|| That Bill C-20, An Act to provide for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate, be referred forthwith to a legislative committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to open debate on Bill , which the government is reintroducing from the first session of this Parliament. This bill marks an important step in improving Canada's democratic institutions and is one of two bills advancing the government's efforts at meaningful Senate reform.
Our commitment to provide Canadians with a Senate that is relevant for the 21st century was clearly laid out in the Speech from the Throne and approved by the House:
||--our Government will continue its agenda of democratic reform by reintroducing important pieces of legislation from the last session, including direct consultations with voters on the selection of Senators and limitations on their tenure.
Ordinary Canadians agree that the Senate cannot play its role with any credibility when its members can remain there until they are 75 and they are not accountable to the public.
That is why they are so supportive of measures to allow them to vote in a national consultation process for Senate appointments. Canadians were encouraged when they saw Bert Brown take a seat in the other place. He, of course, had been elected popularly by the voters. They were heartened to see the take account of the democratically expressed will of the people.
Reflecting the will of the people as the norm rather than the exception would enhance the Senate's legitimacy and relevance as a modern, vibrant legislative chamber while respecting its important and historic roles of providing sober second thought, which Sir John A. Macdonald indicated as a priority, and a voice for Canada's regions and minorities.
Senate reform has drawn a lot of attention since the 19th century but, unfortunately, the upper chamber is still stuck in that era.
We must repair what we can right now if we want to prevent the Senate from continuing its free-fall into what the has described as insignificance and oblivion.
Canadians expect more of their institutions, and the government will not shrug its shoulders while we wait for the ever elusive national consensus on fundamental reform. Those who insist that we wait for one are really looking for an excuse to leave the Senate just the way it is, although hardly any Canadian will publicly declare that the Senate in its current form is appropriate for a modern democracy.
The desire by Canadians to reform the Senate and make it a democratic and accountable institution was reflected in the government's consultations on democratic reform, which were completed last year. A survey conducted as part of the consultations indicated that 79% of Canadians, that is, four out of five Canadians, supported Senate elections. As a result, the government must and will continue with reforms that fall within the legislative jurisdiction of Parliament.
We have also reintroduced legislation to limit the terms of senators to eight years, a separate legislative measure that can be judged on its own merits. This time, we have laid that bill before the elected chamber first after the other place missed the opportunity to be engaged in its own reform and obstructed our efforts there, delaying it, in effect, for well over a year.
Today, we have before us Bill , which would give Canadians a say in who speaks for them in one of their representative institutions.
The has said that the Senate consultations bill raises complex issues. As with all our democratic reform legislation, we are seeking broad debate at committee about its merits and its details. In this case, we are seeking referral to committee before second reading to ensure the broadest discussion possible. It is important, however, that we be clear now on what the bill contains and, just as important, what it does not contain, especially given what some in the opposition have said about the bill.
Bill creates a mechanism with which the government could ask electors in the provinces to select the people they would like to represent them in the Senate before the makes his recommendations for appointments to the Governor General.
Like the federal Referendum Act, this bill creates a consultation mechanism that will not be legally binding for the government. The bill gives the government the necessary flexibility to decide whether to use the mechanism, where and when to use it, and in how many places the consultations should be held.
The purpose of the mechanism is not to manipulate the Senate for partisan purposes, but to ensure that the systematic vacancies in the Senate when senators retire could be taken into consideration in the system.
It is essential for the government to have this manoeuvrability because the consultations will be held during federal or provincial elections.
If the consultations are held only on the seats that are currently vacant, then the seats that become vacant shortly after an election could remain so until the next election.
The bill will help ensure that candidates are available to fill seats as they become vacant.
The bill would create a mechanism for people to register as nominees, raise money and campaign, and proposes rigorous accountability for nominees.
It respects what is supposed to be the less partisan nature of the Senate by providing a limited role for parties, both in campaign financing and in not giving parties control over how candidates are listed on the ballot.
It provides for reasonable limits on third-party spending so that organizations cannot exert undue influence on Senate campaigns, while respecting the right to be heard in the political sphere.
It avoids upsetting the carefully balanced campaign financing regime in place for the Commons.
Taken collectively, these are reasonable measures to ensure that Senate consultations are fair, that they invite public confidence, that they respect the less partisan nature of the Senate as an institution, and that the integrity of the Commons campaign financing rules remains intact.
Let me be very clear about what this bill will not do.
It will not make any changes that require resort to formal constitutional amending processes. The bill is not a constitutional amendment. The government's position, supported by eminent constitutional scholars, is that these proposals do not require an amendment and are within the ordinary legislative authority of Parliament to act on its own.
The method of selection remains unchanged. The bill does not detract in any way from the constitutional powers of the Governor General to summon Canadians to the Senate.
It does not change the conventional prerogative of the to recommend appointments identified through this process or any other.
It does not change the qualifications of senators and it does not affect their terms or create vacancies.
It does not change the constitutional role of the Senate itself as the arbiter of questions respecting the qualifications of senators.
The process can take account of whatever length of term Parliament in its wisdom ultimately decides to establish for senators.
I hope that the opposition members will engage constructively in this debate and examine the bill on its considerable merits rather than spend their time on distractions and unrelated matters as they did in the previous debate on the identical bill in the last session.
I am pleased that we have this chance to resume our examination of a bill to give Canadians a say in who represents them in the Senate.
This bill is an important step in the government's unflagging efforts to modernize our democratic institutions and it is a priority for the government.
The bill advances the principle that Canadians should have a say in who speaks for them in the Senate and does do so in a way that is respectful of the Senate itself, respects the primacy of the democratic mandate of the House of Commons, and conforms to the constitutional realities of Canada.
The Senate appointments consultation act will build momentum for further reforms. Meanwhile, it stands on its own as a useful step, indeed an essential one, in furthering the goal of a Senate worthy of the 21st century.
Senate reform is perhaps the most studied and most talked about subject among Canadian political science academics. The talk of reforming the Senate goes back almost to its beginnings. When the fathers of Confederation met, more time was spent on constructing the Senate than on any other subject.
I will go back to an observation made by John Diefenbaker, when he said the following to the notion that Senate reform was always talked about:
|| I recall very well the election of 1925 when the then Prime Minister, Right Hon. W.L. Mackenzie King, stated that reform of the Senate was a first and foremost course of action needed to assure democracy in this country. He said the same thing in 1926. I recall so well the promises of that day.
But to that Liberal prime minister, Senate reform was not the kind of democratic reform we are talking about. I will go on to quote Diefenbaker, who said about Mackenzie King:
|| He said he was going to substitute live Grits for dead Tories in the Senate. Some of those appointed were only half qualified....
The fact that this joke rings true today tells us why it is that we need to have this kind of Senate reform. I urge this House to seriously consider Bill and send it to committee so that a broad study can occur.
Mr. Speaker, if I were to answer all of those questions, I believe I would be well through the next speaker's time. However, I will try to address the first two.
The first was a question regarding the consultation with stakeholders. It was whether we have consulted the stakeholders. I obviously have a very different view of how democracy works than my hon. friend on the other side.
I happen to think that the most important stakeholders in Parliament and in democracy are the people of Canada. Those are the true stakeholders, not elected officials, not bureaucrats, and not people who happen to be holding seats in the Senate or even those in the House of Commons. It is the people of those provinces.
The very essence of the bill is to go to the people of those provinces and consult them every time there is a decision made on who should be appointed to the Senate, so that they get to choose who represents them, not some of the other stakeholders, not a prime minister, not a cabinet, not a provincial premier but the people of that province. That is what we consider to be consultation, the most genuine consultation. That is the essence and purpose of this bill.
I know there are those who wish to see the Senate remain unchanged. There are many members in the Liberal Party who want to see it remain unchanged because it has served them very well over the years as an institution dominated by appointed Liberals. However, we believe it should be an institution that serves and represents Canadians in the provinces and that is why our structure is that Canadians in each province would be consulted to select their representatives.
On the question of underrepresentation, he talked about the need to change the distribution of seats in the House of Commons so that the western provinces that are underrepresented could have better representation.
I take it from that point that my friend will be supporting our democratic representation by population bill, Bill , which will be coming up for debate later in the week because that is the objective of that bill: to move toward representation by population, to give them their fair share, to give Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and underrepresented provinces, more seats than they are entitled to under the existing formula.
I know that because Liberals really do not want that to happen, they will talk about it, say they support it, and then vote against the principle and the bill or obstruct it because that is the way the Liberal Party always works.
It has built institutions that primarily serve the partisan interests of the Liberal Party and does not want to see those institutions change one bit. Liberal members will say one thing and do the other. It has been seen back to the time of Confederation. I do not expect it to change in this Parliament, though I will be delighted if they surprise me by supporting Bill and Bill to allow some kind of reform and change to actually happen.
Mr. Speaker, I gave the minister a few lob ball questions, which I thought he would hit out of the park, but he could only get to two of them and he answered those poorly.
I want to speak today about , about the Senate in general, and what this bill in particular seeks to do. It seeks to establish a national process for consulting Canadians on their preferences for Senate appointments.
The bill will see voters choose their preferred Senate candidates to represent their provinces or territories. As such, it seeks to fulfill a Conservative campaign promise to reform Canada's Senate and move toward an elected Upper Chamber.
I am very confused as to whether the Conservative government is putting forward bills toward Senate reform or Senate abolition. When you hear members of the government speak privately, and I have heard the catcalls across the way that in fact there is quite a bit of foment in the Conservative caucus and in the government in fact for abolition.
I think that is a position that can be held. I think that if the Conservative government is really wanting to abolish the Senate totally, then it should probably say so. Maybe there is a bit of a disconnect now.
Finally, the Conservatives are in government and this party over there has a disconnect between the frontbenchers and the middle and backbenchers. It seems to me that maybe the frontbenchers are not listening to the backbenchers and the middle benchers, people who have been around the block a long time, people who have been advocating for the abolition of the Senate.
I think that is the real debate we are having here, and it seems from the tenor of the remarks by the hon. minister who just spoke here and outside of this House, and by the bills that are being presented, that in fact what the government wishes to do is to abolish the Senate. If that is the debate we are having, why do the Conservatives not just bring forward a bill for the abolition of the Senate, and we can have that debate.
Well, there is a reason. There is division over there on that question. It seems that the Conservative government as elected, and that is the frontbench mucky-mucks, has made promises that it is for Senate reform. Senate reform includes consulting the provinces and looking toward an elected body representing Canada's regions fairly, but also entwining it with issues of representation by population.
Now if the Conservatives truly meant to do that, they would have gone to their first ministers across this country and at least had a conference. We have to ask ourselves, what is the government afraid of?
How bad can it be to have a real meeting with the provincial and territorial leaders, something more than just a main course of bison and a dessert of crème brûlée in a two-hour meeting where they are rushed out to the airport before any real discussion takes place, as we saw from the last conference?
What would be so wrong with sitting down with the territorial and provincial leaders and saying, “This is what we want to do. What do you think?” Then at least we would have on the record, through a conference, certainly not unanimity and certainly not agreement in total, at least a discussion of where the government should go, where the obstacles are, and where the opposition lies.
What we have instead is a patchwork. We have bills rushed through in three days, affecting the future of the Senate. We have television commentary, variously, in Ottawa representing the government's position but also in provincial capitals representing various provincial representations.
With all due respect to the media, they do not play every word that is said. We cannot be sure that what the government mouths, through its spokespersons at night on television, is exactly its position. We cannot be sure that provincial and territorial leaders are being quoted accurately. But it would seem that there is no consensus on this bill and the other Senate reform bills.
A little bit about this bill. It calls for significant Senate reform, this and a companion bill with respect to tenure. Now as my hon. member colleague mentioned, there have been calls for Senate reform since the mid-1970s, when Canada was undergoing major demographic shifts. We had shifts.
I come from Atlantic Canada. There has been a diminution in the population of Atlantic Canada for a generation now, and there has been growth in western Canada for over a generation now, perhaps two generations. With that, the population and the economic clout of Alberta and British Columbia were very evident.
They were growing much faster, for instance, than Quebec. Quebec still had and still does have 24 Senate seats, while Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. held a combined total of 24 seats. We mean no disrespect to the important primordial position of Quebec within this Confederation, but we must recognize that these regions of Canada require a revisitation of the number of seats in the Senate that they require.
In 1989, as members all know, a Senate seat became vacant in Alberta. The provincial government held an election and Mr. Waters was elected to the Senate, appointed by former Prime Minister Mulroney.
On April 18, 2007, the of this country appointed current senator-in-waiting Bert Brown to fill the Alberta Senate vacancy created by the retirement of a senator there, so there has been some movement with respect to the appointment of selected senators. Bill attempts to codify the past practice with respect to these two selections.
