(for the President of the Treasury Board)
That Vote 1, in the amount of $58,169,816, under PARLIAMENT — The Senate — Program expenditures, in the Main Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2014, be concurred in.
He said: Mr. Speaker, reform of the Senate has been debated in the House of Commons and around kitchen tables in homes across the country since shortly after the Fathers of Confederation met to decide how Canada would be governed. All of us here today who have the privilege to take our seats in Canada's House of Commons, representing our constituents and voting on decisions that will make our country stronger, should think about them and give them our thanks. I know there were those who said it could not be done, or many said it should not be done, but there were enough who could see past the challenges and were willing to stake out bold policy challenges to create Canada.
We are still a young country, but if the Fathers of Confederation could see us now they would be proud. They would see that their bold efforts against the status quo have led to a strong stable nation, which is the envy of the world, and a beacon of peace, security and economic prosperity. However, what they would also see is a country that has changed since the soot-filled candlelit debates that the first MPs would have had in the House of Commons. Things have changed. Canada has changed. However, our Senate has not changed.
Throughout our history, there have been those on the side of reforming the Senate and those who have wanted to protect the status quo. It disappoints me to say that the protectors of the Senate have most often won that day. I do not know why, and I am not sure if Canadians know why either. When the only Senate reform measure we can point to throughout our nation's history is a reduction from lifetime appointments to a maximum term of 45 years, members can appreciate the difficulties that Senate reformers have faced. For me, it only gives me more resolve to take the first steps to reform the Senate. It is the right thing to do, and it is what Canadians want us to do.
The status quo in the Senate is not acceptable. We have heard from Canadians that they want the Senate to change. Our government recognizes that the Senate as it stands today must either change or, like the upper Houses of our provinces, vanish. Canadians know that the Conservative Party is the only one that has a real plan to make the changes that are so desperately needed. Senate reform is fundamental to our party. It is at our core. Our government has long believed that the Senate's status quo is unacceptable and therefore it must change in order to reach its full potential as an accountable and democratic institution.
The alternative is the continuation of a situation where senators are appointed for long terms without any democratic mandate. We have said “enough”, and Canadians are with us in saying no to the status quo in the Senate. It is our government that has put forward proposals to elect senators and to limit their term to nine years, as well as measures to ensure tough spending oversight. These measures would immediately increase the effectiveness and legitimacy of our upper chamber. They would drag the Senate into the 21st century. Our proposals would deliver meaningful change within Parliament's authority to act now. Our new measures would make the upper chamber more accountable, more legitimate and more democratic.
Term limits in the Senate would also work hand in hand with our efforts to make government more representative. When senators have to be replaced every nine years, we would not have a representative body that looks like Canada did fifty years ago. These are the most recent of the practical changes that we propose in order to make our democratic institutions serve Canadians better.
However, change cannot come slowly enough for the Liberals and the New Democrats. Through nearly 20 hours of debate, over 7 days, we have heard opposition member after opposition member tell us why reforming the Senate was not possible. This is despite the fact that our government has received a strong mandate from Canadians to reform the Senate and, in fact, already have hard-working elected senators representing their provinces in the Senate.
All we learned from those seven days of debate was that the NDP and the Liberals would use any tactic to maintain the status quo and to block the reform that Canadians have been demanding.
We believe that encouraging provinces to elect senators and setting nine-year term limits are both reasonable measures that can be enacted within Parliament's authority. We have a plan. We have meaningful legislation. We have the support of Canadians.
What we did not have was an opposition who shared our urgent belief that Senate reform is critically necessary and immediately possible. Let us be clear. Our reforms are reasonable and achievable, and they lead us on the path to further reforms. The has been clear. The Senate must be reformed or it must be abolished.
While we are committed to debating the merits of Senate reform and specific proposals in actual legislation, the NDP and the Liberals are committed to telling us why they think our actions are unconstitutional. It is not that they have a plan themselves. They did not have a plan and they still do not have a plan. We are the only party with a plan.
To prove our commitment to either fixing or ridding ourselves of the Senate, we decided to ask the Supreme Court of Canada for an opinion on Parliament's authority to make these meaningful changes. For the first time in a generation, we asked the Supreme Court's opinion on what is required to reform the Senate and what is required to abolish the Senate. The aim in seeking a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada is to accelerate the pace of Senate reform and to lay the foundation for further reform to the Senate. It sends a strong signal to Canadians that we are ready to move forward, confident in the legitimacy and strength of our reforms.
