An Act to amend the Supreme Court Act (understanding the official languages)
Yvon Godin NDP
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
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Language Skills Act
Private Members' Business
May 1st, 2013 / 7:10 p.m.
Anne Minh-Thu Quach Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the remarkable work done by my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent in getting this bill through by bringing together all members from all parties of the House. This member often works in a non-partisan way. She is very open, very patient and she does excellent groundwork. She brings people together. She takes the time to explain things to people, but she also takes the time to listen to every concern. She is extremely present. She has shed some light on bilingualism, on the quality and the importance of bilingualism within our institution. She proves her own bilingualism every day.
I could also point out the excellent work done by the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, who has been fighting for years to achieve bilingualism everywhere, in every aspect of his work. In fact, is working on Bill C-208, which would require Supreme Court judges to be bilingual. It has been a very long haul, but he is very passionate about it. He is doing a great job. That member is the official opposition critic for official languages.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the important committee work done by the hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber, our deputy critic for official languages. He gave a very passionate speech in both official languages. He is a credit to Bill C-419, which has to do with language skills.
I am very proud to rise in the House to support this important bill. There is a minority anglophone community in my riding. It is my duty as their representative to improve my knowledge and use of English. This back and forth is very enriching and allows me to take my knowledge and abilities much further.
This bill promotes both languages, but it goes even further and promotes both cultures. It requires a number of officers of Parliament to acknowledge that richness, to acknowledge the subtleties of each culture and to allow people to stand tall, no matter which language they use.
The 10 positions listed in the bill include the Auditor General of Canada, the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada. The commissioner appeared before the Standing Committee on Official Languages. However, it is somewhat unfortunate that the Conservatives did not follow his recommendations.
He asked that the preamble be kept because it was useful. It seemed useful to us as well. This is rather unfortunate because it contained elements that were key to clarifying the importance of bilingualism. It explained why officers need to be able to speak and understand both French and English. I would like to read the preamble for you.
Whereas the Constitution provides that English and French are the official languages of Canada;
That is from the Constitution, which recognizes that both languages are equivalent and equal and recognizes two peoples. The preamble goes on to say:
Whereas English and French have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of Parliament;
Whereas members of the Senate and the House of Commons have the right to use English or French during parliamentary debates and proceedings;
And whereas persons appointed with the approval by resolution of the Senate, the House of Commons or both Houses of Parliament must be able to communicate with members of those Houses in both official languages;
These ideas are no longer officially part of Bill C-419 because the Conservatives did not want them there despite the recommendation of Canada's Commissioner of Official Languages.
The commissioner also recommended that interim appointments also be granted to officers competent in both languages. That was cut as well.
I would like to continue with the list of positions subject to this legislation: the Privacy Commissioner, the Information Commissioner, the Senate Ethics Officer, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying, the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner and the President of the Public Service Commission.
Back when I was a new MP, I had the opportunity to ask the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner some questions, and I was very happy that he could answer me in my mother tongue, given that many nuances of the English language escaped me. I was very relieved that he could help me.
In closing, I am very happy to support the bill sponsored by the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, who is doing an excellent job.
I hope that all members of the House will support this bill so that it can be made law, enabling us to promote Canada's two languages, French and English, fairly and equally.
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.
Supreme Court Act
June 13th, 2011 / 3:05 p.m.
Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-208, An Act to amend the Supreme Court Act (understanding the official languages).
I would like to thank the hon. member for Gatineau who has seconded my bill.
This is not the first time I have introduced this bill in the House of Commons. As members know, I am very persistent and I tell myself that one day it will happen. This bill would ensure that future Supreme Court judges will be chosen from among candidates who understand both French and English without the help of an interpreter. I believe that everyone should be equal before the law and should have the right, without distinction, to equal protection in law in both of the country's official languages.
I call upon members from all parties, all senators and the people of Canada to support this bill so that every Canadian is treated more fairly before the Supreme Court.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)