The process allowing elections or consultations to be conducted to elect senators-in-waiting, however, has four distinct flaws.
First, it was introduced, as I mentioned, without consultations with provincial governments. Again, the Canadian public must understand that provincial governments have a stake in what the Senate is. They should either be for its abolition because it no longer represents provincial interests, which is one position, or they should be for reform as it relates to their own representation within the Senate or the efficacy of the Senate, or they should be for the status quo or some version of modified reform.
We have no record of what the provinces and territories feel about Senate reform and what their position on Senate reform is. Yes, from time to time we will have an interview. Yes, from time to time we will have a letter from a premier or a minister respecting intergovernmental affairs from a province supporting a particular position, but what is the overall position on Senate reform from the provinces and territories?
It is unbelievable that almost one year after its introduction, the has still not engaged his provincial counterparts in meaningful discussions on this legislation.
The second flaw is that it tries to skirt around the Constitution, and haphazardly electing senators in this way will still do nothing to improve the representation of British Columbia and Alberta in Canada's Senate.
Both provinces are, as I mentioned, currently underrepresented in the Senate in comparison to provinces that have not had similar population growth. I do not know if the people of Canada know, or if the ministers in provincial governments know, that there are 14 vacancies in the Senate.
If the Senate is supposed to work to protect provincial, regional and other interests that are not represented by population in the House of Commons, then whether we are going to change the Senate, whether we are going to abolish the Senate, should we not have the Senate as it is working the way it is designed to work?
Many will argue it is not working. I presume that is why the minister has made such bombastic comments and the government has made the drastic step of saying that the Senate, over in the other place, shall do something by a certain date. I am not going to get into the debate on tackling violent crime. We had that yesterday, but just think of that. The minister and the government know, or should know, that this House cannot legally bind the other place, so it is mere puffery.
Think of the situation should this bill pass and in a generation or two be in effect. It would mean that every province would have a form of an election. Every senator would be duly elected directly by the people and we would have a body that would claim, as much as this place, to be the democratically elected representative of the country.
Would that motion, which the government is attempting to pass telling the Senate what to do, be received in the same light? Would it be offered by the government, had it an elected Senate of its own type? Or is this just pure politics? Would we be addressing these bills if there was a Conservative majority in the Senate?
Third, the process to elect senators in large provinces will unfairly benefit urban areas.
Finally, the bill would allow Senate nominees to be elected, but does not make those elections binding.
In this environment, when we have non-political appointees fired, if we were to have a political appointee elected by a province in a non-binding election who is not the flavour du jour of the prime minister, can anyone imagine the prime minister actually selecting that person?
The bill is ripe with flaws. It does not reflect the good spirit of our Constitution and the good flow of provincial negotiations that had to have taken place before the bill was posited.
Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my hon. colleague's presentation and I have a few comments, observations and a question.
While the hon. member was talking about the need for revised regional representation in the Senate, he failed to recognize the fact that to do that would require constitutional change.
He also went on to mention that the government was not engaged in any meaningful consultations with the provinces and territories as to Senate reform. I would point out to the hon. member and the rest of the members in the House that there have been attempts in years previous, going back probably 80 years, to work with provinces. However, because the provinces cannot agree to any one form of democratic reform or Senate reform, whether it be revamped regional representation formula, abolishment or true reform, nothing has ever been done.
The member now is suggesting, in some form in his presentation, that we actually try to engage in a constitutional amendment so that we can look at the regional representation aspect. I would suggest to the hon. member that if we go down that road once again nothing will get done.
We are attempting to make meaningful change to the Senate, which I believe most members agree needs reform. Reform has been talked about and agreed upon by all provincial and federal leaders for the last 100 years but nothing has ever been done because we run into the impasse of constitutional problems or non-agreement between provinces. We were attempting to ensure that something gets done that will not require constitutional change.
While the member opposite has said that we have a hidden agenda to abolish the Senate, I would point out that is clearly not true. We said that we needed significant democratic reform but if that cannot be achieved, then abolishment should take place.
The reason that our minister spoke of going to the people to allow them to express their wishes on who they wish to see representing them in the Senate is primarily democratic in its nature.
I would point out to the member opposite a number of examples of how the appointment process that we currently have has worked over the course of Canadian history. This has been on both sides of the House. I admit that both Conservative and Liberal prime ministers in years past have shown patronage when it comes to Senate appointments.
However, could the member answer this simple question? Does he think it is fair that in the course of history, for example, Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, a Liberal prime minister , in his 15 years in office, appointed only Liberals and no other Senate members from any other political party? Mackenzie King, another Liberal, in 22 years in office he appointed 103 senators and all but 2 were Liberals. St-Laurent, in 9 years in office, appointed 55 senators and all but 3 were Liberals. Finally, on a yearly basis, Lester Pearson, in only five years in office, appointed 39 senators and all but one were Liberals.
Does the hon. member think that is democratic, fair and truly represents the diversity of opinion in this great country?
Mr. Speaker, as I said yesterday, right off the top, I am not very happy to speak in a debate about Motion No. 3, which would send a message to the Senate about its work on Bill . I would rather have spoken about a bill that the government had introduced to increase its assistance to the manufacturing and forestry industries. If they had done that, we could have been dealing with problems that are much more urgent for our fellow citizens than Senate reform.
In any case, though, this reform does not pass muster in our view. As I said yesterday in the debate on Motion No. 3, we think the Senate is a political institution that is not only undemocratic but in the modern era has lost its very reason for being. It is simply a vestige of colonial times and the British monarchy. For these fundamental reasons we will oppose referring it to committee before second reading.
I think we would have opposed it even after second reading because we are opposed to the very principle underlying this bill. Its purpose is to reform an institution that, in our view, is no longer relevant if it ever was. There is no point trying to amend a bill in some way when it is so unacceptable in content and form and when no amendments could possibly make it acceptable. We will therefore vote against referring this bill to committee.
We disagree with the very principle of this bill because it is obvious in our view—and Canadian and Quebec history make it crystal clear—that Canada’s institutions cannot be reformed. By trying to reform the Senate through bills rather than a constitutional amendment, the is confirming something that was already evident to many people in Quebec. For Quebec sovereignists, of course, it is impossible in any case to make significant changes to the Canadian constitution, even more so when taking into account the national reality of Quebeckers.
It is also deeply shocking to see the Conservative government and the Prime Minister bring in bills with which not only the Bloc Québécois but also the National Assembly of Quebec have said they disagree. This is true of both Bill and Bill , the latter dealing with a redistribution of seats in the House of Commons.
Each time, it is clear that behind these changes—I am not even talking about reforms, because I think the word “reform” has a positive connotation—there is never any will to take into consideration the existence of at least two nations within the current Canadian political space: the Quebec nation, which was recognized by this House, the Canadian nation, which we readily recognize, and, of course, the first nations and the Acadian nation.
I think this has been the problem since Canada was created, and is why Canada's political institutions cannot be reformed. I am obviously talking about the lack of will from the majority of this political space, meaning the Canadian nation, to recognize, and not just by a motion in this House, the existence of several nations within the Canadian political space.
I could talk about the history, but not this morning. At certain points in the history of Canada and Quebec, it would have been possible to mutually recognize two nations and to recognize the first nations and the Acadian nation, in order to build a political structure representative of this multinational space. Unfortunately, the past, and also more recent history—for example, the Charlottetown accord and the Meech Lake accord—has shown us that there was not a broad enough will, yet alone a majority, within the Canadian nation to change the political balance and reflect this reality.
Unfortunately, the current Parliament seems to be the perfect example of the crisis in the Canadian system. I am not talking about the Bloc Québécois, because we chose to represent the Quebec nation in the House of Commons. I am talking about the political parties that call themselves national, but should call themselves pan-Canadian, the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party and the NDP.
Those parties all have essentially regional foundations: the Conservatives, more in the west; the Liberals, in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces; and the NDP, a bit everywhere. They are not yet sufficiently entrenched in a region of Canada to claim to be pan-Canadian parties. It is not their fault. Quite simply, no one has wanted to recognize this multinational dimension in the past.
The Quebec-Canada relations crisis is not a crisis for the people of Quebec. It is a crisis in the Canadian system, with ups and downs, since history is never linear. It is very clear that, as long as people fail to grasp this reality—and in the case of the Bloc and Quebec sovereignists, we will take this reality into account as soon as Quebec decides to become a sovereign country—we cannot resume discussions with our Canadian neighbours to reorganize an economic space, at least, and perhaps a political space between our two nations.
That being said, within the existing political space, considering the mindset of Canadians, it is obvious that Canadian institutions cannot be reformed. This situation will certainly not be corrected by trying to reform the Senate, especially since Bill is aimed primarily at marginalizing the Quebec nation more than anything else.
I was saying that we are against the bill because Canadian institutions cannot be reformed. Indeed, in our view, the very spirit of the bill is unacceptable. Nevertheless, there is also the fact that Parliament cannot reform the Senate unilaterally and without making constitutional amendments. As many constitutionalists have said, the National Assembly has confirmed, and Quebec's Minister for Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs, Mr. Pelletier, has said on many occasions, any attempts to change the composition or the method of appointing senators would require a constitutional negotiation. Obviously, for us as Quebeckers, and especially for sovereignists, a constitutional negotiation will not be held on the Senate question alone, since it is far from our primary concern. We often even forget that that institution exists.
It is therefore very clear to us that the bill as it now stands cannot be acceptable to Quebec or to anyone who wishes to abide by the Canadian constitution.
I often find it amusing—it should make me cry, but I tend to be an optimist—to say that the only people who try to ensure that we abide by the Constitution in this House are the Bloc Québécois. For example, when we talk about respecting the jurisdiction of the provinces or combating the federal spending power, we are unfortunately the only ones who stand up for what was set out in a document that may, in fact, be too old, because it does not reflect the present-day reality of the Canadian political space.
The fact remains, however, that as long as the Constitution has not been amended and as long as we are within the Canadian political space, Quebec, Quebeckers and the Bloc Québécois will stand up for the idea that there can be no amendments relating to the specific method by which senators are appointed without constitutional negotiations. Once again, on the question of constitutional negotiations, when that door—some would say that Pandora's box—is opened again, very clearly there will be other matters to be brought in besides mere questions about the Senate.
There is a fourth point that I think it is important to make. Even if it is reformed, the Senate is a useless institution, as I said earlier. It is a legacy of the monarchy, a legacy of British colonialism; it is the fear that the founders of the Canadian political space had of seeing a sovereign people make decisions through elections and elected representatives.
So they appointed these wise and elite people, who are often conservative. I am not speaking here to Conservatives as such. We are talking about elites who often wanted to oppose the desire for social and economic progress felt by a majority of the population. That is true for Quebec and it is also true for Canada.
I will conclude on that point because I have been told that my speaking time will soon be up. The bill itself is full of problems, even though it might have been thought to have some value.
Under Bill , given that indirect election of senators is not going to make the Senate democratic, we are creating senators whom it will be virtually impossible to unseat. This is a non-binding consultation and it is full of holes.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this issue on behalf of the New Democratic Party. However, I must say at the beginning that it is somewhat bittersweet, as the time allotted for me is not nearly sufficient to deal with the numerous ethical lapses and failures of the Senate, so I will find myself a little rushed in trying to paint a picture of just what a failure that institution has been.
I do sympathize with my Conservative colleagues who have talked about reforming the Senate for some time now. However, judging from the debate here, I think we will see that the Liberals will stall on making any moves to actually make the Senate accountable to the people of Canada. The Bloc, as we just heard, is simply interested in breaking up Canada. As for my Conservative colleagues, the reality is that if they were serious about having an elected Senate, then Mr. Fortier would have run in the riding of Outremont instead of his very clear declaration that he was too busy to run in an election, but he certainly did not mind taking up a post in the Senate.
The question of reform is tantalizing to people who have not looked at too much of the Senate's history. The fact is the Senate is unreformable. Numerous attempts have been tried over the last 140 years to make that anachronistic institution actually accountable to the Canadian public. At the end of the day we are faced with the fact that we have a Gordian knot of provincial interests that need to be worked through. The other fact is that senators claim to be masters of their own house and they have been openly defiant in their refusal to move that institution not only into the 20th century, but into the 21st century.
Let us look at a few examples of the attempts that have been made at reform. Under pressure, the Senate finally set up a code of ethics for itself, and it was certainly something to behold. Mack trucks with extra tandem loads on the end could be driven through the loopholes.
The Canadian public is probably not aware that our august senators sitting in that other chamber, which by the way would make an excellent public basketball court for a lot less money, allow themselves the right to sit as directors on boards of major corporations in Canada, while at the same time they exercise decision making for the Canadian public.
