Bill C-43 (Historical)
Senate Appointment Consultations Act
An Act to provide for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.
Rob Nicholson Conservative
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
April 9th, 2008 / 3:55 p.m.
Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada
March 5th, 2008 / 4:25 p.m.
Senior General Counsel, Constitutional and Administrative Law Section, Department of Justice
Well, it would be possible to have a bill that, as a vehicle--and it's been done in the past--proposes an amendment to the Constitution Act, 1867, that is textually, and also provides for other provisions.
In fact, if you were to look at the Nunavut Act, you would see that it has amendments that amended the Constitution Act, 1867 by adding a senator for Nunavut and representation in the House of Commons. Those were actual textual constitutional amendments. And then it went on to provide for the Government of Nunavut in the Nunavut Act.
So you can have a bill that's a vehicle for that. But this is not what has been attempted here, and I think the government's position both on this and on the previous bills, Bill S-4 and Bill C-43, is that these are independent legislative measures. They go towards a broader view of reforming the Senate, but they stand alone, and they stand on their merits to be voted up or down accordingly.
The Constitution Act, 2007 (Democratic Representation)
February 13th, 2008 / 4:35 p.m.
Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, I have mixed feelings at the beginning of my speech on Bill C-22. On the one hand, I am extremely proud to rise and protect the representation of the Quebec nation in the House and express my total opposition to Bill C-22. On the other, though, I have a hard time understanding the Conservatives’ obsession with repeatedly returning with bills they think are democratic pseudo-reforms.
Earlier this week, we considered the Senate consultation bill. As I said, these bills are not really priorities in my view. In the case of the Senate, we should be talking instead about abolishing an institution inherited from the British monarchy and colonial times. Bill C-22, which we are considering today, is totally at odds with the House’s and Canada’s recognition of the Quebec nation. Instead of talking about this kind of thing, I would have preferred to be here debating a bill to increase the assistance for the manufacturing and forestry industries—something that our fellow citizens need much more urgently than some review of the representation in the House of Commons or an attempt to revamp an irrelevant and completely outmoded institution like the Senate.
We could have been debating the proposals brought forward by the Bloc Québécois over the last few weeks to establish a technological partnership. This program used to exist, but the Conservatives killed it. It could be a $500 million program to encourage technological innovation. There is also the $1.5 billion loan program to help companies procure new equipment, as well as the $1.5 billion investment in the employment insurance fund, especially to establish an income support program for older workers.
Last year, 50,000 jobs were lost in Quebec. Jobs were lost in manufacturing of course. Some 150,000 have been lost over the last five years, most of them since the Conservatives came to power. There is an urgent need, therefore, to debate this plan and implement it.
Instead of that, there are bills being put before us this week, as I said, proposing a pseudo-democratic reform. As I said, I am of two minds. I would have preferred to discuss a plan to improve things for the manufacturing and forestry industries. Now that we have to discuss Bill C-22, I am extremely proud to see that the Bloc Québécois members are the only ones in this House standing up for Quebec’s interests. Even the members in the other parties who come from Quebec are not taking that approach. I would not say they do not have that courage, because that is not their mission. They are here to stand up for Canada and not to stand up for the interests of the Quebec nation. It is unfortunate, however, to see that in this case they are living up to their reputation. The only ones who care truly and without compromise about standing up for the interests of the Quebec nation are the Bloc Québécois members. I believe that the debate on Bill C-22 will provide further evidence of the need for a party like ours here in this House. Its value is undeniable, since no one else here is standing up for the interests of the Quebec nation.
We may well look at Bill C-22 from every angle and every side, and argue about how the various provinces are to be represented based on the changing demographics of Canada, but one thing will remain: objectively, this bill would marginalize the Quebec nation in terms of its position in federal institutions, and in particular, in this case, in the House of Commons.
For example, with the proposal before us, we will in fact be preserving the 75 members for the Quebec nation in this House, but since the total number of members is being increased, the proportion that the members from Quebec represent will fall from 24.4% to 22.7%. Obviously, that will continue, because as we know there is an economic boom happening in western Canada that is attracting large numbers of people who are coming either from the other provinces or from outside the country. So today it is being proposed that we go a step farther, because there have been other steps taken in the past, to marginalize the Quebec nation in the House of Commons.
The House of Commons has recognized the Quebec nation. Canada and the Canadian nation have recognized that there is a nation that is called the Quebec nation.
We have to ensure that the political weight of the Quebec nation is preserved over time.
I would remind the House that in 1840 the Act of Union brought together Upper Canada and Lower Canada, even though Lower Canada had no debt at the time—as I recall—and was much more populous. Lower Canada and its representatives agreed that Upper Canada, which had a large debt that was absorbed and a smaller population, would have exactly the same number of elected members. The people’s representatives at that time believed that there were truly two founding peoples who were coming together in a union.
I recall the speech I have read in which the representatives of Lower Canada, while recognizing that the population of Lower Canada was larger, agreed, in order to create this common political landscape, that Upper Canada would have the same number of representatives as they had.
That is the spirit that should guide all the parties in this House. They must recognize that within the Canadian political landscape there are at least two nations. In fact, there are more than that because there are also our first nations and, in my view, the Acadian nation. At present, they are not asking for any representation. That is their problem. But we feel that it is necessary to ensure that the representation of the Quebec nation, regardless of the distribution formula that may be used, is not reduced and is maintained at 25%.
That is the gist of the remarks that we will be making in the next few days. We are not talking about a province. Quebec is not a province. The Quebec state and territory are the seat of a nation that must be heard in the House of Commons; that must also have a relationship of equals with the Canadian nation. That is the great problem of Canada. It is not relations between Quebec and Canada that are the problem. It is not Quebec that causes problems in Canada as a whole. The problem is that Canada was founded on the illusion that it was made up of 10 provinces that are all equal in law and all the same, which is not true.
