Senate Reform Act
An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits
Tim Uppal Conservative
Introduction and First Reading
Subscribe to a feed of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-7.
Extension of Sitting Hours
May 21st, 2013 / 12:05 p.m.
Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC
Mr. Speaker, I apologize for interrupting my colleague just at the beginning of his speech on the justification for the motion that he has just presented to the House, but we have a point of order that we need to raise because I think it establishes a couple of important things for you, as Speaker, to determine before we get into the context and the particulars of this motion.
Specifically, I will be citing Standing Order 13, which says:
Whenever the Speaker is of the opinion that a motion offered to the House is contrary to the rules and privileges of Parliament, the Speaker shall apprise the House thereof immediately, before putting the question thereon, and quote the Standing Order or authority applicable to the case.
This is the standing order that we cite, because we have looked at the motion the government has presented here today with some notice given last week.
This motion goes against the Standing Orders and certainly the spirit of Parliament. The government is not allowed to break the rules of Parliament that protect the rights of the minority, the opposition and all members of the House of Commons who have to do their jobs for the people they represent. This motion is very clearly contrary to the existing Standing Orders.
I have some good examples to illustrate this. In my opinion, there is no urgency that would justify the government's heavy-handed tactics to prevent members from holding a reasonable debate on its agenda. I say “agenda”, but for a long time now it has been difficult to pin down what this government's agenda is exactly. This is nothing new.
The motion comes to us today at a difficult time, but just because the government held a brief caucus meeting and is facing numerous problems and a few scandals, it is not justified in violating the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. No one would accept those excuses. There is no historical basis for the government to use the Standing Orders in this way. That does not work.
There are a few important things we need to point out. One is that it behooves us to have some explanation of what this motion actually does. For those of us who do not intimately follow the rules and history of Parliament, it can be quite confusing not in terms of the intention of what the government has read but certainly in the implications. It needs some translation, not French to English or English to French, but translation as to what it actually means for the House of Commons. That is why we believe a point of order exists for this motion.
The motion essentially would immediately begin something that would ordinarily begin in a couple of weeks, which is for the House to sit until midnight to review legislation. This is somewhat ironic from a government that has a bad history with respect to moving legislation correctly through the process and allowing us to do our work, which is what we are here to do on behalf of Canadians.
I am not alone in seeing that the government has shown the intention of having some urgency with respect to 23 bills, 14 of which have not even been introduced since the last election. Suddenly there is great urgency, when in fact it is the government that has set the agenda. The urgency is so great that it has to fundamentally change the rules of how we conduct ourselves in this place in response to an urgency that did not exist until this moment.
One has to question the need. Why the panic? Why now, and why over these pieces of legislation? Are they crucial to Canada's economic well-being? Is it to restore the social safety net that the government has brutalized over the last number of years? What is the panic and what is the urgency?
Context sets everything in politics, and the context that the government exists under right now is quite telling. Every time I have had to stand in this place raising points of order and countering the closure and time allocation motions that the government uses, I am often stating and citing that this is a new low standard for Parliament. I have thought at times that there was not much more it could do to this place to further erode the confidence of Canadians or further erode the opportunity for members of Parliament to speak, yet it has again invented something new, and here we are today debating that motion.
That is why we believe that Standing Order 13 needs to be called. It is because it is very clear that when a motion is moved that is contrary to the rules and privileges of Parliament—which is what I would underline, as it is the important part—the Speaker must involve himself or herself in the debate and ask that the debate no longer proceed.
The privileges of members of Parliament are not the privileges that are being talked about by our friends down the hall to falsely claim money that did not exist or privileges of limo rides and trips around the world. The privileges of Parliament that speak constitutionally to the need for Parliament are that members of Parliament have the opportunity to scrutinized and debate government bills.
Just before the riding week, we saw the government introduce another time allocation on a bill that had received exactly 60 minutes of debate. Somehow the Conservatives felt that had exhausted the conversation on a bill they had sat on for years, and suddenly the panic was on. We are seeing this pattern again and again with a government that is facing more scandal.
I was looking through the news today. Every morning I start my day with the news and we consider what we should ask the government in question period. There are some days when the focus can be difficult and one may not be sure what the most important issue of the day is. However, the challenge for us today as the official opposition is that, as there are so many scandals on so many fronts, how do we address them all within the short time we have during question period or in debate on bills.
I listened to my friend for Langley, who has been somewhat in the news of late on his attempt to speak on issues he felt were important to his constituents. We saw him move a new private member's bill today. He withdrew the former bill, and now he is moving one again. The New Democrats will support the bill going to committee for study because we think there are some options and availability for us to look at the legislation and do our job.
Whether it is muzzling of their own MPs and the Conservatives' attempt to muzzle all MPs in the House of Commons, or using private members' bills to avoid the scrutiny that is applied to government legislation, and one important piece of that scrutiny is the charter defence of the legislation and so, in a sense, the Conservatives are using the back door to get government legislation through and move their agenda in another way, or the omnibus legislation, which has received so much controversy in Canada as the government has increasingly abused the use of omnibus legislation, or the F-35 fiasco, or the recent Auditor General's report, or the former parliamentary budget officer who was under much abuse and the new Parliamentary Budget Officer who has asked for the same things he did, or infamously, prorogation, time and time again the pattern is the same. The government has complete disdain for the House.
Whether it be the scandals in the Senate, or the China FIPA accord, or the recent problems with the Prime Minister's former chief of staff, or the employment insurance scandals, or the $3 billion missing, or the 300,000 jobs that have not been replaced, the government keeps trying to avoid proper scrutiny out of embarrassment. However, the House of Commons exists for one thing and one thing alone, which is to hold the government to account.
The government will make some claims that the urgency right now is because there has not been enough progress on legislation. Therefore, the Conservatives have to hit the panic button and would have the House sit until midnight, which has consequences beyond just being a late night, and I will get into those consequences in a moment because they support our notion that it infringes upon the entitlements of members of Parliament to debate legislation properly.