Under Senate rules it is perfectly okay for a senator to maintain a secret bank account. It is also perfectly okay for a senator not to disclose any of his or her family's financial interests, unless he or she has an actual direct contract with the Government of Canada. The most outrageous rule is that they allow themselves the right to participate, influence and vote in debates on issues where they have financial interests, as long as they declare those financial interests. They can participate in closed door meetings where they could have financial conflicts of interest and could influence public policy, as long as they announce it within that meeting. They can, of course, leave it up to the rest of their cronies as to whether or not the public gets to know about that conflict of interest.
Any small town municipal councillor or school board trustee knows he or she would never get away with breaking conflict of interest guidelines so loosey-goosey and so self-serving. Why is it that members in the upper chamber are allowed to write themselves such a code of ethics? It is scandalous. If that institution were serious about reform, it would take the steps toward reforming itself, but it has not.
The New Democratic Party has been very clear from the beginning on this issue of Senate reform. Our founders in 1933 said there was a need to abolish that anachronistic institution. We remain committed to that to this day. Since 1933 there has been no real attempt by any government to make that group accountable to the Canadian public.
We have been pointed to the possibility of elections. Senator Brown went through an election process in Alberta; however, he was appointed after an election that took place over three years ago. At that time, 86,000 voters refused to participate in that election. Another 84,000 filled out the form wrong and spoiled their ballots, which meant that less than 35% of the eligible people in Alberta who showed up that day actually participated. I do not think that is a ringing endorsement to show that Canadians believe in that institution.
The other day, the Nova Scotia Conservatives said that they had no interest in partaking in these shadow elections because at the end of the day it falls to the to appoint or not to appoint.
Why has the Senate gone so wrong? Some people think that it started out as a good idea. It has been floated around that maybe it was set up as a good counterweight. However, if we go back to the roots of Confederation, we find that the Senate was started on a wrong principle and it has been downhill ever since.
In 1867, when the forming Government of Canada was looking to set up an institution, it looked to mother England. Mother England, with its long history of class privilege, had a system in place with the House of Lords. It did not want the common people, the average folks like us, to have too much power so it created an upper chamber based on hereditary peer privilege in order to have a so-called check and balance. That was exactly what our founding fathers at that time had in mind. They did not want the common people to have too much say and so the idea of the Senate was set up.
John A. Macdonald was very clear when the Senate was set up. He said that the role of the Senate was to protect the rights of minorities because the rich would always be fewer in number than the poor. That principle was wrong 141 years ago and it has been downhill ever since with that group over there.
The other day I heard a young tour guide outside the Senate chamber say, “The role of the Senate, as proclaimed by our founding father, John A. Macdonald, was to protect the rights of minorities. In this chamber, we look after all minorities. We love them all. We bring them all in and help them”. The poor fellow is being paid to deliver this tripe to the public but the reality is that it could not be any different. The Senate was set up so the government could look after its buddies and pals, the crony system.
Nineteenth century Canada was a swamp of nepotism and cronyism and it remains to this day. To paraphrase T.K. Chesterton comparing the English system and ours, the only thing worse than being squire ridden is crony ridden, and crony ridden we remain.
I do not want to leave the impression that it is just a bunch of hacks, cronies and people who have been flipping pancakes for the Liberal Party for 30 years who have been given the cash for life lottery. There are some august figures and some people who have done very good work in the Senate, but choosing to show up and do good work is not a legitimate reason for a system of government. The fact is that senators can show up or not show up to work. They can show up to be active or they can basically stay wherever they are, in the Bahamas or wherever, with their attendance rates being as abysmally low as they are. It is entirely up to them to decide how much they want to participate.
The question of whether they do good work on an individual bill here or an individual senator there who has the great background is not the issue. The issue is whether this works as a form of government. I would suggest that in the 21st century we remain pretty much the only country in the western world that accepts the fact that party bagmen, cronies, friends of the party and failed candidates can be given this position and stay there without any scrutiny until they are 75 at the public's expense.
I would suggest that the question before us is simple. Is it possible to reform this anachronistic institution or should we move forward to abolish it? I would say at this point that we have tried reform and it will not work. The reality is that we need to put this question to the Canadian people.
A number of basic things have changed since the swamp of nepotism was first set up in the upper chamber back in 1867. In terms of checks and balances, we did not have strong provincial governments at that time. Now we have very strong provincial voices. We did not have the legal system or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that are in place today to represent minorities. Much has changed. Do we need four levels of government, one whose members hardly ever show up except to ding the taxpayer when it comes time to collecting their pay?
The issue before us is that the triple E Senate will go the way of all other Senate reforms and we need to get back to the four basic U's. The fact is that the Senate is unelected, unaccountable, unreformable and, ultimately, unnecessary in the 21st century.
Mr. Speaker, I compliment my colleague, the member for on his speech. I do not think he used notes, which shows his capacity to think and speak on his feet, and he actually presented the NDP position on the Senate quite well. The NDP's first position is to abolish the Senate and its second position is to elect, if possible. Its final position is status quo.
My first and foremost option is to have Senate elections at the top of that list. My friend from the Bloc Québécois is heckling me here on the issue of Michael Fortier.
In the last election campaign, we did not happen to win seats in Canada's second largest city. We thought it would be appropriate to have somebody representing Canada's second largest city at the cabinet table so we appointed--
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. James Moore: Mr. Speaker, I am not going to heckle them when they speak and I would appreciate the same courtesy.
We decided to appoint an eminent Montrealer, who is well known in the city of Montreal, to our cabinet table and, at the same time, appoint him to the Senate on the condition that he present himself as a candidate in the next election campaign for this House. The Senate actually does have a question period. Three out of four seats in the Senate are occupied by Liberal members and opposition members and there is an opportunity there for accountability so we tried to combine the two best possible scenarios.
It was one of those dynamics where we were damned if we did and damned if we did not. If we appointed Minister Fortier to the position that he has right now, people would make the noises that we just heard from the opposition parties. If we did not appoint him, people would say that the Conservatives do not care about Montreal because they did not appointment somebody to cabinet from Montreal. It was a lose-lose proposition but we think we made the right decision and we have somebody who is doing a fantastic job on behalf of Montrealers at the cabinet table in the form of Michael Fortier.
I want to talk about this bill and why I do think this is a good step forward. My principal reason is that it allows for consultation. I disagree with my colleague from in his description of the Senate and how it was founded on rotten first principles. He may make that argument about the House of Lords but it is not a transferrable argument to the current Canadian Senate.
The Senate, in its Canadian form, our upper house is designed in order to have the grievances of provinces represented in Ottawa. Yes, of course it can do a better job of that. My colleague from just mentioned the issue of western alienation. If we take the number of seats in the House and the number of seats in the Senate, combine them together and divide them by the population of that province, by a wide margin my province of British Columbia is overwhelmingly the most dramatically underrepresented province in Ottawa on Parliament Hill. We need to do a better job of ensuring that Canadians have a fair voice in the House of Commons, which is why we put forward a bill to add more seats into the House of Commons, more seats for those provinces that are currently underrepresented, Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. James Moore: I would comment, as well, that my colleague from the Bloc is continuing to heckle me.
The reason the Bloc Québécois is in favour of abolishing the Senate is because in order to abolish the Senate we must amend the Constitution. There is nothing the Bloc would rather have this country do than to get into a divisive constitutional debate.
What is more, the Bloc members want to abolish the Senate because it wants to have that Senate debate. They also recognize that about a quarter of the 105 senators are from the province of Quebec, which means that about 75% of the Senate are federalists. The Bloc does not like the idea of having that many more people in Ottawa in one of the two Houses of Parliament fighting for and defending Canada's interests. It wants to have fewer federalists in Ottawa, which is why it believes in abolishing the Senate.
The members of the Bloc Québécois, as usual, are up to their own mischief on this issue. They do not have a sincere position. Their position is about mischief making and about driving their agenda of tearing Quebec from the heart of Canada and we, frankly, will not have any of that.
This bill is about consultation. It is about reaching out to provinces and recognizing their role in having provinces at the forefront of the decision making of who will represent the provinces in Canada's upper house, which is an important step forward.
It is important to note that the province of Alberta has Senate election legislation and it has been exercised twice. In our government, we appointed Bert Brown to the Senate, who was elected by the people of Alberta. When a subsequent vacancy arises, the Premier of Alberta will have the capacity to elect senators in waiting who will then be appointed to the Senate on a democratic basis by the people of Alberta.
Under the NDP, the New Democratic government in the province of Manitoba passed bill 20 to elect senators in the province of Manitoba. The citizens of that province can have their say on who will be fighting on their behalf on Parliament Hill.
In the province of Saskatchewan, Premier Brad Wall has already indicated that he is drafting legislation and working hard to put forward Senate election legislation in the province of Saskatchewan so that the people of Saskatchewan can decide who their senators will be.
In British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell has indicated that he is interested in following this path as well.
We have a conceivable situation where the four western provinces of Canada, based on their democratic choice, will enter into a process to elect senators at the grassroots level so Canadians can have a direct say in which politicians are in Ottawa, spending their money, in scripting their freedom and advocating for public policy changes. It is important that Canadians have that democratic right. That is something our party has always advocated and it is something in which I have always believed.
The is all about that. It is about consultation with provinces and it is about incremental reforms.
My colleague from also mentioned the former Liberal government, under the member for when he was prime minister. He used to constantly say, when he was campaigning in western Canada, that he believed in Senate reform. He was not prepared to engage in sweeping constitutional reform and Senate reform. He was not prepared to have any kind of incremental reform. Outside of that, he was all in favour of Senate reform.
We recognize we have a minority Parliament. We think Canadians are prepared for this debate and are prepared to engage in it. I do not think we want to go down the road of engaging in constitutional discussions if it is not necessary. We think there can be incremental Senate reform in the country, and this is one of the mechanisms by which it can be done.
A couple of bills on Senate reform are being considered by the House. The other bill is to have Senate term limits, to limit the number of years somebody can serve in the Senate, from a maximum of 45 years down to 8 years. That is a reasonable reform and proposition. Also we have the bill before us, which provides for consultation.
I reiterate the point that abolishing the Senate requires a constitutional amendment. The New Democrat position is a very idealistic one, but it is a very unrealistic one. Without constitutional amendment, the Senate cannot be abolished.
There is a backdoor way of abolishing the Senate, which is do not appoint any senators, leave the vacancies sitting there. Over time, these vacancies will accumulate. There are a couple of problems associated with that. One is the Senate vacancies will not come up proportionately across the country. We may be a situation where one province is dramatically disadvantaged in the Senate by virtue of the number of vacancies relative to another province.
We are almost getting to that point in British Columbia. Three out of the six seats in the Senate are currently vacant. Half of our Senate delegation is not there. We hope those seats will be filled through a democratic process, ultimately by consultation.
The other problem with the backdoor way of abolishing the Senate, without constitutional reform, is we get into this dynamic where the smaller the Senate, the more power it has. We have seen this. We have seen the Senate exercise its power in a way that is not helpful to the democratic mandate provided to the House by the Canadian people. We have seen that in the past and we see it today.
We know the clichéd saying that the Senate is supposed to be the chamber of sober second thought. We have the example of , a comprehensive crime bill. It was one of the cornerstone issues on which Conservatives campaigned in the last election campaign. When I campaigned in my district in the suburbs of Vancouver, it was the dominant issue I pushed on the doorsteps. That was what I heard back from my constituents. As good politicians, we talk about the issues that are of concern to our constituents.
Criminal justice reform was probably the central issue of concern for my constituents. We campaigned hard on criminal justice reform matters. We were elected to Parliament on the basis of our criminal justice platform, and we put forward these bills twice, once in the individual forms, and we did not succeed. The House prorogued. We came back, we packaged them together in , a comprehensive tackling violent crime act, and we have pushed that legislation forward.
We had full debate in the House of Commons on the legislation in the original form. When it came in the form of , we had a full debate in the House. We had a full debate at committee. We considered amendments and accepted them. Then the bill finally passed, with the support of opposition parties. Now it is in the hands of the Senate.
The government was elected on the basis of a very specific platform of criminal justice reforms. We passed them in the House, with the support of the opposition parties, and they went to the Senate. Now the Liberal Senate members have proposed 59 witnesses on to logjam bill at the Senate side. After more than two years of government, where we have compromised on the bill, we have worked together, we have worked across party lines, we have passed the bill, we want to see it become a reality. This kind of activity on the Senate side needs to be stopped.