Canada is made up of many nations within the Canadian political landscape. It is the lack of recognition of this multinational reality that has caused a crisis in Canada for at least 30 years. The proof is right here in this House. The Conservatives are strong in the west; the Liberals are strong in Ontario; the Bloc has represented the majority of Quebec for several elections—five, if memory serves—and the NDP is all over the map. But, there is currently no pan-Canadian party. There are regional parties that defend different realities.
Had we recognized the existence of different nations within the Canadian political landscape and tried to build a political structure around that, perhaps there would not be the continuing crisis, decade after decade. Now, it is too late.
There have been attempts to tinker with the system during recent years. I am thinking of the Charlottetown and the Meech Lake accords. Now, it is very clear to more and more Quebeckers that the future lies with sovereignty for Quebec; that is a 100% repatriation of our political powers. It is not enough to try to protect, as I am now doing, 25% representation in the House of Commons.
In the meantime, however, as long as we are within the Canadian political landscape, as long as we are paying taxes to the federal government, we must ensure that we are heard as a nation and that we have the necessary representation. In our view, 25% is minimal. That now represents more or less Quebec's population within Canada. Thus, Quebec would have the opportunity to have its say here.
This goes completely against the motion adopted here. In fact, I repeat, they are trying to address the question of electoral representation through the lens of 10 provinces that must have more or less equitable representation in terms of the ratio between the member and the population represented. That is not what we are talking about, nor what we should be talking about. Instead, we should be talking about ensuring that, within each of these nations, there is adequate representation to reflect the reality of all regions of Canada and Quebec.
In that sense, if certain regions of Canada ask to have greater representation because their population has grown, so be it.
We should redistribute the seats for the entire Canadian nation to reflect the current reality. Otherwise, if we increase the number of seats for western Canada or Ontario, we must ensure that the 25% Quebec representation is maintained and proportionally increase that representation. Any number of formulas are possible, but for us, this is non negotiable. As long as we are part of Canada, we must ensure that the voice of the Quebec people can be adequately heard. That means we need a minimum representation of 25% in this House.
I would remind the House that if the government, the Prime Minister and the other Canadian parties were to be consistent with the decision they made to recognize the Quebec nation, they would have no problem voting in favour of the bill introduced by my hon. colleague from Drummond, a bill that aims to ensure that Bill 101 applies to businesses in Quebec under federal jurisdiction. But no, it is beyond comprehension. Yet it is very simple and represents perhaps 8% of the labour force that, at present, is excluded from the application of Bill 101. This could give a boost to francization in Quebec, which has lost momentum in the past few years.
Today I introduced a bill to exempt Quebec from the application of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. Its vision of integration, assimilation and the manner in which we receive immigrants is not at all shared by Quebec. Canada's approach to integration and immigrants is very Anglo-Saxon. In fact, Canada's model is exactly the same as Great Britain's. I respect that, if that is what Canada wishes to do. We are not interested in adding ethnic groups to the Québécois nation. On the contrary, we believe that every citizen who has chosen to come to Quebec has a contribution to make. This contribution must enrich the common culture and make it possible to forge a nation whose language is French and whose culture is Québécois. This culture consists of the contributions of all citizens who make up this nation, a specific history and a territory that belongs to this nation. We call this interculturalism. It is not the Anglo-Saxon model adopted by Canada. There must be respect for the fact that Quebec, within the Canadian political landscape, constitutes a nation recognized by Canada and by the House of Commons, and can adopt a different model, which will not be thwarted by this desire for multiculturalism, which has plagued Ottawa since the Trudeau era.
It is clear that Bill C-22 completely contradicts the interests of the Quebec nation and the recognition of the Quebec nation by the House of Commons, by the Canadian nation. It should be withdrawn altogether by this government, which is what the Quebec National Assembly is calling for. I will remind hon. members that on May 16, 2007, the National Assembly unanimously adopted a motion. The National Assembly is made up of federalists and sovereigntists—all people who fully recognize there is a nation. It is not like here, in Ottawa, where it is simply a symbolic gesture. The motion reads as follows:
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.
Bill C-56, as the bill was known before the session was prorogued, is now Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation). We discussed Bill C-43 at the beginning of the week. Now, Bill C-20 would essentially change the method of selection of senators without the consent of Quebec.
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
This House decline to give second reading to Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation), because the bill would reduce the political weight of the Quebec nation in the House of Commons in an unacceptable manner and does not provide that 25 percent of the elected members of the House of Commons must come from Quebec.
Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I will table this amendment.
In conclusion, the Minister responsible for Intergovernmental Affairs summed up what all Quebeckers think about this when he said that as long as we are part of the Canadian political landscape—and this is a federalist talking—we must ensure that the Quebec nation has, at the very least, the minimum representation it needs to make itself heard by the Canadian nation.
Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne
October 22nd, 2007 / 12:25 p.m.
Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to open the debate on today's theme from the throne speech: strengthening the federation and our democratic institutions.
We have a great, united country whose foundation is a solid federation and a living democracy. In fact, federalism and democracy have gone hand and hand throughout Canada's history.
Our country's history is one of people joining together to achieve great dreams thought impossible by the pessimists, but it is also a history of people who, through accommodation and respect, build practical, workable approaches allowing remarkable progress to unfold.
The project of Confederation was about bringing together the different regions into a strong and united country based on democratic practices and the rule of law. Sir John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier and the Fathers of Confederation, through strong leadership united Canadians in a federal union which would deliver a future of security and prosperity for the country as a whole. Their vision was strong and enduring, a firm foundation on which successive generations have built.
Our government is continuing this nation building project today with our commitments for strengthening the federation and our democratic institutions. Strong leadership and a better Canada: that is our objective.
I would like to spend my time today discussing the progress we have already made in this area and highlighting our plans for this new session of Parliament.
Our government made a commitment to practise open federalism, and it is taking steps to ensure that our country is prosperous and united.
