House of Commons Hansard #18 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provinces.

Topics

The House resumed from November 15 consideration of the motion that Bill C-18, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (verification of residence), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Elections Act
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10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is the House ready for the question?

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10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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10 a.m.

An hon. member

On division.

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10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

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

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
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10 a.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

moved that Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate tenure), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, as a modern thriving country, Canada stands as an inspiration to people from around the world who have come here, or look at us from abroad, aspiring to share in the kind of freedom of open opportunity that Canadians always have, but the Senate of Canada darkens somewhat the reputation that we have as a beacon of democracy.

In the 21st century, it is unacceptable that one-half of our Parliament, the Senate, is unelected and unaccountable. That is why today, I am pleased to open debate in this House, first on our Senate term limits bill, Bill C-19, which limits the terms of senators to eight years, and consequently on the future of the Senate itself. At its core, a debate about the Senate is a debate about accountability.

Accountability is one of the main principles underlying our democratic institutions. Canadians expect and, in fact, demand that the government be accountable for the decisions it makes.

And the electoral process is a basic necessity to keep the government accountable. By voting, Canadians choose the people who will represent them in Ottawa. Every member of this House had to put his or her name on a ballot and tell the voters why they should vote for him or her instead of the other candidates whose names were also on the ballot.

Once in power, members must constantly justify their actions and their decisions if they want to be re-elected. Election after election, the members of this House have obtained the democratic legitimacy they need to exercise political power by taking part in the electoral process.

Members of this House, such as the member for Elmwood—Transcona or the member for Cardigan, have given the voters in their ridings the opportunity to pass judgment on their actions time and time again. This is what is meant by accountability. It is the essence of democracy. Let me be clear, there is today no accountability in the Senate.

If the Senate had to be accountable to Canadians, it would be difficult to imagine that senators could justify, for example, their work week to the average Canadian. Statistics show that Canadians are working longer and longer hours, yet senators work only three days per week, since, conveniently, they do not work on Mondays or Fridays.

Most Canadians work 50 weeks a year, but senators are content to collect their annual salaries of $120,000 while only working usually 29 weeks per year. This works out to about 87 working days annually, or roughly one-third of what the average Canadian works.

When Canada is facing increasing pressure in its manufacturing and forestry sectors, and Canadians are struggling to get by each day, it is utterly ridiculous that senators are guaranteed their $120,000 per year salaries until the age of 75.

Yes, that is right. Once appointed to the Senate, senators sit until the age of 75, which results in terms of up to 45 years. I hope all members will agree that 45 year terms are unacceptable in a modern democracy.

The Senate has remained virtually unchanged since Confederation. That is over 140 years. It is arguably the most powerful upper chamber in the world and it has powers nearly equal to those of this House.

For example, the Senate can block legislation passed by this House, the democratically elected and accountable House of Commons, and we have seen that happen just in this past year. It can compel government officials and Canadian citizens to appear before Senate committees. The Senate can propose and pass legislation, and send it here for approval.

In its current form, where its members are not elected by Canadians and therefore not accountable to the Canadian people, it is unacceptable. The fact remains, the Senate is an artifact of a long ago time when aristocrats and nobles wielded influence and power without being accountable to anyone.

I should clarify what I said earlier that it will delay, obstruct, not make decisions or block legislation. When it did it earlier this past year, it was not a bill that came from the House of Commons and it was not a bill that came from the government. It was this very bill, the Senate terms limits bill, on which it simply refused to make a decision.

Our view is that the Senate must change. Our government will lead that change. This week we introduced two bills in the House to create a modern, accountable Senate that is consistent with 21st century democratic values, principles and traditions. One of the bills we introduced this week would create a process for giving Canadians a say in who represents them in the Senate.

The bill, entitled the Senate appointment consultations act, is the same bill that was introduced in this House in the last session of parliament. It would create a process for holding popular consultations with Canadians to fill vacant Senate seats.

The process it would create is simple. The consultations would be held in conjunction with either federal or provincial elections. The results would provide the Prime Minister with a list of names chosen by Canadians in their particular province from which to choose to fill vacancies in the Senate.

The practice of prime ministers consulting only with party hacks before appointing friends and colleagues will end. Now, for the first time ever, Canadians across Canada will have a direct say in who should represent them in the Senate.

