Bill C-311 (Historical)
Climate Change Accountability Act
An Act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibilities in preventing dangerous climate change
This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.
This bill was previously introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session.
Bruce Hyer NDP
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Committee Report Presented
(This bill did not become law.)
- May 5, 2010 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
- April 14, 2010 Passed That Bill C-311, An Act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibilities in preventing dangerous climate change, be concurred in at report stage.
- April 1, 2009 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.
Opposition Motion—Climate Change
Business of Supply
April 25th, 2013 / 1:35 p.m.
Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Victoria.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this motion today. In particular I want to thank my colleague, the member for Halifax, for her tremendous work on this very important file and on the issues we are addressing today.
Today I want to talk about facts, about science-based evidence, rather than convenient ideals. The Minister of Natural Resources suggests that people are not as worried about climate change anymore. Well, I and all of my New Democrat colleagues are worried, and yes, Canadians are worried about climate change. We are worried about it because we inform ourselves of facts, and reputable scientists and scientific research firms concede that two-thirds of the existing known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground to prevent average global warming of more than 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The 2° threshold is a dangerous tipping point. Beyond it, we cause irreversible damage to our planet's ecosystems, yet Canada's emissions continue to rise despite Conservative claims. In 2011, Canada's emissions rose to 702 million tonnes, moving us even further away from our 2020 target of 607 megatonnes. Even worse, Environment Canada's most recent projections show our emissions will continue to go in the wrong direction unless we bring forward policies that are very much stronger.
Provinces with significant climate policies in place, such as Quebec and Nova Scotia, are also seeing a gradual decline in their emissions. More work is needed to build on these successes, but they are encouraging nonetheless. It works.
The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development reported in his fall 2010 report that although the federal government acknowledged 20 years ago that climate change would have significant long-term impacts ranging from severe storms to droughts, the federal government still lacks an overarching federal strategy that identifies clear, concrete action.
At the Doha climate change talks in December of 2012, the UN Secretary-General stated:
From the United States to India, from Ukraine to Brazil, drought decimated essential global crops. ...tens of millions of people endured another year of vulnerability, at the mercy of the slightest climate shock. No one is immune to climate change—rich or poor. It is an existential challenge for the whole human race—our way of life, our plans for the future.
Multi-billion-dollar disasters are becoming more common around the world. Munich Re, a global reinsurance company, reported that in 2011 worldwide economic losses from natural catastrophes were a record $378 billion. In the Northwest Territories, the Mackenzie River ice road crossing has seen delays in the average opening date of about three weeks since 1996.
The list goes on. These are facts. They are not convenient ideals to excuse continued tax breaks for big polluters. They are not convenient ideals so that we can avoid talking about something we do not want to talk about.
Unlike the Conservatives and the Liberals before them, New Democrats are committed to addressing climate change. We accept it as a fact and we have a plan to take urgent and immediate action to avoid catastrophic climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep the global average temperature increase below a maximum of 2° Celsius.
We will put a price on carbon and establish hard emission caps for large industrial emitters. We will enact the climate change accountability act, which would put in legislation a framework for achieving the national target of 80% below 1990 emission levels by 2050. We will establish a permanent federal energy-efficient retrofit program to reduce residential energy use, cut GHG emissions, create jobs and save Canadians money.
We will establish effective programs to help communities deal with the impacts of climate change in Canada. We will fulfill our international climate obligations. We will cut more than $1.3 billion in annual subsidies to fossil fuel industries. We will restart federal investment in renewable energy; and we will create a green jobs fund to support just employment transition to the new economy; and we will reinvest to give Canadian green tech researchers and developers a leading edge in the global market.
We cannot saddle future generations with the health problems caused by the pollution of our air, water and soil, or the insecurity of a planet affected by floods, food shortages, population displacement and border disputes. Science shows climate change is already causing many of these problems, and Canada is and will be affected.
Environment Canada and the minister himself admit that current actions by the Conservative government would only get Canada half the way to our already weakened target for greenhouse gas emissions. That target falls far short of the reductions Canada has committed to making to avoid catastrophic climate change. Canadians are united in concern about the impacts of climate change, and they support the development of renewable energy projects, including wind, geothermal, solar power and energy-efficient technologies, as well as long-term investment in public transit.
The current government claims to want to make Canada a clean energy superpower but has in fact cut funding for climate change. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, in his 2010 report, chastised the Conservative government, and the Liberal government before it, on its failure to develop a national plan to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Yet the current government has failed to act in the face of mounting evidence and increasing concern from municipalities and the provinces and territories.
Let it be known that the Liberals' track record is no better. Although they signed and ratified the Kyoto protocol, they did absolutely nothing to try to reduce our emissions until it was too late. In 1993, the Liberals promised to reduce greenhouse gases by 20% by 2005. They instead allowed them to increase by over 30%. In 2005, the United Nations reported that Canada's pollution increased more than any other signatory to the Kyoto protocol. The federal environment commissioner said that even if the measures contained in the Liberal government's 2005 plan had been fully implemented, it is difficult to say whether the projected emission reductions would have been enough to meet their own Kyoto obligations. Quite simply, their plan was not up to the task of meeting the Kyoto obligations.