Our approach is not new, but it is based on the very principles underlying Confederation.
The union was based on a simple concept: the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments. The objective was not to have a weak, passive federal government, but a government that would respect the provinces' areas of jurisdiction.
Provincial governments are closer to their citizens and are well positioned to determine local needs and aspirations. In contrast, the federal government is well placed to protect the national interest in pursuit of the common good of the country as a whole. As the project of our Confederation first became committed to paper in the Quebec Resolutions of 1864, this approach was clear:
In the Federation of the British North American Provinces, the system of Government best adapted under existing circumstances to protect the diversified interest of the several Provinces, and secure efficiency, harmony and permanency in the working of the Union, would be a general Government, charged with matters of a common interest to the whole country; and Local Governments...charged with the control of local matters in their respective sections.
The steps we have taken recently and the measures we plan to take to create a federalism of openness will produce unprecedented efficiency, harmony and stability in the union, as the Fathers of Confederation envisioned many years ago.
Our federalism of openness means respecting provincial areas of jurisdiction, and that, in turn, means two things. First, a federal government that shows leadership in its areas of jurisdiction. Second, a federal government that unites the country by introducing fair, respectful intergovernmental policies.
We have shown strong leadership in areas of federal jurisdiction, such as strengthening our economy by cutting taxes and helping families, in the process paying down billions on the debt and achieving the lowest national unemployment rate since I was a child; in international trade with the resolution of the softwood lumber dispute; in defence with our leadership in international aid efforts in Afghanistan; and in public safety and security with our agenda for making communities safer by tackling crime.
In the new session this leadership will continue with measures to strengthen Canada's economic union through internal free trade among the provinces; a commitment to action in protecting Canada's sovereignty, particularly in the Arctic; continued pursuit of a safer Canada beginning with the comprehensive criminal justice reforms in our Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act.
We have treated the provincial and territorial governments with respect, which has strengthened national unity. To restore the fiscal balance within the Canadian federation, we have increased the main federal transfers and introduced a new stable, reliable, fair funding formula. We have helped build a better Canada with our historic recognition that Quebeckers form a nation within a united Canada.
Our 2007 budget contained an unprecedented long term commitment to rebuild Canada's infrastructure, amounting to a total of $33 billion over the next seven years, the largest federal investment in Canadian infrastructure in over half a century.
During this session, we will introduce a bill to place formal limits on the use of the federal spending power for new shared-cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. This bill will formalize the commitments our government made in the 2006 and 2007 budgets, because it will specify the limits on federal power.
In keeping with how we see open federalism, our bill will also allow the provinces and territories to opt out of new shared-cost programs with reasonable compensation if they offer compatible programs. In addition to recognizing the provinces' and territories' ability to provide programs in their specific areas of responsibility, our bill will enable Canadians, wherever they live, to receive services comparable to those available under national programs.
Our diversity as a country serves as a source both of strength and innovation. Through our actions in open federalism, including equitable and predictable funding and clarified roles and responsibilities in our federation, we are offering a principles based approach on which all orders of government can continue to work into the future.
The vision of Macdonald and Cartier of a country united from east to west, of new Canadians and old, French and English, country and city, together dreaming great dreams and building a brighter future is alive and well and has a place deep in the heart of our government in 2007.
However, our Confederation must be more than the sum of its parts. The federal government must act as a leader in keeping the country strong and united and as a model for democratic values. To perform this leadership role, the democratic underpinnings of our government must be solid in order to continue to meet the expectations of the Canadians we serve. Our initiatives in the area of democratic reform demonstrate our government's leadership in this area. Nowhere is this more evident than our efforts to modernize our central democratic institution, a federal Parliament where the representation of both popular and provincial interests are united within the federal legislative process.
Since Confederation, Canada's Parliament has served the democratic interests of Canadians well, but the government must take action to ensure that this institution, which is the cornerstone of our representative democracy, remains strong, vibrant and adapted to the needs of Canadians in the 21st century.
Our bicameral Parliament includes two houses, the lower house here which is comprised of elected representatives of the citizens of this great country originally founded on the fundamental principle of representation by population, and the upper house which was designed to represent the regions of the country to act as a chamber of sober second thought.
However, in the contemporary era, the Senate has been unable to credibly fulfill its role as an effective representative of the regions in the federal legislative process due to fundamental concerns with legitimacy and effectiveness of that appointed and unaccountable chamber. As for the other chamber, this one, the distribution of seats in the House of Commons has shifted too far away from the principle of representation by population, resulting in the unfair under-representation of the fast growing provinces.
Our government has already taken measures to address this situation as we promised during the last election with BillC-56 introduced in the last session to enhance the principle of representation by population in the House of Commons and give fast growing provinces the representation that their population merits, and by Bills S-4 and C-43 introduced in the last session to begin the long overdue project of Senate reform.
I would like to spend a few moments discussing Senate reform. It is a priority of our government that is urgently needed to modernize our federal Parliament. We put forward an agenda for the Senate reforms that is practical and achievable. As stated in the Speech from the Throne, we will continue to pursue this agenda with the reintroduction of two important bills.
The Senate tenure bill proposed a uniform fixed term for senators of eight years. Rather than leave the length of tenure as long as 45 years, as it is currently, our bill proposed that senators be appointed to a fixed term of eight years. This is a change that would bring renewal and relevance to the Senate. This change would improve the effectiveness of the Senate. It would ensure that senators' terms were long enough for them to gain the expertise and independence necessary to act as a chamber of sober second thought, but at the same time it would ensure that the terms would not be so long as to undermine the legitimacy and credibility of the Senate as a modern institution in what we seek to declare to be a democratic country.
Unfortunately, the current unelected unaccountable Liberal senators spent over a year delaying this legislation before they finally took a decision to not take a decision. This action alone, or inaction more accurately, demonstrates clearly that the Senate must change. Its current form does not function well on this issue, or at all.