The other bill we introduced is the bill we are debating today. Our Senate term limits bill, officially entitled the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate tenure), will put an end to 45 year terms for senators by limiting their terms to eight years.

The bill is quite simple and straightforward. It would amend the Constitution of Canada to limit the terms of new senators to eight years and limits senators to serving a single term.

This simple, straightforward piece of legislation would end the terms of up to 45 years for senators that Canadians simply cannot accept. It would also allow the Senate to be consistently replenished with new people, with different perspectives and modern views.

Hon. members will recall that the bill on Senate tenure was first introduced in the Senate in May 2006. However, the unelected Liberal senators blocked and delayed its adoption for over a year before shirking their constitutional duty and refusing to examine this bill. Although the government was disappointed at these tactics, it had expected them somewhat.

Clearly, the increasingly aristocratic Liberal senators are not democratic and do not believe in basic democratic principles such as accountability, and as the legislative successors of the nobility, who ruled by means of arbitrary decisions, they do not believe they have to bow to public opinion.

That is why we decided to introduce our bill on Senate tenure in this House.

With the Liberal leader and many members of his caucus expressing support on numerous occasions for term limits, we expect the bill to easily pass this House. In fact, in a book published just this year, the leader of the Liberal Party indicated his support for the concept of limiting senators terms to an even shorter period than we are proposing. He proposed six years. We hope, as I said, that it will pass this House.

The problem will be in the Senate, where the noble aristocrats in the Liberal Senate caucus are trying ever more desperately to protect their privileged existence and their perks.

In spite of everything, the government expects the Liberals in the Senate to respect the will of a legitimate, elected, accountable House of Commons and quickly adopt the bill on Senate tenure, even though it is not in their personal interests.

Our Senate term limits bill, along with our Senate appointment consultations act, would allow for the accountability that Canadians demand of their parliamentary institutions by allowing them to pass judgment on the conduct of senators. Senators will now have to be accountable for the decisions they make, the work they do, and the paycheques they receive. Accountability, the basis of democracy, will finally come to the Senate.

Moreover, these bills have been consistently supported by an overwhelming number of Canadians. Last December, a poll was released by Decima Research which showed that 72% of Canadians supported term limits for senators and 64% supported Senate elections.

In September, our government released our public consultations report on democratic reform. As part of that report, a scientific poll was conducted. The results were clear: 79% of Canadians supported elections for senators and 65% supported term limits for senators.

Finally, Angus Reid recently released a poll which reiterated the findings from the earlier polls and showed that 71% of Canadians supported elections for senators and an equal amount supported term limits. The results are overwhelming. Canadians want the Senate to change and so does their government.

We have indicated on numerous occasions that we are open to different approaches to the details of Senate reform, but we will not compromise on one fundamental aspect: the status quo is not acceptable. The Senate must change.

While the government prefers to try to reform the Senate, if that change cannot happen through reform then we believe that the Senate should be abolished. This is not our preferred route. We would prefer to try to reform the Senate before resorting to abolish it. But if the vested interests continue to use their unaccountable and illegitimate democratic power to resist democratization, it is a route that Canadians will want to see us travel.

As a result, the Liberals in the Senate and the House have a decision to make. Do they want to join the government in creating a modern, accountable Senate that reflects Canada's democratic values, principles and traditions, or do they want the Senate to vanish, leaving its original purposes unfulfilled in the parliamentary process?

We hope they will choose the first option. As an artifact of a long ago time, the Senate is out of place in its current form in a 21st century democracy. An institution with the extraordinary powers of the Senate must be accountable for its decisions. It must change. Our government is providing leadership to achieve that change.

Today we are debating legislation to limit the terms of senators. This bill along with our Senate appointment consultations bill are together important steps in creating a modern accountable Senate that reflects 21st century democratic principles.

However, if we find that that effort to change the Senate continues to be blocked by a Liberal Party that prefers to protect the entitlements of a privileged few, then I am sure Canadians will want us to abolish it. We are willing to travel that road if necessary.

I might add that is a road that has been travelled. As many of the provinces entered Confederation, they still had an upper chamber in their legislatures. In every one of those provinces since Confederation, those upper chambers have been eliminated.

While we think the Senate can perform an essential role, we see from the example of those provinces that the loss of that second chamber has not made it impossible for those provinces to function well. I hear few people calling for a return of upper chambers in the provincial legislatures.

