Bill C-19 (Historical)
Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate tenure)
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.
Peter Van Loan Conservative
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)
April 29th, 2010 / 3:20 p.m.
Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC
Mr. Speaker, we are discussing Senate reform, which would see senators appointed for eight years. We have to ask ourselves the following question: should changes affecting the essential characteristics of the Senate be made unilaterally by Parliament or should they be part of the constitutional process involving Quebec and the provinces?
The Supreme Court of Canada has answered that question. In the late 1970s, the Supreme Court of Canada considered the capacity of Parliament, on its own, to amend constitutional provisions relating to the Senate. Its decision Re: Authority of Parliament in Relation to the Upper House , 1 S.C.R. 54 establishes the principle that major changes, affecting the essential characteristics of the Senate, cannot be made unilaterally. As hon. members can see, the Supreme Court has ruled on this issue.
Any reform affecting the powers of the Senate, the method of selecting senators, the number of senators to which a province is entitled or the residency requirement of senators can only be made in consultation with the provinces and Quebec.
Let us see how certain political players have looked at this issue. In 2007, the former Quebec minister for Canadian intergovernmental affairs, Benoît Pelletier, not exactly a sovereignist, reiterated Quebec's traditional position as follows:
The Government of Quebec does not believe that this falls exclusively under federal jurisdiction. Given that the Senate is a crucial part of the Canadian federal compromise, it is clear to us that under the Constitution Act, 1982, and the Regional Veto Act, the Senate can be neither reformed nor abolished without Quebec's consent.
That is what a Liberal government member said about the issue in 2007. That same day, the National Assembly—every single MNA, including members of the Parti Québécois, the ADQ and the Liberals—unanimously passed the following motion:
That the National Assembly of Québec reaffirm to the Federal Government and to the Parliament of Canada that no modification to the Canadian Senate may be carried out without the consent of the Government of Québec and the National Assembly.
This is not just about consultation. I know that Canada's Conservative Prime Minister would like to have full control over the Senate and appoint senators for eight-year terms, but for that he needs to do more than just consult with Quebec and the provinces. He needs to obtain consent from the provinces, specifically from seven provinces representing more than 50% of Canada's population.
Traditionally and historically, Quebec's position on the Senate and possible Senate reform has been very clear. Since the unilateral patriation of the Constitution, successive Quebec governments have all agreed on one basic premise: they have made it very clear that there can be no Senate reform until Quebec's status has been settled.
In 1989, Mr. Bourassa, the former Quebec premier, said that he did not want to talk about Senate reform until the Meech Lake accord was signed.
In 1992, Gil Rémillard said that Quebec would not sign an agreement on Senate reform until it was satisfied with the results of negotiations on distinct society, power sharing and federal spending power. More recently, Quebec's Liberal government—a federalist government, I should point out—participated in the Special Committee on Senate Reform in 2007. It wrote the following in its May 31, 2007, submission:
The Government of Quebec is not opposed to modernizing the Senate. But if the aim is to alter the essential features of that institution, the only avenue is the initiation of a coordinated federal-provincial constitutional process that fully associates the constitutional players, one of them being Quebec, in the exercise of constituent authority.
The Government of Quebec, with the unanimous support of the National Assembly, therefore requests the withdrawal of Bill C-43 [a bill proposing an elected Senate]. It also requests the suspension of proceedings on Bill S-4...
This is the fourth time the government has tried to bring a Senate reform bill before the House. The Liberal government spoke out against this for constitutional reasons.
And do not forget that on November 7, 2007, the National Assembly unanimously passed its motion. I think it is clear that if Ottawa wishes to reform the Senate, it must reopen the constitutional debate, sit down with Quebec and the provinces and negotiate with them in order to come to an agreement. It cannot act unilaterally. As I said before, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled on this issue.
if it truly wants to recognize Quebec, the government must also make sure to take a second issue into account. We know only too well that the Conservative government does not want to recognize Quebec. If it recognized the Quebec nation, it would also recognize the various political figures that have spoke about this issue.
We also want Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons to be maintained. But the Conservative government wants to increase the number of seats by 30, including 20 in Ontario, which would reduce Quebec's political weight. We are told that we will always be guaranteed 75 members. But 75 out of 308 is not the same as 75 out of 338.
Furthermore, the entire population of Quebec opposes this. We are very surprised and very frustrated by the actions of this government, which finally decided to recognize the Quebec nation. That was a sham; it was nothing but empty rhetoric. It does not really mean anything at all. When this government can diminish Quebec's political weight and ignore Quebec's wishes to not reform the Senate for constitutional reasons, it will do so. This is nothing but smoke and mirrors.
If the government was serious about democratic legitimacy, it would ensure that Quebec maintained its current representation in the House of Commons, that is, 24.35% of the seats. If 30 more seats are added, Quebec's representation would drop to under 22%. It is crucial that Quebec be represented not only based on its demographic weight, but also based on its historical significance and its social, economic and cultural distinctiveness. That is why we want Quebec's political weight to be preserved, and do not want to be left with just 75 seats. It is also because of Quebec's historical significance and because the Conservative government recognized the Quebec nation. If it wants to show consistency, it must ensure that the Quebec nation's representation is proportionate to its historic, economic and cultural significance, proportionate to its weight and what it is.
Moreover, the Conservative government is contradicting itself. On the one hand, it claims that it wants to increase the legitimacy of institutions, but on the other hand, it is trying to muzzle Quebec by introducing bills that will reduce the political weight of the Quebec nation. Clearly, the supposed recognition, as I mentioned earlier, was nothing more than empty rhetoric, since the Conservatives are incapable of taking any concrete action that would suggest true recognition.
It must be said that since the creation of the Canadian confederation, Quebec’s weight has declined constantly. I would point out that Quebec had 36% of the seats in 1867; if this bill were adopted, that would fall to 22.4%.
The members of the National Assembly are also in favour of the principle of maintaining Quebec’s weight. On Thursday, April 22, all members of that body, federalist and sovereignist, voted unanimously in favour of a motion against decreasing Quebec’s weight. Similar measures were adopted when previous bills were introduced by this Conservative government, which was trying to dilute the weight of Quebec. As well, the Quebec people also reject this bill, which would diminish the weight of Quebec. In fact, an Angus Reid poll conducted on April 7 shows that 71% of the population of Quebec opposes Bill C-12, which seeks to diminish Quebec’s weight. Now, 71% is a lot of people.
So the consensus in Quebec is that it is important to maintain Quebec’s relative representation in this House. That includes all of the members of the National Assembly and the 49 members of this House, two thirds of the members for whom Quebeckers voted. We are elected representatives, and we have democratic, popular legitimacy. This government’s refusal to take Quebec’s demands into account is only the last in a long series of examples demonstrating that recognition of the Quebec nation means nothing to this government.
If it were truly serious when it talks about reforming the democratic legitimacy of institutions, the government would abolish the Senate and ensure that the weight of the Quebec nation, which has been officially recognized, is kept at 24.3%. In addition, as I said before, it would reform the democratic legitimacy of institutions by ensuring it has the support of seven provinces that together represent 50% of the Canadian population and acknowledging that a majority of Quebeckers oppose these issues.
Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
April 29th, 2010 / 1:25 p.m.
Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC
“Only candidates elected by the people will be named to the upper house”, said the Prime Minister in 2004. “The upper house remains a dumping ground for the favoured cronies of the prime minister”, complained the current Prime Minister in 2004. “A Conservative government will not appoint to the Senate anyone who does not have a mandate from the people”, again from the Conservative Party.
Those are some of the claims that the Prime Minister has made, along with many other statements about the Senate that, unfortunately, have undermined the credibility of the Senate in the minds of the public.
