House of Commons Hansard #115 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.

Topics

Business of the House
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill S-33, an act to amend the Carriage by Air Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Carriage by Air Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Carriage by Air Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Carriage by Air Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on Bill S-33 at second reading. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Carriage by Air Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Carriage by Air Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

An hon. member

On division.

Carriage by Air Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Carriage by Air Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I wonder if you would find unanimous consent to see the clock as 5.30 p.m. so that we could proceed to the consideration of private members' business.

Carriage by Air Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Carriage by Air Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Carriage by Air Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5.30 p.m. the House will now proceed to consideration of private members' business listed on today's order paper.

Carriage by Air Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. At the end of question period today, the Speaker said that the hours for government orders had been extended by 15 minutes. I know it is only a technical matter, but I am not sure whether we should actually adjust the clock from 5.30 p.m. to 5.45 p.m., which was the time that members' business was scheduled to start. I do not know if it is important or not, but I bring it to the attention of the Chair.

Carriage by Air Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my view it would be more proper to say that it is 5.45 p.m.

The Senate
Private Members' Business

November 20th, 2001 / 4:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should take measures to provide that the Governor General summon only fit, qualified and democratically elected people to fill Senate vacancies for provinces that have legislation providing for the election of Senators.

Mr. Speaker, the motion is seconded by the hon. member for Souris--Moose Mountain.

The reform, retention or abolition of the upper chamber was the subject of intense debate and discussion in the Manitoba legislature in 1876, the New Brunswick legislature in 1892, the Prince Edward Island legislature in 1893, the Nova Scotia legislature in 1928 and in Newfoundland in 1934. For other Commonwealth examples we could cite the debate and discussion of this subject in the New Zealand legislature in 1951 and the frequent discussion to this day in the Australian lower house about how to amend its own house.

The first point I want to make about the Senate as it is currently constituted in Canada is that it is defective and it was fraudulently constructed from the very beginning. The new Senate created in 1867 was not to be democratically accountable. It was to be appointed, which virtually guaranteed that in a time when democracy was in ascendancy, an appointed Senate would decline in influence, respectability and effectiveness in relation to the lower house.

Second, I argue that the Senate was and is a compromised house. By the end of the 19th century it had become apparent that it was already a compromised institution. It was compromised in terms of accountability, compromised in terms of patronage that was driven by partisanship and it was compromised in its ability to represent regional interests. Its equality was compromised by its ineffectiveness.

Abraham Lincoln said it most succinctly when he described the compromise made by the American founding fathers. “The convention that framed the United States constitution had this difficulty: The small states wished to so frame the new government that they might be equal to the large ones regardless of the inequality of population; the large ones insisted on equality in proportion to population”. What did the American founders do? These are Lincoln's words: “They compromised it by basing the house of representatives on population and the senate on states regardless of population, and the executive on both principles”.

In Canada we started out down the same road, but when we compromised the compromises, everything fell apart. Representation by region or province in the Senate was compromised by patronage. Then we starting jigging the numbers of senators allotted to each province, departing further from the principle that Sir John A. himself enunciated in the confederation debates, that the great divisions into which British North America is separated should be represented in the upper house on the principle of equality.

Then in later proposals, like the Charlottetown accord, it was even proposed that some seats in the Senate be based on race and some on gender, some by direct election and some by provincial appointment, until there is no discernible principle left as the basis for Senate representation to guide the Senate's activities.

Similarly over the same period, successive federal governments began to compromise representation by population in this House: minimum numbers of seats for Prince Edward Island and Quebec, over-representation for rural ridings to compensate for their geography, under-representation for cities, under-representation for the fastest growing provinces of the past decade like British Columbia.

Since 1867 with respect to parliamentary representation and successive Liberal and Tory regimes, they have compromised the compromises until we have neither genuine representation by population in this House nor genuine representation by province or area in the Senate. By compromising the compromises they have rendered both chambers less effective in serving the public and less effective in representing the national interests than they would otherwise be.

I want to quickly identify some other problems that Canadians have with the Senate as it is currently constituted and managed and its cost. The Senate has cost roughly $1 billion over the past 25 years. This breaks down to $354 million for senators' salaries, $133 million for senators' travel, office expenses of $72 million, and Senate administration services of $441 million.

