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.
Senate Reform Act
November 22nd, 2011 / 1:30 p.m.
Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC
Mr. 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.
The Senate was created in 1867 to mirror the British House of Lords to serve as a chamber of sober second thought, to provide regional representation, and to act as a check on Parliament. It was made as an appointed body so that it could not stop legislation from the House of Commons. It was to revise and review the legislation. It was also created to recognize the social and economic elite. It was in part created to protect the property interests of the wealthy. There was some concern by our founding fathers that an elected body, the House of Commons, would not do so. Today we know that this is not true.
The Senate is broken and no longer works in the public interest. The House knows it and so do the Canadian people. We need to go beyond simply changing term limits of the Senate. The Senate needs fundamental change.
I became convinced of the need to abolish the Senate after witnessing the vote in the Senate in 2010 that killed Bill C-311, the climate change accountability bill. That bill would have required the federal government to set regulations to establish targets to bring greenhouse gas emissions to 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and to set long-term targets to bring emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The government must take action on climate change. This bill would have been the first step toward setting hard targets to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. However, it has become abundantly clear that the government did not want to deal with one of the most pressing issues of our time, so it arranged for the Senate to do its dirty work.
Bill C-311 passed the House of Commons. The bill passed at committee. The majority of members in the House at that time passed the bill, yet it was killed in the Senate. Let me repeat for clarity. The unelected, unaccountable Senate shut off debate and called a snap vote to kill important legislation passed in the House of Commons.
This was an outrageous move. Canadians were outraged by this move. It was the first time since before the Second World War that the Senate voted down a bill that won the support of the majority of the House of Commons. This move did not get the attention it deserved. It was a fundamental change in the way our democracy operates.
The Conservative government is not known for its transparency and adherence to democratic principles and now it has appointed enough senators to circumvent the democratic process.
Only a short few years ago, before they were in power, the Conservatives had very real concerns about the way the Senate operates. While the Prime Minister was in opposition he claimed that he would never appoint a senator. At that time he considered the Senate to be undemocratic, and the Prime Minister was correct. The Senate is undemocratic. It is why the people of New Zealand abolished the upper house, the legislative council, in 1951.
It is amazing how things change once someone gains power. Now that the Conservatives are in power, they have completely changed their tune and are using the unelected, undemocratic body to push through their legislative agenda.
The Prime Minister has appointed 36 Conservative insiders to the Senate since coming to power. In 2008 he broke a record by appointing 18 people to the upper chamber in just one day. The Senate is now stacked with failed Conservative candidates, party fundraisers and political organizers. Let us not forget that this was the same modus operandi of the federal Liberal Party. It too stacked the Senate with friends and insiders.
A senator earns approximately $132,000 a year. The qualification to become a senator now is to be loyal to the ruling party that appointed him or her.
The Senate costs approximately $90 million a year to run. Taxpayers are paying a large sum for an unaccountable, unelected body in the Senate and for senators to block legislation passed by their elected representatives.
I believe it is time, through a referendum, that Canadians have a say on the future of the Senate. A referendum will open up a dialogue on the system in which far too many Canadians have lost faith. It will allow us to engage the population in an issue that is important to our very democracy.
It is time for an examination of democratic reform. It would show Canadians that we, as their elected House, care about their participation in our political system.
This is the third time the Conservatives have introduced legislation on an unelected Senate and legislation on Senate term limits. Each time the legislation died because of prorogation or dissolution of the House.
The NDP policy calls for abolishing the unelected Senate. It is fairly clear. It is a long-standing call that dates back to the 1930s. This policy has been constantly reaffirmed by the party. We want to maintain our position to abolish the Senate. We call on the government to hold a referendum, asking the Canadian public whether they support abolishing the Senate.
Who else has called for this? Let us look across the country. Both Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter openly have called for the abolishment of the Senate. The premier in my own province, B.C. Premier Christy Clark, has said that the Senate no longer plays a useful role in Confederation. Manitoba maintains its position on Senate abolition, although it does have plans, if this bill should pass, for Senate elections. Quebec has called this legislation unconstitutional. It has said that it will launch a provincial court appeal if the bill proceeds without consultation of the provinces.
The public supports the idea of a referendum for the Senate, and it is growing. For instance, an Angus Reid survey from July of this year shows that 71% of Canadians are in favour of holding a referendum to decide the future of the Senate and 36% of Canadians support the abolition of the Senate. That is up from 25% a year earlier. We can see the momentum is growing. There have been 13 attempts to reform the Senate since 1990 and all have failed.
The Conservatives have not properly consulted with the provinces about whether they agree with the content of the bill. When the bill was first introduced in June 2011, Conservative senators, even those appointed by the Prime Minister, pushed back against plans for Senate term limits.
Senators will remain unaccountable to the Canadian people. By only being allowed, by law, to serve one term, senators do not have to face the public or account for the promises they made to get elected or the decisions they took in the previous nine years, and they get a pension when they leave office.
Having an elected Senate will fundamentally change the nature of politics in Canada. It will create a two-tier Senate, where those who are elected will feel they have more legitimacy. Since the Senate has virtually the same powers as the House, an elected Senate would have greater legitimacy to introduce legislation or oppose bills sent to it from the House of Commons. We could end up with the kind of gridlock we have seen in the United States.
The safest and conservative approach to the Senate is to abolish it. We know how the House of Commons works, but we have no idea what will happen with an elected Senate.
Senate Reform Act
November 22nd, 2011 / 1:05 p.m.
Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the bill entitled “An act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits”.
Although the bill may appear to address one of Canada's most egregious democratic deficits, I am afraid that the approach being taken leaves much to be desired.
Essentially, Bill C-7 restricts all senators appointed to the Senate after October 14, 2008, to a single nine-year term. Provinces and territories would then be given the opportunity to hold elections at their own expense to determine which names would be submitted to the Prime Minister for consideration, and only consideration.
While on the surface this approach might appear to bring heightened accountability to an unelected institution of the Crown, restricting Senate term limits while holding non-binding Senate elections fails to consider the most logical option for improving Canadian democracy, namely the abolishment of Canada's Senate.
I recall one of my constituents, Craig, telling me that he did not support a triple-E Senate. He supported a single-E Senate, and that single E stands for empty.
Before I get into why New Democrats believe that the Senate has outlived its raison d'être, I would like to highlight some specific criticisms of the bill as it currently has been presented to Parliament.