What has the Prime Minister actually done, given those very clear assertions over many years that he would not be appointing senators and that there would not be partisan appointments? The Prime Minister appointed more senators in a single year than any prime minister in history. He appointed 27 senators. He is the Senate patronage king, and these have been some of the most blatant, partisan appointments in history.
We have seen well-connected party partisans throughout the Senate appointments, including fundraising chairs, national fundraising chairs, top strategists, Conservative staffers, Conservative communications advisers, failed candidates, Conservative-leaning journalists and so on. Essentially, we have an entire national election team for the Conservatives now on the Senate payroll. That is not even speaking to some of the questionable histories of senators, such as the one who is facing a sexual harassment complaint before a Human Rights Tribunal and who was president of an organization under investigation for financial impropriety.
How does this speak to the credibility of the Prime Minister's claims about improving democracy through his changes to the Senate? Not well, I would contend.
The objective claimed is to modernize democracy, which is a laudable objective.
I would like to talk a bit about some of the context that the government has on its record in terms of democracy. If we are to take improving democracy at face value, we would expect to see that as having been an objective with the government and the Prime Minister. I would contend that the facts do not suggest that is the case.
What about the fundamental underpinnings of democracy, such as openness, accountability and integrity? How has the Prime Minister fared?
In terms of openness, is the Prime Minister willing to hear from Canadians? I think a number of organizations would contest that willingness. In fact, organizations that disagree with the government are finding themselves punished. A member of one organization in civil society told me yesterday that there was a chill right across civil society because many organizations, such as the Canadian Council on Learning, KAIROS and Rights & Democracy, are seeing their funding cut for ideological reasons or because they are speaking up, which is what their organizations are designed to do.
In terms of openness, we have an Information Commissioner calling the government the most secretive in history. I have an example of that in a freedom of information request that I put forward around the disaster in a Canadian pavilion at the Olympics. I received two blanked out pages. Maybe that information was a state secret or a military secret but I do not think so.
In terms of openness, the government is preventing debate on critical issues by slipping key public policy changes into budget implementation bills, so that it does not have to debate on their merit. These are key issues, such as pay equity, the Canada Environmental Assessment Act and the protection of our environment. One must conclude that openness, that fundamental tenet of democracy, is not something that the government has promoted. In fact, it has seriously undermined it.
The same argument, unfortunately, needs to be made for accountability. The ruling by the Speaker the other day was an example. There are numerous other examples of accountability breaches by the Conservative government.
One of the key democratic mechanisms that we have as parliamentarians is the oversight officers of Parliament. The list of those oversight officers, or independent officers, whose job it is to ensure the integrity of government, who have been fired, sidelined, “resigned” early in their term or not reappointed, is very long. It includes the president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Linda Keen; the environment commissioner, the president of the Law Commission of Canada, the head of the Canada Emission Reduction Incentives Agency, the Military Police Complaints Commissioner, the RCMP Public Complaints Commissioner; and the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.
The Liberal Party of Canada hosted a round table on that very issue during prorogation here in Ottawa. We heard from a range of constitutional experts and others as to the weakening of the fabric of democracy that takes place when the oversight officers are not able to speak their minds and are not able to speak the truth without fear of retribution. How does that illustrate the government's commitment to democracy? It actually illustrates the opposite.
I would remind all members of the words of Aristotle:
If liberty and equality, as is thought by some are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.
That is not what we have been seeing under the Conservative government. unfortunately.
This is relevant to Bill C-10 because there is a claim here that the government is trying to strengthen democracy.
The process by which Bill C-10 has come about is one that raises great questions. I will just provide a quick summary of the timeline.
Bill C-10 has several predecessors. In May 2006, Bill C-4 was introduced. It was recommended by the Senate to go to the Supreme Court of Canada on the constitutionality issues. The bill died when Parliament was prorogued in September 2007. This was followed by Bill C-19, which was tabled but never brought back for debate. It died in 2008 when an election was called just after the government passed a fixed election date law.
In May 2009, Bill S-7 came back to the House with the same eight year term limits. It was debated for three days only and then it died when the Prime Minister prorogued the House in January 2010 to avoid accountability with respect to questions on the Afghan detainee issue.
The bill has come back a fourth time as Bill C-10, with some minor modifications. One must question whether this is actually a serious attempt to improve democracy or whether it is posturing by the government. Whatever it might be, one must conclude that this process does not create confidence in the government's intentions with respect to this bill.
Let us look at the content of the bill itself. The Minister of State for Democratic Reform spoke to this issue briefly. A key legal issue to this is whether it is constitutional. The minister of state claims that there is a consensus that it is. The reading that I have done shows that the very serious question of constitutionality has not been resolved and unilateral action by Parliament to amend the Senate in this type of case should be referred to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The legal issue is around the upper house reference case of 1980 in which the Supreme Court of Canada decided that amendments affecting the essential characteristics or fundamental features of the Senate must have provincial involvement. Despite the amending procedures in the Constitution Act of 1982, this judgment continues to have relevance, according to many constitutional authorities.
Then the question is, does this bill affect the essential characteristics or fundamental features of the Senate. Of the two principles, one is experienced oversight, that is, both of legislation and complex societal issues, and two, independence. Let us consider how this bill might affect these essential characteristics.
I ask members to think back to eight years ago in their own lives and ask themselves whether they have mastered something to the point where they would be capable of sober, credible oversight for all Canadians on the issue. Eight years may seem like a long time, but it does not enable a person to provide the kind of input that our senators, whom I am very proud of, are able to provide. Aboriginal elders, for example, are the wisdom of their communities. Are they cut off after eight years as no longer being relevant? No.
Independence is clearly impacted by an eight-year term because in two terms a prime minister can turn over the entire membership of the Senate, which would clearly impact its independence. We could have a Senate consisting of one party or another. As Benjamin Franklin said, democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. That seems to be what Mr. Harper is aiming for in the Senate with this bill.
June 18th, 2008 / 4:55 p.m.
Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Senator, you've been talking about some changes that would necessarily involve a constitutional amendment using the 7/50 formula. And I would not dispute with you in any way that the kinds of things you're proposing—incorporating some provision like the Elton override, for example, or changes to the numbers of senators from each province—require an amendment under the 7/50 formula.
This gives me an opportunity to give a little editorial—which you're free to comment on when I finish—as to why it can be problematic turning to the provinces for their consent on these things.
Occasionally one of our witnesses will cite the way in which other countries have amended their constitutions. The Australians, for example, require the support of a majority of the states, so that's four out of six states. The Swiss require a majority of the cantons, and also a majority of the population. The Americans, of course, require the support of three-fourths of the states.
But in the Swiss and Australian cases, it's really the people of the states who decide the referendum. And in the case of the United States, just the very fact that there are so many states precludes what happens here in Canada, which is that you effectively are looking for the support of those individual premiers who, effectively, under our system, are elected dictators of their provinces, just as our prime minister is an elected dictator here, thanks to the strength of the party discipline in our system.
The consequence is that we can find ourselves being treated to the kind of thing we saw occur under the Meech Lake accord, and particularly the Charlottetown accord, where you essentially have them acting as feudal barons, horse-trading back and forth--“I will give you this provision if you give me that provision”, etc. Before you know it, you've created a cancerous growth like the Charlottetown accord, which effectively includes every imaginable provision—and the Senate is merely one part of this great tumour of a constitutional amendment you now have before you.
I worry very much that we would be unable to get the consent of the majority of the premiers, or of the seven premiers, representing half the population, without moving off the Senate and onto other topics. This fills me with some alarm.
I wonder if you have the same kinds of concerns—or perhaps you don't?
Extension of Sitting Hours
June 9th, 2008 / 4:30 p.m.
Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB
I heard the member for Lévis—Bellechasse say “agreed”. It would be fine to sit, but what has happened over the months that have gone by? What has happened in Parliament under the Conservative minority government? What will happen in the coming months?
If the bills are so important, as the Conservatives are saying, the government can guarantee that, if the motion is not passed, the House of Commons will not be prorogued. That means that in September we will come back to the House and continue to work. The Conservatives would not prorogue until October or November, as they have done before: a young government that came to power prorogued the House of Commons when we could have been debating bills.
This session, after the May break, our calendar shows four more weeks of work. Of these four weeks, two are reserved for the possibility of extended sitting hours here in the House of Commons. I cannot accept that the Conservatives are saying that we are a bunch of lazy people, and that we do not want to work, when this government has done everything possible since last August to ensure that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs could not operate.
It has been at least two or three months now since the committee last sat because the Conservatives have refused to appoint someone to chair it. The Conservatives decided that the matter submitted to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs was partisan, and that is why they are not replacing the chair.
I remember that we appointed a new chair, we voted for a new chair, but the chair never did call a meeting of the committee. The chair is being paid to carry that title, but he met with the members once, and then, it was only to adjourn. Is that not partisanship? When a party refuses to hold a public debate on things going on in Parliament or with political parties, that is partisanship.
As I recall, during the sponsorship scandal, it was fine for the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, which was chaired at the time by an opposition Conservative member, to hold hearings and discuss the sponsorship scandal.
But now that the Conservatives are the ones who spent $18 million during the last election and shuffled money around to spend another $1.5 million on top of that, well, they do not want to talk about it. They will not talk about it. When the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights was about to discuss another case, it was shut down again.
To this day, there are bills that have not been debated in committee. The Conservatives think that democracy should happen nowhere but in the House, and certainly not in committee. Parliamentary committees are an important part of our political system, our parliamentary system, our democracy. We were elected by the people in our ridings to come here and pass bills.
We cannot invite a member of the public to testify in the House of Commons, for example. We do not hear witnesses in the House of Commons. We have parliamentary committees where we can invite constituents or people from any part of the country to explain how a bill will affect them and to suggest ways to improve the bill.
For the Conservatives, the most important committee is the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. All they want to do is create justice bills. They would rather build prisons and put everyone in jail than adopt sound social programs to help people work and give them a fair chance in life. For the Conservatives, you either follow the straight and narrow path or you go to jail. These are the sorts of bills they are most interested in.
These are the sorts of bills they are most interested in, yet they brought the work of this committee to a standstill. The chair left the committee and said there would be no more meetings. Experts and members of the public are being prevented from talking to us about important justice bills. This evening, the Conservatives are asking to extend the sitting hours of the House of Commons until June 20 in order to discuss and pass these bills, because they are important. If we do not vote for these bills, then we are not good Canadians. That is in essence what they are saying. They do not want any debate.
They would have us believe that if we extend the sitting hours of the House of Commons every evening until June 20, there will be a terrific debate. We will debate these bills. We will have the opportunity to see democracy in action. At the same time, they have brought the work of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to a standstill. I have never seen such a thing in the 11 years I have been in the House of Commons. I have never seen such a thing.
I would go so far as to say that it has become a dictatorship. Everything originates from the Prime Minister's Office. So much so that, last week, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons complained that he was tired of rising in the House of Commons. He is the only one to stand up; the ministers do not even have the right to rise to answer questions. It is always the government House leader who answers questions. He was so tired one day last week that he knocked over his glass and spilled water on the Prime Minister. They should have thrown water on him to wake him up because he was tired. He himself told the House that he was tired.
That shows the extent to which the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons as well as the Prime Minister's Office, and not the elected Conservative MPs, control the government's agenda. The MPs have nothing to say. There are also the little tricks of the Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip who told members how to behave in parliamentary committee meetings, which witnesses to invite and how to control them. If they are unable to control them they interrupt the meeting. I have never seen anything like it in the 11 years that I have been an MP.
I have been a member of the Standing Committee on Official Languages since 1998. We invited the minister to appear in order to help us with our work and she refused. She refused. She was asked in the House why she refused and she replied that she did not refuse. The committee was studying the Conservatives' action plan. If they wish to make an important contribution to communities throughout the country, there is an action plan to help Canada's official language minority communities—anglophones in Quebec and francophones in the rest of the country.
The action plan was being studied. We asked the minister to speak to us about the action plan so we could work with her. She refused and said she would appear after the plan was tabled. We will invite her again. I have never seen a minister refuse to help a committee.
We invited her again to the Standing Committee on Official Languages concerning the 2010 Olympic Games. The francophone community will not be able to watch the Olympic Games in French anywhere in the country because the contract, which was bid on by CTV, TQS and RDS, was awarded to CTV. We asked the minister to come to the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Instead she said that it was not important for this country's francophones, and she declined. The communities have questions. This all happened in the fall.
This spring, at budget time, the Conservatives declared that money for the action plan or for official languages would come later. We are used to that. We receive an article in English and are told that the French will come later. That is what the budget reminded us of. The money will come later.
But people are waiting. They are wondering what will happen to their communities. People from Newfoundland and Labrador even came to speak to the committee. They told us that currently, minority language communities are having to use lines of credit or even credit cards to help the community. It would be interesting to hear the minister explain why the Conservatives are not giving that money to communities, as they should. They promised to help minority language communities.
I would like to come back to the environment. When we were supposed to be working on environmental issues, the Conservatives systematically obstructed this work for days. They said they had the right to do so. Indeed, they did have the right; that is no problem. We have done the same thing, we will admit. That is part of debate.
Someone came and asked me how we could stop this obstruction. I told that person that it was their right to obstruct and that, if they wanted to talk until the next day, they could. However, when that happens, the chair must not take sides.
Yet that is what happened at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. We had to ask for the chair of the committee to step down. In fact, when we arrived at the committee meeting at 11 a.m., the Conservatives took the floor in order to filibuster and if one of them had to go to the bathroom, the chair adjourned the meeting for 10 minutes. That is no longer obstruction. When we asked the chair if it was going to continue after 1 p.m., he told us to wait until 1 p.m. to find out. Then, at 1 p.m., he decided to adjourn the meeting.
We have been trying since August to discuss the problem of the Conservatives, who had exceeded the $1.5 million spending limit allowed during the last election campaign. The problem with the Conservatives is that they want to hide everything from Canadians. They spoke of transparency, but they wanted to hide from Canadians all their misdeeds. When they were on the opposition benches, they counted on this, especially during the Liberal sponsorship scandal. I remember that and the questions they asked in the House of Commons and in parliamentary committee. They did not hold back.
But they do not want that to happen to them. And if it does, they try to hide it. That is why they did not allow a parliamentary committee to discuss the problems they had created, such as the story with Cadman, our former colleague. His wife said today that her husband told her that he was promised $1 million if he voted with the Conservatives. She never said that was not true; she said that was what in fact was said. Her own daughter said the same thing, that promises had been made. The Conservatives are saying that no one has the right to speak about that. Only they had that right when they were in the opposition, but not us. They are acting like gods and we have to listen to everything they say.
Today, they are moving a motion asking us to listen to them. And yet, when the House leaders and the whips met in committee there was nothing on the agenda. I have never seen the like. The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons was even asked if there was anything else on the agenda. He just smirked. He was mocking us and today he wants us to cooperate with him. The Conservatives are saying that they are here to work, but they have blocked all the work of the House of Commons for the past six months.
And they are lecturing us?
When the House leader of the Conservative Party tries to give us a lesson and says that we do not want to work, but they are here to work, I cannot believe it.
We have a committee that does not even sit right now. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has not sat for the last two or three months. The Conservatives do not want to hear what they perhaps have done wrong. If they have nothing to hide, they should have let it go ahead.