Therefore, if there is abolition of the Senate through constitutional means, the Bloc will play its games. If there is abolition of the Senate through backdoor means, by restricting senators, a smaller number of people will be empowered to play more games like we have seen on .
The way to go ahead is to have incremental reform with reasonable measures. It is not unreasonable to say that senators should sit for a maximum of eight years rather than 45 years and have that responsibility of being a senator circumscribed to that amount of time. That is an entirely reasonable reform.
The second one we have proposed is to have the federal government sit down with the provinces and consult with them in the best way to allow the people to decide who should legislate on their behalf in Ottawa.
This is quite straightforward. I think if that proposition were put forward to Canadians, we would win this debate 95:5. This is why I hope the bill will see that kind of support in the House, with the support of opposition parties.
Mr. Speaker, I sense an interest in my colleague running for a district in Newfoundland and Labrador for the Senate in the future.
First, on the issue of equalization, I went into that debate, but he misrepresented what was said in the past by us in the campaign and what we delivered to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Beyond that, on the issue of Senate reform, there will be disagreements within provinces on how we go forward. However, I would like to turn the question on itself and suggest this to him. Why should a member of Parliament from Deer Lake prevent the people from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and in the future British Columbia, their right to choose their senators?
Why should any province say to another province that it cannot do what it democratically has chosen to do? Again I will use the example of Manitoba. A provincial NDP government passed bill 20 to elect senators in the province of Manitoba. That is its choice. It has its own Senate delegation that comes to Ottawa and fights on behalf of Manitobans. Why should anyone from any other region of the country tell it who it can or cannot send to Ottawa? That is not right. It is undemocratic.
If the province of Quebec wants to sustain the status quo, this legislation provides for that. If Quebec wants to sustain the status quo, it does not have to engage in consultation. It is consultation about how we go forward.
If those provinces are ready for democracy and reform, so their citizens are empowered to elect their senators, why should the federal government get in the way? We want to encourage those provinces to do so.
If his province and other provinces do not want to go forward under this prescription, I suspect the provinces he described are not unanimous in their position and alternatives. Some of them want to abolish the Senate to increase the power of individual premiers. I suspect that is the case with Newfoundland and Labrador, where he is from. That would be keeping in step with the style, but that is not always the case. Each of these provinces has its own internal dynamic in terms of what it would prescribe as the right solution for Senate reform, and there is a fair debate to be had.
For those provinces that have had their debate and chosen the way forward, let us get out of their way.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss Bill , a bill that, by any definition, is purely political, even by Ottawa standards. Like everything we see from the government, the facts play little relevance in what it crafts as legislation or policy. This is all about politics.
Even the name, an act to provide for consultations, shows us what qualifies as consultations in the eyes of the government. It has not had discussions with the provinces and it did not take very long for provinces to speak out against this in its earlier incarnation and again now. As as my colleague from Newfoundland and Labrador mentioned, Conservatives in my province of Nova Scotia very recently spoke out about it.
The bill has little to do with reforming the Senate, but much to do about fulfilling an election promise made by the other side in order to appease their narrow base. Does the leader of the government in the House really believe a discussion, at this moment, on this topic is in tune with the needs and the realities of most Canadians?
In my riding of people are worried about the coming economic downturn. Is the government, which squandered away a lot of money it inherited, ready for that economic downturn? Is it ready to provide the support and the stimulus that Canadians will need to get through this difficult time?
Are students interested in this? None who I have talked to have raised this as an issue in the schools I go to on a regular basis. I always ask kids what is on their minds. They talk about the environment, Afghanistan, the high cost of tuition, literacy, social services and infrastructure that provides the social supports for which Canadian is known. They do not talk about the Senate.
It indicates that the government is either trying to waste the time of the House as we go toward an election, or it is using this as a political wedge, or both. The bill and others like it are props to be used to distort or to create the impression that the Conservatives champion change when in fact they do not.
The bill does nothing to address the issue, for example, of Senate representation. I will have that discussion. We should have a discussion about the House of Commons and about the Senate.
When we go back to the original Senate, when we had Confederation, the design of it was not bad. It was a good design. It was such that regionally there was representation in Canada. Lower Canada, Quebec, had 24 members. Upper Canada, Ontario, had 24 members. The Maritimes had 24 members. Then as the west joined Confederation, it had 24 members. Then the north and Newfoundland and Labrador joined and they were accorded seats in the Senate to represent the important regional issues that mattered to the people in those areas.
Yes, the House of Commons has a largely proportional say in voting on all the important measures of the day. The elected members of Parliament made those decisions.
The Senate is designed, not only as a chamber of sober second thought, but to provide that regional balance, and we saw that. My colleague from , for example, suggested that Atlantic senators did nothing on the Atlantic accord. That is entirely untrue. After it passed in the House, the Senate had further hearings on the Atlantic accord. All senators from Atlantic Canada on the Liberal side voted against the budget. They did continue that fight. Probably at the end of the day, they played their role, which was to bring more attention to it. For example, the Premier of Nova Scotia came up for hearings. However, at the end of the day, the will of the elected House prevailed, but that did not make redundant the role of the Senate.
My colleague from B.C. talked about representation. I agree that my province of Nova Scotia, with 10 seats, and B.C. and Alberta with six seats, need to have that discussion. The bill does not talk about that. We need to have those discussions in a serious and positive way throughout the country.
We need to look at Senate terms as well. Let us talk about the Senate terms. Should they be lifetime to 75? I do not know. I suspect probably there is a better way of doing that, but it is not by coming forward and suggesting that we are going to have consultations, ignoring a lot of the important issues that matter across the country.
I would be very open to some kind of Senate reform package that would allow Canadians to feel they were more connected to the Senate, just as I would support some reforms in the House of Commons that would allow them to feel more connected to this chamber as well.
I want to read the May 2007 resolution from the National Assembly of Quebec, when this bill came back in its original incarnation, Bill C-56. It states:
|| THAT the National Assembly ask the Parliament of Canada to withdraw Bill C-56, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, introduced in the House of Commons last 11 May;
|| THAT the National Assembly also ask the Parliament of Canada to withdraw Bill C-43, An Act to provide for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate, whose primary purpose is to change the method of selection of senators without the consent of Québec.
Most recently, in the province of Nova Scotia at the Conservative annual general meeting of the struggling Conservative government of Rodney MacDonald, this proposal for elected senators was put forward to Progressive Conservatives in Nova Scotia. The report in the now defunct Daily News of Halifax the next day headlined “Tories reject Harper's plan for elected Senate”. It lead off:
|| [The] Prime Minister's dream of an elected Senate suffered a set back yesterday when Nova Scotia Tories defeated a resolution that asked the province's Progressive Conservative government to organize a vote this October. Delegates at the party's annual convention in Halifax voted overwhelmingly against the idea.
And a number of reasons were given.
It is not particularly creative or imaginative to run around the country and bash the Senate. It has been done for years. The language we hear of the unelected and unaccountable Senate, filled with party hacks and all that sort of stuff does not add a lot to the debate.
In fact, if we look at what the Senate has done for Canada and the work that it has done for Canada, it has actually served this country very well, not only as a chamber of sober second thought but also through its committees.
At around the same time that Mr. Romanow prepared his national commission on health care, Senator Michael Kirby produced his. They were both excellent reports and a good synopsis of the current situation.
I would suggest that the Kirby report from the Senate was every bit as good or perhaps even better in some areas than the Romanow commission report. He went on to do work on mental health which has now become sort of the hope of mental health advocates and people who suffer from mental health illness in this country. That came out of the Senate as well as Joyce Fairburn on literacy, Colin Kenny's work on military issues and a whole host of studies, some of which I individually would agree with and some of which I would not, but which no one could deny was important work.
I may be a little bit biased coming from Nova Scotia. We happen to have some pretty good senators. There is the senator from my own riding, Senator Jane Cordy, who is an outstanding senator. On the work I do on post-secondary education, Senator Willie Moore is the champion of post-secondary education.
If we talk to the AUCC, the CFS, the CASA, and the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences and talk to the granting councils, they can tell us that they can always get a good understanding of what is happening when they talk to many of these senators who are particularly focused on this issue. Senator Terry Mercer from Halifax has done some championing work for post-secondary education.
Again, I want to go to the regional aspect of what they have done. When we talk about post-secondary education, we can talk about tuitions and the unique nature of Nova Scotia where we have the highest tuitions in the country.
We can talk about research and development. If it was not for the work, I would suggest, on the part of senators as well as Atlantic Liberal caucus members, some of the important investments through ACOA in research and development would not have happened. We need to build up the research capacity of our universities in Atlantic Canada which are very good, but they need a certain amount of attention.
I think that is a regional issue that is very important. I mentioned the accord. Even the Progressive Conservatives have nominated good senators. Senator Lowell Murray is actually a senator from Ontario but he is a Nova Scotian and he has been a champion of a lot of issues including the duplicity of this government on the Atlantic accord.
I think it is easy to bash the Senate. In fact, the Senate has done some very important work across this country. We can make changes. There is no question about that. We all want to see changes in how Parliament works. We want to see changes in this House and in the Senate, but here we are talking about this issue, when Canadians are worried about the economy, poverty, the environment, jobs, education, literacy, and the list goes on.
I cannot support this bill. I am open to discussions about Senate reform. This is not the answer. It has not been brought in with consultation. It does not meet the needs of Canadians and I will not be supporting this bill.
Mr. Speaker, I have heard all sorts of things today in the House and all kinds of different views. Ours is very clear and has been since the beginning. Ever since 1993 when the Bloc Québécois first arrived in this House, when I first took my seat here, we have thought that the Senate should be abolished for several reasons.
Even the Conservatives say the Senate is blocking some bills now. The Senate is not elected. Even if this bill should pass, how will senators be elected? The would still have the right to decide that someone does not suit him and therefore could appoint someone else. They would still be doing through the back door what they cannot through the front, that is to say, appointing people for partisan reasons. That is unacceptable.
Some people say that the provinces that are not happy with this and do not want a Senate can just withdraw. That is anti-democratic. I remember the time of the Meech Lake accord. We had to open up the Constitution. All the provinces had to agree with the Meech Lake accord, and if they did not, it was just too bad and the accord fell through. I fail to see why we cannot do the same with the Senate. When we are dealing with something as important as the Senate, the least we can do is open up the Constitution because several provinces—virtually a majority of them—are opposed to the Senate.
I went around my riding and did a little test with my electors to see whether they knew who their senator is—their representative in the Senate, the man or woman who is supposed to be representing them in the other chamber. Nobody knew their senator. Why was that? Because senators have no obligations at all. They sit on boards of directors at head offices and are involved in various corporations, which puts them, of course, in a conflict of interest.
They are never seen out in the field. We are the ones who are out there and we are sitting in the ejection seats. We are not appointed for 25 years. We are here and in every election we must prove that we have done a good job and deserve to be re-elected. That is not true of senators who are there for 20 or 25 years, pulling down salaries in excess of $100,000. This bill will not solve the problem because the upper house will always throw another monkey wrench in the works.
Some people talk about the senators' good work. Well, I'm sorry, but we can do good work right here in the House. Things would go a lot faster if we did not have to send each bill to the other place, where things get bogged down because the Liberal or the Conservative senators have decided that bill x should not be passed. The other place gets the word, then they debate the bill, engage in systematic obstruction, and call the shots. That is unacceptable.
I will read an important motion. This is not a sovereignist motion; it is a federalist one. Members of the National Assembly unanimously adopted the following motion:
|| 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.
That is an inescapable fact. We would save a lot of money. Right now, our seniors, people without adequate housing, and the homeless are suffering terribly. We would save millions if we eliminated the Senate. Imagine: 105 senators being paid over $100,000 per year.
What exactly do they do? They show up here when they feel like it, but make no appearances in the ridings. We never see them. In 15 years of political life, I have never seen a senator attend an activity or an event in my riding. What do they do? They have a pretty sweet gig: they do whatever they want. That is unacceptable. This bill would not even require senators to do anything.
They are not even required to do anything. They are simply elected for eight years. Eight easy years at $100,000 a year. To do what? Some of them work, it is true, but they are few and far between. I do not know the senators. How is it that I do not know them after 15 years? The reason is that we do not see them, because they do their own thing and come here to Parliament when they feel like it. There was even one senator who got the boot because he was in Florida and had not been in the upper chamber for nearly eight months.
I am sorry, but if I went to Florida for eight months, I would hear about it from my constituents. If I did not do my riding work, if I did not go and see my constituents, if I did not listen to them, if I did not write to them, if I did not communicate with them, I would lose my seat before long. I think this is extremely important. We are much closer to our constituents, and there are enough elected bodies already.
