Supreme Court reference, which will give its legal opinion on the constitutional limits as they apply to limiting the terms of senators, electing senators and eliminating the requirement for senators to have residence in the province they represent; and of course what we are proposing here is abolishing the Senate.
While I look forward to the decision of the Supreme Court—I get some more Friday night reading—I cannot help but think this is a delaying tactic by the Conservatives. They have had years to look at this issue but only now are getting around to it when senators are caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
The Conservative are putting forward these motions, vigorously defending the Senate, unimaginably today, and then hoping this will fade off the public agenda and everything will go ahead as normal.
They are hoping that these scandals will blow over and be forgotten before the decision is delivered, but I cannot help but think that these current indiscretions will only be replaced by new indiscretions as we move forward. As the Duffy and Wallin debacle perhaps fades a bit from public memory, there will be new ones, because the Senate is really unaccountable. They do not really have any incentive to spend taxpayers' money wisely.
That is not all senators. There are some people there with fantastic reputations, but I do worry that others will continue to cast aspersions.
This is a time for vision. Again, going back to Baldwin and responsible government in Canada once being a dream, it was achieved through sheer political will, and although there are difficulties in abolishing the Senate, we should not be put off by those.
The same stands for women gaining the vote or first nations gaining the vote, the bill of rights in Canada or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These are all major institutional shifts that were necessary and took significant political will to make them happen. We want to add one more to that list and that is abolition of the Senate.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today as we debate an NDP motion to abolish the Senate.
I believe that this antiquated, archaic, illegitimate and undemocratic institution must disappear as quickly as possible. As it stands, the Senate represents the worst of both worlds. Unelected and almost impossible to get rid of despite their many indiscretions, senators claim to represent Canada's regions and have the power to block measures passed by the House of Commons, whose members are elected. That is unacceptable in a democracy.
Before I go on to explain why the Senate should be abolished, I would like to point out that our motion states that abolition should occur in consultation with the provinces and territories. We recognize that any reform affecting the balance among the federation's institutions must involve all stakeholders. We want to get rid of the Senate as quickly as possible, but we have to do it properly and we must respect the provinces. We think we can come to an agreement.
Since 1970, every province has deemed its upper chamber useless and abolished it. Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba all support abolishing the Canadian Senate. British Columbia's premier has stated that the Senate no longer serves a purpose.
The number-one argument for abolishing the Senate is that it lacks democratic legitimacy. Senators are not elected. They have the power to introduce, amend and block bills, but they are not accountable to the people.
I think that the most appalling example of this was when, in 2010, the Conservative majority Senate blocked the NDP's climate change accountability bill, which a majority of the people's elected representatives passed. Manipulating democracy, a handful of unelected senators overturned a decision by members of the House of Commons.
In addition to not being elected by the people, senators are almost impossible to get rid of. Even if they vote against the interests of the people, even if they misbehave, as we have seen over the past few months, even if they misuse their expense accounts, they have a job for life in the upper chamber. Only a criminal conviction can boot them out.
Senators' dishonourable conduct and the institution's inability to self-regulate have discredited the Senate in the eyes of Canadians. In the past few weeks, revelations about abuses of public funds have left a bad taste in taxpayers' mouths.
Take Senator Duffy, for example, who claims to live in Prince Edward Island so that he can get reimbursed for his fancy house in Ottawa. And what about Senator Wallin, who is supposed to represent Saskatchewan but lives in Toronto? And then there is Senator Mac Harb, who since 2010 has claimed $31,000 in housing allowance for a secondary residence in Ottawa, when really, he has always lived in Ottawa.
I would like to make a quick comment. Last weekend, I was stunned to hear Senator Carignan defend senators' excessive expenses by comparing their travel expenses to those of MPs. How can he show such bad faith? How can he begin to compare a senator's travel expenses to those of an elected member who travels throughout his or her riding to get feedback from constituents and to explain the policies adopted in Ottawa? Senator Carignan's comments show just how out of touch senators are.