As I stated, our government intends to reintroduce the Senate term limits bill this session. I hope that the summer recess gave opposition senators some time for that sober second thought in relation to their position of inaction on this bill where they have refused to exercise their constitutional obligation to vote on the bill.
Our second Senate reform, Bill C-43, offered a means for democratizing the Senate by providing Canadians an opportunity to choose and advise who they want representing them in the Senate. It would provide for the first time an opportunity for voters across this country to have a democratic say in who sits in their Senate. This should hardly be a difficult principle to embrace in a 21st century western democracy. It would provide greater legitimacy and credibility to the work of the Senate as a democratic institution.
I was extremely pleased to attend the swearing in of Senator Bert Brown last week. He of course was popularly elected by the people of his province. I hope that we can look forward to the day when the Senate appointment consultations bill becomes law and all senators arrive in Ottawa with a democratic mandate.
As the Prime Minister has indicated, when the Senate consultations bill is reintroduced, we will be sending it to committee before second reading so that collaboration can begin on this important step toward a democratic Senate.
There are some who have suggested that governing parties of the past could maintain the status quo in the Senate out of self-interest, that we could benefit from the patronage appointments to be made and stack the chamber with partisans who would serve for decades. Our government believes that the Senate should be a democratically elected body that represents Canadians. So far, we have taken concrete steps toward that vision and they are steps that are achievable in the short term. What is more, surveys show that our agenda for term limits in a democratized Senate is strongly supported by Canadians. Surely in a democracy this above all should be a key indicator of what constitutes a good democratic reform.
The Senate must change. If it cannot be changed, it should be abolished. In its current illegitimate form the Senate does nothing to enhance our democracy, even as we aim at the same time to promote democratic values abroad.
I would now like to address a second element of the democratic reform program that we will continue to implement during this new session of Parliament: strengthening the electoral system.
A strong democracy requires both modern democratic institutions and an electoral process with integrity that inspires confidence among voters.
We have already introduced a number of measures that were passed in the last session to improve elections, which were broadly supported.
For example, Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act—the first legislative measure we introduced—fulfilled our campaign commitment to clean up political funding. We levelled the playing field by banning donations from companies and unions, as well as large and secret donations, so that ordinary Canadians can contribute to the political process knowing that their donations will really count.
Bill C-4 was the first bill passed in the last session. We acted quickly to ensure that the party registration rules would not sunset and that those registration rules would remain in effect at all times.
With Bill C-16, setting dates for elections, we have established a four year electoral cycle, preventing snap elections from being called solely for the partisan advantage of the governing party.
As a result, after this House provides a mandate to govern when it approves the throne speech on Wednesday, we can look forward to the next election, now set in law to take place October 19, 2009.
In Bill C-31, we implemented wide-ranging recommendations of the procedure and House affairs committee for improving the electoral process, including important measures for reducing the opportunity for voter fraud, such as a voter identification procedure for federal elections.
In addition to these bills, which are now law, we introduced additional election reforms that did not have an opportunity to pass before we prorogued.
Building on our political financing reforms in the Federal Accountability Act, Bill C-54, our new bill to clean up campaign financing, proposed bringing accountability to political loans by eliminating loans as a means for circumventing contribution limits and establishing a transparent reporting regime for campaign finance.
Building on a number of measures for improving voter accessibility, Bill C-55, our expanded voting opportunities bill, proposed additional advanced polling days to enhance opportunities and encourage higher voter turnout.
During the second session of Parliament, our government will continue to strengthen the electoral process.
As stated in the Speech from the Throne, we will introduce measures that will enable us to confirm the identity of voters by requiring them to uncover their faces before voting. Like our other reforms, this concrete measure will improve the electoral process for all Canadians.
Public concerns raised about this issue during the September 17 byelections made it clear that we must act.
During meetings of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in September, all parties approved the decision to prioritize resolving this issue.
Our government will act quickly to resolve this issue, and I hope that I can count on the support of all members of Parliament to give Canadians the strong, fair electoral process they expect.
There is so much that makes Canada great. We are mindful of the valuable legacy bestowed upon us by the visionary leadership of Sir John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier and the Fathers of Confederation when they rendered the blueprint for what has proven to be the best country in the world. But it is our strong foundations that enable us to continue building a better Canada that is a leader in the world.
Those foundations are our federal state and our democratic spirit, but we also know, as did those Fathers of Confederation, that as the world modernizes, so must Canada. That is in fact the spirit of Confederation. It is that spirit that leads us to seek ways to strengthen our democracy and improve accountability to Canadians. We must be a democracy worthy of that name in a 21st century world.
Our government has already put forward a full agenda to fortify and modernize our federation and democracy, and we will continue to do so this session. We invite all parties in the House to join us as we build a stronger Canada with a brighter future for the generations that will follow.
Extension of Sitting Hours
June 11th, 2007 / 4:30 p.m.
Laurie Hawn Edmonton Centre, AB
Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the member say that from April 23 to May 4 we did not discuss anything of consequence in the House. I guess that includes the four opposition days, which she must consider inconsequential. I guess that includes Bills C-40, C-43, C-48, C-10, C-22, democratic reform bills, finance bills, Criminal Code bills, two justice bills. I guess in the hon. member's opinion none of these are consequential.
All those things are pretty consequential to the constituents in my riding who care about Senate reform, safe streets and finance bills. They are very important. Does the hon. member truly considers those things inconsequential?
Canada Elections Act
May 30th, 2007 / 4:15 p.m.
Stephen Owen Vancouver Quadra, BC
Mr. Speaker, the debate on Bill C-55 provides the opportunity for us to have a wider debate as well on democratic reform.
However we might support the bill, and I support it very strongly to give greater opportunities for individual electors to get to the polls and vote, there is a difficulty with the government's approach to democratic reform as a whole. This is one other example of issues being brought to the House in both a piecemeal fashion, instead of a comprehensive way, as well as in a way that has involved no consultation with the other parties, the provinces or the public in general.