The Conservatives said that if they were to be investigated by Elections Canada, they wanted all parties to be investigated. Elections Canada did not say that all the parties were wrong. It said that the Conservative Party had broken the rules of Elections Canada by spending over the limit of $18 million. It was the Conservative Party that did that. Right away the Conservatives filed a lawsuit against Elections Canada. Now they say we should not talk about that in the House of Commons.
Every time we went to the House leader meeting and the whip meeting, they had nothing on the agenda. The Conservatives say that they are very democratic. They want a big debate in the House of Commons on bills. BillC-54, Bill C-56, Bill C-19, Bill C-43, Bill C-14, Bill C-32, Bill C-45, Bill C-46, Bill C-39, Bill C-57 and Bill C-22 are all at second reading.
I will not go into detail about what each and every bill is, but even if we say yes to the government, we will be unable to get through those bills. If we want to get through those bills, it will be the PMO and the Prime Minister's way. The Conservatives bring bills to the House and say that members opposite should vote with them. If we do not vote, they say that we are against them. That is the way they do it, no debate.
The debate, as I said in French, should not only take place in the House of Commons; it should to take place in parliamentary committees. That is the only place where Canadians have the right to come before the committees to express themselves. That is the only place people who are experts can come before us to talk about bills, so we can make the bills better.
When a bill is put in place, it may not be such a good bill, but maybe it is a bill that could go in the right direction if all parties work on it. If we put our hands to it, perhaps it can become a good bill. We could talk to experts, who could change our minds, and maybe we could put some new stuff in the bill.
However, no, the Conservatives got rid of the most important committee that would deal with the bills in which they were interested, and that was the justice committee.
I may as well use the words I have heard from the Conservatives. They say that we are lazy. How many times did we say at committee that we would look after the agenda, that there were certain things we wanted to talk about, for example, Election Canada and the in and out scheme? At the same time, we said we were ready to meet on Wednesdays and we could meet on other days as well to discuss bills.
We proposed all kinds of agenda, and I dare any colleague from the Conservative Party to say we did not do that. We have proposed an agenda where we could meet on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and the Conservatives refused.
Extension of Sitting Hours
June 9th, 2008 / 4 p.m.
Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, I will start off by saying that the Bloc Québécois, like the official opposition, and like—I believe—the NDP, will opposed the motion by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to extend the sitting hours, for a number of reasons.
First, it is important to remember—and this was mentioned by the House leader of the official opposition—that the government and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons have been completely unwilling to negotiate and cooperate. Usually, when Parliament is running smoothly, the leaders meet and agree on some priorities, some items and some ways of getting them done. But since the start of this session, or at least since September, House leaders' meetings on Tuesday afternoons have simply been meetings where we hear about a legislative agenda, which, within hours after we leave the meeting, is completely changed.
That is not how we move forward. Now the government can see that its way of doing things does not produce results. In fact, I think that this is what the government wanted in recent weeks, to prevent Parliament, the House of Commons and the various committees from working efficiently and effectively.
As I was saying, usually such motions are born out of cooperation, and are negotiated in good faith between the government and the opposition parties. But we were simply told that today a motion would be moved to extend the sitting hours, but with no information forthcoming about what the government's priorities would be through the end of this session, until June 20.
This was a very cavalier way to treat the opposition parties. And today, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the Conservative government are reaping the consequences of their haughty attitude. As the saying goes, he who sows the wind, reaps the whirlwind. That is exactly what has happened to the Conservatives after many weeks of acting in bad faith and failing to cooperate with the opposition parties.
In this case, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons—and earlier I mentioned his arrogance, which, to me, has reached its peak today with the way the motion was moved—gave us no indication as to his government's priorities from now until the end of the session, despite the fact that he was pointedly questioned about that matter. What we did receive was a grocery list with no order, no priorities. As the leader of the official opposition said earlier, when everything is a priority, it means that nothing is.
That is the current situation: they gave us a list of bills which, in fact, included almost all of the bills on the order paper. Not only were things not prioritized, but in addition, as I mentioned before, it showed a disregard for the opposition parties. There is a price to pay for that today—we do not see why the government needs to extend the sitting hours.
Not only was the grocery list not realistic, but also it showed that the government has absolutely no priorities set. The list includes almost all of the bills, but week after week, despite what was said during the leaders' meetings, the order of business changed. If the order of business changes at the drop of a hat, with no rhyme or reason, it means that the government does not really have priorities.
I am thinking about Bill C-50, a bill to implement the budget, which we waited on for a long time. The government is surprised that we are coming up to the end of the session and that it will be adopted in the coming hours. However, we have to remember that between the budget speech and the introduction of Bill C-50, many weeks passed that could have been spent working on the bill.
As I mentioned, the list presented to us is unrealistic. It shows the arrogance of this government, and furthermore, the order of the bills on the list is constantly changing. We feel this is a clear demonstration of this government's lack of priority.
In light of that, we can reach only one conclusion: if the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform cannot present us with his government's legislative priorities as we near the end of this session, in effect, it means that his government has no legislative priorities. It has no long-term vision. Its management is short sighted, very short sighted indeed. I would even say it is managing from one day to the next. From my perspective, this can mean only one thing: it has no legislative agenda. When we have before us bills dealing with only minor issues, this is what that means.
Proof of this lack of legislative agenda is easy to see, considering the current state of this government's agenda. An abnormally small number of bills for this time of year are currently before the House at the report stage and at third reading. Usually, if the government had planned, if it had been working in good faith and had cooperated with the opposition parties, in these last two weeks remaining before the summer recess, we should have been completing the work on any number of bills.
Overall, as we speak there are just five government bills that are ready to be debated at these stages, in other words, report stage or third reading stage. Among those, we note that Bill C-7, which is now at third reading stage, reached report stage during the first session of the 39th Parliament, in other words in June 2007. It has been brought back to us a year later. And that is a priority? What happened between June 2007 and June 2008 to prevent Bill C-7 from getting through third reading stage? In my opinion, we should indeed finish the work on Bill C-7, but this truly illustrates the government's lack of planning and organization.
As far as Bill C-5 is concerned, it was reported on by the Standing Committee on Natural Resources on December 12, 2007, and voted on at report stage on May 6, 2008. Again, a great deal of time, nearly six months, went by between the tabling of the report and the vote at this stage, which was held on May 6, 2008, while the report was tabled on December 12, 2007.
All these delays of six months to a year force us to conclude that these bills are not legislative priorities to this government.
It would be great to finish the work on these four or five bills, but let us admit that we could have finished it much sooner.
This lack of legislative priority was even more apparent before question period when the House was debating second reading of Bill C-51 on food and drugs. Next on the agenda is second reading of Bill C-53 on auto theft.
If these five bills were a priority, we would finish the work. But no, what we are being presented with are bills that are only at second reading stage. This only delays further the report stage or third reading of the bills I have already mentioned. If we were serious about this, we would finish the work on bills at third reading and then move on to bills that are at second reading.
Furthermore, if its legislative agenda has moved forward at a snail's pace, the government is responsible for that and has only itself to blame, since it paralyzed the work of important committees, including the justice committee and the procedure and House affairs committee, to which several bills had been referred. And then they dare make some sort of bogus Conservative moral claim, saying that we are refusing to extend sitting hours because we do not want to work. For months and months now, opposition members, especially the Bloc Québécois, have been trying to work in committee, but the government, for partisan reasons, in order to avoid talking about the Conservative Party's problems, has been obstructing committee work.
Earlier, the NDP whip spoke about take note debates.