First, it appears that, as it is currently written, Bill C-7 contains a glaring loophole which would completely undermine the spirit of what the government is proposing. This is because the government is clearly attempting to pass legislation which should require a constitutional amendment and making unclear how much force the bill would actually carry.
For instance, by taking an approach which fails to crystallize the changes in Canada's Constitution, the Prime Minister would not be constitutionally required to appoint anyone elected by the provinces. Therefore, the bill does not actually change the way senators are currently appointed as the Prime Minister would still be free to appoint whomever he or she chooses.
We have seen previous examples of the Prime Minister acting in contravention of existing democratic reform legislation which has passed through the House. Specifically, I can point to the fixed election date legislation. Why then should Canadians trust that the government would actually abide by the legislation that we have in front of us today? Call me a pessimist, but this is certainly one concern that I have with Bill C-7.
Let me make this clear. We know how the House of Commons works, but we have no idea what would happen with an elected Senate. That brings me to another major concern arising from Bill C-7, which is the inevitable gridlock which would arise from having two separately duly elected Houses of Parliament.
Since the Senate would have virtually the same powers as the House under Bill C-7, an elected Senate would have greater legitimacy to introduce legislation or oppose bills sent to it from the House of Commons. On the surface this seems like a good idea. However, when we dig deeper into those proposals, it would illicit the real fear that we could end up with the kind of gridlock we see in the U.S., something which no Canadian wants to see our Parliament descend into.
This brings me to my final point that the best approach to take in order to reduce Canada's democratic deficit is the complete abolishment of the Senate. Personally, I am of the belief that when it comes to the Senate, Canadians do not need it. It is expensive. It has been packed with party insiders and we cannot trust what the leaders are going to do with the Senate.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly used the unaccountable and undemocratic Senate to kill legislation that had been passed in the House of Commons, twice killing Bill C-311, the climate change accountability act and, this spring, killing Bill C-393, a very important bill which would have facilitated the movement of generic antiviral drugs to Africa to help people living with HIV-AIDS.
These pieces of legislation, supported by wide swaths of the Canadian public, were killed by the Prime Minister's appointed senators in the Senate with no sober second thought. How can we have sober second thought when we have a bunch of Conservative Party organizers and fundraisers with obvious conflicts of interest? It makes a mockery of our democratic system.
As I noted earlier, even should the bill pass during the 41st Parliament, there is no guarantee that the government would actually abide by the rules it has put in place. Thus, we could end up with a patchwork Senate filled with a mix of elected and unelected senators.
I will put forward a hypothetical situation. What if the government refuses to appoint a senator who has been elected by residents of a province because it disagrees with the party banner under which that senator was elected? After all, the prime minister would not be constitutionally obliged to actually appoint them to the Senate. That is why I firmly believe the safest and most obviously beneficial approach to the Senate is to abolish it.
I will conclude my statement today by drawing attention to what the provinces, our partners in Confederation, have been saying about the Senate, both in terms of the status quo and the proposals in front of us. Both the Ontario premier, Dalton McGuinty, and the Nova Scotia premier, Darrel Dexter, have openly called for the abolition of the Senate. The B.C. premier, Christy Clark, has said that the Senate no longer plays a useful role in Confederation, while Manitoba maintains its position of eliminating the Senate. Even more worrisome is that Quebec has called this legislation unconstitutional and has said that it will launch a provincial court appeal if this bill proceeds without the consultation of the provinces.
Why, then, is the government moving ahead with a plan that is not supported by the federal government's partners in Confederation? It seems that without the full support of the provinces this proposal will merely be a paper tiger dressed up as a solution to bring Canada's democracy into the 21st century.
What happens if certain provinces refuse to participate in the system? Citizens of those provinces would certainly be shortchanged. Even more dire is the thought that this bill would lead to a constitutional crisis with multiple provinces taking action at the Supreme Court to challenge the constitutionality of this legislation. Without proper provincial consultation, which I fear has not taken place, this is an inevitability and something that should be avoided at all costs.
Therefore, I ask that the government reconsider its position on the bill until such a time as the provinces are properly consulted and sign on to these proposals.
Senate Reform Act
November 22nd, 2011 / 12:15 p.m.
Guy Caron Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House 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.
The NDP's position was clearly stated at the beginning of this debate. Since 1930, we have been in favour of abolishing the upper chamber for various reasons. This is a position that I believe is unanimous in New Democrat circles and that periodically comes up and is always reaffirmed at our conventions and meetings.
There are specific reasons for that, but first I would like to mention that we are not the only ones. The provinces are also in favour of flat out abolishing the Senate. Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba have clearly spoken out in favour of doing so. With respect to Bill C-7 in particular, we know that Quebec has already looked into the possibility of contesting its constitutional validity in court.
What we have in front of us now could be considered a partial reform. It is not real reform of the Senate, but rather a modification of certain aspects. For example, the aspect that has to do with Senate terms. Right now, senators are appointed to the age of 75 or until the death of the senator, and that term would be reduced to nine years. Although the NDP is unanimously in favour of abolishing the Senate, there are some differences of opinion on the Conservative side, particularly among Conservative senators who have already shown some reservations about limits to their terms. Those senators were appointed recently. All members are aware that since the Conservatives took power in 2006 they have appointed 27 Conservative senators, which has given the Conservative Party a majority in the Senate.
We could talk about what the Liberals did before, and we may or may not agree with them. The fact remains that when there was a Liberal government, it was still possible that a non-Liberal senator would be appointed. That was the case in the past. The Liberals even appointed an NDP senator. Unfortunately, we asked her to give up her NDP designation because we do not support the Senate and are proposing that it be abolished. At least former Liberal governments provided some balance. But we are not seeing that same kind of balance with the Conservative government.
We talk a lot about the Senate being a chamber of sober second thought, a place where a different kind of reflection takes place, in comparison to the House of Commons. The members of the House of Commons know that all provincial senates have been abolished. No province has had a Senate since 1968. As far as I know, there have been no significant issues with passing laws at the provincial level since that time. Provinces do not have senates and, to be honest, they do not seem to be missing them. No provinces are requesting or calling for a provincial upper chamber. In looking at the provincial situation, I think that the NDP's position on the Senate is completely legitimate and is far from the Conservative position of wanting to keep the Senate. However, the Conservatives want to reform it. It is interesting to see how the Conservative opinion on the Senate has evolved.