It is passing strange that we have seen a series of piecemeal bills not dealing comprehensively with either Senate reform, electoral reform or parliamentary reform, but trying to nick them off one at a time. They are done in the name of greater public engagement, when the public, nor Parliament, nor the other parties and provinces are engaged in consultation beforehand to see what might be the best way to move forward to ensure that these various elements of electoral, parliamentary and Senate reform are going ahead in a comprehensive way that makes sense with each other and do not give rise to unintended or, even worse, intended consequences of the government.
Let us look at this approach with respect to other aspects of, in this case, electoral reform. Cooperation and collaboration is immensely important, especially in this complex federation in which are fortunate enough to live. We have many levels of government, constitutional divisions of power and high sensitivities to overlapping powers and impacts that actions and legislation in one level or order of government may have on another. That is why it is so important to have full consultation. Let me speak to a few.
Bill C-56 would attempt to better reflect the constitutional principle of representation by population by adding extra seats to British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. This sounds like, in constitutional principle, a very valid objective with which to go forward.
It can be said that this is something within the individual competence of the Parliament of Canada with which provincial and territorial governments do not have to give their consent. However, that completely misses the complex nature of our country and the need for collaboration among different levels of government to make things happen in a way that best reflects the interests of the whole country and does not lead to any unintended consequences.
Bill C-56 has been introduced and it sounds good. I am a member of Parliament from British Columbia and British Columbia is to get seven extra seats to bring it up to representation by population, as with the five extra seats in Alberta. However, almost immediately we get a unanimous vote in the motion condemning this by the National Assembly of Quebec. Within a week of that, we get both the Conservative leader in the Ontario legislature plus the Premier of Ontario saying that they are against it and are considering legal action on the basis that this is inappropriate.
Since the bill has been discussed, we have heard in the last two weeks concern expressed from members from the prairie provinces, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. They feel their relative influence in the House may be slipping even though their absolute numbers stay the same. We have also heard from MPs from Atlantic Canada who may be protected in certain ways from having their absolute numbers slip, but are worried about their declining influence in the House.
That is not to say they all have to be completely taken into full account. There may be, and obviously is in this case, some kind of negotiation and collaboration that has to go forward so the range of interests in the House, reflecting the interests of the different regions of the country, is properly protected and balanced. But that requires consultation.
That is why we would like Bill C-56 to go to committee before second reading, so there can be the fullest scope for the consultation to take place and that we in committee, as members of Parliament individually, can consult with the various provinces that have various information on it.
One of the most foundational issues of conflict resolution, and there seems to be conflict in this case, is that we involve everyone in the discussion who is affected by it. They will be interested in it and perhaps have the best information about it, without trying to prejudge that.
I raise that as an issue, as a bit of a paradox of putting forward legislation that is meant to make things more democratic, when in fact it is cutting off a prior consultation that would be effective in making the democracy more effective.
That takes me to issues of the Senate, and they were raised by the government House leader. He raised the issue of Bill S-4, which would limit the terms of senators. Let me take a step back and again reflect that this is piecemeal and without adequate consultation.
There is a complaint that this has been stuck in the Senate for a year. In fact, a very important motion was put before the Senate, which is very much related to this, by former Senator Jack Austin and the sole remaining Progressive Conservative senator, Senator Lowell Murray. It would look to the addition of seats to western Canada in the Senate, to bring some proportionality to the regions of Canada, which was intended by our founding fathers, the Fathers of Confederation.
That raises the issue of distribution again, which makes it very clear why piecemeal approaches to Senate reform, electoral reform and parliamentary reform are so inappropriate. If we look at the Senate, there are three critical areas of the other place that must be respected if we are to have change. I think we all agree, including members of the Senate, that a modern democracy should not have a legislative assembly which is non-elected. It is how we get there that is important. To get there, we have to deal with three things simultaneously in Senate reform.
One is the selection process, and that could be both the terms and the fixed dates that have been suggested in Bill S-4. It also could become the selection process and the consultative elections that have been suggested in Bill C-43. The problem is that this is only one of three categories.
Another category is the mandate of the other place. Is it to be, as it is now, a mirror image of the legislative authority, only altered by convention of this place, that creates the expectation of deference at some stage after full debate in both places, or is there to be something different?
If it exactly the same, and electoral legitimacy is equal by elected senators or consultatively elected senators, however Bill C-43 puts it, then we will risk gridlock and that we must avoid. To deal with that, we must have either different mandates or offset mandates or a dispute resolution clause to deal with problems that might arise between the Houses of Parliament. Therefore, a second stage is neglected in just dealing with Bill S-4 or Bill C-43.
A third area, and perhaps in many ways in terms of the health of our Confederation the most important, is the distribution of Senate seats across the country. I notice in Bill C-56 there is an attempt to arrange for better representation. I say attempt because, as I have mentioned, the government has not done the proper consultation to get the very best answer for that. There is no enthusiasm whatsoever to contemporaneously, in looking for Senate elections or Senate set terms, look at distribution, and most important, the extraordinarily inequitable distribution across the country with respect to western Canada.
It is hard to imagine that members of the government, who represent ridings in western Canada, could possibly be in favour, including the Prime Minister, of trying to give more status, more validity to the other place as a legislative body without first fixing the inequitable distribution across the west. That is passing strange, but it is another example of doing things piecemeal without proper consultation and without dealing with them comprehensively.
Let us look for a moment at electoral reform, because this is immensely important to members of the House. It is part of the old Bill C-55, which attempts to address a small corner of electoral reform.
We have a suggested consultative process by the government, which put out tenders to hire a polling firm and then hire, some would say, a think tank. In fact, it turns out to be Frontier Centre in Winnipeg, which has published works against notions of proportionality to amend, improve and reform our electoral system. It is to hold so-called deliberative, closed door meetings in a few centres in the country, which is somehow some kind of a substitute for a meaningful public discussion on the very desperately needed electoral reform in our country.