The Conservatives' record shows, and this is not speculation or conspiracy, that when they ram legislation through, they more often than not get it wrong. That is not just expensive for the process of law making, but it is expensive for Canadians. These things often end up in court costing millions and millions of dollars and with victims of their own making. The scandal that exists in the Senate is absolutely one of their own making. The Prime Minister can point the finger where he likes, but he appointed those senators.
Specific to the point of order I am raising, this motion would lower the amount of scrutiny paid to legislation. It would allow the government extended sittings, which are coming in the second week of June anyway, as the Standing Orders currently exist, to allow the government to do that, but the Conservatives want to move the clock up and have more legislation rammed through the House.
Also, as you would know, Mr. Speaker, the order of our day includes concurrence reports from committee, which allow the House to debate something that happened in committee which can sometimes be very critical, and many are moved from all sides. However, they would not get started until midnight under the Conservatives' new rules. Therefore, we would study and give scrutiny on what happened at committee from midnight until two or three o'clock in the morning.
As well, emergency debates would not start until midnight. Just recently we had a debate, Mr. Speaker, that your office agreed to allow happen, which was quite important to those implicated. We were talking about peace and war and Canada's role in the world. It was a critical emergency debate that certainly went into the night. However, the idea is that we would take emergency debates that the Speaker's office and members of Parliament felt were important and start them at midnight and somehow they would be of the same quality as those started at seven o'clock in the evening.
The scrutiny of legislation has become much less important than the government moving its agenda through, which is an infringement on our privilege as members of Parliament. The Conservative's so-called urgency, their panic, is not a justification for overriding the privileges that members of Parliament hold dear.
As for progress, just recently we moved the nuclear terrorism bill through, Bill S-9.
We also had much debate but an improvement on Bill C-15, the military justice bill, to better serve our men and women in the Forces. The original drafting was bad. The Conservatives wanted to force it forward and we resisted. My friend from St. John's worked hard and got an amendment through that would help those in the military who found themselves in front of a tribunal.
We have the divorce in civil marriages act, which has been sitting and sitting. It would allow people in same-sex marriages to file for and seek divorce. All we have offered to the government is one vote and one speaker each. The government refuses to bring the bill forward and I suspect it is because it would require a vote. It is a shame when a government resists the idea that a vote would be a good thing for members of Parliament to declare their intentions on, certainly something as important as civil liberties and rights for gay men and women.
I mentioned earlier why, in the infringement of this privilege, it causes great harm and distress not just to Parliament but to the country.
I asked my team to pull up the list of bills that were so badly written that they had to be either withdrawn or completely rewritten at committee and even in the Senate which, God knows, is a terrible strategy for any legislation.
There was the infamous or famous Bill C-30, the Internet snooping bill, which the Minister of Public Safety said something to the effect that either people were with the government or they were with child pornographers, which may be an example of the worst framing in Canadian political history. There has probably been worse, but that was pretty bad. The Conservatives had to kill the bill.
We have also seen Bill C-10, Bill C-31, Bill C-38 and Bill C-42, all of these bills were so badly written that oftentimes the government had to amend them after having voted for them. After saying they were perfect and ramming them through, invoking closure and shutting down debate, the Conservatives got to committee and heard from people who actually understood the issue and realized the law they had written would be illegal and would not work or fix the problem that was identified, and so they had to rewrite it. That is the point of Parliament. That is the point of the work we do.
We have also seen bills that have been challenged at great expense before the courts. Former Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act, with huge sections of the government's main anti-crime agenda, was challenged and defeated in court.
Bill C-38, arbitrarily eliminating backlog for skilled workers, was challenged and defeated.
Bill C-7, Senate term limits, was after years just now deferred to the Supreme Court. It is called “kicking it down the road”.
The essential thrust of our intention is in identifying the rules that govern us, and specifically Standing Order 13. The government has time and again talked about accountability before the Canadian people and talked about doing things better than its predecessors in the Liberal Party, the government that became so arrogant and so unaccountable to Canadians that the Conservatives threw it out of office. History repeats itself if one does not learn true lessons from history.
As I mentioned, Standing Order 27(1) already exists, and it allows the government to do exactly what we are talking about, but not starting until the last 10 sitting days. The Conservatives have said that there is so much on their so-called agenda that they have to do this early, allowing for less scrutiny, allowing for emergency debates to start at midnight, allowing for concurrence debates that come from committees to start at midnight and go until two, three or four o'clock in the morning.
This is contrary to the work of parliamentarians. If the Conservatives are in such a rush, why do they not negotiate? Why do they not actually come to the table and do what parliamentarians have done throughout time, which is offer the to and fro of any proper negotiation between reasonable people?
We have moved legislation forward. My friend across the way was moving an important motion commemorating war heroes. We worked with that member and other members to ensure the bill, which came from the Senate, made it through speedy passage.
Parliament can work if the Conservatives let it work, but it cannot work if they keep abusing it. Canadians continue to lose faith and trust in the vigour of our work and the ability to hold government to account. We see it time and again, and I am sure, Mr. Speaker, you have as well, in talking to constituents who say that they are not sure what goes on here anymore, that it just seems like government will not answer questions, that everyday they ask sincere and thoughtful questions and the Conservatives do not answer. Bills get shut down with motions of closure.
Let us look at the current government's record.
Thirty-three times, the Conservatives have moved allocation on legislation, an all-time high for any government in Canadian history. Through war and peace, through good and bad, no government has shut down debate in Parliaments more than the current one.
Ninety-nine point three per cent of all amendments moved by the opposition have been rejected by the government. Let us take a look at that stat for a moment. That suggests that virtually 100% of the time, the government has been perfectly right on the legislation it moves. All the testimony from witnesses and experts, comments from average Canadians, when moving amendments to the legislation before us, 99.3% of the time the government rejects it out of hand. It ends up in court. It ends up not doing what it was meant to do.