To come back to the motion we are discussing this afternoon, I would like to say that on top of these cases of abuse of public money, there are all the other situations that have deeply shocked Canadians. Take Patrick Brazeau, for example. He could sit in the Senate for another 36 years, even though he is quite often absent, he has abused his housing allowance and he is facing charges of domestic violence and sexual assault.
There was also the case of Senator Lavigne, a Liberal who eventually resigned from the Senate after being convicted of breach of trust. He had a Senate employee do landscaping work on his Wakefield property. Of course, the work was done during office hours, on the taxpayers' dime. Interestingly enough, if the employee had not been so incompetent as to cut down some of the neighbour's trees and spark a court battle, this story might never have come to light and Senator Lavigne would still be sitting in the Senate.
The fact that senators are not chosen on merit only makes the legitimacy crisis even worse. Appointments have always been partisan. Long before he was appointed as a senator, Mike Duffy mocked senators for getting “taskless thanks” as opposed to doing “thankless tasks”.
And although he said he would never appoint unelected senators, this has appointed 58 senators since 2006. Like his predecessors, he has appointed dozens of friends of the Conservative regime.
I am thinking of people like Doug Finley, national director of the Conservative Party campaign in 2006 and 2008; Irving Gerstein, former chair of the Conservative Fund Canada; Don Plett, former Conservative Party president; Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, the 's former communications director; Michel Rivard and Leo Housakos, major Conservative organizers in Quebec; and Stephen Greene, Preston Manning's former chief of staff. I could go on and mention senators like Josée Verner, Claude Carignan, Suzanne Duplessis, Fabian Manning and Percy Mockler, former Conservative MPs or candidates.
Indeed, this government has politicized the Senate so much that even former senator Michael Fortier has had enough. This weekend, he spoke to Evan Solomon and said:
“I was very naive. ... I thought it would be a different place than the one I found. I found it to be extremely partisan...on both sides, including my own, and it was very annoying because these people were trying to be members of Parliament, and they weren't.”
I am talking about the Conservatives, but the Liberals were no better. Senators Dennis Dawson and Francis Fox, for example, two former Liberal MPs, were appointed to the Senate by Paul Martin in August 2005. Since then, they have been actively involved in election organization for the Liberal Party. It is shameful.
Since 2006, the has taken a piecemeal approach to reforming the Senate. He has proposed limiting the length of senators' terms and consulting the public in the selection process, but these proposals do not make the Senate more democratic. The results of the public consultation are not binding on the Prime Minister, and there is nothing to make a senator resign after eight years, as the Prime Minister has proposed.
The Conservatives' Senate reform has been hitting a constitutional wall for seven years now. The Supreme Court will have to render a decision on a reference that the Conservative government has just made. Can the government move forward without the provinces' agreement? Nothing could be less certain.
The needs to realize that it would be impossible to reform that institution. Since 1874, barely seven years after Confederation, the Senate has been the subject of criticism and calls for reform. In fact, on April 12, 1874, the House of Commons considered a motion recommending that “our Constitution ought to be so amended as to confer upon each Province the power of selecting its own Senators, and of defining the mode of their election”. Here we are, 139 years later, still debating this issue.
I was rereading a speech the gave to the Vancouver Board of Trade in 2007. I would like to quote part of it:
|| We are dedicated to the basic proposition that Canada needs the Senate to change. And, if it cannot be reformed, I think most British Columbians, like most Canadians, will eventually conclude that it will have to be abolished.
I ask all my colleagues in this House to support the NDP motion to abolish the Senate.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be here today to debate a topic that is quite relevant in today's society, inasmuch as it seems that the Senate has been dominating the news cycle for the last month or so. A lot of Canadians will be interested to hear what members of the chamber have to say about the relevance of the Senate and whether it should be abolished, as the NDP suggests, or be reformed, as our government is proposing.
I should begin by giving some of my personal observations and where I have come from throughout the years to finally maintain a position on the Senate. I have to be quite honest: before I was elected as a member of Parliament, I leaned toward abolishing the Senate. At that point in time I did not really see the relevance of the Senate, because I did not understand the role that the Senate played. I think that would be true of most Canadians. Unfortunately, although most Canadians may know we have a Senate and may know we have an unelected upper house, they do not truly understand the role the Senate plays in today's society and in today's Parliament. I was one of those.