It is worse than that, because it is in the face of two other clear opportunities, one is an exercise and another is before us, to do this properly. Again, in reverse order, we do not pretend to consult and then bring in some kind of response to that without going to the people and to the opposition and looking to parliamentary committees and other expert bodies first. This is a jury-rigged, false consultation, which will do nothing for the health of our elective democracy.
Let us look at what the other options are. The Law Commission of Canada is highly respected internationally as one of the foremost law reform bodies in the Commonwealth. Its reports are watched and followed in many other countries. After extensive real public consultation and extensive research here and internationally on electoral reform, in 2004 it published a very thoughtful deliberative piece on a mixed member proportional system. This is an independent statutory body with the responsibility to consult, to do research and to report publicly to Parliament and the Minister of Justice. It reported more than three years ago now and there has been no response, no reflection of any attention being given to that good work.
In 2004 we also had the Speech from the Throne, which was amended in the sense of its application to include electoral reform as a prime objective of the 38th Parliament. Unfortunately and unnecessarily it was interrupted by an election that was commenced in 2005. The work of a special committee to do the proper consultation on behalf of all the House of Commons was cut short.
We should be working with the opposition parties, and I hope with the government, to have a legislative committee, perhaps the procedure and House affairs committee, hold those consultations, rather than the closed door, jury-rigged type of consultation that has been set forward. That is important. Let us have the House involved. Let us look to real public consultation and let us get moving on real electoral reform.
Maybe in the wisdom of that deliberative discussion with Canadians, we can reaffirm the first past the post system we have now, but let us do it when we know there are real strains and real non-representative aspects to it. Let us have that conversation and make it a real deliberative one.
Let me turn to another aspect of democratic reform. This is one about which we have heard so much rhetoric from the government, and that is the Federal Accountability Act, Bill C-2. It is almost Orwellian in the way that aspects of this act, and aspects that certainly this side of the House supported, are actually damaging and non-democratic.
I start with observing that Bill C-2, the accountability act, got royal assent on December 14, 2006. Members will recall that this was following a number of months of very careful deliberations and amendments passed by the Senate and then accepted by the House. I think there were more than 50 of them.
There was constant deriding of the other place for having delayed that important piece of democratic legislation and yet one of the absolutely most important foundational parts of the accountability act was the appointments commission. This would apply the same principles around public service appointments that the Public Service Commission applies: objective criteria, competitive processes, transparence, real accountability. That appointments commission which was part of the act in a form that in fact the NDP put forward, a form that I put forward as an amendment were not accepted. That was five months ago .
I will end with this reflection on non-accountability. After five months, there is no appointments commission and yet every week there are dozens and dozens and dozens of order in council appointments that should have been subject to that merit based, objective, non-partisan appointments commission. What kind of accountability is that? What kind of democratic reform is that?
While I have no difficulty supporting the idea of greater advance opportunities for people to vote to increase voter opportunity and therefore voter turnout, we have to look at the whole picture and, if we are to be taken seriously as a modern democracy, deal with this in a comprehensive way.
Canada Elections Act
May 30th, 2007 / 4:05 p.m.
Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Vancouver Quadra for this very tempting question. Of course I have next door to me the member for Newmarket—Aurora and also, not too far away, the member for Halton. I am not sure if the member for Vancouver Quadra today raised in caucus his intention to offer to return them to this caucus. I can tell the member that the government side is not really interested in their return, so that is all right.
Fundamentally, the government is interested in seeing the voters' will respected. That is what we are trying to do. That is why, for example, as I indicated, the government has proposed Bill C-43, the Senate consultations bill, which I know the member opposite in the Liberal Party opposed. It actually proposes to ask Canadians who they want to represent them in the Senate.
We live in something called a democracy. At least, that is what we in our party believe it is. That is what we want it to be. Part of a democracy, I thought, or at least as I was taught in school, is the notion that we elect people to represent us. However, in our Parliament after 140 years, one of our two institutions, fully half of this building, is occupied by people who are appointed for 45 years, not elected.
We want to see them elected. We hear that is opposed by a Liberal Party that does not want to see any change in the Senate. That party does not want to see senators elected. It likes those privileges and it likes the Senate the way it is.
When it comes time to respecting the will of the voters and showing some respect for the concept of democracy, I suspect that in his heart the member for Vancouver Quadra sympathizes a lot with the notion of electing senators. I know that because he comes from a part of British Columbia where there is strong support for it. It is a place where there is strong support for the concept of Senate term limits. As the member has indicated in the past, there is strong support for our proposed bill on democratic representation. These are all things designed to improve the quality of our democracy.
I have a lot of sympathy for the member for Vancouver Quadra in trying to advance those notions in a party that is generally not supportive of them, but I thank the member for the opportunity to underline the fact that on this side we do want to see the voters' will respected, not just in the House of Commons but in the Senate as well.
Canada Elections Act
May 30th, 2007 / 3:50 p.m.
Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform
moved that Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (expanded voting opportunities) and to make a consequential amendment to the Referendum Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to open debate today on the expanded voting opportunities bill.
The right to vote is our most precious and fundamental right. Each year about 150,000 people become new Canadian citizens. Most have come to our nation in search of freedom and they find that when they achieve Canadian citizenship, the right to vote, among the many rights and privileges they are conferred, is the most treasured privilege and duty that they do acquire.
Public participation in the political process, by exercising one's right to vote, is the cornerstone of our democracy. Voting validates the position of a responsible and accountable government. Of all forms of civic engagement, voting is perhaps the simplest and most important. By deciding to vote, Canadians have a say in what happens to their country.
By the very act of voting, they are playing an active role in the future of their country and their community, first by reflecting on the decision they must make and then by the decision itself. It is precisely for this undertaking that many people become citizens.
