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41st PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION

EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 063

CONTENTS

Thursday, December 8, 2011




House of Commons Debates

VOLUME 146 
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NUMBER 063 
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1st SESSION 
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41st PARLIAMENT 

OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Speaker: The Honourable Andrew Scheer

    The House met at 10 a.m.

Prayers



ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS

[Routine Proceedings]

  (1005)  

[English]

Canada-U.S. Relations

    Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, two reports. One is entitled, “Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness Action Plan”. The other is entitled, “Regulatory Cooperation Council Joint Action Plan”. Both were announced by the Prime Minister yesterday.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation Act

     He said: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce the bill, an act to amend the Fish Inspection Act and the Fisheries Act (importation of shark fins). I would like to thank the member for Vancouver East for seconding the bill.
    The bill would amend the Fish Inspection Act to prohibit the importation of shark fins into Canada, and would make into law a prohibition on shark finning in Canadian waters.
    Sharks are top predators and play a key role in maintaining ocean health. Their populations are plummeting around the world. Scientists report that up to 73 million sharks are killed annually for their fins, often by finning, a horrific practice in which the fins are severed from the shark and the shark's body is discarded at sea.
    In 2009, the International Union for Conservation of Nature reported that over one-third of all shark species are threatened with extinction as a result of shark finning.
    The best way to curb illegal finning is to stop the international trade in shark fins. Canada can become a world leader in shark conservation and ocean stewardship by adopting legislation to protect sharks.
    I hope all members of the House will support this legislation.

     (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Strengthening Fiscal Transparency Act

     She said: Mr. Speaker, today I rise to introduce my private member's bill, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Parliamentary Budget Officer).
    I am pleased to present this important legislation. I would like to thank my colleague from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques for seconding the bill and for supporting efforts to promote transparency and accountability, which are so important to our role as members of Parliament.

[Translation]

    The position of parliamentary budget officer was created in 2006 after the Liberal sponsorship scandal, as part of the Conservatives' commitment to government accountability. But despite their promise to create an independent parliamentary budget office, the Conservatives refused to grant the PBO the same independence and the same authority as other officers of Parliament, such as the Auditor General.
    In accordance with the legislation, the PBO's appointment can be revoked at the discretion of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, and not Parliament, has the power to hire and dismiss the PBO. This restriction is not imposed on other officers of Parliament.
    Canadians and their members of Parliament deserve to know the real costs of policies and laws, and the PBO must have enough power and independence to achieve this goal.

  (1010)  

[English]

    Canadians and their MPs deserve to hear about the real costs of policy and legislation, and the PBO must have sufficient power and independence to meet this goal. The bill would allow the PBO to operate independently with a budget to fulfill his or her mandate.
    Canadians want the government to be held accountable. We must be focused on ensuring that fiscal transparency and accountability are standard operating procedure in Ottawa.

     (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act

     (Motion deemed adopted and bill read the first time)

[Translation]

Safer Railways Act

Hon. Gordon O'Connor (for the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec)  
     moved that Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, be read the first time.

    (Motion deemed adopted and bill read the first time)

[English]

National Philanthropy Day Act

     He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce Bill S-201, an act respecting a national philanthropy day.
    Both at home and around the globe, Canadians are recognized for their generosity and compassion. We continue to be inspired by the dedication of volunteers who give freely of their time to improve the lives of others.
    I want to thank my good friend Senator Terry Mercer, who has introduced this bill to recognize November 15 as national philanthropy day numerous times in the other place. Through his persistence and hard work, the Senate passed the bill on several occasions. I hope this time my colleagues in the House will see fit to pass it as well.
    Every one of us is a beneficiary of volunteerism and the generous spirit that Canadians exemplify. This philanthropy is seen in organizations like Beacon House, a food bank in the Bedford/Sackville area, which is in my riding. It depends upon the generosity of people who care about others, their friends, neighbours and people they may never meet.
    There are larger organizations, like Feed Nova Scotia, which collects and distributes food to more than 150 food banks in Nova Scotia, and meal programs thrive under the caring spirit of Nova Scotians.
     Canadians give more than two billion hours a year of their time to help others. Two-thirds of all Canadians donate to charitable organizations every year. It is in recognition of these immeasurable contributions that we look to recognize national philanthropy day every November.

     (Motion deemed adopted and bill read the first time)

Human Rights

    Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties and I think you will find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:
    That, the House of Commons joins the Senate of Canada in calling upon the Government of Pakistan to immediately release Ms. Asia Bibi, to ensure her safety and well-being, to hear the outcry of the international community and to respect the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
    Does the hon. member have unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    The Speaker: The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

     (Motion agreed to)

Petitions

Asbestos 

    Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today to present another three petitions signed by hundreds more people in my riding of Hamilton Mountain who call upon the House of Commons to finally take action on asbestos. They note that asbestos is the greatest industrial killer the world has ever known. In fact, they point out that more Canadians now die from asbestos than from all other industrial and occupational causes combined.
    The petitioners also draw the attention of the House to the fact that Canada remains one of the largest producers and exporters of asbestos in the world. Asbestos use is banned in Canada, but Canada still spends millions of dollars subsidizing and promoting the asbestos industry abroad and blocking international efforts to curb its use.
    Therefore, the petitioners call upon Parliament to ban asbestos in all its forms and to institute a just transition program for both asbestos workers and the communities in which they live.
    They also call upon Parliament to end all government subsidies of asbestos in Canada and abroad. They want the government to stop blocking international health and safety conventions designed to protect workers from asbestos, such as the Rotterdam Convention.
    I am thrilled by the huge response my article in the Mountain News generated on asbestos, and I will continue to table petitions until the government finally listens to all those Canadians who are engaged on this file and who want to see action.

  (1015)  

Health Care  

    Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to present a petition that was developed by SEIU Local 1 and circulated by SEIU retirees. They gathered hundreds of signatures in support of the urgent need for a national pharmacare program in our country.
    The petitioners point out that our goal ought to be to have a national drug plan that would enable all Canadians to enjoy equitable access to medicines while at the same time controlling the rising cost of drugs.
    They are keenly aware of a report released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives which concluded that the existing patchwork of private and public plans in Canada is inequitable, inefficient and costly. The report found that Canada is the third most expensive country for brand name drugs because it deliberately inflates drug prices in order to attract pharmaceutical investment.
    Instead of tackling the issue head-on, the government is talking about privatization and user fees. Those are hardly the answers for an aging population that is already finding it difficult to make ends meet and whose retirement savings are again put at risk by another economic downturn.
    The request by the petitioners is as straightforward as it is urgent. They simply want the government to acknowledge that there is a sound economic case to be made for universal public medicare--
    Order. There are lots of members on their feet to present petitions and we would like to get through them all in 15 minutes. I would ask the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain to quickly finish.
    I just need two more seconds, Mr. Speaker.
    The petitioners simply want the government to acknowledge that there is a sound economic case to be made for universal public medicare and then to get on with the job of developing and implementing a national pharmacare program.

The Environment  

    Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, it is an honour to rise in the House today to present two petitions on behalf of many Ottawa residents.
    I would like to recognize the advocacy efforts of my constituent Mr. Joe Parchelo, of Ottawa South.
     I am also pleased to table a petition on behalf of Mr. John Dorner of the Archdiocese of Ottawa.
    The petitioners wish to build support for positive Canadian action at the United Nations conference on climate change in Durban, South Africa.
    It is a privilege to table these petitions on behalf of very concerned local citizens.

Veterans Affairs  

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to present two petitions.
    The first petition is signed by veterans and their supporters, who feel they have been abandoned by their own government and believe planned cuts of $226 million to the Department of Veterans Affairs are wrong. This petition notes the impact of the government's severe cuts will impair the department's ability to provide support to the very veterans who have been injured in the service of their country.
    The proud Nova Scotians who have signed this petition call on the government to restore full funding to Veterans Affairs and exempt the department from the current program review.

The Environment  

    Mr. Speaker, the second petition is signed by citizens in my riding on behalf of the Canadian interfaith call for leadership and action on climate change.
    This petition points out that the growing crisis of climate change is symptomatic of greed, an underlying spiritual deficit that has led to unsustainable patterns of production and consumption.
    The petition calls on Canada to lead by example instead of waiting for others to act.
     Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition from the Canadian interfaith call for leadership on action on climate change.
    The petitioners, who reside in the Abbotsford-Delta area in the Lower Mainland, call on Parliament in the spirit of global solidarity to take collective action by signing and implementing a binding international agreement replacing the Kyoto protocol that commits nations to reduce carbon emissions and set fair and clear targets to ensure that global average temperatures stay below a 2° Celsius increase from pre-industrial levels.

[Translation]

Canada Post Corporation  

    Mr. Speaker, I am presenting a petition addressed to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. It is signed by about a hundred of my constituents, who say:
    We, the undersigned, Canadian residents and persons with reduced mobility, wish to call to the attention of the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities that the Canada Post Corporation has cut an essential service without consultation and without offering another comparable service, by refusing to use the built-in mailboxes between the entrances of 6660 and 6680 Couture Street to collect mail.
    Therefore...and with the support of...[our] member of Parliament for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, we, the undersigned, residents of the Gérard-Poitras complex, located at 6660 and 6680 Couture Street in Saint-Léonard, Quebec, are calling on the Canada Post Corporation to install a mailbox directly in front of our complex, since the nearest mailbox to the Gérard-Poitras complex is too far away and is inaccessible for many of us who have reduced mobility.

  (1020)  

[English]

Citizenship and Immigration  

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present two petitions to the House, the first of which pertains to Bill C-4.
    Hundreds of petitioners in my riding of Parkdale--High Park wish to call the House's attention to Bill C-4, the preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act. The petitioners argue that the bill is in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as numerous international conventions and covenants to which Canada is a party. They therefore call upon the House to withdraw the bill.

Human Rights  

    Mr. Speaker, the second petition I wish to present today pertains to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.
    The petitioners call upon Parliament to ensure that the Holodomor and Canada's first national internment operations are included in the exhibits permanently displayed at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and that any further funding to the museum be suspended until there is a transparent review of the governance of the museum.

[Translation]

Quebec City Marine Rescue Sub-Centre  

     Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to present a petition signed by over 2,000 people calling on the government to reverse its decision to close the marine rescue sub-centre in Quebec City and maintain all marine rescue coordination operations at the Canadian Coast Guard base in Quebec City.
    That centre serves an area between Lake St. Francis and Blanc-Sablon, including the Gaspé Peninsula and the Magdalen Islands. I would remind the House that the centre was created in 1977 after many deficiencies were identified in the management of rescue operations, which at the time were coordinated by the centres in Trenton and Halifax. One particular concern was the fact that those centres could not provide services in French. Let us not forget the fishermen from the Magdalen Islands who died on the Acadien II in March 2008.
    Despite that tragedy, the Conservative government announced in the last federal budget that it is closing the Quebec City rescue centre in the spring of 2012, and any distress calls from the St. Lawrence River or gulf will be handled in Trenton, Ontario, or Halifax, Nova Scotia. In other words, all marine rescue operations for the St. Lawrence River and gulf will no longer be coordinated in Quebec City. Instead they will be transferred to Halifax or Trenton. It makes absolutely no sense, which is why I support this petition and I call on the government to stay the closure of the marine rescue sub-centre in Quebec City.

[English]

Questions on the Order Paper

[Text]

Question No. 195--
Mr. Brian Masse:
     With regard to the procurement practices and policies governing the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA): (a) which set of federal laws govern procurement by CATSA; (b) have CATSA’s major screening equipment procurement processes undertaken in 2009 and 2010 been subject to a legal procedure (such as Treasury Board contracting policy); (c) which set of laws or contracting procedures will govern CATSA’s October 2011 procurement for Next-Generation Computed Tomography X-Ray equipment; (d) which government bodies provide oversight for procurement processes conducted by CATSA; (e) what is the overall annual value of procurement carried out by CATSA; (f) what portion of this procurement is tendered; (g) does CATSA maintain conflict of interest policies for its employees and procurements and, if yes, how does CATSA enforce these policies; (h) how do CATSA procurement actions foster competition to ensure best value to the Canadian taxpayer; (i) does CATSA or Transport Canada establish the regulatory requirements and approval processes for security technology; and (j) how many of the checkpoint x-ray systems acquired by CATSA through a sole-source procurement process in 2009 were deployed in British Columbia for the Olympics?
Hon. Steven Fletcher (Minister of State (Transport), CPC):
    Mr. Speaker, with regard to (a), CATSA was created under and is subject to the provisions of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority Act, the CATSA act. CATSA, as a crown corporation listed in schedule III of the Financial Administration Act, the FAA, is subject to certain provisions of the FAA.
    With regard to (b), such procurements were carried out in accordance with CATSA’s procurement and contracting policy and were done with the approval of CATSA’s board of directors.
    With regard to (c), the procurement process in respect of next generation computed tomography X-ray equipment is being conducted in accordance with CATSA’s procurement and contracting policy.
    With regard to (d), the Office of the Auditor General has authority to examine any procurement conducted by CATSA.
    With regard to (e), the overall value of procurement fluctuates yearly based on CATSA’s approved corporate plan. For the current fiscal year to date, expenditures are approximately $269.5 million.
    With regard to (f), for this fiscal year to date, CATSA has initiated a total of 14 new procurements. Of these procurements, one was non-competitive.
    With regard to (g), all CATSA employees adhere to the Code of Ethics and Conduct for the Employees of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority. The code contains provisions in respect of conflicts of interest. Employees must provide annually a signed statement of compliance in which the employee acknowledges that he/she has recently read and understood the code and undertakes to comply with it.
    With regard to (h), in accordance with the CATSA Act, CATSA has established policies and procedures for contracts for services and for procurement that ensure that operational requirements are always met and that promote transparency, openness, fairness and value for money in purchasing. Where national security considerations, operational requirements and market conditions permit, CATSA conducts open procurement processes via MERX.
    With regard to (i), Transport Canada is responsible for establishing regulatory requirements related to aviation security and must approve security technology before it may be used in Canadian airports.
    With regard to (j), the multi-view X-ray units procured through a sole-source process in 2009 were used to replace existing equipment in pre-board screening checkpoints that had reached the end of their useful life. The multi-view equipment procured represented the latest technology and was deployed in eight of Canada’s busiest airports that were expected to have high passenger traffic because of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. Forty multi-view X-ray machines were deployed within British Columbia at the Vancouver International Airport. No multi-view machines were deployed at temporary Olympic sites.

[English]

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns

    Mr. Speaker, if Question No. 191 could be made an order for return, this return would be tabled immediately.
    Is that agreed?
    Some hon. members: Agreed

[Text]

Question No. 191--
Ms. Françoise Boivin:
     With regard to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada funding in the riding of Gatineau for the last five fiscal years: (a) what is the total amount of spending by (i) year, (ii) program; and (b) what is the amount of each spending item by (i) Technical Assistance and Foreign-Based Cooperative Activities (International Trade and Labour Program), (ii) Skills Link (Youth Employment Strategy), (iii) Consultation and Partnership-Building and Canadian-Based Cooperative Activities (International Trade and Labour Program), (iv) Canada Summer Jobs (Youth Employment Strategy), (v) Children and Families (Social Development Partnerships Program), (vi) Labour Market Development Agreements, (vii) Labour Market Agreements, (viii) Labour Market Agreements for Persons with Disabilities, (ix) Enabling Fund for Official Language Minority Communities, (x) Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities, (xi) Aboriginal Skills and Training Strategic Investment, (xii) Enabling Accessibility Fund, (xiii) Skills and Partnership Fund - Aboriginal, (xiv) Targeted Initiative for Older Workers, (xv) International Academic Mobility Initiative - Canada-European Union Program for Co-operation in Higher Education, Training and Youth, (xvi) International Academic Mobility Initiative - Program for North American Mobility in Higher Education, (xvii) Surplus Federal Real Property for Homelessness Initiative, (xviii) International Labour Institutions in which Canada Participates (International Trade and Labour Program), (xix) Labour Mobility, (xx) New Horizons for Seniors, (xxi) Career Focus (Youth Employment Strategy), (xxii) Fire Safety Organizations, (xxiii) Organizations that Write Occupational Health and Safety Standards, (xxiv) Social Development Partnerships Program - Disability, (xxv) Foreign Credential Recognition Program Loans (pilot project), (xxvi) Fire Prevention Canada, (xxvii) Adult Learning, Literacy and Essential Skills Program, (xxviii) Canada-European Union Program for Co-operation in Higher Education, Training and Youth (International Academic Mobility Initiative), (xxix) Labour-Management Partnerships Program, (xxx) Social Development Partnerships Program - Children and Families, (xxxi) Social Development Partnerships Program - Disability, (xxxii) Foreign Credential Recognition Program, (xxxiii) International Trade and Labour Program - Technical Assistance and Foreign-Based Cooperative Activities, (xxxiv) International Trade and Labour Program - Consultation and Partnership-Building and Canadian-Based Cooperative Activities, (xxxv) International Trade and Labour Program - International Labour Institutions in which Canada Participates, (xxxvi) Sector Council Program, (xxxvii) Federal Public Sector Youth Internship Program (Youth Employment Strategy), (xxxviii) Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership Program, (xxxix) Employment Programs - Career Development Services Research, (xl) Career Development Services Research (Employment Programs), (xli) Occupational Health and Safety, (xlii) Youth Awareness, (xliii) Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy, (xliv) Homelessness Partnering Strategy, (xlv) Youth Employment Strategy - Skills Link, (xlvi) Youth Employment Strategy - Canada Summer Jobs, (xlvii) Youth Employment Strategy - Career Focus, (xlviii) Youth Employment Strategy - Federal Public Sector Youth Internship Program, (xlix) Apprenticeship Completion Grant, (l) Apprenticeship Incentive Grant, (li) Work-Sharing, (lii) Small Project Component (Enabling Accessibility Fund)?
    (Return tabled)

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.
    Is that agreed?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

Government Orders

[Government Orders]

[English]

Senate Reform Act

    The House resumed from December 7 consideration of the motion that Bill C-7, An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
    When this matter was last before the House, the member for Bonavista--Gander--Grand Falls--Windsor had the floor.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the House and the Speaker for allowing me this time, as well as for allowing the debate regarding the House of sober second thought to move ahead.
    Over many years, certainly since the inception of this country, this debate has raged on as to its content, how it proceeds, how it is selected and how it goes about its daily business. It has been debated across the country in many forums, sometimes high profile and other times not so high profile. Nonetheless, there have been several repeated attempts to make it better reflect the opinions and the diversity of this country, not just of persons but also the regions that many of us represent. Therefore, I will go through a brief analysis.
    I do not think we thank the people who work in the Library of Parliament enough. However, I am thankful to them and, in particular, Sebastian Spano, who did some background information on this. He brought forward some great points. He also brought forward an historical context with respect to the Senate and, in particular, this bill, the thrust of which proposes two things: that we should limit the duration of time that senators can sit, in this case nine years; as well as allow the participation of the provinces in the selection of senators and, more to the point, in the election of senators, which is a practice that has been done circuitously at best when it comes to the situation.
    For instance, we remember the particular appointments of the late Stan Waters, as well as Bert Brown, but they were not direct elections per se. This particular bill hopes to bring a direct election within the confines of the Senate, along with term limits.
    The bill is divided into two parts. The authors of the bill, in this case the government and the minister in question, have expressed a desire to initiate a process for constitutional reform leading to an elected Senate “in the near future”, which begs the question whether this opens the door to something else. I assume that it does, given that the origins of the party in power always talk about the triple E Senate, equal, elected and effective, which, in my opinion, refers to two things, being equal and elected. Whether it is effective remains to be seen.
    The legislative model would allow voters to select candidates wishing to be considered for appointment to the Senate. It does that on two levels. It does that at provincial elections and municipal elections, which is something I will discuss a little later.
    It should be noted that the bill would impose no obligation on the provinces or the territories to establish a selection process. However, the nominees model and framework is set out in the schedule, a lot of which the entire framework is set out in the province of Alberta legislation, which is what the schedule is modelled on.
    Bill C-20, An Act to provide for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate, was a past attempt to do this. There were past recent attempts in both the Senate and here. We had Bill S-7 and Bill C-20, which were two ways of doing that, both of which died on the order paper in 2008.
    I will trace back to when it all started. Basically six major changes were proposed with respect to how the Senate should react through committees, through the House of Commons, as well as through the Senate. First, in 1887, they proposed a Senate in which half would be appointed by the federal government and the other half would be appointed by the provincial governments. Again, we go back to the appointment process. There was no election involved.
    The second time this happened was at the end of the 1960s. In the constitutional conference of 1969, the federal government of the day proposed that senators be selected in part by the federal government and in part by the provincial governments, which is the same sort of situation we had in 1887. As well, the provinces could choose the method of selection of senators, whether by nomination by the provincial governments or with the approval of their legislatures. The difference here is that in the past they wanted to infuse provincial input into this by allowing them to appoint but it never set out the way it was to be done, whether by election or appointment. I am assuming they wanted to do it by appointment of the legislatures so they would choose their own, but we can get the idea.

  (1025)  

    What they wanted to do, for the most part, for the past 144 years, was bring the provinces into a direct consultation process and a process to directly appoint senators to Parliament.
    Third, in 1978, the Government of Canada's proposal for a time for action, as the document was called, a renewed Constitution, which would include a house of the federation that would replace the Senate. How interesting is that? It was probably something similar to what the Council of Europe has in Strasbourg.
     Basically, the legislators in their home provinces would come to Ottawa and use the Senate, the upper chamber, as a house of the federation, as it was called. Now that proposal did not last very long. It is did not cause a lot of excitement around here and it did not get a lot of media attention. Nonetheless, it was something that was brave and bold for its time.
    Bill C-60 was tabled and received first reading in the House of Commons in 1978. In 1979, the Pépin-Robarts task force on Canadian unity recommended the abolition of the Senate and the establishment of the council of the federation. It moved one step further. The council of the federation was to be composed of provincial delegations led by a person of ministerial rank or by the premier of a province. I suggest that members in this House may want to look at that as a proposal, as an alternative, as in the case of the NDP who want to abolish the Senate. There is something there the NDP may want to consider.
    In 1984, the Molgat-Cosgrove Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons recommended that senators be directly elected. The Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada recommended that senators be elected in elections held simultaneously with elections to the House of Commons. Therein lies the rub. That is where the direct participation of the provinces is needed, depending on the formula, in particular, seven provinces representing 50% of the population.
    That brings us to 1987. I have three words, Meech Lake accord. We all remember that. That was one of the more high-profile attempts at reforming the Senate, a constitutional reform that would have had implications for the method of selecting senators.
    With the Meech Lake accord, once a vacancy occurred in the Senate, the provincial government of the province in which the vacancy existed could submit a list of nominees for potential appointments to the Senate. It was somewhat circuitous in the way it went about its business. The provinces would provide a list of people for the prime minister through the governor general to select. That is a little different but, nonetheless, I do not think it would have put it into the context of allowing the provinces to be directly involved simply because it was more of an advisory role. That brings me to this bill, but I will get to that in a little bit.
    In 1992, the Beaudoin-Dobbie Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons on a renewed Canada recommended the direct election of senators under a proportional representational system. Therein again lies the participation of the provinces.
    Several provinces have enacted their own legislation to make way for this type of procedure where they would be involved in electing senators to the Senate. We know about Alberta. It enacted a senatorial selection act in 1989 which set out the guidelines by which they could do that.
    In 1990, British Columbia enacted a senatorial selection act as well, which mirrors the counterpart in Alberta, and it did lapse by the way, but it has been reported in recent media accounts that British Columbia may revive this type of legislation.
    In 2009, Saskatchewan passed the Senate nominee election act, which received royal assent but has not been proclaimed into force yet.
    In Manitoba, there is the special committee on Senate reform. Manitoba took a different track. In November 2009, it proposed an election process for selecting Senate nominees to be administered by Elections Canada and to be paid for by the federal government. Manitoba went in a different way, which tied it a little more directly into the federal system, certainly with Elections Canada, and proposed that the federal government would look after it. As my hon. colleague from Manitoba points out, it was put forward by Gary Doer of the former NDP government.
    Proposals for reforming Senate tenure, again from 1867 to 1985, I mentioned the Molgat-McGuigan committee and others. There were several guiding principles involved, which brings me to the point I am trying to make here when it comes to Senate reform. This is why this particular bill could find itself in trouble.

  (1030)  

    A few years back a former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Danny Williams, made a representation by saying that this cannot be done without the provinces. I think he was right and here is why.
    In a judgment delivered in 1980, the court articulated a number of guiding principles in the British North America Act and the Senate. It said, basically, that in many ways we cannot change the spirit of the legislation because of the effect of direct election to the Senate. It said that what we would end up doing is changing the very thrust of the way the Senate operates. However, in this particular case, the Conservatives will convince themselves that it is not direct, but it is, thanks to clause 3, which states that the Prime Minister must consider this.

  (1035)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the Liberal Party for his views on Bill C-7, the act respecting the selection of senators.
    Earlier today, during routine proceedings, there were no fewer than three pieces of legislation introduced in the House of Commons that had their origins in the other place, the unelected, undemocratic Senate. I would like to ask him if he shares my view that it is completely inappropriate for the democratically elected House of Commons to be guided by and, in fact, have its business interrupted and interfered with by bills originating in the Senate, which take primacy and bump the business of the House of Commons.
    Regardless of the fact whether he shares the NDP's view that the Senate should be abolished, does he at least concede that it is inappropriate and wrong for the Senate to be dictating the course of action and the debate in the elected chamber, the House of Commons?
    Mr. Speaker, that is a good point. I would point out one thing. Despite their origins, they still have to get through this House, which is a good thing. The origin in many cases was introduced by a member of Parliament.
    With regard to the abolition of the Senate, one of the things being talked about is a referendum to choose whether it should be abolished or not. It is a pretty sincere motive, but the problem with that is the provinces also have to get involved, which in many cases could become a cumbersome event. Nonetheless, if that is the way New Democrats feel, the only thing I can suggest they do is win a majority government and give it the boot.
    Nonetheless, in the meantime, this bill is probably the wrong way to go about doing this as the provinces are not involved. That is the fundamental flaw of this legislation because, according to the legislation, as I pointed out earlier, the reference to the Supreme Court said that we cannot change the spirit of the Senate without going to the provinces for consultation and their approval.
    This does because there are elections in the provinces. Not only that, clause 3 states that the Prime Minister must consider it, which binds him to the will of provincial legislation, which, in turn, has to enact that formula, which is seven provinces and 50% of the population.
    Mr. Speaker, I will not talk about hypocrisy, but I will pose a question. Just prior to starting the debate, New Democrats gave unanimous support for a motion that came from the Senate dealing with a world issue. I believe they gave unanimous support because they recognized what the Senate had done was of value.
    The province of Manitoba had a public consultation to deal with what we could do to add value to the Senate and people of all political parties in the province of Manitoba at least recognized that. Does he not think that other jurisdictions like Manitoba would benefit if, in fact, the public was consulted as to what sort of future role the Senate would play, and whether the Senate would be elected or appointed?
    Mr. Speaker, the member brings up a valid point when it comes to the Senate, how there are many facets of it and how it should be reformed. The vernacular bandied about here is that it is the House of sober second thought. Certainly, it is. Many of my colleagues, I know when it comes to defence issues, such as Roméo Dallaire and others, bring some great input into the debate in Parliament.
    However, bear in mind, the thrust of my speech is about the provincial consultation method that is there. The provinces have the right to be involved in Senate reform as well as if we had a referendum to abolish the Senate. They have a right to be involved in that, as well. That is the gist of what I am saying. Whether we believe in the abolishment of the Senate or not, we have to engage the provinces because they are part of the process.
    This legislation points out a fundamental flaw. We need to bring these provinces into this discussion, for their agreement, and for the constitutional amendment, because it states quite clearly that we should. That is something that I have not seen from the government; namely, the language saying that the provinces will be involved. That is just not there.

  (1040)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the bill the Conservative government has introduced is a travesty of democratic reform and an affront to Canadians’ intelligence.
    If the bill is passed, our Senate will no longer be representative either of Canadians’ choice or of the cultural reality of Canada, and we will inherit a hybrid Senate devoid of the independence it needs if it is to be more credible in the public’s eyes.
    If I may, I would like to explain why this reform is sloppy, incomplete and scandalous. I would then like to add a few thoughts about genuinely democratic reform of our parliamentary system.
     Let us see. This reform would allow the provinces to hold elections in order to participate in the process of selecting senators. The bill proposes a framework for holding these “elections”, which could be held at the same time as municipal or provincial elections, for example. The public would be invited to go and vote for one of the candidates in the running. Citizens would do their civic duty and put their ballot in the box. And then what would happen? The province would submit the list of candidates selected to the prime minister of Canada, who would decide whether to take the recommendations into account. But the prime minister would retain the privilege of choosing the candidates. He would therefore not be at all obliged to take the voters’ choice into account.
    Are we really going to ask Canadians to go and vote, and not be able to assure them that their choice will be honoured? And the government calls this a democratic reform? We already have a declining voter turnout for federal, provincial and municipal elections. Canadians are completely disillusioned about our political system, and they are being asked, with a straight face, to take part in a travesty of democracy. Is this a joke?
     That is not all. These senators will be appointed or elected, as the case may be, for a maximum term of nine years, and will be allowed to serve only one term. These new senators will be sitting alongside colleagues who are senators appointed for life and will be telling them that since they were elected, they have more legitimacy than they do. This will create a two-tier Senate.
     As well, once the senators are elected, they will never again have to account to Canadians. Because they will be unable to stand again, they will not have to face the public and keep their campaign promises. The provinces will be able to decide to hold elections without even knowing whether the voters' choice will be honoured. And who is going to foot the bill for those elections? The provinces, of course.
     We might say that this has become a bad habit with Conservatives. This looks like the omnibus bill, Bill C-10, which provides for more prison terms and more prisons. Who will pay for that? The provinces will, again. It is easy to make reforms when you can pass the buck and the consequences on to someone else, but it is hard for the provinces to swallow, given, moreover, that they are not the ones who are making the decisions. This really looks like an ad hoc, sloppy bill. The fact is that this is the third time the Conservatives have proposed a bill relating to Senate elections, and my Liberal colleague has explained that very well. And yet they still have not managed to do any better than this. To me, this looks a lot like a manoeuvre to get us to swallow an ad hoc reform at top speed, in order to circumvent the constitutional rules of this country.
     If the government truly wanted to respect democracy, it would follow the rules laid down in the supreme law of this country, our Constitution, which states that any reform relating to the selection and qualification of senators requires an amendment to the Constitution of Canada.
     It is true that section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982, authorizes Parliament to amend the Constitution without the agreement of the provinces in certain circumstances, however paragraphs 42(1)(b) and 42(1)(c) of the Constitution Act, 1982, set out four exceptions to this rule, and in these cases the agreement of the provinces is required. The exceptions are as follows: amending the powers of the Senate; the method of selecting senators; the number of members by which a province is entitled to be represented; and the residence qualifications of senators.
     So what is the government doing in order to avoid consulting the provinces? It is trying to make people believe that senators will be elected while continuing to appoint them. It is trying to reform the Senate without asking the opinion of the provinces.