However, since I was elected as a member of Parliament in 2004, I have changed my views. Over the years, I have seen that the Senate does play an important and valuable role. However, I do not think the Senate is currently constructed in the correct manner.
We have seen from time to time—and all members of the House could attest to this—that over the last 100-plus years since Confederation, Senate committees have been able to explore issues that are of importance to all Canadians. I can list many valuable reports conducted and completed by Senate committees that influenced not only Parliament in the lower House but also how Canadians view certain subjects throughout the country.
It is not quite fair or accurate to say that the Senate should be abolished because it has outlived its usefulness. I do not believe that, now that I have seen the Senate at work. However, it is imperative that some fundamental changes be made to the Senate to allow it to perform at its utmost capacity. What I am talking about, quite frankly, is reform.
Right now, as everyone knows, senators are appointed. Even though there is a life cycle to the time that senators can spend in the upper chamber, it is far too long. One theoretically could be appointed to the upper house as early as the age of 30 and could sit in the Senate without fear of reprisal for 45 years. That is wrong. We have to impose term limits on senators, although the length of time for which senators should be appointed is up for debate. Our government has suggested a nine-year non-renewable term, but that length of time could certainly be debated. Some flexibility could be shown by our government if we got into meaningful debate about meaningful reform. Unfortunately, we never seem to be able to engage in that meaningful dialogue with the opposition ranks.
In addition to the term limits, which I will talk more about in a moment, there is one more fundamental reform that I would like to see enacted in the Senate, and that is the way in which senators are brought into the upper chamber. Right now, as I mentioned, it is through appointment. That is the wrong approach, primarily because we do not have the accountability that is required for senators.
Right now, as we all know, senators are primarily responsible to represent the regions from which they come, but through being appointed, there really seems to be a lack of accountability. If a senator is appointed and then fails to adequately represent his or her region, how does one make the senator account for his or her behaviour?
They cannot be fired. I suppose they could be dropped from the Senate if they conducted themselves in an untoward manner, but even then, there are only a few circumstances in which an individual could be dropped from the Senate.
However, in this place, all of us are completely accountable to our constituents. Why? It is because we are elected. If we do not represent our constituents to their satisfaction, we could lose our jobs, because every four years or so, we face the public. We have an election. That is basically a referendum on our performance. If my constituents are dissatisfied with the job I have been doing, they have the right, at the next federal election, at their next opportunity, to vote in someone else and express their dissatisfaction. However, in the Senate, the constituents of the region a senator represents have no such ability. Once a senator is appointed, the constituents of the region that senator is supposed to represent have really no ability to force that senator to account for his or her actions. That is absolutely wrong.
Therefore, I firmly believe that there should be some form of election. Whether it be through Senate consultations or direct election is up for debate. However, we need to have a process in place that allows and forces senators to be accountable to the people they represent.
We, as elected representatives, have term limits. Sometimes the term limits are as short as 18 months. Sometimes they are as long as four and a half years, because the term limit is from election to election, not to a maximum of 45 years.
The first time I was elected, in 2004, it was by the staggering plurality of 122 votes. Be assured that from that moment on, I paid great attention to the needs and demands of my constituents, because I knew that if I did not represent the wishes and the feelings of my constituents, the next time an election rolled around, I might not be sent back to this place. That is accountability, and that is the type of accountability we need in the upper chamber. That is why we need Senate reform.
Unfortunately, we have seen, on a number of occasions, that reform packages we have brought forward for discussion and debate in the House have been ultimately filibustered or rejected by members of the opposition. Therefore, I think we have taken the correct and prudent course of action by asking the Supreme Court to give its opinion.
We have brought forward a reference to the Supreme Court on four fundamental points that deal with the Senate and potential Senate reform. The first is term limits. We want the Supreme Court to advise Parliament on whether Parliament has the constitutional ability to set term limits for senators. We also want the Supreme Court to comment on the selection process and whether it would be constitutionally viable and achievable to have some selection process other than the current appointment process. Furthermore, we want the Supreme Court to comment on the number of senators for each particular region. We want it to talk about residency requirements. We also want the Supreme Court to comment on the issue before us today, which is whether the Senate could be abolished without the need for a constitutional amendment.
