House of Commons Hansard #196 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was legislation.

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The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill S-34, an act respecting royal assent to bills passed by the Houses of Parliament, as reported without amendment from the committee.

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Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved that the bill be concurred in.

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The Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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Some hon. members

Agreed.

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Some hon. members

No.

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The Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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Some hon. members

Yea.

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The Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

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Some hon. members

Nay.

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The Speaker

In my opinion the yeas have it.

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The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

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An Hon. member

On divison.

(Motion agreed to)

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Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on the third reading of Bill S-34, the royal assent bill. This is my first opportunity to speak on legislation since my reappointment as Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, which I have referred to with exaggeration, perhaps, as my home, to the extent that any member can call this place his home. Of course it really is not. This House is not our home, because we reside here only so long as our constituents decide that we do, but in my case it is very close to home. I am approaching the 36th anniversary of the day that I first came here as a House of Commons employee.

I am very proud to have the opportunity early on to speak not only to this bill, but to a bill that involves of course parliamentary democracy and the non-partisan efforts and wisdom of parliamentarians to work together to make the House a better place.

Of course we had our modernization committee about a year ago. That was very successful. It enjoyed the unanimous support of the House. I repeat today the thanks that I gave at the time to other colleagues.

Today, arguably, this is a smaller issue, but nevertheless one that involves modernization of a parliamentary institution again. The royal assent bill is based on the advice and recommendations of the 1985 McGrath committee, as well as the contribution of many members on both sides of the House and in the other place over the last nearly two decades. No one said that these things are done in a hurried way.

I would like to mention in particular, and I will refer to them by name here because they are members of the other place, Senator John Lynch-Staunton, the leader of the opposition in the other place, who has been speaking about this issue for years and years now and on whose bill this bill is modelled, as well as the hon. Senators Murray and Gauthier for their efforts to develop a workable solution to the royal assent problem. Obviously I also want to congratulate and thank the sponsor of this legislation in the other place for his continued efforts in assisting us in this regard.

The current ceremony of royal assent is based on conventions established over the centuries in the United Kingdom. It is therefore appropriate that this bill, Bill S-34, should reflect legislation adopted by the U.K. in 1967, authorizing royal assent by written declaration.

I know that my colleague from Lanark—Carleton has concerns about this bill because he wants our traditions preserved. I must tell him that I support him in this initiative to preserve our parliamentary traditions. I am one of those who believe that, in a young country like ours, we perhaps have less tradition than certain other democracies do. Our traditions for protocol and other things must therefore be as carefully guarded as they are elsewhere. After all, by definition, our relatively youth means that we have far fewer than some other countries.

That said, we really should not think that we need to preserve all traditions and never modernize them. There must be a happy medium somewhere. I believe that we have found that happy medium with this bill.

First, this bill would preserve the royal assent ceremony as an important tradition. I am very pleased with that. The bill would require the ceremony to take place on two occasions every calendar year, one of these being for the first appropriation bill of each session.

We are aware of the importance a parliament such as ours assigns to budget appropriations, so the first such bill would be the subject of a traditional royal assent ceremony, if I might call it that. Second, this existing tradition must be maintained at least one other time in the year.

The purpose of all this is to ensure that we are not rushing into a new initiative that could be prejudicial to the parliamentary traditions we all want to preserve.

Second, the bill would authorize royal assent by written declaration.

I know that the current ceremony, which is based on the customs and conventions developed in previous centuries in the U.K., is significant to members of parliament and, to a degree, the public, as it should.

At the same time, the scarce amount of time available for debate means that the interruption in the business of parliament caused by the traditional ceremony has led to calls by many, including the all party report of Mr. McGrath many years ago, for an additional streamlined process of royal assent.

Just to remind all members, at the present time if we have royal assent on a particular day and two days later we pass another bill, we could be in a rather curious situation of interrupting parliament twice in the same week for royal assent. That is a bit much under the system we have now. Actually we are the only parliament in the Commonwealth that has a system as strict as the one we have.