Once again, it is not the opposition that is refusing to work on issues that are important to Canadians and Quebeckers. Rather, it is the government that refuses to allow take note debates, because of partisan obstinacy. In that regard, we clearly see that the argument presented by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform is mere tautology or a false argument. In fact, it was the Conservative Party, the Conservative government, that slowed down the work of the House and obstructed the work of several committees.
Not only is the government incapable of planning, vision, cooperation and good faith, but furthermore, its legislative agenda is very meagre and does not in any way warrant extending the sitting hours. In addition, the Bloc Québécois sees many of the bills that are now at the bottom of the list as problematic, but if we extend the sitting hours, we will end up having to examine them.
Take Bill C-14, for example, which would permit the privatization of certain Canada Post activities. Do they really think that sitting hours will be extended to hasten debate on a bill that threatens jobs and the quality of a public service as essential as that provided by the Canada Post Corporation? That demonstrates just how detrimental the Conservatives' right-wing ideology is, not just to public services but to the economy. Everyone knows very well—there are a large number of very convincing examples globally—that privatizing postal services leads to significant price increases for consumers and a deterioration in service, particularly in rural areas.
I will give another example, that of Bill C-24, which would abolish the long gun registry even though police forces want to keep it. Once again, we have an utter contradiction. Although the government boasts of an agenda that will increase security, they are dismantling a preventtive tool welcomed by all stakeholders. They are indirectly contributing to an increase in the crime rate.
These are two examples of matters that are not in step with the government's message. It is quite clear that we are not interested in extending sitting hours to move more quickly to a debate on Bill C-24.
I must also mention bills concerning democratic reform—or pseudo-reform. In my opinion, they are the best example of the hypocrisy of this government, which introduces bills and then, in the end, makes proposals that run counter to the interests of Quebec in particular.
Take Bill C-20, for example, on the consultation of voters with respect to the pool of candidates from which the Prime Minister should choose senators. Almost all the constitutional experts who appeared before the committee currently studying Bill C-20 said that the bill would do indirectly what cannot be done directly. We know that the basic characteristics of the Senate cannot be changed without the agreement of the provinces or, at the very least, without following the rule of the majority for constitutional amendments, which requires approval by seven provinces representing 50% of the population.
Since the government knows very well that it cannot move forward with its Senate reforms, it introduced a bill that would change the essential characteristics of the Senate, something prohibited by the Constitution, on the basis of some technicalities.
It is interesting to note that even a constitutional expert who told the committee that he did not think the way the government had manipulated the bill was unconstitutional admitted that the bill would indirectly allow the government to do what it could not do directly.
They are playing with the most important democratic institutions.
A country's Constitution—and we want Quebec to have its own Constitution soon—is the fundamental text. We currently have a government, a Prime Minister and a Leader of the Government in the House of Commons who are manipulating this fundamental text— the Canadian Constitution—in favour of reforms that would satisfy their supporters in western Canada.
We do not want to rush this bill through the House by extending the sitting hours. It is the same thing for Bill C-19, which, I remind members, limits a Senator's tenure to eight years.
These two bills, Bill C-19 and Bill C-20, in their previous form, meaning before the session was prorogued in the summer of 2007, were unanimously denounced by the Quebec National Assembly, which asked that they be withdrawn. It is rather ironic that the federal government recognized the Quebec nation and then decided to introduce two bills that were denounced by the Quebec National Assembly.
I must say that the two opposition parties are opposed to Bill C-20, albeit for different reasons. Thus, I do not think it would be in the best interests of the House to rush these bills through, since we are far from reaching a consensus on them.
I have one last example, that is, Bill C-22, which aims to change the make-up of the House of Commons. If passed, it would increase the number of members in Ontario and in western Canada, which would reduce the political weight of the 75 members from Quebec, since their representation in this House would drop from 24.4% to 22.7%. It is not that we are against changing the distribution of seats based on the changing demographics of the various regions of Canada. We would like to ensure, however, that the Quebec nation, which was recognized by the House of Commons, has a voice that is strong enough to be heard.
The way things are going today, it is clear that in 10, 15 or 20 years, Quebec will no longer be able to make its voice heard in this House. We therefore believe we must guarantee the Quebec nation a percentage of the members in this House. We propose that it be 25%. If people want more members in Ontario and in the west, that is not a problem. We will simply have to increase the number of members from Quebec to maintain a proportion of 25%. There are a number of possible solutions to this.
Once again, I would like to point out that we introduced a whole series of bills to formalize the recognition of the Quebec nation, including Bill C-482, sponsored by my colleague from Drummond. That bill sought to apply the Charter of the French Language to federally regulated organizations working in Quebec. That was for organizations working in Quebec, of course. At no time did we seek to control what happens elsewhere in Canada. The bill would have given employees of federally regulated organizations the same rights as all employees in Quebec, that is, the right to work in French.
Unfortunately, the bill was defeated, but we will try again. Once again, the fact that Bill C-482 was defeated does not mean we are about to throw in the towel and let Bills C-22, C-19, and C-20 pass just like that. As I said earlier, we will certainly not make things easy for the government by rushing debate on these bills here.
And now to my fourth point. I started out talking about the government's lack of cooperation, vision and planning, not to mention its bad faith. Next, I talked about its poor excuse for a legislative agenda. Then I talked about the fact that we find certain bills extremely problematic. We will certainly not be giving the government carte blanche to bring those bills back here in a big hurry before the end of the session on June 20. Our fourth reason is the government's hypocrisy, in a general sense.
This has been apparent in many ways, such as the government's attitude to certain bills. I would like to mention some of them, such as Bill C-20. I cannot help but mention Bills C-50 and C-10 as well.
Bill C-50, the budget implementation bill, makes changes to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration's powers, but that is not what the debate is about. Bill C-10, which introduces elements that allow the Conservative government—
Extension of Sitting Hours
June 9th, 2008 / 3:10 p.m.
Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform
Mr. Speaker, I would like at this time to move the standard motion that can be made only today. I move:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 27(1), commencing on Monday, June 9, 2008, and concluding on Thursday, June 19, 2008, the House shall continue to sit until 11:00 p.m.
Mr. Speaker, as I indicated last week in answer to the Thursday statement, this is we have work to do week. To kick off the week, we are introducing the customary motion to extend the daily sitting hours of the House for the final two weeks of the spring session. This is a motion which is so significant there is actually a specific Standing Order contemplating it, because it is the normal practice of this House, come this point in the parliamentary cycle, that we work additional hours and sit late to conduct business.
In fact, since 1982, when the House adopted a fixed calendar, such a motion has never been defeated. I underline that since a fixed calendar was adopted, such a motion has never been defeated. As a consequence, we know that today when we deal with this motion, we will discover whether the opposition parties are interested in doing the work that they have been sent here to do, or whether they are simply here to collect paycheques, take it easy and head off on a three month vacation.
On 11 of those occasions, sitting hours were extended using this motion. On six other occasions, the House used a different motion to extend the sitting hours in June. This includes the last three years of minority government.
This is not surprising. Canadians expect their members of Parliament to work hard to advance their priorities. They would not look kindly on any party that was too lazy to work a few extra hours to get as much done as possible before the three month summer break. There is a lot to get done.
In the October 2007 Speech from the Throne, we laid out our legislative agenda. It set out an agenda of clear goals focusing on five priorities to: rigorously defend Canada's sovereignty and place in the world; strengthen the federation and modernize our democratic institutions; provide effective, competitive economic leadership to maintain a competitive economy; tackle crime and strengthen the security of Canadians; and improve the environment and the health of Canadians. In the subsequent months, we made substantial progress on these priorities.
We passed the Speech from the Throne which laid out our legislative agenda including our environmental policy. Parliament passed Bill C-2, the Tackling Violent Crime Act, to make our streets and communities safer by tackling violent crime. Parliament passed Bill C-28, which implemented the 2007 economic statement. That bill reduced taxes for all Canadians, including reductions in personal income and business taxes, and the reduction of the GST to 5%.