  (1045)  

     This trick, however, is perhaps not even constitutional. In fact, in a very important decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 1980, the justices of the highest court in the land stated that Parliament alone cannot make substantive amendments to the “essential characteristics or fundamental features of the Senate”. Moreover, Quebec intends to challenge the constitutionality of this bill, if passed.
    What can be made of a bill that is nothing but a parody of democracy and does not respect the Constitution of our country? What can be made of a government that says it supports democratic reforms in Libya and in other Arab nations, touts democracy in China, Burma and Vietnam, and is not even capable of following its own democracy’s rules? What can be made of a government that negotiates free trade agreements and security perimeters behind closed doors and Conservative members who shut down standing committees by systematically directing committees to go in camera and cut short debates in the House? This government is very poorly placed to talk about democracy.
     Moreover, the purpose of the Senate must be kept in mind. The Senate was created by the Fathers of Confederation to ensure the independence of our democratic system, a long-term perspective, continuity and equality between the regions, all in keeping with the principle of federalism of our nation. If the government wanted true reform of the Senate—democratic reform—it would modify the upper house to reserve a special place for the first nations, women, francophones—especially francophones outside Quebec, who presently have no national voice in our system—a place to better respect the contemporary nature of our Canadian societies with seats for the cultural communities.
    I am convinced that Canadians also have their thoughts on the matter. Why not give them a voice? A referendum on the reform or abolition of the Senate would provide us with a real democratic verdict. We should let Canadians have their opinion on such an important subject. We should give Canadians a real voice instead of having them participate in a mere semblance of democracy. Canadians deserve much better than this botched reform.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate many of the member's comments. She has described what she does not like about the Senate and the reasons to get rid of it. However, I do not think undermining the role of democracy is the way to go.
    If we go ahead and abolish the Senate and it is no longer, what do we do then?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, if we abolished the Senate, we could reinvest thousands of dollars in communities. Last July, 36% of Canadians said they were in favour of abolishing the Senate. It is up to Canadians to decide. We need to have a referendum, to consult the provinces, as the Constitution demands. That would be a much more democratic approach and would allow people to have a say, share their opinion.
    We are elected by the public and are accountable to them. The three reforms the Conservatives are proposing in the current bill do not even allow senators to be accountable to the public, since a senator's term would end after nine years. They would be replaced before they could even serve a second term, precluding the need to take responsibility for their decisions or to justify the choices they force on the public. For all those reasons, this cannot stand and we must abolish the Senate.

  (1050)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, my colleague's thoughtful comments get to the heart of the problems that we have with the unelected Senate.
    It seems to me that one of the key questions when we are looking at electoral change and democratic reform is the need to move on proportional representation. If we are going to do something, let us make it meaningful. We need to get to the heart of the matter and deal with the way we vote as Canadians. Let us forget about the Senate and deal with proportional representation.
    I wonder if the member might comment on the need to move to a system where the way people are voting is actually reflected in the makeup in the House.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Vancouver East.
    Indeed, proportional representation would better represent the realities of all regions of the country and the different peoples who live in Canada. As a result, things would be much more democratic. This would be politics at its best. More people would be inclined to get involved and become interested in Canadian politics.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the member referred to ways to add value to an appointed or an elected Senate to better protect minorities and regional interests.
    We saw what happened with the Canadian Wheat Board and the disadvantage many westerners felt. A regionally based Senate that had more strength to it, whether appointed or elected, would have protected the interests of western Canada. Many westerners truly believe that adding that kind of value to the Senate would be of great benefit. Would the member not agree that, in that sense, a valued Senate is better than no Senate?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. Liberal member.
    In fact, when it comes to the Canadian Wheat Board, if we had better representation in Parliament, representation that was more proportional and democratic, the people in the regions and the prairie provinces would be better represented. The current government represents just 40% of Canadians.
    If there were better representation, we would have more people from the Prairies or from each region and local issues would be better represented. Canadians would have better representation within our Parliament.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for their very relevant remarks on today's issue, the Senate reform bill, as introduced by the Conservative government. I am also pleased to support the position of the official opposition, which proposes to simply abolish this archaic institution, which should no longer be part of a modern democracy like Canada.
    As my colleagues have done, I will try to present clearly and accurately the arguments supporting the NDP's position. I will also explain why this government should immediately put a stop to its Bill C-7, An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits.
    First, I want to commend the work done by members opposite, who recognize that we need to reflect on the democratic system in which we live. As Canadians, we should all ask ourselves whether that system adequately meets the changing needs of a modern democratic society like ours.
    Since 1900, 13 attempts have been made to reform the Senate, but they all failed. Considering that so many attempts have been made to deal with a serious issue that affects the very foundation of our Constitution, I think there is as much a need to debate the issue and reflect on it as to engage in a reform. It is on the content of the proposed reform that our opinion differs from that of the government. Indeed, a thorough analysis of the issue leads us to the conclusion that the Senate simply no longer serves the interests of Canadians.
    The first amendment proposed in the bill by the government deals with the appointment process. The government is proposing a process that, in theory, allows voters to have a say in the selection of Senate nominees. However, in fact, there is not much change in this regard.
    The government is saying that a province or territory would have the option of holding an election, at its own cost, to select the names to be submitted to the Prime Minister for consideration. However, the Prime Minister would be under no obligation to appoint a person previously elected in a province or territory. Therefore, this bill does not change the way senators are appointed, since the Prime Minister would still be free to appoint whomever he chooses from a pool of elected nominees.
    In short, this means that the government is proposing to keep all the power regarding Senate appointments, under cover of a supposedly more democratic selection process, and with the provinces footing the bill.
    What is the point of letting voters believe that they can have a say if, ultimately, senators will continue to be appointed by the Governor General upon the sole recommendation of the Prime Minister? And why make the provinces again pay for a federal measure?
    Furthermore the bill states that if an elected person is not appointed within six years of their election, a new election must be held. This means that a candidate may have spent time, energy and money on an election campaign. He or she may be elected by the people, but if this person is not appointed to the Senate within six years, he or she will have to start all over again. Voters would have elected candidates for the Senate who will wait to be appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, but who may not be appointed and will have to start all over again six years later. This measure makes no sense at all and, to my mind, even seems anti-democratic in that it still leaves a great deal of room for favouritism and cronyism while discriminating against others.
    The second amendment being proposed by the government has to do with term limits. Before 1965, senators were appointed for life. Under the British North America Act, 1965, the maximum duration of a term is nine years and the retirement age is 75 years. Reducing terms to a maximum of nine years is definitely a step in the right direction. However, in my humble opinion, it is not enough. This proposal does not do enough to make senators accountable to Canadians.

  (1055)  

    Once their terms are over, senators will never have to stand before the people of Canada and be accountable for the election promises that they failed to keep or for the decisions that they made while serving. Another thing that does not make sense is that senators will be entitled to receive a Senate retirement pension without ever having had to account for their performance to those who elected them to be their representatives and stand up for their interests.
    Another issue of major concern to me is that the provinces were not consulted when the bill was drafted, despite the fact that it deals with the foundations of our Constitution. This government cannot take the initiative for any more new bills devoid of logic on the redundant and unjustified pretext that Canadians gave them a mandate on May 2.
    I believe that the provinces have something to say about this bill and that it is imperative that they all be consulted on the subject. Right now, we have proof that the government did not consult the provinces. Ontario and Nova Scotia have publicly called for the Senate to be abolished. Manitoba has maintained its position in favour of abolishing the Senate. The Premier of British Columbia has said that the Senate no longer serves any useful purpose within our Confederation. Even Quebec, the nation that I very proudly represent here today, has stated that it will appeal the matter in court if this bill is passed without first consulting the provinces.
    As far as I know, the provinces are the parts that make up Canada. Can the government tell us, here in this House, who it listened to when drafting this bill? Did it develop its approach and these proposals based on actual needs?
    Unfortunately, I think I need to remind the House that this government is supposed to listen to and serve Canadians. Such an amendment to our Constitution cannot be made without consulting the provinces and the general public. So why not hold a referendum on the issue? Some 71% of Canadians have already said they want a referendum on the issue, before the question has even been asked unofficially. Some 36% of Canadians are already in favour of abolishing the Senate. Personally, I think a responsible government is one that allows the people to have their say on issues as fundamental as this one.
    As a final point on this bill, one that illustrates my negative feelings about it, has to do with a potential conflict of legitimacy between elected senators and appointed senators. How does the government plan to deal with the fact that some senators will have been elected and others appointed, and that some can remain in their positions until they are 75, while others will have a nine-year term? It will be impossible to ensure equal treatment for them all because, right from the start, those who were elected by the public will insidiously be given greater legitimacy.
    In the NDP, our reflections on the possibility of abolishing the Senate date back to the 1930s. The relevance of an unelected Senate was already in question, to say nothing of the costs involved, which of course Canadian taxpayers are forced to bear. The Senate costs up to $100 million a year and that money should be invested elsewhere—in infrastructure, for instance, and in job creation.
    As we know, historically, the Senate was created based on the Anglo-Saxon model in order to represent Canada's economic and social elite, but that role is outdated and the institution has become archaic.
    These days, great modern democracies have come to the same conclusion as the NDP and realized that the Senate is no longer fulfilling its duty in the current political framework. Its role simply no longer corresponds to our current social reality.

  (1100)  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my NDP colleague for providing so much relevant information. I would like to hear her opinion on this bill, which has been introduced for a third time and still has many shortcomings. For example, the provinces will hold elections and cover the costs, but the elected candidates will not necessarily be considered by the Prime Minister. In fact, the Prime Minister could choose candidates without any obligation to consider the elections held in the provinces. In addition, the Senate would be made up of some elected senators and some appointed senators.There are still many slapdash elements that were developed on the fly. Is that democratic? What does my colleague think?
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question.
    When the Fathers of Confederation planned the Senate at the time of Confederation in 1867, they did not think that the authorities in place had the ability to properly manage Canada and the provinces. Times have certainly changed and those who have been appointed and elected by the provinces are able to manage their own territory. Today, the Senate, as an institution, is no longer indispensable.

  (1105)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her excellent speech and historical overview of what the Senate has done over the years, or not done, in my view, when it comes to public service. She has articulated how the other place, over the years, has been really ineffective.
    I wonder why my friends in the Liberal Party down at the other end of the House still want to defend it when, clearly, it is only the other side that is going to actually get to put anybody there. Until the day that this thing changes and we go across the aisle and actually get rid of it, it is only Conservatives who can put Conservatives there. The day of the Liberals putting folks in the other place is over. They are going to see them finally decline, to the point where it will be a blue House not a red House. Maybe they will change the carpet.
    However, at the end of the day, the premier of the province of Ontario, the largest province in this country by population, has said it should go. Which party does the premier of the province of Ontario happen to belong to? It is the Liberal Party. Imagine that. The premier of a province who has been elected, I guess I should congratulate him even though I am a New Democrat, for the third time in a row, two majority governments and just shy of a majority government this time, says, as a Liberal, let it go. Let it go to wherever it needs to go to, just let it go.
    I wonder if my colleague would like to comment on the fact that the premier of Ontario, the hon. Dalton McGuinty, says it is time to let it go.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member.
    Ontario and the other large provinces want to do away with the Senate. This institution has outlived its raison d'être. I will not show any pictures, but I am thinking of at least three senators who were appointed by the last government after they were defeated in the election. That is shameful. Things like that should not be done. Canadians do not want things like that.
    The bigger provinces like Ontario and Quebec are saying that the Senate should be abolished and that it is no longer necessary. However, replacing the Senate with an American model is not the solution either. We saw what happened recently: that type of model can completely paralyze the government. That is not a solution.
    In a country like Canada, we are capable of managing the country. We must therefore abolish the Senate.
    Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today in the House to debate and criticize Bill C-7.
    The Liberal Party of Canada has always defended democracy and representation. Therefore we do not object to the democratic goal of Senate reform proposed by Bill C-7, but on the other hand we do object to the constitutional problems, conflicts and injustices which this reform would inevitably bring about. This reform would indeed add some democratic legitimacy to the Senate, but that very legitimacy would bring its own share of problems.
    A number of new problems would be created, and basically, for what? To try to solve a democratic deficit problem which in fact has very few real consequences. In its current form, the Senate very rarely blocks bills from the House of Commons. Why? Simply because senators are not elected and the public does not see it as having the legitimacy to block the bills produced by democratically elected members of Parliament. Senate reform would give them that democratic legitimacy, and hence senators would be correct to affirm that they have a clear mandate from Canadians and would begin to block certain bills since they would represent the population on the same footing as MPs.
     Let us be realistic: to get elected, senators will have to have ideas, make promises and take positions. They will have a mandate to defend the positions for which they were elected to the Senate. That also brings with it other problems, such as political party financing. It would then be necessary to increase taxpayers’ contributions, because the Senate would have to be included. It would not be just for MPs, but a whole new series of laws would be necessary to govern senators during their election campaigns.
     Do we really need disputes between the two chambers? Since 1945, only very rarely has the Senate blocked bills from the House of Commons. With this reform, one can easily imagine an impasse being caused by a Senate most with a majority of members from a certain party as it faces a House of Commons with a majority from another party. In that sort of scenario, blockages would become frequent and do harm to the political dynamics of Canada that make change possible.
     Do Canadians really want a political situation in which change is difficult, or do they want quick changes when problems arise? The answer to that question is obvious. With such a reform to the Senate, the political situation in Canada would, at best, become similar to that in the United States. Canadians deserve better. If the Conservatives were serious about this bill, they would propose mechanisms for avoiding blockages in the Senate. Unfortunately, this bill ushers in another problem, which is the current distribution of the Senate.
     As I mentioned earlier, an elected Senate would have more power because it would have the legitimacy to be actively involved in debates. This raises a problem of current interest, namely, the distribution of senators across the entire country. For example, today, Alberta and British Columbia have only six senators each, while the province of Prince Edward Island has four and New Brunswick has ten. The demographic situation in Canada has changed a great deal since the time the distribution of Senate seats was established.
    If senators had more power, do we really believe that Alberta and British Columbia would accept being seriously under-represented, the way they are now? Changing the allocation of Senate seats would not satisfy all provinces either. So what should we do? Should we take seats away from some provinces or add some more? The Conservatives will probably want to do the same thing they have suggested in Bill C-20, that is, add more senators so that each province feels it has gained something.
    Do we really believe those provinces which would lose their relative representation in the Senate would be happy about it?

  (1110)  

    Let us look at the percentage mentioned in Bill C-20, which suggests adding 30 seats to the current 308. That would mean adding 10 seats in the Senate. However, as there has been no increase in the number of Senate seats since it was established, the Conservatives may want to increase that number from 105 to 500 or so, based on how the country has grown since then. I don't know what they have in mind, but I believe representation will need to change if senators are elected. I do not know whether they will be brave enough to change the allocation of seats in the House of Commons without adding any seats. If not, they will not have the guts to do it in the Senate, either.
    Meddling with the Senate will lead to quarrels. Why would the Conservative government want to create more interprovincial conflicts? Although the current situation is unfair to the western provinces, it is not all that problematic since the Senate allows the House of Commons to legislate as it sees fit. As I said earlier, a democratically elected Senate would simply create more barriers. This bill will create interprovincial quarrels and political blockages.
     So what would we do to avoid the Senate blocking bills from the House of Commons? We would have to create constitutional mechanisms for resolving disputes. It is highly likely that other elements of this bill will be deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada. For this bill to work, the government would therefore have to reopen the Constitution. We know how difficult a subject the Constitution is. It would be necessary to have the support of at least seven provinces, as has already been said today, representing at least 50% of the population. If we reopen the Constitution, it is highly likely that the provinces will also want something in return for their support.
     Take the case of Quebec, for example. I remind you that Quebec has still not signed the 1982 Constitution. Do we seriously think it will be so easy to ask Quebec to close its eyes and sign? As a Quebecker, I would say no.
     Would the maritime provinces be in favour of losing their weight in the Senate? I do not think so.
     Is the Conservative government prepared to declare today that it will reopen the Constitution if necessary? I very much doubt it.
     In short, this bill is probably unconstitutional and, if the government decides to move ahead with it, it will lead to constitutional confrontations.
     As my colleagues can see, there are many “ifs” to this bill. It is precisely for that reason that we are opposed to it, for too many problems may arise. If the government were serious about this reform, it would respond to our concerns with amendments and would negotiate with the provinces. At present that is not the case, so there will be quarrels between the provinces, legal challenges and confrontations between the House of Commons and the Senate.
     Finally, there is another problem to consider. What do we do if the Prime Minister refuses to recommend an elected senatorial candidate? In fact it is always the Governor General who appoints senators on the recommendation of the prime minister. The Prime Minister never appoints them directly, so a mere bill cannot force the Prime Minister to have a candidate appointed.
     In spite of all the problems I have raised, this bill might well make no change apart from the problems I have mentioned. Let us be clear: this government does not even follow the rules when it comes to appointing an Auditor General. Can we believe that it will follow the rules for the Senate?
     Like the rest of the Canadian population, we are in favour of democratic representation,but in this case, the reform will only create problems. At the moment the Senate is not democratic, but it lets the elected officials present their bills, and in so doing respects Canadian democracy. Furthermore, we believe that this reform is unconstitutional, and we know for a fact that the Conservative government does not want to reopen the Constitution.

  (1115)  

     The government must not do half the job: either let it commit to a total reform, including negotiations with the provinces and reopening the Constitution, or let it keep the status quo.
     In closing, I want to emphasize the following point. We are not opposed to a democratic reform of the Senate, but we are opposed to the way that the Conservatives want to do it.
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel for all the very serious questions he raised concerning this reform.
    The only thing that I do not understand is why some of his colleagues dream of saving this institution and think that it can be fixed. It is like trying to fix a wound on a horse by sewing on a piece of an old fur coat. That does not work. It gets us nowhere, it seems to me.
    Does the hon. member think that this institution can be fixed?
    Mr. Speaker, we do not think the Senate is broken. We are always ready to reform the Senate because things change over the years, but we are not ready to abolish it. We have recently had proof of that with Bill C-10. The House of Commons has just passed Bill C-10, although it contained a number of errors. Even the government acknowledged that the bill had errors. Who is going to deal with those problems? Who is going to accept the new amendments? The Senate, that is who. The Senate will move its own amendments, which are going to be more sensible, I believe. That is the Senate's job. We are ready to respect the role the Senate plays in Canada's democracy.

  (1120)  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a serious problem with the beginning of the argument made by the hon. member. The issue is not that the Senate seldom defeats bills. The issue is that it has the ability to do so.
    The Senate defeated the bill dealing with climate change, which is one of the most important issues of this century. The Senate interfered in this debate. The problem is not that it does so often. It may do so on rare occasions, but if it is for issues that are as important as the world's future, we absolutely must think about getting rid of an institution that does such things without being elected.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question. If we are talking about the same bill, it came from the House. Elected members introduced this bill. Even if that bill came from the Senate, it would eventually have to be introduced in the House of Commons so that the members could debate it. When a bill is debated in the House of Commons, it is elected members who engage in debate, so I do not see the difference.
    Does Canada really need an elected Senate and an elected House of Commons? People are already mixed up. There are provincial members, councillors and mayors. People already know there are specific skills for each area. Do we really need two levels of elected officials at the national level? I do not think so.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it always amazes me how narrow-minded a New Democrat can be.
    The vast majority of people in the province of Manitoba see value in the Senate, especially when it comes to representing regional interests. Some New Democrats seem convinced that the only way to deal with the Senate is to abolish it. Many Canadians recognize that value could be added to the Senate that would benefit our nation going into the future.
    Could the member respond to the idea that the Senate does play a valuable role today, and could even contribute more in the future if we work with Canadians to add more value to it?
    Mr. Speaker, I always get the most difficult questions from the Liberal Party, but obviously the ones that are best thought out.
    I want to thank the member for Winnipeg North. He is one of the hardest-working members. He is always working for his constituents. Meanwhile, the NDP is not fit to govern, and neither are the Conservatives.
    In one of my questions today, I spoke about the fact that there are different people with different talents who would not normally run in elections but are selected for the Senate. They may have different points of view, for example, on child issues or the elderly. It was mentioned that Mr. Dallaire is an expert in defence matters. That is one benefit of having the Senate.
    The other one is what I mentioned in relation to Bill C-10. If we did not have the Senate, we would have a flawed bill going through the judicial process right now.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, to the title “An Act respecting the selection of senators”, I would add “to ensure that the Senate resembles the bar scene in Star Wars”, as my colleague said. Senators appointed for life, senators elected through some crazy, vague process, all at the provinces' expense, people who lost elections, friends: the Senate is a gold mine for comedians.
    Before reforming an institution like that, it is important to do a bit of thinking. In countries where several nations or ethnic groups share the territory, when there has been improvisation or when thoughtless things have been done, we have seen results as in Czechoslovakia, India or Belgium—we still see it today. When there is tension between different groups and someone decides unilaterally to limit the political force of one of those groups, it leads to conflict. That is what we are heading for.
    Every constituent I speak to wants to know when the Senate will be abolished. Everyone thinks that getting rid of an outdated symbol of the monarchy would be an essential first step in parliamentary reform. We have to wonder where the government is going. This is the same government that lamented the presence in the House of a party that dreamed of dividing Canada. Let me say that the Prime Minister and his government seem to be even better at doing that themselves.
    I ran in the election to represent the people of Laurentides—Labelle primarily because, like them, I could no longer take the government's sterile confrontation and inaction on important issues. People back home are not scared of cyberpredators and criminals. They are scared that the sawmills will remain closed and their children will move away to find work. The Senate does not even register on their list of priorities, except in that it costs taxpayers money.
    In June, I signed the clerk's book and made a four-year commitment. I thought that I was signing on with the most progressive force in the country, and I do not think I was mistaken. We keep seeing improvisation from members on the other side, and the one thing we can count on is that their mistakes are already coming back to haunt them. Every day we see court rulings or international opinions about our country. We can see that they are losing ground. This kind of nonsense is not the best way to move forward.

  (1125)  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like my colleague to look beyond this reform and tell me how he envisions democratic reform for the 21st century. With the means of communication available today, what could we do to ensure that citizens and civil society can participate? I would like to hear some of his thoughts on that.
    Mr. Speaker, at the very least, when we want to reform an important institution—I say “important” because unfortunately it still is—the first step would at least be to consult the provincial and territorial partners and the public, instead of improvising like this. People across Canada are intelligent and reasonable. They are capable of forming an opinion if we ask them to. Taking action without any consultation means you can do whatever you want, as those across the way are proving in this House.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments. Given the member's response, is it safe to assume that if the NDP were in government, its first act in dealing with this issue would be to consult Canadians to hear what they would want to happen with the Senate? Is that a fair conclusion on my part?

  (1130)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question.
    We would very likely do something else because there are far more pressing matters that need our attention, such as ensuring that our aboriginal communities do not have to turn to the Red Cross for help, or ensuring that our seniors are not living in poverty. There are plenty of other things to do. Personally, on my list, the Senate is item Z-270.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, presently we are in a global economic crisis and there seem to be many issues more important than tinkering with an unelected house, the red chamber.
    Could my colleague describe to us all the other priorities that we should be tackling now, rather than tinkering with the mechanics of a upper house that costs Canadians millions of dollars per year and that is wasteful spending when there are so many other priorities? Could he outline what the priorities of an NDP government would be, if we were the government right now?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, before concerning ourselves with the retirees in the other place who sit around twiddling their thumbs, we should begin by ensuring that the 308 members here succeed in producing results for the public. I feel it when I meet with the public. They tell us that the system is ineffective and that we get paid to do nothing. It hurts me to hear that because I did not come here to do nothing and neither did my colleagues. We are even prepared to work with our friends across the way. That is why we are proposing amendments. The hon. members opposite should at least look at those amendments before voting against them.
    Mr. Speaker, first I would like to say that I am pleased to rise to present the Bloc Québécois's position on Senate reform.
    The Prime Minister is definitely single-minded; he is taking another run at it. Under the cover of increasing the Senate's legitimacy, he is proposing two important changes to the Senate: limiting senators' tenure to nine years and allowing them to be elected by the provinces.
    Before explaining my party's position, I would like to point out some of the dangers to democracy lurking in this reform bill. First, electing senators is not such an easy business. That is where the reform proposed by the Prime Minister becomes dangerous. According to the bill, the provinces would be responsible for organizing these elections, which means that implementing the bill would depend entirely on the provinces' goodwill. Most provinces are not interested or are downright hostile to this change that is being made without their consent. The Prime Minister has done nothing to win the co-operation of the provinces in this attempt to reform the Senate, and his inflexibility may result, in the end, in the appointment of some senators who are elected and others who are not.
    We would end up with a legislative assembly whose democratic legitimacy would vary, unless the Prime Minister decides to leave some seats vacant. No elections in some provinces, elections in others. This would also be detrimental to the representation of certain provinces. There is another problem: the term limits would not apply to senators appointed before 2008, which would create a double standard. Ultimately, if all senators were elected, and in the absence of true reform, the fundamental problem would remain the same.
    With the government's proposal, the election of senators would change the balance of power in Parliament and certainly also between the provinces and with Quebec. The Senate has broad powers that it has practically always used with a certain amount of restraint, out of respect for the House of Commons. Once elected, however, it could use its new legitimacy to stand up to MPs. The exception could become the rule, if the membership of the two houses were different.
    The Conservatives' bill brushes this danger aside. So the Conservative government is proposing to reform the Senate with Bill C-7 and to reform the House of Commons with Bill C-20, which would weaken Quebec's position within federal political institutions. So it is doublespeak. On the one hand, the government is saying that it wants to prevent political manipulation by appointing senators for partisan reasons. And on the other hand, as we have seen over the past few months and the past few years, the job of senator has increasingly become a political reward given by the Prime Minister largely to his friends. The Senate as an institution is less and less useful to democracy.
    The Bloc Québécois is in favour of abolishing the Senate. But let us remember that Quebec's traditional position is that any change to the Senate must be made with the consent of the provinces, especially Quebec. The Canadian Constitution is a federal constitution. There are therefore very good reasons for ensuring that a change in the essential characteristics of the Senate should not be made by Parliament alone, but rather should be subject to a constitutional process involving Quebec and the provinces.
    As far back as the late 1970s, the Supreme Court of Canada looked at the power of Parliament to unilaterally change the constitutional provisions dealing with the Senate. In 1980, the court ruled that decisions regarding major changes, like the ones the Conservatives are proposing today, that affect the fundamental features of the Senate cannot be taken unilaterally. Changes to the powers of the Senate—the method of selecting senators, the number of senators to which a province is entitled, or the residency qualifications of senators—can be made only in consultation with Quebec and the provinces. Furthermore, in 2007, Benoît Pelletier, the former Quebec minister of Canadian intergovernmental affairs who is well known in the field, reiterated Quebec's traditional position, and I quote:
    The Government of Quebec believes that this institution does not fall exclusively under federal jurisdiction. Given that the Senate is a crucial part of the Canadian federal compromise, it is clear to us that...the Senate can be neither reformed nor abolished without Quebec's consent.

  (1135)  

    The same day, in the National Assembly of Quebec, a resolution was adopted, a unanimous motion that read as follows:
    That the National Assembly of Québec reaffirm to the Federal Government and to the Parliament of Canada that no modification to the Canadian Senate may be carried out without the consent of the Government of Québec and the National Assembly.
    With the unanimous support of the National Assembly of Quebec, the Government of Quebec therefore requested the withdrawal and/or suspension of the various bills that had been introduced over time by the Conservative government with a view to Senate reform.
    This position by the Government of Quebec is not new. It is an historical position. Following the unilateral patriation of the Constitution in 1982, successive Quebec governments, be they sovereignist or more federalist, all agreed on one basic premise: they did not want to discuss Senate reform before the Meech Lake accord was ratified, as Robert Bourassa said in 1989.
    A little later, in 1992, Gil Rémillard said that Quebec's signing of an agreement involving Senate reform would depend on the outcome of negotiations on three important things: the idea of a distinct society, the division of power and limiting the federal spending power.
    Finally, on November 7, 2007, the National Assembly of Quebec unanimously adopted the motion I mentioned earlier in my speech.
    As for the people of Quebec, a fairly recent poll from March 2010 clearly shows that the majority of Quebeckers do not give any value to the Senate in its current form and that a larger proportion of them are in favour of abolishing it completely.
    Here are a few figures to be more specific. Only 8% of respondents from Quebec believe that the Senate plays an important role and that the Senate appointment system works well. In addition, 22% of Quebeckers would prefer to have elected senators, while 43% would like the Senate abolished completely.
    Not only is this bill unwanted, but it is undesirable.
    For all these reasons, the Bloc Québécois will vote against the bill introduced by the government and, as members know, it would ideally like the Senate abolished.