Bill S-34 would establish a balance between the traditions and the modernization of parliamentary procedures. I do not think it goes very far but it goes that distance. Should we want to go further someday we could. I would prefer that we do it that way rather than go too far and then have to reinstate those provisions because it would be in the interest of preserving our parliamentary traditions. This is why the bill enjoys the support of all parties in the House.

I know a few members are still concerned even though their party position is to support the bill. I do not in any way pretend that their arguments are invalid or that their wanting to preserve tradition is somehow less valid. I know their arguments are as heartfelt as the arguments made in the other place. While most senators thought we needed to modernize this procedure to the limited extent that we were advancing it, some thought we should not touch it at all. That is okay. Perhaps having a few members with that kind of careful reticence at the end is a reminder to all of us that we should not go headstrong into some of these things that could, if abused, which I do not think they do in this case, damage the traditions that we hold so dear.

I would like to emphasize that Bill S-34 is procedural and only relates to the form of signifying royal assent. The Governor General or her deputy would of course still continue to exercise the royal prerogative and it is only in that way that it can be done.

The royal prerogative of assent is retained in the Senate chamber when royal assent is done by way of a ceremony or by a written declaration of the Governor General or her deputies when the written declarations are reported to the Speakers of both Houses of parliament. Both procedures respect the convention that all three constituent elements of parliament are involved: the Crown, the Senate and the House of Commons assembled in parliament. That is our constitutional definition now and it would be preserved by this process.

It has also been pointed out during consideration in the House that Canada is the only Commonwealth country that uses the traditional royal assent ceremony. Among the provinces, the Ontario legislature in 1973, through an all party agreement, waived the formality of summoning the lieutenant governor to the chamber for royal assent. Everyone knows that in Ontario, the province I represent, our motto is loyalty to our tradition. Translated from Latin I believe it states: Loyal she began, loyal she stands. The insistence of the preservation of that is very strong in the province I represent in the House. The most important highway in the southern part of Ontario is even called the Queen Elizabeth Highway, the QEW. Even though the traditions are very strong in the province of Ontario those traditions have been modernized there.

Quebec also uses the written procedure which is done in the office of the lieutenant governor general.

Bill S-34 would modernize the procedures of parliament in a way that would draw upon the advice of members of the House and of the other place, and which is based on the experience of other jurisdictions, including the U.K. and of course a number of provinces.

In conclusion, I am pleased to say that the bill received the support of all parties at second reading and in committee. The bill enjoys support on all sides of the House and would remove a significant interruption in the business of the House to the benefit of all members, while at the same time preserving the royal assent ceremony as a tradition of parliament and, I would like to add, as a very significant and important tradition of this great institution.

BIll S-34 is the result of careful study and recommendations by members of parliament and senators over a period of 20 years. It is consistent with the practices of Commonwealth countries and of our provinces.

For those reasons I would like to invite all hon. members to join me in supporting the passage of the bill. I want to thank the sponsor of the bill in the other place and all those who produced parallel and previous private members' bills in this House and in the other House toward modernizing this institution.

I see the hon. House leader of the official opposition and I would like to take this occasion to say that I look forward to working with him over the next while, as we have done for a long time in the past. We both changed positions for awhile and somehow ended up across from each other some time later doing precisely the same function that we did in some previous political incarnation. I salute him at the same time.

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10:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill S-34, an act respecting royal assent to bills passed by the Houses of Parliament.

I will be speaking against the bill but, for the sake of clarification, I will be speaking against it on my own behalf and not on behalf of the Canadian Alliance as a whole.

I want to begin my comments by congratulating the government House leader for resuming his role. I know he has a deep appreciation for this place and its traditions. In our discussions prior to this debate, we reviewed together some of the provisions of the bill, which he supports and I do not, but I do know that he has a deep appreciation for the history and traditions of the House, and I can appreciate that.

I want to now turn to the three points I want to make about the bill. First, I will give a brief review of the contents of the bill. Second, I will talk a little bit about the role of tradition and of state ceremonial in our system and indeed in all systems. Third, I will talk to the broader question of the reform of this place and some of the dysfunctions that have crept into it.

Bill S-34 would provide an alternative to the formal royal assent procedure currently used in the Canadian parliament. It would provide that royal assent can be given by a written declaration similar to that which is used in Canadian provinces, in Australia and in the United Kingdom, and which has been used in some of those jurisdictions for a number of years.