Finally, and perhaps more tragically, on October 8, 2009, Liberal and Conservative MPs formed a coalition in this House to defeat a motion by the New Democrats to return Bill C-311, the climate change accountability act, to the House for a vote prior to the Copenhagen climate conference that December. The NDP bill would have committed Canada to science-based greenhouse gas reduction targets and worked to hold the government publicly accountable for action on this issue.
We can do better. We can have a greener Canada and a prosperous economy. We can fulfill our environmental obligations. We can be wise investors and we can be responsible global citizens. We can leave to our children and grandchildren an environment, a Canada and a world of which we are proud.
New Democrats condemn the lack of effective action by successive federal Conservative and Liberal governments since 1998 to address emissions and meet our Kyoto commitments, and we call on the current government to immediately table its federal climate change adaptation plan.
March 18th, 2013 / 3:25 p.m.
Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC
Mr. Speaker, the second petition comes from residents of Salt Spring Island, within my own constituency.
The petitioners call on the House to take action along the lines of the bill that passed in the House of Commons, but was defeated in the Senate, the former Bill C-311. They urge the government to take action to reduce greenhouse gases to the levels that science recommends, moving as rapidly as possible to 90% reductions below 1990 levels by 2050.
Senate Reform Act
February 27th, 2012 / 12:15 p.m.
Élaine Michaud Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC
Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-7, An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits.
I am pleased to have this opportunity today. I have a degree in political science and I am very interested in all matters pertaining to parliamentary process, especially Senate reform. It is a subject that I studied a number of times while in university. This is the third time that the Conservatives have introduced a bill dealing with either the election of senators or Senate terms. Thus, we have had a great deal of material to examine and analyze in recent years.
The purpose of the bill before us today is to reform the Senate in two main ways. The first limits the tenure of senators to a maximum of nine years for all senators appointed after October 14, 2008. The second allows the provinces and territories to hold elections, at their own expense, to decide the names to be submitted to the Prime Minister for consideration for future Senate appointments. The provinces could thus choose any system they liked for electing senators, provided that the system adhered to basic democratic principles.
The Conservatives say the measures they have introduced are intended to modernize the aging institution that is the Senate. For once, I agree with my Conservative colleagues on part of what they say: the upper chamber does in fact present major problems, and measures need to be taken to remedy the situation.
However, the solution the NDP has been proposing for several years is quite different. In fact, we are calling for the complete abolition of the Senate. The reasons why we are calling for the abolition of the upper chamber are very simple. First, the institution is not democratic, and it is composed of unelected members appointed by the Prime Minister. More often than not, those appointments are partisan and are made to reward friends of the Prime Minister. As well, he sometimes adds insult to injury by appointing candidates, and even ministers, who were rejected by the public in a general election, as we saw after the last election on May 2. The people living in the greater Quebec City region can attest to that as well.
In addition, the Senate is also used for partisan purposes by the government, whether to guarantee the speedy passage of government bills or to kill bills that have actually been approved by the House of Commons. I am thinking in particular of the Climate Change Accountability Act and the bill to provide generic drugs for Africa.
Since 1900, there have been 13 attempts to reform the Senate, and they have all failed. Bill C-7 is no different from all those other failed attempts. It does not solve the problems that already exist in the upper chamber, and on top of that it creates new problems that simply worsen the present situation. First, limiting senators’ tenure to nine years does not make them more accountable to Canadians; quite the contrary. In fact, the bill eliminates any form of accountability to the public, since senators would never have to face the public at the end of their tenure. Once senators were elected, they would never have to account for their decisions, their actions and their broken election promises, because they could never stand in another election. As well, they would be automatically entitled to a pension, regardless of their record.
I cannot see how having the Prime Minister give a senator a nine year non-renewable term increases democracy in the Senate. Nor do the measures proposed by the Conservatives in Bill C-7 prevent partisan appointments. The bill does not really change the way senators are appointed, and the Prime Minister remains entirely responsible for choosing senators. The Prime Minister is not obliged by this bill to select senators from the lists submitted by the provinces or territories, and he can continue to choose whomever he wants and ignore each and every list he receives. He can, therefore, continue to fill the Senate with senators who are loyal to the government rather than to Canadians. This is a major problem.
Canadians elect the members of the House of Commons and place their trust in them to be their voices in Parliament. The Prime Minister, on the other hand, appoints senators, as a reward, and they serve the governing party.
I shall now read a letter written by Senator Bert Brown to the members of the Conservative Senate caucus. It is dated June 15, 2001, which, in my opinion, perfectly illustrates a situation. I am going to read the first and last paragraphs, which I think are the most relevant . The letter reads,“Yesterday, in Senate caucus [the minister] was showered with complaints about Senate elections and a nine year term. ... Every Senator in this caucus needs to decide where their loyalty should be and must be. The answer is simple; our loyalty is to the man who brought us here, the man who has wanted Senate reform since he entered politics, the Rt. Hon. [Prime Minister].
The message to senators is very clear: their loyalty lies not with the regions that they represent, nor with Canadians; their loyalty is to the Prime Minister. Canadians, too, have heard this message loud and clear.
Another consequence of this bill would be the creation of a two-tiered Senate with elected and unelected senators in the same upper house, which may be worse than what we currently have.