Anyone who has studied our Constitution, and we have many academics in the House who have become learned about the Canadian Constitution, would agree with one thing: while it is vitally necessary, it is also, and can be, from time to time an extremely complex and complicated document. There is still an argument, even with some of the basic questions about Senate reform, about whether constitutional amendments would be required to begin with, and if they were, what form constitutional amendments should take.
Some would argue that on certain reform initiatives, the 7/50 process would be required. For those people who are not aware, 7/50 simply means that certain constitutional amendments require a minimum of seven provinces, representing at least 50% of the population of Canada, to agree on a constitutional amendment before it could be put forward. However, others, even with the same democratic reform initiative, would argue that 7/50 is not the type of approach we should take and that we need unanimous consent. There is argument within the Constitution itself and debate among academics and constitutional experts, even within the democratic reform initiatives we have put forward. Does it require only a 7/50 approach, or will it require unanimous consent?
For us as parliamentarians to sit here and suggest that we know how to reform the Senate is, quite frankly, foolhardy. That is why we have asked the Supreme Court to give its opinion. I believe that once we had an opinion from the Supreme Court on a host of questions we have asked, we would be in a better position in this place to start moving forward. I do not believe, however, that we are currently prepared to even deal with the question put forward by the opposition today, the question of whether the Senate should be abolished, because we do not know, quite frankly, whether we have the constitutional ability to abolish the Senate. I do not know how many arguments have been proposed to date by members of the opposition, but I would challenge each and every one of them who suggest that we have the constitutional right and ability to abolish the Senate should we wish to do so. I challenge opposition members on that, because I do not believe we know if we have that ability.
The Supreme Court will render an opinion on that, hopefully sooner rather than later. However, even if it suggests to Parliament that we have, within certain guidelines, the constitutional ability to make fundamental changes to the Senate, such as abolishment, then and only then, I believe, should we start engaging in a debate on the future of the Senate. I firmly believe that we need to try to reform the Senate prior to abolishment and prior to even consideration of abolishment. As I mentioned at the outset of my speech, I believe that the Senate can perform a vital role in Canadian society, but we have to make some very obvious changes to the way in which it does business.
Opposition members seem to be suggesting today that there is no hope for the Senate, that its usefulness has outlived itself. I believe that they are shortsighted in their thinking. If they actually took a hard look at the accomplishments of the Senate over the past 100-plus years, they would understand, as I understand, that there is a vital role for the Senate to play. It has made contributions to Canadian society over the years, and I believe that it will continue to make vital contributions to both Parliament and Canadians across this country.
It is a difficult time for any parliamentarian right now to be talking about changing the Senate, in light of all the adverse media attention the Senate has been receiving. I recognize that. I understand that. I get that. However, I have to think that we need to set aside, if we can, just for a moment, some of the recent controversies we have seen occurring in the Senate and look over a longer period of time to see what the Senate has actually accomplished.
I would be the first to suggest that if, in my opinion, the Senate had not contributed vitally to democracy and the Canadian way of life that fine, we would do away with it. I do not share that view. I share the view of many other Canadians that the Senate can continue to play a vital role in today's society. We just need to make some fundamental changes, and that means reform.
Therefore, I would like to ask for unanimous consent to propose a motion, as I know some of my colleagues have done earlier today. I move that, notwithstanding any standing order or usual practice of the House, Bill be deemed to have been read the second time and referred to a committee of the whole, be considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage, and deemed read the third time and passed.
I believe that if the opposition is truly interested in making the Senate a viable force in Canadian society, it will support this unanimous consent motion.
Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to one of my favourite subjects.
I would like to acknowledge that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I will focus my remarks a bit differently than some members, simply because, to me, a lot of these scandals that are happening right now with respect to expenses and where people live is really a symptom of the problem and not the real issue. I am glad that Canadians are focused on it because it is a real part of the problem. However, it is not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is the direction we are going in, whether it is status quo or moving to an elected Senate.