There has been much talk—particularly during the era of the Reform Party and the Canadian Alliance—of the need for a triple–E Senate. Such a Senate, by its very nature and essence, would bear a much closer resemblance to the U.S. Senate as we know it, and that creates a few problems. If the bill were adopted as it stands, similar problems would arise. I will come back to the U.S. model, but I would first like to discuss two specific problems with the bill and the manner in which it provides for the election of senators at the provincial level, who would then be appointed by the Prime Minister.
The first problem has to do with legitimacy. If the provinces have no consistent process for the election of senators—and since the term being used is plebiscite rather than election—it would create a situation whereby, in certain provinces, no senators would be elected or selected in this way. That raises a problem of legitimacy. Those senators elected under one process might believe—and this would undoubtedly be the case—that they have greater legitimacy than those who are simply appointed by the Prime Minister without being subject to the procedure established by the provinces.
That would be problematic since the members of the Senate would not share the same understanding of the institution.
The second problem—and this is where the U.S. example is relevant—is that the Senate currently wishes to be perceived, if it does serve a purpose, as a place for sober second thought in response to bills adopted by the House of Commons. This sober second thought theoretically serves as a counterbalance to an overly populist reaction in the House and is intended to please a certain segment of the electorate without necessarily improving in any way on what the bill proposes.
In its current form—and I think that this has been evident over the last five years during which 27 new Conservative senators were appointed—there is no longer any sober second thought. The Senate no longer plays this role. The Senate, just like the House, polarizes political debate. I believe that the debate and political discourse in the House since 2006 have been much more polarized than in any previous era or decade. That is how things look nowadays in the Senate.
The Senate was intended to be a forum in which senators could adequately reflect upon the impact that bills may have on various facets of Canadian and Quebec society. The Senate no longer plays this role. Two bills have demonstrated this, including one we thought was particularly important. I refer to Bill C-311 on climate change and the establishment of clear standards and targets in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. The House of Commons and its committees held several debates. It was not the first time this bill had been introduced. The purpose of the bill was to ensure that Canada honoured its international commitments. After a number of attempts, the House of Commons finally adopted the bill. The unelected Senate, however, simply opposed the will of the House of Commons, in other words, the elected representatives of the Quebec and Canadian public. The objective was to polarize rather than to be effective. The Conservative government did not condemn this action as it should have, and undoubtedly would have, had a Liberal-dominated Senate stood in the way of one of its bills. When this occurred in the past, Conservative members led the charge in condemning the abuse of power of an unelected chamber pitting itself against the House of Commons.
My colleague from Winnipeg North raised the question: do Canadians and Quebeckers still want a Senate? It is an interesting and very relevant question, in my opinion. I propose therefore, as have a number of my colleagues, to ask Canadians and Quebeckers if they still want a Senate, and whether they believe the upper house still fulfils its role. Quite recently, in July, a poll was taken across Canada to determine whether Canadians wanted to vote on the existence of the Senate. Seventy-one per cent of Canadians, including Quebeckers, want a referendum in which they can vote on the issue. It is high time that we had this debate. In the same poll, 36 % of Canadians were in favour of abolishing the Senate. This is a significant increase compared to the previous year. It reflects public discontent with the role the Senate has played in recent years and the partisan appointments made by the Prime Minister.
Experience has clearly shown us that abolishing the provincial senates did not drastically affect how the provinces operate. In fact, a number of experts and constitutional jurists would say without a doubt that this perhaps even made it easier for the provinces, because there was no longer an unelected chamber able to interfere and undermine the will of publicly elected representatives. There is not a single province that would revisit the past and choose to bring back an unelected chamber.
We must be very careful about the Senate's mandate and about the direction we are currently taking to avoid having what we see in the United States. The suggestion was made by our colleague from the third party, and had already been made by the NDP. Let us have a real debate, let us include the Canadian public and let us have a referendum on this subject. Our position is clear: we are and will always be in favour of abolishing the Senate.
Senate Reform Act
November 22nd, 2011 / 12:05 p.m.
Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC
Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from Nova Scotia is a tough act to follow. That was one of the best speeches I have heard in the House. He was flying.
I am pleased to speak to Bill C-7.
If I understand correctly, what is being proposed seems to me to be an improvement on what we have now. For example, they are proposing that the law limit the terms of all senators summoned to the Senate after October 14, 2008, to a maximum of nine years. In my opinion, that limit is not a bad thing. As well, the provinces and territories would have the option of choosing to hold elections at their own expense to determine what names would be submitted to the Prime Minister for consideration. We are not living in a perfect world.
In a perfect world we would have the following. What the government has proposed is not a perfect world. In a perfect world we would have senators appointed for a limited period of time. They would be non-partisan and they would not represent specific political parties or be appointed as a reward for their services to a party. They would be distinguished people from most segments of society, such as first nations, business, labour leaders, the social sector, students.
In a perfect world a group of non-partisan people, an impartial board, would select individuals. If we were to do this, then in this perfect world we could have a chamber of sober thought consisting of respected people who would look at the work we do here and certainly not meet with the caucus of the governing party of the day, but, as the previous member said, be truly non-partial.
When we on this side speak out against what goes on in the Senate or what is proposed, we are not criticizing many of the honourable senators in the Senate. For example, I am pleased to see my former boss and friend from Yukon, Danny Lang, there and he is working hard. There are other folks like Hugh Segal, who has been championing poverty issues and rural poverty for many years. I certainly respect the work he and many of his colleagues do.
Unfortunately this is not a perfect world and it is an illusion or dream to think that we somehow could have in our democratic country a group of people, wise elders of our society, who would sit down and reflect upon what needs to happen and give its impartial advice. However, as my colleague from London—Fanshawe earlier said, it is not a reality and there is a contrast between what happens in the Senate, with its expenses, and all the effort that goes into maintaining that antiquated body.
If the Senate did not exist, we could inject more funding toward assisting people who are unemployed, the percentage of workers who do not have access to employment insurance. Many of us met with students in the last couple of weeks and know that, for example, the average student debt in British Columbia upon completion of university is $27,000 and tuition fees are rising. Yet other countries have made it a priority to have free tuition and health care and have strong economic engines, countries like Sweden.
In previous Parliaments I have been in since I was elected in 2006, there was actually a fair amount of debate on various bills and a fair number of witnesses would be brought to committees. There was much scrutiny, unlike now, when there is limited debate and closure on a number of important bills. Even after that time, when these bills would go to the Senate, under the direction of the current Prime Minister and his ideologically-driven government, they would be killed and often senators were told there would be no further debate whatsoever.