The questions referred to the Supreme Court reflect the government's position that meaningful change to the Senate can be achieved within Parliament's authority. As I have said before, the Senate must reform or vanish. The questions asked of the Supreme Court seek legal certainty on the constitutional amending procedure for term limits for senators, democratic selection of senate nominees, net worth and property qualifications for senators, and abolition of the Senate. We are eagerly waiting the Supreme Court's opinion on these important issues. We said we would reform the Senate, and we will deliver.
Until the Supreme Court returns its opinion, we will continue to bring forward measures to strengthen the accountability of senators to taxpayers, including when the Senate adopted eleven tough new accountability rules governing travel and expenses that were put forward last week by Conservative senators. These strong new measures will improve accountability and prevent abuse.
We said we would fix the Senate's rules governing travel and expenses, and we delivered. Yesterday the Leader of the Government in the Senate introduced a motion asking the Auditor General of Canada to conduct a comprehensive audit of Senate expenses. These are strong measures that will protect taxpayers, and I outlined these improvements earlier today.
I spoke earlier about the protectors of the Senate, those who want the status quo; those who say it should not be done or it cannot be done. While we have been moving Senate reform forward with meaningful proposals, a reference to seek clarity from the Supreme Court and a tough new accountability rules, the Liberal leader and his party have once again staked the claim as the champion of the status quo in the Senate.
The Liberals go so far as to demand that the Senate remain unelected and unaccountable because it is an advantage for Quebec. This has come after 13 years of inaction, where the Liberal Party took every opportunity to protect the Senate from any and all reform. Actually, it is probably closer to a hundred years. The Liberals have abused the Senate in its current form for the past three generations.
I can see why the Liberals are attracted to the status quo, but they certainly had an option. In all their years in office, they could have taken the initiative to correct the Senate. They could have admitted that it was wrong for Canada and Canadians, and tackled this democratic deficit. They had an option to stand up, but they chose to say yes to the old attitudes and the entrenched entitlements of the Liberal Party. It is time for the Liberal Party to stop protecting the status quo and to support our efforts for a more accountable, democratic, and representative upper house.
The Conservative plan to reform the Senate is clear and real. Our government wants to see changes in the Senate. The Liberals only seem to want it to remain the same. While the Liberals continue to stake out and vigorously defend the position of the status quo, the opportunistic NDP has shown, once more, that there is no plan too risky for it.
While Conservative members have been squarely focused on what matters to Canadians, jobs, growth and long-term prosperity, the NDP has decided to advance a gimmicky proposal to unilaterally defund the Senate.
To really appreciate the NDP's logic, I think it is worth reviewing the statements made by the NDP's senior treasury board critic, the member for , just yesterday. When asked about the constitutional requirement to have the Senate pass legislation, he said:
There's no reason why the Senate can't do its job without funds. It's not an issue of constitutionality.
Listening to the NDP say that the Constitution is no big deal is also concerning. Canadians are learning every day how risky the NDP and its ideas really are. To him the upper chamber is rotten to the core, as the member has stated, casting a very wide net. The member for is even willing to strip the jobs of some 400 Senate employees, who have absolutely nothing to do with recent events in the Senate.
To the NDP, it seems that the end always justifies the means. Better yet, when the member opposite was called out by his interviewer for being heavy-handed, he said that employees and senators could do some volunteer work. He expects our Senate employees to come to work but not get paid. Ask the member for how that went for them.
The NDP knows that its motion is a gimmick and it will not work. Canadians are more than smart enough to see through the NDP's opportunism. It should trouble Canadians that the NDP has chosen to debate this gimmick that it knows will not work instead of important issues like job creation and economic growth. However, we should perhaps not be surprised that the NDP does not want to talk about the risky tax plan.
Our government's priorities are unchanged. The economy remains our top priority. Our Conservative government is focused on what matters to Canadians: jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity. We are proud of our record. Thanks to Canada's economic action plan, under our watch Canada has created over 900,000 net new jobs since the depths of the global recession. That is the best job creation record in the G7.