Bill C-7, if passed in its present form, will fundamentally change the nature of Canadian politics as we know it today. We will end up with senators elected at the provincial level who believe that they are more legitimate than the unelected senators. We will then have a Senate with different degrees of legitimacy based on the method by which senators are selected.
However, the most negative effect of this bill will be evident once we have an entirely elected Senate. According to the Canadian Constitution, the Senate currently has more or less the same powers as the House of Commons. However, since senators are unelected, they cannot indefinitely block legislation with financial implications because they have no direct mandate from Canadians but are appointed by the Prime Minister.
Once we have an elected upper house, it will be a whole different story. Senators will have greater legitimacy to introduce bills and block House bills. That could result in American-style impasses pitting two houses of elected representatives with essentially the same decision-making powers against one another in legislative conflicts with no apparent solution.
Ultimately, such impasses will force us to redefine the framework of Parliament, including the rights and responsibilities of both the House of Commons and the Senate. Major changes will require nothing less than a constitutional amendment. There is no other option, because that is the existing legislative framework.
The Conservatives claim that their bill will sidestep a constitutional debate on Senate reform, but I do not see how such a debate can be avoided.
Before passing a bill that will inevitably lead to interminable constitutional debates and discussions, we have to let Canadians weigh in on the issue of the Senate's very existence. All the provinces have done quite well without their upper houses since 1968, so it is high time we thought seriously about getting rid of the federal Senate. That is why, for years, the NDP has been calling for a referendum to find out if Canadians want to get rid of the Senate. Before setting in motion any major reforms of the Senate or abolishing it entirely, we need a clear mandate from Canadians, from the people of this country, and the only way to get a clear, legitimate mandate is to hold a referendum.
The changes that the Conservatives have proposed in Bill C-7 are inadequate and will not solve the Senate-related problems. That is why I oppose this bill. If the Senate cannot be abolished outright, the status quo is better than the constitutional chaos into which the Conservatives apparently wish to lead us. Serious consideration is in order before passing Bill C-7. The government will find itself embroiled in constitutional debates that it would rather avoid. That deserves some thought.
December 14th, 2011 / 3:30 p.m.
Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise in the House to present a petition from members of my constituency in Saanich—Gulf Islands.
The petition speaks to an issue that has been raised by a number of other members in petitions this afternoon. It relates to the importance of taking climate action, specifically for achieving targets that we would find referenced in the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act and the subsequent act that failed in the House in the last session.
The same targets are referenced here in what was at one time Bill C-311. It also references, importantly, the work of the national round table on the environment and the economy. I bring that to the attention of members. The climate change caucus had an excellent presentation from that organization yesterday evening. This petition speaks to its findings as well.
Senate Reform Act
December 8th, 2011 / 1:30 p.m.
Jasbir Sandhu Surrey North, BC
Madam Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-7, An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits.
If only we could be so fortunate as to have the government amend the bill so that the Senate would be abolished, then this could be our last time to rise and speak about Senate reform. My NDP colleagues and I believe that the Senate needs to be abolished. Any attempt to reform the Senate would simply be window dressing to this very seriously undemocratic institution. As things currently stand, Bill C-7 introduces ineffective measures that will do nothing to fix the Senate.
What is currently wrong with the Senate? We often describe the Senate as a romantic place of sober second thought. However, we know the Senate is no such a place. Last year, rather than respecting the will of this House, as my colleagues have pointed out, the Senate killed Bill C-311, the climate change accountability act. The bill was passed in the House of Commons and voted for by elected members of this House. The Senate killed it and the government called a snap election.
In the words of our former leader, the hon. Jack Layton:
This was one of the most undemocratic acts that we have ever seen in the Parliament of Canada. To take power that doesn't rightfully belong to them to kill a bill that has been adopted by a majority of the House of Commons representing a majority of Canadians is as wrong as it gets when it comes to democracy in this country.
This spring the Senate killed another bill which was very important. Bill C-393 would have made it easier for people in developing countries to obtain more affordable life-saving medicines. It was a bill that would have saved lives. It was voted for by members of this House and killed by an unelected Senate.
To suggest amendments and return a bill to the House is one thing, but to kill a bill in this way, using sneaky tactics, is just plain wrong. It is disrespectful to the decision-making power of this democratically elected House.
Right now the Senate is basically full of political appointments, friends and failed candidates. That is what the Senate is right now. For instance, our Prime Minister appointed to the Senate three failed Conservative candidates from the last federal election. All three failed to win a seat in the election. Canadians decided on May 2 that they did not want to have these people representing them. Yet, here they are; they are in the Senate.
There are a number of things in the bill that do not fix anything at all. For example, the Conservatives make excuses for their appointments saying that they will use them to reform the Senate. This is clearly laughable.
Every day in this House the Conservatives trample on democracy. They ram bills through the House and committees without debate or examination, sometimes without even costing these bills. Then the Conservatives want members to believe that they actually want a more democratic Senate. They do not.
The reforms the Conservatives are proposing in this bill are completely inadequate.
First, under the proposed legislation, the Senate would become a two-tiered system with some elected senators and some unelected senators.