I would like to point out that since coming into office, this government has reduced the overall tax burden for Canadians and businesses by about $190 billion, bringing taxes to their lowest level in 50 years.
We have moved forward on our food and consumer safety action plan by introducing a new Canada consumer product safety act and amendments to the Food and Drugs Act.
We have taken important steps to improve the living conditions of first nations. For example, first nations will hopefully soon have long overdue protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and Bill C-30 has been passed by the House to accelerate the resolution of specific land claims.
Parliament also passed the 2008 budget. This was a balanced, focused and prudent budget to strengthen Canada amid global economic uncertainty. Budget 2008 continues to reduce debt, focuses government spending and provides additional support for sectors of the economy that are struggling in this period of uncertainty.
As well, the House adopted a motion to endorse the extension of Canada's mission in Afghanistan, with a renewed focus on reconstruction and development to help the people of Afghanistan rebuild their country.
These are significant achievements and they illustrate a record of real results. All parliamentarians should be proud of the work we have accomplished so far in this session. However, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done.
As I have stated in previous weekly statements, our top priority is to secure passage of Bill C-50, the 2008 budget implementation bill.
This bill proposes a balanced budget, controlled spending, investments in priority areas and lower taxes, all without forcing Canadian families to pay a tax on carbon, gas and heating. Furthermore, the budget implementation bill proposes much-needed changes to the immigration system.
These measures will help keep our economy competitive.
Through the budget implementation bill, we are investing in the priorities of Canadians.
These priorities include: $500 million to help improve public transit, $400 million to help recruit front line police officers, nearly $250 million for carbon capture and storage projects in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, and $100 million for the Mental Health Commission of Canada to help Canadians facing mental health and homelessness challenges.
These investments, however, could be threatened if the bill does not pass before the summer. That is why I am hopeful that the bill will be passed by the House later today.
The budget bill is not our only priority. Today the House completed debate at report stage on Bill C-29, which would create a modern, transparent, accountable process for the reporting of political loans. We will vote on this bill tomorrow and debate at third reading will begin shortly thereafter.
We also wish to pass Bill C-55, which implements our free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association.
This free trade agreement, the first in six years, reflects our desire to find new markets for Canadian products and services.
Given that the international trade committee endorsed the agreement earlier this year, I am optimistic that the House will be able to pass this bill before we adjourn.
On Friday we introduced Bill C-60, which responds to recent decisions relating to courts martial. That is an important bill that must be passed on a time line. Quick passage is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of our military justice system.
Last week the aboriginal affairs committee reported Bill C-34, which implements the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement. This bill has all-party support in the House. Passage of the bill this week would complement our other achievements for first nations, including the apology on Wednesday to the survivors of residential schools.
These are important bills that we think should be given an opportunity to pass. That is why we need to continue to work hard, as our rules contemplate.
The government would also like to take advantage of extended hours to advance important crime and security measures. Important justice measures are still before the House, such as: Bill S-3, the anti-terrorism act; Bill C-53, the auto theft bill; Bill C-45 to modernize the military justice system; and Bill C-60, which responds to recent court martial decisions.
There are a number of other bills that we would like to see advanced in order to improve the management of the economy. There are other economic bills we would like to advance.
These include Bill C-7, to modernize our aeronautics sector, Bill C-5, dealing with nuclear liability, Bill C-43, to modernize our customs rules, Bill C-39, to modernize the Canada Grain Act for farmers, Bill C-46, to give farmers more choice in marketing grain, Bill C-57, to modernize the election process for the Canadian Wheat Board, Bill C-14, to allow enterprises choice for communicating with customers, and Bill C-32, to modernize our fisheries sector.
If time permits, there are numerous other bills that we would like to advance.
These include Bill C-51, to ensure that food and products available in Canada are safe for consumers, Bill C-54, to ensure safety and security with respect to pathogens and toxins, Bill C-56, to ensure public protection with respect to the transportation of dangerous goods, Bill C-19, to limit the terms of senators to 8 years from a current maximum of 45, and Bill C-22, to provide fairness in representation in the House of Commons.
It is clear a lot of work remains before the House. Unfortunately, a number of bills have been delayed by the opposition through hoist amendments. Given these delays, it is only fair that the House extend its sitting hours to complete the bills on the order paper. As I have indicated, we still have to deal with a lot of bills.
We have seen a pattern in this Parliament where the opposition parties have decided to tie up committees to prevent the work of the people being done. They have done delay and obstruction as they did most dramatically on our crime agenda. They do not bother to come and vote one-third of time in the House of Commons. Their voting records has shown that. All of this is part of a pattern of people who are reluctant to work hard.
The government is prepared to work hard and the rules contemplate that it work hard. In fact, on every occasion, when permission has been sought at this point in the parliamentary calendar to sit extended hours, the House has granted permission, including in minority Parliaments.
If that does not happen, it will be clear to Canadians that the opposition parties do not want to work hard and are not interested in debating the important policy issues facing our country. Is it any wonder that we have had a question period dominated not by public policy questions, but dominated entirely by trivia and issues that do not matter to ordinary Canadians.
The government has been working hard to advance its agenda, to advance the agenda that we talked about with Canadians in the last election, to work on the priorities that matter to ordinary Canadians, and we are seeking the consent of the House to do this.
Before concluding, I point out, once again, that extending the daily sitting hours for the last two weeks of June is a common practice. Marleau and Montpetit, at page 346, state this is:
—a long-standing practice whereby, prior to the prorogation of the Parliament or the start of the summer recess, the House would arrange for longer hours of sitting in order to complete or advance its business.
As I stated earlier, it was first formalized in the Standing Orders in 1982 when the House adopted a fixed calendar. Before then, the House often met on the weekend or continued its sittings into July to complete its work. Since 1982, the House has agreed on 11 occasions to extend the hours of sitting in the last two weeks of June.
Therefore, the motion is a routine motion designed to facilitate the business of the House and I expect it will be supported by all members. We are sent here to engage in very important business for the people of Canada. Frankly, the members in the House are paid very generously to do that work. Canadians expect them to do that work and expect them to put in the time that the rules contemplate.
All member of the House, if they seek that privilege from Canadian voters, should be prepared to do the work the rules contemplate. They should be prepared to come here to vote, to come here to debate the issues, to come here for the hours that the rules contemplate. If they are not prepared to do that work, they should step aside and turnover their obligations to people who are willing to do that work.
There is important work to be done on the commitments we made in the Speech from the Throne. I am therefore seeking the support of all members to extend our sitting hours, so we can complete work on our priorities before we adjourn for the summer. This will allow members to demonstrate results to Canadians when we return to our constituencies in two weeks.
Not very many Canadians have the privilege of the time that we have at home in our ridings, away from our work. People do not begrudge us those privileges. They think it is important for us to connect with them. However, what they expect in return is for us to work hard. They expect us to put in the hours. They expect us to carry on business in a professional fashion. The motion is all about that. It is about doing what the rules have contemplated, what has always been authorized by the House any time it has been asked, since the rule was instituted in 1982. That is why I would ask the House to support the motion to extend the hours.
Concurrence in Vote 1--Parliament
Main Estimates, 2008-09
June 5th, 2008 / 7:25 p.m.
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, I have great respect for the member. We have served on committees together. I know he has many more years of experience in life and at the bar than I do.
I want to ask him very plainly, does he not think that Bill C-19, Bill C-20 and any of the other bills the government is proposing with respect to Senate reform need to pass muster by way of reference to the Supreme Court of Canada or in each province, as the case may be?