However, we can see where the NDP's priorities are. It could have chosen to use its debate time today on the important economic issues that Canadians continue to care about, such as, indexing tax fund payments to better support job-creating infrastructure in municipalities right across the country, reforming the temporary foreign worker program to ensure Canadians are given the first crack at available jobs, expanding tax relief for home care services to better meet the health care needs of Canadians, and removing tariffs on important imports of baby clothing and certain sports and athletic equipment.
While we are focused on growing the Canadian economy and jobs in the face of ongoing global economic challenges, the NDP keeps pushing job-killing carbon taxes and picking constitutional fights.
Canadians know full well that the NDP's claim that it wants to abolish the Senate is nothing more than a gimmick. The NDP has never brought forward a serious proposal, and Canadians know that it has no intention of ever doing so. They know its position is unrealistic and that the NDP is making it up as it goes along.
I am surprised that the NDP chose to debate its real record on the Senate today. Here are the facts.
In 2008, the NDP worked out a deal to appoint its own senators when it conspired with the Liberals and the Bloc to form a coalition.
The Leader of the Opposition has claimed to support abolition, yet introduced a bill to give the Senate more powers.
The NDP democratic reform critic, the member for , provided further proof of the NDP's lack of sincerity when he said that the NDP is open to any kind of reasonable Senate reform.
On March 4, 2013, the NDP brought forward a motion calling on the government to consult with the provinces and territories on the steps necessary to abolish the Senate.
Two weeks ago, the NDP launched a website and said it would start a discussion with the provinces on whether there was support, as required by the Constitution, for abolition.
In January of this last year, the leader of the NDP said that abolition of the Senate would be a profound constitutional change and that his party and country had other priorities before opening up a constitutional debate.
The NDP record on Senate reform can be summed up in four points.
First, it claims it will abolish the place.
Second, the NDP repeatedly acknowledges that it does not have the constitutionally required support to actually abolish the Senate.
Third, it obstructs every government effort to bring accountability and transparency to a reformed Senate.
Fourth, it proposes gimmicky motions that it knows will not work.
The NDP has frequently admitted that it needs the support of the provinces and territories to abolish the Senate, support that it knows it does not have.
The NDP's grand consultation with Canadians and the provinces was announced just two weeks ago. Is that grand consultation finished already? Did it take just two weeks? Did the NDP members even talk to anyone? Perhaps they have abandoned that consultation because they did not hear what they wanted to hear. We can only guess, as it took so little time.
Whatever the reason, it shows that the NDP is just not serious when it talks about the Senate. It does not matter whether it is talking about consultations or funding or anything else; it is just not serious. That is why it has never put forward a legitimate plan to reform the Senate.
We must then ask ourselves this simple question: is the status quo good enough?
It is clear that while there may be different approaches to solving the problem, we know that the status quo is not in the interests of Canadians. Our government believes that Senate reform is needed now. Canadians deserve better.
In closing, we are the only party with a real plan to reform the Senate. My constituents tell me that they want change. Canadians want change.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for that consideration. I would just remind my colleague of the doctrine of estoppel, but he can look that up later.
The monkey business around misbehaviour by senators is the least of the problems with the Senate. There is nothing new about senators misbehaving.
I remember a time when the Reform Party and the Canadian Alliance guys brought a Mexican mariachi band and a bunch of straw hats in front of the Senate and were doing a Mexican hat dance to protest the behaviour of one senator who had established himself on a beach in Mexico and was pulling down a Senate salary. That was Randy White, Monte Solberg, the current , Rahim Jaffer. Those guys were a lot of fun, and they were right at that time.
I remember when Deborah Grey bought 50 plastic pigs and placed them on the lawn in front of the Senate. The imagery I think she was trying to invoke, and correct me if I am wrong, was probably pigs at the trough. It is an unkind comparison perhaps, but it was her way of graphically illustrating what the Canadian public was feeling. That goes back 15 years. There is nothing new about that kind of misbehaviour.
However, the expense scandals pale in comparison to what is really wrong with the Senate and that is why the NDP, the CCF before it and the Independent Labour Party before that when J.S. Woodsworth was elected in 1921, were consistent in that they wanted the Senate abolished. It was a party of the people. It is natural that the party of the people would oppose the Senate.