I would argue that Canadians do not believe that they have received anywhere near $1 billion worth of benefits from this institution. Certainly Canadians have not received $1 billion in legislative improvements as a result of sober second thought in the Senate. Certainly Canadians have not received $1 billion in effective representation of regional interests.

For example, I do not know exactly what percentage of that $1 billion in Senate representation represents the costs allotted to British Columbia for its Senate representation. However during the last 30 years, British Columbia's big major provincial and regional issues, from the state of the west coast fishery to the unique B.C. aboriginal issues, to the unique constitutional positions of British Columbia over the years, to B.C.'s views on equalization have been given nowhere near the representation on the national stage that the fastest growing province, which will be Canada's second largest province, deserves.

The only way that two British Columbia senators have managed to get into the headlines and get the attention of this place or the national media was one switched political parties and the other one mused publicly about the concept of separation.

Regional representation of B.C. interests in the Senate has been completely ineffective. The same can be said for Senate representation of regional interests in almost every other part of the country. The cost of the Senate is staggering. The benefits, particularly with respect to regional representation, which Sir John A. himself said was the reason for it being set up, are negligible. I say this as an ominous conclusion, since if the abolition of the upper House is studied in the provinces of Canada and in other British jurisdictions, the principal argument for the abolition of the upper House has in the end been the excessive cost in relation to minimal benefits.

If these grievances and defects are not addressed, what will be the inevitable result? The result will be increasing public dissatisfaction with the Senate and that dissatisfaction will grow into anger and the anger will result not in demands for reform but in demands for complete abolition of the Senate itself. In fact this is the position of the NDP, a position which commends itself to many as long as it is not critically examined, but I will do that right now.

The reason why I and the official opposition oppose the abolition of Canada's Senate, despite our vehement opposition to the Senate as currently constituted, is very simple. It is a reason that rests on the very nature of our country and the prerequisites for good government and national unity. I ask NDP members, particularly members from the west and members from the Atlantic provinces, to think about this: If we were to abolish the Senate, Canada would have a one House parliament in which the heavily populated areas of southern Ontario and southern Quebec would have an absolute majority of the seats in the House, regardless of whether it is dressed up in the concept of proportional representation, which is what the NDP demands. They will have an absolute majority of seats in the House. In such a parliament, I ask, how could the regional interests of Atlantic Canada, western Canada, northern Canada, northern and rural Ontario and northern and rural Quebec ever be properly addressed?

If Canada were a small country, perhaps the effective representation or accommodation of regional interests could be ignored. However, Canada is the second largest country on the face of the earth. Our regions are big enough to be countries on their own. National unity as well as good government therefore demands that we develop national institutions which recognize and accommodate regional interests rather than ignore or subjugate them, or rather than leave regional representation exclusively to the provincial governments. They have enough on their plates without having to come to Ottawa to complain about their needs.

There is a way that other big federations, the U.S., Germany and Australia, have addressed this. They have reconciled the interests of heavily populated areas with those of thinly populated areas by properly adapting the two house parliament to their needs. It is high time, in fact, that Canada did the exact same thing.

For those who think this would represent some Americanized departure from our form of federation or the British parliamentary system, let them study and improve upon the Australian model rather than the American model if they prefer. Suffice it to say that what we should be striving for in terms of parliamentary institutions is a two house parliament that works: a lower chamber based on genuine representation by population in which the heavily populated areas rightly enjoy greater influence, but also an upper chamber in which there are equal numbers of senators per province, as in the U.S. or Australia, where the thinly populated regions have greater influence. This is a way of counterbalancing the regions, the differences and the concerns of the country.

It is the position of the official opposition, therefore, that we should abolish those features of the Canadian Senate which render it useless and repugnant to voters and taxpayers. We should abolish patronage appointments, abolish inequality of representation and abolish ineffectiveness.

However, we do not believe in throwing out the baby with the bath water. Let us not be tempted to believe that abolition would simply be the first step toward a reformed Senate. If the Senate is completely abolished, as the NDP believes it should be, it is highly unlikely that it will be replaced in the foreseeable future with a reformed Senate that respects and will accommodate the concerns of the regions. Among the members of the House who are suddenly advocating Senate abolition I have detected no strong interest in establishing any other checks and balances on themselves as members of parliament, in particular the regional checks and balances that a reformed Senate would provide.

The official opposition envisions a Senate the objectives of which are threefold. I do want to get specifically to one area so I will skip ahead and revisit what our specific objectives are when I have my final five minutes.