Second, the limit of one nine-year term means that senators, even elected ones, would not be held accountable for their actions in a subsequent democratic race.
Third, because the actual appointment process would not change at all, despite talk of increased democratic accountability, the bill does not actually introduce any check on the Prime Minister in the appointment process. Basically, it could be business as usual.
Fourth, because the bill would do nothing to address the distribution of seats in the Senate, the increase in power of an elected Senate would mean an unbalanced increase in the power in Quebec and Ontario. I come from British Columbia and that is not fair.
Fifth, perhaps the most important intended role of the Senate is its ability to represent women and minority interests. By making it an elected Senate and forcing any candidate that runs to do so under a party banner would only tighten the partisan stranglehold on the legislative process. Parties will drown out minority representation, like we have seen in Australia. There are examples in Australia where this has happened.
Sixth, the introduction of increased democratic legitimacy would give the Senate even more leeway to assert its own decision-making power, which could result in gridlock. We have seen that in the United States. This is counter to the productivity Canadians expect from their government.
There are solutions, and New Democrats and others have proposed them. The best solution to this democratic black hole, that is the Senate, is to basically abolish it. The Conservatives have been wishy-washy in the past and unable to decide what they want when it comes to the Senate. For instance, previous Conservative bills have called for a federally regulated electoral process while another bill called for eight year term limits. We can see clearly that what the Conservatives want is the appearance of reforming the Senate when, in reality, they stack it with their cronies and use it to kill legislation passed by democratically elected members of the House.
Unlike the Conservatives, New Democrats have unwaveringly supported the abolition of the Senate since the 1930s, and many Canadians agree that we need to abolish it and move on from this undemocratically elected institution. At the provincial level, both Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty in Ontario and NDP provincial Premier Darrell Dexter have called for the abolition of the Senate. In my province, Premier Christy Clark has said that the Senate no longer plays a role in Confederation.
We have seen from history that all provincial legislatures have abolished their provincial senates. The last one was done in 1968. Even the Prime Minister himself once said that the unelected Senate is a relic of the 19th century.
Unlike the Conservatives who have not consulted the provinces, New Democrats believe it is the responsibility of the government to consult all Canadians. To that end, New Democrats believe that the issue of Senate reform cannot be solved by this piecemeal bill. The issue of Senate reform needs to be put in a referendum, so Canadians themselves can decide how they want to deal with it.
The majority of Canadians support New Democrats in this proposal as well. There have been a number of polls done and I will mention one that was done in July 2001 by Angus Reid, which said that 71% of Canadians supported having a referendum on this issue.
In closing, I would therefore urge my Conservative colleagues to heed their small c conservative roots. We know how the House of Commons works, but we have no idea what would happen with an elected Senate. It would no doubt completely change the Canadian political system, but to what end we cannot be sure. The best solution to Senate reform is abolition.
Senate Reform Act
December 8th, 2011 / 1:15 p.m.
Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON
Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak about Bill C-7 today.
The Senate was never originally intended to be a career for the prime minister's cronies. In debate on the bill today, many of my colleagues have brought up great points about the government's Senate reform legislation. They have discussed how the so-called election of senators would still leave Senate appointments up to the Prime Minister as he sees fit. The Prime Minister would be under no obligation to follow voters' wishes or to follow any convention at all.
This is important, because our current Prime Minister has shown no hesitation in ignoring our parliamentary conventions when it suits him politically, and we still have no answer to the question of what is to stop the Prime Minister, or any future prime minister, from ignoring non-binding elections.
Members have also brought up the fact that these optional elections would not go to the root of the matter. They would not make senators any more accountable than they are today. Senators would be appointed to a non-renewable nine-year term and would never have to face the electorate more than once.They would not be accountable for anything they did or did not do while in office.
As well, NDP members have touched on the fact that under Bill C-7, anyone who wants to be a senator would have to be chosen by a political party. This leaves little or no room for independent candidates or committed Canadians who do not have political affiliations. These points about the bill are all very valid, and I thank my fellow NDP members for them.
I would like to especially focus on one basic unavoidable fact, which is that any real reform of the upper chamber would require constitutional change. All members in the House should know that. The government knows it, and anyone who has studied the history of Confederation and of our Constitution in high school knows it. The Prime Minister certainly knows it.
Reforming the Senate would require amending the Constitution with the approval of seven out of 10 provinces representing the majority of Canadians. That means Bill C-7 is nothing but a colossal red herring. It may pass in the House and it may even pass in the Senate, but as soon as it is challenged in court by any province--and provinces are already lining up to mount legal challenges--it will be struck down as unconstitutional. Our high school history students could have told us that.
The Prime Minister thinks he can pass this totally symbolic legislation to finally reform our dysfunctional upper chamber, thereby fulfilling a long-term promise to his supporters, and when it is struck down the very next day, he thinks he will be able to throw up his hands, cry crocodile tears and say he tried, and no one will be the wiser.
However, Canadians are not stupid. Bill C-7 is nothing more than a massive waste of time and a waste of taxpayers' money. The only ones who will benefit from this exercise are constitutional lawyers, who will get rich on the taxpayer's dime arguing both sides in court for years. At the end of the day, no real reform will have been done.