Ten Conservative MPs have never spoken to legislation at all. I will note one in particular. The Minister of Finance, who has not bothered to speak to his own bills, including the omnibus legislation, Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, which caused so much controversy. He did not bother to stand and justify his actions. I find it deplorable and it is not just me, Canadians as well, increasingly so.
This is my final argument. We cannot allow this abuse to continue. This pattern has consequences, not just for what happens here today or tomorrow, but in the days, weeks, months and years to come and the Parliaments to come. If we keep allowing for and not standing up in opposition to bad ideas and draconian measures, we in a sense condone them.
We say that Parliament should become less irrelevant. We think that is wrong. We think what the government is doing is fundamentally wrong. It is not right and left; it is right and wrong. When the government is wrong in its treatment and abuse of Canada's Parliament, that affects all Canadians, whatever their political persuasion. We built this place out of bricks and mortar to do one thing: to allow the voice of Canadians to be represented, to speak on behalf of those who did not have a voice and to hold the government of the day to account. Lord knows the government needs that more than anything. It needs a little adult supervision from time to time to take some of those suggestions and put a little, as we say, water in its wine.
It has the majority. This is the irony of what the government is doing. In moving more time allocation than any government in history and shutting down debate more than any government in history and using what it is today, it speaks to weakness not strength. The Conservatives have the numbers to move legislation through if they saw fit, but they do not. They move legislation, they say it is an agenda and they hold up a raft of bills.
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
April 30th, 2013 / 10:10 a.m.
Peter MacKay Minister of National Defence
moved that Bill C-15, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in support of Bill C-15, which aims to amend the National Defence Act to strengthen Canada’s military justice and grievance systems.
This legislation is a comprehensive package of amendments that will enhance the military justice system, clarify the roles and responsibilities of the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal and improve the military police complaints process and military grievance system.
As a former practitioner of the law, Mr. Speaker, you could vouch for the fact that the modernization of law, including the justice system for the Canadian Forces, is an extremely important undertaking and is a long time overdue.
As the House has heard throughout its considerable consideration of the bill, the military justice system is essential to maintaining the discipline, efficiency and morale of the Canadian Armed Forces.
The requirement for a separate, unique system of military justice has long been endorsed by Parliament and the Supreme Court, and is further recognized in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The framework of Canada's military justice system has also been validated in two independent reviews. The first was conducted by Chief Justice Lamer and was tabled in the House in 2003. A second review, by Chief Justice LeSage, was tabled last year following the introduction of the bill.
The amendments proposed in Bill C-15 were developed to address those recommendations that are still outstanding from the Lamer report.
Bill C-15 encapsulates the government's previous legislative efforts to address these recommendations, namely through Bill C-7, Bill C-45 and Bill C-41, so the bill is essentially in its fourth iteration.
The content of the bill has been thoroughly debated and reviewed. It has been before the House, where some 100 speakers from all parties participated in the debate. Most recently, the Standing Committee on National Defence met eight times in February in examining the bill. Three sessions were devoted to clause-by-clause review of the proposed legislation, and the committee heard from 16 expert witnesses from the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces and non-governmental organizations.
I want to take this opportunity to thank my House colleagues and the witnesses for their diligence and dedication in the study of the bill.
I would also be remiss if I did not note the leadership of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, the member for Ajax—Pickering and members of the committee, as well as Colonel Mike Gibson, who has dedicated tremendous time and effort in bringing the bill forward to this point.
The bill before the House today will make several important changes to the National Defence Act and enhance the military justice system and grievance framework. These amendments include setting out a wider and more flexible range of sentencing options, enhancing the treatment of victims by introducing victim impact statements at courts martial, and clarifying the process and timelines for future independent reviews of the military justice system.
I am pleased to say that members from both sides of the House are generally in support of enhancing the military justice system and grievance process. However, during second reading and in committee, it became apparent that misconceptions regarding certain provisions have persisted, specifically, those provisions related to criminal record exemptions and the Vice Chief of Defence Staff’s authority to provide instructions to the Canadian Forces Provost Marshall during investigations.
I would like to take this opportunity to make the government's position clear on these issues and to put to rest any misunderstandings that could further delay the implementation of this important legislation.
Let me begin by quickly addressing concerns related to the criminal records aspect in clause 75 of the bill, because it seemed to be the focal point of many of the comments here in the House and in committee.
While summary trials are necessary to maintain discipline within the Canadian Armed Forces, clause 75 specifically recognizes that most summary trial conviction offences are not sufficiently severe to justify a criminal record for the disciplined military members within the meaning of the Criminal Records Act.
Specifically, this clause ensures that service members would no longer be required to apply for a record suspension, also known as a pardon, for convictions that would not constitute an offence for the purposes of the Criminal Records Act. That is to say, it simply would not show on a person's record upon leaving the Canadian Forces if he or she has been convicted under one of the offences specified in the act.
In response to concerns under the scope of exempted convictions, the committee accepted the government's proposal to amend the bill to expand the list of exemptions. National Defence estimates that this provision would exempt approximately 95% of summary trial convictions from resulting in a record within the meaning of the Criminal Records Act and eliminate any undue hardship to members transitioning to civilian life. Therefore, most would leave the Canadian Forces with an unblemished record if convicted under one of the mentioned offences.
In committee, members also expressed concerns over a provision to give the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff the statutory authority to provide case-specific direction to the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal during investigations. The intent of this provision is to statutorily define the relationship between the Provost Marshal and the chain of command and to enhance the transparency and accountability of military police investigations.
Unlike civilian police forces, Canada's military police may be asked to operate and conduct investigations in operational theatres, as we have seen in places like Afghanistan, where active combat is taking place. Taking this into account, there may be the need in exceptional circumstances for the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff to issue special instructions to the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal. I say this because surely an operational combat zone would qualify as an exceptional circumstance. Special instructions would balance the investigative independence of the Provost Marshal with the safety and security of those involved in the investigation and the operational imperatives of the Canadian Armed Forces.