That area is this one. It has been mentioned by members of the Progressive Conservative Party, and indeed members of the government, that the Charlottetown and Meech Lake accords were effective movements in the direction of Senate reform. However, the poorly conceived token effort at Senate reform contained in the Meech Lake accord consisted of a proposal to appoint senators from a list submitted by the relevant province, provided the appointee was also acceptable to the federal cabinet. Really, why not just appoint them itself? Why not cut out the middlemen and appoint who it wants?

There was also a promise to convene a first ministers conference at which Senate reform would be further discussed. It was a promise not unlike the promise on the GST which was addressed in the 1993 campaign as well. Since every province would have a veto over future constitutional reforms and the Quebec government had already declared its antipathy toward a triple E Senate, the promise of Senate reform through a first ministers conference mandated by Meech was utterly meaningless. Obviously these meagre Meech provisions for Senate reform were unacceptable to those who desired genuine Senate reform and who had developed a comprehensive proposal for a Senate that was elected, with equal representation and effective powers.

As hon. members will know, after the collapse of the Meech Lake accord the Mulroney regime made one more attempt at constitutional reform, an effort which culminated in the Charlottetown accord of 1992. While the process whereby Charlottetown was developed gave some belated attention to securing public input, mainly through the Spicer consultation, its Senate reform proposals were hardly more in tune with thinking in western Canada, where Senate reform had been under active consideration for more than 10 years, than those of Meech. The Senate reform proposals of the Charlottetown accord were contained in section II(A) of that agreement.

I will quote two parts of that. Section 8, under the heading “An Equal Senate”, stated:

The Senate should initially total 62 Senators and should be composed of six Senators from each province and oneSenator from each territory.

Section 9, aboriginal peoples’ representation in the Senate, stated:

Aboriginal representation in the Senate should be guaranteed in the Constitution. Aboriginal Senate seats should be additional to provincial and territorial seats, rather than drawn from any province or territory’s allocation of Senate seats. Aboriginal Senators should have the same role and powers as other Senators, plus a possible double majority power in relation to certain matters materially affecting Aboriginal people. These issues and other details relating to Aboriginal representation in the Senate (numbers, distribution, method of selection) will be discussed further by governments and the representatives for aboriginal people in the early autumn of 1992.

It should be noted that there we had a Conservative government and a Progressive Conservative Party representing, ostensibly, rhetorically, conservatism in the country and they were proposing the idea of allocating seats permanently and specifically locked in the constitution, allocating seats to people on the basis of race. That is not conservatism and, certainly in western Canada, the next campaign spoke lowly of that proposal.

The Charlottetown accord contained 10 clauses pertaining to the Senate of Canada. Four of the clauses were supported at that time by our party, the Reform Party, their content having been part of our party platform since 1987. They included: clause 8, which provided for an equal number of senators per province; clause 10, which made it clear that the Senate would not be a confidence chamber and that the defeat of a bill in the Senate would not bring down the government in the House; clause 15, giving the Senate power to ratify or reject federal appointments for regulatory boards and agencies like the Bank of Canada; and clause 16, providing that senators not be eligible for cabinet posts.

We acknowledged these positive features of the Charlottetown agreement and were supportive of them. However, Senate reform proposals, which left the Senate both undemocratic and ineffective in safeguarding regional interests, were not good enough in the Charlottetown accord. The Charlottetown agreement did not contain a clear statement of the purpose of a reformed Senate. That is where the trouble started.

If it had been clearly stated that the purpose of a reformed Senate was to balance representation by population in the House of Commons with the democratic representation of provincial and regional interests in the Senate so that the laws reflected the interests of both heavily populated and less populated areas, it would have been much easier to define the power and structure required to achieve that objective.

I drafted this private member's bill after 1998. The province of Alberta, through its own provincial laws, decided that it would hold a Senate campaign and it elected its own senators in waiting. There was a vacancy in the Upper Chamber and the Prime Minister, out of arrogance, said to the premier of Alberta that he would not appoint the choice of the people to represent Alberta's interests in Ottawa. He said he would appoint someone he wanted. It was utterly undemocratic and utterly unfair. The province of Alberta was left behind. If this private member's bill had been law, Alberta today would have a voice in the Upper Chamber representing its interests rather than that of the Prime Minister.