  (1140)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the excellent presentation he just made; it explains his position quite well.
    Certainly, the Senate has evolved in recent years, especially in the light of the increase in partisanship. When it was established, the role of the Senate was to provide sober advice to members of Parliament, who tended to be rather partisan.
    How does the hon. member think an institution could offer that advice to members of Parliament while avoiding partisanship? I am thinking of civil society or more participatory democracy. I would like to explore those ideas a little to see how we could achieve something along those lines.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her very pertinent question.
    We have indeed seen the reasons for which the upper house was created, especially in coming to the defence of minorities and of certain regions of Canada. Over time, things have changed and the role of the Senate has become much more closely linked to partisanship. That was because the government largely saw it as a way to reward its friends.
    Of course, besides the formal machinery of democracy, we have civil society and we have groups that are very capable of providing representation on issues that affect daily life. In my opinion, the government should listen to those groups to a greater extent and, specifically, should establish formal and informal mechanisms that would allow it to connect with the reality of Canadians and Quebeckers.
    At this point, abolishing the Senate seems to us to be the best solution, and we urge the government to be attentive to the interests of Canadians and Quebeckers.
    Mr. Speaker, I feel that the government's positions are almost clear. They have no real idea what to do with the Senate, as the various approaches and bills over the years demonstrate. Our friends in the Liberal Party, I feel, are equally clear in their view that the Senate is an essential and important institution, and they have their own reasons for feeling that way. But the position of the hon. member and that of the NDP are somewhat similar in that we favour the abolition of the Senate. In that context, knowing his background in political science and that he is an expert in the field, I would like to hear his comments on the fact that Quebec abolished its own provincial senate in the late 1960s and on the impact it had on the way in which Quebec was governed and administered.
    Mr. Speaker, I represent a magnificent riding that I invite you to come visit. In time, you will become more familiar with the name of my riding.
    I want to thank the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques for his question. Parliaments around the world, in Europe, the United States or in Canada, have had democratic practices that have changed how the public is represented over time. Clearly, a senate that may have been necessary at a certain time for various reasons, like a photograph that reflects the true reality of a certain moment, has to be able to change and evolve in the minds of the people. My party and I feel that the Senate no longer has a place today. We see that the NDP has a similar position on this. The role that the Senate used to play is no longer called for today. We are therefore proposing the abolition of the Senate. Quebeckers, of course, chose to abolish their senate for reasons I cannot get into right now for lack of time.

  (1145)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on such an important bill before the House. There can be nothing more important to us as Canadians than our democratic institutions. I believe that a Senate that is appointed or pseudo-elected, which is what the bill would have us do, is actually anti-democratic. We have a democratic House of Commons. We are elected by our constituents. We come to this House, and we actually try to debate the issues and bring the concerns of our constituents into this House. However, that has been very difficult during the last few months because, as we know, time allocation has been moved and our voices have been silenced many times.
    However, we still believe and would encourage our colleagues across the way to allow the democratic process to play out. In this democratic process, we do not need to have a Senate. The Senate is appointed. Senators do not really represent any constituents. They come from regions. They do not have any kind of feeling of reporting back to anybody.
    As we know, this is not the first time that my Conservative colleagues have tried to make changes to the Senate, but each time the changes they propose do not go far enough.
    On the other hand, the NDP is constant. Since the 1930s, we have been constant in saying that it is time for the Senate to go. Our party keeps reaffirming that position over and over again, not because we are just looking for something to be opposed to, by the way, but because when we talk with our constituents, to Canadians across this country, they actually see very little value, if any, to the Senate.
    Both sides of the House have to acknowledge that we are going through hard economic times, unemployment is rising, poverty levels are rising, our child poverty has increased, actually, the gap between the rich and the poor in Canada has increased, our health care system is under stress, our students in post-secondary education are burdened with a growing debt load, and many of them do not even have access to post-secondary education because they do not have the financial wherewithal to do so. I would argue that as we go through these hard economic times, this is the time that we should really all be standing to say it is time to abolish an archaic institution called the Senate.
    When we look at our history, we have a group of people who are appointed by the Prime Minister. Under the new proposals, as we all know, the provinces may have elections at their own expense, and how many of them have money these days? Even when they elect and recommend somebody, the appointment is still at the discretion of the Prime Minister. What we have seen since May 2 have been appointments of either key workers, supporters, or failed candidates, to the Senate. Obviously, patronage is truly alive on the Hill.
    When we look at all that, Canadians out there are asking, what is the role of the Senate? In my riding of Newton—North Delta most of them would rather take the millions of dollars we spend on the Senate and have it spent on education. They would like to have it spent on transit infrastructure. They would like to have it spent on health care. They would like to have it spent on raising seniors out of poverty. Shame on us. They would really like to see that kind of debate.

  (1150)  

    If the government feels it has to move to make some changes, let us take it to the public. Let us take it to Canadians right across the country, and let us engage in a healthy debate. I know that healthy debate is hard for my colleagues across the aisle, but let us take this out into our communities, engage in a healthy debate, and let our constituents tell us if they are for, against, or do not care. I will bet that they will care because they care how their tax dollars are spent and they would like to have them utilized to do some public good.
    I have yet to be convinced of the public good that is achieved through a Senate. I was looking at it historically. As members know, I am new to the House. I looked at the number of times that an elected House of Commons has passed legislation and it was blocked by appointed, partisan senators that owe their loyalty to no one except the people who appoint them.
    It is a very telling comment when a senator can write a letter to other senators stating:
    Those of us who came to the red chamber were there to get a majority vote for reform. Those in the Senate before [the Prime Minister came to power] need to realize that, had he not made appointments, the Conservatives appointed by Mulroney would now be a very small group struggling to do anything! Every senator in this caucus needs to decide where their loyalty should be and must be. The answer is simple:--
    As a taxpayer this would actually give me sleepless nights. It continues:
--our loyalty is to the man who brought us here, the man who has wanted Senate reform since he entered politics, the Rt. Hon. [Prime Minister].
    I would encourage every parliamentarian, my colleagues across the aisle as well, to really pay attention to that. If after reading that, we believe there is a role for the Senate, then we need to give our heads a shake. There is a need for a referendum because we need to justify that to every Canadian out there.
    Every time I read this letter, I must admit I get goosebumps because here we are in a democratic country called Canada, with a parliamentary democracy, where a senator can write a letter to his whole caucus saying that their only loyalty is to the man who brought them to the Senate. That tells us a lot about the Senate, about who appoints the senators, where the power lies, and how the senators, once appointed, do not even see themselves as having any kind of commitment to Canadians. They see their commitment to the man who appointed them, who gave them their jobs.
    My commitment is to the constituents who voted, whether they voted for me or whether they voted for another candidate. Once I became an MP, I am an MP for every constituent in my riding. That is my role.
    It is because the Senate is archaic and out of touch, and does not connect with the people across the country, that it needs to be dissolved. Once it is dissolved, let us take those resources and do some real public good that the citizens of Canada can feel proud that their tax dollars are being spent to lift people out of poverty, to help seniors, to help our veterans, to establish a universal child care program, and to help our struggling students get an education, so that they can contribute to our economy and grow our economy.

  (1155)  

    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments. However, we have another bill before us with regard to increasing the number of members of Parliament. It would increase the number from 308 to 338.
    The member made reference to canvassing what Canadians want and to the issue of saving money. I am sure she would agree that a vast majority of Canadians, I would suggest 90% or more, do not believe we need more members of Parliament and do not believe we need an additional 30 MPs. We can imagine the money that could be saved.
    Does the member believe that the same principles in applying those issues with the current bill should also apply to the bill that would increase the number of politicians? It is a bill her party is supporting, along with the Conservatives.
    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for a very insightful question.
    Members of Parliament come to sit in this House and, when they are allowed to, debate issues that are important to Canadians. When they go back to their ridings, they provide a direct service. I know my colleague will agree that we are often busier when we are back in our own ridings than sometimes we are when we are here. At least we feel we play a useful role when we are back in our ridings; when we are there, we do provide a direct service.
    There is a difference between parliamentarians who are elected and senators who receive a patronage appointment or are appointed by the Prime Minister.
    It is not just the NDP or myself who are saying that we should get rid of the Senate. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, a Liberal, has also said that it is time for the abolition of the Senate. B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who calls herself a Liberal, although I would say she is a Conservative, has said the Senate no longer plays a useful role in Confederation. Manitoba maintains its position of Senate abolition. Quebec has called this legislation unconstitutional.
    When we really look at this issue, right across the country there is a consensus already building that we should get rid of the Senate.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for her very passionate speech. She said that by abolishing the Senate, we could save astronomical amounts of money. In my riding, we are working with the government to see how we could come up with a more efficient rail transportation system in order to reduce traffic on the Island of Montreal, but we are being told there is not enough money to invest in such infrastructure.
    I would like the hon. member to talk about actual projects in her riding that the government should be putting money into instead of investing in the Senate.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, we could come up with a huge number of projects. With the amount of money we spend on the Senate, we could address a number of issues. We could lift our seniors out of poverty. We could have infrastructure projects that would improve our commitment to the environment--that is, if we still have a commitment from the government side to the environment. Really, when we think about it, there are many projects.
    There will be some who would argue that if we do not have the Senate, our parliamentary democracy will come to a halt. I would reply that in the provinces that got rid of their senates, the sky did not fall. Everything carried on, and they actually got more work done. Bills were able to go through quickly. Legislation was able to be enacted quickly. Not only was the timing important, but they actually had money freed up.
    A survey done in July 2011 found that 71% of Canadians are in favour of holding a referendum to decide the future of the Senate. I know my colleagues across the way are very committed to listening to Canadians across the country. They keep saying how they were elected to respond to the needs of Canadians; here we have 71% of Canadians saying it is time for a referendum.

  (1200)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak about government Bill C-7 on the Senate. For several years, the government has been saying that it wants an elected Senate. If anyone is wondering whether I believe in the Senate, no, I absolutely do not, and I will explain why.
    I may have once believed in the Senate but, if I did, I lost that faith. There was a time when I thought that there should be a place for the Senate and a time when I was uncertain, but that is no longer the case. I absolutely do not believe in a Senate appointed by the Prime Minister. For me, that is not democracy. In the past, in other countries, senators were appointed by their prime ministers, but those countries changed their way of doing things to take modern democracy into account. They chose to have elected senators with certain powers. For example, there are countries where the Senate cannot vote on bills related to government spending but, instead, it takes care of bills related to what is happening in communities.
    I am looking at our Senate when I refer to an unelected Senate. We are supposed to live in a democratic country. There are various political parties—the NDP, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois, the Canadian Alliance and all the others. They are all legitimate. We have the right to have our parties. Someone at Elections Canada makes sure that all the rules are followed, that everyone has a place and that any eligible person can run for a seat in Parliament. Those running for office campaign for 35 days. There is a huge election campaign. We have to sell ourselves to the public. Who should the people choose to represent them in Ottawa? A democratic, secret vote is held to choose someone—a man or a woman—to represent us in Ottawa, someone who can discuss and vote on bills that will become the laws of our country. These representatives are chosen by the people. That is democracy. It is the people who decide who will represent them, or who their members of Parliament will be. In the end, does it matter that the Prime Minister says that he wants to elect senators—people who are retiring?
    Everyone knows that when someone is appointed to the Senate by the Prime Minister, they are there until the age of 75. The Prime Minister has the power to appoint people to the Senate, but not to remove them, however. A senator may do whatever he or she likes after being appointed. A senator must have done something really inappropriate to be relieved of his or her duties. No one wants to leave; they do not do anything until the age of 75, and there is no problem. That said, I do not want to tar all of the senators with the same brush.
    In 2005, when Canadians and Quebeckers decided to elect a minority government, the opposition had the majority in the House of Commons. As has always been the case, if a budget is brought down by a minority government in the House of Commons and if the opposition, which is in the majority, votes against that budget, this means that the government does not have the confidence of the House and, consequently, that government falls and an election is held.

  (1205)  

    If a budget is brought down by a minority government in the House of Commons and the majority opposition votes against the government's budget, this means that the government does not have the confidence of the House. The government falls and there is an election. That is the rule. That is what protects the elected government, which has the power to trigger an election. That is where confidence is expressed. It is a vote of confidence. Normally, the government has to choose.
    That is not, however, what is happening. The House is passing bills and the unelected Senate is voting them down in the other place. The Senate is voting against bills passed by the members elected by the population. I will give you an example.
    The NDP introduced Bill C-311 concerning our responsibility with regard to climate change, the Act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibilities in preventing dangerous climate change. Whether we like it or not, the House expressed its opinion in a vote. The elected members voted. I think that all members, be they with the NDP, the Liberal Party, the Bloc or the Conservative Party, should feel offended, even though this is an NDP bill, that the unelected Senate voted to defeat this bill.
    Our time here in the House is limited. At some point, there will be other people here. At some point, the Conservatives will no longer be in power and will be in the opposition. I wonder how the Conservatives would feel about the Senate voting against House bills, in a minority government situation, for example, during the time when they had a minority government.
    The current Prime Minister himself has said previously that the Senate's job was not to vote against House bills. The House is elected. Members of Parliament are elected by the public.
    A few years ago, I sent out a bulk mailing in my riding and asked constituents to respond. It was almost a referendum. I asked people whether they agreed with the Senate, whether senators should be elected, whether the Senate should be abolished or whether it should remain as is. No one wanted the Senate to remain as is. Among those who responded, 85% indicated that they were in favour of abolishing the Senate. It would be interesting to have a referendum on this in Canada. It is great to say that this is part of the Constitution, to hide behind that and to say that, because of the Constitution, we can never change the Senate. The Constitution makes a great place to hide.
    However, what would happen if there were a national referendum and the public said it was in favour of abolishing the Senate? If that happened, all of the provinces would have to agree in order to amend the Constitution. Hopefully the provincial premiers and legislatures would honour the decision of Canadians and Quebeckers. We would hope they would recognize that, if the public no longer wants a Senate, it is time to get rid of it once and for all. Why are we spending money on this institution?
    The bill that I introduced required Supreme Court justices to be bilingual. The bill was passed in this House. The majority of parliamentarians voted in favour of the bill. The Conservatives consider themselves lucky that the Senate does exist because, had it not, the bill would have been passed and they would now be required to appoint bilingual justices to the Supreme Court. That is democracy. Elected representatives should decide. We are the elected representatives—whether Conservative, NDP, Liberal or Bloc. The voters elected us to the House. We were not appointed by the Prime Minister. Conservatives should mull that over. They will not be in power for the next 100 years. At some point, the Conservatives will no longer be in power.
    It is not right. It was not right when the Conservatives were in opposition. The current Prime Minister was against the Senate voting down bills passed by the House of Commons. What has changed since he moved from opposition to power? What has caused such a change in him?

  (1210)  

    The Senate claims that it exists to protect minorities and the regions, but it never has done that.
    Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Acadie—Bathurst.
     We are aware that a number of countries have abolished the Senate, for example Finland, Germany and Japan. And those are not the countries lowest on the list. A number of provinces have abolished the senate as well. At present, 71% of the population would support holding a Canada-wide referendum so they could voice their opinion. This morning, a member said it would be difficult to open our Constitution. Our Constitution was created to be opened when it is necessary. Processes have been provided for opening it and for agreeing. Some of them mean that referendums can be held.
     I would like to hear the member's opinion on that.
    Madam Speaker, if we hold a Canada-wide referendum on the Senate, with Quebec, Canadians can decide whether they no longer want the Senate. The Constitution is not written in stone. Everything can be changed and that is why we have a Parliament.
     When New Brunswick enacted legislation to make the province bilingual, all the provinces agreed. There was no talk of the Constitution and it was not opened up for everything. It was opened only on that subject, and bill 88 was incorporated into the Constitution. We are protected by the Constitution. It was done democratically; the Constitution was opened, bill 88 was added to it, and that was the end.
     So if there is a referendum on the Senate, the Constitution can be opened just on that subject. We can listen to the people and respond to their desire to get rid of that institution. The provinces have got rid of it, as our colleague mentioned just now, and it was not the end of the world. No one can run and hide anymore.
     Now, members rise in the House to vote on a bill, the public looks at them, and if the members do not do a good job, in a democratic way, they can be voted out in the next election. We do not need a Senate to reject bills passed by a majority of Parliament, because we are elected and senators are not. They are people appointed by the Prime Minister. Most of the time, they are friends of the Prime Minister or of a political party. That is not democracy.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, the member for Acadie—Bathurst is a veteran of this place, so I am sure he realizes the hard work that takes place in the Senate. Great reports come out of its committees. Great dedication is shown by so many senators. It is the place of sober second thought when it comes to legislation from here. Often some errors have been made in drafting bills, especially private members' bills, but the senators have been able to pick up on those errors as a result of their experience and expertise in looking at the law. Despite the member's comments that the current Senate is a patronage-laden place, it still does some great work.
    We also have to remember that a lot of the legislation we deal with in the House actually starts over in the Senate and comes this way. Senators bring forward some great ideas on their own private members' bills. We need to look at Parliament as a whole.
    We are trying to bring democracy and reform to the senate by allowing people to elect senators. If the member is so opposed to patronage and the existing Senate the way it stands, why does he want to bring proportional representation into the House where members will be appointed through patronage off party lists?

  (1215)  

    Madam Speaker, I have been to many countries that have proportional representation. The people are appointed through a convention, not by a leader of a party. Their appointment is not done through one person.
    I am not degrading people in the other place. I am not saying that the senators do not do any work. I am asking if we need the Senate.
     The member says that senate is the place of sober second thought, but that is why we have committees. If the government were to stop putting time allocation on debate in the House of Commons and let us do our jobs, if it did not stop debate in committees and let us do our jobs, then maybe we would not need that other place to do the second thought. We could do our own sober second thought. Right now the government is stopping us from doing our jobs, yet it is telling us that we need the Senate to repair things. We could do the repair work right here. Leave us to do our work.
     The Conservative government has stopped debate in the House 11 times. We are allowed to debate a bill for two hours and that is it. That is not democracy; that is anti-democracy. The member should think about that too.
    Madam Speaker, that is a tough act to follow, as always.

[Translation]

    I would like to congratulate my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst as well as my colleague from Newton—North Delta. Both of them are very passionate, and they are models in both their bearing and their ethics. I really admire their work.
    On this day, December 8, I only have one thought in mind: “Give peace a chance”. Why is it so important to give peace a chance? It is important because peace is synonymous with discussions, with communication among peoples, among people and among parties, whether they agree or not. Dialogue should always be at the forefront of a democracy. It is extremely important.
    The message of my idol, John Lennon, who was assassinated on December 8, was about communication and the way in which we can together discuss topics that are extremely important to society and to the population in general. Today, we are debating a bill that affects more people than we realize and may cause a chill among some provincial elected members. First and foremost, we have to respect democracy, which is a sincere and cordial dialogue. Exchanges between the members of the opposition and the members of the government should be courteous.
    It appears to me that Bill C-7, An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits, reflects a somewhat cavalier attitude and shows indifference to the real issues that are of concern to the population.
    The role of this institution is no longer required and this has been the case for decades, as was very well explained by my colleague, the member for Acadie—Bathurst. Historically, the role of that institution has always been that of a watchdog. Personally, I think this role has evolved into a ghost's role, and I am being polite in saying that. One wonders what could have led the Conservatives to table a bill on this topic for the third time. Basically, this legislative effort contains absolutely nothing that would truly legitimize the existence and relevance of the Senate chamber, especially given the fact that at no time since the beginning of this 41st Parliament have the Prime Minister and his merry band given us any opportunity for real debate in a sound democracy. Never have they done so. And believe me, this government does not seem anywhere near doing that in the course of this exercise.
    In the first paragraph of the preamble to Bill C-7, we can see the ambiguity and paradox of the Conservatives' position, especially when they claim that the Senate must continue to evolve in keeping with the principles of modern democracy and the expectations of Canadians. I would be curious to know the opinion of Canadians on that topic.
    In the second paragraph of that preamble, we read:
    Whereas the Government of Canada has undertaken to explore means to enable the Senate better to reflect the democratic values of Canadians and respond to the needs of Canada's regions;
    As for the regions, we will get to that in due course.
     How can that be called democratic if the provinces' choice is not even respected by the Prime Minister?
    Part 1, clause 3, on senatorial selection, states that “the Prime Minister...must consider”. There is no obligation. The Prime Minister does not even respect the choice of senators elected democratically by the provinces. Welcome to the Conservatives’ world where even evolution runs backwards. The upshot is that we will again and again be faced with partisan appointments of the kind the Liberals had us accustomed to; now it is the Conservatives' turn.
     Why reform the Senate if the provinces’ decisions are not going to be taken into account and if the Canadian government is under no obligation whatsoever?
     Moreover, there is a schedule in Bill C-7 that contains a whole slew of clauses that impose a legislative framework for the selection of senators. Did I not just say that the Prime Minister has no obligation whatsoever to respect the selection process? Once again, he shows no interest in listening to voters, 61% of whom, I should point out, voted against the government.
     It makes no sense and it is a waste of public money: over $100 million a year is spent on the Senate.
     Once again, they have found a way to spend a fortune on an exercise in which all Canadians will have participated without their decision being respected.

  (1220)  

     In the end, Canadians will not have participated. Basically, whether it is 100% of Canadians who speak out or vote, or the 61% who voted against this government on May 2, the Conservatives do not give a damn.
     The NDP's position is certainly clearer and more precise than the government's. From the early days of this 41st Parliament, the Conservatives have been very vague regarding the number of subjects up for discussion, which has left us with a great deal of doubt and uncertainty.
     For many year, the NDP has called for the complete abolition of this outdated institution, which in no way serves the interests of a modern country and instead caters to the cronies of whichever party is in power. I challenge the government to hold a Canada-wide consultation on the future of the Senate or even a vote on its abolition. I would respect the outcome of such exercises because I am a democrat and I care about Canadians' opinions and what they have to say regarding the issues affecting their country, my country: Canada.
     Democracy is at the very core of the British parliamentary system and yet the Conservatives show day in and day out just how much a doctrine based on the private and individual interests of a party’s leaders has a negative impact on ethics and the civic-mindedness of a people.
    The premiers of Ontario and Nova Scotia have publicly expressed their support for abolishing the Senate. The premier of British Columbia said that the Senate no longer has its place in our Confederation. Manitoba remains in favour of abolishing the Senate. As for Quebec, it has said repeatedly that this bill is unconstitutional. Does the government really want to alienate these provinces? Is this a voluntary move by the Conservatives, or else a strategy aimed at dividing the country to better control it? To ask these questions is to answer them, as someone famous once said. To divide Canadians on an issue on which we should seek a consensus is really perverse. What will the next step be? Withdrawing from the Kyoto protocol, so as not to respect our targets? I almost forgot that it is already done, if I am not mistaken.
    I am speaking like many citizens have done to vent their frustration in recent weeks, either in our offices, or through public forums and social media in Quebec and Canada. This way of doing things without taking into consideration the real needs of Canadians does not make sense. Instead of being concerned about the health of seniors, veterans and aboriginals, the government shocks the conscience of the public to shine light on the inefficiency of public services. I am sorry, but since the Senate does not provide a service to Canadians, let us get rid of it! During the past century, 13 attempts were made to reform the Senate and they all failed. Let us get it over with!
    Let us get back to the legitimacy of the appointments made under this bill. There is no legitimacy at all. The Prime Minister does not even have to accept the decision made by voters in the provinces. As I said, he is only bound by clause 3 of the first part of the bill. Does this mean he could wait until the list includes the names of people he really wants to see in the Senate?
    Section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982 does allow the Canadian Parliament to amend the Senate without complying with the normal but very elaborate amending procedures in the Canadian Constitution. Is this a reason good enough to not consult the provinces? After all, we are talking about what is a sensitive issue for several Canadian provinces, given the number of representatives in the Senate which, in itself, imposes a minimum number of members in the House for some provinces.
    We are getting into a more concrete area, namely the democratic representation in the House of Commons. Since the government refuses to debate any issue in the House, what will happen to the provinces that do not agree with this reform? What means will they have to put an end to this unbelievable travesty by the Conservatives, who are afraid of any public debate?
    It is unacceptable to try to divide a population that needs its elected representatives to work instead to create jobs and improve economic security in the country. As we all know, the gap between the rich and the poor in Canada is growing exponentially. Statistics released in recent days confirm it. Can we deal with the real issues and show leadership by simply abolishing this outdated institution in the 21st  century?

  (1225)  

    Madam Speaker, I would like my colleague, who is very close to the people in his riding, to say a few words about what he is hearing back home about this bill or the Senate in general. The government can no longer hide the fact that it appoints its friends, former candidates and whomever it wants to the Senate. It is starting to become embarrassing. Apparently, the Conservatives' solution is to propose making senators elected members. Are they going to consult anyone? We are not so sure. Sometimes they say it is not necessary to consult experts and scientists. Sometimes they also say there is no need for wide-scale consultation since they already have police officers or their father is a farmer. What comments has the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead heard people in his riding make about this topic?
    Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard for her question.
    In my riding, people are very attached to Canada's Parliament. The Compton—Stanstead and Eastern Townships area of my riding is made up of wonderful anglophone towns. People are wondering why we are wasting so much money on a chamber that, for all intents and purposes, is useless. A tremendous amount of resources are given to us to correct the wording of legislation. My constituents say that if we abolish the Senate, our work will finally be legitimate and that we are the elected members and it is up to us to get this work done.
    Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his speech, which focused a great deal on dialogue and discussion.
    He also spoke about Canadian democratic values. We live in a very democratic country and we should be very proud of that. During the last election, the Conservative candidate in a neighbouring riding was not elected. Then, the day after the election, he was appointed as a senator. Many people in my riding asked me questions about that. I would like to know what the hon. member thinks of the process for selecting senators. How does he think it should be changed?
    Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for that question.
    The schedule of the bill contains all kinds of processes and procedures for selecting senators that the provinces must follow in order to propose Senate candidates. However, the Prime Minister has no obligation to respect their choices. This is a process that will once again cost millions of dollars to implement but will not be legitimate because the Prime Minister is in no way obliged to follow this procedure. The government is imposing a procedure but does not even want to follow it. I really do not understand the idea behind this bill.

  (1230)  

    Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his comments.
    One of the arguments that we have heard about the Senate pertains to how it was conceived. I think one of the reasons, in theory, that the Senate exists is to represent the different regions more fairly, given that some provinces are bigger than others.
    Recently, we debated Bill C-10. Despite the very clear will of the Quebec National Assembly and Quebeckers, one senator became the government's puppet to a certain extent. He said that Quebeckers and the National Assembly were wrong not to support the bill. So, clearly, the Senate does not really represent the regions. Would the hon. member care to comment further on this issue?
    Madam Speaker, I have an enormous amount of respect for the individuals in the Senate. They are all noble individuals who have led fantastic lives, but this is just a reward they have been given. These people have no legitimate reason for being in those seats. Although their suggestions to the government are very noble, we will first have to make them appropriately legitimate through an election; otherwise it shows no respect for democracy.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, my first thought, as I came into the chamber today to enter into the debate on the bill, was that here we go again, tinkering with an outdated, obsolete vestige of colonialism, something that is unworthy in its makeup and in the institution itself of any legitimate western democracy.
     We are wasting the time of Parliament debating, tinkering with the Senate when, as per the policy of the NDP since the 1930s, the Senate should be abolished. It has outlived any usefulness and now it is just an instrument of abuse, pure, political and partisan pork.
    There has never been a prime minister who has so abused the Senate and taken partisan advantage as the current Prime Minister, with 32 appointments. After being the one who agreed that the Senate was an outdated and obsolete institution, he has been stacking the Senate for purely partisan reasons.
    Let me give an example of this. The president of the Conservative Party, the campaign manager of the Conservative Party, the chief fundraiser of the Conservative Party, the director of communications for the Conservative Party, the entire Conservative war room is now sitting in the Senate, pulling down $130,000 a year of taxpayers money, with staff, travel privileges and resources.
    Who was the campaign manager in the last provincial election in my home province of Manitoba? The Conservative Senator from Manitoba, and I do not know if I am allowed to use his name. The former president of the Conservative Party was power shooted into Manitoba on the taxpayer nickel to work full time in partisan activities. He never has to stand for an election because he is there for life to act as an agent of the Conservative Party, not as the chamber of sober second thought, and is salaried, staffed and paid for in a direct subsidy by the taxpayers of Canada. It is appalling and it is atrocious. The senate should be abolished. It is a disgrace that we are using up time in our chamber to even re-arrange the deckchairs on that ridiculous institution.
    There must be some old Reformers who have a hard time looking at themselves in the mirror, considering the things they used to say about the Senate. Now they are one. They have become what they used to most criticize. They have tossed overboard every principle on which they were founded in the interest of political expediency. They have been jettisoned over side. It is a disgrace.
    Even as we speak, the Senate is sabotaging the Canadian Wheat Board bill with extra sittings. Because the courts have ruled against it, and it is against the rule of law, it is, lickety split, ramming this through. How could the Senate, in all good conscience, pass a bill that the courts have ruled against? It is one of its very functions, or used to be at least, to catch and correct any time that this chamber somehow passes a law that offends the Charter of Rights, the Constitution or the rule of law. That bill offends the rule of law, yet those senators are ramming it through.
    It is possible that the Governor General, at least, will refuse to grant royal assent to a bill that the courts have struck down. As another vestige of colonialism, we have to ask permission of the Crown. When there is a runaway freight train of political expediency, like the current gang, like a bunch of six-year-old bullies who take advantage of their power to ram things through and run roughshod over everything that is good and decent about our parliamentary democracy, without even taking into account the rule of law, maybe those guys, if they are worth anything, will intercept the bill at the Senate stage, as will the Governor General at that stage, so the Conservatives cannot ram that bill through.
    The other thing I want to speak about, in the brief time that we have, is this. It offends me to the core of my being that we end up having to deal with bills that originate in the Senate. In fact, those bills have primacy over the work of the chamber to which we members of Parliament have been elected.