There are the municipalities, the school boards, the Government of Quebec and the federal government. I think we have enough already. These bodies cost voters a great deal of money. We have everything we need. Moreover, some provinces have abolished their upper chamber because it served absolutely no purpose.
I do not see why we should do things any differently here. We are totally opposed to this bill. I do not have to draw you a picture, because we have been saying so for 14 years. I do not see why we should do things any differently here. I do not see why the provinces should be excluded from making this decision. In any case, from what I have heard in this House, most members will vote against this bill. I hope so.
If we want real reform, then we should open the Constitution and hold a debate. I guarantee that Quebec will put its foot down, as it did in the National Assembly, and say that it does not want the Senate. We know how things work. If one province refuses, then there will be no Senate and there will be no changes.
Instead of introducing bills like these, I would prefer to see this House achieve constructive things, that we take care of social housing, the poor and the homeless, that we truly address real issues like the forestry sector, which is collapsing, and the manufacturing sector. That is what is needed. There is plenty of money floating around here. The Senate costs us a fortune. Let us take that money and spend it where it is truly needed, and not on the Senate, which, I repeat, has no obligation to voters, no representation obligations and no obligation even to this House.
Senators do whatever they like in that other place. They block bills on which we have worked here in the House for months, sometimes years. I remember one such bill that was blocked. It was a bill on the environment act, the framework legislation. We had worked on it for two years, redoing it, revising it, rewriting it, making sure it was much more up to date, since it had not been revised in 15 years. The Senate blocked us. They blocked it for nothing. That situation lasted for months, and we do not need that.
I think we are responsible here in this House. We are capable of making our own decisions. We are all elected members, all in responsible political parties. I think the Senate is an ineffective apparatus that we do not need. Thus, it must be understood, we will be voting against this bill.
Mr. Speaker, a whole bunch of things went through my mind when the member was speaking.
I hesitate to do this because it is not really in my nature to praise Liberals, but I do need to counter one of her statements. She said that she never saw a senator, that he was never in the riding, that he does not work, et cetera. I have an example to counter that.
Even though every member of Parliament from Alberta is a Conservative, every one of them, unfortunately we are represented in the Senate by people from the Liberal Party and the NDP because they are whom the prime minister appointed.
I want to say something about one of the hard-working members from Alberta. His name is Tommy Banks. I see him frequently at functions in the city of Edmonton where my riding is. He appears there. He participates actively in the annual Remembrance Day ceremonies. He conducts music and does many good things there. One day some constituents were here. We went for a walk. I showed them the Senate. This was at about 10 o'clock at night. We went up into the Senate gallery and who was giving a speech? Senator Tommy Banks. I am not campaigning for him, but some of these people do good work and I would say that he is one of them.
The question is, do they have legitimacy having been appointed? I believe that if we gave them the legitimacy of an election, they could do good work and add to the democracy in our country.
Furthermore, I need to say it is just a hard fact that Ontario and Quebec have 60% of Canada's population. They have 60% of the seats in this place and unless we have a counterbalance in the Senate for the outlying regions, everywhere except Ontario and Quebec, we lose the democratic balance in this country in which the views from right across the country are expressed and represented in our houses. We do have to have a Senate. I am quite convinced of that, but I would like to see it as an elected Senate so that it has full legitimacy.
I would like the member's comments on that. I have always enjoyed listening to the member and I look forward to hearing what she says now.
Mr. Speaker, I enter this debate with great pleasure but also with great remorse because of the intellectual dishonesty that is being perpetrated by the government in bringing forward this bill at this time.
There is a reason that I make such harsh judgment of the government. I know it is not easy and there are certain government members who endeavour to provide honourable discourse and dialogue in this place. Yet when looking through the many pages of Bill , Canadians might be left with the impression that the government is actually serious about Senate reform, somehow serious about democratic reform. This goes back to the days of the Reform Party and then the Canadian Alliance and various incarnations in between in speaking to what I believe was a sincere desire among Canadians to see some sort of accountability in all levels of office.
If the rules that were given to the Senate were applied to any other official body in this country, Canadians would be absolutely disgusted. They would be unable to understand why we would allow such an important function of government to run amok and have so few rules guiding its own merit and conduct. The ethics rules are not adhered to. On simply showing up for work, the attendance is abysmal. Before I entered politics I ran a small business. After looking at the attendance records for some senators, they would not have been hired, or if they had been hired, they certainly would have been let go as soon as possible. They simply do not show up and when they do, their effectiveness is found wanting.
Clearly there is much speculation in the media and by the pundits that we are on the eve of another election. There is potentially a series of confidence votes. The for some delusional reason seems interested in going back to the Canadian people for a mandate.
The government is showing its true colours in desiring an election because it is clearing the decks of all those bills. The Conservatives want to show some small significance of effort back to their base, that oh yes, they are engaged in the issue and here is their evidence and proof.
Lo and behold, like a gopher, Bill has popped up its head and pretends at some sincere effort. The government lost any momentum for discussion of the bill because it chose to prorogue Parliament. It chose to suspend Parliament which essentially killed all of the bills on the order paper that were in progress, such as its own crime bill and other bills, including this bill as well. All of that time was lost and it is more than two years since the last election.
The government introduced this bill, but allowed it to fall into the black hole of prorogation, a process which few Canadians understand. However, the government understood it well, and the desperate need for another throne speech was its excuse. It set the bill back 12 months or more and lost any kind of serious discussion.
The New Democrats are deeply interested at our core of finding a way to fix the fundamentally flawed institution that is known as the Senate in order to allow Canadians some sense that democracy is functioning and that they are getting value for money. There are 14 vacancies in the Senate and we get no sense of urgency whatsoever from the government to fill those vacancies, because ultimately those positions are filled through patronage appointments. That is the way it is done.
The government seeks credibility on this issue. It seeks to tell Canadians it is sincere about Senate reform and having true representation in the Senate. One of its first acts as a new government, having just run a campaign on accountability, was to appoint Michael Fortier from Montreal to the Senate. That was one of the first things the did after having spent not just weeks but months telling Canadians how sensible and accountable his government would be, how it would clean up the corruption of the Liberals. How many times did we hear it in this place from the Prime Minister and other people in his cabinet that they would not follow the record of the Liberals and not give crony patronage appointments, that they would do it differently?
One of the things the Conservatives were thinking of doing was reforming the Senate. Lo and behold, when given the reins of power, the first thing the decided to do was to force upon the people of Montreal a representative they did not choose. He chose to put someone into the Senate in one of the most important cabinet positions, one which controls billions of taxpayer dollars, someone who cannot be held to account in this place.
When that ministry, under his guidance, runs amok and spends money unaccountably or perhaps wrongly, he cannot be called to account. He simply cannot be given that direction and focus from this place. Canadians cannot see him, at least on the evening news, presenting his opinions in a place that was constructed to do just that. These walls were built and these desks were put in this place for that. Canadians imbued Parliament with the power to be accountable over many things. One is the law and another is the use of taxpayer dollars.
Yet the government has chosen to put an unaccountable, unelected person into the cabinet and stick that person in the Senate in order to get around this little annoyance called democracy, this little discomfort, which is that people in just about every urban centre in this country decided not to elect Conservative members. Rather than actually appeal to those voters in any kind of sensible way and present a platform on urban transit strategy or the serious issues affecting Canadians living in cities, the Conservatives decided that the appointment process was just so much easier. It is just so much easier to appoint someone to the Senate and allow that person to occupy one of the most critical positions in cabinet.
In this bill, despite the many pages and the many clauses and amendments, the government is clearly playing at the margins. It is clearly tinkering at the edges, because at the end of the day, through all the sections on voting, discrepancy and penalties, it still remains the purview and the power of only one person in this country, and that is the , to choose whom he or she will allow to go into the Senate.
When we craft laws in this place, we do not craft them for any particular current representation or any current manifestation of government. We seek to create laws that will last throughout governments, that will stand the test of time and be a good representation of sound thinking.
It is wrong for the government to present a bill with the pretense that perhaps this may choose to honour the wishes of some of the voters who are constructing some electoral options in regard to it being a truly accountable forum and in regard to this bill somehow fixing a fundamental problem. Earlier in the discussion in regard to the functioning of the Senate, I called it an old beat-up jalopy that simply will not start. It simply will not function. The government's solution is a new coat of paint and some air in the tires, perhaps with windshield wipers if they are needed.
Sometimes there were debates and moments in history where, for some miraculous, rare spot in time, the Senate actually performed a function. It actually did something admirable in one of the current policy debates, but those moments are so rare that they remind me of a strange phenomenon I was looking up earlier. I was trying to find the actual taxonomic name of a flower in the Amazon. It buds only once every 25 years. It is quite rare. No one really knows when that is going to happen and it is a news item every time. Everyone rushes to the Amazon, the cameras show up, the flower buds and shows itself, and then quickly disappears again for some unknown period of time.
When I deal with my colleagues in the Senate, as admirable as some of them may be, I find that as an institution there is absolutely no lever to pull on. There is no accountability measure. I can recall before the previous government fell that the House of Commons, in the midst of an energy concern regarding seniors on fixed incomes, sought to pass a piece of legislation that would assist low income seniors with their home heating bills. I am sure all my colleagues who were here at that time remember that debate. We all remember how the parties got together in one of those rare moments in Parliament and decided to pass a bill at all stages and allow the bill to pass on to the Senate.
I met with a senator that day on entirely another issue. He told me to go back to my leadership and tell them that the bill, which we could find all party agreement to, had no guarantee whatsoever of getting through his chamber because the Senate had to be accountable. That senator was a Liberal, and of course he had no determinants of influence or bias whatsoever in terms of what was happening here in this place electorally with his elected colleagues, and he guaranteed me that if we rushed to an election too quickly, he assured me that this bill would not go through, and how dare the NDP bring down his Liberal government.
In fact, it was a bluff, of course. The bill passed and the money was received by needy seniors across the country, but the fact, and the point of this illustration, remains, which is that the accountability of that gentleman to represent this narrow, biased and partisan view, rather than the interests of this country and the people who vote for members in this place, shows what is so fundamentally dysfunctional about what it is the Senate has come to represent, which is a minority representation, protecting minority views, those of the powerful and the elite in this country.
Mr. Speaker, my colleague from is asking essentially two questions. One is around representation and the other is around value for money.
Since 1993, the Senate has received a 70% pay increase. The cost of the Senate on a yearly basis has been double the cost of inflation for this country. These are expensive folks to keep at the trough. This is not an inexpensive adventure. The government is suggesting that we hold more elections. There is some cost attached to that, although I always am cautious about the cost of democracy in that one moment when Canadians become the most powerful people in the country and cast a vote. There are costs incurred with that.
However, there is a tinkering at the edges in the representation. Most people in Skeena—Bulkley Valley in northwest British Columbia could not name a single senator. Maybe they could name two if they were really lucky. Being so far removed from Ottawa, they often wonder how they have been represented. There was actually representation. A senator did in fact visit our riding, to check on a business proposal in which he was an investor. He also sat on the Senate committee that was going to approve legislation that helped the business proposal get forward.
That was the reason for his visit to my region. It was to check up on his business interests, to understand if there were certain tinkerings with the bill that was before his committee, on which he was meant to be representing the views of all the country, one would imagine, that could aid and assist in his financial endeavours in my region. That was an incredible moment.
What was most interesting to me was that when the senator spoke with me, he was absolutely unabashed by this scenario. On the clear and present conflict of interest that was happening in front of us, he saw no problem with it at all. He did not think he had to recuse himself. He felt it was incumbent upon him to make sure the bill helped his business interests and those associated with him. How ridiculous does this get? This is what the people in my region see and then they wonder why this place is defended so assiduously, particularly by the Liberals, and even in this bill by the Conservatives.
Fundamentally, this bill does not get at the heart of the problem. It does not clear up the ethical gap that exists between what Canadians want and what senators on a daily basis feel is their right and privilege, and that is to defend their own interests rather than the interests of this country.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill .
Let me begin with this statement, which members might find familiar: our “federation is only as strong as the democratic institutions that underpin it”. It might be familiar to members because this statement was affirmed by the House when it adopted the government's Speech from the Throne for this sitting of Parliament.
We might not agree on everything in this place. In fact, across the country we disagree on a variety of things related to our political process, but whatever else may divide us, I think we agree that we share a commitment and a loyalty to federalism and to democracy. We have shared loyalties to those things.
As members of the House of Commons, as representatives of Canadians, we are all committed to continuing to strengthen our federation by strengthening our democratic institutions. We can look back at the history of Parliament and see that electoral and institutional reforms aided us as we moved down the pathway of making those federal and democratic reforms.