We should recognize that right now Canadians think the Senate sits and does not do any real harm; how much good it does is questionable, so why would we upset the apple cart? What we need to remember is that under the current system every appointed senator's vote carries more weight than those of us who are elected. That is by virtue of the fact that bills have to pass in both houses. There are fewer seats in the other house; therefore each vote carries more weight in our parliamentary system. This is not some add-on or little accessory to our parliamentary system; this is a key focal point.
Fellow Canadians must keep in mind that these scandals involve the people who make the laws and that there is no accountability. At the end of this Parliament, those of us who want to be re-elected have to go to the Canadian people and be accountable for the decisions we made and the things we did or did not do. That house does not report to the bosses, who are Canadians. That is the focal point of what we are talking about.
In my view it is critical to understand that we do not have the luxury of the traditional Canadian way of approaching things. We like Goldilocks solutions. Some issues are a little too hot, some are a little too cold, and we like the soft spot or the warm spot in the middle. That is the Canadian way. We look for compromises and ways for people to get along.
The problem in this case is that what looks like a Goldilocks solution is as dangerous as the status quo. I would argue that it is even more dangerous. The status quo or abolishing means that the middle is not voting. That is not the Goldilocks solution. I am shocked that there is any member of the west in the House who is willing to elect the Senate, give senators even more power and let them utilize all of the constitutional authority they have. If I ever ran for an open seat in the Senate and got elected as a senator, I would certainly exercise every bit of the mandate that I have been given, just as I do now as a member of Parliament.
In 1980, the Supreme Court of Canada stated this with respect to electing our Senate:
|| The substitution of a system of election for a system of appointment would involve a radical change in the nature of one of the component parts of Parliament.
The Supreme Court of Canada stated that to elect members to the Senate is a radical change. That means that radical change would entrench the following: British Columbia, with over 4.5 million people, would get six seats in the Senate; Alberta, with 3.8 million people, would get six seats; Manitoba, with 1.2 million people, would get six seats; Saskatchewan, with just barely over a million people, would get six seats; Newfoundland, with a population of 512,000 people, would get six seats; and, just to round it out, P.E.I., with a 150,000 people, would get four seats.
Why on earth would any member of the government, in particular those from the west, support electing the Senate to entrench that power, when the numbers are so unfair? If I were from B.C., I would begin every speech about the Senate with how unfair it is that there are not enough seats in my province to reflect our population and that it is unfair, undemocratic and needs to be improved.
In fact, I was just at the procedure and House affairs committee an hour ago, and the whole exercise around redoing the boundary commission reports is all about the number of people per riding. It is an important gauge of our democracy,yet here we are with a Senate that is extremely skewed against the west, and the government members seem to be willing to entrench that, exacerbate it and make that unfairness go on forever.
I just want to say to my friends in western Canada that as a proud Ontarian, I will stand up every chance I get for their right to proper representation, even if some of their own members will not.
I have a couple of last things.
Some of the good work and the good deeds the Senate does are often pointed out. It is possible to point to very good studies that help all of us, but the issue is whether the people who authored those reports should also be given the right to vote on laws.
That is the point. It is not whether they do good reports or not, or whether they do good deeds; it is a question of whether or not they should be entitled to pass judgment and vote on our laws, particularly when their vote has more strength than our vote. Is that really the way we want a modern democracy to operate?
If we need good deeds done, we have lots of good citizens we can call on to be on a royal commission or a blue-ribbon task force or a stand-alone commission. There are lots of people willing to do that. It will cost us some money, but it will be a lot less than the $100 million a year the Senate costs. Most importantly, we will not be bestowing upon them the right to vote on our laws. In a democracy, they should not be able to vote on laws unless they are accountable.
By the way, the government's current proposal to elect the Senate means that by law they cannot be accountable. They would run in an election on a platform of “Here is what I will do; I promise to do this, that and the other.” Then, if they were elected members of Parliament, they would come here and spend a few years, and at the end of the Parliament they would go back to Canadians and say “Here is what I promised. How did I do? Are you going to give me the right to go back, yes or no?”
