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View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
View Alupa Clarke Profile
2016-09-22 13:26 [p.4971]
Mr. Speaker, I, too, believe that I am the voice of the people of Atlantic Canada, where I lived between the ages of two and 11. Acadia is still very much a part of me, and that is why I absolutely had to speak about it today.
Right in the middle of summer, the Prime Minister arrogantly and unabashedly announced that he intended to change the historic process for appointing Supreme Court justices that has been in place since 1875.
More than any other, this government announcement has made me dislike the political party that currently governs our great country. Yes, like many Canadians, I am outraged by such actions and attitudes that show the true arrogance of this government.
I am saddened by this unsettling desire, so brazenly expressed by the Prime Minister, to radically alter our constitutional customs, the very customs that have informed government policy for so long in Canada.
If this Liberal government decides to change the constitutional convention for choosing Supreme Court justices without first obtaining the consent of all parliamentarians in the House, it will be going too far. Therefore, and I am choosing my words carefully, this government's actions in the past few months make me fear the worst for the federal unity of this great country.
The Prime Minister is not just interfering in provincial jurisdictions whenever he feels like it, but also interfering in his own areas of jurisdiction by planning to make sweeping changes without even consulting the opposition parties or the public. This is nothing short of anti-democratic. There are other examples of this.
First, the Prime Minister plans to change Canada's nearly 150-year-old voting system without holding a referendum to do so. It is no secret that he and his acolytes are doing this for partisan reasons and to protect their political interests as well.
Then, this same Prime Minister shamelessly suggested just this morning that he wanted to put an end to a 141-year-old constitutional convention. I am talking about the constitutional convention whereby a Prime Minister selects and appoints a judge to the Supreme Court when a seat becomes vacant while ensuring that the new appointee comes from a region similar to that of the person who occupied the vacant seat.
The purpose of this constitutional convention is to guarantee that the decisions rendered by the highest court in the country reflect the regional differences in our federation. Must I remind the political party before me that Canada has five distinct regions and that those regions are legally recognized?
The fact is that Jean Chrétien's Liberal government passed a law that provides for and gives each of the regions of Canada a quasi-constitutional right of veto. Accordingly, the Atlantic provinces, and their region as a whole, do have a say when it comes to the Constitution Act of 1982.
What is more, the British North America Act guarantees the Atlantic provinces fair and effective representation in the House of Commons. For example, New Brunswick is guaranteed 10 seats. The same is true in the Senate, where it is guaranteed just as many seats. Under the same convention, each of the Atlantic provinces holds at least one seat on the Council of Ministers.
How can our friends opposite justify threatening, out of the blue, to reduce to nil the Atlantic provinces' presence in the highest court of the country? If the government moves forward with this new approach, will it do the same to Quebec, the national stronghold of French Canadians? That does not make any sense.
I invite the government to think about this: can the Supreme Court of Canada really render fair and informed decisions on cases affecting the Atlantic provinces without any representation from that region?
Justice for Atlantic Canadians means treating them as equals. It seems the Liberals could not care less about the regions even though every one of them includes distinct communities that want Supreme Court decisions to reflect their values, goals and ideas about the world.
For the Prime Minister to suggest, if only in passing, we defy the convention whereby one seat on the Supreme Court of Canada's bench is reserved for Atlantic Canada is offensive to many legal experts and associations, including Janet Fuhrer, a past president of the Canadian Bar Association, and Ann Whiteway Brown, president of the New Brunswick branch of the Canadian Bar Association.
Echoing this sentiment are the Law Society of New Brunswick, the Atlantic Provinces Trial Lawyers Association, and the Société nationale de l'Acadie, which advocates on behalf of Acadians worldwide.
Disregarding this constitutional convention is tantamount to stripping four out of ten provinces of their voice in the highest court in the land.
Must I also remind members that the Atlantic provinces have a large pool of extremely qualified legal professionals who come from every region and background and who are perfectly bilingual? More importantly, these are candidates who have a vast knowledge of the Atlantic provinces' legal systems and issues. Is there anyone in this House, or elsewhere, who would dispute that?