For that reason as well we see that there is a need for change and that the change that we prefer is one that is practical and achievable. If that cannot be done, the other route is not the worst route. It is a route that is far preferable to the status quo in the Senate.

I look forward to debate on this bill. I hope that members of the House will have regard for the clearly expressed views of Canadians, a strong sentiment and desire for change, the desire for accountability, and the desire to see our country, seen around the world as a beacon for democracy, reform its institutions to actually reflect that reputation.

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10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister both for his comments and for showing us the road map of where the government is going regardless of what debate takes place here.

I know that the minister is learned in the law. I know that he has in the past lectured in the law, that he has been on the faculty of law schools on a quasi-basis and that he comes to this House with a breadth of experience in the law.

My question for the minister is about the law, specifically the law about constitutionality. Does he think the bills he is presenting before this House regarding Senate reform will require a constitutional amendment under the amendment formula as dictated by Canadian law? Is that his view? Will he tell the House?

Will he tell the people of Canada that this is mostly a charade, that these bills are a charade, that if they pass they will still require a constitutional amendment and thus a reopening of constitutional discussions? Will he tell the Canadian public the truth about the constitutional amendment requirement and the opening up of all of the complaints and wishes of Canadians when it comes to constitutional reform?

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10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his kind introduction by discussing my qualifications. Unfortunately, like the name he bears and the law that bears that name, he did get it wrong. The faculty I was associated with was not the law school. It was in fact the School of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto. It is true that I have been a guest lecturer and have participated in teaching at law schools as well as other faculties at several universities, but I did not want that to go on the record improperly.

In terms of the constitutionality in regard to this, it is quite clear that the proposed bill on Senate term limits is constitutional. We have heard from individuals far more expert and eminent on the Constitution than myself or the hon. member from Moncton. People such as Patrick Monahan and Peter Hogg, as anyone who has been to law school will recognize, are the leading experts on the Constitution alive today in this country. On a couple of occasions, they have both testified at Senate committees that these bills are entirely constitutional.

We know the bill is constitutional because we have seen it happen in the past. There actually has been a Senate term limits bill before. It was passed without consultation with the provinces and without any approval from the provinces. That was done in Parliament. That bill was the one that changed senators' terms from terms for life to age 75 for retirement. This shows us that the practice was constitutional in the past.

We have the advice of the best constitutional experts today. We have the past practice. It is quite clear that this is a constitutional measure we are taking and that the approach we are taking is properly within the ambit of the government.

Had we gone further, for example, to suggest that we change the allocation of Senate seats between provinces, I think the hon. member would be quite right. Then we would be straying into the area that the Constitution says does require the consent of the provinces.

This bill, however, does not do that. As such, it is wholly within the powers of this Parliament.

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10:20 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a comment before a very direct question for the House leader. Our party believes in term limits for the Senate and we like the number to be zero. I hope that the minister might engage with us on that number. We also believe that we should consult Canadians. After all, this has been the problem with the government on democratic reform: it consults friends and everyone in the backroom, but not Canadians.

My question for my friend is this: if the government is looking at genuine change in the Senate, why do we not get this over with and have a referendum? We should ask Canadians whether they want the Senate at all. This would save us all a lot of time. It would put this bill to sleep. It is about time that Canadians really were consulted on the Senate. We should not be just tinkering. We should be asking whether they want the Senate or not. Why does the government not do that and get on with it?

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10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very heartened by two things that the member for Ottawa Centre has said.

First, the belief of the NDP is that we should consult Canadians. I am heartened, because that of course means that he is indicating he will be supporting our next bill that we will be debating, which is the bill on consultations with Canadians about those whom they would like to represent them in the Senate. It heartens me that he has given his commitment to support that because he believes in consulting Canadians.

Second, on the question at hand, his other statement was that he supports term limits, so we are making progress there.

In terms of the question of going straight to the matter of abolition and asking Canadians about that, there is of course a private member's bill by a Conservative senator in the other place, Senator Segal, which proposes exactly that. We do not necessarily say that it is a bad idea; however, we believe there is a better option than abolition or the status quo and that better option is to correct the Senate. That is what we are seeking to do here.

However, in fairness to the member for Ottawa Centre, I do believe he is right when he says that the Senate in its current form should be put out of its misery. It needs to be made accountable and democratic. If that cannot be done, I believe the member for Ottawa Centre is right and we should ask Canadians if they wish to see that institution in its current form terminated, because it simply cannot justify, in a 21st century democracy, continuing to hold the powers that it holds without any accountability or any democratic element.