  (1235)  

    We wait and wait our turn patiently to have our private members' bills heard. If our bill is lucky enough to get on the order of precedence, maybe we will be able to fulfill a dream of having our particular hobby horse heard in the House of Commons. The unelected chamber, senators generate bills, never mind reviewing legislation that we put together, and their bills come to this chamber and go to the top of the list, bumping the bills of members of Parliament. It is appalling. It makes my blood boil just thinking of it. I cannot believe there are people who call themselves democrats on that side of the House who put up with this ridiculous, almost embarrassing situation.
    What Conservatives have proposed in the interests of democratic reform actually causes such a mess it will be pandemonium. There will be two and three different tiers of senators. We would have the elected senators and the senators who are there for life. Which ones have primacy then? Which ones have more weight? If we ever did go to a fully elected Senate, would that be the upper chamber? Would that be the senior chamber and how would the political dynamics work?
     Every province in the federation of Canada wrestled with this issue and every province came to the same conclusion. They abolished their upper chamber and ensured there was adequate representation within the structure of their legislatures. We do not need a Senate.
    There is an old joke about the radical diet. If one wants to lose 40 pounds of ugly fat, just cut off one's head. In this case, we could lose $200 million of utter waste just by chopping off the head of the Senate and eliminating it. We would keep the building. The chamber itself is a lovely place. I have no problem with the chamber. It is an architectural delight and it should be preserved and maintained, but the maintenance budget of the Senate chamber might be a couple of grand a year. The maintenance budget of each one of those political appointees, and I use that word in the politest way I could phrase it, costs us a fortune.
    In actual fact, senators are hacks, flacks and bagmen and I do not just accuse the Conservatives. I am thinking of the most famous Liberal bagman in Manitoba who wound up in the Senate, and I will not mention his name. The most infamous Conservative bagman went right into the Senate so he could continue his partisan fundraising paid for by the taxpayer. While there, they were the architects of the biggest political election fraud in the history of Canada. Charged, tried, convicted, found guilty and they are sitting in the chamber as we speak, scheming their next election tricks.
     I wish somebody watched these debates. If people only knew what we put up with by the other chamber, they would be appalled and would demand true reform in the form of abolishing that wasteful, archaic, outdated, obsolete relic of colonialism, that last vestige of colonialism that we wear around our necks like an albatross. It is like having an anchor dragging behind a boat, having the Canadian Senate as an obstacle to democracy. Senators do not enhance democracy. They sabotage and undermine democracy. Twice in the history of Canada—

  (1240)  

    Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member for Winnipeg Centre is in violation of Standing Order 18. It says that:
    No member shall speak disrespectfully of the Sovereign, nor of any of the Royal Family, nor of the Governor General or the person administering the Government of Canada; nor use offensive words against either House, or against any Member thereof. No Member may reflect upon any vote of the House...
    The member has really slandered senators and the other chamber, and I ask that you call him to order.
    I thank the member for citing the order, and he is quite right. I did not hear the last comment that was made; however, there are 30 seconds left.
    The hon. member will take note and ensure that all his comments are respectful. Certainly the debate is about the Senate, so there is some latitude to express opinions or facts as the members see it, however, while maintaining a tone of respect.
    The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre.
    Madam Speaker, the senators are wading into and are actively engaged in partisan politics. It offends me that they are allowed to be members of boards of directors. They are not only sabotaging bills that come through the House, such as the climate change bill, they are sitting on the boards of directors of the big oil companies and sabotaging the climate change bill.
    How can a senator be allowed to sit on a board of directors when it is a clear conflict of interest for any of us to do it? Some senators sit on 10 or 12 boards. It is appalling. It is another good reason to abolish the Senate.
    Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his, as usual, entertaining remarks.
    I will first make a comment and then ask a brief question.
    The hon. member noted that Senate bills can get precedence in many situations in the House. However, he failed to mention that he and his party voted against a motion brought by the member for Beauce, who is now the Minister of State for Small Business, to change that. Perhaps the hon. member should not criticize issues that he was previously on the other side of. It would be more appropriate that he remember how he voted before he talks about issues.
    The Conservative Party and its predecessor parties have believed in Senate reform. The hon. member's party would prefer abolition.
    If the best proposals from each side were put forward before the Canadian population in a referendum, a plebiscite or the like, and if Senate reform were chosen for a democratically elected regional Senate, would the hon. member then support the election?
    Madam Speaker, before I share one of the most appalling things that the Senate has done to date, which is the only time in Canadian history that we know the Senate has done this, I will tell the member a secret that not many people know. I used to be in favour of the Senate. I used to be about the only New Democrat in the country who was not in favour of abolishing it. I even sat with the current Conservative Prime Minister when he introduced the first bill to reform the Senate. Since then, I have realized how wrong I was and how right my party is.
     What has turned me into an anti-Senate activist are the stunts that the Conservatives have pulled. Two bills that were passed democratically by this chamber were killed by the Senate. I wish the country could hear this. One is the climate change bill, the only environmental bill passed since 2006 when the Conservatives took power. It passed all stages in the House and was killed by the Senate without a single day of debate or a single witness being heard. The other bill that it arbitrarily, unilaterally killed without debate was the bill that would have made generic drugs available to Africa to fight the HIV-AIDS and tuberculosis pandemics.
    Can members believe the bills that the Senate chose to intervene and squash with its undemocratic, unelected, obsolete vestige of colonialism? It is appalling.

  (1245)  

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, once again, I would like to commend my colleague for Winnipeg-Centre. I greatly admire his very colourful choice of words from time to time. We really appreciate it on this side of the House.
    I would like my colleague to speak more about the amount of money that could be saved if we abolished the Senate, as proposed by the NDP. What could be done with that money and how would abolishing the Senate be useful for the Canadian economy?

[English]

    Madam Speaker, Canadians should remind us that we are broke. We borrow money every year just to make payroll, to pay our bills and to keep the Government of Canada running. We are in a severe deficit situation. We should be looking under every rock and turning over every stone to find efficiencies and ways to save money.
    Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in the other chamber, not to augment, complement and enhance democracy but to sabotage and undermine democracy and to thwart the democratic will of this chamber.
     A great deal of the money that we spend in the Senate is to fly senators around the world like a bunch of Harlem Globetrotters. Have members ever seen a parliamentary junket where every Senate position was not filled? We take a pass on most trips that we are offered. Senators never turn down a trip. They gallivant around the world like some high-flying globe-trotting emissary of Canada, which is of no material benefit or value to us. It is a waste of money. It is a waste of hundreds of millions of dollars that could be better spent enhancing our democracy instead of sabotaging it.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, like my colleagues who rose before me, I am very proud to speak to this bill, which interests me greatly. We care about our democracy, which is what is at stake here today, as my colleague from Winnipeg Centre so eloquently pointed out.
    A lot is being said about the purpose of the Senate, and what it seeks to achieve. I was a political science student, so I will take this opportunity to provide an overview of the governing bodies of other nations, particularly the United States. Their experience, as it compares to ours, serves as a justification as to why the Senate must be abolished.
    One of the things that the Founding Fathers said about the Senate in the United States was that it was important to have a division in government to protect against the tyranny of the majority. Like us, they have a system where the person with the majority of votes is elected. And yet, we know all too well from our experience here in Canada that there is a percentage of the population that votes for other parties. This is the case in the current Parliament, where 60% of Canadians voted for parties other than the governing party. The principle is, therefore, that with a Senate, the executive—the President, in the case of the United States—and the Supreme Court, it becomes possible to protect against what is known as the tyranny of the majority.
    In the United States, they determined that the best way of using the Senate in this instance was to provide regional protection. We are well aware of our history here in Canada and the same principle applies. Essentially, the Senate was created to protect the distinctive features of the regions. Of course, certain provinces are huge, such as Ontario—not necessarily in terms of land mass, but population—contrary to territories or provinces such as Prince Edward Island, which may be smaller, but which, like any other province or territory, are entitled to be democratically protected, in the sense that the opinions of their people are expressed through elected representatives—in an ideal world of course.
    The same thing is apparent here. It was true of the United States, where the states, which vary enormously as far as size is concerned—in terms of both population and land mass—each had two senators. And yet the United States learned something far quicker than we did. Unless I am mistaken, it was in the 1950s that the U.S. decided that in order to benefit from this equitable regional representation, and to fulfill the mandate of the Senate, senators had to be elected. The U.S. moved forward by overhauling the constitution, which led to an elected Senate. That was 60 years ago and, of course, we are terrible laggards in this area.
    The difference, however, with Canada is that in the United States it was the governors of the states who appointed senators and not the President. The comparison can therefore be drawn with Canada, where the Prime Minister appoints senators, which is very different. How do you achieve regional representation when the Prime Minister of the federal government chooses the senators? It is quite difficult and, in some ways, is a conflict of interest.
     So we see that this is the first lesson that has not been learned, and this is something that is still going on today in spite of the intentions of this Prime Minister, who stated that he would never appoint senators. And yet we have people who were defeated in elections who have been appointed to the Senate. This is a huge problem. They are talking about electing senators; they say it will be democratic, that they will respect democracy. It is one thing not to elect senators, but what is worse is to appoint someone whom the public refused to elect. Appointing someone who was not elected is a problem, but it is a more serious problem when the people have said no to those representatives. They have flatly refused to be represented by those individuals, and yet they are appointed nonetheless, and they expect that those individuals will provide the same representation as a person who was elected. That is essentially very illogical logic.
    I recall a Liberal member who was just saying that we had a very simplistic position.

  (1250)  

     I take that as a compliment, because what we are saying is very simple: abolish the Senate. There is nothing complicated about that. There is no point in embarking on debates about very complex bills with huge flaws, like the main flaw that allows the Prime Minister to choose not to appoint elected senators, which is completely contrary to what is supposed to be the nub of this bill. Our position is very simple, and I agree that it is a simplistic proposal, but in the positive sense of the word. It is a solution that will enable us to solve all these problems of patronage and lack of representation, particularly as they relate to the various regions, once and for all.
     I also want to talk about a few points that have already been raised by my colleagues, but I want to say more about Bill C-311 in particular, which my colleague from Winnipeg Centre and other colleagues have addressed, and which deals with climate change. We introduced an opposition motion concerning climate change earlier this week. It refers to the withdrawal from Kyoto and this government's lack of vision in that regard. In fact, this House, by a vote of all parties, had passed a bill that was going to strengthen our principles and our fundamental values in that regard, so we could take concrete action on climate change. But that bill was killed by the Senate. The very problematic thing here is that we are not just talking about a bill passed by the House of Commons, a chamber composed of elected representatives, we are also talking about a bill that many ordinary people worked hard to get passed.
    I was an activist at the time myself and I worked hard to communicate with members of Parliament about the importance of that bill, and I was by no means alone. People from all across the country worked to make members of Parliament understand the inherent merits of that bill. The organization was very successful because the House passed the bill. The Senate, unfortunately, disregarding the will of the people entirely and with no justification, killed the bill. That is one of the basic problems that Bill C-7, which we have before us today, is not going to solve. The problem will be solved by abolishing the Senate. It is not complicated.
    I am going to make an important connection with a debate we had earlier this week on democratic representation. The connection is important because we are talking about democracy again. I am referring to Bill C-20, which deals with redistributing the seats in this House. We know that the Liberal Party's concern was about the costs that would be incurred. But I spoke on the bill and I raised the same point today. Let us talk about reducing costs and about how to pay for that bill so that we can have more democratically elected representation. I repeat once more: it is not complicated. Let us abolish the Senate; we will save millions of dollars that we can use to pay not only for better representation for all provinces, Quebec included, but representation that will take its place in this elected House.
    Since I am running out of time, I will conclude my remarks by saying that the Senate was conceived as a way to represent and protect the unique regional features of our country. I can state, specifically as a representative of Quebec, a province that is very aware of the importance of protecting those unique features, such as our language and culture, that I have seen no evidence, especially in recent years, that the Senate is doing its job of protecting that uniqueness. That is one more reason for abolishing it, and one more reason for us, as true elected members of this House, to protect the unique features of our various regions with our actions and our legislation.

  (1255)  

    Madam Speaker, I would like to put a question to my New Democrat colleague. I would like to know what he thinks about the fact that this Conservative bill is going to give a single term to elected senators, who will thus not have to be accountable to the public for their election promises. They could very well not keep any promises and remain in the Senate for nine years, in addition to receiving a large salary and a pension.
    Personally, as a Canadian, I find the double standard inconceivable. I am very happy that the terms of the members of the House of Commons are short and renewable. In that way, we are accountable to the public, which judges us. With this bill, senators may make whatever promises they like without having to be accountable to the public, in addition to receiving a large salary and a pension.
    I would like to know what my New Democrat colleague thinks about that.
    Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question, which is in fact a very good one. In the time I have, I am going to try to discuss several points that I consider relevant.
    First of all, I find it interesting that some people are saying that limiting the terms of senators will make them more accountable. However, as my colleague said so well, they will not have any election promises to keep. So this will not make them more accountable to the public.
    In addition, there is another problem we do not hear much about, which is that setting term limits will mean that when the party in power changes, the new party will simply have another opportunity to appoint senators who will support it.
    For instance, there used to be a Liberal majority in the Senate. When the Conservative government came to power, as soon as it could do so it took the opportunity of appointing Conservative senators. Shorter terms would simply have facilitated what happened, and appointing senators from his own party would be easier for the Prime Minister to do. In the Senate, this is very problematic. All of the points my colleague mentioned, including the related costs, are indeed shameful and are yet more reasons to abolish the Senate.

  (1300)  

    Madam Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague what he thinks of the fact that the bill is undemocratic because senators will be appointed by the Prime Minister. Furthermore, even if the provinces do hold elections—and at their own expense—the Prime Minister is under no obligation to consider the senators elected by the provinces.
    It is undemocratic, not to mention unconstitutional, because the provinces must be consulted—which has not at all been the case—anytime there is a proposal to change key elements of the Constitution.
    I would like to hear my colleague's thoughts on that.
    Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question.
    Indeed, that is where the problem lies. As I said in my speech, the goal of the Senate, its raison d'être, is supposed to be to protect the regions and to ensure proper representation of the various regional differences that exist in Canada.
    Yet the provinces are not being consulted; they are simply being told that they will be able to elect senators. The caveat, however, is that the Prime Minister will still have the final say, which effectively takes away that power. It is indeed a big problem.
    That is another reason to abolish the Senate. We must ensure that, as elected members who are perfectly capable of representing our regions, that that is what we do.
    The provinces do not want this bill. Despite what we heard earlier this week from a member opposite, the provinces are more than just administrative regions. They provide a framework for the very specific differences that exist, which is another reason to understand this reality and take action accordingly.
    The Senate was established in 1867 under an agreement between federal and provincial authorities.That agreement covered a number of aspects that still define the Senate as we know it today. At the outset, the Senate of Canada, like the British House of Lords, was an institution that was to provide sober second thought to any ill-informed decisions that legislators in the House of Commons might make. But Canada has changed a great deal, and in the past 100 years, there have been 13 attempts at Senate reform. Unfortunately, all have failed.
    Under Bill C-7, now before the House of Commons, the terms of members of the upper house would be limited to nine years. The bill also contains a framework under which elections for the Senate could be held in the provinces. Those elections would provide a list of candidates from which the Prime Minister could make appointments to the Senate. Perhaps this is Senate reform, but it is not democratic reform that this government is offering, especially since the Prime Minister will still be able to choose senators himself, as he sees fit.
    In fact, the bill proposes that senators be elected by a complex and ill-conceived system of elections. The elections will have no democratic value, because holding them is optional. In the provinces, the elections will probably favour candidates from the large urban centres at the expense of the regions. Bill C-7 also invites provinces to conduct elections at their own expense and under their own rules. Do we not find it strange that elections for the Senate, a federal institution, will be set up by the provinces?
    Furthermore, the bill is not at all well regarded by the provinces, especially Quebec. Premier Jean Charest has already indicated that he is willing to contest it in court. Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia go so far as to directly suggest abolishing the upper house.
    Wanting to have the upper house made up of elected representatives also does away with the main difference between senators and members of Parliament. If senators are elected, they too will have political responsibilities to their constituents. So the one aspect that sets the Senate apart from the House of Commons, its independence, will be lost. Elected senators will be useless additions to elected members of Parliament.
    The NDP is also opposed to this Senate reform because, within the next generation of senators, it would create a complicated system with half the senators being appointed and the other half being elected. The Senate, which is already discredited, would become even less functional, if not completely non-functional. There would be a division between a new category of senators elected for a nine-year term and the former category of senators appointed until age 75. The elected senators would have to follow the same party lines as the members.
    We must not fool ourselves. It would be difficult to be elected to the Senate without the active support of a political party. The Senate will therefore be even more politicized than it currently is. A senator elected provincially could say that his mandate is stronger than that of a member because he would have more voters and a longer term.
    This reform that the Conservative government is proposing could also lead to the same kind of legislative deadlocks that we are seeing in the United States, where Congress is composed of two elected bodies—the Senate and the House of Representatives. The situation could even be worse than in the United States, because our Constitution does not include a mechanism for conflict resolution that would make it possible to resolve the differences that are very likely to arise between the two elected chambers.
    These days, the only reason for keeping the Senate is to provide lawmakers with the intellectual support of an assembly of outstanding people with various backgrounds who would have a non-partisan look at bills introduced in the House of Commons. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The Senate has never really played its role as a chamber of sober second thought. Although some senators take their role seriously, the Senate is filled mainly with party cronies and has largely served as a comfortable retirement home for former politicians where many vote blindly along party lines.
    Canadians increasingly think that the Senate should purely and simply be abolished. A little over a third think that the House of Commons should be the only federal legislative entity. Angus Reid has released a new poll on what Canadians think of the Senate. This is the fourth poll on this topic that this company has done since February 2010.

  (1305)  

    Poll after poll, one idea seems to be growing in the minds of Canadians: abolishing the upper chamber. Based on the latest poll, 36% of respondents agree with the statement that Canada does not need a Senate. All legislation should be studied and passed by the House of Commons. This percentage has been constantly going up since February 2010. Meanwhile, the statement that Canada needs a Senate and that Canadians should be allowed to participate in selecting senators is less popular than before. Support has gone down to 40% from 44% last November and 50% in July 2010.
    The Angus Reid poll shows that the rejection of the status quo has been a constant. Only 5% of Canadians would be happy with the current rules governing the Senate, and 71% of Canadians would support a national referendum on the topic. So there you go. That is the NDP's position exactly.
    Clearly, Canadians want a referendum to determine the Senate's future. And they are not alone. Senator Murray, who has held his position for 32 years, says that the Senate reform put forward by this government is a fiasco. In his view, this will lead to a real debate on the issue.
    That is why the NDP thinks that Canadians must be asked whether they need a Senate, and if so, what type of Senate. If Canadians could have the right to vote on the best way to allocate $100 million in public spending, it is very likely that the majority of taxpayers would opt for something other than funding the Senate.
    The Senate has lost its credibility in the eyes of many Canadians. Many of them are wondering what is the advantage of keeping an institution that is too often a country club for government members.
    Those who doubt senators' loyalty towards their parties would only have to read the letter of Conservative Senator Bert Brown to be convinced:
    Every Senator in this caucus needs to decide where their loyalty should be and must be. The answer is simple; our loyalty is to the man who brought us here...
    The Conservative government, just like the Liberal government before it, takes pleasure in appointing senators based on their political affiliation. Despite repeated criticism of the appointment process in the past, this government, right after the May 2 election, sent three failed candidates, including Josée Verner, to the Senate, when it already had the majority in that chamber. This type of attitude is what has led Canadians to call the Prime Minister a hypocrite on the issue. Actually, an Angus Reid poll showed that 57% of respondents think Stephen Harper is a hypocrite in the way he handles Senate appointments.

  (1310)  

    I remind the hon. member that members are not to name other members in the House.
    I apologize, Madam Speaker. I wanted to say that the Prime Minister is a hypocrite in the way he handles Senate appointments.
    Why waste time—
    Order. I also remind the member that she must not use derogatory words in reference to a member of Parliament or the Prime Minister.
    Madam Speaker, I simply encourage people to look at this Angus Reid poll. They will come to the same conclusions.
    Why waste time going through with a reform that no one wants and no one needs and that will likely be declared unconstitutional?
    In 2007, in a speech before the Australian Parliament, the Prime Minister talked about the possibility of simply abolishing the Senate. In this speech, the Prime Minister said that Canadians understood that our Senate, as it stands today, must either change or, like the old upper houses of our provinces, vanish. Before his untimely death, Jack Layton said that the solution was to ask Canadians whether they want a Senate.
    I repeat that, before wasting money and time, as we are currently doing for completely useless reforms and bills that make no sense, we could talk to the Canadian people and the provinces to simply ask them what they think.
    That is what the NDP is proposing.
    Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her fiery remarks that shed some light on the Conservative government's anti-democratic and unconstitutional practices.
    Bill C-7 clearly has flaws. Despite the fact that this bill has been introduced three times by the Conservatives, it still has flaws. That shows there is no democracy in the government's will. In addition, the Senate has voted at least twice against the interests of Canadians. For example, it killed a bill on climate change and another bill allowing Canada to send generic drugs to Africa to fight AIDS. Those bills were passed in the House of Commons, but were defeated by the Senate. Meanwhile, a lot of Canadians were in favour of that bill.
    Where is the legitimacy? Where is the democracy? How is keeping the Senate relevant, if it goes against the interests, the values and the democracy that Canadians cherish?
    Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her question. When we look at Bill C-7, we certainly wonder where the government is heading. We all agree that things are currently not going well with the Senate; Canadians do not value the Senate as an institution. This Senate reform bill would make the situation even more disastrous. I am stressing this point because it is true. It will make the Senate's situation worse and that institution will be even more inadequate than it already is.
    Various reform plans are proposed here and there, but they get us nowhere. They do not allow for a real chamber of sober second thought, an upper house independent from the House of Commons, that would enable us to represent the public and to pass bills. The Senate is really an institution that Canadians cannot identify with, and this bill has added no value to it.

  (1315)  

    Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Quebec for her speech. This Senate reform worries me because it gives the Prime Minister the power to appoint whomever he pleases. Even after these elections, he could still choose whomever he liked. Did the Conservatives not promise not to do what previous governments did before them? And in spite of that, have there not been some particularly partisan appointments to the Senate?
    Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles for her question. Canadians are very concerned about the need for transparency and independence. It is something that seems to be important to everyone, but clearly, it is not important to this government. Indeed, its Bill C-7 will not ensure the independence of senators and will not guarantee that they can do their work of sober second thought. That is precisely the point my colleague was raising. No, the government is not keeping the promises it made, nor is it respecting the wishes of Canadian citizens for real control over their institutions.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak about Bill C-7 today.
    The Senate was never originally intended to be a career for the prime minister's cronies. In debate on the bill today, many of my colleagues have brought up great points about the government's Senate reform legislation. They have discussed how the so-called election of senators would still leave Senate appointments up to the Prime Minister as he sees fit. The Prime Minister would be under no obligation to follow voters' wishes or to follow any convention at all.
    This is important, because our current Prime Minister has shown no hesitation in ignoring our parliamentary conventions when it suits him politically, and we still have no answer to the question of what is to stop the Prime Minister, or any future prime minister, from ignoring non-binding elections.
    Members have also brought up the fact that these optional elections would not go to the root of the matter. They would not make senators any more accountable than they are today. Senators would be appointed to a non-renewable nine-year term and would never have to face the electorate more than once.They would not be accountable for anything they did or did not do while in office.
    As well, NDP members have touched on the fact that under Bill C-7, anyone who wants to be a senator would have to be chosen by a political party. This leaves little or no room for independent candidates or committed Canadians who do not have political affiliations. These points about the bill are all very valid, and I thank my fellow NDP members for them.
    I would like to especially focus on one basic unavoidable fact, which is that any real reform of the upper chamber would require constitutional change. All members in the House should know that. The government knows it, and anyone who has studied the history of Confederation and of our Constitution in high school knows it. The Prime Minister certainly knows it.
    Reforming the Senate would require amending the Constitution with the approval of seven out of 10 provinces representing the majority of Canadians. That means Bill C-7 is nothing but a colossal red herring. It may pass in the House and it may even pass in the Senate, but as soon as it is challenged in court by any province--and provinces are already lining up to mount legal challenges--it will be struck down as unconstitutional. Our high school history students could have told us that.
    The Prime Minister thinks he can pass this totally symbolic legislation to finally reform our dysfunctional upper chamber, thereby fulfilling a long-term promise to his supporters, and when it is struck down the very next day, he thinks he will be able to throw up his hands, cry crocodile tears and say he tried, and no one will be the wiser.
    However, Canadians are not stupid. Bill C-7 is nothing more than a massive waste of time and a waste of taxpayers' money. The only ones who will benefit from this exercise are constitutional lawyers, who will get rich on the taxpayer's dime arguing both sides in court for years. At the end of the day, no real reform will have been done.
    Maybe that would suit our Prime Minister just fine, because, as we all know, he now has majority control of the Senate; 39% of the votes cast for the House gave him over 55% of the seats, and he has 100% control in both houses. He has it because he broke his own long-term promise never to appoint an unelected senator. Do members remember that?
    Instead, he has appointed more unelected and unelectable party bagmen, Conservative fundraisers and political insiders to the upper chamber than any other prime minister in the history of Canada. He has traded his purported principles for power. Now the other place does his bidding, so would it really be in his best interests to change that situation?
    A stranglehold on the Senate, both in numbers and through the use of the whip, is just another way an unprecedented amount of power has been concentrated in the office and the person of one man. The current Prime Minister has fallen a long way from his touted reform ideals.

  (1320)  

    I would like to add a personal note. Members in this House will know that I, of all people, have special reason to be unhappy with the Senate. After introducing and shepherding the country's only federal climate change legislation, Bill C-311, through all stages in this House in the last Parliament, the Senate was ordered to kill that important legislation before hearing any witnesses, before studying it in committee, before having full debate, or even any debate, on its merits.
    This is the first and only time in Canadian history that a bill was summarily killed by the Senate just like that, when political appointees snuffed out important legislation passed by this elected House without even giving it the consideration it was due.
    It is hard for me or for anyone to see how killing legislation before it is even studied can be considered sober second thought, as the purpose of the Senate has been alleged to be. If this continues, the red chamber is in danger of becoming the single best advocate for its own abolition.
     However, I am under no illusion that it will be a long time before we abolish or reform that dysfunctional chamber. It is with no disrespect to the people who work in that place that I say the upper chamber is dysfunctional. I have had the pleasure of working with some of the very hard-working and knowledgeable senators, senators who are committed to making Canada better; however, they are constrained by our system itself and by our Prime Minister, as are we in this chamber, which could also use some reforms.
    That brings me to my final point. Any true reform of our democratic institutions in this country will take much more than just smokescreens and red herrings.
    Unfortunately Bill C-7 distracts everyone from real reforms that could be made today, improvements that would not even require constitutional amendments. I am talking about reforming the way this chamber, and potentially that chamber, is elected. A system of electing either of our chambers by proportional representation would finally make every vote count. There would be no more wasted votes, no more pitting one region of the country against another. More women and more minorities would be elected. A fairer and more accurate reflection of the will of Canadians in our elected Parliament would take place. It would be a real democracy, as practised by the vast majority of our world's elected governments.
    However, that is something many politicians here, including government members, are desperate to avoid doing anything about, so they and the Prime Minister will do anything, including distractions like Bill C-7, to turn attention away from much more effective reforms that could be accomplished much more easily. It makes me think that the government is not really interested in changing things in our Senate at all.

  (1325)  

    Madam Speaker, the Liberal Party certainly shares some of the concerns with respect to the constitutionality of this legislation. I found it very interesting that the member laid it out as a bit of ruse in saying that the Conservatives probably expect this legislation will never see the light of day once it is put through the constitutional scrutiny that it must undergo.
    It strikes me that there is a troubling pattern in terms of passing legislation through this House that is likely to be found unconstitutional. We have seen recent examples in Bill C-4 and Bill C-10 .
    For the benefit of those in the House and those watching, I would invite the member to expand a bit on the constitutional arguments that would likely be upheld once the bill is subject to the scrutiny of the Supreme Court of Canada.
    Madam Speaker, even though I am a former judge, I am not a former lawyer and I am certainly not a constitutional lawyer. I will leave it to the constitutional lawyers to worry about the fine points of how we are going to run Canada, fix Canada, and work within our constitutional framework now or in the future.
    However, I am deeply disturbed, as are many journalists, many lawyers, many judges and many political watchers across Canada. Many of the citizens in my riding of Thunder Bay—Superior North are concerned about the anti-democratic nature of our current Prime Minister and his desire to control not only the opposition but also the hearts and minds of the 61% of the voters who did not vote for him and even the majority of the members on his side of the House.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, the NDP has long maintained the importance of abolishing the Senate, quite simply. I would be interested to know what my honourable colleague has to say about it now. Since half of the NDP caucus comes from Quebec and since the Quebec National Assembly has repeatedly defended the Senate and its capacity to respond to and represent Quebec, is the NDP's desire to abolish an institution Quebeckers recognize as defending their interests in Canada as fervent as ever?

[English]

    Madam Speaker, I am not going to speak for our party on this issue, I will only speak for myself. On most days I tend to agree that the Senate is useless, unaccountable, unelected, so let us scrap it. However, once in a while I get a wild idea. As I have already said here today and alluded to, maybe the Senate is the place where we could start, if we are going to elect it, to elect it proportionately. That way, at least in one of our Houses, when the purple party gets 20% of the votes, it will get 20% of the seats.

  (1330)  

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, why does the hon. member really think that this is not the time to stir up discord between the provinces and the federal government, but a time when we should really be dealing with other issues?
    Why would it be more important to focus the government's actions on the economy and job creation rather than to once again sow discord between the provinces and the federal government on this hoary old topic?