Maybe that would suit our Prime Minister just fine, because, as we all know, he now has majority control of the Senate; 39% of the votes cast for the House gave him over 55% of the seats, and he has 100% control in both houses. He has it because he broke his own long-term promise never to appoint an unelected senator. Do members remember that?
Instead, he has appointed more unelected and unelectable party bagmen, Conservative fundraisers and political insiders to the upper chamber than any other prime minister in the history of Canada. He has traded his purported principles for power. Now the other place does his bidding, so would it really be in his best interests to change that situation?
A stranglehold on the Senate, both in numbers and through the use of the whip, is just another way an unprecedented amount of power has been concentrated in the office and the person of one man. The current Prime Minister has fallen a long way from his touted reform ideals.
I would like to add a personal note. Members in this House will know that I, of all people, have special reason to be unhappy with the Senate. After introducing and shepherding the country's only federal climate change legislation, Bill C-311, through all stages in this House in the last Parliament, the Senate was ordered to kill that important legislation before hearing any witnesses, before studying it in committee, before having full debate, or even any debate, on its merits.
This is the first and only time in Canadian history that a bill was summarily killed by the Senate just like that, when political appointees snuffed out important legislation passed by this elected House without even giving it the consideration it was due.
It is hard for me or for anyone to see how killing legislation before it is even studied can be considered sober second thought, as the purpose of the Senate has been alleged to be. If this continues, the red chamber is in danger of becoming the single best advocate for its own abolition.
However, I am under no illusion that it will be a long time before we abolish or reform that dysfunctional chamber. It is with no disrespect to the people who work in that place that I say the upper chamber is dysfunctional. I have had the pleasure of working with some of the very hard-working and knowledgeable senators, senators who are committed to making Canada better; however, they are constrained by our system itself and by our Prime Minister, as are we in this chamber, which could also use some reforms.
That brings me to my final point. Any true reform of our democratic institutions in this country will take much more than just smokescreens and red herrings.
Unfortunately Bill C-7 distracts everyone from real reforms that could be made today, improvements that would not even require constitutional amendments. I am talking about reforming the way this chamber, and potentially that chamber, is elected. A system of electing either of our chambers by proportional representation would finally make every vote count. There would be no more wasted votes, no more pitting one region of the country against another. More women and more minorities would be elected. A fairer and more accurate reflection of the will of Canadians in our elected Parliament would take place. It would be a real democracy, as practised by the vast majority of our world's elected governments.
However, that is something many politicians here, including government members, are desperate to avoid doing anything about, so they and the Prime Minister will do anything, including distractions like Bill C-7, to turn attention away from much more effective reforms that could be accomplished much more easily. It makes me think that the government is not really interested in changing things in our Senate at all.
Senate Reform Act
December 8th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.
Matthew Dubé Chambly—Borduas, QC
Madam Speaker, like my colleagues who rose before me, I am very proud to speak to this bill, which interests me greatly. We care about our democracy, which is what is at stake here today, as my colleague from Winnipeg Centre so eloquently pointed out.
A lot is being said about the purpose of the Senate, and what it seeks to achieve. I was a political science student, so I will take this opportunity to provide an overview of the governing bodies of other nations, particularly the United States. Their experience, as it compares to ours, serves as a justification as to why the Senate must be abolished.
One of the things that the Founding Fathers said about the Senate in the United States was that it was important to have a division in government to protect against the tyranny of the majority. Like us, they have a system where the person with the majority of votes is elected. And yet, we know all too well from our experience here in Canada that there is a percentage of the population that votes for other parties. This is the case in the current Parliament, where 60% of Canadians voted for parties other than the governing party. The principle is, therefore, that with a Senate, the executive—the President, in the case of the United States—and the Supreme Court, it becomes possible to protect against what is known as the tyranny of the majority.
In the United States, they determined that the best way of using the Senate in this instance was to provide regional protection. We are well aware of our history here in Canada and the same principle applies. Essentially, the Senate was created to protect the distinctive features of the regions. Of course, certain provinces are huge, such as Ontario—not necessarily in terms of land mass, but population—contrary to territories or provinces such as Prince Edward Island, which may be smaller, but which, like any other province or territory, are entitled to be democratically protected, in the sense that the opinions of their people are expressed through elected representatives—in an ideal world of course.
The same thing is apparent here. It was true of the United States, where the states, which vary enormously as far as size is concerned—in terms of both population and land mass—each had two senators. And yet the United States learned something far quicker than we did. Unless I am mistaken, it was in the 1950s that the U.S. decided that in order to benefit from this equitable regional representation, and to fulfill the mandate of the Senate, senators had to be elected. The U.S. moved forward by overhauling the constitution, which led to an elected Senate. That was 60 years ago and, of course, we are terrible laggards in this area.
The difference, however, with Canada is that in the United States it was the governors of the states who appointed senators and not the President. The comparison can therefore be drawn with Canada, where the Prime Minister appoints senators, which is very different. How do you achieve regional representation when the Prime Minister of the federal government chooses the senators? It is quite difficult and, in some ways, is a conflict of interest.