This bill would establish in statute a mechanism for issuing such instructions, thereby achieving three objectives. Firstly, maximizing accountability by identifying a single authority for such instructions, namely, the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff. Secondly, establishing a statutory requirement for such instructions to be issued in writing, therefore improving transparency. Finally, further increasing transparency by requiring such instructions to be made public, unless the Provost Marshal considers that it would not be in the best interests of the administration of justice to do so.
There are also provisions here where one can envision that information, particularly intelligence that was passed to the Canadian Forces by allies, would be protected in such circumstances.
In closing, our troops perform extraordinary tasks each day—often at great risk to themselves—in service of our country. They need—and deserve—to know that they can have confidence in the fairness and strength of the military justice system that governs and protects them.
This legislation before the House today has been years in the making. In fact, if we trace its history, it goes back to a period before this government came to office. The amendments have now had the benefit of a full second reading debate in the House of Commons and committee study. I strongly urge the House to support implementing these important provisions without delay.
It will benefit the men and women in uniform of the Canadian Forces and their families. It will benefit these extraordinary Canadians who do so much on behalf of our country at home and abroad.
Business of Supply
March 5th, 2013 / 5:05 p.m.
Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON
The member is right. Instead of talking about jobs and the economy, we are talking about a topic that the NDP believes will add some political oomph.
I talked about the number of speakers we had in the House and how many members from the NDP rose to speak and said the same thing over and over again. It was enlightening reading some of these speeches over again after having listened to them in the first place. However, we have also had a number of committee meetings on this same topic. Therefore, it not only happened here, it happened at committees, whether it was Bill C-7 or previous democratic reform pieces on the Senate. Since 2006, I am told there have been 28 committee meetings that have taken place on Senate reform.
As the chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs that had to deal with this, it was a topic of discussion and a bit of filibustering, a delaying tactic.
I was a stay-at-home defenceman. People may not be able to tell by my appearance, but in hockey I seldom got past centre ice. My coach thought I was a far better defenceman than I was a goal scorer. Therefore, I know when players are delaying the game and I know what it looks like when players are not rushing the puck. I would suggest the party opposite has gone even further on not rushing the puck.
Business of Supply
March 5th, 2013 / 4:55 p.m.
Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON
Mr. Speaker, thanks for the fair warning about the amount of time. I am sure I will be warned before it is over; I love the signals that are given by the chair.
Today I am going to discuss a number of things on the motion that has been brought forward by the party opposite. The first thing I want to cover is something I am hearing a lot of in the House today, whether this is truly the best use of our time.
I have to say that when visiting the coffee shops back in St. Thomas or Aylmer, it is not. We should be here talking about jobs and the economy. I certainly have that conversation a lot. When we get out of this place to spend time back home, the real answer is that it is about jobs and the economy. If the discussion of the Senate ever came up, it would probably be because I brought it up. I chair our procedure and House affairs committee, and that is where we talk about this. I might be asked what I have been doing, and if we talked about Senate reform that would probably be the only reason it would come up on the street.
The real question is about jobs and the economy. This government and this Prime Minister has proven that we can multi-task; we can do a number of things at once. Here we are, sharing in that multi-tasking, covering off a topic that does not seem to be of much use to us today.
I will talk a little about the priorities of this place and how we got to where we are today on this topic. When we get to Senate reform, I will talk a little about Senate reform and what has been put forward by this Prime Minister and this party in our time here, and the help or hurt, whichever way members would like to take it, of the party opposite on helping move that through expeditiously to create the reform they all look for. I will point out the good points and the bad. Certainly another piece we will talk about will be the Senate reform that we are already working on.
I will spend some time talking about our referral to the Supreme Court for an opinion on some of the topics we are talking about, and how instead of the filibustering, talking about topics over and over, and showboating, that we will probably get better answers waiting for the opinion of the Supreme Court and then taking action based on what it has to say.
Unlike some of the speakers before me, who have already come to the conclusion that they need to abolish the Senate, before they have even done the consultation that is talked about in the motion, I will wait and listen to the Supreme Court's ruling first. From that, I will formulate a plan going forward, and I will certainly follow up on Bill C-7, Senate Reform Act, that is currently before the House, which has been referenced. We will do that. We will move forward in that fashion. I think that would be appropriate.
Let us talk about those things. Let us talk about jobs and the economy, and talk about how this fits in. I cannot get up to speak in the House without sharing how the motion before us today on Senate reform is not the topic that is enthusiastically embraced back home. Most often, the topic is on jobs and the economy, and I wish that had been the opposition's choice to talk about today. We could be vigorously debating our opinions on something about jobs, the economy and growth.
However, here we are again. I do not do this often, but I am going to quote one of my friends from across the way. I will talk about one of my friends, the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent. She is special. She does a great job on committee, and we have had discussions on some of these issues.
This morning I was listening, as closely as I possibly could to the topic, when I would rather be talking about jobs and the economy. I listened to the member's speech. In answers to questions, she did respond, which I thought was very appropriate, twice, and it was great.
First, I believe she said thank you for referring it to the Supreme Court. She is right. It was an appropriate thing for us to do. Therefore, on behalf of all Canadians and myself, she is welcome.
The other thing I believe she was asked about were some of the good things that happened in the Senate. The Senate has actually done some remarkable studies and research on topics. She said that they agreed that this had happened. It did work, that it was really what was going on over there.
We should not judge all for the lack of some and we should not judge an institution based on the hypocrisy of wanting today's talking points. It is only safe to say, that this is where we should go.
I find it somewhat strange that we are here today discussing the motion. When asked, the Leader of the Opposition could not clearly deny that he would not appoint senators. There is a bit of hypocrisy there also. Maybe we should have talked about that too.
I want to talk about another one of my other favourite members. The member for Hamilton Centre was up earlier today. I could listen to him for hours. I believe it is part of why I have a loss of hearing, because whether he is right or wrong, he is loud. Whether he is right or wrong, he will ensure that we hear what he has to say. I love him for that and, honestly, for his participation at committee also. He has been a good friend.