[English]

    Madam Speaker, as I said in my comments earlier, this is a deliberate red herring. It is one more attempt by the Prime Minister to do what he has gotten away with quite a bit, although both the media and the public are starting to figure out that this is a prime minister that specializes in distractions and divisiveness. This happens not only on jobs and the economy but the environment, pensions, and the list of matters of substance goes on and on. When I came here to Parliament, I wanted to work on those issues of importance, not work on smokescreens and the kind of thing we are faced with here today.
    If only we could be so fortunate as to have the government amend the bill so that the Senate would be abolished, then this could be our last time to rise and speak about Senate reform. My NDP colleagues and I believe that the Senate needs to be abolished. Any attempt to reform the Senate would simply be window dressing to this very seriously undemocratic institution. As things currently stand, Bill C-7 introduces ineffective measures that will do nothing to fix the Senate.
    What is currently wrong with the Senate? We often describe the Senate as a romantic place of sober second thought. However, we know the Senate is no such a place. Last year, rather than respecting the will of this House, as my colleagues have pointed out, the Senate killed Bill C-311, the climate change accountability act. The bill was passed in the House of Commons and voted for by elected members of this House. The Senate killed it and the government called a snap election.
    In the words of our former leader, the hon. Jack Layton:
    This was one of the most undemocratic acts that we have ever seen in the Parliament of Canada. To take power that doesn't rightfully belong to them to kill a bill that has been adopted by a majority of the House of Commons representing a majority of Canadians is as wrong as it gets when it comes to democracy in this country.
    This spring the Senate killed another bill which was very important. Bill C-393 would have made it easier for people in developing countries to obtain more affordable life-saving medicines. It was a bill that would have saved lives. It was voted for by members of this House and killed by an unelected Senate.
    To suggest amendments and return a bill to the House is one thing, but to kill a bill in this way, using sneaky tactics, is just plain wrong. It is disrespectful to the decision-making power of this democratically elected House.
    Right now the Senate is basically full of political appointments, friends and failed candidates. That is what the Senate is right now. For instance, our Prime Minister appointed to the Senate three failed Conservative candidates from the last federal election. All three failed to win a seat in the election. Canadians decided on May 2 that they did not want to have these people representing them. Yet, here they are; they are in the Senate.
    There are a number of things in the bill that do not fix anything at all. For example, the Conservatives make excuses for their appointments saying that they will use them to reform the Senate. This is clearly laughable.
     Every day in this House the Conservatives trample on democracy. They ram bills through the House and committees without debate or examination, sometimes without even costing these bills. Then the Conservatives want members to believe that they actually want a more democratic Senate. They do not.
    The reforms the Conservatives are proposing in this bill are completely inadequate.
    First, under the proposed legislation, the Senate would become a two-tiered system with some elected senators and some unelected senators.
    Second, the limit of one nine-year term means that senators, even elected ones, would not be held accountable for their actions in a subsequent democratic race.
    Third, because the actual appointment process would not change at all, despite talk of increased democratic accountability, the bill does not actually introduce any check on the Prime Minister in the appointment process. Basically, it could be business as usual.

  (1335)  

    Fourth, because the bill would do nothing to address the distribution of seats in the Senate, the increase in power of an elected Senate would mean an unbalanced increase in the power in Quebec and Ontario. I come from British Columbia and that is not fair.
    Fifth, perhaps the most important intended role of the Senate is its ability to represent women and minority interests. By making it an elected Senate and forcing any candidate that runs to do so under a party banner would only tighten the partisan stranglehold on the legislative process. Parties will drown out minority representation, like we have seen in Australia. There are examples in Australia where this has happened.
    Sixth, the introduction of increased democratic legitimacy would give the Senate even more leeway to assert its own decision-making power, which could result in gridlock. We have seen that in the United States. This is counter to the productivity Canadians expect from their government.
    There are solutions, and New Democrats and others have proposed them. The best solution to this democratic black hole that is the Senate is to basically abolish it. The Conservatives have been wishy-washy in the past and unable to decide what they want when it comes to the Senate. For instance, previous Conservative bills have called for a federally regulated electoral process, while another bill called for eight-year term limits. We can see clearly that what the Conservatives want is the appearance of reforming the Senate when, in reality, they stack it with their cronies and use it to kill legislation passed by democratically elected members of the House.
    Unlike the Conservatives, New Democrats have unwaveringly supported the abolition of the Senate since the 1930s, and many Canadians agree that we need to abolish it and move on from this undemocratically elected institution. At the provincial level, both Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty in Ontario and NDP provincial Premier Darrell Dexter have called for the abolition of the Senate. In my province, Premier Christy Clark has said that the Senate no longer plays a role in Confederation.
    We have seen from history that all provincial legislatures have abolished their provincial senates. The last one was done in 1968. Even the Prime Minister himself once said that the unelected Senate is a relic of the 19th century.
    Unlike the Conservatives who have not consulted the provinces, New Democrats believe it is the responsibility of the government to consult all Canadians. To that end, New Democrats believe that the issue of Senate reform cannot be solved by this piecemeal bill. The issue of Senate reform needs to be put in a referendum, so Canadians themselves can decide how they want to deal with it.
    The majority of Canadians support New Democrats in this proposal as well. There have been a number of polls done. I will mention one that was done in July 2001 by Angus Reid, which said that 71% of Canadians supported having a referendum on this issue.
    In closing, I would therefore urge my Conservative colleagues to heed their small-c conservative roots. We know how the House of Commons works, but we have no idea what would happen with an elected Senate. It would no doubt completely change the Canadian political system, but to what end we cannot be sure. The best solution to Senate reform is abolition.

  (1340)  

    Madam Speaker, a couple of days ago in the House we debated the merits of Bill C-20, which was all about rearranging the distribution within the House. The NDP very clearly said Quebec needed to be better represented with even arbitrary limits and that it could not go beneath 24% so that it would be properly recognized.
    The one place that Quebec is properly recognized historically is in the Senate, where 24 senators are guaranteed to be from Quebec. It is the place in our parliamentary system where regional interests get to speak most loudly. Quebeckers, whether politicians or public opinion, have repeatedly said that they want to keep the Senate--maybe improve it a bit, but keep it, not abolish it.
    The fact that the member is speaking about abolition of the Senate when over half of his caucus is from Quebec is something I would like him to address. Does he still have the agreement of half of his caucus that abolishing something that is important for Quebeckers is a good thing?
    Madam Speaker, I am very proud of the team from Quebec, my NDP colleagues who were elected on May 2. I want to thank Quebeckers for electing them to this House of Commons.
    I basically disagree with the premise of that question. The senators do not have a voice. It is an undemocratic, unelected institution. The Prime Minister is the one controlling everything. As we have seen in this House, bills have been rammed through. My Conservative colleagues are limited to their speaking notes, so basically the Senate is duly unelected. The true voice of Quebec is being represented by my NDP colleagues in this House.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, I am one of those New Democrat members from Quebec. Since the start of my term, and even during the preceding election campaigns, not a single citizen came to see me to talk about the Senate, so to say that the Senate is an institution that Quebeckers are deeply attached to is nonsense, in my opinion.
    To respond to the concerns of the hon. member for Papineau and to ask a question of my colleague from British Columbia, I would like to know what he would think of resolving the matter once and for all. Let us put the question to all Canadians and Quebeckers. Let us ask ourselves whether a referendum would be the way to resolve this issue once and for all, rather than blowing smoke.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, I want to point out that the true voice of Quebec is being represented in this House by my colleagues who were elected on May 2.
    The other house is undemocratic and unelected. The only voice that is being represented there is that of the Prime Minister.
    In response to my colleague's question, the only way we can truly listen to Canadians on whether to reform or abolish the Senate is to have a referendum. The sooner we do that, the sooner we can get on with the reform or the abolition of that undemocratic, unelected institution.

  (1345)  

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, I am also one of those 59 members, and I am proud to be one. The only time I heard anyone speak about Senate reform was after the election, when there were three partisan appointments of candidates who had just lost the election. Otherwise, it is of no concern to my constituents.
    Many countries have abolished their senates, including Finland, Germany and Japan. Does my colleague think that these countries put themselves in difficulty by abolishing the Senate?

[English]

    Madam Speaker, the second house has been abolished at the provincial level, and it has worked. I believe it is time to have a referendum so that Canadians can decide whether we want to keep that house or not. That would be a true democracy.

Royal Assent

[Royal Assent]

[English]

    Order, please. I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:
Rideau Hall
Ottawa
December 8th, 2011
Mr. Speaker,
    I have the honour to inform you that the Honourable Marie Deschamps, Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, in her capacity as Deputy of the Governor General, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bill listed in the Schedule to this letter on the 8th day of December, 2011 at 8:30 a.m.
    Yours sincerely,
For Stephen Wallace.

Government Orders

[Government Orders]

[Translation]

Senate Reform Act

    The house resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-7, An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
    Madam Speaker, what a passionate debate on Senate reform. When I was elected on May 2, if someone had told me that I would be starting a speech in this House by saying that I agree with the Right Hon. Prime Minister on something, I never would have believed them.
    But I must admit that I agree with what the Prime Minister said when he described the Senate as, and I quote, “a relic of the 19th century”. I think that “relic” is an appropriate word choice, since we all dream of having a sacred relic for all the virtues it is supposed to represent. But it rarely has any benefits.
    In light of this statement, I see two choices, since the status quo is no longer acceptable. The first choice is to simply abolish the institution of the Senate. I assure the Prime Minister that he would have my support and my party's support if that was what he wanted to do.
    In addition, as all provincial senates have been abolished since 1968, we can draw the logical conclusions: the provinces manage very well without senates and there is no reason to believe that it would be otherwise for the Government of Canada.
    More and more Canadians believe that we should be able to express our opinions on the matter in a national referendum. According to an Angus Reid poll conducted in July 2011, 71% of Canadians expect a referendum of that kind. That is what you call a strong mandate.
    In more than a century, the 13 attempts at Senate reform have failed. Perhaps it is time to draw the logical conclusions. But, once again, the government is proposing a convoluted bill whose purpose is to make us think that the Senate is being reformed, whereas what we will see is something even more questionable.
    The government is moving forward with fake Senate reform since holding a constitutional debate and dealing with the provinces and territories on the form, the function, the representative nature and even the legitimacy of that chamber are out of the question. So, welcome, everyone, to the world of mystery and illusion. Let me give you some examples of how comical, or how ridiculous, the situation really is.
    First of all, the Senate would be made up of elected representatives. Those who want to keep the institution may find that principle appealing. But it becomes at the very least questionable when we realize that the provinces could choose to hold Senate elections—of course, at their own expense. I draw your attention to those words: once again, financial responsibility is being transferred to the provinces. The federal government is going to download that responsibility onto the provinces without consulting them beforehand.
    But the best of it is that the provinces could choose to hold elections using whichever method seems best to them. Perhaps the method would be the cheapest, the most politically expedient; who knows what considerations could go into choosing a method of holding an election. They could also choose not to hold one. On that point alone, it is difficult to imagine anything more nonsensical.
    The incoherence of the proposal seems clear to me already. But if that were not enough, after all is said and done, the Prime Minister of Canada would have no obligation to appoint a person who had been previously elected by a province or territory. Heaven knows that, since this session opened, we have lost count of the times when we have realized that the government is not listening to Canadians. So why should the provinces and territories invest time and money in a process that may ultimately serve no purpose?
    I also smiled rather broadly when I read in Bill C-7 that candidates for election to the Senate must be nominated by a political party that is registered in the province.

  (1350)  

    It was amusing to imagine for a few moments the list of potential candidates elected by a Parti Québécois government or the list that would be drawn up by Québec solidaire. It seems to me that here as well, we have obvious proof of the impossibility of reconciling eventual senatorial election results in Quebec with appointments by a Canadian Prime Minister, whoever that might be.
    Now, I need to underscore the unilateral process in this bill. Consultations with the provinces and territories are also glaringly absent from this bill. This government is making it a habit to act entirely on its own. The strong mandate pretext cannot possibly justify making such major changes without consulting the main partners, and—why not—the whole population, as I was saying earlier.
    I feel as though I am watching an old episode of Father Knows Best. The cartoonists back home chose that image for their caricatures of the government and the Prime Minister, and I think they are on to something.
    The Canadian public was deeply affected by the NDP message that they were going to do politics differently and wanted all of the elected members of this House to work together in a manner marked by attentiveness, openness to others and respect. It is not enough to say “Vote as we do so that we can work together”.
    If the government goes forward with this bill, it already knows that there are going to be challenges, since Quebec has already said that it considers Bill C-7 unconstitutional and intends to prove that if necessary.
    There is another incongruity in this bill, and it concerns accountability. After an election, elected members are generally held accountable to the electorate. Well, think again. Once again, we are dealing with smoke and mirrors. With a single nine-year, non-renewable term—by the way, nine years is equivalent to two terms in the House of Commons, and even a bit more—the pseudo-elected members of the Senate would go directly from election promises to retirement, in recognition of their good and faithful services to Her Majesty. The only way of trying to lengthen your political career would be to temporarily leave the comfort of the Senate to try to get elected to the House of Commons, knowing that if you lost, you could return and finish your term in the comfort of the red chamber. And I could also say a few words about that retirement. One term, followed by a pension. Now there is an approach that is rather difficult to support in an economy where Canadians are having trouble making ends meet.
     Now, what of the potential conflicts between the two chambers? It also makes sense that a Senate that has practically the same powers as the House, filled with the false sense of legitimacy that sham elections would bring, could end up bringing us one step closer to the same kind of impasse that is seen in the United States, where the two chambers paralyze one another.
     In this House, we have already seen bills passed at third reading be blocked in the Senate by a partisan onslaught. Imagine the power that a Senate could wield if it deemed itself elected and representative.
     In closing, the problems with this Senate reform are so great in number that we are automatically brought back to option A—the NDP proposal that the Prime Minister has already toyed with, I might add—namely the out-and-out abolition of the Senate.
     I should say in passing that all my attacks are directed against the institution and not its sitting senators. In many cases, I have tremendous respect for their service to the nation.
     While some premiers openly favour abolishing the Senate and others find it pointless, why not have the political gumption to ask Canadians, who foot the bill, to decide? It could end up being an extremely positive decision. In one fell swoop, there could potentially be a rapid return to a balanced budget without the need for cuts to services for Canadians.
     Madam Speaker, thank you for having given me the floor. I would like to thank my colleagues in this House for their attention.

  (1355)  

    The hon. member for Trois-Rivières will have five minutes for questions and comments after oral question period.

STATEMENTS BY MEMBERS

[Statements by Members]

[English]

Streetsville Rotary Club

    Madam Speaker, the Streetsville Rotary Club is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2011 and has been the Rotary home for many of Streetsville's leading citizens since its inception. Its motto is “Service above Self” and its nickname is “The Good Fellowship Club”.
    Streetsville Rotary has about 30 dedicated members, with one charter member who has a perfect attendance record, Mr. Maurice Foster. They are business, professional and community leaders who are organized for humanitarian service, encouraging high ethical standards and helping build goodwill and peace.
    This club supports programs in my community such as Easter Seals kids, Dreams Take Flight, Adventure in Citizenship, the Rotary Youth Exchange and Rotary Camp Enterprise. The members are active supporters of the Streetsville Bread and Honey Festival where they hold the annual pancake breakfast. As a Rotary member myself and a recipient of the Paul Harris Fellowship, I know the important work service clubs do in our community.
    I wish the Streetsville Rotary Club a happy 50th anniversary, and all the best for the future.

  (1400)  

Community Centre 55

    Madam Speaker, as Christmas fast approaches, Community Centre 55 in my riding of Beaches—East York is gearing up for its 30th Share a Christmas program. Last year, over 700 volunteers came out on winter nights to sort, pack and deliver presents and food to over 4,000 people. This year the need is expected to be greater.
     These numbers point to the desperate circumstances of so many families in these economic times, and to the continuing deterioration of social and economic supports for Canadian families in need. These numbers also speak to the generosity of so many constituents and businesses in the riding, as well as to the tremendous organizational capacity of Community Centre 55 and its staff, all of whom have hearts of gold and are moved by the spirit of Christmas.
    In Beaches—East York we are blessed to have Community Centre 55, its management, staff and volunteers not just at Christmas time but year round.

Employee of the Year Award

    Madam Speaker, I rise today to extend my warmest congratulations to Wilma Anderson from my riding of Peterborough for winning employee of the year at the Canadian Tourism Awards. This award is presented to a front-line employee who best exemplifies excellence in the tourism industry. The Tourism Industry Association of Canada recognized Wilma on November 24 for her stellar work at Elmhirst's Resort near Peterborough.
    Wilma joined Elmhirst's Resort in 1985 as a dishwasher, later moving to housekeeping and eventually managing the department. In 1990, Wilma was promoted to guest services manager. As a single parent struggling to balance home and work, she was able to take over the department and without any formal training excel at supervision, staff motivation, budgeting and time management. Her caring attitude and willingness to provide a hug when needed has helped Elmhirst's Resort become the successful small business it is today.
     I congratulate Wilma for her hard work and her perseverance. I congratulate everyone at Elmhirst's Resort for winning this prestigious award.

Experience Genie Award

    Madam Speaker, I rise today to recognize William Breon, a young man from Grand Bank in my riding of Random—Burin—St. George's.
    At 12 years of age, he has proven to be a prolific fundraiser in the fight against multiple sclerosis, a disease his father Frank has been battling for more than a decade. Over the past five years, William has raised approximately $15,000 to help combat this dreaded disease. His commitment is exemplary. At the MS walk in St. John's last year, William was the top fundraiser, collecting over $5,000. He has received the Grand Bank outstanding youth volunteer award and the MS Society non-member merit award and has been nominated for an Experience Genie award.
    To win the Experience Genie award, William needs our support. I encourage everyone to visit experiencegenie.com and vote for William so he can have a wish granted by the experience genie.
    I ask all members of the House to join me in saluting 12-year-old William Breon, who has proven that people are never too young to make a difference.

Infrastructure

    Madam Speaker, our government continues to stay focused on what is important to my constituents in Newmarket—Aurora and to all Canadians, jobs and economic growth.
    Our government's actions through Canada's economic action plan have led to the creation of nearly 600,000 net new jobs since July 2009.
    This Saturday in Newmarket I will be celebrating the completion of a major investment in our town, the Newmarket Riverwalk Commons. I am proud to be part of a government that committed more than $2 million to help revitalize Newmarket's downtown urban space, while creating local jobs in our community. Thanks to this economic action plan investment, Newmarket will enjoy accessible, modern, indoor and outdoor recreational facilities, having a tremendous positive impact on the health of our community for years to come.
    I congratulate everyone involved in the planning and development of this long-anticipated community asset and look forward to a wonderful opening this Saturday.

  (1405)  

[Translation]

Christmas Charity Organization

    Madam Speaker, I have always said that volunteers are the heart and soul of our communities. I am pleased to rise in the House today to recognize an organization in my community, Un Noël pour les enfants oubliés, which, for the 18th consecutive year, will distribute gifts to underprivileged children. For most of those children, this will be the only gift they receive all year. The organization was founded in 1993 by Monique Lemay and, in its first year, it distributed about 35 gifts. Times have changed and this year, about 1,000 children will have a present to unwrap. An organization like Un Noël pour les enfants oubliés could never survive without the remarkable work done by its volunteers.
    For all their hard work this year and in years to come, I would like to thank the volunteers of that organization, as well as all volunteers across Canada and around the world, for allowing more children to enjoy the magic of Christmas and not be forgotten.

[English]

Leeds—Grenville United Way

    Madam Speaker, on November 20, in my hometown of Gananoque, I and the United Way of Leeds—Grenville hosted the fifth annual Hockey Night in Leeds—Grenville. This game has been an annual charity event for the United Way.
    The game featured former NHL stars, local dignitaries and Conservative members of Parliament, facing off for the enjoyment of hockey fans throughout my riding of Leeds—Grenville.
    This year's game featured local NHL star Alyn McCauley of Gananoque as the honorary chair and other players included Olympic women's gold medallist and crowd favourite Jayna Hefford, who scored the most goals in the game.
    However, the big winner was the United Way of Leeds—Grenville, which received $105,000 as a result of the game.
    I would like to take this opportunity to thank Alyn McCauley, the town of Gananoque and Mayor Erika Demchuk for donating the ice, as well as all the sponsors and all the players and officials who came out to make this such a huge success for the United Way of Leeds—Grenville.

King of Thailand

    Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to recognize the 84th birthday of the current monarch of Thailand, His Majesty King Adulyadej. The king's birthday was this past Monday, December 5. He spoke at the ceremonial Grand Palace in Bangkok for about five minutes after being driven from a nearby hospital, where he has been staying for more than two years.
    As he spoke to a cheering crowd of well-wishers, the king called for his country to unite in response to the area's worst floods in half a century. He said:
    The most important thing is you should not be split or fighting each other. We need to inspire and give each other confidence so that the work we do will be fruitful for the well-being of the people and the stability and security of the country.
    Year 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations between Canada and Thailand. Canada is home to approximately 10,000 people from Thailand.
    The king has reigned since June 9, 1946, making him the world's longest-reigning current monarch and the world's longest-serving head of state.

Graham Dennis

    Mr. Speaker, the outpouring of praise and admiration upon the recent passing of Graham Dennis should come as no surprise, as he was a man held in the highest esteem in Nova Scotia.
    Mr. Dennis was the publisher of the Chronicle Herald, based in Halifax and serving our province. The Chronicle Herald remains Canada's largest independently owned newspaper, a fact that serves as a testament to Mr. Dennis' personal style of business leadership.
    Every morning we see the physical proof of Mr. Dennis' passion for his home province and his commitment to family-owned business, as on our doorsteps we find a newspaper that is entirely based in the community it serves.
    Mr. Dennis ran the Chronicle Herald from the age of 26 until he died at 84. His six decades at the helm of this paper helped cement it as a central part of the cultural fabric of our community.
    Graham Dennis' legacy is truly impressive, and it is clear that Haligonians and Nova Scotians have lost a true ambassador and a much beloved friend.
    On behalf of the riding of Halifax, I offer my sincerest condolences to his family and loved ones.

Violence Against Women

    Mr. Speaker, Canada and the world are now marking 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.
    Violence against women or girls can happen to anyone, anywhere, regardless of age or income. It could happen in family settings, intimate relationships, with friends or acquaintances, at work or at home. It happens in large cities as well as rural, remote and northern communities. It can happen to a senior, a young woman, a spouse, a mother or a daughter.
    A large number of women and girls are affected, taking an enormous toll on families, communities and our economy. Because this toll is so great, let us take these 16 days of activism and be reminded that we need to take action now and throughout the year to end violence against women and girls in all its forms.

  (1410)  

Canadian Wheat Board

    Mr. Speaker, the Federal Court has ruled that the federal government's actions and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food 's conduct on Bill C-18, the Canadian Wheat Board Act were an affront to the rule of law.
    The court accepted arguments from the applicants that the rule of law embodied the principle that law was supreme over officials of the government as well as over private individuals. It is worth recording some of the reasoning behind this ruling.
    Under the rule of law, citizens have the right to come to the courts to enforce the law against the executive branch. And the courts have the right to review actions by the executive branch to determine whether they are in compliance with the law and, where warranted, to declare a government action unlawful. This right in the hands of the people is not a threat to democratic governance but its very assertion. Accordingly, the executive branch of government is not its own exclusive arbiter on whether it or its delegate is acting within the limits of the law. The detrimental consequences of the executive branch of government defining for itself...the scope of its lawful power have been revealed, often bloodily, in the tumult of history.

[Translation]

Ballast Water

    Mr. Speaker, our strict and effective ballast water regulations recognize the environmental and economic importance of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway. Since these regulations came into force in 2006, no new exotic species entering from ballast water has been detected in the Great Lakes.
    What is more, Canada recently ratified an international agreement on ballast water. However, New York State's unrealistic requirements would have severe economic consequences. A recent study found that closing the St. Lawrence Seaway at the locks within New York's waters could put over 72,000 jobs in jeopardy.
    Our Minister of Transport will work hard to protect jobs and the environment in the St. Lawrence.

[English]

Heron Emergency Food Centre

    Mr. Speaker, the Christmas season is upon us. It is a time of great joy, a celebration of family and of concern for one another.
    The Heron Emergency Food Centre has been fighting hunger in my riding of Ottawa South for over 23 years. Working with the Ottawa Food Bank, supported by the city of Ottawa and assisted by the generosity of churches and local residents, the Heron Emergency Food Centre is crucial to our community, distributing over $325,000 worth of food to over 13,000 neighbours each and every year.
     I want to recognize and sincerely thank its dedicated team of volunteers, who generously donate their time to meet the needs of so many individuals and families in our area.
    I would like to encourage residents of Ottawa South to join me in making a donation of either non-perishable food or money to the Heron Emergency Food Centre this holiday season. I encourage all of my colleagues in the House to do the same to the food centres and distribution centres in their ridings.

Canada-U.S. Relations

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Prime Minister announced our action plan on perimeter security and economic competitiveness. Billions of dollars worth of goods and hundreds of thousands of people cross our shared border with the U.S. every day. The action plan is good news for workers and good news for business, especially in border communities like Windsor-Essex. It is good news because it would protect jobs and grow our economy and auto industry.
    However, the NDP trade critic, the member for Windsor West, sadly out of step with residents of our region, continues to fearmonger and oppose this deal.
    Listen to what Windsor's mayor, Eddie Francis, had to say, “We are all very very pleased with the results that have been announced...because it means now we can get down to business. Now we can allow the economy to grow”.
    I could not agree more. It is too bad the NDP does not get it. Its rigid, ideological opposition to trade is yet another example that the NDP is unfit to govern.

Canadian Wheat Board

    Mr. Speaker, as Chief Justice of Alberta Catherine Fraser said in a ruling earlier this year, “When government does not comply with the law, this is not merely non-compliance with a particular law, it is an affront to the rule of law itself”.
    We saw this yesterday when Justice Campbell said in the Wheat Board ruling that the Minister of Agriculture “be held accountable for his disregard for the rule of law”.

  (1415)  

[Translation]

    This is just the latest in a long list of similar incidents.
    In 2006, the Conservatives exceeded their election budget in violation of the Canada Elections Act. They destroyed government files in violation of the Access to Information Act. They gave out private information about veterans in violation of the Privacy Act.

[English]

    Now the Conservatives have refused to consult with western grain and barley farmers on the future of their livelihood in direct violation of the Canadian Wheat Board Act.
    With this arrogant and defensive Conservative government, it is one set of rules for it and one set of rules for everybody else.

John George Diefenbaker

    Mr. Speaker, I rise to pay tribute to one of my predecessors from Prince Albert, a man who was strongly pro-Canadian, a Canadian who was criticized with being concerned too much with the average Canadian, but said “I can't help that, I'm one of them”. He said of this land, “I have one love — Canada; one purpose — Canada's greatness; one aim — Canadian unity from the Atlantic to the Pacific”.
    He built upon the legacy of Sir John A. He saw a new Canada, a Canada of the north. In word and deed, he did make us true north, strong and free. At a convention where he became party leader, he said the words that would serve any great Canadian leader, “It is my intention to unite all Canadians from the Atlantic to the Pacific, under the banner of patriotism”.
    I am proud that Prince Albert can claim Canada's tenth and longest-serving prime minister, the Right Honourable John George Diefenbaker, as our own.

ORAL QUESTIONS

[Oral Questions]

[English]

Canada-U.S. Relations

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday we asked the government simple questions about the new border deal with the United States. We got no answers. Since Parliament will not get to review or debate this agreement, can we at least get some answers about the border deal? For starters, will the government tell Canadians how much it will cost and where the money will come from?
    Mr. Speaker, there has been a lot of detail given out on this very material. For example, it is estimated the costs at the border today cost the Canadian economy somewhere around $50 billion a year. I think we have been clear that the costs of implementation of this deal would be less than 1% of that on an ongoing basis.
    I understand the NDP has, from day one, always been opposed to free trade with the United States, but this is vital to the Canadian economy, improves our access to the American market and will be good for Canadian jobs, Canadian workers and Canadian families.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, it is always interesting to get incomplete answers to certain questions on issues that were not even debated in the House.
    I will give another example. A lot of personal information will be collected by authorities when people enter and leave the country at the border crossings.
    Do Canadians have the right to know how long their personal information will be stored in American databases? Will it be a week? A month? Six months? A year? Five years? Ten years?
    Can we have an answer?
    Mr. Speaker, the American authorities already have the jurisdiction to collect information when Canadians enter and leave the United States. We are trying to do things that will increase our own accountability, as the Auditor General called for.
    Once again, I know full well that the NDP is opposed to international trade with the United States and that it has been opposed to NAFTA from the outset. However, on this side of the House, we are in favour of creating jobs for Canadian families and Canadian workers.

Canadian Wheat Board

    Mr. Speaker, what a transparent answer to a question that we need answered.
    Let us move on to another issue. The Canadian Wheat Board Act states that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food cannot introduce a bill without first consulting the board and, in particular, without farmers voting in a referendum about these changes. The Canadian Wheat Board asked for this referendum.
    Yesterday, the Federal Court handed down its ruling: the Conservatives broke the law. The government is acting illegally. That is what the ruling states.
    If they are so certain they are right, why do the Conservatives not consult the farmers? The law is the law.

  (1420)  

    Mr. Speaker, the government always has the authority to change the law.

[English]

    It is always the authority of the government, acting through Parliament, to change law. That is of course precisely what we are doing in this case, which we have the clear legal right to do, and not only the clear legal right, but the clear mandate from western Canadian farmers.
    Mr. Speaker, the Federal Court has ruled that our Minister of Agriculture is a scofflaw.
    More serious than a gazebo in Muskoka or a search and rescue joyride or something, this minister's disregard for the law has serious consequences, because farmers need to know, before they put seed in the ground, how they will market their 20 million tonnes of grain this year. When that bill has been struck down by the courts, it will create pandemonium on the Prairies.
    Will this minister agree now to put the brakes on Bill C-18, allow farmers to have their vote, and if they want to change the Canadian Wheat Board Act, do it with the mandate from the very producers who are subject to--
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Mr. Speaker, we have exactly that. We have three of the four provinces involved in the Canadian Wheat Board jurisdiction and the vast majority of all the farm groups in the Prairies, other than the NFU, supporting us in moving forward.
    In fact, Justice Campbell said:
    The Applicants
    --that is, the Canadian Wheat Board--
confirm that the validity of Bill C-18, and the validity and effects of any legislation which might become law as a result of Bill C-18 are not in issue in the present Applications.
    We will continue. We will pass Bill C-18. We will give market freedom to western Canadian farmers.
    Mr. Speaker, Justice Campbell also said that the minister will be held accountable for his disregard for the law. Now that the courts have ruled that Conservatives are in contempt of the rule of law, how can the Conservative-dominated Senate give approval and pass a bill that it knows will be struck down by the courts?
    Conservatives are making a mockery of themselves even more than they usually do. I believe that they cannot pass the bill. Bill C-18 is toast in that respect. It will be overturned, and it is irresponsible and reckless to throw the entire rural prairie farm economy upside down and on its head when the 2012 crop year has to--
    Order. The hon. Minister of Agriculture.
    Mr. Speaker, fortunately, farmers in western Canada know how to market their crop in 2012. They will have the option of marketing through a voluntary Canadian wheat board at the same address, using the same people they have always done, or they will have the opportunity to market individually. They can go to their best bottom line for their industry and market accordingly.
    The member opposite also said at one point:
    When the government is intending to change legislation, I honestly don't see the grounds for going to court. The government has the right to change the legislation.... I don't see the case for taking it to court.
     That is from the member for Winnipeg Centre.
    We agree with that. Farmers agree with that, and we are moving on.
    To the Prime Minister through you, Mr. Speaker, could I ask how it is that the government's intention is to proceed with the Wheat Board law and to ask the Governor General to give royal assent to the law when the court in question has said that the minister's conduct is an affront to the rule of law? Would the Prime Minister not agree that the government should at the very least wait royal assent until such time as all appeals have been exhausted with respect to the ruling of Mr. Justice Campbell?
    Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, nothing in the ruling contradicts the government's fundamental right to change the law. It is a very fundamental constitutional principle that a previous government cannot bind the actions of a future government. This government has the power to act. This body, the House of Commons, has already approved that legislation. I look forward to the Senate approving it and I look forward to western Canadian farmers getting the marketing freedom they have so long demanded.