Even more importantly, there are a few significant constitutional cases on the horizon that could have major repercussions on the Atlantic provinces. Consider, for example, the case referred to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal regarding the elimination of protected Acadian ridings. Hearings on this are currently under way.
Is the Prime Minister really thinking about having judges from other regions rule on a case that deals with how Acadians are represented, when Acadians have been fighting for their survival on this continent for generations?
Is that really what our friends across the aisle want? Do the Liberals from Atlantic Canada really want to muzzle New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, two founding provinces of this great country?
The change that the Prime Minister wants to make to how judges are lawfully appointed to the Supreme Court is essentially a total and complete reversal of this country's established constitutional practices. How shameful and how arrogant.
It would seem the son is following in his father's footsteps. Do hon. members not see what is happening? Just like his father before him, the Prime Minister wants to alter the constitutional order of our country.
Fear not, however, because we in the Conservative Party are not buying it. We not only see what this Prime Minister is doing, but we also see know full well that behind this change in convention is a much greater ideological design.
There is an underlying desire to profoundly change Canadian constitutional arrangements and replace them with a post-materialist world view that is a departure from our constitutional traditions.
In this world view, the main objective is to eliminate from our government institutions, in this case the Supreme Court, the historical and traditional community characteristics that have defined Canada since day one by replacing them with individual and associational characteristics.
In other words, the Prime Minister obviously wants to eliminate the political predominance of certain constituencies in the Canadian constitutional order, at the Supreme Court in particular. He wants to promote a new political predominance, that of associational groups that bring together individuals who share individual rights rather than constituent rights.
Although that may be commendable in some ways, it is a major change because the Prime Minister is ensuring that the very essence of political representativeness and the concept of diversity within the judiciary is changed. The Prime Minister wants a representativeness based on a concept of individual diversity and fragmented by idiosyncratic characteristics.
In light of this potential change, Canadians across the country, including those from Atlantic Canada, must protest and call on the Prime Minister to answer for this. The Prime Minister cannot act unilaterally in this case and must involve all the players concerned.
View Craig Scott Profile
NDP (ON)
View Craig Scott Profile
2013-03-05 10:09 [p.14588]
moved:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government of Canada, in consultation with the provinces and territories, should take immediate steps towards abolishing the unelected and unaccountable Senate of Canada.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is time to roll up the red carpet. It is my honour to rise today on behalf of my constituents of Toronto—Danforth to speak to this motion, which I will restate:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government of Canada, in consultation with the provinces and territories, should take immediate steps towards abolishing the unelected and unaccountable Senate of Canada.
To that motion I would like to add that the official opposition is fully prepared and ready to co-operate with the government in this task of consulting with the provinces and territories. We have enough experience with co-operation. Our leader, the member for Outremont, has led the way in starting to talk to the provinces as a mode of co-operative federalism. The means by which the Senate will be abolished can only proceed through that avenue.
The NDP has, since its very inception, been firmly in support of Senate abolition. Indeed, calls for abolition also came from our predecessor, the CCF. The NDP has also long believed that the people of Canada should be consulted as part of the abolition process. This remains important, but we need to start here, in the House of Commons. We need to send an extremely strong signal that the time has come. We are at a historic moment. People have come to realize that the Senate is an archaic, otiose institution, but we have to start here, in the House of Commons, and send the signal and begin to work with the provinces and territories, something it seems our Prime Minister seems allergic to.
Before I continue, I should say that I am going to be splitting my time with the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent.
It is important to note that the government has put a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada, and the question of abolition is one of the questions. It is also important to clear up confusion. The Supreme Court will not be deciding one way or the other whether the Senate should be abolished. That is a political decision we are starting to initiate here, but it will tell us what the correct amending formula under the Constitution is. There is debate on that. It is almost certain that it is not less than 7/50; that is, seven provinces with 50% of the population. The Constitutional Amendments act will also come into play where certain provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, have to be involved in the amendment. However, it could also be unanimous consent of the provinces along with the federal Parliament. We will wait to see what the Supreme Court says. We will be very interested to see what the Supreme Court says.