I would like to let him know that today I also looked through speeches and the number of times that Senate reform had come to the House and the number of times the members opposite had spoken. I will give a bit of a history lesson on some of that. There were some 40 speeches from the NDP alone on this. There were 88 opposition speakers. It has come forward for debate in the House on 17 days. There have been nine different committee meetings.
We are sometimes asked, where it is. We rotate legislation around from certain days, but I will give some thoughts on some of this.
BillC-7 was brought forward in June of 2011. It came to the House on September 30, 2011, with a couple of opposition party members speaking to it. On October 3, three more got up and spoke to it, I am sure in conjunction with a number of government members and members of the third party. On November 14, more members got up and spoke to it. On November 22, 15 different opposition members spoke on that day alone to Bill C-7, the Senate reform package.
I have been spending today reading through some of those speeches and watching as many speeches as I can in the House also. One would think that if we had to tell anyone the same thing over and over again, this many times, it has been said and done. The real answer is, apparently it is not. We are still putting more speakers up.
On December 7, 2011, two more speakers from the opposite side were up. On December 8, it was another bountiful day on Senate reform. Eleven more members from the opposition got up that day and spoke to Bill C-7.
We have now moved into 2012 on the bill. On February 27, 2012, the same thing occurred. Another seven members from the official opposition were up speaking that day.
The NDP members have found a niche, something they were looking for, a topic that they like, and that is what this is about.
I would like to paraphrase a speech I read today from the member for Winnipeg North, from November 2011, saying perhaps this was what this was about.
The NDP members have found a topic that they think will stir public interest and will move their interests forward, rather than they found a real interest in what would help in the democratic reform of our country.
We need to look more into what it will take to get it done and that leads me to the other topic of the referral to the Supreme Court and how with that in-hand, significant progress may actually work forward, when members quit standing and saying that the court will not accept that or coming up with other reasons as to why we have this legislation going forward.
Let us talk about what was referred to the Supreme Court.
First, the first piece of opinion we have asked the Supreme Court for is something pretty simple and that is term limits. What term would be appropriate for senators to have if indeed senators had term limits? Can we limit the terms of senators? I know that in the past, the retirement date was changed, so I think terms for senators is an opinion that the Supreme Court will come back to us with. We are suggesting nine years in the one piece of legislation, but we have asked the Supreme Court give us an opinion on a number of different terms.
I believe the last study I read at committee the average length of time served by a senator in our House was nine-point-something years and that was the average length of time a senator did serve in the Senate. Therefore, asking about term limits of nine years is probably very appropriate.
The next thing is the democratic selection of Senate nominees. We have asked an opinion of the Supreme Court about the democratic selection of nominees. Can we ask provinces to determine within their provinces who they would like their senators to be? If that happens, then they would be appointed by the Prime Minister to the Senate. Alberta has already chosen to do this. We have senators now who have been elected by the people of Alberta, representing provincially the province of Alberta in the Senate who have been appointed by our Prime Minister. We are asking for the Supreme Court's opinion on that topic to see whether that is a process we could continue to follow. Would that handle the democratic lack we have of unelected senators by having provinces elect them and then move them forward?
There are a couple of other pieces of opinion we have asked the Supreme Court for and one has to do with net worth for senators and the other has to do with what we are talking about today, the abolition of the Senate. We are asking the opinion of the Supreme Court on this very topic. I mentioned the hypocrisy piece that the member for Winnipeg North mentioned in his speech in November 2011, about bringing this topic forward for the sake of political reasons rather than for real democratic reform. We have hit on it exactly. The party opposite knows the Supreme Court has been asked for its opinion on this topic and yet what is its motion today? Let us spend the whole day talking about this instead of—
Business of Supply
March 5th, 2013 / 1:35 p.m.
Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC
Mr. Speaker, I thank my excellent colleague, the member for Hamilton Centre, for his passionate speech. It is always a pleasure to listen to him speak. We can see how passionate he is and that he is motivated to change our country for the better. When we share our time and work with people like him, we can see that it is possible to make this kind of reform.
My question for him is about the Senate and the answer we often hear from the government. The government tells us that its proposed reform in Bill C-7 is the best and that we should adopt it.
The government's proposal does not make any changes to the age of eligibility for being a senator. If their bill were adopted, senators would be nominated and someone who is 28 years old, like me, could not run. Since I am not yet 30, I could not be a senator.
I would like to hear what my colleague thinks about that. What kind of problems could that cause with respect to representation?
Business of Supply
March 5th, 2013 / 12:55 p.m.
Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be here today to debate a topic that is quite relevant in today's society, inasmuch as it seems that the Senate has been dominating the news cycle for the last month or so. A lot of Canadians will be interested to hear what members of the chamber have to say about the relevance of the Senate and whether it should be abolished, as the NDP suggests, or be reformed, as our government is proposing.
I should begin by giving some of my personal observations and where I have come from throughout the years to finally maintain a position on the Senate. I have to be quite honest: before I was elected as a member of Parliament, I leaned toward abolishing the Senate. At that point in time I did not really see the relevance of the Senate, because I did not understand the role that the Senate played. I think that would be true of most Canadians. Unfortunately, although most Canadians may know we have a Senate and may know we have an unelected upper house, they do not truly understand the role the Senate plays in today's society and in today's Parliament. I was one of those.
However, since I was elected as a member of Parliament in 2004, I have changed my views. Over the years, I have seen that the Senate does play an important and valuable role. However, I do not think the Senate is currently constructed in the correct manner.
We have seen from time to time—and all members of the House could attest to this—that over the last 100-plus years since Confederation, Senate committees have been able to explore issues that are of importance to all Canadians. I can list many valuable reports conducted and completed by Senate committees that influenced not only Parliament in the lower House but also how Canadians view certain subjects throughout the country.