Aboriginal Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, the government has the right to change the law, but the government does not have the right to break the law. That seems to be the critical question that the Prime Minister has lost.
    Let me ask the Prime Minister a question with respect to Attawapiskat. Without consultation with the band council, the government itself decided to set up a third party management; does the government think it is reasonable and fair that the band itself now has to pay the $1,300-a-day fee being charged by that individual, which could cost up to $300,000? Does the government not realize what kind of a burden that places on the band council itself?

  (1425)  

    Mr. Speaker, not only is the government already spending tens of millions of dollars in this particular community, it is also spending additional moneys on particular emergency needs because of mismanagement. It is the absolute responsibility of the government to ensure that those needs are met and to ensure the management steps are taken to make sure those needs are met.
    Mr. Speaker, if we look at the report of the Auditor General, it is the government's own mismanagement that is at stake in this question. It is the government's own failure to provide appropriate housing and education, not only in Attawapiskat but right across the board.

[Translation]

    How can the government continue to talk about the management problems in Attawapiskat and elsewhere when it is clear that the government is responsible for the mismanagement resulting in the human and moral condition on these reserves? That is entirely the responsibility of the Government of Canada.
    Mr. Speaker, it is not a question of blaming someone, but of taking action and finding solutions.

[English]

    Once again, the government's responsibility is clear. We are investing not just millions of dollars, but hundreds of thousands of additional dollars in emergency services to make sure people are taken care of. The people of that community and the wider taxpayers of this country have an absolute right to ensure that the money is being used and being used effectively, and that is what we are doing.

Canada-U.S. Relations

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday's border deal raises many questions, and many Canadians are concerned.
    How long will U.S. Homeland Security keep fingerprints of visitors to Canada? Will our Privacy Act be violated? What biometrics processes will be used, and why are such important rights being discussed in secret?
    We do not know the answers, because the Prime Minister sidestepped Parliament to hold a photo op in Washington. Will the Conservatives bring this deal before Parliament for a full debate, and will they commit to protecting the privacy rights of Canadians?
    Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to correct the misstatements that were made. There is, of course, no plan to collect biometrics of Canadian citizens.
    Once again, this is the NDP's ideological opposition to trade with the United States, to the point of actually going down to argue against Canadian jobs in Washington. When I went down to Washington, it was to argue for Canadian jobs.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, all these answers are not reassuring to Canadian families. We are talking about an agreement that may cost billions of dollars, in addition to having enormous repercussions on Canadian travellers and an impact on individuals' right to privacy. However, we do not know what the repercussions will be because the government decided, once again, to bypass Parliament.
    Why will the Prime Minister not allow Parliament and members to do their job and examine this agreement?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, in short order we will be tabling this fantastic news for the Canadian economy and job creation right here in this House. We are debating it right now.
    We are not planning on changing any privacy laws. The privacy of Canadians is particularly important. As for the suggestion from the member opposite that this is going to cost billions of dollars, I would be surprised if it cost a small fraction of that per year.
    Our priority is protecting Canadian jobs, whether it is the auto worker in southern Ontario or the person working in a port in Montreal or Vancouver. We are fighting for jobs. We are fighting for the economy. This is fantastic news and great leadership from the Prime Minister.

[Translation]

Search and Rescue

    I will be brief in the hope that, for once, he will listen to the question. Using a search and rescue helicopter for one hour costs $32,000. Therefore, how much did the transportation of the Minister of National Defence cost on July 9, 2010?

  (1430)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, one more time, as has been said many times in previous discussions, the minister was called back from a personal vacation to go to work. That is the bottom line.
    Mr. Speaker, why is it so difficult to get an answer to a simple question?
    My colleague asked the associate minister a simple question, and he either knows the answer to that question or he does not. If he does not know the cost of the trip, then at least he owes this House that admission.
    Again, how much did the transportation of the Minister of National Defence cost on July 9, 2010? Can the associate minister please answer that question, and can he tell us how many times the minister has used this aircraft?
    Mr. Speaker, I am glad to once again reinforce the fact that the minister did in fact use the helicopter, as was stated, for purposes of work. That is in fact what happened.
    I cannot give the member the exact cost. Nonetheless, it was for work purposes and it was a very routine endeavour indeed.

National Defence

    Mr. Speaker, perhaps I will have better luck with another topic.
    In a speech on the U.S. Senate floor this week, Senator John McCain called the F-35 program “a scandal and a tragedy”. He said:
    In fact, flight testing sufficient to demonstrate the full mission systems and weapons delivery capability of the F-35 aircraft has not even started.
    Canada is the last country still clinging to cost estimates made 10 years ago, and clinging to talking points that no one believes.
    As another simple question, does the minister agree or disagree with Senator McCain's comments?
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to quote the U.S. defense secretary, Mr. Panetta, who indicated and reaffirmed the commitment of the United States to the F-35 program, along with the other eight partners. All of us, the nine partners in the program, are continuing to stay on track. The program is working fine, and as we stand, the U.S. is totally committed to this project.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, Senator McCain asked for accountability and transparency on the part of Lockheed Martin. We know that the government will never make such a request. Moreover, the Associate Minister of National Defence got his lines mixed up again. Senators McCain and Levin asked that test flights be postponed, because there are too many safety issues. I assume the government's only source of information is the senior management at Lockheed Martin. All the facts contradict the Conservatives' position.
    Why do the Conservatives keep saying that everything is fine?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, this is a program that is in development. There will be issues ongoing until the final product is delivered to Canada, which is years hence, at which point all these issues will be rectified. That is what Lockheed Martin is working on. That is what we are all working on.

[Translation]

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, since the start of the Durban summit, Canada has been the laughingstock of the world. The Minister of the Environment must have had enough because he is changing his tune. He is saying that Canada wants a binding agreement on climate change by 2015. To do that, the Conservatives will have to do a major about-face.
    Are they finally going to commit to doing their part for the environment or are they going to continue improvising a strategy to avoid being accountable to Canadians?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, Canada is a nation of 33 million people that emits less than 2% of the world's global greenhouse gas emissions. In spite of this, Canada is not a laughingstock. It is a world leader in saying we need domestic action at home. We have done that. We have also committed to coming to the table and saying all major emitters need to be part of this agreement.
    This is not a laughingstock matter. This is something our nation should be proud of. I would ask my colleague opposite to respect our country.
    Mr. Speaker, it is not surprising that the parliamentary secretary may not have speaking notes to the minister's announcement because he is making up policy on the fly.
    Yesterday he changed his tune. He is now lecturing countries, saying that they have to join a binding climate deal for 2015. The government has no credibility after doing its best to sabotage the Durban talks. Now I think it is just trying to save face.
    Instead of its job killing approach or its members lecturing by themselves, alone in the corner, why will the government not try co-operating with the world community to work toward an energy economy future for Canada and the world instead of making up climate change policy on the fly?

  (1435)  

    Mr. Speaker, when we are talking about lecturing, my colleague opposite travelled to the United States and lectured the United States, lobbying against our jobs here in Canada.
    What we are doing with regard to climate change is asking all major emitters to come to the table.
    Some 2.5 billion people are not represented under the Kyoto agreement. We need a new agreement. This is what we are asking for. We are committed to it. We are very happy with this process.

Agriculture

    Mr. Speaker, when consumers buy organic, they expect these products to be actually pesticide-free. Organic farmers want customers to be confident the food they buy has not been cross-contaminated. This undermines the confidence of consumers and puts organic farmers and the industry seriously at risk.
    What is the government doing to protect organic produce from cross-contamination and to ensure consumers have confidence in this great organic industry?
    Mr. Speaker, the Canadian organic industry is world-class. We have new organic standards that this government put in place that, of course, protect the integrity of the organic sector moving forward. There is constant testing being done to ensure the efficacy of the organic label is intact. We will continue to do just that.

Aboriginal Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, Attawapiskat is not alone. Sadly, housing conditions on many reserves in the province of Manitoba are deplorable. Whether it is vulnerable children or vulnerable seniors alike, something needs to be done.
    I often wonder whether or not the minister has a comprehensive understanding of the housing conditions and the stock on the reserves across our country. I look to the minister and ask the minister today to share with this House the actual condition of housing on our reserves in Canada.
    Does he have any sense of the severity of the problem? Will he table those--
    The hon. Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.
    Mr. Speaker, I have a good sense of housing across Canada. I have been on many reserves across Canada.
    That is why we have been working with willing partners and making major investments to improve the quality of life for our aboriginal people. We have made targeted investments in priorities, like education, water and housing. We build over 2,000 homes and renovate over 3,000 more every year on reserves. We continue to work in collaboration to invest in practical and innovative solutions.

Search and Rescue

    Mr. Speaker, the minister's story on the search and rescue taxi keeps changing. First, the Minister of National Defence told the House it was a pre-planned demonstration. Not true.
    Then he said the flight was needed to get him to an urgent announcement, or more accurately a re-announcement, which the Minister of Public Works and the member for London West were apparently not fit to do by themselves. Also not true.
    Four days is plenty of time to arrange for a boat and a car to an airport. Will the government be dispatching a search and rescue mission to Brussels to find yet another story or will it just let the lawsuits fly?
    Mr. Speaker, we are very pleased that the Minister of National Defence will be representing Canada at this very important NATO meeting. He has a lot of skills, expertise and experience in this regard, and he will do an honourable job representing the country.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, there are two inaccurate versions of the same helicopter search and rescue story. The first, a preplanned exercise. No.
    The second, a last-minute trip to get to an urgent announcement. No.
    The travel request was made in time to arrange transportation by boat and car to get to the airport.
    Is the government going to dispatch another search and rescue mission to come up with a third version for the minister or will it finally admit the truth?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the truth is that we are going around and around, and people are piling on, but the story has not changed.
    One more time and as has been said many times, the minister was—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order, order. The hon. associate minister has the floor.
    Mr. Speaker, it is ironic that Liberals ask the question and then they are hypocritical about hearing an answer.
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order, order. I would encourage the minister to avoid using words such as that, which obviously cause disorder.
    The hon. associate minister has the floor.

  (1440)  

    Mr. Speaker, one more time and as has been said many times, the minister was called back from a personal vacation to go to work.

[Translation]

Aboriginal Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, last week, the government sent a third party manager to Attawapiskat, but it did not say that the manager would cost $300,000 a year. That is what the Prime Minister gets paid.
    How can this small community pick up the bill? How can the government justify forcing such an impoverished community to pay this unreasonable salary when it can barely pay for its own basic services?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, our government has a plan and we are taking concrete actions. We are committed to ensuring the residents of Attawapiskat, especially the children, have warm, dry and safe shelter.
    It is clear that significant investments in the community have not resulted in an adequate standard of living for the residents. We believe that we need to be accountable to taxpayers and that is precisely why we have put in place a third party manager.
    Mr. Speaker, on the question of accountability, Conservatives sent in a bean-counter with a box of doughnuts to take control of Attawapiskat, but they did not tell anybody that the community is now on the hook for over $300,000-a-year, which is what the Prime Minister gets paid, just so this guy can cut cheques in an impoverished community. No wonder they put the run on him in Attawapiskat.
    Now we are hearing in the community that key support services are going to have to be drained to pay for this guy. How, in God's name, is that value for money?
    Will the minister advise the House how long this man will be forced on this community and how long this impoverished community will have to keep paying his salary?
    Mr. Speaker, we make no apologies for wanting to get value for taxpayers' money. Unlike the NDP, we are determined to get results for first nations.

Infrastructure

    Mr. Speaker, they did it again. Trust the Conservatives to not learn a lesson.
    A few short years ago, they misled all of us about the border infrastructure fund. The Auditor General called this action non-transparent, and they agreed.
    Now we find out that another fund has been used as a backdoor piggy bank. The government has quietly transferred $170 million from the green infrastructure fund to other federal departments.
    Will the President of the Treasury Board stand and explain why he just cannot get it right?
    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is wrong. Parliament has approved the transfers of these moneys. This includes estimates, the 2011-12 report on plans and priorities, and the 2010-11 departmental performance reports.
    Just because the member opposite did not read the estimates does not mean Parliament did not approve them.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, let me greet the new spokesperson for the President of the Treasury Board.
    The Conservatives keep reminding us that they spent $1 billion on the green infrastructure fund, but only 10% of that has been spent in three years.
    In committee, the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board told us that it takes time to develop projects, but that the Conservatives plan to spend all the money. He never mentioned transfers.
    Publishing a report on a website but failing to include it in the budget on which parliamentarians vote is anything but transparent.
    Why does this government refuse to treat parliamentarians with respect? Why this lack of transparency?
    I have before me the parliamentary documents authorizing those transfers. They were tabled in the House on June 3, 2011, June 9, 2011, November 3, 2011, and November 17, 2011.
    There was also a vote last Monday. I would imagine that the hon. member was at the vote. He should have read the documents he was voting on before voting and before complaining.

  (1445)  

[English]

Canada-U.S. Relations

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday marked a historic day in Canada-U.S. relations. Canada shares the most successful relationship in the world. More than $1.5 billion worth of goods crosses the border each day. Millions of jobs in both countries depend on the trade and investment that flow daily across our borders.
    Could the Minister of Foreign Affairs please update this House on the announcement yesterday by the President of the United States and the Prime Minister?
    Mr. Speaker, what we saw yesterday was the leadership of the Prime Minister and the leadership of the President of the United States doing everything they can to help create jobs and have more economic growth.
    Over recent years we have seen the border become thicker and thicker, and this has hurt Canadian competitiveness and cost Canadian jobs.
    Yesterday's announcement will make the job of an auto worker in Windsor more secure. Yesterday's announcement will make someone who works in a port in Montreal or on a railway in western Canada secure. This will lead to more jobs and more economic benefits for the Canadian economy.
    This is good news for the country and we should all be celebrating that.

Air Transportation

    Mr. Speaker, just released secret documents reveal the Minister of Transport and his department are planning to sell off airports and other assets across this country. This fire sale would mean higher fees and airport closures.
    Rural Canadians rely on these airports to deliver their mail, visit their families, or see their doctors. Loss of airports would isolate these communities.
    Could the Conservatives tell us which Canadian communities will lose their airports just for a quick buck?
    Mr. Speaker, as announced in budget 2009, a review of corporate assets has been led by the greatest finance minister in the world in collaboration with other ministers whose portfolios have also been identified for the review.
    This review includes selected assets of the Department of Transport. Our government is committed to ensuring that hard-earned tax dollars are used in a prudent and responsible manner.
    Mr. Speaker, I disagree with the premise of that answer.

[Translation]

    The worst part of all this is that by hiding the documents, the government is once again being secretive. Several pages were even censored.
    The sale of small airports could mean the end of air services for communities that need them, not to mention increased costs for passengers, if these airports are run by the private sector.
    Can the minister tell us which airports are going to be sold and what the impact will be on Canadian families?
    Mr. Speaker, as was announced in the 2009 budget, a review of the government's assets will be conducted by the Minister of Finance. Incidentally, he is the best Minister of Finance in the world. He is going to work with the ministers whose portfolios were identified for the purpose of this review, including our own portfolio. Our government is committed to using Canadians' hard-earned money prudently and responsibly.

[English]

Justice

    Mr. Speaker, yet another study supports what we have been saying all along about the Conservatives' prison agenda.
    According to Quebec's Institut de recherche et d'informations socio-économiques, the Conservatives' out-of-touch agenda would make the cost of prisons skyrocket, while the government launches cuts to all public services. The provinces would foot the bill for these costly Conservative choices.
    How many independent studies will it take for the government to admit that it is wrong?
    Mr. Speaker, we have been very clear in the House about working with our provincial and territorial partners with respect to the implementation of our crime legislation. We have many supporters. Attorneys general from across the country are saying they asked us for this legislation. They thank us for bringing it in. They are looking forward to working with us.
    We are committed to standing up for victims in Canada, and that is exactly what we are going to do.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, since the government answers any old thing, I am going to provide numbers which show how much this bill will cost.
    The budget of Correctional Service Canada will have doubled between the time the Conservatives came to office and 2014. As for Quebec, the costs will total at least half a billion dollars annually. The government is forcing the provinces to double their budget for jails, because of a bill that is rejected by all the experts.
    Would the government go forward with its legislation if it had to foot the bill itself? I doubt it, but I will be pleased to listen to the same old tune again.

  (1450)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, we have something called a division of powers in this country. The federal government brings forward legislation on crime and crime initiatives and the provincial governments administer it. They do a very good job of administering it. We work with them on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis to make sure that we are doing the right things by Canadians.
    We have increased transfers to the provinces by 30% since we took government. We transferred $54 billion last year, up $2.4 billion from the year before. We are doing what we need to do.

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, we have known for years that the current Prime Minister and his government do not believe the science of climate change.
    Just this week, the environment minister went to Durban with no credible plan. He intended to withdraw from our international commitments and obstruct negotiations. Now, the minister wants us to believe he is changing his position again.
    How can Canadians trust the government and its eleventh-hour conversion when it has been a denier and an obstructionist for two decades?
    Mr. Speaker, when the member opposite talks about no credible plan, I sure hope she is referring to her party's inability to have a plan when it signed the Kyoto protocol.
    Furthermore, the member referred to the Kyoto protocol as an important symbol for climate change. We are not about symbols. We are about real action. That is why we are committed to ensuring an international agreement which has all major emitters at the table.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, it is clear that this government is acting in bad faith and is once again bringing shame on us on the world stage. It does and says anything to try to save face in Durban. I do not believe it when it claims to look forward to the future. The only will it has shown for years is not the will to reduce emissions but, rather, its emission targets.
    For years, when they sat on the opposition benches, the Conservatives prevented concrete measures under the Kyoto protocol. Now that they form the government, they are turning inaction into a virtue.
    Do they really think people will listen and believe what they say?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind my colleague opposite of a few things with regard to environment policy and energy policy. First, emissions increased in this country under his government. A policy that he should be especially familiar with, the national energy policy, lost thousands of jobs across the country.
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order, please. The hon. parliamentary secretary has the floor. The member has asked the question and she will give the response.
    I am getting such a response to these inconvenient truths, Mr. Speaker.
    We have a real plan and we are implementing it. We have a sector-by-sector regulatory approach that balances economic sustainability with environmental stewardship. That is what this government stands for.

Seniors

    Mr. Speaker, this government's record on seniors is shameful. Many seniors are struggling to pay for food, housing and medication. This is putting them into situations of dependence and making them more vulnerable to elder abuse. The Conservatives' out-of-touch plan has left hundreds of thousands of Canadian seniors living in poverty. That is what New Democrats voted against.
    Conservative policy is insulting and abusive to seniors. Why will the government not take seniors' poverty seriously with a plan to protect the most vulnerable?
    Mr. Speaker, any form of abuse is unacceptable. Following the introduction of a very successful awareness campaign, which will continue through 2012, we also increased funding for elder abuse awareness programs including new horizons.
    Furthermore, the Minister of Justice and I have met with stakeholders across Canada. We look forward to fulfilling our commitment to further protect vulnerable seniors.

  (1455)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, to “further protect” does not necessarily mean the government is doing enough.
    Even though this government is boasting about its achievements, the reality is that today an increasing number of seniors rely on food banks or charities to make ends meet. To tell seniors living in poverty that they will not have to pay taxes is not going to solve the issue of poverty. All Canadians have the right to age with dignity, not just those who had more luck.
    When will this government stop repeating the same old tune and finally provide real security to our seniors?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, our government continues to take strong action to support seniors. This includes providing billions in annual tax relief for seniors and pensioners, removing hundreds of thousands of seniors from the tax rolls completely, increasing the GIS exemption and introducing the largest GIS increase in a quarter century.
    We have also made significant investments in affordable housing for low-income seniors and introduced pension income splitting. We will keep working hard to deliver for seniors.

Justice

    Mr. Speaker, Canadians are rightfully concerned that in 2010 child pornography offences were up by more than 30%. The sexual exploitation of children by Internet sexual predators is a very serious crime.
    The government recently introduced and passed through the House the safe streets and communities act. This act would increase penalties for sexual offences against children. Could the parliamentary secretary please update the House as to further measures the government has implemented to crack down on child pornography?
    Mr. Speaker, it is truly a happy and good-news day for justice. I am happy to report that today Bill C-22, the government's legislation to make the reporting of child pornography by Internet service providers mandatory, has come into force.
    Police forces across Canada make every effort to combat the creation and distribution of child pornography. They cannot eliminate online sexual exploitation by working alone. Our government is providing police with the tools they need. Our government makes it clear that we all have a role to play in protecting our children from this unspeakable--
    The hon. parliamentary secretary is out of time.
    The hon. member for Random--Burin--St. George's.

Fisheries and Oceans

    Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has said that the fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador is broken. Well, with the stroke of a pen he can help fix it. Sitting on his desk, waiting for his signature, are permits needed to fish sea cucumber for the Asian market.
    Studies done by his department show that there is a healthy sea cucumber supply that can sustain a viable fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador. Will the minister stop procrastinating, sign these permits and agree to a commercial sea cucumber fishery for Newfoundland and Labrador?
    Mr. Speaker, I want to assure my colleague that Fisheries and Oceans Canada does support the emergence of a sustainable commercial sea cucumber fishery. Sustainability of the resource will be the primary consideration as we move forward on this. Economic prosperity, as well as current and potential markets, will also be considered. The department is committed to undertaking allocation decisions related to the new emerging fisheries policy. That is the direction in which we are going. We are taking this very carefully.

[Translation]

International Trade

    Mr. Speaker, as part of the European Union free trade negotiations, talks have been under way since 2009 to get Canada to agree to extend patent protection for prescription drugs by at least three years, which would increase their price by close to $3 billion. An independent report published this summer and commissioned by the European Commission indicates that this agreement could have a negative impact on consumers of pharmaceutical products in Canada.
    In light of this report, will the government finally protect the interests of Canadians and our health care system?

  (1500)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I would remind the member that this government always protects and advances Canada's interests during international negotiations. We will only enter into an agreement that is in the best interests of Canada. We continue to consult closely with Canadians, stakeholders, and provincial and territorial governments. The member opposite should not prejudge the outcome of these negotiations. She should know that this government will always stand up for the interests of Canadians. We will only sign an agreement that represents those interests.

Veterans

    Mr. Speaker, on Christmas Day 70 years ago, the Allies had no choice but to surrender. During seventeen and a half days of heavy fighting, 290 Canadians were killed and 493 were wounded while trying to defend Hong Kong. Those who survived spent the duration of the war facing inhumane conditions in prisoner of war camps in Hong Kong and Japan. After 70 years, the Japanese government has now apologized to Canadian veterans.
    Could the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs please comment on the importance of this apology?
    Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to inform the House that earlier today, Canadian prisoners of war received an apology from the Government of Japan for the suffering they endured during World War II. For nearly four years, our prisoners of war endured systematic and continued abuse. They were frequently starved and they were forced into back-breaking labour. Of those who were able to return, many of them were disabled and many died prematurely.
    This apology is an important step in reconciliation and healing. It recognizes the suffering of our prisoners of war while honouring their courage and sacrifice. I appreciate being allowed to share the story.

Affordable Housing

    Mr. Speaker, 70,000 people are on a waiting list for affordable housing in Toronto alone. The government really does not get it. Low-income and middle-income Canadians right across the country are facing an affordable housing crisis. The government refuses to act, yet it could. It could work with New Democrats on a national affordable housing strategy but it does not.
    Is building more prisons the only kind of housing program and strategy we are going to see from the government?
    Mr. Speaker, we do believe that every Canadian deserves a warm, safe place to put his or her head at night. We have made unprecedented investments in affordable housing for Canadians. Some 14,000 projects are under way, through construction or renovation. None of these things would have happened if the situation had been left to the NDP. As usual, although the NDP talks a good line, it votes against helping those who really need it.

[Translation]

International Trade

    Mr. Speaker, through leaks we have learned details on the negotiation of the Canada-European Union free trade agreement, such as the discussions about the supply management system that the Conservative government deliberately left on the table, the price of drugs and the protection of culture. Since these matters particularly affect Quebeckers, they would like to be informed of the content and the potential impacts of the negotiations.
    Will the government finally be open with Parliament and Canadians and stop negotiating behind closed doors?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned earlier, this government has consulted broadly across the country on the EU free trade agreement, and we continue to consult. I want to assure the member that this government will only sign an agreement that is in the best interests of Canadians.
    In fact, these consultations have been the most broad and most effective consultations we have ever had. We have had the provinces at the table. We have consulted broadly with stakeholders. All the feedback we are getting is that we are doing it right.
    That concludes question period for today.
    I understand there is an agreement between the parties to have some brief statements at this time regarding the Parliamentary Librarian's upcoming retirement.

[Translation]

    I therefore recognize the hon. member for Ottawa—Orléans.

[English]

Parliamentary Librarian

[Tributes]
    Mr. Speaker, today we honour the seventh Parliamentary Librarian.
    William Young, Bill to most of us, is the incarnation of quiet wisdom.

  (1505)  

[Translation]

    As co-chair of the Standing Joint Committee on the Library of Parliament, I had the pleasure of working closely with Bill, as we tried to come up with innovative ways to promote the programs and services the library offers to parliamentarians.

[English]

    It was as a plain member of Parliament that I met him 2,146 days ago to offer my support and to thank him for the above-the-call professionalism of his dedicated staff.
    Many members know that I spend a considerable amount of time in the library. I have a deep appreciation for the vital and trusted work that the library staff provides to support my insatiable curiosity as a legislator and as a servant. I most certainly appreciate that this library does not charge fines for late books.
    For some reason that I do not quite understand, particularly since we are all such nice people, I have been told that reporting to a parliamentary committee is not always a bowl of cherries. While I may doubt that statement, I will acknowledge that the last couple of years have brought their challenges as we have dealt with successive minority parliaments as welle as the reality of a global recession, and the fiscal restraint measures that have gone along with it.

[Translation]

    Bill always managed to overcome these challenges with ease, grace and humour. This definitely made our committee work much more enjoyable. I am sure that his management team--and all Library of Parliament employees, for that matter--really appreciate his style.

[English]

    Style notwithstanding, he and his team have also delivered on their promises. Each year our committee has seen measurable progress on the broad-based plan of renewal that Bill initiated when he took over the role of Parliamentary Librarian six years ago. These are things that, by and large, may go unnoticed by other parliamentarians, such as the extensive managerial reforms that have taken place to ensure modern controllership and innovation in services.

[Translation]

    Pass(e)port is a selection of articles about Canada or current issues of interest to parliamentarians. The articles are gathered from online international news sources every week. It was developed in committee by my friend and colleague, the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier, in order to better connect parliamentarians to the rest of the world.
    Given that Bill devoted most of his career to Parliament, I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that much of the Library of Parliament's effectiveness today can be attributed to him.

[English]

    The former prime minister, the Right Hon. Paul Martin, was inspired when he appointed Bill as Parliamentary Librarian. The current Prime Minister displayed his legendary wisdom when he extended that appointment.
    Last summer I undertook to read Bill's doctoral thesis, but it took me a week to read the title, “Making the Truth Graphic: The Canadian Government's Home-Front Information Structure and Programs During World War II”. I will finish reading the thesis in time for the book report.
    In conclusion, I would like to say a few words to Bill's prospective successors and give them a bit of perspective about working at the Library of Parliament.
    Since Confederation, we have had 43 leaders of the opposition, 35 speakers, 22 prime ministers, 18 members for the district that I represent, and 12 clerks of the House of Commons. Against all this, the Library of Parliament is a model of stability. We have had only seven Parliamentary Librarians. They get to keep their job. On average, they have each served two decades.

[Translation]

    As many of you know, I count every day that I am here. This is to ensure that every day counts. Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom”.

[English]

    As we count our service here in days, parliamentary librarians count theirs in decades. William Shakespeare was right when he wrote, “The better part of valour is discretion”. William Young is blessed to live by those wise words.

  (1510)  

[Translation]

    In closing, on behalf of the Standing Joint Committee on the Library of Parliament and on behalf of every member of this House, I would like to commend Bill on all of his excellent work and extend our best wishes for his retirement.

[English]

    On behalf of the Standing Joint Committee of the Library of Parliament, and on behalf of every member of this House, I want to close with a heartfelt bravo and our best wishes to Bill and to his family on his retirement.
    Like that of his predecessor and my esteemed friend, Erik Spicer, may Bill's retirement be long, fruitful and filled with serenity and delight.
    Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to pay tribute to Bill Young. I have had the pleasure to know Bill Young since 1997, when I was first elected as a new member of Parliament.
    I first encountered Bill at the human resources committee, where he served as an analyst. As the lone NDP member, I was trying to figure out how committees worked and what we were meant to do.
    I had many chats with Bill, and because of him, I came to appreciate what an amazing resource the Library of Parliament is, and also appreciate the role of the analysts. Their superb ability to help committee members and MPs generally in such a non-partisan way is something on which all of us rely.
    His career at the Library of Parliament, where he also occupied the positions of principal and senior research officer, spans 18 years. Bill Young was also deputy team leader, Social Security Reform--Coordination Group for Human Resources Development Canada, from 1994 to 1995.
    As we know, he was appointed as the Parliamentary Librarian in 2005. I would like to read from when he appeared as a witness before the Standing Joint Committee on the Library of Parliament, because I think it gives us a flavour of his passion and his dedication. He said before that committee:
    I'm very honoured to have my name go forward for the position of the Parliamentary Librarian, because for a political historian like I am, it's a job that brings both my passions and interests but also my training and experience. As I have mentioned, it's almost twenty years that I have worked with parliamentarians from all parties at the parliamentary research branch.
    He went on to say:
    For nearly 150 years, the Library of Parliament has been a shining light on our country's political and historical landscape. It is an architectural gem, a historical landmark and a unique institution that serves Parliament as well as the general public....While the library remains a repository of books and other printed information, it has moved into the technological era in its collections and reference services.Over 30 years ago it added a research and analysis function. During the past decade, it has been the public face of Parliament by providing information to citizens about how our Parliament works.
    That is what Bill said to the standing joint committee.
    As a trained historian and academic and then as a researcher, Bill has spent most of his career at the Library of Parliament. Shortly after he took the reins as the seventh Parliamentary Librarian in 2005, he set in place a broad-based plan for renewal of the institution to ensure that the library remained relevant for parliamentarians well into the 21st century.
    Bill took on the big task of modernizing this honoured institution. This meant figuring out what it was that the users wanted and needed, and also how they wanted it to be delivered to them at a time when shifts to information technology and social networking seemed to be happening almost every day.
    Bill has been with the library so long it is almost as though he is part of the permanent collection. If he were a book in the library's collection, I think his staff would have a very difficult time deciding where to store him. He is certainly rare and valuable, so they would want to keep him under lock and key, but I am also sure that so many people would be constantly referencing him that the tendency would be to leave him on a table by the main doors, just to save time.
    I do not think it is too much of a stretch to say that he is the reason the library remains relevant to parliamentarians today. Not only is it relevant, but it is vital to our work. On behalf of the NDP, we extend our heartfelt congratulations and thanks for his dedicated public service to us and all Canadians over so many years. We wish him all the best in his retirement.
    I have just one word of caution. We do not want him to watch CPAC too often. We do not want him to worry about committee reports anymore. Because of his stellar work, we know it is all being left in good hands. I extend our congratulations to Bill.