The key is to note that with either of those formulas—unanimous consent or 7/50—ultimately the Senate does not have to consent to its own abolishment. With either of those formulas, the Senate can resist, according to the 1982 Constitution Act, but it cannot ultimately block its own abolition, unlike the method the Prime Minister is using with his Bill C-7, in which he is purporting to amend the Constitution by only going to the Parliament with an ill-conceived scheme, when he knows that the Senate's consent is necessary. Under that form of amendment, amendment by the Parliament of Canada alone—which again is not applicable here, and the Prime Minister knows it; that is why he has finally gone to the Supreme Court to get clarity—we need the Senate's consent.
It is a nice turn that the Supreme Court will tell us which amending formula applies, and when we eventually work with the provinces to get the necessary number of provinces and legislatures on board, we will not ultimately be blocked by our friends in the Senate.
Like an Edsel, the Senate was obsolete almost from the moment it was built. Somehow, however, this one is still on the road. However, its lights are broken, the body is totally corroded, the wheels are wobbly and the engine has all but been seized up by dirty oil. It may still have a very plush interior, but it is time to send it to the scrapyard.
The Senate has long ceased to have any meaningful connection to the supposed original reasons for its existence. One of those reasons is the principle of representing the regions, four different regions, and the provinces within the regions.
From as early as the 1930s, reaffirmed in the 1950s and the 1960s, commentators noted that this never was a function seriously carried out by the Senate. It was not built for that. It did not operate in that way. Indeed, over time, in fact, very early on, it was the Privy Council, and it was then taken over by the Supreme Court of Canada, that served as the institution that protected federalism within our constitutional structure. We do not need the Senate for that purpose.
Only a handful of senators, 12, 15 or perhaps 20, make a serious contribution to sober second thought, which is the other major function. They do good work. They are assisted by good staff. They are conscientious. I can bet that they resent the presence of many of their colleagues in the Senate who have brought this institution down around their own ears.
There are good senators. We hope to work with those senators if abolition does not occur before this party forms government in 2015. There are good senators we hope to work with, and I believe we will work with, who generally act in a thoughtful, non-partisan fashion but who, most important, realize, whatever their political stripe—very strongly Conservative, very strongly Liberal, independent—that the Senate is an illegitimate body when it comes to blocking bills coming from the House of Commons. It is those senators with whom we will work on the road to abolition and in any period in which we have to govern with the Senate still in place.
Meanwhile, last year, while whatever the number of senators, 100 or so with the few vacancies that are still there, basked in the comfort of, frankly, sinecure, appearing on average 56 days a year in the Senate, we in the House of Commons were doing the work for the people of Canada.
It is important to note all the controversy over residence and everything else, which my colleagues will speak to in more detail. The senators have no constituency responsibilities, yet they have budgets and they spend much more than we do, frankly, when we add up all their travel expenses. They have no constituency responsibilities. Nobody expects them to engage in that, and they do not do it, yet many of them roam around the country, racking up the miles with no role on the ground that has any legitimacy, and—I will not say “except”—they are great fundraisers. We know many senators come from fundraising backgrounds. They come from a party background. They are there only as a favour for what they did for their party in the past, and they continue in that role.
One of the most significant features of what I would call the structural corruption of the Senate—I am not going to the ethics of individual senators; I am talking about the structural corruption of the body—is how it has served and continues to serve as the means by which two parties, in particular, send out a virtual phalanx of publicly paid individuals to raise money for their parties. One party is doing that a lot better than the other these days. I acknowledge that. The party in power uses its senators extremely deftly. I would be extremely interested to know what, for example, an Auditor General's audit of the Senate would reveal about the use of parliamentary travel funds for fundraising purposes. Let us just say that the Senate is very good at hiding the reasons for travel. At the moment, we do not know the exact reasons some senators have racked up amazing travel budgets.