The provisions of the bill allow for one traditional royal assent ceremony to be held per year. However, the bill carefully states that should such a traditional ceremony not take place there would be no consequences. I think that is definitely a mistake. If the bill had gone through committee and through report stage in this Chamber where amendments could have been made, I would have proposed an amendment to that effect.

Those procedures would take place during the parliamentary session in which both Houses passed the bill.

Those are the general outlines of the legislation. The formal ceremony for royal assent, of which many Canadians may not be aware, occurs, at most, once per session and perhaps not at all.

The way it works now is that when a bill is assented to, the Governor General, or the Queen if she is present in Canada, takes the throne in the Senate, members of the Senate are assembled, the Usher of the Black Rod comes down to the House of Commons and invites all members present to join in the ceremony of royal assent. A parade of members walk over to the Senate and the Governor General or the monarch, as the case may be, gives formal assent to the legislation in question.

I want to talk a bit about the value of this kind of tradition and indicate why this is a key part of my opposition to this bill. I oppose the bill because it represents one small part of the steady erosion in Canada, which has been going on for a number of decades, of the traditional state ceremonial that exists and the respect for the traditional forums in which we enact our laws, carry out our daily lives and carry out the functions that make us part of a body politic, a polity, a community that is not simply a state but something that has an organic existence of its own. Those organic relationships develop slowly. They maintain the value in bringing a solemnity to what we do.

The institution we see eroding bit by bit as these changes take place tends to be the monarchy which is the capstone of the Canadian constitution. Under our constitution and traditions, this is a central part of the parliamentary system. In fact, parliament is not composed under our system of two houses, the Commons and Senate, but rather of three parts: the Commons, the Senate and the Queen. That is why we refer to the Queen in our formal documents and pronouncements in parliament.

We are intended under our original constitution to be a republic in the classical sense. A republic is not in the trite modern sense a state without a monarch. Rather a republic is a mixed government which consists of elements of a monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. It seems to me that the erosion of the traditional monarchial element is a very dangerous process, particularly when the natural form, and this goes back to ancient philosophy, of all institutions is to develop elements of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. However when one is taken and shaken from its traditional foundations the danger is that it will shift to a caricature of itself. When we replace the traditional monarch with another institution, another person who starts to fill that role unofficially, the danger is that the person can become a kind of caricature of the monarch, filling that monarch's proper role.

All great and stable democracies have understood this and have been very careful to move and change those institutions with extreme care and caution, or perhaps not to change them at all but rather to put the necessary time and effort into ensuring that those institutions will be resuscitated, revived and made a part of the daily lives of citizens, particularly of our young citizens. We see that pattern we see in the United Kingdom of course which as long ago as the 1860s, was referred to by the great writer Walter Bagehot in his book, The English Constitution , as a republic, meaning a republic in the classical, traditional sense.

It is the tradition that was followed in the United States when it was founding its constitution. The Americans were very careful to give a role not only to the democratic element but to the aristocratic element which they embodied in their senate, and to the monarchy. They very much understood that their monarch, which they referred to as their executive, would have a power placed and formalized in the president and also limited in the president.

We have not done that. We left the form of the monarchy surrounding the monarch herself. We have steadily eroded the pomp and circumstance around that office and gradually moved it to the real executive, who of course is the Prime Minister, and we are gradually putting more and more pomp and ceremony around that individual.

I believe that leads to a corrosion of not only our respect for the monarchy itself but our respect for other institutions of our system of government and that includes this place. I have said on previous occasions, the House functions not as a legislative body but as a parliamentary body which considers all bills, debates them and proposes amendments and sends them to committee. We are not doing that on this bill.

In so eroding this institution we have turned into effectively an electoral college which sits in perpetual session and which is repeatedly called upon to renew its vote of confidence in the Prime Minister. That was not the original purpose of this House. I think that is a dangerous trend which has deprived us of the great wisdom that was read into our original constitution and that we inherited from our ancestors, our forebearers, in the parliament in Westminster.