  (1515)  

    Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure for me to rise on behalf of the Liberal Party to pay tribute to not only a remarkable parliamentary librarian, but an inspirational servant of Parliament and of Canadians for over 20 years.
    As my colleague, the co-chair of the Joint Standing Committee on the Library of Parliament, said, there have only been six previous parliamentary librarians: Alpheus Todd, who came in with the country; Martin Joseph Griffin; Martin Burrell; Francis Aubrey Hardy; Erik John Spicer; and Richard Paré. Each of these distinguished Canadians evolved the role of librarian to something way more than its traditional interpretation. This was not only about resources, but about the analysis of information and eventually, under Bill's watch, to the most trusted source of information that parliamentarians could receive. It means that each of us in the House performs to our best possible ability.
     As Bill said in his interview in the Canadian Parliamentary Review on his appointment:
    Most parliamentarians are here because they have a sense of purpose and public life-they are here to accomplish something. The Library's job is to help them succeed and to nurture the deliberative process for the benefit of all Canadians,
    I first met Bill Young when he was the researcher on the HRDC committee in 1997 when I was first elected. I was pretty impressed then that he seemed to be able to have a relationship with almost every member of the committee. When Wendy Lill, the NDP member of Parliament, had pointed out that the issues of persons with disabilities had not really been discussed for over two years at committee, it became quite clear that Bill would help us form a subcommittee that I had the honour to chair.
    That subcommittee became known as the tiny perfect committee. It ended up with Wendy Lill, Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral and Deb Grey. We all worked together to really fight for persons with disabilities, the disability tax credit, and the Canadian pension plan disabilities. Under Bill's guidance, we were able to call ministers from all departments and commissioners. We were able to design one of the most interactive tools in terms of e-consultation that a parliamentary committee had ever done.
    My love for Bill Young came, having him sit at my right shoulder for those five years, not only because of the institutional memory he carried for this place, but also because of the fact that when officials would come before our committee, he would whisper in my ear and said, “They said that last year”. It was only because of his coaching that we were able to get on and later understand his real understanding of the citizens of our country.
    In 2000 I asked for help from the Library of Parliament, as I was concerned about the role of the citizen in our representative democracy and whether it was evolving over time. Bill wrote the most beautiful paper, called “Citizen Engagement and the Elected Representative” in which it began in his beautiful writing:
    The social contract in our democracy is founded on the consent of the governed. This implies not just that voters select their governments, but also that there is more or less continuous contact between citizens and their elected representatives in order to exchange knowledge and opinions. It also implies the expression of preferences on the part of the citizen as well as a certain level of attentiveness and consciousness of what government is doing, or wants to do.
    He helped us put together a conference in which Robert Putnam came from Harvard, as well as Ted White, the Reform member of Parliament, Audrey O'Brien, Charles Pascal, Carol Goar, Monique Bégin and the hon. member for Toronto Centre. After that conference, we began to start to refer to this concept of democracy between elections, which is truly what the parliamentary librarian is able to provide us with.
    Later in 2002, as co-chair of the Joint Standing Committee on the Library of Parliament, I was able, with our co-chair Yves Morin, as well as Deb Grey, working with Graham Fox, to work on the consultations in 2002 called “The Parliament We Want”.

  (1520)  

    It is very interesting that the conclusion of that document, again a lot with the leadership of Bill, said:
    Our message, based on our consultations, is this. In weighing the many options we have before us, and in making decisions on the future role of Parliamentarians, we should keep in mind that the reforms should aim to:
lead to more meaningful work;
look to the future, not the past;
enhance Parliament’s oversight of government activity;
enhance Parliament’s contribution to policy debates;
strike a balance between the adversarial and the consensual aspects of our democratic system;
focus on committees as an immediate priority;
make Parliamentarians knowledge-brokers;
and strike a new bargain between Parliament and the public service.
    That is, in short, the Parliament we want. Parliamentarians ask, and Canadians deserve, nothing less.

[Translation]

    When Mr. Young was appointed in 2005, his biography indicated that he had a Ph.D. in history and was a professional historian. Mr. Young is the author of a number of books as well as academic and popular papers. He has also written many parliamentary reports.

[English]

    Writing is, indeed, the case of Bill Young, from his Ph. D. thesis on the role of the National Film Board and propaganda in World War II to the many reports he wrote on disability issues with Dr. Halliday and Andy Scott, to the London diaries of Paul Martin Sr., to Sacred Trust, a book he wrote with David Bercuson and Jack Granatstein on Brian Mulroney and the Conservative Party.
    Since his nomination, he has continued to embark, as we have heard already, on a significant renewal of the Library, with the modern controllership of its resources and the redesign of numbers of products for parliamentarians better suited to their needs in the time and format they need.
    As well, as a historian he reconstituted debates of early years of Parliament for future generations with the digitalization project. He also worked with his posse of parliamentary librarians from around the world, like John Pullinger from the U.K. parliament of Westminster and Soledad Ferreiro in Chile, and commissioned Nick Nanos and others on the parliament of 2020 and what the future of Parliament would be like using evolving communication technologies, and how that could support a more effective Parliament and a more engaged public in the future.
    He was seconded to the Department of Social Development for two years, where he was the departmental assistant to the deputy minister. His minister, who Bill lovingly referred to as number 29, asked me to send Bill this message. It states:
    Bill is the good civil servant. He embodies why doing a government's work matters. He believes good can be done, that better is possible, but he also knows that bad and worse are much easier to deliver. So he looks--every day--to do the good and the better and expose the bad and the worse.
    He has a joy about him. A joy that comes from knowing why he does what he does, from a pride, but also from always putting people at the centre. He knows that it's with people that he does things, and for people that he does them, people with all their--and his own--wonderful strengths and wonderful foibles. So to Bill nothing is ever old and dry and boring.
    He has a curiosity, this fascination, with life. He wants to know - everything. About everyone. Every delicious fact; every delicious insight; and every delicious morsel of gossip. Always, of course, delivered with that twinkle, and that laugh.
    As Ken Dryden has said, Bill Young is more than an institutional memory. To me, Bill Young is the ultimate leader of vision, values and risk-taking. He imparts that to his team and his team knows, as the best of every team leader, that it will be allowed to do its very best performance, but when it stumbles, he will be there for it.
    Parliament is not only losing a great friend, a great defender of this institution, but also a great believer in the role of citizens in their democracy and the need to build better mechanisms between citizens and their Parliament and their parliamentarians to ensure that their voices are heard.
     The eighth parliamentary librarian will have a tough act to follow, big shoes to fill, but the most important qualification will be the love of this place and the understanding of the good it can do.
    We wish Bill and Philippe some well-earned time, but I cannot wait until the next chapter when he is back actually inspiring us all to just do better.

  (1525)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure and an honour to speak to the excellent character of Mr. Young. I have met him on a number of occasions. The first time was in 2006, just after he was appointed.
    Mr. Young is a dedicated, caring and competent person. He cares about the important role of parliamentarians. Those who have made his acquaintance also know that he uses humour intelligently. He is a good person and a good boss. I have it from a reliable source that many of his employees consider him to be an exceptional man. Involved and respected by everyone, Mr. Young is personally committed to causes dear to him, and I would like to take off my hat to him.
    I had the opportunity to work with him through the Library of Parliament's programs for teachers. I attended the Teachers Institute on Canadian Parliamentary Democracy. Mr. Young was committed to providing teachers with the tools they needed to teach about parliamentary democracy in Canada and Quebec.
    In his role, Mr. Young supported teachers in what they did on a daily basis. He did so especially in programs for the public. The Library of Parliament's educational programs serve all Canadian youth, whether they live in Alberta, British Columbia or Quebec. These young people can learn about Parliament by using the Library of Parliament's tools, thanks to Mr. Young's efforts to promote all these tools. This allows young people to embrace democracy and the parliamentary system in a non-partisan way.
    I sincerely hope that Mr. Young will have some wonderful challenges after he leaves us. He is always steadfast and looks to the future. On behalf of the Bloc Québécois, I wish him all the best in the future. I take off my hat to him again for all his wonderful accomplishments as parliamentary librarian.

[English]

    Mr. Young, on my own part, I would like, on behalf of all members of Parliament, to thank you and add my best wishes and offer you our heartfelt best wishes for a long and happy retirement.
    I would like to also thank the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh for allowing the tributes to proceed. Now he might like to ask his Thursday question.

  (1530)  

[Translation]

Business of the House

[Business of the House]
    Mr. Speaker, I have been thinking about the importance of leading by example. I think that the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons should do the same. Last week, he said that we would conclude law-abiding Canadians week and that this week would be democratic reform week. That is very ironic.

[English]

    It is ironic because of what happened this week. We saw the passing of Bill C-10 on Monday, a bill that has been almost universally panned as being ineffective, not even knowing how much it is going to cost the Canadian public at both the provincial and federal levels. It is probably going to increase crime in this country at the end of the day, yet that was supposed to be part of the week when the Conservatives were having their crime agenda.
    Then we saw this spectacle yesterday of the Federal Court slamming a minister--berating a minister, actually--in the written judgment for breaking the Canadian Wheat Board Act. It was to the extent, and this is quite unusual, that the federal court judge actually awarded costs to all the applicants against the government for the breach of that act. So that was the Conservatives' crime agenda.
    Then, democratic reform is supposed to be this week. What did we see this week? We saw the Conservatives, once again, set the all-time record for closure and time allocation motions by doing so for the 12th time in less than 70 sitting days. The Conservatives beat the Liberal record by almost 40%, if my math is correct. That is what we saw.
    In all honesty, after what we have just seen go on, I am almost afraid to ask the question of what is coming this week not knowing the consequences. However, I will close with the question, since that is my duty here, to the House leader of the Government and it is with substantial trepidation that I do this.
    I would like to know, and I think Parliament and Canadians would like to know, what is going to happen in the House the rest of this week and the week coming up to next Friday, which is when the House will rise for the winter break? In part, we need to know that. Parliament and Canadians need to know, so they can get ready for what may be some of the consequences if we see the same kind of experience we have seen this week.
    Mr. Speaker, one of the most important things we are looking forward to in the next week or so is the passage of the major priority pieces of legislation we have been advancing this fall, for which we have been seeking to set timetables to ensure they could pass to be in effect for next year. They are our budget implementation act to ensure that important tax measures are in place like a tax credit for job creation and accelerated capital cost allowance to create jobs; our bill to ensure fair representation, to have that in place in time for the redistribution that is going to unfold next year; and in addition to that another bill which again is a time priority, the crime bill, and I do not think we are going to be able to make that objective.
    However, we are looking to get those in place and, having done that, we look forward to, in the next 10 days or so, the very first of those bills we have been working on all fall to actually becoming law. That will be a very exciting time for us when we finally achieve Royal Assent, having spent that time.
    I should advise members that next week will be free trade and jobs week. We will begin Monday morning with second reading of Bill C-24, the Canada–Panama free trade act. This free trade agreement was signed on May 14, 2010. It is now time for Parliament to put it into effect, so that Canadians can benefit from the jobs and economic growth it will deliver.

[Translation]

    It being free trade and jobs week, we will begin second reading debate on Wednesday of another bill to implement a job-creating free trade agreement. In this case, we will discuss Bill C-23, the Canada-Jordan Free Trade Act, which will implement Canada's first free trade agreement with an Arab country.
    This will be the last week before the House adjourns for the holidays. And it is with the Christmas spirit in mind that we hope to have the co-operation of all members in making great progress on a number of important bills with a focus on job creation and economic growth.

  (1535)  

[English]

    On Monday, if we are able to pass Bill C-24, the Canada–Panama free trade bill, we would call Bill C-11, the copyright modernization act. Bill C-11 is another bill that would lead to more jobs in Canada, and our world-leading digital and cultural sectors. Earlier this week, the Liberal motion to block further debate on this important bill was defeated in this House. That means we can get back to second reading debate and I would hope that after being debated for over one sitting week, the opposition will finally allow this bill to get to committee.

[Translation]

    If we continue to make the progress I am hoping for, we will then call Bill C-14, the Improving Trade Within Canada Act, for further second reading debate. This is a fairly straightforward bill that will benefit the economy by implementing amendments to the Agreement on Internal Trade agreed by the provinces. I expect all parties will allow it to move swiftly to committee.

[English]

    In addition to passing these job creating bills, on Monday, ideally, we would then call C-26, the citizen's arrest and self-defence act for further debate.
    For the balance of free trade and jobs week, we will continue to debate any of those bills which have not yet been referred to committee. We would also look to begin second reading debate on Bill C-28, the financial literacy leader act. This bill will create a new position in the government dedicated to encouraging financial literacy for Canadians.
    As for the balance of this week, which is democratic reform week, Bill C-20, the fair representation act, will be debated tomorrow at report stage, further to the motion adopted yesterday. Third reading in the House on this bill will be Tuesday. This will be followed by a vote Tuesday night, a vote that will give all members in this place an opportunity to vote on the important democratic principle of representation by population.

Privilege

Legislation to Reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board 

[Privilege ]
    Mr. Speaker, I rise today on this question of privilege to request, in recognition of the decision made yesterday by Mr. Justice Campbell of the Federal Court, and the need that this House be in compliance with the rule of law and be seen by all Canadians to actively demonstrate its willingness to accept and defer to the rule of law, that you reconsider the basis of your earlier ruling stemming from the question of privilege raised by my colleague, the member for Malpeque, on October 18 of this year.
    It is now unambiguous that as members of Parliament our privileges have been violated as a result of our participation in the Minister of Agriculture's single-minded mission to dismantle the Wheat Board without first consulting with and determining the will of western Canadian wheat and barley farmers, as he remains required to do.
    In light of the ruling of the Federal Court, dated December 7, 2011, in the case of the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board et al. v. The Attorney General of Canada and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food, it is now apparent that this honourable House was forced to participate in a debate that is now, and was then, contrary to the rule of law.
    In his ruling yesterday, Mr. Justice Campbell ordered the following declaration be made:
--the Minister failed to comply with his statutory duty pursuant to section 47.1 of the Act, to consult with the Board and to hold a producer vote, prior to the causing to be introduced in Parliament Bill C-18,--
    The very same argument was made at that juncture by the member for Malpeque, the member for Winnipeg North, and me on October 18. In fact, it has been the position put forward by this party from the very beginning of the Minister of Agriculture's quest to fulfill his ideological obsession.
    Let farmers decide. It is a simple enough precept.
    Indeed, prior to our last general election on May 2, 2011, a then keen Minister of Agriculture assured farmers in Minnedosa, Manitoba, and in mid-March 2011 that he would not act arbitrarily and that the wishes of farmers would be respected.
    Meanwhile, in the wake of the May 2 election, having finally won the majority it coveted for so many years, the Conservative government no longer felt it necessary to grant western grain farmers the very vote on the issue they were guaranteed by statute and was assured them by the minister.
    Instead, the government spoke at length about the mandate given by Canadians. Which mandate? There is no mandate that enables the government to trample on the rights of western Canadian grain farmers, or any other Canadians, with impunity. What is the evidence of this complete lack of regard for the law by the government?
    In the face of the words of Mr. Justice Campbell where he said, “The second and most important effect is that the minister will be held accountable for his disregard for the rule of law”, the Minister of Agriculture replied, “I can tell you that, at the end of the day, this declaration will have no effect on continuing to move forward. Bill C-18 will pass”.
    This is important. The minister does not understand that while the Conservatives can change the law, they cannot break the law while changing it any more than they can ignore procedure within this very House when we make new laws.
    Why is it that Parliament or government should be any less bound to laws than they are to the procedures in the House when passing those laws?
    Many prairie farmers no doubt voted Conservative, but they did not vote for Conservative candidates only to see their democratic rights stripped from them as soon as the ballots were counted.
    Mr. Speaker, I draw your attention to Chief Justice Fraser's comments in Reece v. the City of Edmonton, 2011, cited at paragraph 3 of Mr. Justice Campbell's ruling, where the Chief Justice states:
    When government does not comply with the law, this is not merely non-compliance with a particular law, it is an affront to the rule of law itself.
    Moreover, in Justice Campbell's decision at paragraph 27, he makes reference to a memorandum of fact and law of an intervenor in the case before the Federal Court, which states:

  (1540)  

    As the Applicants note, western farmers relied on the fact that the government would have to conduct a plebiscite under section 47.1 before introducing legislation to change the marketing mandate of the CWB. Disregarding the requirements of s. 47.1 deprives farmers of the most important vehicle they have for expressing their views on the fundamental question of the single desk. Furthermore the opportunity to vote in a federal election is no answer to the loss of this particular democratic franchise. Until the sudden introduction of Bill C-18, Canadian farmers would have expected the requirements of s. 47.1 to be respected.
    When originally introduced by a Liberal government in 1997 and finally passed in 1998, the intention of the bill introducing section 47.1 was to empower farmers with the necessary self-determination before the government could unilaterally or fundamentally alter the Canadian Wheat Board.
    At that time it was argued, and I quote:
    Throughout its history the Canadian Wheat Board has been governed by a small group of up to five commissioners, all appointed by the Government of Canada without any requirement that anybody be consulted and legally responsible only to the Government of Canada. But in today's dynamic
    --this was back in 1997--
and changing marketplace, producers have made it clear that they want the Canadian Wheat Board to be more accountable to them. They want more control....
    ...empowering producers, enshrining democratic authority which has never existed before, providing new accountability, new flexibility and responsiveness, and positioning farmers to shape the kind of wheat board they want for the future.
    The institution of the Canadian Wheat Board is considered so sacrosanct that codified in the statute is a mechanism designed to protect farmers from a government arbitrarily removing the strength and clout of an agency that markets and sells wheat and barley at the best possible price on behalf of all western Canadian grain farmers.
     It is for this very reason that in his ruling yesterday Mr. Justice Campbell stated, and I quote:
    I accept the argument that the CWB's democratic marketing practices are “significant and fundamental' because they are long standing, and strongly supported by a large number of the some 17,000 grain producers in Western Canada.
    On October 18, Mr. Speaker, you spoke to your inability to rule on the legality of a bill, as it was the responsibility of the courts to decide. Well, now the courts have spoken, and just as we argued then, without first having consulted with the Canada Wheat Board and conducting the required plebiscite pursuant to section 47.1, the bill is illegal. These are exactly the circumstances that the member for Malpeque was rightly trying to steer this House away from: a situation wherein this House and its process is in contravention of the law, as is the participation by each of its members in such process.
    According to the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 111:
    A Member may also be obstructed or interfered with in the performance of his or her parliamentary functions by non-physical means.
    Not only have we debated and voted on a bill that was not in the proper form, but our participation and the bill itself are illegal, as the bill did not respect the rule of law, let alone the farmers it affected most. Introducing a bill that was not in the proper form and was in violation of the rule of law for failure to follow the process dictated by section 47.1 has obstructed and interfered with our privileges by non-physical means.
    Our Constitution, which we are all collectively responsible to uphold, maintain and protect, is so much more than just a written text; it is also an organism that is responsive to a number of underlying quintessential elements, foremost among them the rule of law.
    The government continues to argue with impunity that it need not be bound by the legislation of a past government and that Parliament is supreme. While I agree that Parliament is indeed the paramount Canadian institution, it too is subject to the rule of law. In this case, the process that the minister ought to have followed as set out in section 47.1 of the Canada Wheat Board Act. Given this abuse and other abuses the Speaker is now considering, such as the case before us for the member for Mount Royal, what further abuses can we expect?

  (1545)  

    At paragraph 67 of the Quebec secession reference, the Supreme Court wrote the following:
    The consent of the governed is a value that is basic to our understanding of a free and democratic society. Yet democracy in any real sense of the word cannot exist without the rule of law. It is the law that creates the framework within which the “sovereign will” is to be ascertained and implemented. To be accorded legitimacy, democratic institutions must rest, ultimately, on a legal foundation. That is, they must allow for the participation of, and accountability to, the people, through public institutions created under the Constitution. Equally, however, a system of government cannot survive through adherence to the law alone. A political system must also possess legitimacy, and in our particular culture, that requires an interaction between the rule of law and the democratic principle.
    Through any number of actions, the government time and time again demonstrates its willingness to abuse, ignore and delegitimize democratic institutions, be it the Speaker's contempt ruling of spring 2011, the thoroughly outrageous deceit it has spread in the Mount Royal area about its member of Parliament, or its complete contempt of democracy and the rule of law in dealing with the outcome of the Canadian Wheat Board.
    At the end of every week, I go home to my constituents, as every member in this place does. We are accountable to them. If anything must prevail, regardless of our party's affiliation, we must be able to say to them that we followed the legal process. This is what we have fought and died for in other lands.
    It is not too late for the Minister of Agriculture to appeal to the Prime Minister to ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate to suspend deliberation on the bill at least until the end of the proceedings of the appeal, because if he fails to do so and the Federal Court ruling is upheld on appeal, we shall again find ourselves in the same embarrassing, unfortunate and antidemocratic circumstances in which we find ourselves now. Should the subsequent ruling favour the Canadian Wheat Board, the government could finally and rightfully hold the farmers' vote that is so richly deserved by western wheat farmers; if it does not, then the matter can proceed.
    Parliament is supreme--not the Minister of Agriculture , not the Prime Minister, not any one of the members opposite, but Parliament as an institution. Barring an immediate decision by the government to reconsider its ill-conceived actions, I urge you, Mr. Speaker, to find that the actions of the minister and the government, which Mr. Justice Campbell declared to be conduct which is “an affront to the rule of law”, have violated our privilege as members and have sullied the honour of this venerable institution.
    Accordingly, I therefore submit, Mr. Speaker, that you should find the matter a prima facie case of privilege. I would be prepared to move one of the following motions: that the matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for further study and recommendations to the House, that a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint senators of the Federal Court ruling and ask that in light of this ruling, all action on Bill C-18 be suspended.

  (1550)  

    Mr. Speaker, I should start out by correcting the hon. member for Guelph.
    He misrepresented from the outset what Bill C-18 is all about. He said it was about dismantling the Wheat Board; it is clearly not about doing that. It is in fact about maintaining the Wheat Board in existence while providing to western Canadian farmers the same choice that farmers in his part of Ontario have, which is to choose whether to market to the Wheat Board or to other entities. I think it should be clear that this is what the bill is about. His representation is inaccurate.
    I am a little puzzled by what he is seeking to do here. You have already ruled on this matter. I see no reasonable challenge to that ruling here.
     In terms of the remedy he is seeking, he is asking that you, Mr. Speaker, request the Leader of the Government in the Senate to suspend consideration of this matter. I suppose this House could, if it chose to, pass a resolution making such a request if it saw fit to do so. I do not think it is your place, as Speaker, to seek to apply your jurisdiction as Speaker into that other place and pretend to tell it how its affairs should be managed. That would be inappropriate for you in your role as Speaker and in your jurisdiction as Speaker.
    In fact, what is truly fascinating is that this entire point of order is on a matter that is no longer before us. It is a matter on which we are functus, if you will. It is a matter on which this House has already made its decision, made its determination, and the jurisdiction with it lies right now entirely with the Senate. Should it seek changes and send the bill back to us, we will once again have a functional role, but at this point in time there is nothing before us to decide. As a House, we have no jurisdiction to deal with this matter at all.
    In terms of the core questions at stake, the fundamental constitutional question that he is seeking to challenge is that of the ability of this Parliament to legislate and that we cannot change laws. He is saying that if a law purports to pose obligations in the future for the changing of a law, those obligations are valid. In the previous ruling that kind of fettering of discretion was canvassed extensively, and obviously this Parliament maintains that jurisdiction to legislate.
    Let us examine whether there are any consequences that flow from the court decision that was rendered in this matter.
    I think we have to look at the decision. I do not know that the hon. member for Guelph took you through what it actually determined. However, the justice, in his summary of the issues, did state the following:
“The Applicants
    --those being the people who brought the matter to court--
--confirm that the validity of Bill C-18, and the validity and effects of any legislation which might become law as a result of Bill C-18 are not in issue in the present Applications.
    It did not contest the validity of the bill or the validity of it to be before this House. In fact, a further statement is:
    The Applicants make it clear that their Applications are no threat to the Sovereignty of Parliament to pass legislation.
    Therefore the question of whether or this House could deal with it and whether it was appropriate for this House to deal with it was not even before the courts. The applicants confessed or acknowledged that it was fully within the jurisdiction of this House to deal with those matters, and that was not a decision. Should there be any confusion on that, one can go to the end of the decision. It is at page 21 of the decision of Justice Campbell. In that conclusion, he poses the question of the effects of his declaration.
    He issued a declaration; he did not issue an injunction prohibiting Parliament from dealing with the legislation at all. He said that the applicants acknowledged it was appropriate for Parliament to deal with the legislation, but they did not dispute the validity of the legislation.
    That raises the question of what the effect of his decision is.
     He makes it clear that there are two meaningful effects of granting the declarations. The first effect is that to provide a meaningful opportunity for dissenting voices to be heard was the purpose of the legislation. The ruling says:
    Judicial review serves an important function; in the present Applications the voices have been heard, which, in my opinion, is fundamentally important because it is the message that s. 47.1 conveys.
    He said the court proceeding allowed those voices to be heard, and that is an important effect.
    “The second and most important effect”, he says, “is that the minister will be held accountable...”.
    He himself says that there are only two effects, and neither of those effects limits the ability of this House of Commons or of the Senate or this Parliament to pass legislation.

  (1555)  

    The section in question, section 47.1, is actually one that is being sought to be changed, to be repealed, in fact. Obviously, that would have no effect should the legislation be successful. The justice has clearly said in his decision that there is no effect at all on anything we are doing in this place.
    Based on that decision itself, there is nothing new that my friend has brought to you, Mr. Speaker. I listened closely to his arguments. I did not see any authorities that suggested otherwise. I did not see anything that he could glean out of the decision that said we had to cease our discussions, and the Senate had to cease its discussions. No injunctive relief was provided in that regard. As a result, Mr. Speaker, I think the decision that you rendered in the earlier arguments on this matter fully satisfies the questions, and we are re-plowing the same turf all over again quite unnecessarily.
    Mr. Speaker, I want to correct the government House leader, because his government obviously does not understand the nature of the decision that was made, and quite frankly, the nature of the law on this point.
    The Conservatives are absolutely right that a parliament cannot pass legislation that would prevent a subsequent government administration from passing laws to change that law or do away with it completely, but it can restrict subsequent parliaments as to how they do it. That is exactly what was done in the Canadian Wheat Board Act, and that is exactly what was found as being proper by Justice Campbell of the Federal Court in his decision yesterday.
    The position the Conservatives are taking obviously shows a significant lack of knowledge and understanding of that legislative constitutional principle. I hear from the government House leader that he thinks it is stupid. It may in fact be stupid, but it is the law of the land, and the Conservatives do not get the opportunity to unilaterally break the law of the land. I think this actually would require a constitutional change in order for that principle to be altered.
    Mr. Speaker, I am, however, cognizant of his argument that he makes with regard to your status as Speaker to rule on this matter. Obviously the statute is no longer here; Bill C-18 has passed and has gone on to the other house, and so it should lie in the hands of the Speaker there. I have to admit ignorance in this regard in that I do not understand the rules of the other place. I am not sure anybody understands its rules, quite frankly, but I admit that I do not. Whether there is jurisdiction in the Speaker in that place, I simply cannot say.
    At first blush one might wonder what jurisdiction and authority you have to rule on this, since this House has passed the bill. I want to say at this point, Mr. Speaker, and I am reserving my right to come back to you tomorrow if I can find more on this, that your jurisdiction may lie in the fact of being able to say to the minister of the day, “Your conduct has in fact breached our privilege. You should have known the law of the land. Every government is supposed to know that. Either out of incompetence that you did not know or out of refusal to acknowledge the law of the land, you went ahead, placed the bill before the House, voted it through the House by your majority government, and that has now clearly been determined by the courts of this land to have been improper conduct, to be illegal conduct on your part”.
    Mr. Speaker, your order then would be, because you do have control over that member even though he is a minister, to in effect cease and desist, to find the prima facie case. I think anybody can argue clearly that our privileges have been breached. Our reputations as members of Parliament have been breached very clearly. We are a laughing stock in the general public. The bill went through this House clearly by that decision, and I will not give the government any hope at all that it will be successful on appeal. The government will lose that appeal, almost certainly.
    It is a simple finding of fact. The bill reads this way. The existing law reads this way. It fits into the constitutional framework of our country. It is not a substantive issue of law. It is simply a form, how this law is to be changed. The Conservatives are bound by that. Parliament is bound by that. Our reputation has therefore been damaged, the reputation of all of us.
    I will leave it at that point, but I would reserve the right to come back to you one more time, at least by tomorrow, if I can find more on it, Mr. Speaker.