I indicated at the beginning that the Senate is, frankly, an Edsel. It is an Edsel in a couple of respects. From the beginning, thoughtful commentators knew that it would be a hyperpartisan body that would not be fulfilling the functions originally envisaged.
I would like to read from a wonderfully named book, The Unreformed Senate of Canada, page 45, an objection from the opposition at the time, in 1866-1867, by David Reesor, when he said:
[W]e know what the tendency is in England, and what it was in this country when the Government had the appointment of the...Legislative Council; the effect will be to find a place in this House for men distinguished for the aid they have given at elections to certain men or parties, and not as a reward of true merit or legislative ability.
Nothing has changed, nor have the words of Sir John A. Macdonald. He said:
There should be a large property qualification for the Upper house which is then the representative of property.
The Senate, having voted down the former leader's climate change accountability act, has shown that it is the continuation of the defence of property that Sir John A. Macdonald wanted the institution to be so many years ago. It is time for that to end.
View Alexandrine Latendresse Profile
NDP (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by wholeheartedly thanking the member for Toronto—Danforth for his speech and the work he does on this file, be it on democratic reform or the issue of what should be done with the Senate.
He is very learned. He is able to shed light on various elements and show us how to approach the issue from a different angle, because the current situation makes no sense. Something can be done.
Thanks to members like him, we will succeed in coming up with a new proposal that is better for all Canadians. Clearly, the Senate is a major problem. Everyone can see that.
Our motion is clear:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government of Canada, in consultation with the provinces and territories, should take immediate steps towards abolishing the unelected and unaccountable Senate of Canada.
There are two very important parts to the motion. It is very important to consider the consultation aspect, because we believe that the goal is not to impose anything, but rather to encourage a serious discussion on abolishing the Senate. We need to hear what the provinces have to say about this.
I believe that most people would agree that the Senate has become a completely outdated, undemocratic, antiquated institution in this day and age—an old relic that is no longer relevant.
Originally, the Senate was supposed to review and improve legislation; it was meant to be the chamber of sober second thought. It was designed to represent minorities, as well as the provinces and regions in the legislative process. That was the basic idea, but that was never what actually happened. Ultimately, the Senate never played that role.
The Senate has always been an extremely partisan institution that serves simply to thank party cronies, who are appointed to that chamber to enjoy the associated privileges and to block the bills that are passed by duly elected MPs. This causes many problems. In the end, it all becomes very clear when we ask Canadians what they think.
It is true that, in the beginning, the idea was to provide regional representation, as the Minister of Transport mentioned. However, the reality is that this is simply not happening. Senators are supposed to represent certain regions, to be the voice of those regions, but that is not what they are doing.
The Senate was originally created to represent the regions. The reality is that it has never done that. We must not keep the Senate simply because it was a good idea in the beginning. It currently costs Canadians $100 million. It is little more than a cushy job for party cronies who raise money for the party. It should not work like this. We cannot let it continue. It is too appalling. We cannot allow such an illegitimate parliamentary institution to continue.
The Conservative Party has been promising to reform the Senate for a very long time. The Conservatives campaigned on this reform in 2005 and talked about it non-stop. I am convinced that many members of the Conservative Party and people who vote for and support them believe, like we do, that the Senate is very problematic as an institution.
The Conservatives have been in power for seven years now, and almost nothing has been done about this. Of the 789 days during which the House has sat, the Senate has been discussed on just 18. It is ridiculous.
Then we are told that it is a priority and that the opposition is to blame if the reform does not go through. Are you kidding me? Come on. After issuing gag orders more than 30 times, they are now telling us that, this time, it is the opposition's fault if the file does not move forward. It is completely absurd. This is not a priority for the Conservatives at all.
The Conservatives introduce Senate reform bills that make no sense. They introduced Bill C-7 last year. They shelved it and have not talked much about it since. Bill C-7 poses huge problems and provides that somewhat bogus elections will be held to elect senators. Furthermore, the provinces will be the ones to pay for the elections because it is obviously up to them to deal with them.