As I said in earlier comments, one of the main reasons for establishing the Senate in 1867 was that the ruling class realized that they needed an equivalent of the House of Lords. We had no established aristocracy so one would have to be created to ensure that the great unwashed, that the working people of Canada, did not pass any legislation that might interfere with their ability to line their pockets with the resources of this great nation and they used their veto extensively.
In those early days, fully 10% of all legislation passed by the House of Commons was vetoed. Fully, 25% of it was amended significantly by the other chamber before it was allowed to succeed. It managed to gut and veto anything that might have been of benefit to the ordinary, freely-elected representatives of the people in the House of Commons. That was why it was created. It is no wonder we were opposed to it and objected to it. Believe me, that attitude and atmosphere continues to this day.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of the few New Democrats who was in favour of Senate reform instead of Senate abolition as a young parliamentarian. I took part in something called the Charlottetown accord constituent assemblies in 1992. I answered a letter to The Globe and Mail as a working carpenter, as an ordinary Canadian, to see if I would be interested in this. There were 160 Canadians chosen from all walks of life. We visited six different cities over six months and studied the Constitution and the Senate in great deal with the leading constitutional experts of the day. For six months, we were fully immersed in all the complexities and nuances of intergovernmental affairs, the jurisdictional powers of the Senate and the House, the configuration of the Senate and whether the Senate should succeed.
At that time, I believed the Senate could be reformed and it had merit, not because of the merit or the virtues of it but for one simple reason, and that being that in 1993 my party lost official party status, the party to which that I actively belonged. We were reduced to nine seats.
The Conservative Party of Canada suffered its worst defeat in Canadian history. It was reduced to two seats. Its caucus—
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Mr. Pat Martin: Mr. Speaker, I do not know who is bad-mouthing me over there, but whomever it is has a lot of lip and a lot of nerve too. The member might get a fat lip by the time it is finished. No, I would not say that.
The Conservative Party of Canada was reduced to two seats, but its caucus was 50 people because it had 48 senators and all their staff, resources and travel abilities. That is like 100 people fully salaried and fully staffed able to rebuild—
Mr. Speaker, it was the Progressive Conservative Party that was defeated, from 202 seats down to 2. It was the worst defeat in Canadian history.
However, their caucus remained at roughly 50 people, because they had all these senators. I said to myself, “Self, it would not have hurt if we had a dozen or so senators in the other chamber to help us live through those dark years when we were reduced to nine seats”.
I'll give you some.
Mr. Pat Martin: Mr. Speaker, again, we are getting some cheeky lip from behind me. You might want to call them to order at some point during my remarks. If you do not, I will.
I had an open mind when in 2006, the introduced their first Senate reform amendments. I actually attended the Senate with him. We were wearing the same tie that day, and I remember it quite well.
I was interested to see if Senate reform was possible. We had done our research. We knew that 28 times since 1972, significant attempts had been made to constitutionally amend the Senate, all of which failed.
For me, that same , who I actually had some confidence might take a shot at the Senate, let us down so profoundly that he was responsible for my joining the prevailing attitude of the party to which I belong.
The turning point for me was twofold.
First, the , in a petulant huff, decided that if he could not beat them, he would join them. As I said earlier, he became the most profligate serial offender in Canadian history in terms of stacking the Senate with his party hacks and flaks and bagmen and failed candidates. He appointed the president of the Conservative Party. He appointed the chief campaign manager of the Conservative Party. He appointed the communications director of the Conservative Party. He appointed the senior bagman of the Conservative Party. The whole Conservative war room was now fully staffed and funded by the Canadian taxpayer with not only their salary, but with their four employees and with their travel privileges, doing full-time partisan work out of the Senate.
That offended the sensibilities of anybody who considered themselves a democrat. It should rattle the very foundations of confidence in our democratic institutions. There has been no more profligate abuse of the Senate. The whole war room was now chocked full.
He was not finished there. The has appointed some 50 senators. He was thumbing his nose. We now have full-time party fundraisers criss-crossing the country on the taxpayers' dime, engaged in purely partisan political activity. If there was any justification for a Senate, that was forgotten long ago.
The Liberals are no better. Both the chair and the co-chair of their national campaign happen to be senators. I will not name them. The Conservative that ran the entire Manitoba provincial election was a sitting senator. His salary should go against the spending limits of those other members of Parliament running.