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10:20 a.m.

Langley
B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments that we have heard from the government House leader. I have also heard from my constituents that they are not happy with the Senate in its present form. They are asking for changes. They support what the government is proposing. They do want to see an accountable Senate. They would like to see senators elected, so the government's plan is taking us in that direction. They also want to see term limits.

My question for the member, though, relates to the Liberal Party's resistance to change. I would ask him why he thinks there is that resistance. Also, Alberta indicated through an election those whom Albertans would like to see appointed to the Senate. Again, the previous Liberal government ignored that.

We now have a Prime Minister who is seeking direction from Canadians on whom they would like to see in the Senate. The previous government did not do that. Could the member remind us of that example and give us his thoughts on why there is such a huge resistance from the Liberal Party? Why does it resist listening to Canadians? Canadians are unanimous in wanting to see a change in the Senate. Why are the Liberals resisting it?

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10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know that the member for Langley shares his constituents' interest in this important issue.

In terms of the matter of appointing senators who have been elected, there actually now have been two occasions in Canadian history when senators who have been recommended by the voters in their province have then been appointed to the Senate.

The most recent one, of course, is Bert Brown, who was appointed by our current Prime Minister. He was recommended in a vote that took place many years ago. He was a senator in waiting for a long time while others who had not been elected continued to be appointed by the previous Liberal government. He was passed over.

We did not do that. The Prime Minister was happy to implement the spirit of our proposed legislation on Senate consultations and appoint him in this Parliament.

The previous occasion was actually under the former Progressive Conservative government, which was in place from 1984 to 1993. Again, there had been an election in the province of Alberta and a senator had been recommended. In the spirit of the desire of this party historically to see reform in the Senate, that appointment was also made.

So we have a number of examples, and I do not think anybody would say the Senate was worse off for either of those appointments. I think they were all good examples of how things could operate in the future. If we had a Senate filled with people who had a legitimate mandate from their voters, from their provinces and the people of their provinces, it would certainly strengthen that institution.

In terms of those who are in the Senate now, it is a Liberal-dominated institution. It usually is. The history of this country has been one of Liberal governments, primarily, and the history of this country in the modern era has been one of Liberal governments appointing almost exclusively Liberal Party hacks to that institution.

That is the very reason why it is discredited in this day and age, but the Liberals of course view those appointments as the legitimate spoils of the electoral game. They view that as the riches that they are able to access for their friends to reward them for their good work for the party over the years.

That is not what an institution in a Parliament should be for. It should not be for rewarding one's buddies, one's friends, one's campaign chairs from previous elections or one's best fundraisers. It should be an institution that represents and speaks for the voice of ordinary Canadians. That is how democracy works.

If the Liberals want to reward their buddies and friends, the Liberal Party can pay for them out of its own money. That is not what this institution is for. However, I can see how, in dominating that institution with those kinds of folks, they want to resist any change that puts at risk exactly those perks and privileges. Their strategy is clear. It is to delay, obstruct and prevent any change, because as soon as there is one hint of legitimate reform, the floodgates will open and the good ride they have had, enjoying the perks and privileges for years at the expense of our democracy, will come to an end.

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10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to stand in the House and outline some of the concerns that Canadians should have about the thin gruel of the agenda on democratic reform that is coming from the Conservative Party and, frankly, the attacking of parliamentary privilege, the disrespect and the shallow nature in which the minister responsible for democratic reform is attacking these issues.

Because I think we all need to be drawn together in a real debate about where we are going with respect to Liberal-led democratic reform, I would like to start with a quote from the Bible:

And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.

That is the Gospel according to St. Mark, chapter 3, verse 25.

What we kind of forget is that there is a history and it is called the history of Canada. Canada was founded on bases that were different from our two feeding democratic countries by way of origin. We have certain influences from the United Kingdom, which we see when we look around this House, the other place, Parliament in general and the system of government, that reflects our British heritage and the influence of Great Britain on our founding.

What we cannot ignore as well is that there was an influence from the south, that there was a young republic that was going through the throes of a civil war, one of the most bloody wars in the history of humankind, and that country is the United States of America that was very prescient on the minds of the Fathers of Confederation at the time that debates took place regarding how we came to have this House, the other house and the system of responsible government.