Then, the Prime Minister will decide whether or not to appoint the people on the list. Super. I am so delighted. We will really have a Senate that makes sense.
Basically, the principle of electing senators may cause a lot of problems, because our system is not set up for two elected chambers. There is no mechanism available to us for this to work effectively and in practical terms. So a fundamental problem already exists.
Then, eight-year non-renewable mandates are proposed. That will really make these people accountable to Canadians. After being elected, they will not have to be accountable to anyone for the next eight years. They will be all set, with a good pension, nice perks, a good budget. They can travel around and collect money for the Conservative Party as much as they want. It is completely ridiculous. They will never be accountable to the public.
When you read this bill, it is very clear that it was drafted in such a way that the government would not have to consult the provinces. The bill circumvents all parts of the Constitution. It makes small, superficial changes so that the government does not have to talk to the provinces at all. That is not how things work here in Canada. The federal government and the provinces need to talk and the provinces need to communicate with each other in order to move forward, make things work and make Canada into the country we want it to be.
Let us talk about the provinces. Either they have never had senates or they have abolished them. As far as I know, the provincial governments have not crumbled and no apocalypse has occurred because they have no senate. Everyone agrees that a government can operate just fine without this institution and that the good work that is sometimes done by the Senate can be replaced with something else, such as more work in committee or the creation of more commissions of inquiry. There are many other ways of doing this work.
Right now, we have the example of all of our provincial governments. Their legislatures are working just fine without the need for a chamber to which party friends are appointed and where the government spends outrageous amounts of money that, when you get right down to it, do not really serve much of a purpose.
Let us talk about spending. This year, the Senate's budget was increased by $2.5 million. The Conservatives are making cuts everywhere. They are telling employment insurance claimants that investigators will have quotas that will force them to cut people's benefits. Yet, meanwhile, they are saying that the Senate is just fine and they are increasing its budget.
Could someone please explain this to me? In my opinion, something is not right. That is not how I see the Parliament of Canada, and that is not where we should be investing our energy and money.
Some people share this view. I was going to talk about a surprise, but it is actually no surprise, because this idea is likely much more widespread than we know. Former senator Michael Fortier clearly stated that he was in favour of abolishing the Senate. It is really important to hear what he said in his own words. He said:
If I had to choose today, I would say that I'm probably closer to closing the place down. I just don't see the usefulness.
I was very naive.
He goes on to talk about when he was appointed to the Senate in 2006.
I thought it would be a different place than the one I found. I found it to be extremely partisan...on both sides, including my own. And it was very annoying because these people were trying to be members of parliament and they weren't.
That is the problem. They are just taking defeated candidates or close friends of the party, giving them a golden handshake and reimbursing their expenses with taxpayers' money. For example, Senator Wallin racked up tens of thousands of dollars in expenses during the 2011 election campaign. That is completely ridiculous. Our money, Canadians' money, is going to a senator who is campaigning for a political party.
Is that what our non-partisan Senate, the chamber of sober second thought, has come to? That is not how the Senate should be. It is absolutely critical that this motion be adopted. We need to say that it is time to consult the provinces and have a serious discussion about abolishing the Senate.
View Ted Hsu Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Ted Hsu Profile
2012-02-27 12:00 [p.5482]
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-7. I will begin by talking about the Senate and where it came from.
The Senate was established by the provinces. As everybody knows, Canada is a federation. Before Confederation, some individual provinces were working together, such as in the legislative Parliament of Canada, and Ontario and Quebec were in a confederation with the Atlantic provinces.
The origin of the Senate comes from Confederation. The provinces got together and decided they would have an elected House of Commons where most of the power would reside and then they would have a second body modelled after legislatures in other countries in which the members would be drawn from a class of people with a different viewpoint and it would be independent of the elected House of Commons. This legislature was established by the provinces when they got together to form the confederation that is Canada today. The existence and role of the Senate, the way it is composed and the way that senators are chosen is embedded in our Constitution.