This bill is a very tiny step in that direction but I think again any step in that direction ought to be avoided and we ought as much as possible to reverse that trend.

The value of ceremonial in a broader sense throughout our society is emphasized by any number of scholars. The one who comes to my mind most easily is Joseph Campbell, the great explorer of traditions and comparative sociologies. He made the observation that in each society the glue that holds it together is always the least tangible, the least touchable and the most formalized part of that society. When that is eroded and stripped away, it is formalized but formalized without law and formalized in the minds of the people.

When that is eroded, it always leads to deleterious effects for that culture. He looked at cultures that had largely been untouched by western society that were just, as he wrote in the mid 20th century, coming into contact with western society and western civilization and which saw a rapid erosion of their traditions and forms. He saw tremendous damage being caused to them. It seems to me that in a much lesser degree the same sort of thing can occur here.

In the third part of my remarks I want to address some of the objections that were raised in support of the bill by the government House leader and by others who have spoken in the other place about this bill.

First, the observation was made that many countries with a Westminster style government had abandoned the royal assent ceremony and that Canada was now unique among the parliamentary democracies on the Westminster model, or at least among the more populous ones, in retaining this ceremony in its tradition form. As long ago as 1958, it was observed that “the Canadian ceremony seems to be that which most closely resembles the original”.

This has been presented in the House as being something of a negative. I would say this is actually a very positive thing, that our retention of the ceremony in its original form is something we ought to rejoice in, in the very same way that we place a great deal of value in some of the other symbols in the House.

Of course the symbol of the mace and the power it represents is taken very seriously. We have a parade every day in which the Speaker, accompanied by the Sergeant-at-Arms, brings the mace into the House. The various officers of the House come in wearing either their three cornered or two cornered hats, as the case may be. These are ancient traditional robes of office. They do not serve any practical purpose in making the Speaker, the Clerk or other officers of the House more effective. They serve to remind us of the great and ancient traditions that we have established in this place.

They are the glue that holds us together. They are the glue that in our constitution holds us together. That is why we always have to read our constitution with the understanding that many of the most important aspects of the constitution are not written anywhere. They are understood and held in our hearts.

The very office of the Prime Minister or the institution of cabinet responsibility to parliament, neither of these things are in the constitution itself. They are understood. They are conventional in the same way that the form of the traditional royal assent ceremony is conventional. It is only now in this law being written down, changed and limited.

Without those conventional aspects to our constitution, we would not merely be a much inferior place. If we took our constitution seriously, we would be a virtual dictatorship written as it is without looking at any of the conventions that give it its depth, its breadth, its heterogeneity, its compassion and its flexibility which make it, when taken as a whole, one of the finest in the world, an example to so much of the world.

The preamble of the bill reads as follows:

And whereas it is desirable to facilitate the work of Parliament and the process of enactment by enabling royal assent to be signified by written declaration;

Then it goes on to state some other things. It talks about the need to facilitate the work of parliament by stripping away a bit of ceremony and by enabling royal assent to be given without this ceremonial. This bit of ceremonial, which is supposed to be an intrusion on the effectiveness of our operations here, is something which is no more elaborate than the ceremony that takes place here everyday, and it took place less than an hour ago. It seems to me that rather than stripping this away we ought to consider doing something which is very much the opposite.

Let me suggest that we could, for example, have the current ceremony and whenever a bill is assented to bring in Canadians to see it. We could announce in advance when the ceremony would take place. We could contact local schools and invite school groups to come to the Senate Chamber to see royal assent being given. I think that would be a valuable exercise.

As someone who grew up in this area and could have been brought to such a ceremony as a youngster, it is a great shame that this was never done and that we were not investing this traditional ceremony with the public attention it deserved.

To make this much clearer, I would like to point to another ceremony that occurred 20 years ago on the Hill when the Queen came to sign our constitution, our new charter of rights and amending formula into law.

I was then a high school student. I came down on my own with a friend that day. I took the bus to the Hill. Only a small crowd gathered to see the event. I still have those memories which are a very precious part to my personal attachment to our system and our constitution.