There was the climate change accountability act in the previous Parliament, Bill C-311, and the bill on generic drugs. For all the people watching this debate, a bill to help people suffering from AIDS so we could finally eradicate this devastating disease and take up the work done by Stephen Lewis and his foundation was before Parliament. Groups like the Grandmothers for Grandmothers, which I met with in Nelson a couple of weeks ago, is raising money to assist grandmothers in Africa who are raising children. There are millions of orphans due to this devastating disease. Parliament had a chance to pass that bill and, in fact, did so.
What happened? The Senate limited debate and stopped it. As a result, we do not yet have a policy to assist those suffering with AIDS by having cheap generic drugs available. This is truly a shame.
Then we had the act to kill the Wheat Board rammed through Parliament by the Conservatives without any democratic vote by farmers, the people who are part of the Wheat Board. There was limited debate in Parliament with no economic analysis, no in-depth study and a limited number of witnesses. Now this bill will go the Senate. If there were an impartial Senate, if the Senate, in an ideal world, were made up of wise people from different segments of society, they would look at the bill, bring in witnesses and say that maybe Parliament has not done what it should have been doing. They would then send it back to us and tell us to get back to work and fix this or abolish it, because that is not the will of the people that the House of Commons has reflected.
Then there is the crime omnibus bill that we are all faced with now that has also been rammed down our throats. At a time when crime rates are going down, we will be putting more people in prison and, not only that, the provinces will be bearing the costs of the bill. Even American conservatives are turning away from putting people into prisons. They are saying that it is not cost-effective and that maybe they should be doing more prevention and more rehabilitation. At the same time, we are going against all of the evidence and the Conservatives are not even listening to their conservative friends in the United States or the Canadian Bar Association and judges.
Even though most of Canadian society and the provinces have asked us what we are doing, the bill has been rammed through by the government. Once again, if we were to have a Senate that truly represented Canadian society in an impartial way, it would tell the Prime Minister to take his time here, that this does not need to be rushed through.
We need to hear more witnesses and actually listen to what the Canadian Bar Association is saying. We need to listen to our provincial colleagues who say that the cost is a bit too much and that they cannot really afford it. We need to listen to the Canadian public and then, in an ideal world, the bill would be brought back here and we would be told to do something about it that truly reflects the values of Canadian society and not the ideology that the government is presenting to us in this Parliament.
Senate Reform Act
November 22nd, 2011 / 11:50 a.m.
Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS
Madam Speaker, I do not know if I am really that proud to rise today on the debate of Senate reform because we are not getting Senate reform at all. We are getting Senate stay as it is with a few changes behind the cloak and dagger of what is perceived as Senate reform.
Let me get this straight for the people watching. Only the Conservatives can come up with this. We are going to make the provinces pay for elections. By the way, 40% of people do not vote in a federal election now. I cannot imagine the percentage of people who would love to vote in a Senate election.
Let me get this straight. We would get wonderful people, put their names forward for a Senate election and make the provinces pay for it. For example, if Mr. Smith was elected to be the senator from Nova Scotia, the Prime Minister could say, “No. We don't like that Mr. Smith, the elected person from Nova Scotia. We'll pick someone else.”
Folks will have to help me out with this because I really am missing the so-called democratic reform of this one. If one is going to pick someone else, do it in the first place. It is already being done. Why go to the waste of a sham of a so-called election?
The reality is that every single one of the people in the other chamber is a decent person. I think of Senator Dallaire, Senator Mahovlich, Senator Lang, Senator Meighen and Senator Baker. There are all kinds of them. They are really decent, hard-working, honest people. The premise of the chamber, the so-called chamber of sober second thought--mind, that is not completely gone--is that senators are supposed to peer review legislation that comes from the elected House to ensure that it meets the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Bill of Rights and the Constitution of Canada.
In theory, that actually sounds pretty good. We select learned people from around the country to go into the Senate. These are people with life experience in a variety of fields. We use their expertise to peer review our legislation. Then, because they do not have a constituency, per se, they can report on issues facing the country. For example, the Kirby report on mental health was quite good. However, we have to ask ourselves, do we need a publicly funded Senate to produce a report like that? There are probably a lot of private entities out there that may have been able to produce the same report. Senator Kirby also did the 1982 report on the east coast fisheries, and that did not go very well. There is good and bad in both of those reports.
Having said that, they get to peer review executive legislation from the House of Commons. But do they peer review executive legislation from the House of Commons? No, they do not. A classic example is Bill C-311 in a previous Parliament. I am looking at some of my colleagues who were here. It passed the democratically elected House of Commons, went through the committee stage, went through third reading and passed, not once, but twice. Bill C-311 then went to the Senate, where it was supposed to be reviewed, but Bill C-311, the environmental bill from the NDP, did not even get to first base. It did not even get to the clubhouse. It did not even get to the parking lot. Some senators stood and said no. There were no witnesses, no discussion, nothing and the Conservative senators absolutely killed it.
If constituents of Canada vote, they take democracy seriously. We have to ask ourselves, where was the democracy in that? I can guarantee that if that happened to a Conservative bill and New Democrat senators killed it, the Conservatives would be screaming from the rafters. They would be doing what Randy White did, with the mariachi band, in 1995 or 1996, standing in front of the Senate, doing a Mexican salsa. I remember those days very well, how they ridiculed the Senate because a certain Mr. Thompson spent most of his time in Mexico.
Senate Reform Act
November 22nd, 2011 / 11:35 a.m.
Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON
Madam Speaker, I am very happy to be speaking to the Senate reform bill.
First, let me say that I am very disappointed that the government has put up no speakers. I wonder just how important this bill is to the Conservatives if they have nothing to say.
As members know, New Democrats have long advocated for abolishing the Senate. This has been our position since the 1930s. Very recent polling shows that Canadians are open to having a closer examination of the value of the Senate in the 21st century and that we should carefully look at Senate abolition because it is achievable and it is a balanced solution.
The NDP believes that the Senate is a 19th century institution, an anachronism that is unnecessary in a modern 21st century democracy like Canada's. Senators only sit 90 days of the year and they cost taxpayers over $90 million annually. The Muskoka minister's $50 million pales in comparison. Democracies such as Denmark and New Zealand have long since eliminated their outdated senates. This decision was also undertaken many years ago by our own provincial governments. There are many who support the NDP position, including the premiers of several provinces.