So we see that this is the first lesson that has not been learned, and this is something that is still going on today in spite of the intentions of this Prime Minister, who stated that he would never appoint senators. And yet we have people who were defeated in elections who have been appointed to the Senate. This is a huge problem. They are talking about electing senators; they say it will be democratic, that they will respect democracy. It is one thing not to elect senators, but what is worse is to appoint someone whom the public refused to elect. Appointing someone who was not elected is a problem, but it is a more serious problem when the people have said no to those representatives. They have flatly refused to be represented by those individuals, and yet they are appointed nonetheless, and they expect that those individuals will provide the same representation as a person who was elected. That is essentially very illogical logic.
I recall a Liberal member who was just saying that we had a very simplistic position.
I take that as a compliment, because what we are saying is very simple: abolish the Senate. There is nothing complicated about that. There is no point in embarking on debates about very complex bills with huge flaws, like the main flaw that allows the Prime Minister to choose not to appoint elected senators, which is completely contrary to what is supposed to be the nub of this bill. Our position is very simple, and I agree that it is a simplistic proposal, but in the positive sense of the word. It is a solution that will enable us to solve all these problems of patronage and lack of representation, particularly as they relate to the various regions, once and for all.
I also want to talk about a few points that have already been raised by my colleagues, but I want to say more about Bill C-311 in particular, which my colleague from Winnipeg Centre and other colleagues have addressed, and which deals with climate change. We introduced an opposition motion concerning climate change earlier this week. It refers to the withdrawal from Kyoto and this government's lack of vision in that regard. In fact, this House, by a vote of all parties, had passed a bill that was going to strengthen our principles and our fundamental values in that regard, so we could take concrete action on climate change. But that bill was killed by the Senate. The very problematic thing here is that we are not just talking about a bill passed by the House of Commons, a chamber composed of elected representatives, we are also talking about a bill that many ordinary people worked hard to get passed.
I was an activist at the time myself and I worked hard to communicate with members of Parliament about the importance of that bill, and I was by no means alone. People from all across the country worked to make members of Parliament understand the inherent merits of that bill. The organization was very successful because the House passed the bill. The Senate, unfortunately, disregarding the will of the people entirely and with no justification, killed the bill. That is one of the basic problems that Bill C-7, which we have before us today, is not going to solve. The problem will be solved by abolishing the Senate. It is not complicated.
I am going to make an important connection with a debate we had earlier this week on democratic representation. The connection is important because we are talking about democracy again. I am referring to Bill C-20, which deals with redistributing the seats in this House. We know that the Liberal Party's concern was about the costs that would be incurred. But I spoke on the bill and I raised the same point today. Let us talk about reducing costs and about how to pay for that bill so that we can have more democratically elected representation. I repeat once more: it is not complicated. Let us abolish the Senate; we will save millions of dollars that we can use to pay not only for better representation for all provinces, Quebec included, but representation that will take its place in this elected House.
Since I am running out of time, I will conclude my remarks by saying that the Senate was conceived as a way to represent and protect the unique regional features of our country. I can state, specifically as a representative of Quebec, a province that is very aware of the importance of protecting those unique features, such as our language and culture, that I have seen no evidence, especially in recent years, that the Senate is doing its job of protecting that uniqueness. That is one more reason for abolishing it, and one more reason for us, as true elected members of this House, to protect the unique features of our various regions with our actions and our legislation.
Senate Reform Act
December 8th, 2011 / noon
Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak about government Bill C-7 on the Senate. For several years, the government has been saying that it wants an elected Senate. If anyone is wondering whether I believe in the Senate, no, I absolutely do not, and I will explain why.
I may have once believed in the Senate but, if I did, I lost that faith. There was a time when I thought that there should be a place for the Senate and a time when I was uncertain, but that is no longer the case. I absolutely do not believe in a Senate appointed by the Prime Minister. For me, that is not democracy. In the past, in other countries, senators were appointed by their prime ministers, but those countries changed their way of doing things to take modern democracy into account. They chose to have elected senators with certain powers. For example, there are countries where the Senate cannot vote on bills related to government spending but, instead, it takes care of bills related to what is happening in communities.
I am looking at our Senate when I refer to an unelected Senate. We are supposed to live in a democratic country. There are various political parties—the NDP, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois, the Canadian Alliance and all the others. They are all legitimate. We have the right to have our parties. Someone at Elections Canada makes sure that all the rules are followed, that everyone has a place and that any eligible person can run for a seat in Parliament. Those running for office campaign for 35 days. There is a huge election campaign. We have to sell ourselves to the public. Who should the people choose to represent them in Ottawa? A democratic, secret vote is held to choose someone—a man or a woman—to represent us in Ottawa, someone who can discuss and vote on bills that will become the laws of our country. These representatives are chosen by the people. That is democracy. It is the people who decide who will represent them, or who their members of Parliament will be. In the end, does it matter that the Prime Minister says that he wants to elect senators—people who are retiring?
Everyone knows that when someone is appointed to the Senate by the Prime Minister, they are there until the age of 75. The Prime Minister has the power to appoint people to the Senate, but not to remove them, however. A senator may do whatever he or she likes after being appointed. A senator must have done something really inappropriate to be relieved of his or her duties. No one wants to leave; they do not do anything until the age of 75, and there is no problem. That said, I do not want to tar all of the senators with the same brush.