No effort was made to have school groups go to that event. We have all kinds of excuses when we talk about the lack of national feeling that exists in Canada and the lack of natural attachment Canadians have to their country. We are a federal state. We are a continent sized country. How can we expect it? There is the draw of the United States which is so much larger than us. There are two languages in this country. How can we expect Canadians to feel this kind of loyalty to their country?

I would argue that I can find counter examples for everyone of those excuses. We are the size of a continent and we have no sense of loyalty to our country. The Australians are the size of a continent and they have an intense sense of loyalty to their country, as do the Americans. We have more than one language. So do the Swiss and they have an intense sense of loyalty to their country. We are faced with a larger and culturally powerful neighbour which steals away the affections and emotions of our people which is a more exciting place. Look at Switzerland. It is surrounded by three of the most dynamic and exciting cultures in Europe: the Italians, the French and the Germans. Again, the Swiss feel a greater loyalty to their country than do probably any people in the world. I believe this is largely because of the tremendous respect that they show for the traditions and forms of their constitution and of their many cantonal constitutions of all the ceremonial of their state. Some of these ceremonies go back many centuries before the discovery of the continent but they are treated with tremendous respect even when they are slow moving and inconvenient. That is something we need to appreciate and respect.

I have only been to one traditional ceremony for royal assent. With regard to the question of whether this is an inconvenient matter, this ceremony was for Bill C-36, the anti-terrorism act, a law I voted against. However the ceremony was to take place and I thought it was a wonderful opportunity to attend. I was in my office, which is in this building. I saw that something was going on so I went in. There was no inconvenience involved. Parliament was not sitting at the time. It was after the House had risen for the Christmas recess. I, the acting Speaker and the member for Yukon were present.

There was no inconvenience involved at all. If the member for Yukon and I had not been there, the procedure and ceremony would have gone ahead. There was no inconvenience to the House. This ceremony does not slow down the business of the House if we do not want it to. It can be dealt with at a time that is convenient and it is a simple matter with which to deal.

Again, there was something fundamentally wrong with the idea that the putting into effect of this law, probably the most important piece of legislation on which members of the House in this parliament will get a chance to vote prior to the next election, would be done with very little notice on a day during the Christmas holidays when no attention was given to it. If it is as important as we say it is, we ought to treat it with the appropriate respect. We should have treated that law with the appropriate respect. We should have treated the ceremony by which it was enacted with the appropriate respect.

Her Majesty's loyal opposition supports parliamentary reform. We believe in reforming private members' business. We believe in allowing parliament to have greater freedom by giving greater powers to standing committees, greater powers to special committees, allowing an ethics commissioner to be appointed who would report to the House as opposed to reporting to the Prime Minister, having standards of ethical behaviour written down and available so that parliamentarians know what they are. We do not have to guess at what binds the cabinet.

We would like the Prime Minister to enact some of the rules that he promised to enact nine years ago when he was elected. It has been left to the opposition to push the government to bring forward the red book promises which it made almost a decade ago. That is very unfortunate.

We have seen promises recently that some kind of parliamentary reform will be forthcoming. This measure today is presented as an example of parliamentary reform and from one perspective perhaps it is. But it is not a parliamentary reform which empowers this House or which allows us to be more effective representatives of the people who voted for us and sent us here, or which allows us to resume our proper and constitutional role as the democratic arm of our country.

Our country deserves to have a legislature which is genuinely independent and in which genuine debate takes place. Our country deserves to have a legislature in which a variety of points of view are expressed and in which legislation changes as members present their points of view in order to reflect not only their own views but the views of the various communities they represent. None of that occurs because of this measure or because of the other watered down measures the government has been bringing forward.

Last June it was left to the official opposition to put forward a motion instructing a committee to come up with proposals to reform private members' business. On that occasion the government supported the motion, but at committee the government majority voted not to comply with the wishes of the House.

While Bill S-34 does represent parliamentary reform of a sort, watered down and a decade late, it is not enough. Canadians deserve better.

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10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Madam Speaker, I have bad luck, as every time I wish to speak and you are in the Chair, there are always questions on the interpretation of the standing orders. I suppose it is coincidence.