Concurrence in Vote 1--Parliament
Main Estimates, 2008-09
June 5th, 2008 / 7:20 p.m.
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, that is good to know because it means I do not have to worry about responding to some of the questions that might come particularly from the Liberal side.
I rise in strong support of this motion that we have moved to undermine in a very effective way an undemocratic institution that has been foisted on the Canadian people for 141 years now.
We heard from my colleague from Timmins—James Bay the type of abuse that goes on there in terms of the senators not performing any valuable function whatsoever, or at least the vast majority of them. I recognize that some of the people who are there are decent people; they are probably the exception, but there are a few.
The reality is we believe in democracy. I believe in democracy. I believe every constituent of Windsor—Tecumseh believes in democracy and they do not believe in an unelected Senate, a Senate that has consistently, and I saw it at a very personal level very recently, gone out of its way to thwart the democratic process in this country. We saw it a number of times in the period from 2004 to 2006 when the unelected Senate, in protecting big financial interests, thwarted legislation that was designed to protect wage earners in this country where their employers went bankrupt or into receivership and where priority was given not to the labour side of the equation but all priorities were given to the capital side.
We saw repeatedly that legislation was stalled, oftentimes by Liberal Senators, so that it would expire in the course of the upcoming election. Other times legislation was amended, or it simply sat there literally for a year, or a year and a half in one case.
That is simply not tolerable in a country that prides itself on being a democratic country, one that is a beacon for democracy in the world and one with every right to be proud of that reputation, but for this blight that we have in the other chamber.
I saw it very personally and it was so offensive, the work that a cadre within the Senate did to prevent the passage of legislation to protect animals in this country. It did it repeatedly. Not once but on three different occasions the Senate has been able to manipulate the constitutional framework of this country to the benefit of a very small segment of people that it wanted to take care of. The end result is that there have not been amendments in the animal cruelty area for well over 100 years, in spite of passage of bills in this House on two separate occasions. It was the Senate that prevented that.
I looked at some of the letters and petitions that came into my office from across the country. There were two things that showed up. One was outrage that it has taken our level of government this long to deal with the issue. The other thing that showed up was a combination of shock and sadness that after all this time an unelected Senate, an unelected body, an unresponsive body to the needs of the country could thwart the votes in this House, could thwart the desire right across the country of the need for this legislation to go through.
As I said earlier, there are any number of other pieces of legislation we can look to. Inevitably when we look at legislation that has been stalled, it has always been stalled, stopped or prevented from going ahead in the Senate because members in the other place were taking care of their buddies, always, every single time. It has never been done on principle. it has never been done on ideology. It is all about whom they are going to take care of. It is always their friends. It is always the big financial interests in this country that they take care of.
Today, we have the opportunity to send a very clear message. The Bloc members are going to be with us, but I invite the Conservatives to take a look at this. Bill C-19 and Bill C-20 are not going anywhere. They have a chance here tonight to send a message to members in the other place that we are sick and tired of them, we are not going to take it any more and we are going to shut them down. There will be no more wasting money.
The Senate costs us over $90 million a year. It is not in the motion that we have before us this evening but it costs us $90 million for absolutely nothing, other than to destroy parts of our democracy.
Concurrence in Vote 1--Parliament
Main Estimates, 2008-09
June 5th, 2008 / 7:10 p.m.
Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois will support the NDP in contesting the vote for the Senate, for reasons that are perhaps not the same, but I am sure they are similar in some respects.
The first reason is that, like the NDP and many Canadians and Quebeckers, we think the Senate is an antiquated institution. In particular, the fact that the representatives are not elected means that the institution's legitimacy is by no means assured. Furthermore, all of the provinces got rid of this second unelected chamber a long time ago. It is obviously a legacy left over from a time when aristocrats, the elite, were afraid of the democratic decisions of the people, and created the Senate to act as a sort of counterbalance. The Queen of England and Canada appointed people back then. The Prime Minister has since taken over that responsibility. We know that officially, it is the Governor General who appoints Senators, after hearing the Prime Minister's recommendation. Thus, it is an antiquated institution.
It is also, and this is where we differ from the NDP and other Canadians, an institution that was part of Confederation in 1867.
In 1867, it was decided that the House of Commons would proportionally represent—although it was not entirely equitable—the population of each of the Canadian provinces and that the Senate would be a counterbalance—once again, not elected, unfortunately—to represent different regions in Canada: the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, Ontario and the West. This means that abolishing the Senate would require us to reopen constitutional negotiations and reconsider the question of representation of the Quebec nation within federal institutions.
Yesterday, Benoît Pelletier testified before the legislative committee examining Bill C-20. He said that Quebec has traditionally asked to appoint its own senators using its own democratic selection process. He certainly disagreed with the fact that it is the Prime Minister of Canada who chooses the senators who will represent Quebec.
What we now have is an institution that no longer has a raison d'être, but that, in the Confederation agreement of 1867, represented a counterbalance to Canada's changing demographics. In that respect, clearly, while we in no way approve of the Senate as an institution, we would like to remind the House that its abolition would force renewed constitutional negotiations to give the Quebec nation a presence and significant authority within the federal institutions.
I will not hide the fact that my preference would be for Quebec to escape from the shackles of Canada and have its own democratic institutions. We can now very easily imagine the National Assembly being complemented by a house of the regions. All possible scenarios are being studied at this time within the sovereignist movement. But until sovereignty is achieved, the people can be assured—and the Bloc Québécois has made this its first priority—that the interests of the Quebec nation will be met.
I know the Conservative government has made a threat in that respect. It has said that if the recommended changes to the Senate are not accepted, it would abolish the Senate. It is not that simple, as we all know, and as I just pointed out. Negotiations could be held, however, under the rules set out in the Canadian Constitution. As I have often said, and yesterday I reminded Benoît Pelletier, Quebec's minister of intergovernmental affairs—who was appearing before the legislative committee—that we are the only ones, that is, Quebec and the Bloc Québécois are the only ones trying to ensure respect for the Constitution of 1867 in this House.
It must be ensured that the results of these negotiations respect the political weight of the Quebec nation, as they will entail the enforcement of rules from amendments in the 1982 Constitution—that is, seven provinces representing 50% of the population.
Quebec has made its opinion known. We want 24% of the members of this House to come from Quebec, no matter the distribution of seats. For example, we are currently studying Bill C-22, which would increase the number of seats in Ontario and two western provinces. This increase, which is completely legitimate in light of demographic changes, will diminish the relative political weight of the Quebec nation. We find that unacceptable.
The Quebec nation must maintain 24% of the political weight in this House as long as Quebeckers decide to stay within the Canadian political landscape. I have no problem with increasing the number of seats in the west or in Ontario to reflect demographics. But I do not agree with marginalizing Quebec through that increase. I am not the only one to say so. The Bloc Québécois has said it, and the National Assembly unanimously passed a motion in this regard.
That leads me to the second reason why we support the NDP's opposition to the vote regarding the Senate, namely the manner in which the Conservative government, the Prime Minister and especially the Leader of the Government are going about their so-called reform, which does not alter the main characteristics of the current Senate with Bills C-20 and C-19.
They are trying to do indirectly what cannot be done directly. However, no one is being fooled. I would say that 80% of the constitutional experts who appeared before the committee—and I can assure him that there were not many sovereigntists among them—told us that the government's bills touched on the essential characteristics of the Senate and would require the reopening of the Constitution. Negotiations would require the application of the rules for making amendments set out in the Constitution Act, 1982, namely approval by seven provinces and 50% of the population.
The Conservative government wants to avoid that scenario and would like to present Quebec and Canada with a fait accompli. We will oppose this way of proceeding, as did the National Assembly. If the federal government wants to reopen constitutional negotiations to reform the Senate, Quebec will be there with the demands of successive Quebec governments.