In 2005, when Canadians and Quebeckers decided to elect a minority government, the opposition had the majority in the House of Commons. As has always been the case, if a budget is brought down by a minority government in the House of Commons and if the opposition, which is in the majority, votes against that budget, this means that the government does not have the confidence of the House and, consequently, that government falls and an election is held.
If a budget is brought down by a minority government in the House of Commons and the majority opposition votes against the government's budget, this means that the government does not have the confidence of the House. The government falls and there is an election. That is the rule. That is what protects the elected government, which has the power to trigger an election. That is where confidence is expressed. It is a vote of confidence. Normally, the government has to choose.
That is not, however, what is happening. The House is passing bills and the unelected Senate is voting them down in the other place. The Senate is voting against bills passed by the members elected by the population. I will give you an example.
The NDP introduced Bill C-311 concerning our responsibility with regard to climate change, the Act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibilities in preventing dangerous climate change. Whether we like it or not, the House expressed its opinion in a vote. The elected members voted. I think that all members, be they with the NDP, the Liberal Party, the Bloc or the Conservative Party, should feel offended, even though this is an NDP bill, that the unelected Senate voted to defeat this bill.
Our time here in the House is limited. At some point, there will be other people here. At some point, the Conservatives will no longer be in power and will be in the opposition. I wonder how the Conservatives would feel about the Senate voting against House bills, in a minority government situation, for example, during the time when they had a minority government.
The current Prime Minister himself has said previously that the Senate's job was not to vote against House bills. The House is elected. Members of Parliament are elected by the public.
A few years ago, I sent out a bulk mailing in my riding and asked constituents to respond. It was almost a referendum. I asked people whether they agreed with the Senate, whether senators should be elected, whether the Senate should be abolished or whether it should remain as is. No one wanted the Senate to remain as is. Among those who responded, 85% indicated that they were in favour of abolishing the Senate. It would be interesting to have a referendum on this in Canada. It is great to say that this is part of the Constitution, to hide behind that and to say that, because of the Constitution, we can never change the Senate. The Constitution makes a great place to hide.
However, what would happen if there were a national referendum and the public said it was in favour of abolishing the Senate? If that happened, all of the provinces would have to agree in order to amend the Constitution. Hopefully the provincial premiers and legislatures would honour the decision of Canadians and Quebeckers. We would hope they would recognize that, if the public no longer wants a Senate, it is time to get rid of it once and for all. Why are we spending money on this institution?
The bill that I introduced required Supreme Court justices to be bilingual. The bill was passed in this House. The majority of parliamentarians voted in favour of the bill. The Conservatives consider themselves lucky that the Senate does exist because, had it not, the bill would have been passed and they would now be required to appoint bilingual justices to the Supreme Court. That is democracy. Elected representatives should decide. We are the elected representatives—whether Conservative, NDP, Liberal or Bloc. The voters elected us to the House. We were not appointed by the Prime Minister. Conservatives should mull that over. They will not be in power for the next 100 years. At some point, the Conservatives will no longer be in power.
It is not right. It was not right when the Conservatives were in opposition. The current Prime Minister was against the Senate voting down bills passed by the House of Commons. What has changed since he moved from opposition to power? What has caused such a change in him?
The Senate claims that it exists to protect minorities and the regions, but it never has done that.
Senate Reform Act
November 22nd, 2011 / 1:45 p.m.
Malcolm Allen Welland, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate about Senate reform, albeit many of my colleagues, including the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam and the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, earlier talked about our stated policy.
On questions earlier, the member from Edmonton talked about our being all over the map today. Let me be abundantly clear, and the New Democrats have been clear since the 1930s: we think the Senate should go, just as many other Commonwealth countries that took up the Westminster model decided over the years that their senates would go.
We need not look that far afield. We do not have to look to New Zealand, as my colleague talked about. We just have to drive down the 401 from this place to Toronto. Toronto no longer has a senate for Ontario. In fact, no province in this country has a senate anymore. They are all gone. The last time I checked, Alberta was doing quite well without that senate.
When I talk with my colleagues from Alberta, they say that not only is their economy humming, but with all the things that are happening, it is a great place to be. I was in Camrose two weeks ago and I concur; indeed, Alberta is a great place to be. It is humming along with just a legislative house and no senate. It did not need one. Everything seems to work without a hitch.
It brings me to a vivid thought I have in my mind. If I could hearken back to the days of Premier Lougheed and Premier Klein, I could just imagine Premier Klein saying, “Senate, this is what I need done”, and the Senate saying to the Premier of Alberta, “Wait a minute, Premier Klein, we don't think so”. I can just imagine the constitutional flummox that would have been. I can imagine Ralph standing up in Edmonton saying, “I don't think so”.
What we are saying on this side is that we do not think we should keep the Senate, but we do not think it is up to us. We think it is up to Canadians. Let us let them decide. Let us put it to Canadians and ask them if they think the Senate is a valuable institution for us to keep. It is their institution, although when it was founded, it really was not about them as electors; as my friend from Cole Harbour said, it was the great unwashed, meaning supposedly us as members in the green chamber, and not them in the other place.
Clearly it was the landed gentry who said they needed to have sober second thought, just in case we did something absolutely ridiculous in this House and tried to send it along to Canadians.