I rise today to speak to Bill S-34, to modify the procedure of royal assent to bills passed by parliament. I know that I have 40 minutes for my comments. Unfortunately, there will be no period for questions and comments following my 40 minutes. I will try to speak for the full 40 minutes, since I have many things to say on this topic. If I run out of time, I will ask for the unanimous consent of the House to go beyond 40 minutes.

First, I wish to say that our party will be supporting this bill to modernize parliamentary procedure. The government could have introduced this bill in the House, rather than going through the other chamber.

The House of Commons is the elected chamber, while the other place, the Senate, does not have the same legitimacy as the elected members of this chamber. This is the opinion of the Bloc Quebecois, one that is shared by most Quebecers.

While I did say that we would be supporting the bill, there is one thing that I would like to comment on, something that I have already spoken about before, and that is the whole issue of the legitimacy of the other chamber. Every four or five years, as set out in Canada's constitution, those who are watching from the galleries or on television have the opportunity to judge the value of the work we do here in the House of Commons. Every four or five years, citizens have an opportunity to say—and this is the democratic action they take—whether or not they want their member to continue representing their interests. They can say “Yes, I want to keep my member”, or “No, I do not want to keep my member”. This explains how members are elected or defeated. This is democracy.

But the people in the other chamber, the Senate, are appointed by the Prime Minister as a political reward. Usually, they are people who have proven their worth in provincial legislatures, as leader of the opposition or of the party in power. They are people who are good political organizers for the government in power. Members will note that I have not yet mentioned the Liberals. In my opinion, it was exactly the same when the Progressive Conservatives were in power. But since the Liberal Party has been in office, there have been certain appointments. I would like to mention a few of them.

We had, as a senator, Jean-Louis Roux, who is now Chairman of the Canada Council. He was made a senator. Right now, we have Senator Jean Lapointe. We have surgeons. I give these examples because they are people who, in addition to sitting in the Senate, continue to do their regular jobs.

When Jean-Louis Roux was appointed, he was on a Quebec-wide tour with a theatre company. Senator Jean Lapointe is still doing shows. In addition to performing in the Senate, he appears in various regions of Quebec.

I challenge all of my colleagues in the House. Before becoming an MP, I practiced law. I still get calls from members of the public and friends who require my services as a lawyer. I tell them that I cannot practice law because my duties as an MP keep me busy full time.

Without getting into party politics, I could take the minister of intergovernmental affairs as an example. He was a university professor. I might ask him whether he would still have the time, with all his ministerial duties and responsibilities, to teach three hours a week at the University of Montreal or at Laval Univeristy.

Could he find the time? He is shaking his head, and I believe him. My comment is pertinent. What about my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, who was an economist for the UPA. Does he have time for any outside activities such as carrying out studies and analyses on contract in his capacity as an economist? The answer is no.

Why is it that the senators—such as Senator Jean Lapointe, or another who is a heart surgeon and still has time to do heart operations—have the time to continue in their prior professions?

It is because being a senator is an honourary position; senators are often considered professional lobbyists or bagmen. As recently as Monday of this past week, or perhaps the previous week, Senator Leo Kolber organized a $10,000-a-ticket fundraising session—I think the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs was there, and the Prime Minister was meant to be as well, but had to cancel at the last minute—to add to the coffers of the Liberal Party in Quebec.

They are professional lobbyists who are not registered under the Lobbyist Registration Act. All of this is happening and it has the effect of diminishing the office as well as discrediting politicians and politics in general.

When we are out and about on the weekend, when we go to the mall, or to do our own groceries, as I do, we get stopped by people who say to us “These scandals are incredible. It is incredible how they mock us, how they take us for fools”. An outdated institution such as the Senate validates this idea.

Let me get back to the bill to modernize royal assent by allowing bills to receive royal assent by written declaration instead of the traditional parade. We agree that this is an exercise that we could easily do without.

The government should look into what Quebec did. During the quiet revolution, the government of Quebec went ahead with major changes to the parliamentary institution. In fact, on November 29, 1968, Quebec's legislative assembly passed a bill that abolished the legislative council, the equivalent of the second chamber of their parliament. This bill was passed very quickly.

For all of these reasons, we will vote for this bill, and the time has come to abolish the other chamber.