It is not quite fair or accurate to say that the Senate should be abolished because it has outlived its usefulness. I do not believe that, now that I have seen the Senate at work. However, it is imperative that some fundamental changes be made to the Senate to allow it to perform at its utmost capacity. What I am talking about, quite frankly, is reform.
Right now, as everyone knows, senators are appointed. Even though there is a life cycle to the time that senators can spend in the upper chamber, it is far too long. One theoretically could be appointed to the upper house as early as the age of 30 and could sit in the Senate without fear of reprisal for 45 years. That is wrong. We have to impose term limits on senators, although the length of time for which senators should be appointed is up for debate. Our government has suggested a nine-year non-renewable term, but that length of time could certainly be debated. Some flexibility could be shown by our government if we got into meaningful debate about meaningful reform. Unfortunately, we never seem to be able to engage in that meaningful dialogue with the opposition ranks.
In addition to the term limits, which I will talk more about in a moment, there is one more fundamental reform that I would like to see enacted in the Senate, and that is the way in which senators are brought into the upper chamber. Right now, as I mentioned, it is through appointment. That is the wrong approach, primarily because we do not have the accountability that is required for senators.
Right now, as we all know, senators are primarily responsible to represent the regions from which they come, but through being appointed, there really seems to be a lack of accountability. If a senator is appointed and then fails to adequately represent his or her region, how does one make the senator account for his or her behaviour?
They cannot be fired. I suppose they could be dropped from the Senate if they conducted themselves in an untoward manner, but even then, there are only a few circumstances in which an individual could be dropped from the Senate.
However, in this place, all of us are completely accountable to our constituents. Why? It is because we are elected. If we do not represent our constituents to their satisfaction, we could lose our jobs, because every four years or so, we face the public. We have an election. That is basically a referendum on our performance. If my constituents are dissatisfied with the job I have been doing, they have the right, at the next federal election, at their next opportunity, to vote in someone else and express their dissatisfaction. However, in the Senate, the constituents of the region a senator represents have no such ability. Once a senator is appointed, the constituents of the region that senator is supposed to represent have really no ability to force that senator to account for his or her actions. That is absolutely wrong.
Therefore, I firmly believe that there should be some form of election. Whether it be through Senate consultations or direct election is up for debate. However, we need to have a process in place that allows and forces senators to be accountable to the people they represent.
We, as elected representatives, have term limits. Sometimes the term limits are as short as 18 months. Sometimes they are as long as four and a half years, because the term limit is from election to election, not to a maximum of 45 years.
The first time I was elected, in 2004, it was by the staggering plurality of 122 votes. Be assured that from that moment on, I paid great attention to the needs and demands of my constituents, because I knew that if I did not represent the wishes and the feelings of my constituents, the next time an election rolled around, I might not be sent back to this place. That is accountability, and that is the type of accountability we need in the upper chamber. That is why we need Senate reform.
Unfortunately, we have seen, on a number of occasions, that reform packages we have brought forward for discussion and debate in the House have been ultimately filibustered or rejected by members of the opposition. Therefore, I think we have taken the correct and prudent course of action by asking the Supreme Court to give its opinion.
We have brought forward a reference to the Supreme Court on four fundamental points that deal with the Senate and potential Senate reform. The first is term limits. We want the Supreme Court to advise Parliament on whether Parliament has the constitutional ability to set term limits for senators. We also want the Supreme Court to comment on the selection process and whether it would be constitutionally viable and achievable to have some selection process other than the current appointment process. Furthermore, we want the Supreme Court to comment on the number of senators for each particular region. We want it to talk about residency requirements. We also want the Supreme Court to comment on the issue before us today, which is whether the Senate could be abolished without the need for a constitutional amendment.
Anyone who has studied our Constitution, and we have many academics in the House who have become learned about the Canadian Constitution, would agree with one thing: while it is vitally necessary, it is also, and can be, from time to time an extremely complex and complicated document. There is still an argument, even with some of the basic questions about Senate reform, about whether constitutional amendments would be required to begin with, and if they were, what form constitutional amendments should take.
Some would argue that on certain reform initiatives, the 7/50 process would be required. For those people who are not aware, 7/50 simply means that certain constitutional amendments require a minimum of seven provinces, representing at least 50% of the population of Canada, to agree on a constitutional amendment before it could be put forward. However, others, even with the same democratic reform initiative, would argue that 7/50 is not the type of approach we should take and that we need unanimous consent. There is argument within the Constitution itself and debate among academics and constitutional experts, even within the democratic reform initiatives we have put forward. Does it require only a 7/50 approach, or will it require unanimous consent?
For us as parliamentarians to sit here and suggest that we know how to reform the Senate is, quite frankly, foolhardy. That is why we have asked the Supreme Court to give its opinion. I believe that once we had an opinion from the Supreme Court on a host of questions we have asked, we would be in a better position in this place to start moving forward. I do not believe, however, that we are currently prepared to even deal with the question put forward by the opposition today, the question of whether the Senate should be abolished, because we do not know, quite frankly, whether we have the constitutional ability to abolish the Senate. I do not know how many arguments have been proposed to date by members of the opposition, but I would challenge each and every one of them who suggest that we have the constitutional right and ability to abolish the Senate should we wish to do so. I challenge opposition members on that, because I do not believe we know if we have that ability.
The Supreme Court will render an opinion on that, hopefully sooner rather than later. However, even if it suggests to Parliament that we have, within certain guidelines, the constitutional ability to make fundamental changes to the Senate, such as abolishment, then and only then, I believe, should we start engaging in a debate on the future of the Senate. I firmly believe that we need to try to reform the Senate prior to abolishment and prior to even consideration of abolishment. As I mentioned at the outset of my speech, I believe that the Senate can perform a vital role in Canadian society, but we have to make some very obvious changes to the way in which it does business.