A deeper community and civic commitment is built on this foundation. It may lead to the creation of a minor hockey league for children, the organization of a tree-planting project or the cleaning of a ravine.
Unfortunately, voter participation in elections has been in decline over the years. In 1958, 79.4% of Canadians voted in that year's general election. However, that fell to 69% of eligible voters by 1993 and by 2004 only 60.5% of eligible voters cast a ballot.
Unfortunately, young people voted at even lower rates than previous generations. In fact, in the 2000 election, only about 25% of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 24 bothered to vote.
It is undeniable that fewer people are going to the polls in Canada, yet we know that the one true method for citizens to hold their governments to account is through the ballot box. When voter turnout declines, it means that fewer people are holding their governments to account. The result is that our democratic system suffers.
We on this side of the House want to change the current situation. We want to see more people engaged in the political process and we want more people to vote.
A study led by Elections Canada indicates that many Canadians have trouble finding the time to go vote. Generally speaking, between work, studies and family, they do not have enough time to make it to the polls. I know that, on voting day, many people get up in the morning with the intention of voting, but because they have to work extra hours or because their kids have a minor hockey game that night, they do not find the time to exercise their right to vote.
At the same time, Canadians indicated that they appreciate the convenience of advance voting, and more and more voters are taking advantage of the opportunity to vote at advance polling stations. Indeed, voter turnout at advance polling stations nearly doubled between the 1997 election and the 2006 election.
Furthermore, the European example has shown that opening polling stations on Sundays leads to greater voter turnout. For instance, in the French presidential election held Sunday, May 6, voter turnout was 85%.
Therefore on May 9, 2007, we introduced the bill that we are debating today, Bill C-55, to increase voter turnout by giving Canadians more opportunities to vote.
The bill, which is part of our agenda to strengthen accountability and democracy in Canada, adds two advanced polling dates. One is on Sunday, the eighth day before election day, and the other is on Sunday, the day before election day.
The Sunday before election day will be a special advance poll. All polling stations used for the general voting day will be open on the last advanced polling day, not just a limited number of stations used for any other advanced polling days.
That means that Canadians will now have the choice of voting on election day, which is a Monday, or on Sunday, the day before election day or earlier at four other advanced polls.
This will mean all Canadians will have an opportunity to vote at an advanced poll right in their own neighbourhood on a Sunday which for many is a day without work or school commitments. This will make it easier for Canadians to vote.
With this increased convenience, we hope that families will bring their children with them when they go to vote, helping them to appreciate from an early age the civic duty and opportunity to cast a vote and to understand what it means to be a citizen in a free and democratic country.
These are lessons that if well taught last a lifetime, build stronger communities and make a brighter future for Canada. We know that engaging more Canadians in the electoral process through increasing voter turnout is good for our democracy and good for our country.
It is not just the government who is saying this. The expanded voting opportunities bill has also received the endorsement of academics and interested groups across Canada. For example, a group called Apathy is Boring, which aims at increasing youth voter participation, welcomes the bill. It said:
Apathy is Boring applauds the Expanded Voting Opportunities Bill, which makes a small but critical change to polling days. Accessibility is key to voter participation, and this bill will help ensure accessibility especially among young people.
Keith Archer, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary, said, “My view is that this legislation is a thoughtful and constructive response to the decline in voter participation in Canadian federal elections, and is aligned with the evident growth in the desire of Canadians to avail themselves of the opportunity to vote in advanced polls...the government is to be applauded for introducing this legislation”.
Leslie Seidle, a senior research associate at the Institute for Research on Public Policy, said, “It ought to encourage more people to go to the polls by offering them additional time on what is a non-working day for most.
These comments show that the expanded voting opportunities bill is a modern, realistic and effective way to increase voter turnout in Canada. However, the bill is just one piece of our agenda to strengthen accountability and democracy in Canada.
Since coming into power, this government has made many efforts to develop concrete measures for democratic reform. One of these legislative measures, tabled in Parliament by this government, was Bill C-4 which led to a review of the rules governing the registration of a political party. And just before Christmas, we passed the Federal Accountability Act, which provides for new strict rules governing campaign financing. Loans by unions and businesses will be prohibited as will be anonymous contributions and trust funds, and the maximum annual donation to a political party is now $1,100.
These two legislative initiatives will help restore the confidence of citizens in the democratic process.
Next we introduced Bill C-16 to establish fixed dates for elections. The bill sets the third Monday in October, four calendar years after each election, as the date of the next general election. Under the legislation, which is now law, the date of the next general election will be October 19, 2009.
Fixed date elections take the guesswork out of the electoral process and level the playing field for the Chief Electoral Officer, for political parties and, most importantly, for voters. They also encourage participation in the democratic process by allowing Canadians to plan to participate in their nation's electoral process.
I am very proud to announce that Bill C-16 has received royal assent despite all the efforts of the unelected Liberal senators to block implementation of the democratic reform proposed by our government.
Next we introduced Bill C-43, the Senate Appointment Consultations Act. With this bill we have acted to strengthen accountability with legislation that gives Canadians a say in who they want representing them in the Senate.
The proposed Senate appointment consultations act recognizes that it is the citizens of the country, not big money or backroom boys, who are best qualified to choose who should speak for them in the Senate. The Senate appointment consultations bill is currently being debated at second reading and we are anxious to see passage of this groundbreaking legislation.
That brings me to Bill S-4, the legislation that proposes to limit Senate terms to eight years instead of the current 45 years.
Today just happens to be the first birthday of the bill to limit the terms of senators. It has been delayed and obstructed by the Liberal Senate for a full year now. Remarkably, even though the Leader of the Opposition says he supports term limits for senators, Bill S-4 has been ensnared in procedural limbo since May 30, 2006, thanks to Liberal senators bent on obstructing and delaying any meaningful democratic reform.