We specifically did not copy the British model. It is not often that I would quote with favour a Conservative politician but I will do it this once because I think, with the distance of time and separation, that our first prime minister, John Alexander Macdonald, was right when he said:

An hereditary Upper House is impracticable in this young country.... An hereditary body is altogether unsuited to our state of our society, and would soon dwindle into nothing.

This was said in 1865 when the Confederation debates took place. There was a very early understanding that we were different than the United Kingdom.

Looking at events extraneous to Kingston and to Charlottetown where great debates took place at the time and the carnage that resulted from the American experiment, that Conservative prime minister, the first prime minister of Canada, also said that we needed to distinguish ourselves from the United States of America. He said:

...the defects which time and events have shown to exist in the American Constitution. They commenced, in fact, at the wrong end. They declared by their Constitution that each state was a sovereignty in itself, and that all the powers incident to a sovereignty belonged to each state, except those powers which, by the Constitution, were conferred upon the General Government and Congress. Here we have adopted a different system. We have strengthened the General Government. We have given the General Legislature all the great subjects of legislation. We have conferred on them, not only specifically and in detail, all the powers which are incident to sovereignty, but we have expressly declared that all subjects of general interest not distinctly and exclusively conferred upon the local governments and local legislatures, shall be conferred upon the General Government and Legislature. We have thus avoided that great source of weakness which has been the cause of the disruption of the United States. We have avoided all conflict of jurisdiction and authority, and if this Constitution is carried out, as it will be in full detail in the Imperial Act...we will have...all the advantages of a legislative union under one administration, with, at the same time, the guarantees for local institutions and for local laws, which are insisted upon by so many in the provinces now....

We must remember that the provinces came together to form a union. We must remember that those provinces were the seed for the plant that is now Canada. We must remember that the provinces insisted on specific legislative powers but they also insisted on protection for their interests. Thus, the legislative council, now known as the Senate, arrived.

This must be the starting point for all discussion about the Senate: the provinces. As John A. Macdonald said, “The central government was well-defined, the federal powers were entrenched and this House, the House of Commons, having almost all of the powers of the new federal government, was well-ensconced”.

What of the Senate? The legislative council was there to protect provincial rights. I submit that since 1867 there has only been one change in the Senate makeup that has had any effect on those powers as deemed important by the provinces since 1867, and that was the one change with respect to the length of time that senators may serve.

I am shocked that the Minister for Democratic Reform, a person who has had at least some legal training, suggests that the change made in 1965 was constitutional. It was done and it was passed unilaterally. Any constitutional scholar who we have taken the advantage of listening to will say that unilateral change to the Constitution may or may not be constitutional. If it is done and not challenged, then it lies there in possum waiting for someone to challenge it perhaps.

However, the change was not that objectional to all parties concerned. It limited the life appointment of senators to the age of 75. I do not hear anybody objecting to that from the Senate or from any other quarter in this country. It was done unilaterally in 1965 before there was an amendment formula for the Constitution Act of Canada. Therefore, to say that it was done constitutionally is misleading.

Legally speaking, it was done unilaterally before there was a constitutional amendment formula. We live in an era where there is a formula now and we have to fast forward discussions to today's reality, today's legal environment, and understand that the constitutional amendment package that is part of the laws of this country is in play.

It shocks me. If we were here as a result of extensive federal-provincial consultations, negotiations, conferences or even a video conference that the minister might have had with his provincial counterparts, I might be a little less shocked about how the government can bring these bills forward and say that every Canadian wants them. I know they are government-driven by opinion polls and that for the government it is 37% of Canada. In reality, however, we are talking about provincial rights and interests and anything that touches upon Senate reform touches upon provincial rights.

We have a Senate. Right now, there are vacancies in the province of British Columbia, two vacancies in Ontario, two in Quebec and five in Atlantic Canada. There are disproportionate vacancies in Atlantic Canada. Would the premiers of those provinces feel that perhaps the government does not feel that those regions, which are completely under-represented in the Senate from its structure, might want to have a say in its redevelopment?

I look at the number of seats for western Canada. British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba each have six seats. We all know, by the layout of the Senate as envisioned when Canada was a much smaller place, that it gives more seats to eastern Canada and yet those seats have not been filled by the government and remain vacant.