For example, the premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark, stated in May of this year:
I support abolishing the Senate. I don't think the Senate plays a useful role. I think that they've outlived their usefulness to our country.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty echoed Ms. Clark's comments:
We think the simplest thing to do is abolish it, and I think, frankly, to reform it in any substantive way is just not possible. We have one elected accountable body that sits in Ottawa for us in the House of Commons. I just don't think we need a second, unelected, unaccountable body.
Even Conservative-friendly premiers condemn the Prime Minister's recent patronage appointments.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said, “It takes away momentum for change at the provincial level and it will probably increase calls that we hear from time to time saying, 'Do we really need this institution?'”
The Senate has become a repository of failed candidates, party fundraisers and professional organizers. These taxpayer subsidized Conservative senators even torpedo legislation passed by the elected members of Parliament. We are talking about bills passed by elected and accountable members of Parliament, such as the late Jack Layton's private member's bill to ensure action on climate change. Also, there was the member for Ottawa Centre's private member's bill to provide affordable AIDS drugs to those suffering in Africa. Both bills were killed by the Senate.
Both of these bills were extremely important and valuable not only to Canadians, but to people around the world. These bills were an opportunity for Canada to shine on the international stage, but the unelected Senate trashed them and left Canadians wondering what on earth has happened to our democracy.
New Democrats would like to abolish the Senate.
In addition to what has already been discussed, this bill has some other problems. It restricts all senators appointed to the Senate after October 14, 2008 to a single, non-renewable nine-year term. Senators would never have to be accountable for campaign promises they made because they would not have to keep them, or for any of the actions that they had taken while in office.
Provinces and territories are given the opportunity to hold elections if they choose. These elections are at the cost of the provinces. The prime minister can then decide if she or he wishes to appoint the senators, but there is absolutely nothing holding the prime minister to appointing anyone who has been elected.
Several provinces have indicated that they have no intention of holding Senate elections. The Province of Quebec has been perfectly clear and called the legislation unconstitutional and said Quebec will launch a provincial court appeal if the bill proceeds without the consultation of the provinces.
The Conservatives and the Liberals seem intent on maintaining an antiquated institution that they have increasingly used for partisan purposes.
New Democrats understand that the Senate is unnecessary and does not serve to further our democracy in any way at all. We will continue our call for a referendum on the abolition of the Senate. In the meantime, we will work hard to expose the dangers that the Conservative agenda on Senate reform pose to the very fabric of our democracy.
Six years ago when the Prime Minister was opposition leader, he knew there was something wrong with an unelected Senate. He thought it was unfair. He called it undemocratic. He also said an appointed Senate, a relic of the 19th century, was what we had. He did not like how the prime minister holds a virtual free hand in the selection of senators. He promised that if he ever got the chance to be the prime minister, he would not name appointed people to the Senate. He insisted that anyone who sits in the Parliament of Canada must be elected by the people he or she represents.
However, the Prime Minister has turned his back on those democratic principles. Instead of solving the problem, he is becoming the problem. The Prime Minister now holds the all-time record for appointing the most significant number of senators in one day. Who are his appointees? The Conservative Party faithful: spin doctors, fundraisers, bagmen, insiders, people such as his former press secretary, his former Conservative Party president, his former national campaign director through two elections, and let us not forget the several defeated Conservative candidates who were rejected by the voters.
The Prime Minister has broken his promise to do politics differently. Not only does he play the same old politics, he plays them better than anyone else, and I mean that in a very negative way.
Last fall the Conservative-dominated Senate was used to veto legislation the Prime Minister simply did not like.
The climate change accountability bill was Canada's only federal climate change legislation. It passed twice in a minority parliament. It was good, solid legislation supported by a majority of elected MPs, legislation embodying the direction Canadians want to take. On November 16, 2010, the Senate defeated Bill C-311 at second reading. There was no committee review or witness hearings. Canada's only legislative effort to fight climate change was gone, killed by the unelected friends of the Prime Minister.
Now unelected Senators seem poised to do the same thing to the NDP labour critic's bill requiring Supreme Court judges to understand both official languages. Former Bill C-232 was duly passed by elected MPs in the previous Parliament, and is now Bill C-208.
Just because someone flipped pancakes for the Conservative Party of Canada does not give that individual the right to override the wishes of elected MPs.
Too often today's Senate is doing partisan work for public money. Speaking of money, Canadians are paying more and more for a discredited institution that does less and less at a time when people are dealing with a slow economic recovery, and the Conservative government is contemplating billions in cutbacks.
Maintaining the Senate costs Canadians around $90 million a year. While folks are looking for jobs and trying to make ends meet when their EI runs out, or scraping by on pensions that do not even cover basic necessities, senators are earning $132,300 a year for a three-day work week. Add in travel and expenses and each senator is costing us about $859,000 a year, all for an institution that will not play any relevant role in the lives of most Canadians.
I can think of a lot of things that do matter to people, such as creating family-supporting jobs, improving public health care, and building decent futures for our kids. Lining the pockets of party insiders just is not high on my or anyone's list.
Senate Reform Act
November 22nd, 2011 / 11:20 a.m.
Pierre Dionne Labelle Rivière-du-Nord, QC
Madam Speaker, my colleagues, as elected members, have a duty to be accountable, but members of the archaic Senate do not have this moral duty.
This relic is a home for numerous defeated politicians who are appointed for partisan purposes, which was the case for some Conservatives who lost the election and were still rewarded by the Prime Minister. I am not the first person to use the word “relic”. In fact, the Prime Minister himself described the Senate as a relic of the 19th century. Now that he is no longer talking about abolishing it, as he used to do, he wants to reform it based on equally outdated values. Why not donate this relic to the Museum of Civilization?
You do not have to be able to predict the future to know that this bill will fail, as did the 13 other attempts at reform before it. The NDP's long-standing belief in abolishing the Senate dates back to the 1930s, and it has constantly been reaffirmed by the party. Yes, the New Democratic Party will vote against the bill and will voice its desire to abolish the Senate, pure and simple. If the government is wondering about the public's opinion on this, we invite it to ask Canadians to voice their opinion through a referendum.
Here is why this bill is going to end up in the dustbin of history. It is undemocratic. The government wants to limit the tenure of all senators summoned after October 14, 2008 to a maximum of nine years. Considering that these individuals are accountable only to the Prime Minister, this is an invitation to hit and run. Moreover, they are entitled to a pension when they leave the Senate. While elected members must face voters at each election to get their verdict, senators are free to completely reject the opinion of Canadians.