Under the current government proposal, they can make any promise they want. They would serve a nine-year term and then be prohibited by law from running again. How are they supposed to be accountable? It gives no accountability, and that is what democracy is about. That is why this proposal does not work.
On this whole notion that the Senate is a chamber of sober second thought, spare me. First of all, structurally they have whips. Why is there a need for a whip if everybody is independent? Why is there a need, if there are no caucus positions? Why is there a need for a whip if everybody is supposed to give everything sober second thought?
They have a whip because it is a caucus system in all but name. There are a few senators who are truly independent, but most go to the weekly caucus meetings, and they do not rotate through the three caucuses. They go to their home caucus, the Liberal caucus or the Conservative caucus. They say, “Yes, sir. Yes, sir.” to the at the end of that caucus meeting, just like very other member, and they march into the Senate and do what their partisan politics dictate that they need to do.
Mr. Speaker, you are indicating my time has concluded, and I can only hope that the time for the Senate is equally concluded soon. It is the best thing we could do for this country, and the sooner we get rid of the Senate, the stronger our democracy will be.
Mr. Speaker, I must say that the hon. member for is a hard act to follow, given the quality of his speech and his enthusiasm. Yet, I am nevertheless pleased to speak today in the House to support the motion presented by the hon. member for .
This motions calls on the government, in consultation with the provinces and territories, to take immediate and necessary steps towards abolishing the Senate.
The Senate is a costly, outdated and unaccountable institution made up of unelected members.
Today, Canadians have lost confidence in this institution. They know that the Liberals and the Conservatives have used the Senate to reward their friends. They also know that the Senate rarely makes things better. From the time Canada was founded in 1867 until 1992, the Senate passed 99% of the bills that were submitted without any amendments in 95% of the cases.
Things have not changed much since then, except perhaps with regard to opposition bills, which rarely receive support from senators.
When he was in opposition, the current swore, with his hand on his heart, that he would clean up the Senate and that he would not appoint any senators.
After seven years in office, the has appointed over half of the senators—58 of the 105—currently in the Senate.
Many failed Conservative candidates and Conservative Party fundraisers now sit in the upper chamber. A good example of this is when the appointed Josée Verner and Larry Smith to the Senate after they were defeated in the 2011 election. Everyone remembers that.
Canadians are tired of friends of the government being given preferential treatment. They are tired of paying while the government tables one austerity budget after another and keeps saying that there is no money. They are tired of making sacrifices and tightening their belts.
Canadians' belts are so tight that hundreds of thousands of them are having trouble making ends meet, despite the fact that they are working full time. That is unacceptable in a country such as ours.
Ask those people who get up early each day and work hard if they think it is normal that Senator Wallin ran up $350,000 in travel expenses. That would be enough to pay 57 seniors their old age security benefits for a year. For anyone wondering, Ms. Wallin has cost taxpayers $1,285,000 over the past three years.
Do you think Canadians think it is fair that Senator Duffy, who claimed housing expenses that he was not entitled to, simply has to apologize and reimburse the fees in order to be cleared and not worry anymore? The answer is absolutely not. Canadians find it scandalous, and we understand them.
If someone who is unemployed makes a fraudulent claim, their benefits are cut off. If a senator does the same thing, he is simply asked to apologize and pay back the amount. Canadians want to get rid of this double standard.
I remind the members of the House that Senator Duffy, an unelected, unaccountable official, like all his senator colleagues, has cost taxpayers more than $1,165,000 over the past three years.
What would our constituents say if we asked them whether they agree with paying up to $7 million so that Patrick Brazeau could be a senator until he retires? Mr. Brazeau is currently facing very serious criminal charges. He was appointed by the Prime Minister for life in 2009. If he sits until age 75, Canadians will have to pay $7 million.
Keep in mind that before the Conservatives decided to kick him out of their caucus, Mr. Brazeau was one of the Senate's champion absentee members. He missed 25% of meetings between June 2011 and April 2012. He also missed 65% of meetings of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, of which he is a member, and 31% of meetings of the Standing Committee on Human Rights, of which he was the deputy-chair. During that time, taxpayers continued to pay 100% of his salary, and the continued to tolerate the repeated absences of a member of his caucus.