If that happens, we will also raise the issue of the federal spending power. It is clear that the Conservative government does not really have the political will to get rid of that power. It is very clear that if Senate reform negotiations take place, Quebec will not only ensure that the Quebec nation's interests are protected, but also take on certain other irritants that are not working for Quebec, issues that the federal government refuses to address. These issues include the elimination of the federal spending power in areas under Quebec's and the provinces' jurisdiction.
The only way to be absolutely sure that the federal government will not encroach on Quebec's areas of jurisdiction is to ensure that Quebec and other provinces that want it have the right to opt out with no strings attached and with full compensation. So we say yes to reopening constitutional talks on Senate reform, but the government can expect Quebec to bring other things to the table: all of the demands of successive Quebec governments, both the sovereignist and the federalist ones.
That is what Mr. Pelletier said yesterday, and I will end on that note. The Conservative government's current plan for Senate reform is unconstitutional, it is against the Quebec nation's interests, and it is against the motions that were repeatedly and unanimously adopted by the National Assembly, most recently in May 2007. It is clear that this government's support for the motion that was passed almost unanimously in the House concerning recognition of the Quebec nation was nothing but an election ploy. Quebeckers have now realized that and condemned it.
Concurrence in Vote 1--Parliament
Main Estimates, 2008-09
June 5th, 2008 / 6:55 p.m.
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, I will begin by saying that as far as I know there are no famous hockey players campaigning against me in the next election, that I know of yet. I would hate to face that prospect, to be quite blunt. It might be worse to be campaigned against by a famous ex-rock star, one never knows.
In New Brunswick, one of the four provinces that was part of our Confederation from the beginning, the issue of Senate reform has been topical over the years. I do remember, as a younger person, being involved in Meech Lake and having the then premier of New Brunswick, Frank McKenna, ultimately be a very ardent supporter of the Meech Lake process.
I remember as well the Charlottetown accord process, when I was first elected to municipal politics, and I remember that being a period of interesting consultation, with the voters and the provinces, with respect to Senate reform and constitutional reform in general.
What strikes me, as I begin the comment on the supply issue, is that I do think that both the Conservative Party and the NDP are being a bit sneaky, frankly, with their stances and I will explain that very clearly. The NDP, if it is as true to its convictions as it pretends to be, ought to open every session of Parliament with a private member's bill, a motion, or, perhaps with their new bed fellows often the government, a bill which calls for the abolition of the Senate.
It is one thing to say that we are continuously and regularly against the abolition of the Senate, but it is another thing to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. The NDP should in fact bring a vote for abolition, but it does not do that. It does this tonight, ladies and gentlemen of the public might want to know, it does it on a supply day.
The NDP members say that it is almost like the baby is coming, but we are not going to buy a crib for the baby. What they are really saying is that they will not fund the Senate, but they did not have the guts, it was not on their agenda. I am not accusing the member for Timmins—James Bay of not having guts or not making it his continual priority, but maybe he cannot get through to the leader to make it a priority to abolish the Senate. Maybe that is the case.
However, the fact is that we are standing here tonight discussing whether all of the departments of government should be funded, and the funding in question in this motion is the Senate, whether the Senate should be funded. If it is not funded, it dies. It cannot function.
That is a little sneaky. The real big sneak though is the government. The Minister for Democratic Reform, through his prepared text, would have Canadians believe that his party's sensible piecemeal approach, Bill C-19 and Bill C-20, of various ways to reform the Senate, are as a result of their consultation with the people of Canada and that is what the people want.
I do not know about that. If we want to talk about what the people want by virtue of polling, which is what he referred to, then really what we are talking about is the disrespect that Canadians now have in the honesty of the government. The government is falling in its credibility and honesty.
I think they will see that what the government is trying to do is to appease parts of Canada, and particularly western Canada that has in fact been underrepresented in the Senate of Canada since its inception and since the joining of provinces into Confederation, by promising them and their leaders in provincial capitals and movements like western think tanks and that sort of thing, promising them gradual reform but as an end game hoping that the gradual reforms do not work.
Then the end game for the Conservatives and the Minister for Democratic Reform is to do one of two things, I suppose, do what I think a vast majority of his caucus wants him to do, which is to join with the NDP and abolish the Senate. That would centralize the power of the governing party in the one house, the unicameral house.
There are very few unicameral houses in western democracies. Most evolved western democracies have bicameral systems, two houses: the congress and the senate, the senate and the people's house. That is generally the way these things work. So, he would be alone on that one but maybe that is what the government House leader wants. Maybe, however, he wants to fill the Senate with the people that he wants.
He said earlier that the only reason the vacancies have not been filled is because the government did not want to make patronage appointments. I do not know if that is an admission that Michael Fortier, the current senator, was in fact a patronage appointment. We heard some backtalk that it was necessary because we needed a minister from Montreal and he would run at the next available opportunity.
I do miss some press stories, but I have not seen Michael Fortier, the senator, run in any byelection in Quebec that was called recently. I think he is probably not going to present himself in a byelection and, therefore, the government's ruse in saying that it had to appoint someone to have representation really was false, as well.
Bills C-19 and C-20 are a furtherance of the government's disingenuousness with respect to achieving reform of the Senate, to which it pays lip service. That is because, despite the fact that a couple of eminent professors support, in the case of Bill C-20, Senate reform with respect to the election or selection of senators, the vast majority of academics have come out and said they are against Bill C-20, the bill that says provinces can select names that the Prime Minister can choose or not.
The vast majority of provinces, through their attorneys general, have been against the bill. It goes to the fundamental point, and it would have been a good question had I had the opportunity to ask it of the Minister for Democratic Reform, of whether the real public consultation that he seeks with the Canadians would be done in focus groups and hotel rooms in predominantly Conservative ridings? Or is he afraid of consulting with the provinces?
Provincial governments, and maybe the Minister for Democratic Reform did not know that, by some of his rhetoric inside and outside the House, I am not sure he does, are elected. Premiers, MLAs and MPPs are elected by the people of the provinces and they represent those provinces.
However, the Minister for Democratic Reform has serially called a number of them into question, that is, the premiers of the provinces. He has called the premier of Ontario, I think, the small man of Confederation. These kind of epithets are not really conducive to sitting down with premiers, which his government has not done yet.
The government gave a nice meal of venison and, I think, apple pie or cloudberry pie at Sussex Drive around Christmas, but it has not sat down with provincial premiers to discuss the idea of constitutional reform, which has been very much part of our Canadian history for some time.
I do not know if the member for Toronto Centre can recall any of these times, but even in the best of times, provincial leaders and prime ministers and their federal counterpart ministers had disagreements. So, if the Conservative government is afraid of disagreement, which clearly by the way the Prime Minister runs his caucus, it is, then that is fine. Why does he not come clean with the Canadian people, why does not the Minister for Democratic Reform come clean with the people and say, “Well, we're just not meeting with any provincial governments because we think there might be disagreement?”
I think the Minister for Democratic Reform has seen through the hearings we had on Bill C-20. We had Bênoit Pelletier, the minister for Canadian intergovernmental affairs of Quebec recently before the committee. I think he has seen that there is profound disagreement with the way the federal government is proceeding with Senate reform. He knows that in my own province of New Brunswick, Premier Shawn Graham, who is responsible for intergovernmental affairs, is against the procedure. Even what he thought were erstwhile allies in the west, they have said, “Well, we don't agree with the part of Bill C-20 that says that the election modality should be federal. It should be provincial.”
The Conservatives cannot even get their allies onside. They do not want these bills to pass. They are not genuine about Senate reform. I think in lieu of this supply item, the best they can do is hide their tails and oppose it.