Because of the efforts of our predecessors in these respects, Canada is a free and democratic society. In fact, we are a model for aspiring democracies the world over. Our federal structure is looked to as a guide for constitution makers and nation builders everywhere.
We have merited this reputation because we have been willing to change. We have aspired to reflect democracy's and federalism's proudest ambitions. As members of the House, we share the responsibility to carry on that proud tradition.
I am proud to represent the beautiful province of British Columbia. From time to time, I speak to people about democratic reform. They might talk to me about proportional representation. They might talk to me about the voting age. They might talk to me about a variety of things, but inevitably what I hear most about is Senate reform. This system that we have today bothers them. We need to respond to that.
The Senate must be reimagined. It must be recreated in the image of a democratic and federal Canada. I believe that our shared commitments to democracy and federalism should lead us all to the conclusion that we need to do something about the Senate.
Maintaining, protecting and promoting the reputation of Canada is a responsibility of Canadian lawmakers. The subject matter of our present debate, the Senate appointment consultations act, gives us an opportunity to fulfill this responsibility.
The extent of reform that is possible is no small undertaking. We could aim for comprehensive reform that will satisfy the full scale of federal and democratic change in the Senate. To do that, though, constitutional change is necessary.
However, short of comprehensive reform, some change can be effected by this present Parliament. I believe it is our responsibility to do what we can now and to hold on to the hope that we can do more in the not too distant future.
I believe the bill before us is a promising legislative initiative. It speaks to both the federal and the democratic ambitions of Canada and seeks to reform the Senate to promote those ambitions.
With this legislative initiative, the opinions of Canadians will be sought on whom the should recommend for appointment to the Senate. That is basically what the bill is all about. With this single act, we can effectuate immediate reform that will answer part of the Senate's democratic and federal deficiencies. To neglect to pursue this opportunity is to fail in our responsibilities as members of the House.
In a democracy, citizens should understand that they are participating in the law-making process and they should have that opportunity. By having the opportunity to choose their representatives, as they do in the House, they engage in that very participation.
In fact, I never lose sight of the fact that I serve here at the pleasure of the people of . Citizens have participated in the selection of every member of the House. However, citizens currently have no participatory role in choosing who sits in the Senate.
Given that the powers of the Senate in the law-making process are similar in many respects to the powers of the House, citizens similarly should be participating in the selection of senators. The Senate appointment consultations act would give them that opportunity. To deny Canadians that opportunity is to deny them their proper place in both Houses of Parliament.
In pursuit of Canada's proud democracy, we should support giving Canadians the opportunity to participate in deciding who shall sit in both Houses of Parliament.
Now in days past the decision to divide Parliament into two Houses was made in the light of the federal aspirations of Canada. The House of Commons was designed to reflect proportional representation, or at least mostly so, of all Canadians, whereas the Senate was designed to reflect Canada's regions.
The Senate appointment consultations act proposes not only to give citizens of Canada an opportunity to speak to their preferences on senatorial appointments, it also allows the regions to speak, not just individual citizens. By allowing for consultations per province, the attachment of a senatorial nominee to his or her region will be strengthened.
The member for who spoke previously is right, I think, that most Canadians cannot name very many of the senators who represent their region. He is right about that, even in B.C. where we have a relatively small number of senators, something that also has to be fixed along the way.
I think part of that is due to the fact that we do not have any way of participating in the process. In fact, if we follow this bill and put in place a consultation process, an election by all accounts would give the opportunity for those nominees to better connect with the people in their region. So the relationship between Canada's regions and Canada's senators will be promoted by allowing citizens to have a say in who should represent them.
This may be the most important point of all, senators will owe their allegiance to the region that nominated them and elected them, and not to the Prime Minister or party that appointed them. That is a very important point. I believe this will allow the Senate to regain its constitutional status.
Some will maintain that Senate reform may well be necessary, while the democratic and federalism deficiencies are obvious, and while change is within our grasp, there are other more pressing matters than Senate reform. No doubt the members of this House face many important matters that warrant our attention. We consider them day after day. However, when properly understood, Senate reform should be recognized by all members of Parliament to be a priority.
First, this House committed itself to Senate reform by approving the government Speech from the Throne. This House committed itself during the lifetime of this Parliament to the priorities set out therein. This House has acted on many of those priorities, and now it is time to devote itself to this one.
Second, Senate reform is not a challenge that will be forgotten should we neglect to act now. The Senate is an essential component of Parliament. Unlike the position of the NDP, I believe it has an important role to play. Few actions of this House and no bill passed by this House may proceed without Senate approval.
It reflects poorly on this House that we have had for so long the possibility of correcting the democratic deficits of the Upper House and have failed to do so. Yet, we now have more than the mere possibility of acting, we now have the opportunity to act. A bill is before us and it would be to ignore our responsibility not to stand behind this legislative initiative.
Third, the call for Senate reform has been expressed both democratically and in each one of Canada's regions. Canadians, when polled, have responded enthusiastically to the proposals for Senate reform put forward by the government, including this bill, the Senate appointment consultations act. In a federal democratic state like Canada, when the democratic expressions of citizens throughout the regions affirm a legislative initiative, that should be the guide by which Parliament should act.
These are all reasons that encourage the members of this House to stand in favour of the Senate appointment consultations act. As for me, I will be proud to tell my constituents that I have fulfilled my responsibility to them as their representative in Parliament. I will be proud to tell them that when given the opportunity to support a measure that would further Canada's democratic and federal ambitions, a measure that enjoys decisive, regional and popular support, I voted in favour. I encourage all members to do the same.
Mr. Speaker, excuse me.
So I will say that even the Conservative government admits that Canada cannot be reformed. It is trying to reform the Senate piecemeal. It is trying to take things away from the Senate piecemeal, rather than by a constitutional amendment. To the Bloc, it is obvious: it is impossible to amend the Constitution in any meaningful way.
Attempts have been made to reform the Senate on numerous occasions, but nothing has ever resulted. History is repeating itself. You are quite young, Mr. Speaker. We who are a little older have read widely. If we look back a few years, we see that attempts have been made to reform the Senate on numerous occasions. Senator Serge Joyal, who is still living, has written a book about Senate reform. In that book, he listed 26 proposals for Senate reform, in only the last 30 years. So the problem of Senate reform is not a recent one. We assume that we may again find that we have to say it is not possible to do it.
In the opinion of the Bloc Québécois, the Senate is a useless institution. Originally, in addition to being the Chamber for sober second thought about bills, the Senate was also supposed to protect regional interests. Clearly equal representation of the regions in the Senate should, in theory, provide a counterbalance to representation in the Commons.
What we see at present is that party affiliation has got the better of regional representation, thereby nullifying the very objectives of that Chamber, which instead tends to replicate what goes on in the House of Commons. It is as if the Senate has become a second House of Commons.
The indirect election of senators would not improve this situation, in the Bloc’s opinion. On the contrary, the electoral process tends to strengthen the role of political parties, to the point that indirectly elected senators would likely be more concerned about the interests of their party than about those of their region.
How can this government justify preserving a Senate that would have responsibilities similar to those of the House of Commons, of the parliamentarians who sit in this Chamber? This would create duplication and would cost an estimated $81 million. If we elect senators and they have the same powers as the members of this House, we are going to be creating duplication that will cost a great deal in public funds.
Term limits for senators and indirect elections of senators do not make the Senate more democratic. Under the bill that has been presented to us, in our opinion, it would be virtually impossible to unseat senators. The public consultation is not binding on the .
As well, electors are not all equal before the Senate. And eligibility for the position of senator is not open to everyone, again under the bill. An indirectly elected Senate would undermine the existing parliamentary system in the event of a deadlock between the two chambers. And lastly, the senators have the power to oppose measures enacted by the House of Commons, which is elected.
Do you see all of the hypocrisy in this? I would add to this that by strengthening the legitimacy of the federal Senate, is trying to infringe the authority of the provincial premiers. And we know that the provincial premiers have—
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak about Bill .
Electoral reform is something that I hear about often from my constituents in . Always at the top of their list is what we are going to do about the Senate. I would like to take this opportunity to give a bit of the history of discussions about changing the Senate in our country.
First, dissatisfaction with the Senate as produced for us by the Fathers of Confederation--the Senate being something which they spent more time talking about than any other subject at the conferences leading up to Confederation in 1867--began almost immediately.
In 1874 there was an extensive debate in the Parliament of Canada about reforming the Senate and in particular, the appointment process, but nothing happened.
In 1887 at the first interprovincial meeting of premiers, there was a call for an elected Senate, but nothing happened.
In 1906 through to 1909, there were extensive debates in both federal houses about Senate reform, but again, nothing happened.
In 1921, Liberal leader Mackenzie King included Senate reform in his party's election platform. This was followed by extensive debates in both houses in 1924 and 1925 on the need for reform of the Senate, and again, nothing happened.
At the 1927 Dominion-Provincial Conference, Senate reform was a main topic of discussion. All the politicians said there was a need for reform, but again, nothing happened.
There were extensive debates in the Senate in 1951 and in the House in 1955 on the need for Senate reform. Again, nothing happened.
In 1965, the Pearson government, following up on a bill introduced by the previous Diefenbaker government, was able to have passed through Parliament an amendment reducing the terms of senators from life to age 75. That was not very revolutionary, to say the least. And that was it. There has really been no change in the formal structure of the Senate since that time.
In 1972, a special joint House and Senate committee, the Molgat-McGuigan committee, held extensive hearings across the country and recommended the need to reform the appointment process for the Senate, if nothing else. Again, nothing happened.
In 1978, the Trudeau Liberal government proposed a bill which would abolish the Senate and replace it with a new body to be known as the house of the provinces, with at least half of the members chosen by the provinces. Again, in the end, nothing happened.
After that, there was a series of commissions and studies: the Pepin-Robarts committee in 1979; the Quebec Liberal Party beige paper in 1980; the House-Senate joint committee, the Molgat-Cosgrove committee in 1984; the Macdonald commission in 1985; the House-Senate joint committee, the Beaudoin-Dobbie committee, in 1992. All recommended basic reform in the appointment process, with election most often as the preferred option, but again, nothing happened.
One of the reasons there was this continued pattern of engaging in public discussion of basic Senate reform followed by no action was that often the argument was made that such reform could only be tied in with other more comprehensive constitutional changes. Thus, attempts at that method, such as what happened in the Charlottetown efforts, failed. The other reason is that the government could then use all of that as an excuse for why nothing gets done.
I am hearing the same refrain and the same arguments coming now from those who still do not want to reform the Senate, in particular, those in the Liberal Party. That is because continued inaction on this file is in their clear partisan self-interest.
However, this government, unlike all previous governments, has chosen not to hide behind these excuses and long history of non-achievement. We have decided to boldly move forward with that incremental reform that we know for sure the federal Parliament and government can initiate and accomplish on its own without going down the complicated path of formal constitutional amendments involving the provinces or some kind of wholesale reopening of the Constitution, something that we know would be very difficult.
In the first session of this Parliament, we introduced two quite modest bills to get the ball rolling in a very serious way to achieve Senate reform. There was Bill , to reduce the term of all future Senate appointees from the current potential of 45 years, something which my constituents find quite offensive, in that someone who is appointed at age 30 is able to sit until the mandatory retirement age of 75. We wanted to change the term to eight years.
The bill would provide for the ability of the to consult Canadians on their preferences as to who should serve them in the Senate before making such appointments.
What is the actual atrocious record of Senate appointments that both major political parties, while in government, not including the current government, have been of guilty since Confederation?
Sir John A. Macdonald, our first prime minister, in 19 years of office appointed only 1 Liberal and 1 Independent. The rest were all Conservative. I would personally not see that as a bad thing.
However, as I go on, Sir Wilfrid Laurier in his 15 years in office appointed only Liberals.
Sir Robert Borden, in his nine years of office appointed only Conservatives, except when he led a union coalition government during the war.
Mackenzie King in his 22 years in office appointed 103 senators and all but 2 were Liberals.
Louis St. Laurent in his nine years in office appointed fifty-five senators and all but three were Liberals.
John Diefenbaker in his six years in office appointed thirty-seven senators and all but one were Conservative.
Lester Pearson in his five years in office appointed thirty-nine senators and all but one were Liberal.
Pierre Trudeau in his 15 years of office appointed 81 senators and all but 11 were Liberals.
Joe Clark in his nine months in office appointed eleven senators, all of them Conservative.
Brian Mulroney in his nine years of office appointed fifty-one senators, some of whom are still sitting in the Senate today, and all but two of them were Conservatives. One of the two was Stan Waters, appointed as a Reform senator by Mr. Mulroney due to his election by the voters of Alberta in the spirit of Meech Lake, which we all know failed in the end.