The nine-year term set out in the bill confirms this situation, because even if senators were appointed after being elected, they would have the luxury of behaving as they please, without any obligation to go back before voters. The term “election” thus becomes devoid of any moral compass that is part of democratic duty. Since senators will not be allowed to run twice, how can they be accountable to the public? In this regard, the bill does not change anything in the undemocratic basis of the Senate, whose members are accountable only to the Prime Minister. A senator will only be accountable to the Prime Minister, as has always been the case. The bill only provides that a list be submitted to the Prime Minister. It does not in any way affect his discretionary powers.
Some may argue that the Prime Minister will never dare oppose the public's choice, but recent history has shown that the Prime Minister can violate this principle, as he did on the issue of fixed election dates.
I am going to digress a bit and talk about my thoughts while listening to hon. members and what the majority of people think of the Senate. To most people, the Senate is not a big concern. Except for the fact that it costs a lot of money, people do not wake up in the morning thinking about the Senate. For years, I too did not think about those individuals sitting over there and quietly passing the time while waiting for a well-deserved retirement. I did not think about the Senate until Ms. Verner was appointed there. To me, that was a fundamental violation of the democratic process. Someone who had lost all authority through a democratic process was promoted to the Senate with a golden pension for the rest of her life, this for services rendered to the Conservative government. There is a problem there.
There is a second problem. The Senate blocked two bills passed by a majority of members in a Parliament that required the agreement of all parties in order to make a firm decision. I am referring to Bill C-311, An Act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibilities in preventing dangerous climate change, which the Senate killed, and Bill C-393, An Act to amend the Patent Act (drugs for international humanitarian purposes) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act.
In addition to posing a problem of legitimacy, the people appointed to the Senate have begun to kill bills duly passed by a democratically elected assembly. This is starting to get serious. Do we want to continue down that road? The Conservative government is going down a path that is fraught with danger for the future and for democracy.
It has been said the Prime Minister will take into consideration the provincial nominees or the list submitted when elections are held. I am the first to doubt this, and I am convinced that my colleagues and my friends in the NDP and other parties also have serious doubts about that.
Let us imagine for a moment that cross-Canada elections are held for senators. The list of new senators includes Amir Khadr, a symbol of the new Quebec left. This man is a leading light. His views could lead to social progress in Canada. Would the Prime Minister agree to appoint him to the Senate? Never, that is clear.
François Saillant, a champion of Quebec's homeless people, has been involved in every fight to increase social housing in the past 25 years. Would the Prime Minister appoint him if he were on the list? Never.
If Steven Guilbeault were on the list submitted by Canadians, would he be appointed as a senator by the Prime Minister? Of course not. I am convinced that members of the Green Party share my belief. Steven Guilbeault would never be appointed, nor would Laure Waridel of the organization Équiterre. The government does not want supporters of fair trade. We know that trade is unfair in the House. We have to leave it alone.
Would David Suzuki be appointed if he were on the list? I am convinced that the Conservatives would not want to appoint David Suzuki to the Senate.
Would astrophysicist Hubert Reeves be appointed? Would the Prime Minister appoint an astrophysicist, when this party denies scientific facts and scientific actions? Never.
Vivian Labrie founded the Collectif pour un Québec sans pauvreté, which fights to try to get the government to take the reality facing those most in need into account when making decisions. It fights to prevent decisions that will affect the poorest one-fifth of the population. Would this government appoint Ms. Labrie to the Senate? Never.
So this shatters the illusion and the fantasy that the Prime Minister would definitely appoint all of the senators proposed. That is not true. I would like to come back to my speech, which does not necessarily address that, but this raises a question. Basically, is it not dishonest to claim such things, when we all know the political stripes of the people appointed to the Senate?
The Prime Minister is under no obligation to appoint someone who has been elected by a province or territory. This bill therefore does not change how senators are appointed, since the Prime Minister is still free to choose whomever he wants to appoint to the position of senator. How can anyone believe that he will respect the democratic will of the people? He clearly does not understand the notion of democratic accountability. The Conservatives say that the provinces would be able to choose any system they like to elect senators, as long as the system complies with basic democratic principles. The facts show that this government knows very little about basic democratic rules. We cannot help but be cynical, since the government acts as though it was elected by 100% of the population when, clearly, that is not the case.
Quebec has called this bill unconstitutional. The provincial government said that it would go to court if this bill were passed without prior consultation with the provinces. What do the Conservatives want to do, reopen a constitutional debate? What a great way to be put through the wringer.
In closing, I wish I could find the words that would bring this government back to its senses and make it see that this issue must be resolved by the people.
We invite the government to hold a referendum if it is certain about the reform it wants to propose. I remain convinced that all Canadians would like to do away with this relic and relegate the Senate to the Canadian history museum.
Senate Reform Act
November 14th, 2011 / 12:55 p.m.
Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Vancouver Kingsway for his eloquence in discussing what we believe are the concerns with the Senate.
I have always believed that the Senate has two roles in life. One is to peer review executive legislation from the House of Commons and, because senators do not have a constituency per se, to carry out in-depth studies facing the challenges of our society. For example, the Michael Kirby report on mental health was very good. I thought it was well done.
However, that is not what the Senate has been doing for the longest time. It rubber stamps legislation from the government. Bill C-311 the environmental bill, was passed by this House of Commons and the appointed, unelected Senate, without one witness, killed the bill without a word of debate. After all the work that the elected members of Parliament did to get it through this House and the years it took, for a bunch of unelected, unaccountable people to kill it is not democracy.
I would like my hon. colleague to elaborate on the fact that this is what unelected, unaccountable people can do to override the wishes of the majority of the members of Parliament representing the majority of Canadians.
Senate Reform Act
November 14th, 2011 / 12:35 p.m.
Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC
Mr. Speaker, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to rise today to speak on behalf of the official opposition and the good people of Vancouver Kingsway regarding C-7, An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits.
Before I proceed, for Canadians watching, I am one of the men that has a moustache in honour of movember, which is a time when we remember the very real effects of prostate cancer and encourage men across the country to not only get checked but to raise funds to help defeat this disease that has not only taken the lives of many men, but is something that afflicted the past leader of the NDP, the Hon. Jack Layton.
When we talk about the Senate, it conjures up a number of concepts in the minds of most Canadians. Unelected, undemocratic, unaccountable, political patronage and elitist are words that have been cemented in the minds of Canadians whenever they think of the Senate of Canada.