Opposition members seem to be suggesting today that there is no hope for the Senate, that its usefulness has outlived itself. I believe that they are shortsighted in their thinking. If they actually took a hard look at the accomplishments of the Senate over the past 100-plus years, they would understand, as I understand, that there is a vital role for the Senate to play. It has made contributions to Canadian society over the years, and I believe that it will continue to make vital contributions to both Parliament and Canadians across this country.
It is a difficult time for any parliamentarian right now to be talking about changing the Senate, in light of all the adverse media attention the Senate has been receiving. I recognize that. I understand that. I get that. However, I have to think that we need to set aside, if we can, just for a moment, some of the recent controversies we have seen occurring in the Senate and look over a longer period of time to see what the Senate has actually accomplished.
I would be the first to suggest that if, in my opinion, the Senate had not contributed vitally to democracy and the Canadian way of life that fine, we would do away with it. I do not share that view. I share the view of many other Canadians that the Senate can continue to play a vital role in today's society. We just need to make some fundamental changes, and that means reform.
Therefore, I would like to ask for unanimous consent to propose a motion, as I know some of my colleagues have done earlier today. I move that, notwithstanding any standing order or usual practice of the House, Bill C-7, an act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits be deemed to have been read the second time and referred to a committee of the whole, be considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage, and deemed read the third time and passed.
I believe that if the opposition is truly interested in making the Senate a viable force in Canadian society, it will support this unanimous consent motion.
Business of Supply
March 5th, 2013 / 12:25 p.m.
Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am very concerned that the democratic deficit in this place could be more urgently handled by focusing on those things that do not require opening the Constitution, such as removing the requirement for a leader to sign nomination papers and reducing the excess and unhealthy power of the PMO. However, when I look at Bill C-7, I do not see Senate reform. I see a dog's breakfast that would require the provinces to hold elections to different standards, different fundraising rules for a list of people who could be potentially appointed by the Prime Minister.
Business of Supply
March 5th, 2013 / 12:15 p.m.
Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON
Mr. Speaker, I thank the NDP member for his question.
First, the move in the United States from an appointed senate to an elected senate did not take place through a constitutional amendment. To my recollection, and I could be wrong, it started organically. I believe it started with the state of Oregon, which started to elect senators. It was not a constitutional amendment.
Second, the change in the United States from an unelected senate to an elected senate is the change precisely proposed in Bill C-7, the Senate reform act, which the government would like to see pass.
The United States did not abolish the senate as a solution to the fact that the senate had previously been unelected. That is the problem with the motion of the opposition, which proposes to abolish the Senate. That is a big difference compared to going to an elected Senate.
Business of Supply
March 5th, 2013 / 12:15 p.m.
Matthew Dubé Chambly—Borduas, QC
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech. He made some good arguments, even if we do not agree. But there is a major problem with what he said.
The Americans had the courage to consult the states and to proceed with constitutional amendments to improve their Senate. That is exactly what we are proposing that we do with the provinces. We are being criticized for trying to revisit the Constitution. It takes courage to change an institution that is suffering from institutional arthritis—if I can call it that.
He then talked about concentrating power in the executive branch of government, but it is very different in the United States. First, the executive branch is separate. In Canada, our biggest problem is that backbench government members refuse to hold ministers accountable, in committee, for example. So when debates in parliamentary committee are shut down, it can be difficult.
He can talk all he wants about responsible reform and having a debate on Bill C-7, but the Minister of State for Democratic Reform just criticized us for having too many speakers and for wanting to debate too much. The government needs to be consistent.
Business of Supply
March 5th, 2013 / noon
Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to speak to the NDP opposition motion in front of us today in the House. I will read it for the benefit of people who are watching this debate. The proposed motion states:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government of Canada, in consultation with the provinces and territories, should take immediate steps towards abolishing the unelected and unaccountable Senate of Canada.
There are numerous problems with this proposal. The first problem is that in many people's expert opinion, abolition of the Senate would be a fundamental constitutional amendment, and as such would require the unanimous consent of 11 legislatures in this country, that is, all 10 provinces and the Parliament of Canada. In addition, the precedent has been set in two referenda on separation that were held in the province of Quebec, and on the referendum on the Charlottetown Accord, that not only would 10 provincial legislatures and the Parliament of Canada need to agree to abolish the Senate, but that popular referenda or one single national referendum would be required to support that decision by these 11 Parliaments. From a practical point of view, abolition of the Senate is really a political impossibility.
In considering provinces like New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island, many of these provinces entered Confederation with the condition that they would be allotted a certain number of senators in the upper chamber. This was the deal that brought Newfoundland into Confederation in 1949. It was the deal that brought Prince Edward Island into Confederation, I think it was in 1871. It was the deal that brought the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, along with the United Province of Canada, into Confederation in 1867. These were fundamental to their entry into the federation, and for the opposition members to so blithely and casually suggest that we abolish the Senate shows either remarkable naïveté or, frankly, irresponsibility.
These provinces today would likely never agree to the abolition of the Senate, by reason that it guarantees them a certain amount of representation in both the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada. In fact, as much as people may not like this point, the reality is that Prince Edward Island, with some 140,000 Canadians, has 8 parliamentarians. It has four senators in the upper chamber and four members of Parliament, and the two are inextricably linked. They are linked because the number of members in this House of Commons, from a provincial division, cannot fall below the number of senators from that particular region of the country. Therefore, why would the people of Prince Edward Island ever agree to the abolition of the Senate? They would not only lose their four parliamentarians in the upper chamber, it would put at risk the number of parliamentarians, of which they have four, in the lower chamber. In fact, they might be reduced to only two members of Parliament, or even possibly one and a half members of Parliament. The people in a province like P.E.I. are being asked, through a motion like this, to consider going from eight parliamentarians, four senators and four members of Parliament, to one and a half members of Parliament.
After thinking through the implications of this motion, members may think the proposer is either uninformed or is being irresponsible.
I could speak about New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and I could speak about the Province of Quebec. The fact is, the Province of Quebec has long had requests for amendments to the Constitution.