Let us face it, the Duffy affair was only the tip of the iceberg. That is what really drew the public's attention. That was the catalyst that helped us focus down on what was really wrong here. This $90,000 soft landing was not really about making him whole, because of the money he had to shell out. It was to keep his mouth shut for the extent of the political interference by senators in election campaigns, which was widespread throughout the country.
While I am on that point, if people here really believe that Nigel Wright dug into his own pocket and gave $90,000 of his after-tax earnings to Mike Duffy, they are nuttier than a porta-potty at a peanut farm. Anybody with any common sense would know that that money will come from the Conservative fund of which Nigel Wright was a director for seven years and Senator Irv Gerstein is the other director.
That was it for me. I was absolutely fed up with this notion. I believe it is fitting and appropriate and maybe even poetic justice that the 's monumental hypocrisy associated with the Senate is the one thing that has finally come to bite him in the what rhymes with gas.
This is the first thing that turned me off the Senate forever.
The second thing, though, was the direct political interference by the unelected, undemocratic Senate with the work and activity of the elected chamber where we as an elected House of Commons and representative of people passed the only piece of climate change legislation in the 39th, 40th or the 41st Parliament.
It was two years of negotiating and pushing by the former leader of the NDP, Jack Layton, that finally got this bill through, that finally got the approval of all the parties in the House of Commons. It wound up in the Senate, and without a single hour of debate or a single witness heard at committee, senators vetoed it and killed that bill. Now Canada, to its great shame, has no national climate change policy whatsoever.
Even worse, just to add insult to injury, and what compounds the offence, in my view, is that the other bill the senators unilaterally and arbitrarily vetoed was the HIV-AIDS drugs for Africa bill. That was a real classy choice. They had no right to unilaterally and arbitrarily block and interfere with the will of the democratically elected members of the House of Commons. No one elected them to make legislation. No one gave them a mandate or the legitimacy to undermine democracy and act as stooges for the PMO. The Senate is not a chamber of any kind of thought, never mind sober thought.
In the same vein, more and more pieces of legislation are originating in the Senate. As I say, I this is my sixth term. I have seen a lot of legislation come and go. It used to be a very rare thing when a bill would come to the House of Commons labelled S-10, S-11, S-12, S-13. Now the Senate is cranking them out like there is no tomorrow. Half the legislation we deal with originates in the other chamber. The stuff we get to deal with is lumped together in an omnibus bill, 60 or 70 pieces of legislation all packed into one, on which we get a few hours of debate and a few witnesses at committee. The substantive material is all being generated in the Senate. Again, no one elected senators to make legislation. No one gave them the authority or mandate to make legislation. It offends the sensibilities of any person who considers him or herself a democrat.
When senators are not cranking out bills, they are gadding about the world like a bunch of globe-trotting quasi-diplomats. They have never seen a junket they did not like. They are always chock full of senators. We cannot afford that. We are broke. In case people forget, this is $58 million we have to borrow to shovel over there another wheelbarrow full of money. The Black Rod is going to knock on the door and ask for his dough pretty soon, and these guys will dutifully trudge down there and deliver to keep their political machine bankrolled and funded, like an unfair competitive advantage, by the Canadian taxpayer. Can people not see what is wrong with that? It is enough to drive a person crazy.
One thing that really bugs me about the senators is that they are allowed to sit on boards of directors. The Senate of Canada is one big institutionalized conflict of interest. Let us look at one example. Senator Trevor Eyton, a Conservative senator, is CEO and president of one of the largest corporations in Canada, Brascan, which has been renamed Brookfield Asset Management. It happens to own Royal LePage. By some happy coincidence, it keeps winning the relocation contract for the military and the RCMP. It is a multi-billion dollar contract.
The Auditor General looked at it and said that the bid had been rigged to give the contract to Royal LePage. It was offensive to everyone's sensibilities. Then the court looked at and said that the bid had been rigged and awarded $40 million in damages to the low bidder that should have won it, Envoy. Then, by some happy coincidence again, for a third time, in 2009, the cabinet got directly involved and made sure that Royal LePage, the very company this guy was CEO of and for which he continued to be the chairman of the board of directors into his Senate tenure, made sure that his company—let us face it; he has stock options in that company—got the same contract again. That should offend one's sensibilities.
If there were no other reason to deny it any money, it is that inherent conflict of interest that comes from what I call an institutionalized conflict that is the Senate of Canada.