Modern democratic nations do not have representative chambers that are unelected. Modern democratic nations do not have representational chambers that are regionally imbalanced and unequal, with the principle of representation by population being completely ignored and frozen in a time two centuries past. Modern democratic nations do not have representative chambers where a ruling head of state hand-picks legislators who are the head's fundraisers, failed candidates and partisan supporters.
Modern democratic nations do not have representative chambers where people are appointed for life or until they are 75 years old, while the people who senators supposedly represent have no means to remove them. Modern democratic nations do not have representative chambers where the members spend their time campaigning for the ruling party on the public dime on the taxpayer-funded purse. They do not have chambers where unelected, patronage appointed members block legislation passed by a democratically elected chamber.
Modern democracies do not have chambers that restrict membership to those who own property, in the case of Canada $4,000 in land, and are closed to Canadians who do not. In fact, that is why Canada stands almost alone in the world among modern democratic nations with an anachronism from the past, a sordid past, a shameful history and a dubious future. That is why every province in Canada that had such a body abolished it in 1968.
I want to mention a few facts about the issue of abolishing the Senate.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter have openly called for the abolition of the Senate. The premier of my province, British Columbia, Premier Christy Clark, has said that the Senate no longer plays a useful role in Confederation. Manitoba maintains its position of Senate abolition, although it has plans in place for the contingency that Senate elections are required should this bill be passed. Quebec has called this legislation unconstitutional and has said that it will launch a provincial court appeal if the bill proceeds without the consultation of provinces, which have not occurred to date. So far the bill is opposed by premiers of provinces representing the vast majority of Canadians.
In terms of what Canadians think, public support for a referendum on the Senate is growing. An Angus Reid survey from July, just some months ago, showed 71% of Canadians were in favour of holding a referendum to decide the future of the Senate. Members of the Conservative government stand in the House virtually every day and say that they have received a strong mandate from the Canadian public. They received 39% of the vote in the last election and 61% of Canadians did not support them. They consider 39% of the Canadian public to be a strong mandate. I hope members of the Conservative government recognize that when 71% of Canadians support a referendum on the Senate that is an even stronger mandate.
Thirty-six per cent of Canadians support the abolition of the Senate right now and that is without any kind of public education campaign or national discourse or dialogue, which I am sure would elevate that number to well over 50% very quickly. There have been 13 attempts to reform the Senate since 1900 and all of them have failed.
I want to outline what the bill would do.
The bill would restrict all senators appointed to the Senate after October 14, 2008, to a single nine-year term. It purports to give provinces and territories the opportunity to choose to hold elections at their cost and to determine which names will be submitted to the Prime Minister for his consideration. The bill clearly states that the Prime Minister is not required to appoint anyone so-called elected by the provinces. The bill would not make it mandatory that the Prime Minister would appoint a person so elected. In other words, it does not actually change the way senators are currently appointed, which is that the Prime Minister is free to appoint whomever he or she chooses.
Bill C-7 appears from the outset to be a rather vague and once again confused legislation, which is clumsily attempting to pursue a number of objectives without any clear focus. The reforms outlined in the bill continue the undemocratic nature of the Senate and do not provide, in any way, what Canada needs as a modern democratic nation.
I will go through some of the major flaws in the bill.
When I said that the government had been a little bit confused, previous Conservative bills called for federally-regulated electoral processes. This one calls for provincially-regulated electoral processes. Another bill the Conservatives tabled called for eight-year term limits. This one has nine-year term limits.
The Conservatives have not properly consulted with the provinces about whether they agree with the content of the bill. When the bill was first introduced in June, Conservative senators, even those appointed by the current Prime Minister, pushed back against any plans for Senate term limits, even those who were supposedly appointed after giving their word that they would respect term limits.
The bill would retain the fundamental flaw that senators would remain unaccountable to the Canadian people. By only being allowed to serve one term, senators would never have to face the public to account for the promises they made to get elected or the decisions that they took in the previous nine years. Then they would get a pension for life after they left office. So much for fiscal accountability from the Conservatives.
Having an elected Senate would fundamentally change the nature of politics in Canada. It would create a two-tier Senate where those who were elected likely would feel that they would have more legitimacy. Later in my speech I will talk more about where we run into conflicts with the role and authority of the provinces to speak on behalf of the people in those provinces versus the senators.
Since the Senate has virtually the same powers as the House, an elected Senate would give greater legitimacy for the Senate to introduce legislation or oppose bills sent from the House of Commons. We very well could end up with the same kind of gridlock that we see in the United States, and I will talk about that in a few minutes as well.
The safest, the most conservative approach to the Senate is to abolish it. We know how the House of Commons works, but we have no idea what would happen with an elected Senate.
Let us reflect on the history and role of the Senate which originated in the British parliamentary system as the House of Lords. For hundreds of years the so-called upper chamber has been a symbol of nobility and power in place to prevent the commoners in the lower house from affecting the privileged lives of those who enjoy more than their fair share of the product of the nation. Indeed, our own Prime Minister has described the Senate as “a relic of the 19th century”, echoing my view that its presence continues to give merit to an outdated concept.
During the last election, Jack Layton said that something had changed with the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister used to talk about being democratically accountable. He used to talk about things like the Senate being something that had no business opposing or blocking legislation from the House of Commons, where senators who were appointed had no business being patronage appointments.
The Prime Minister has stuffed the Senate with his political friends and with failed candidates. He either allowed or required the unelected senators to block environmental legislation passed democratically in the House of Commons after three readings. It is funny how things change when someone is in power.
The bill would do nothing to address the wider issues around the Senate, that its relevance and role comes from a shameful past of elitism and distrust of the ability of the common people to govern themselves. How else do we explain a requirement that to hold a Senate seat, one must own land? What does that say in 2011, in modern Canada, to all the millions of Canadians who rent or who do not own land? Is it that they are not fit to pass legislation in the Senate of our country? The government does nothing to change that rule.
I said that these reforms were not what Canada needs. This is an important message which must be conveyed to Canadians across the country. We have a tendency in this modern era to hear the word “reform” and automatically assume that this must be a good thing, something that we should greet with open arms. However, just because something represents reform does not necessarily make it good reform. Bill C-7 is not good reform. It represents reform that will make Canada's democracy far less efficient, much less predictable and is much more radical than the government will admit.
By describing the bill as radical, the government has presented it as an evolution of our democratic principles. However, the truth is these reforms would dramatically change the way in which our Parliament operates.