I have great respect for all of my colleagues in the House. They do not do things that would be so ridiculous that we would need to send it to an unelected body for sober second thought, because quite clearly, that sober second thought is a myth.
Why do I say that? As my colleagues have rightly pointed out, when it came to Bill C-311 in the last Parliament, in which I had the great privilege to be a member, that legislation on climate change, regardless of what individuals thought in here, was passed democratically, as we would expect this institution to do, and duly presented to the Senate for sober second thought. I will agree with the “sober” part, but I do not think I could agree with the “second thought”, because the senators did not give it a thought at all, not one. They simply said, “Goodbye. We do not want it. We will get rid of it. Done”.
If senators were truly serious about their job, whether they liked the legislation or not, they had an obligation to look at the legislation, call witnesses about the legislation, critique the legislation, and ultimately, if they chose to, deny the legislation. That is their right.
However, to suggest that the Senate is somehow the chamber of sober second thought when the senators would not take the time to consider legislation is a slap in the face to the duly elected members. We are the duly elected members of this country, not the folks in the other place. Their actions did a disservice to their credibility, not individually, but as an institution that says it will take into consideration what the House has passed, take a look at it, investigate it, make a decision on it and, if we in the House agree, make some changes.
That has happened over the years. The Senate has indeed made some changes and sent legislation back to the House for changes. It has happened, but in this case there was no second thought, sober or otherwise.
Ultimately, why do we have such a place? Does it live up to the reputation it supposedly has?
It is interesting to note what Senator Bert Brown said in his letter to his colleagues. Of course, it was not sent to all of the senators, only to those of the Conservative persuasion. That is because the other place has taken on the mantle of a partisan place, and I will speak to what the legislation says on keeping it a partisan place.
In his letter he said, and I quote:
Every senator in this caucus needs to decide where their loyalty should be and must be. The answer is simple; our loyalty is to the man who brought us here, the man who has wanted Senate reform since he entered politics, the Rt. Hon. [Prime Minister].
What happened to this place of sober second thought when the loyalty is to a Conservative caucus and to the Prime Minister of that Conservative caucus? What happened to the idea of standing back and reviewing legislation to give it that sober second thought?
In my view, it is not only diminished; it is destroyed by the very words of a senator appointed to the Senate by the Prime Minister. Clearly this senator has an understanding of where the intention is to go with this issue.
Regarding politicization in the legislation, the bill says that to run for the Senate one must be a member of a political party in the registered domain of the place one runs in, meaning either a territory or province. In other words, one could not run as an independent senator. It would seem that one would have to join a party in order to run.
We can wax poetic about the folks who are there: the ex-finance bagman of a political party, campaign managers and defeated candidates both Liberal and Conservative. It was used as a reward for those who stood aside to let someone new get a seat in the House or when a change in leadership gave different perspectives under different parties. People were rewarded by being sent to the other place. Now we are going to politicize this place, as much as all of us here know it is political anyway. Maybe the bill is just an admission that it truly is political.
Ultimately, if we are going to say that one must run for a political party to run for the Senate, how do we make those folks accountable?
As members, we are accountable. Under the Canada Elections Act we have to hold an election every five years, although usually it is shorter than that. In the last number of years it has been shorter; sometimes a Parliament lasts only a couple of years. We have to go back to the folks who allowed us to come to this place and ask them if they would like to send us back again. They have the ability to judge us on the things we have done. They can look at our record to decide if they like what we did and then support us, or not, once again.
However, that would not be the case with this group. This group could promise the world during an election, and two things could happen. If the Prime Minister of the day liked the person, he or she would be appointed. If they represented the views of the Prime Minister and his caucus, they would be appointed.
However, we could also make the assumption that one could run and win an election in Alberta but not be appointed. There is no guarantee under the legislation that if elected, one would be appointed. The Prime Minister could simply refuse to make the appointment. One could wait six years and run again and still not get appointed. Therefore, even though the system down the hall in the other place is bad enough unto itself, we would make it worse.
It seems to me that if we want to reform the Senate, we should ask Canadians what they want. We should put it to them as to whether they want the other place. If they say yes, we should ask them what it should look like. We would then truly understand whether Canadians want it.
If the polls are right, more than 70% of Canadians say that the Senate's day has come. The sun has shone, and it is time to retire them all out of the chamber, roll up the proverbial red carpet and wish them all a Merry Christmas and a happy retirement.
That is exactly what we ought to do. We would be happy to help roll the first red carpet up as we let senators go on to whatever it is their lives will be, which is productive, prosperous and happy. We hope they enjoy the rest of their retirement.
Senate Reform Act
November 22nd, 2011 / 1:45 p.m.
Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC
Mr. Speaker, with Bill C-311, the climate change accountability act, what outraged so many Canadians was how it duly moved through the House, a momentous occasion when it finally passed at all stages. It then went to the upper house, where it should have received sober second thought. There could have been witnesses called. My understanding is no witnesses were called, not a single person was heard. In fact, there was a snap vote. It was done in a way that it was defeated in no time at all. Unfortunately, after all that work, such good legislation, which would have been amazing for the country, was gone with the snap of fingers.