Jean Chrétien in his 10 years in office appointed 75 senators and all but 3 were Liberals.
Paul Martin in his 23 months in office appointed 17 senators, only 5 of whom were not Liberal.
Neither Kim Campbell nor John Turner appointed any senators, although Turner did Trudeau's bidding in that regard, as we know. It was something that was very prominent in the election of 1984.
I have had an equal opportunity to be a critic of both major parties that have held office. However, when it comes to the current , we finally have a breaking of this historical pattern.
Since taking office only 21 months ago, the has only made 2 appointments to the Senate, and there are currently 13 vacancies. One of those appointments, Senator Fortier, was to ensure that the island of Montreal was represented in the cabinet, with the commitment from that appointee that he would resign his seat in the Senate as soon as the general election was called, and seek election to the House.
The other was the recent appointment of Senator Bert Brown on the basis that he, on two separate occasions, was democratically chosen by the people of Alberta as their preference to be selected to serve in the Senate.
Therefore, the government has done as much as it can to break this pattern of no action on Senate reform. It is now up to the opposition parties in the House and the Liberal majority in the Senate to wake up and smell the political coffee. There will either be reform or Canadians might well choose abolition.
I have laid out quite clearly the history of what has happened in terms of efforts to reform the Senate, but the bill goes a long way toward moving the ball forward, which Canadians support. I I urge the other parties to support the bill.
Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois is opposed to the bill concerning the appointment of senators. Parliament cannot reform the Senate unilaterally or without a constitutional amendment. At any rate, even a reformed Senate is a useless institution.
Canadian institutions cannot be reformed. The numerous attempts to reform the Senate illustrate perfectly the “Canadian dead end.” Proposals to reform the Senate date back as far as 1874. Barely seven years after the creation of the Dominion of Canada, the Senate was the subject of criticism and calls for reform.
A motion in April 1874, by member of Parliament David Mills, recommended that “our Constitution ought to be so amended as to confer upon each Province the power of selecting its own Senators, and of defining the mode of their election”. Now, 133 years later, we are still debating this issue. Senator Serge Joyal, who wrote a book on Senate reform, identified at least 26 proposals for Senate reform in the past 30 years alone.
The Bloc Québécois believes that the Senate reform proposed by the current government is a slap in the face for Quebec federalists. The minimum position of successive Quebec governments has always been clear: no Senate reform without first settling the question of Quebec’s status.
In 1989, Robert Bourassa said he did not want to discuss Senate reform until the Meech Lake accord was ratified. In 1992, Gil Rémillard said that signature by Canada of an accord involving Senate reform would depend on the outcome of negotiations on the concept of a distinct society, division of powers and the federal spending power.
By means of Bills and , the current Conservative Prime Minister is trying to reform the Senate piecemeal, without having satisfied the minimum conditions stipulated by Quebec.
Clearly the Senate cannot be changed unilaterally and without a constitutional amendment. The Canadian Constitution is a federal constitution. Consequently, there are reasons why changes to the essential characteristics of the Senate cannot be made by Parliament alone and should be part of the constitutional process involving Quebec and the provinces.
In the late 1970s, the Supreme Court of Canada examined Parliament's ability to amend on its own the constitutional provisions concerning the Senate. According to its decision, known as “Authority of Parliament in relation to the Upper House”, in 1980, decisions pertaining to major changes to the essential characteristics of the Senate cannot be made unilaterally.
All reforms of Senate powers, the means of selecting senators, the number of senators to which each province is entitled and residency requirements for senators, can only be made in consultation with Quebec and the provinces.
Benoît Pelletier, the Quebec Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, and MNA for Chapleau, reiterated Quebec's traditional position on November 7, 2007, which was not so long ago:
|| The Government of Quebec does not believe that this falls exclusively under federal jurisdiction. Given that the Senate is a crucial part of the Canadian federal compromise, it is clear to us that under the Constitution Act, 1982, and the regional veto act, the Senate can be neither reformed nor abolished without Quebec's consent.
That same day, in November 2007, Quebec's National Assembly unanimously passed the following motion—I hope the government is listening:
|| 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.
Quebec is not alone in opposing the idea of an elected Senate. The outgoing Premier of Saskatchewan, Lorne Calvert, and the Premier of Manitoba, Gary Doer, have called for abolishing the Senate instead of trying to reform it. The Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, has also expressed concerns about whether electing senators to the Senate might not make the inequalities even worse.
In summary, indirect election of senators would change the rapport between the House of Commons and the Senate. These changes cannot be made unilaterally without the consent of the provinces and without the consent of Quebec, recognized as a nation by the House of Commons. Whether the Senate is reformed or not, it is a useless institution.
Initially, the Senate was supposed to be a chamber of sober second thought that also protected regional interests. Regional equality in the Senate was supposed to counterbalance representation in the House. However, it seems that partisanship has gained the upper hand over regional representation, thus rendering null and void the purpose of the other place, which has a tendency to follow the lead of the House of Commons.
How can this government justify having a Senate whose responsibilities would be much like those of the House of Commons at a cost of $81 million per year? All the provinces have done away with their upper chambers. No province has had an upper chamber since Quebec abolished its legislative council in 1968, and as far as I know, the provinces are able to govern appropriately.
Bill would not make the Senate democratic. Public consultation is not binding. Bill C-20 provides for public “consultation” to choose senators. The maintains the authority to appoint or not appoint the senators chosen by the public. The Prime Minister could therefore decide not to appoint a candidate selected by the public. The background paper provided by the government concerning this bill states: “The Prime Minister can take into account the results of the consultation when making recommendations to the Governor General regarding future representatives of a province or territory in the Senate”.
Besides, how can we trust this , who did not hesitate to appoint Michael Fortier to the Senate, even though he himself criticized the Liberals' partisan appointments to the Senate? The current Prime Minister's real motivation is to marginalize the nation of Quebec. Under the pretext of an orthodox reform of federalism, the Conservative government is proposing shattering the balance of the federation.
In Australia and the United States, having an elected senate has enhanced the legitimacy of the federal government and has “nationalized” public life rather than serve the representation of the federated states within federal institutions. To be heard in Congress, the American states have been reduced to being lobbyists. Senators elected to represent an entire province would overshadow the authority of the provincial premiers and run the risk of supplanting them as regional representatives. That is what the proponents of a “triple E” Senate want: a federal Parliament that would be more legitimate because its elected members were more sensitive to regional interests. Quebeckers would never stand idly by as their own province blithely accepted Senate reform.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak this afternoon in the House of Commons and to represent the good folks of Crowfoot, Alberta, central and east central Alberta.
This is one of those subjects that is dear to the heart of, I think, most Canadians. When we consult Canadians about the importance for the democratization of Parliament and the democratization of our institutions in Parliament, most Canadians point to the Senate and say that we should reform it or abolish it but that we must make certain that the status quo does not remain.
Consequently, that is what prompted the government to bring forward Bill , to bring forward positive change to an institution that needs it.
I remember many years ago in the late 1980s, probably even the mid-1980s, when there was change sweeping across the country. A new political party started in the west and a new political party started in Quebec. They were new parties with new ideas. Canadians at that point in time were very disappointed when they looked at the Senate. They saw an institution that was not functioning right. We saw cases where there were senators who spent most of their time in Mexico and it frustrated Canadians knowing that they were paying with their tax dollars to allow this type of so-called representation to take place.
At that point in time, Albertans, especially in the area where I live, started to talk about the need for this type of Senate reform. Ideas came forward. At that point in time, a Senate election was held and a gentleman by the name of Stan Waters became the senator in waiting in Alberta.
The prime minister of the day, Prime Minister Mulroney, and that government eventually saw Senator Waters appointed to the upper chamber, the Senate, and we saw representation.
Mr. Waters travelled throughout Alberta, throughout the west and throughout Canada talking about the need for Senate reform. I recall those meetings and I recall having him even to my small community in Alberta. I recall him talking about how the Senate started, how the Fathers of Confederation realized the importance of representation by population. When they formulated the idea of this House, they knew that representation by population was a fundamental in democracy and they wanted to achieve that.
As we have already heard in other speeches today, the body of Parliament was formed into constituencies and that is the way that the House still is.
However, the Fathers of Confederation spent much of their time as well debating, planning and strategizing as to what the Senate would look like. They realized at the time that in a country as large as Canada, a country with the huge differences in geography, the differences from the east to the west, that we needed something to balance out representation by population so that our regions would be protected. They realized at the time that a populace area would have the ability to take advantage of less populated areas, take advantage of those resources and take advantage of many of the issues that less populated areas wanted. Consequently, they came up with this idea of a Senate that would not be as political and as partisan as this House.
We talk about partisanship within the House of Commons. To be quite honest, I think it always will be partisan because we are elected in political parties with very different political agendas.
The balance in all of this was to have a Senate that could sit back, represent regions and ensure their area and their district were not taken advantage of.
I had the opportunity of sitting with a Liberal senator on the plane one day and I appreciated what he said. He talked about how in the very early days, I am not certain if it was in Confederation or perhaps when he started sitting in the Senate, maybe that was even in early Confederation, Senators were not even allowed into caucus meetings because there was a differentiation between the Senate and the House, and it was not to be as political.
We can see that what has happened is that we have moved away from that type of time and we see now where the Senate is very political. We see now where the Senate is halting legislation that the government is bringing forward. We have heard the speeches this afternoon about the number of prime ministers who have only appointed senators from their own political parties. Why? It is because they realized that it was a political appointment. Many of them were nothing more than fundraisers for political parties and now they sit in the Senate.
The current legislation comes along because Canadians are saying that they want their Senate to become more accountable and democratic.
Last Saturday evening in my riding of Crowfoot, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting that was a fundraiser in preparation for a potential election, a fundraiser where we had 300 people on a night that was remarkably cold, probably with a wind chill colder than minus 30, in Trochu, Alberta. Individuals came together to talk about what was happening here in Parliament and what was happening throughout the country.
Senator Brown came to the meeting and gave a speech. He was there with his wife and she received a remarkable ovation, as well. If anyone knows Alice, they would understand why that would be, but Senator Brown gave a clear indication as to why he felt that this hope of Senate reform was still alive.
He talked about speaking to provinces, about going out and talking to premiers, and explaining the reasons why this was not just good for one part of the country but why this was good for all parts of the country, and how premiers now were starting to understand that this kind of legislation, Bill , is doable.
Why do I say it is doable? Bill is not facilitated by the opening of a constitutional debate. It is legislation that very simply would allow individuals to elect, allow individuals a voice, and allow individuals a say in who would represent their areas in the Senate.
That is why we re-introduced the bill. This is not something that is going to divide our country. Very clearly, one of the priorities of the government is to keep a strong unified country. We will not bring forward any type of legislation that would bring disunity to our country.
Our economy is strong, our government is clean and the country is together. We are unified. We are seeing that today and the legislation is not to pit one area against another but it is to allow all Canadians to have a voice in who would sit and represent them in the Senate.
We promised in the last election, and also brought it forward in the Speech from the Throne, that we would take a step-by-step approach to reforming the Senate. In some ways I wish that we were sitting here today and had a bill that was very similar to what we used to call the triple E Senate. That is not what this bill is about.
Many of my constituents would say the bill is not enough. I would tell them this is an incremental step in the reform of an institution that so desperately needs it. All Canadians recognize that the Senate must change. I think most of us here in the House recognize and realize there has to be some change. The status quo is not good enough.
The government is committed to leading that change. For that reason we bring forward this bill and we are excited to debate it in the House.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to discuss Bill . Like my Bloc Québécois colleagues, I do not agree with the principle of this bill, and therefore, with it being sent to committee.
I would like to remind members that last November, members of the Quebec National Assembly unanimously adopted the following motion:
|| 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.
Whether or not they share the views of the Bloc Québécois regarding Quebec's future, the three parties represented at the National Assembly all agree on this important point. The Canadian Parliament cannot unilaterally change the Senate.
Despite how quick the Conservative government is to boast about recognizing the Quebec nation, it is infringing the interests of that nation by introducing Bills and .
First, it is proposing to reform the Senate without consulting Quebec, thus going against the governing consensus in the National Assembly that has been expressed on more than one occasion. Reforming the Senate “piecemeal” by way of legislation allows it to avoid reopening the constitutional debate. Second, the federal government is proposing to reduce Quebec’s weight in the House of Commons, as the in fact made a point of emphasizing in a mailing to his constituents.
Quebec and the provinces must necessarily be involved in any change to the essential characteristics of the Senate, that is, everything relating to the powers of senators, the number of senators a province is entitled to and the residence requirements for senators. Legislation is therefore not the appropriate route for Senate reform, and this is also the opinion of the Government of Quebec.