Bill C-7 is being discussed as simply a method of increasing democratic legitimacy in our system, but in reality it would not do that. In fact, it risks imperilling the very democratic premise it purports to improve. It would result in a complete change in the way our Parliament operates, with a significantly stronger and more active upper chamber. This will undoubtedly create challenges, some of which will undermine the efficiency and effectiveness of government.
By electing the Senate as well as the House of Commons, we will create two parliamentary bodies that both may claim to have a mandate to govern. This is a very dangerous situation for Canada to be in. Parliament would lose the clarity that it currently has regarding where ultimate authority lies, in the democratically elected representatives in the House of Commons.
The importance of clarity in this area is illustrated by events from the last Parliament when my NDP colleague tabled Bill C-311, which was a climate change accountability act. The bill went through all three readings in debate in the House of Commons, went through democratic votes and passed. The bill was then referred to the Senate where the Conservative majority in the Senate, who are not elected by anybody, who are not accountable to anybody, who sit in that chamber for $135,000 a year until they are 75 years of age, voted to kill that legislation. That is not democratic; it is autocratic.
The 2006 Conservative Party platform stated that, “An unelected Senate should not be able to block the will of the elected House in the 21st century”. What kind of hypocrisy is that? The Conservative Party went to the people of the country five years ago and said that its position was the Senate, which is unelected, should not block any parliamentary legislation that had been passed by the House of Commons. Five years later the government caused its Conservative senators to do exactly that. That is not undemocratic. That is hypocritical and unethical. It was a lie and that is wrong.
On these grounds, the actions of the Senate, on those two occasions, were unwarranted and unacceptable. It is our current system that allows us to draw this conclusion. It is clear that in a parliamentary democracy, ultimate authority must lie with the elected chamber and not with the appointed one.
Again, the fact is this bill would muddy those waters. If these reforms were implemented, then the Senate would have every right to throw out a bill that had already passed through the House of Commons as the senators, at least those who had been elected, would have an equal democratic mandate to the members in this place, or may very well claim so.
No clearer indication can be given about the dangers of this kind of system than what we have seen recently in the United States. With the house of representatives and the senate there having equal democratic mandates and being controlled by two separate parties, the world financial markets were almost brought to their knees. Once again, a piece of legislation concerning the debt limit in the United States was raised and the bill to borrow more money to keep the economy going had to be passed. The U.S. Congress had passed similar legislation many times before without a hitch, but on that occasion, the well-being of the American people was firmly put to one side as the two parties battled it out to achieve their own partisan goals.
This is what the bill risks here. Had one of those two political institutions had the clear authority over the other any chance of this kind of situation developing would be non-existent.
That has been the history of the House of Commons and Senate up to now. The Senate, being unelected, has always by convention refused to exercise its de jure powers and instead restricted itself only to holding up legislation, but never to blocking it, until the Conservative government of this Prime Minister came into being.
I would like to raise the issue of the makeup of the Senate going forward if the reform outlined in the bill were implemented. These changes would result in a completely incoherent upper chamber with two tiers of senators. Some would be subject to term limits for nine years and be elected, others would be appointed and could serve until age 75. What kind of message does this send to Canadians, or people all over the world about the reputation of our democratic processes? How can a parliamentary institution operate when one member has a fresh mandate from the electorate, while the person sitting next that member has been there for 25 years with no input from those who his or her decisions affect?
The divisive nature of the reforms also mean that there is a conflict set up between the provinces and the Senate. Which body would truly speak on behalf of the people of that province? I would argue that it is the provincial governments of the country set up by our Constitution that have a legitimate democratic mandate to speak for the people of those provinces, not the Senate, or senators from those provinces, many of whom do not even live in those provinces and have only a very tangential relationship with those provinces.
I know I am running out of time so I want to talk about a couple of quick facts that I think are important; one is money. The Conservative government that has given us a massive $610 billion debt and the largest deficits in Canadian history still wants to maintain a chamber that costs Canadian taxpayers over $100 million per year and is undemocratic.
We could abolish the Senate, as the New Democrats have suggested, and save the taxpayers $100 million a year with absolutely not one iota of deleterious affect on the democratic health of our nation. We could make our government more efficient and more effective. We could be quicker. I have heard members opposite talk about the slow rate with which it passes legislation. They are frustrated by how long it takes to get legislation passed.
By abolishing the Senate we could dispense with three readings and committee study, and speed up legislation, which is what Canadians want in this country, according to the Conservatives.
Why do the Conservatives not abolish the Senate? Why do they tinker around the edges? Why do they continue to take a fundamentally flawed and undemocratic chamber and continue to make it a flawed and undemocratic chamber? It makes no sense.
I want to talk briefly about the people of Vancouver Kingsway. I come from a riding where David Emerson was elected as a Liberal and two weeks later crossed the floor to sit as a Conservative. The people of Vancouver Kingsway rose up like few citizens, or few ridings, in this country have ever done. They loudly expressed their commitment to democracy in this country because what Mr. Emerson did was a betrayal of democracy.
Here, we are talking about a chamber that is stuffed with failed Conservative candidates, like Yonah Martin, Josée Verner, Fabian Manning, people who ran in elections, placed themselves before the people of the country for their democratic mandate and were rejected, then find themselves appointed by the Prime Minister to the Senate and serve as legislators, even though the people of this country said they did not want to give them their trust or a mandate to do so. That is outrageous. That is an outrage in a democracy, when former fundraisers and failed Conservative candidates end up in the Senate. The Liberals were no better. They did the exact same thing when they were in power.
It is time that people in this country follow the New Democratic lead and abolish the Senate. That is the only responsible, reasonable, democratic measure that can be taken in this country, and I urge all members of the House to do so.
Opposition Motion--Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
September 29th, 2011 / 6 p.m.
Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON
Madam Speaker, very clearly, a first step for this country would have been to implement Bill C-311 on the environment. We had the opportunity as a Canadian group of politicians to be a leader in the world and that was defeated, as I recall, in the Senate. I think that would have been an amazing step, and that was originally sponsored by the late Jack Layton who spent a lifetime involved with the environment.
As well, we talked about the revitalization of buildings across our country, the variety of things we could be doing to put people to work. People could start off at a lower level in construction trades by refitting homes and learn the skills necessary to progress in a trade so that project, which we estimated at $2 billion, over time would have created a situation where homes were properly protected from the environment, heating and cooling loss, and all of those things, and at the same time train people and supply some hope for them.
This was a comprehensive question that requires a lot more time than I have to answer it.