But Mr. Brazeau was not the only one to attend the Senate sparingly. Nineteen senators missed more than one-quarter of the sitting days in 2011-12. The average number of days worked by a senator in 2011-12 was 56 days. That means a great deal of money has been spent while many people are suffering.
The Senate will now cost $92.5 million a year. I say "now" because the Conservatives have just increased the budget allotted to Senators. Over the next 10 years, Canadian taxpayers will spend some $92.5 million on the Senate. Over 10 years, that amount could be much better invested. For instance, it could be invested in health, through transfer payments to the provinces that the Conservatives have slashed. It could be invested in building social housing to support people who do not even have a roof over their head in a wintry country like Canada. It could be invested in small and medium-sized businesses, to improve their growth and their ability to hire more people. It could also be invested in ways to fight food insecurity, which is seen in a number of aboriginal communities. It could be invested to help our regions that the government is emptying and abandoning with its employment insurance reform. There are dozens of better ways to spend public money than the government's plan to spend it on the Senate.
Parties that continue to defend the Senate will have to explain to Canadians why the operating costs associated with this relic of the 19th century are justified. I hope that the Liberals, who have lately started to side with the Conservatives, will be voting with us. The hon. member for , interim leader of the Liberal Party, has already spoken in favour of abolishing the Senate. I hope he will have the courage of his convictions and vote in favour of this motion.
Today, the parties represented in this House have the opportunity to send a clear signal to the Canadian public. By voting in favour of our motion, they will demonstrate that they are serious in their intentions to avoid waste in public spending.
At least one Conservative agrees with us, and we commend him. Michael Fortier, a former Conservative minister, fundraiser and senator, recently spoke in favour of abolishing the Senate. Mr. Fortier was able to see the operations of that institution from the inside and his comments are not flattering. Among other things, he said he simply did not see the usefulness of the Senate and he felt that the practice of appointing friends of the regime is clearly not optimal: a mild way of saying that it makes the Senate dysfunctional.
It is time to move ahead and reform this country to make it better, and one necessary step is to abolish the Senate.
Mr. Speaker, sometimes people who perform at a concert will stand up and dedicate a song to somebody. I thought I might dedicate this intervention today to the memory of the Hon. Stan Waters, Canada's first elected senator, a man who demonstrated that having elected senators was definitely a step up from having a fully appointed Senate and who demonstrated as well, I think very clearly, that having an elected Senate was superior to having no Senate at all, no sober second thought at all.
I want to divide my remarks today. I only have 10 minutes, but I will to try to divide them into three sections. First, I want to talk about the idea of bicameralism. Second, I want to talk about why the reference questions are being presented as they are to complex form. Three, I want to talk a bit about the way in which the Supreme Court should address this issue.
Let me start with the issue of bicameralism. The New Democratic Party proposes to cause Canada to become a unicameral federation, a federation in which the federal Parliament has one house only. This would make us unique among the federations of the world. Australia, our good friends whose country is marginally smaller than ours, has a bicameral Parliament. Then there are the United States, the Austrians, the Belgians. Germany, which is also a federation, has a bicameral Parliament. Switzerland has a bicameral Parliament. There are some countries that are not federations, but they also have bicameral assemblies.
The point I am making is, we would be venturing out in a direction that is very distinct from the pattern that has been engaged in by other countries. It is very distinct from the vision the Fathers of Confederation had. They spent more time discussing in the 1864 Confederation debate the issue of what to do with the upper chamber than they did on anything else, very nearly more than everything else put together. It was a widely discussed issue in all the newspapers at the time.
While we may feel the current Senate does not accurately reflect what their intentions were, having no Senate definitely would not achieve what they were after.
In all fairness, to amend the constitution, we could say that their vision was out of date and that we were amending it to reflect a more modern understanding, and that would be legitimate. However, let us be aware of the fact that this is a major departure. That was the first point I wanted to make.