Obviously, sovereigntists in Quebec have long understood that Canadian institutions could not be reformed and that it was impossible to amend the Canadian constitution in a meaningful way: the political party to which I belong is founded on that understanding.
As well, there are many countries that have adopted a unicameral parliament: Sweden and Denmark are but two examples of countries whose democratic credentials cannot be doubted, and that are even the envy of many nations in several respects. There is also the oldest parliament in the world, the Icelandic Althing, whose origins go back to the 10th century and which abolished its upper chamber in 1991.
It may be worth pointing out that Quebec and the Canadian provinces that had a similar institution in the past abolished their upper chambers several decades ago. In 1968, for example, almost 40 years ago, Quebec chose to abolish its Legislative Council. During the debate on the bill that was introduced for that purpose, a number of speakers rose to speak on the question of whether or not this kind of institution should be retained. Some of the things said in 1968 may still apply today.
At the time, René Lévesque was the member for Laurier. He had been the leader of the unified sovereignist forces under the banner of the Parti Québécois for a little over a month. I would now like to read a passage from the debates of the National Assembly, which was still known as the Legislative Assembly at the time. I will take a few liberties with the speech delivered by René Lévesque, whose easily recognizable intonation and manner of expression come shining through right down to the punctuation in the text. Obviously, I will not attempt to reproduce his very distinctive delivery. Here is what René Lévesque said on November 26, 1968, about the upper chamber:
|| I think it would be a good idea to remember that the institution we call the Legislative Council, which remains fundamentally unchanged, is rooted, here and elsewhere, in a society that witnessed the birth of democracy. It goes back to a time before our societies' acceptance of democratic institutions. In most cases, regardless of what we call these kinds of institutions—Senate, upper chamber, House of Lords, and so on—they were created at the behest of privileged members of society when it became clear that divine right monarchies everywhere were losing their old absolute power over citizens. These kinds of councils and institutions were created with the intention of reining in the will of the people being freely expressed through universal suffrage.
After hearing that, people may point out that the Conservative government's proposed reform seems to have been inspired by democratic principles because it provides, at least indirectly, for the election of senators. I, however, feel that an elected Senate would only confuse matters and mess up the entire legislative process.
In the beginning, the supposed role of the upper chamber was to protect regional interests. However, it seems that partisanly appointed senators tend to represent the interests of the party that appointed them. To hide that obvious disparity, the member for , when he was Prime Minister, decided to appoint senators affiliated with other parties, so as not to stack the deck too much. Indirectly electing senators would not solve the problem because political affiliations would be even more evident.
In reality, by proposing this Senate reform, the Conservative government is trying to marginalize Quebec. In June 2006, Marc Chevrier, a professor in the Department of Political Studies at the Université du Québec à Montréal, wrote the following:
||—equality of the provinces in the Senate clashes with the idea of Quebec being a distinct nation. To enshrine such equality is to finish what was started in 1982: bringing Quebec into line by forestalling its demands as a nation. Basically, the Harper and Trudeau governments, whose ideologies differ so fundamentally—
You are right, Mr. Speaker.
Marc Chevrier, professor at the department of political science at l'Université du Québec added:
|| The [current Prime Minister] and Trudeau governments, whose ideologies differ fundamentally, share common ground when it comes to nation building: Trudeau by unifying Canadian society with a culture of constitutionalized rights; and [the current Prime Minister] through a federal chamber where provincial debates, through the influence of elected senators, are transformed into national issues.
I cannot put enough emphasis on the fact that it is out of the question for Quebeckers to accept having their nation and their National Assembly lose some of their powers to a reformed Senate. When there is consensus in the National Assembly over certain important issues, the Conservative government turns a deaf ear: what will happen if an elected Senate, claiming to speak on behalf of the regions, interferes between the federal government and the elected members of Quebec's assembly, who are already struggling to be heard?
Another argument that is often used to justify the Senate's existence is that its purpose is to give a second opinion on issues studied by the House of Commons.
If it is outside opinions we are after, then that opportunity already exists: it is one of the raisons d'être of the 24 standing committees of the House of Commons.
I will read an excerpt from the House of Commons Procedure and Practice on the importance of the role of the committees:
|| Committee work provides detailed information to parliamentarians on issues of concern to the electorate and often provokes important public debate. In addition, because committees interact directly with the public, they provide an immediate and visible conduit between elected representatives and Canadians.
The committees, the standing committees in particular, are important democratic tools. And yet, the Conservative government has often chosen not to respect their opinion. For example, last February, it chose to ignore 21 of the 22 recommendations of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology on the serious crisis in the manufacturing industry.
I will close my speech with a question: instead of trying to unilaterally reform the Senate, in violation of the right to consultation enjoyed by Quebec and the provinces, would it not be more useful and more consistent with the rules of democracy for the government to show more respect for the work accomplished by hon. members and apply the recommendations coming from the committees, especially when their conclusions are unanimous?
Mr. Speaker, It is my honour to weigh in on this debate. It is a critical debate and it is an issue which, quite frankly, Canadians have been waiting for Parliament to get on top of and deal with for some time. In fact, I have heard members speak of how Senate reform has been contemplated for some three decades with various efforts being thwarted, for lack of a better word.
This bill makes great strides in the right direction. We have to go back to why this bill has been reintroduced and what the government is ultimately trying to do. This is another example of a government doing what it said it would do.
Let us go back to the throne speech, which was democratically passed by the members of this House, and look at what the throne speech said. I would like to remind hon. members that they did vote in favour of it. The throne speech said:
|| Canadians understand that the federation is only as strong as the democratic institutions that underpin it. Our Government believes that Canada is not well served by the Senate in its current form. To ensure that our institutions reflect our shared commitment to democracy, our Government will continue its agenda of democratic reform by reintroducing important pieces of legislation from the last session, including direct consultations with voters on the selection of Senators and limitations on their tenure.
What the government said in October is exactly what the government is saying today in this bill. We are saying that Canadians should be consulted on who represents them. I heard the hon. member for a few minutes ago talk about how the constituents in his riding could not name the senators who represent them. I find that remarkable. In fact I find it sad that in a modern democracy such as Canada people do not know who their representatives are.
I would hazard a guess that virtually none of my constituents could name who represents Ontario in the Senate. However, I also would hazard a guess that close to 90% of the constituents in my riding know who their member of Parliament is, because I work for them each and every day, and they know that.
These constituents deserve to be represented in the Senate. They deserve to be democratically represented in the Senate. That is what this bill proposes. It does not propose constitutional reform that would enter the country into a debate that we certainly do not need to go into right now. What this bill provides is a mechanism for the governor in council to seek the views of electors in a province about appointments to the Senate for that province.
The bill also proposes strict rules of accountability for the Senate nominees. It creates a framework for governing the actions of political parties and spending by third parties. It establishes rules for the single transferrable vote and defines the roles and responsibilities of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, who will be responsible for administering the consultation.
I cannot understand why anyone in this House would be opposed.
I understand that the Liberal Party is opposed on the basis that it would prefer that the Senate continue to be a house of cronyism and partisanship. It is how it looks after its political friends and allies, the bagmen that deliver the money, but our party does not believe that is the way the Senate should work. We believe the Senate can play a crucial role in Canada's democracy, but not in its current form, not as long as Canadians are not represented democratically in the Senate.
I am sympathetic to what the NDP has to say about the Senate. The New Democrats say that the Senate has existed for years, that this is the way it has operated, that they do not agree with it and they feel that the Senate should simply be abolished.
Our party has taken a different position. We have said that the Senate must change. It must become democratic. It must become more modern in the way it functions, or it must be abolished. We are not prepared to accept the status quo any longer.
Maybe the Liberal Party would like to go to Canadians and put forward its position that the status quo on the Senate is acceptable, but I do not believe anybody in my riding believes the status quo on the Senate is acceptable any longer.
We can see example after example of bills that have been sent to the Senate, bills on which the people of Canada have weighed in and have provided their opinions. They have put their weight behind bills that the government has brought forward. What has the Senate ultimately done with them? It has delayed and obstructed. Why? Because it does not take its direction from the people.
Senators take their direction from the political party or the leaders that appointed them. That is not right. That is not acceptable. The Senate is supposed to represent the various regions of the country. The House of Commons is supposed to represent approximately by population the various populations of the country. There is supposed to be representation by population in the House, and while I would argue that we need to make a bit of progress on that, I think that largely that is true of the House of Commons.
The Senate is supposed to represent regional interests. It is there to represent the various regions of Canada. It is not supposed to be the place for political bagmen, for the people who are owed favours and for pure partisanship, but that is the way it exists today.
I hear a number of my Liberal colleagues piping up with comments. I know they like the status quo on the Senate. Perhaps they have friends they would like to appoint. Maybe they owe some favours to some people who helped them get elected in the various regions. I am not sure, but I will say that the Senate must change.
Again, I can cite all kinds of examples. If we look at the tackling violent crime act and the various measures in it, we will see a bill that has been obstructed for years. Our government has been in place for more than two years. These were measures that we ran on in the election. We introduced these bills. We fought to get the measures in these bills through committee. That has not been easy, because while all the parties ran on an agenda of cracking down on crime, once the Liberals got here they fell back into their old ways of being soft on crime and not really being concerned about tackling crime the way it should be tackled or about restoring balance in the justice system.
However, we did fight to get them through and we did get deals from the various parties to make these bills work. We have sent them to the Senate. All of the witnesses have been heard. We believe the balance of justice is in these bills.
We know what Canadians, in significant numbers, believe. Last night on the news, there was a story about a poll. I watch the news quite often. Last night on the news, there was a story about a poll on dangerous offenders, specifically on the reverse onus portion of the tackling violent crime act and whether Canadians felt that the reverse onus for dangerous offenders was an important measure and something they supported. Seventy-six per cent of respondents said they believe this is necessary and that it needs to be done.
There is also the age of protection bill. A pastor in my riding said to me that he really appreciated the fact that our party has moved on the age of protection legislation, as it is something that they have been supporting for a long time. He said that we need to protect our children from sexual predators. I told him that I appreciated the support, but that we had not been successful in getting it through the Senate yet. He wanted to know what he could do. I told him that the first thing he can do is support us in the democratic reform of the Senate. That is why it is ultimately very important for us to do this.
Senators very often do not speak the same language as our constituents. Senator Carstairs, for example, last week said that she does not support the age of protection bill specifically because 14 year old and 15 year old prostitutes might be afraid to be tested for HIV and STDs and we would force them underground.
Why does she not understand that the point is that we want to protect them? We do not want 14 year olds and 15 year olds being exploited for sex any longer, but that is how the Senate works. Senators do not have to deliver democracy. They do not have to listen to Canadians. If she had a conversation with the church pastor who spoke to me, or with his congregation, would she speak the same way if she had to be democratically elected? I doubt it.
I would also say in regard to the Senate that many senators never leave Ottawa. If they never leave Ottawa, they cannot possibly represent the people of my riding or the people of the various regions in this country, because this area has a beat all its own, one that is not necessarily representative of all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois on Bill , which provides for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate.
Hon. members will know by now that the Bloc Québécois will oppose any reform of the Senate, because the Bloc simply wants to abolish the Senate.
I am happy to speak, because we hear all sorts of incredible things here, and it makes me smile to hear the Conservative members say that they have kept the promises they made in the last election, when every day their actions tell quite a different story.
I remember that they wanted to introduce a bill on transparency, ethics and integrity. More than 60 Conservative members still have not been reimbursed for their election expenses. Three of those members are ministers from Quebec, including the and the . The Conservatives promised transparency and integrity, but the only members of this House who have not been reimbursed for their election expenses are Conservatives.
So that is the sort of bill the Conservative Party introduces. This bill on Senate reform is another good example.
True, the Conservatives promised that there would be an elected Senate, but what they are proposing is an elected Senate that violates the Canadian Constitution. Everyone, including the Supreme Court, agrees that the only way to have a Senate that is truly elected and complies with the law is to amend the Constitution. The Conservative Party has introduced a bill that provides for electing senators, but allows the to decide whether or not to honour the will of the electors.
Once again, the Conservatives are trying to tell us that they are keeping their election promises, but they have manipulated all the laws, just as they manipulated the law on political party funding and the Canada Elections Act. This is the same thing. The Conservatives are manipulating the laws to serve their own purposes, when the position of the Government of Quebec has always been clear. It is not shared by the Bloc Québécois, but this is the position taken by the National Assembly of Quebec on November 7, 2007. A motion was unanimously adopted in the National Assembly and reads 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.