Before we would even be able to address the abolition of the Senate and the Constitution of Canada, the outstanding requests that came from Meech Lake, and later partially through Charlottetown, would be at the front of the line when it comes to amending the Constitution. I do not think Canadians, either in the rest of Canada or in Quebec, want to reopen those divisive constitutional debates that we had in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There again, I think the motion is not a serious proposal for change.
Finally, with respect to why the motion is not serious and why it should not pass, the Senate is an important chamber. The ongoing present difficulties aside, the fact is that all major western democracies have a bicameral national legislature. All major democracies have two chambers in their national parliament, national congress, national legislature, national system, and there is a reason for that. Laws need to be made cautiously and passed with a great deal of review. There needs to be checks and balances in a system in order to ensure there is not undue concentration of power and that the power of the state does not run roughshod over minority rights and the rights of individuals and regions of the country.
The most important reason that the motion should not be adopted is because the Senate is an important part of this Parliament of Canada. It was set up to provide a balance to the majoritarianism in the lower chamber. We passed a riding redistribution act about a year ago that has resulted in new ridings for this country. The opposition opposed that because it does not believe this chamber should be representative of its population.
We, as a government, believe this chamber ought to be representative of the population, that each vote in each riding should have the same weight across the country. In order to offset that majoritarianism in this chamber, we have an upper chamber that balances the smaller regions of the country against the larger regions. This is the way it is with chambers in other democracies, for example, like the United States, where each state has two senators. A large state like New York, with millions of people, has two senators, and small states like Hawaii and Alaska also have two senators each. The reason for that is to offset the tyranny of the majority, as it has often been said, of the lower chamber. That is why the Senate is an important institution and that is why the Senate cannot be abolished.
The solution to the ongoing problems in the Senate that we have seen more recently is not its abolition. The solution is to make the Senate more accountable. The solution is to establish term limits for senators, who now are there to age 75, and to establish popular consultations whereby senators can be appointed by the government.
The Government of Canada has made a reference to the Supreme Court because of the questions about the boundaries. We, as a Parliament, can amend current law in Canada to bring about these two broad reforms, the term limits for senators and the popular election of senators, in a way that does not require us to reopen the Constitution. A couple of months ago, the government asked the Supreme Court for a reference as to what the bounds are in legislation for us to introduce new term limits; what the bounds are in terms of us enacting popular consultations for senators; what the bounds are for the constitutional requirements of net worth and property qualifications in the province from which senators are appointed; and, what the bounds are for the abolition of the Senate. That latter question is actually fairly clear.
There have been a number of references and rulings by the Supreme Court that, in my view, have made it quite clear that the abolition of the Senate at the very least requires a two-thirds, 50% plus 1, amendment, or the unanimous consent of all 10 provincial legislatures and the Parliament of Canada.
We hope this reference will come back expeditiously so that we as a Parliament can move quickly to enact the reforms proposed in Bill C-7, the Senate reform act. It is my hope that the court will find the time to give the Government of Canada its reference by the end of this calendar year.
That is the solution to the Senate. It is to allow Canadians to render judgment on the performance of the Senate. It is up to Canadians to elect the senators they think are best able to sit in the Senate and to decide whether to hold senators to account for their performances in their previous terms. That is exactly what this reform act for the Senate would do. This act would ensure accountability in the upper chamber, that the chamber is where the business of the nation carries on and that Canadians can have faith that laws are being verified before they are passed and given royal assent.
The NDP's motion on the abolition of the Senate is not a serious one. It is not something that any serious leader or party would propose. It is not only practically and politically impossible, but it would reopen the divisive constitutional debates and referenda that we saw in the 1990s and late 1980s. It would also, frankly, further concentrate power in the executive branch of our government to the detriment of Parliament. For all of those reasons, it is not a serious proposal. Frankly, it is a proposal to make hay while the sun shines on the current controversies in the Senate and speaks to the fact that the official opposition is not ready for prime time, not ready for government.
I could go on about the challenges the Senate has, but the reality is this. From time to time there are controversies in this chamber about particular members and ministers in the cabinet. That happens in all governments. Nobody is suggesting that we abolish this chamber because of controversies. I am not minimizing the controversies in the Senate. The reality is that the Senate needs to be reformed. There were reforms introduced in the House of Lords in the Westminster parliament. We have the last Parliament with an unelected, completely appointed upper chamber that has no popular consultations or vetting process by which senators are appointed.
It is high time for Canada, Parliament and Canadians to have an upper chamber that has term limits of nine years, as it is in the current bill, though eight years would be acceptable to many of us, and to have popular consultations or elections of senators. That is well past its due date. We need to put that in place, and put that in place quickly. Frankly, I think the government would be prepared, with the consent of all members of the House, to rapidly pass that legislation through the chamber so it can proceed to the Senate where it would be debated and passed.
That is the very important reason for why we need to achieve Senate reform. If we do not achieve Senate reform, all we are doing is delegitimizing the Parliament of Canada. Canadians have been turning out in lower and lower voter numbers in recent elections. Canadians increasingly do not trust political institutions. That has been shown in surveys over the last number of years. There was one survey recently that indicated that trend continues. We bring it upon ourselves as parliamentarians when we propose things we know are just making politics, that have no practical chance of ever being adopted into law and, further, that would weaken this institution.
I will be happy to take questions on this issue. This it is not a serious proposal from the opposition. It is irresponsible, if not naive. It shows a remarkable lack of understanding about how upper chambers have been structured around democracies of the world in order to provide a check on majoritism of the lower chamber.
There is a solution, however, to making the Senate accountable and to allowing Canadians a say in the performance of the hundred or so senators in the upper chamber, and that is to put in place term limits and to allow for the election of senators.
Instead of debating this motion on the floor of the House, what we should be doing is debating the government's Bill C-7, the Senate reform act, which will introduce those two fundamental changes into the upper chamber and ensure that the upper chamber is modernized and remains relevant for the 21st century and for Canada's democracy.