  (1600)  

    The hon. member for Guelph had quite a lot of time to make his original remarks, but given that he seems to be indicating that it will be less than a minute, I will hear him very briefly.
    Mr. Speaker, this is in response to the comments by the government House leader.
    First, Justice Campbell did not comment on the validity of Bill C-18 because he was not asked to. He made no comment one way or the other. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, you should not give any weight to the suggestions by the government House leader on that point.
    Second, no injunction was granted because no injunction was sought. Mr. Speaker, you can give no weight to that comment by the member opposite.
    Third, and this is the point I made very briefly, the government has an obligation to follow the law if it is changing the law, just as surely as it has an obligation to follow the rules of this House and all procedures associated with it when we are making new laws.
    Those are my three points and I thank you again for your indulgence, Mr. Speaker.
    I suppose fair is fair so the hon. government House leader has a brief opportunity to speak.
    Mr. Speaker, I wanted to respond to two new points that were raised by the opposition House leader.
     The first is simply with regard to the appeal of this matter. I tried not to re-litigate the appeal before us but I would say that we simply do not accept the notion that this Parliament's powers can be, as section 47.1 of the statute indicated, delegated to other parties, particularly parties that are so vague and open to interpretation. That is what, of course, section 47.1 seeks to do. I certainly part ways with the member on the prospects for success on appeal.
    On the second issue, with regard to the question of the conduct of the minister, I would ask for an opportunity for him to come back and speak to that himself.
    I thank hon. members for their interventions.
    Orders of the day.

Government Orders

[Government Orders]

[English]

Political Loans Accountability Act

     He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to continue with our democratic reform week and begin the debate on Bill C-21, the political loans accountability act. The bill is another one of our government's long-standing commitments and I am happy we are moving forward on it today.
    As we have shown with previous bills, our government is pursuing a principled agenda to strengthen accountability and democracy in Canada. In this case, we are addressing the rules respecting loans to political entities.
    Currently, there are no limits on loans that corporations, unions, or wealthy individuals can grant to political entities. It is unacceptable that the political loans regime does not meet the same standards of transparency, accountability and integrity expected of the average Canadian. Hard-working ordinary Canadians are expected to pay back loans under strict rules, whether it is for starting a business, going to school, or purchasing a home, and the same rigorous standards should also apply to politicians.
    As it stands, there is a loophole in political financing legislation. We are addressing the loophole with this bill.
    Our government, in its first bill in 2006, established strong standards for political contributions in the Federal Accountability Act. The act eliminated contributions by corporations and unions. It changed the rules to ensure that politicians would not be beholden to those with deep pockets and unions or corporations that give too much money. However, our law still allows those with deep pockets to lend too much money. The rules concerning political loans should be consistent with the rules for political contributions.
    One major issue regarding the treatment of loans in the Canada Elections Act is the loophole in the current standards that fails to impose restrictions on the source and the amount of political loans in a way that is consistent with the rest of the rules for political financing.
    A second important issue that our government seeks to address is the inconsistency in transparency requirements for political loans. As it stands, the inconsistencies on how political loans are treated unduly complicate the enforcement of the Canada Elections Act and do not provide for consistent transparency across the Canadian political finance regime.
    This lack of rules may result in loans being used as de facto contributions. Clearly, it is a situation where politicians could be beholden to those who lend them large sums of money instead of being beholden to those who brought them into office with votes. This is unacceptable.
    By limiting the amount of a loan a candidate or another individual can make to fund political activities, the political loans accountability act would increase integrity in the political loans process by ensuring that all candidates are on a level playing field, regardless of their personal wealth or their connections with elite interests.
    The bill would also ensure that members of Parliament are accountable to their constituents first by removing the opportunity for undue influence by unions and corporations on elected representatives.
    However, the bill would also ensure that parties, associations and candidates will continue to be able to secure sufficient financing for their electoral campaigns. Political entities will be able to borrow money from a wide range of financial institutions, including trust and loan companies, credit unions and insurers.
    The bill is consistent with a recommendation from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. It reflects a legal approach to political loans already in place in several provinces, including Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
    To fully highlight the practical benefit of our proposed measures, I would like to discuss some of them in more detail.
    The Federal Accountability Act established fixed contribution limits for individuals and completely eliminated contributions from corporations, unions and associations.
    Following the passage of our flagship Federal Accountability Act, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs asked the former chief electoral officer to prepare a report on political financing issues with recommendations respecting the use of loans.

  (1605)  

    The Chief Electoral Officer's report was submitted in January 2007 with respect to the existing rules on political loans. He acknowledged that:
    While Parliament has imposed an extensive regime to control the source and extent of contributions, it has not done so with respect to that other source of funding constituted by loans.
    The Chief Electoral Officer suggested that loans to political entities by lenders that were not in the business of lending ought to be restricted, because such loans granted at non-commercial rates at terms and conditions that were available to the general public and without expectation of repayment may lead to the perception of abuse and undue influence by those with the financial means to grant these loans.
    To prevent such abuse or unfair influence by those wealthy entities with the ability to make large loans or any perception of it, the Chief Electoral Officer made the following recommendations: that the limit on loans be made by individuals should be to their contribution limit; that political entities may borrow money in excess of the contribution limit only from financial institutions; that all loans by financial institutions be at commercial rates of interest; and that a separate regime for the treatment and reporting of loans be established in the act.
    In response to these recommendations, our government introduced the political loans accountability act, which had it been adopted would have regulated the use of loans by political entities to ensure full disclosure and greater accountability in the financing of political campaigns.
    This legislation was passed by the House of Commons as Bill C-29 in 2008 and was awaiting second reading in the Senate when Parliament was dissolved for the 2008 election.
    The legislation we are discussing today is substantively the same legislation as passed by the House in 2008 as Bill C-29. Our government worked collaboratively with opposition members to pass Bill C-29, which was awaiting second reading in the Senate when Parliament was dissolved.
     Some changes have been incorporated from its original version. For example, the bill now would exclude from the annual contribution limit any portion of a loan that was repaid to the lender and any unused loan guarantees, as proposed by our government during the committee's study period.
    It would require the Chief Electoral Officer to hear representations from affected interests before making a determination about a deemed contribution, as proposed by the opposition.
    It would establish contribution limits for leadership contestants on a per calendar year basis rather than a per contest basis.
    These amendments demonstrate that our government developed the political loans accountability act in a collaborative spirit with opposition parties throughout the process. Indeed, when the political loans accountability act was introduced, with the amendments above during the last Parliament, in 2010, there was widespread support in the House, including among the NDP, for the updated bill.
    We think these incorporated changes make the bill even better. The act we are discussing today is the reintroduction of this updated legislation from the last Parliament.
    Here are some of the important changes brought by our bill to Canada's political financing regime.
    The bill would establish a uniform and transparent reporting regime for all loans to political parties, associations and candidates, including the mandatory disclosure of terms, such as interest rates and the identity of lenders and loan guarantors.
    Unions and corporations would be banned from making loans to political parties, associations, candidates and contestants, consistent with their inability to make contributions as set out in the Federal Accountability Act.
    Total loans, loan guarantees and contributions by individuals cannot exceed the annual contribution limit for individuals established under the Federal Accountability Act, which is currently $1,100 in 2011. Only financial institutions and other political entities can make loans beyond that amount. Loans from financial institutions must be at fair market rates of interest.

  (1610)  

    Rules for the treatment of unpaid loans will be tightened to ensure candidates cannot walk away from outstanding loans. Riding associations or parties will be held responsible for unpaid loans taken out by their candidates.
     By prohibiting loans from unions and corporations and requiring that loans from financial institutions be granted at a market rate of interest, this bill would prevent corporations and unions from doing indirectly, through loans, what they are now prohibited from doing directly through contributions.
    Together with the Federal Accountability Act, this measure will no doubt yield more fairness for electors. Politicians will now have to seek financial support from voters, not corporate entities or special interest groups. Politicians will be entirely accountable to voters as opposed to corporations or union interests.
     Requiring a fair market rate of interest will allow all parties and candidates to be on an equal playing field by no longer allowing situations whereby favourable or entirely unknown terms of loans are granted without transparency. This change will also serve parliamentarians, riding associations and parties by protecting them from perceptions that they might be indebted to unions or corporate interests.
    In addition, our government believes it is unfair that a candidate can walk away from his or her campaign debts. Everyday Canadians are expected to pay back their loans under strict rules, and the same should apply to politicians. This is why our bill proposes to transfer a candidate's unpaid loans to riding associations. This will ensure that the money borrow will be repaid.
    Another important impact of the proposed bill will be to subject loans made by individuals to their contribution limits. This measure will prevent the current ability to bypass a contribution limit by lending large amounts of money without any expectation of ever being reimbursed. This measure will ensure greater accountability to citizens and enhanced transparency and integrity in our political financing regime.
    The last, but not least of these changes that I want to discuss today is the increased transparency requirements for loans to all political entities. From now on, all loans will need to be recorded in writing and reported to Elections Canada. This change will increase transparency, especially in the case of candidates and nomination contestants who currently have only limited disclosure requirements. Putting in place effective transparency standards for candidates and nomination contestants will allow Canadians to know who is financing their campaigns and under what terms. I think these measures will find wide support in the House of Commons and among Canadians.
    I would like to emphasize how the bill, in conjunction with the Federal Accountability Act, democratizes the political financing regime by focusing on grassroots voters. Wealthy individuals will be unable to bankroll their own campaigns by making large loans to themselves. Candidates will be unable to rely on a small number of wealthy contributors to finance their campaigns. They will instead need to seek support from those they wish to represent in the House of Commons.
    Lending will not be limited to banks. Indeed, there will be a wide range of financial institutions still able to provide loans. What the bill does is preserve the important role for small community lenders and financing grassroots political campaigns, such as families, friends, supporters, credit unions and caisse populaires. By making political parties and candidates dependent on their supporters for financial support, parties and candidates now have a greater incentive to be responsive to the average Canadian.
    What I hear from my constituents, and indeed many more Canadians across the country, is that they do not want to see parties and candidates using large loans from wealthy individuals, corporations, or unions to finance their campaigns. Large individual contributions are not permitted, so large individual loans should also not be permitted. Corporations and unions are not permitted to donate to federal political entities, so corporations and unions should be unable to loan large sums of money to political entities.

  (1615)  

    When our government was elected in 2006, we made the Federal Accountability Act our first priority, which among other things tightened the contribution limits to ensure corporate and union interests and wealthy individuals would not unduly influence politics.
    With the introduction of the political loans accountability act, we are building on our flagship Federal Accountability Act by bringing greater transparency and integrity to political loans. The bill would strengthen Canada's political finance regime, already one of the strongest political finance regimes in the world. This is good news for Canadians and for the political process.
    I encourage all parliamentarians to vote in favour of the bill.

  (1620)  

    Madam Speaker, for the most part, the official opposition is generally supportive of the general direction of this legislation. It is our intent at this point, unless we have reason to change our opinion, to support the bill at second reading and send it to committee. It is at committee where I would like to pose my question.
    I do not know whether the minister knows or not from talking to his predecessor, but discussions were held in the last minority Parliament when the government was looking for our support to carry this legislation. One of the areas that was a problem in that draft legislation, and it remains a problem in the bill, was the treatment of loans for riding associations once they had a candidate, and I will use myself as an example.
    Mine is not a rich riding in terms of demographics. We always have to borrow money through a line of credit and it always takes us the whole term to pay it back. We seem to pay it off just in time to get another line of credit for the next campaign. That is just the nature of my riding, because it is made up of mostly working people who do not have a lot of money to contribute to politicians. They contribute what they can but it is not a lot.
    If I am interpreting Bill C-21 correctly, we will be in a situation where to get a $20,000 line of credit, after a candidate has been chosen and the election is either about to be called or has been called, it will take 18 to 20 people at a contribution of $1,100 each, because that is the maximum, to back it up. Given that it is a political loan, banks often want dollar for dollar collateral. Using the round number of 20 people, that is a lot in terms of contributions. That money is then tied up for the campaign and cannot be contributed.
    Is the minister willing to roll up his sleeves and look at making some changes in this area?
    Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his support of the general principle of the legislation because it is important that we pass the bill and get it to committee. I would be happy to appear in front of committee to discuss the bill at that time as well.
    In regard to his specific question, it is important that we limit the amount of the guarantee that can be given to a loan to the same amount as a contribution limit. The contribution limit in 2011 is $1,100. Anything more than that, especially if it is not paid back, would be deemed to be a larger contribution, essentially a de facto contribution. This is an important principle of the bill. I would be happy to discuss it further, but it is important that we limit it to the amount that anybody is able to make.
    Madam Speaker, I hope the minister will be as precise in answering questions as he was in his speech.
    I have two questions for the minister. What criteria will financial institutions use to decide if it will lend money or not? Is the minister saying that it is more moral for legitimate financial institutions to give a loan than it is for a citizen?
    Madam Speaker, it is up to the banks to make that decision on how they will make the loan or if they will make that loan. We as a government cannot tell a bank what criteria to look at when it makes a loan to many different types of candidates. It could be a nomination contestant. It could be a contestant in an election who has already been nominated by the party. It could be a leadership contestant, possibly the front-runner or possibly a person who has no chance of winning at all in the minds of the bank. This decision needs to be made by the individual bank.
     It is not just banks. It is also insurers and credit unions. A number of official institutions would make those loans as long as they were open and transparent about the terms and conditions and who the guarantors would be for that loan. One's family, friends and other individuals can guarantee the loan to the maximum contribution limit.
    The bill is about bringing more accountability and transparency to the entire political financing regime.

  (1625)  

    Madam Speaker, just a comment on the whole question of the ability and the availability of candidates and their EDAs to get loans from financial institutions.
    I have been in the same situation in my early political life as my colleague, my friend from Hamilton Centre was, inasmuch as we did not have a lot of money in my EDA. We found it very difficult to raise money, in the early days. However, I found quite quickly that banks and other financial institutions, quite frankly, feel a responsibility to help the democratic process.
    That has also been bolstered by the fact that they know that 60% of a candidate's return could be assigned to the banks. In other words, as a candidate, if I received over 10% of the votes cast in my riding, I would receive 60% of my eligible expenses. That just usually is assigned to financial institutions, which gives them quite a bit more confidence that the money can be repaid.
    I ask my colleague, the Minister of State Democratic Reform, does he believe, because of the current situation on reimbursements to political parties and candidates, this would be an asset to candidates seeking loans from financial institutions?
    Madam Speaker, I thank the parliamentary secretary for his question and insight into this issue.
    Absolutely, the return for candidates who receive that level of voting, 60%, is some insurance to banks. However, at the end of the day, political parties can loan money to an electoral riding association or other EDAs can also loan money to another riding association. So, between political entities, loans can be made.
    There is ample opportunity for Canadians to be a part of the political process where financing will not hinder them.
    This bill would actually level the playing field and bring everybody down to the same level where corporations, big unions and wealthy individuals do not control the agenda. It is Canadians who have an opportunity to become part of the political process.
    Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that the minister has just told us that he is going to give a lot of power to the financial institutions, varied as they are, to decide whether the campaign of somebody who is just starting out is viable or not. Let us say it is a $20,000 loan and a candidate has lined up 20 people, each guaranteeing $1,000. Even in that case, the financial institution is going to have to do a lot of paperwork. It is going to eat up any profit that the financial institution is going to make.
    So, does the financial institution provide that loan or not? Maybe it wants to be nice to a candidate and will eat the clerical costs that would wipe out the profit of that loan. Frankly, it is clear to me that in these cases, the banks are given power to write off some expenses and make some candidates' campaigns financially viable right at the early, critical stages and to not support other candidates.
    Do members know the kinds of candidates who will not be supported? Female candidates, I think, would be hurt by this kind of legislation, and it would hand power and discretion over to financial institutions.
    Madam Speaker, the fact is that we as the government made a commitment to Canadians that we would close a loophole in our political financing regime. We were the government that brought in the Federal Accountability Act that cleaned up the political financing regime in Canada. Now we are building upon that by closing this loophole.
    The fact is that it is not only banks but also insurance companies, credit unions and other institutions that can provide these loans. Also, these loans can be provided by another electoral district association, by the party, or by family and friends.
    This bill would actually level the playing field for all Canadians to get involved in politics. It would take the power away from wealthy individuals, corporations and unions.
    Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to enter the debate. Let me first of all say that the reason why we are supportive of this is because there is a problem. We see the problem and I am not going to make this any more partisan than it sounds, that is not my intent, but merely the reality.
    The leadership race that the Liberal Party had left huge debts. It would seem that some of those debts are not going to be paid off. If that is the result and a candidate was backed by individuals, effectively right now those individuals bankrolled a big part of the candidate's campaign and by virtue of just never paying it off, put that money forward, and did exactly what we are trying to avoid which is single individuals, single corporations, and single unions from providing tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars to one candidate.
    I agree with the minister in acknowledging that there is a problem. We accept that the minister is going in the right direction. That is why again, as always, we say we need to see the details at committee. We do have some concerns. It has been raised once and it will be raised again by both opposition parties. The minister is saying that there is no need to put any regime around banks or credit unions in terms of who they will loan to and who they will not. That could create a serious problem. If we are only allowing the money to come from one or two places, and those places are not democratized in terms of what the rules are, in terms of who they will lend money to, one does not have to be a political scientist to see the problem.
     I would hope there would be some room and latitude to talk at committee about what kind of regime might be in place, what kind of safeguards could be in place, and maybe there is a backup by the government, maybe there is a role there. But any possibility where we are narrowing how Canadian citizens can raise money to participate in our electoral process, we need to ensure that not only is it fair but that we can actually access the money regardless of our political platform.
    For the most part the platforms here are not scary. Some might argue the point from our different perspectives. But in a world view, I think members know what I am saying when I use that phrase.
    If there is a legitimate, legal party that might have policies that scare certain segments of the population and part of that segment of the population could be the banks. It does not take a whole lot of analysis to realize that if a bank can find a way to legally, legitimately and free from harm say “no”, it is probably in the bank's interest to ensure that a party that has a platform that would hurt the bank would be helped by that bank to get more votes, and ultimately become the government that is then going to bring in rules and a regime that the bank thinks is not in its interest.
    Hon. Stéphane Dion: I applaud.
    Mr. David Christopherson: I am thrilled that the member is applauding. Really, it just warms my heart.
    We want to have a look at that. We think that is a valid point. There may be other points coming from the third party since it is the example we are using of why we need to have a loophole. That needs to be taken into account, but again, regardless of how many times he heckles me these days, I have the greatest respect for the democratic reform critic for the Liberal Party. I believe that when we get to committee and if the minister if open-minded, we can start to do something about this.
    However, I say to the minister, leaving some potential political parties vulnerable to not being able to access enough capital to mount a campaign is as undemocratic as allowing people with tens of millions of dollars to bankroll their good buddy. We need to be talking about that.

  (1630)  

    There is another real problem and I am going to come back to it again. I heard the minister's response when I asked if the Conservatives wanted to make it fair and keep it on a level playing field, but, quite frankly, how fair is it in a riding like mine where there are not as many wealthy people? I know the difference. When I was an MPP, my boundary ridings changed for a while and my riding encapsulated a part of the city where the demographic income was much higher. Boy, did it make a difference. Now I am back to my old boundaries and the standard problem. I would not raise it as a complaint other than it is in the context of this debate.
    Is it really fair for an individual candidate? For instance, I did this in the last campaign, and again I will use myself as an example so nobody will think I am playing any games. I bankrolled my campaign with my line of credit and my house. That was not an institution or an individual, that was me as the candidate putting up my house as collateral, whereas this bill would have me go out and line up 20 or 30 people, each one having to put out $1,100 and my riding association would be denied that $1,100 because it is tied up backing up the loan.
    Our point at committee is going to be whether there is some way that individual candidates can back up their loans, as I did. Then, after the election, my books were cleared up and the loan was transferred over to the riding association, but still backed up by my home. We may have to talk about what would happen in the case where a candidate does not win the seat and may move away, but those are still issues dealt with in any kind of collateral arrangement with a financial institution. They should not be so overwhelming that we cannot get over it.
    I am kind of arguing the opposite of where I am coming from, which is to stop money from having an influence, but is the democratic process really harmed in terms of the financing of elections by virtue of me backing up a $20,000 or $30,000 line of credit with my own home? Not everybody has a home. Granted, it still has problems, nothing is perfect. The circumstances may be different, but could a close relative do that? Is there a way that we can do this, so that it does not create an unfair disadvantage to those of us who do not have wealthy demographic ridings?
    This law does not matter much if someone has $100,000 in the bank. I believe there are some Conservatives and Liberals that do. I would be shocked if any of my colleagues did. They may, I am not aware of it, but I do not think it is that unusual on that side of the House or for some of the Liberals to have that kind of money, and so it is not a problem. I bring that as an element of fairness for us to look at, to see whether we can come up with a regime that meets the standards that the minister has set out but still allows fairness for individuals running for office.
    My last point on this is that it may sound like $1,000 from 20 or 30 people is not a big deal. However, this is real world stuff. Does anyone know how difficult it is to find 20 or 30 people who have that kind of money to spare? Again, it may not sound like a lot to members in this place, but for many of my constituents, that could be all of their savings. Then a candidate has to co-ordinate the timing. Those 30 people have to go in and sign the documents before the candidate gets the money, which means time is lost, time when the campaign is going on. The candidate's opponents are already up and running and the candidate is still running around trying to get signatures 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30, so he or she can get a line of credit and get his or her campaign up and running.
    Moving from a situation where I back up the loan with my home, and that is the way I have done it since I got here, versus the other way really is a huge disadvantage for some of us. I am hoping that we will be able to take the time to look at that.

  (1635)  

    I know my time for debate will expire, as it goes quickly. I do want to get my dibs in on the discussion about electoral reform. The minister used some very lofty language in his news release:
    The current rules on political loans do not meet the high standards of accountability, integrity and transparency that Canadians expect in their political process.
    That is all well and fine, but one of the most progressive steps, and government members should get ready to howl, that was ever taken in this place toward making elections fairer was providing the per-vote subsidy.
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Mr. David Christopherson: I told you, Madam Speaker. They are a little slow off the mark. They should have been quicker on that one.
    I want to say to the hon. members across the way that I participated in an election observation mission in Morocco in the last few weeks. What is one of the most important things to the people of Morocco? It is a struggling, emerging democracy in northwest Africa. One of the most important components they felt they needed was subsidies for political parties from the public purse to level the playing field.
    When the government talks about a level playing field, it is often like we all have the right to live under the bridge, that old example. When we stand back and look at the macro picture, at the end of the day, money will play a bigger role in Canadian politics after the government than it did before. That is wrong.
    I have given, at every opportunity, former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien as much credit as possible. I think the president of his own party used the expression, that was about as dumb as a bag of hammers. Why? Because the Liberals used to get all their funding from corporations. That was to be set aside, in large part, and replaced with the subsidies.
    That was a good thing to do. It did make our democracy better. I have had the chance to participate in six or seven election observation missions. Anyone who is involved in elections around the world either has that component, or the one thing they desperately want is to get private money out of their political system and replace it with public funding. They are either doing this because they know it is important, or they want to because they know the damage and corrosiveness that money can play in a democratic system like ours.
    My next comment will be on the same quote, when the minister used the word “accountability”. I love this. When the Conservatives say that word a lot, I want to bring into the broader discussion, to put the context of Bill C-21 in a more enlightened form, that under their new elect-the-senator bill, there is no accountability.
     In fact, the senators would be prohibited by law from being accountable because they would run on a platform of promises, as we all do. They would serve nine years, which we do not. If we look at the model all of us here live by, if we want to stay in office beyond our term, we go back to the people and say, “Here are the promises I made. Here is what I did, what I said, how I voted. Now I ask you, my boss, how did I do, and do I deserve to get rehired or re-elected for another term, yes or no?”
    However, elected senators, and I use that term loosely, would be prohibited by law from running again after nine years. Where is the accountability? There would be no accountability at the beginning, only promises. There would be no accountability in the middle. They would not even have constituency offices so they would not even be meeting Canadians, never mind being accountable. At the point when they should go back at the end of their terms, they would be prohibited by law from running again. Where is the accountability?
    The minister also said in that same quote, “integrity”. That is pretty rich, coming from the party that gives us the current Minister of National Defence.

  (1640)  

    The last point is on the Conservatives' use of “transparency”. We do not need to look any further than today's question period and the Canada-U.S. border plan. We do not even know what is in the plan. It may be taking away massive amounts of Canadians' rights.
    I raise all of that because the minister sets all these standards and uses these lofty words in his news releases. When we start to analyze piece by piece what the government is doing, it is undemocratic reform on a whole host of files. The words “accountability, integrity and transparency” are the last ones that Canadians are thinking of when they look at the actions and the agenda of the Conservative government.
    I will end there. We are in support of closing the loophole. However, we think that there is some improvement needed to make our system stronger.
     We have some serious concerns about having banks and other financial institutions as the only ones that can provide capital, with no requirement to actually provide it to all parties no matter what the circumstances. That is a huge problem, but it is solvable. I believe, if we wanted to, we could find ways to bring in conditions that would be acceptable to everyone concerned and make that aspect even fairer.
    We hope that we can do something about the requirements for 20 or 30 people to get that initial line of credit. Here is one idea. One could be allowed to spend up to a certain percentage of the maximum. If one's limit were $100,000, one might be allowed to borrow up to $40,000 or $50,000 on the signature or collateral of the candidate.
     I am sure we could find a regime that would still meet the goals of the government to level the playing field in terms of money, but also to make sure that our election laws apply equally across the country. The laws should not give an advantage or disadvantage to one's opponents in a general election or byelection.
    If these concerns are not resolved, then there is no guarantee what position we will take at third reading. However, with those caveats, we are prepared to support the bill going to committee.
     I hope the minister will allow us the same flexibility and tone that we had when we reviewed the previous bill, which we are voting against. The process at that committee was certainly as fair as I could have hoped for. At no time did I feel that the government was using a hammer to shut down democracy. I hope that we can look forward to the same relationship at committee on this bill. I hope we can make the improvements we need as well as look at other improvements to make it even better.
     I always say that on bills like this, the ideal would be if we could all be standing in support of it. Would that not say a lot about a good piece of election law?
     That is our goal; that is our position. We will see what happens.

  (1645)  

    Madam Speaker, it has been good to work with the hon. member. We will have good discussions on this bill.
    The member raised the point about how some people have a house that they could possibly get collateral on, but others may not. He then said maybe a relative could provide a loan. Where does it stop? Where would those guidelines be?
    The fact is, we are trying to stop wealthy individuals who have the ability to provide a loan but then have no real expectation of repayment.
     For some established political parties, there is a possibility that the individuals could get 60% back on their cost. However, there are other political parties which do not have a chance of getting anywhere in an election. What if one of those candidates were to borrow money under the member's plan and then just walk away from the loan? Where does it stop?
    At the end of the day, we need to have rules and guidelines. The bill that we presented has accountability and it is transparent. It says that the maximum one could borrow is the amount one could contribute. Anything over that would be considered a contribution.
    I ask the member, how would he solve that issue?
    Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for staying, listening to my remarks and asking a question.
    I am disappointed to hear that answer. What I heard was a defence of the bill. That is not the attitude we are looking for.
    I was doing, for a moment, the kind of work that we do at the committee where we deal with these laws. I see my colleague has been working on a couple of the pieces of legislation and projects now for two or more years.
    I enjoy working with the hon. member. He is very tough, but he is very fair. He is an hon. member and a good parliamentarian. However, when I give an answer like I did on the floor just now, I expect a response that says, “Well, I hear you on that. Is there a way we could tie it all in?” I may not have a perfect answer right now, but if I had all the perfect answers, I would not be here. I would be somewhere else.
    Collectively, we can tie it all in. I am just disappointed the minister was being so dismissive. If the smart minds who want to work together rather than score political points on each other would turn their minds to that, we could find a way to solve our problem.
    I hope the minister does not become so entrenched with, “It is my bill. It has to be my way or no way.” That does not get us anywhere. I really think there is an opportunity here, in talking about election laws, to come up with rules that are fair for everyone.
    I was trying to suggest to the minister how we could approach that. I was disappointed in his response. I hope he will get back on his feet and indicate that that is not how he sees any kind of potential dialogue going on. I hope he will be a little more open-minded.

  (1650)  

    Madam Speaker, I want to tell my colleague that I agree with 95% of what he said.
    I am puzzled by his conclusion, when he said that he has caveats with the bill. In fact, he is strongly questioning the core of the bill. For instance, he said that we should not give the financial institutions this kind of extraordinary power to pressure politicians and parties, but that is exactly the purpose of the bill.
    The bill stipulates that citizens will not be allowed to give any loans, but financial institutions will. Why does he want to give this monopoly of power to financial institutions, big money in some ways, and ask them to have a political role they do not want?
    Is it because the NDP is no longer socialist but social democrat? I expect the NDP will vote against this bill.
    Madam Speaker, the first thing I would say is that if my colleague wants to have that much influence on the NDP caucus, we could find him a seat here. Then he would be welcome to attend meetings.
    I do appreciate and respect that the hon. member has said he supports 95% of what I said. That is a good start. However, if the member wants to ratchet things up a little, I am game for that.
    The fact of the matter is we do need change. The Liberals are more interested in leaving things the way they are because that has worked so well for them over the years. They have lots of rich friends who can bankroll their buddies. The reason we even have this bill in the first place is that in their leadership campaign, there is an issue of hundreds of thousands of dollars that have not been paid back. We in the NDP do not accept that.
    Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to listen to comments from my colleague from Hamilton Centre.
     I have to reciprocate. Not that this was supposed to turn into a lovefest here, but I do appreciate the work that the member for Hamilton Centre has produced at committee. In discussions, we are not always on the same page. We end up, from time to time, agreeing to disagree. I do believe that the member has the best interests of this bill at heart when he says that he believes there should be some changes.
    I do not think I am going to end up agreeing with him on some of those points, but I do want to make a comment and ask the member to comment on one of the points he made that did not directly deal with Bill C-21.
    The member talked about the need for public subsidies, public financing of political parties. I believe that we do not need that. We have so many other avenues through which the public can receive benefit. For example, as we all know, anyone who contributes $400 gets a 75% tax credit. There are also rebates to political parties and candidates.
    I believe one of the fundamental aspects of democracy is, if people are running for political office, they should find support from like-minded people who w