We hope the Liberal senators will give the House of Commons a chance to actually deal with this bill one day.
As you can see, these legislative measures, including Bill C-31, which provides for the improvement of the integrity of the electoral process, as well as all the other bills tabled last week, are modern, realistic and effective and will strengthen our democracy and restore the confidence of Canadians in our democratic institutions.
The bill on expanded voting opportunities provides Canadian workers with more opportunities to vote so that they can make their government accountable. This is an effective means of ensuring an increase in voter turnout and strengthening democracy in Canada.
Unless we check declining voter turnout, we run the risk of having an increasing number of Canadians becoming disengaged from their government.
The way public affairs are conducted could become less democratic and less responsible.
For democracy to work, it must be the property of all, not just a place for narrow interests to pursue their own agenda. That is why it is important for more Canadians to participate in the democratic process. Voter participation is fundamental to the health of our democratic institutions.
Canada's new government is doing all it can to encourage citizens to participate in the democratic process.
This modern, realistic and effective legislative measure represents a new stage in the ambitious action plan that our government has developed to improve democratic institutions and to strengthen the vitality of democracy in Canada.
For all these reasons, I urge all members of the House to support the expanded voting opportunities bill.
Business of the House
May 17th, 2007 / 3:10 p.m.
Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON
I would not do that.
Tomorrow is an allotted day.
Next week is constituent consultation week, when the House will be adjourned to allow members to return to their ridings and meet with constituents to share with them the activities of Parliament since the last constituency break.
For the interest of members, I will quickly review our plan for the context of our overall legislative agenda.
As he requested, this is currently strengthening the economy week, where a number of financial bills moved forward. The budget bill was sent to committee and, hopefully, it will be reported back tomorrow, or soon, so we can deal with it at third reading when the House returns after the break.
Bill C-40, an act to amend the Excise Tax Act, was read a third time and sent to the Senate. Bill C-53, an act to implement the convention on the settlement of investment disputes, Bill C-33, the sales tax bill and Bill C-47, the Olympics symbol bill were all sent to committee and we all would like to see those back in the House for report stage and third reading.
In an earlier week, Bill C-36, the bill that makes changes to the Canada pension plan and the Old Age Security Act, was made into law after receiving royal assent.
Strengthening accountability through democratic reform week was a success with the consideration of Bill C-43, Senate consultation. We had three new democratic reform bills introduced that week: Bill C-55, to expand voting opportunities; Bill C-56, an act to amend the Constitution Act, democratic representation; and Bill C-54, a bill that would bring accountability with respect to loans. We hope to continue debate on that particular bill later today.
Bill C-16, fixed dates for elections, was given royal assent and is now law, which I think is the cause of the commotion now in all the committees where Liberals are using procedural tactics. Now they feel they can do it with a free hand.
Two other democratic reform bills are in the Senate, Bill C-31, voter integrity, and Bill S-4, Senate tenure. I really would like to have the term limits bill from the Senate for an upcoming democratic reform week if the opposition House leader can persuade his colleagues in the Senate to finally deal with that bill after 352 days. We may get 352 seconds in a filibuster, but they have had 352 days so far. They have been stalling for a year.
During the consultation week, I will be interested in hearing what our constituents think of the plight of Bill S-4 and the irony of those unaccountable senators delaying it.
We dedicated a good deal of our time focusing on making our streets and communities safer by cracking down on crime. Now that we have had the help of the NDP, we restored the meaningful aspects that the Liberals gutted in committee to Bill C-10, the bill to introduce mandatory penalties for violent and gun crimes. We are continuing to debate that bill today at third reading.
Bill C-48, the bill dealing with the United Nations convention on corruption, was adopted at all stages.
Bill C-26, the bill to amend the Criminal Code with respect to interest rates, was given royal assent.
Bill C-22, the age of protection, was given final reading and sent to the Senate, although it did spend close to, if not in excess of, 200 days in committee where the Liberals were obstructing and delaying its passage.
We made progress on Bill C-27, the dangerous offenders legislation. We would like to see that back in the House.
Bill C-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentence of imprisonment) and a host of other justice bills are working their way through the system.
Members can advise their constituents that when we return, we will be reviving two themes, back by popular demand. Beginning May 28, we will begin again with strengthening accountability through democratic reform with: Bill C-54, political loans; Bill C-55, additional opportunities for voting; and Bill C-56, democratic representation.
Up next is a second go-round on strengthening the economy week with Bill C-52, the budget implementation bill, which will be called as soon as it is reported back from committee.
In the near future, we will have the improvement of aboriginal people quality of life week with Bill C-44. This bill will grant first nations residing on Indian reserves access to the Canadian charter of human rights. They have been denied this right for 30 years. Unfortunately, Bill C-44 is being delayed by the opposition. This is another bill being delayed by the opposition in committee.
After Bill C-44, I intend to debate Bill C-51. The agreement establishes the use and ownership of land and resources and will foster economic development. This bill illustrates Canada's commitment to the North and to settling land claims.
I wish all members a productive constituent consultation week and look forward to more progress on the government's legislative agenda when the House returns on May 28.
Statements By Members
May 17th, 2007 / 2:10 p.m.
Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC
Mr. Speaker, this government claims that Bill C-56 does not threaten its relations with Quebec. However, it should consider the concerns expressed by the National Assembly, which yesterday introduced and unanimously adopted a joint motion calling on the Parliament of Canada to withdraw Bills C-56, which will change the number of seats in the Parliament of Canada, and C-43 on the Senate.
The National Assembly is so concerned over the latest events involving the French language that it adopted another motion reiterating the importance of defending and promoting French as an official language of Canada and calling on the government to take action in response to the latest report by the Commissioner of Official Languages.
The Bloc Québécois is here to defend the interests of Quebec. The Conservatives had better watch out, because we will always demand that the decisions of the National Assembly be honoured.