The second point is to talk about the nature of the reference question. Canada has a constitution that is unique in one other respect. We do not have a single amending formula in our constitution. To amend the Canadian constitution, depending on the part that is being amended, it could take place by means of a unilateral amendment passed here or in the Senate; or a unilateral amendment passed in a single provincial legislature; or it can require an amendment passed both in the provincial legislature and here; or it can involve the approval of seven provinces with half of the population, the famous 7/50 formula; or, in certain cases, unanimity is required.
There are aspects of the constitution on which it is not clear which amending formula ought to be used. This has been a considerable source of frustration as we try to work our way through the Senate, where it seems likely, although not certain, that more than one amending formula must be used, depending on the kind of amendment that is made and on the part of the Senate that is being altered.
If, for example, we want to eliminate the requirement that senators must own $4,000 of real estate in the province they represent, can we do that through a unilateral amendment, or is some other amending formula required?
If we want to deal with the question of independence of senators, whether they are going to be independent, what formula must we use?
If we are going to consider abolishing the Senate, as the New Democrats propose, what is required? On that one we know, at the very least it is the 7/50 formula. It is conceivable that it might be the unanimity formula. This is the source of several of the questions that are being placed before the Supreme Court in the package of reference questions as I would describe it.
The questions are broken up, dealing with Senate term limits, the Senate appointment consultation, property qualifications, Senate abolition. On the one dealing with Senate abolition, I will read what it says in the question:
|| Can an amendment to the Constitution of Canada to abolish the Senate be accomplished by the general amending procedure set out in section 38 of the Constitution Act, 1982, by one of the following methods:
Then three different ways of potentially amending the Constitution to abolish the Senate are contemplated. Would any of these work? The attempt here is to determine whether or not we can actually use the 7/50 formula at all, or whether we have to resort to the unanimity formula.
It should be clear that either of these formulae would involve a very considerable amount of work trying to achieve the consent of the provinces. I am certain we would find very quickly that opening up the Constitution in this manner would lead to many requests for other things. It might well lead to requests from the provinces for some form of constitutional amendment and change to the Senate other than abolition. That is certainly a likelihood.
However, as a starting point, there really is no point in going to the provinces until we know what the legalities are. Does Prince Edward Island hold a veto, as does every other province if unanimity is required, or can we achieve agreement if only three provinces are holding out and we have provinces representing half the population? We had better figure that out before we proceed forward on a particular strategy. We certainly should not shut down the other options, which might indeed be the kinds of things that the various provincial legislatures would like to see and indeed the people of Canada would like to see.
The last topic is the issue of the tools that are available to the Supreme Court as it goes forward in dealing with these questions. We ask questions like what it means for senators to be independent. Does that mean that having some form of election process is a compromise? Does it mean that the potential for re-election compromises their independence? Does having a term that is eight or ten years long, one or the other, allow them to be genuinely independent?
To determine that, one has to go back and examine what was meant by independence in the minds of those who were discussing what would become the British North America Act, when they were debating it in the 1860s; and not only that, but those who were discussing similar issues for the prior institution that was replaced by the Senate. I refer to the legislative council of the united Province of Canada, which was implemented under the Act of Union of 1840 and then was changed from an appointed to an elected institution in 1856. There are records of debates dating back to these times. They are not readily available, but they need to be consulted to ensure a fulsome presentation of the facts to the members of the Supreme Court on this and other similar questions that are highly technical in nature.
I mention all of this because of the fact that I am involved in an effort to try to take many of these documents—many of which are available only in limited numbers, frequently in documentary form, in various archives—scan them, make them available and put them online through a website that will be called originaldocuments.ca. Our intention is to have as close to an exhaustive compilation of these documents as possible in time for the Supreme Court's hearings, for those who are advocating on both sides of each of the questions involved and also those who are going to ultimately be ruling on these questions.
Letting the process continue as the government has laid things out in Senate reform—which is to say allowing for the Supreme Court to consider these options, to provide thoughtful, thorough responses to these questions, as it did on a previous ruling that dealt with Senate reform about 30 or 32 years ago—will allow us to move forward in whatever direction seems best to the people and the provinces of Canada. That is preferable to moving in the direction the NDP is proposing today through this motion.