The bill proposes to change how senators are chosen and, because that is a substantial change, I believe the only way to change how senators are chosen would be to amend the Constitution, which requires much more than an act of the House of Commons. In fact, it requires the participation of the provinces. It would require seven provinces with at least 50% of the population of Canada. It is my belief that the provinces should be involved in something that they helped set up in the first place.
We have a bicameral system, the House of Commons and the Senate, where the two bodies are supposed to be somewhat independent of each other. One should not be under the control of the other. They are supposed to think independently and have an independent point of view. Therefore, it should not be possible for one body to decide how the members of the other body are chosen. This is sort of a moral reason that we should not be acting unilaterally here in Ottawa to change how senators are chosen. We really should be consulting with the provinces and amending the Constitution.
If the government thinks that what it is doing makes sense from a constitutional point of view and really believes it is the right thing to do, I would challenge the government to go to the Supreme Court, as we have done with other questions, such as the lead up to the Clarity Act. The government should ask the Supreme Court if it thinks, in light of the Constitution, that this is a legal thing to do. That would probably save time, money and effort in the future when one or more of the provinces decides to challenge the act, if the bill is passed.
I would like to focus my remarks today on what I view as a contradiction and I will try to explain what the contradiction is.
The bill asks the provinces and territories to provide the Governor General with the names of people who could become senators. It is expected, by this legislation, that the provinces and territories would hold some form of election in order for the people of that province to choose a list of potential senators. It is a little bit strange because the legislation would not provide funding to the provinces to run these elections to choose a senator who will work in Ottawa. It is kind of strange that the federal government would not provide funding for these elections for which it is calling.
Because the legislation says that the provinces and territories would simply be nominating people, as a result of an election or by other means, somehow that is not a substantial change in how we choose senators. Somehow, because these recommendations are not binding on the Governor General or the Prime Minister, in effect, this is not a substantial enough change to trigger the requirement of the federal government to consult with the provinces before proceeding with this kind of change.
The contradiction is that if we are to take these elections seriously, if we really think we will be changing the Senate so that it becomes elected, which is one of the Es of the triple-E Senate that many members of the Conservative side, the reform side of the House, have spoken to in the past, we need to believe that these elections would have some force and that the Prime Minister would be bound in some way. If not legally, then in a moral sense, the Prime Minister would be bound to accept the results of these Senate elections.
If we are to take seriously the idea of having an elected Senate and that Bill C-7 would implement an elected Senate, then we cannot take seriously the argument that the bill is not a substantial change to how senators are elected and that somehow we do not need to consult the provinces. That is the essential contradiction.
Related to that there is another contradiction. A lot of people who have talked about Senate reform want the Senate to be more representative of the people of Canada. That is one of the motivations behind having an elected Senate. I think Senate reform is a good thing because, from what I have seen in my less than one year working here in Ottawa, senators represent a great source of experience and wisdom which would be too valuable to simply throw away, as some of my hon. colleagues would like to do by abolishing the Senate. The Senate is a very valuable source of advice and experience and sober second thought makes sense.
However, it has always been the case that the Senate, not being elected, has deferred to the elected House of Commons whenever there was a conflict. In the past, because the unelected Senate always deferred to the elected House of Commons, it was not such a big deal if, because of an historical artifact, certain provinces had a proportionally higher representation in the Senate than other provinces.
If we were to pass this bill and have an elected Senate, the Senate would have stronger powers. It would have a mandate from the people to sometimes challenge the House of Commons. It would have more power, which would be given to it by hon. members who want to reform the Senate, and there are such members on both sides of the House. At the same time as the Senate would be reformed in this way, we would need to face the fact that some western provinces, in particular Alberta and British Columbia, would be underrepresented. The other contradiction is that hon. members who want to reform the Senate would be handicapping the ability of Alberta and British Columbia to be properly represented in Ottawa.
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