There is a disequilibrium with respect to the number of seats. This is not me just saying that. There are very weighty tones on the issues of what affects our country. Most of the scholars suggest that we will have two major problems for the next 100 years in the existence of this Confederation. One of the major problems, which I do not need to go into too deeply, is the unacceptability to Quebec of the Constitution as revised without its agreement in 1982. That has been floating out there for a long time.

One would think that the Minister for Democratic Reform and the Prime Minister might have a concern about that and might want to occasionally talk to premiers about this issue.

I will quote from the book entitled, A House Divided by Gordon Robertson. It states:

The other major problem that had to be remedied was the imbalance in political power and influence that led Western Canada to feel that its interests were normally subordinated to those of the populous centre of Canada—Ontario and Quebec. Here the only thing that seemed likely to help was Senate reform.

Western Canada has, for some time, through its scholars, through its elected leaders and through some of its elected politicians, been active and perhaps more active than any part of the country with respect to Senate reform.

Let me start the debate as well by saying that I thought we were here discussing Senate reform. The Prime Minister, in his speech before a Senate committee in September of last year, made it very clear that he was there to talk about reform. We had no indication from the Prime Minister or the Minister for Democratic Reform or spokespeople for the Conservative government that a referendum or otherwise on abolition was the ultimate end game of these bills. No discussions have actually taken place yet with the provinces.

I suppose, if that is the case and the Conservative government is actually putting time limits on debates with respect to all of these bills, then maybe the government should be honest and say that it will just skip steps one and two and go to step three and put the abolition element to a constitutional amendment process, which is clearly required. I think we had that admission from the minister today that, in his view, anything more than tinkering with tenure and selection or nomination processes, anything beyond that as he said, composition of the Senate or abolition would require the constitutional amendment formula to take place.

Perhaps the government should be honest with Canadians and say that it favours the abolition of the Senate, it supports Progressive Conservative Senator Hugh Segal's amendment and go straight to that point. Otherwise, I believe that it is pulling a fast one on the people of Canada by suggesting that these bills, other than getting the headlines that the Conservatives so crave, will actually affect Senate change. I do not think that is the case. It is pretty clear that there is a constitutional issue here and the amendment formula will come into play.

As I started to say, we should be talking about western Canada. We talk about western alienation. It seems perhaps funny for a member of Parliament from the shores of the Bay of Fundy to talk about western alienation, but I suppose, if we look at half the population of northern Alberta, it is probably from the Atlantic provinces, so I feel some kinship to the concerns and respect very much the concerns of successive western premiers who have not had a chance to have constitutional conferences or meetings with the Prime Minister. He has not had a first ministers meeting since he was elected. His first meeting is coming up and he will be talking about the economy, which, obviously, is an important subject.

However, if the reform of Canada's Senate continues to be important and, as the scholars said, to bring in the west, to effect a change to their under-representation, then we should know that the west of Canada has spoken before. The Canada West findings in 1981 suggested, for instance in terms of distribution, equality for all provinces, six to ten senators each, territories one or two each. This would be a cutting back of the number of seats, which is 24 each in Quebec and Ontario. I am not sure that would fly with the respective premiers of Quebec and Ontario.

The joint committee hearings, which took place in 1982 through 1984, recommended a distribution of seats which would be in the formula of 2, 6, 12 and 24. What that means is that the territories would each get 2 senators, P.E.I., because of its historical incident, would get 6. Almost all the other provinces would get 12 except for Ontario and Quebec. It is a formula that was discussed. The Alberta committee in 1985 essentially came to a similar conclusion that there should be equality for provinces at 6 each.

We must remember that although we differ from the United States in terms of having provincial rights protected in a federal institution as opposed to ceding rights directly to states, it is the upper house in the United States that gives credence to small populations having equality with large populations. I do not think the people of California and New York are so much more magnanimous than the big provinces in Canada that they had not thought that Rhode Island and Maine having two senators along with their two senators in New York and California would not be a bit of a problem.

However, in over 200 years it has not been problem. There have not been calls for more senators for the larger states and the U.S. senate, when it is dominated by the right party, I suppose one could argue, works fairly well with respect to administering the Government of the United States. It is a check and a balance on the House of Representatives and on the government in question, and that may be the bigger issue.

I think the kernel of the real motive would be in the speech of the Minister for Democratic Reform when he said, repeatedly, the Liberal-dominated Senate. He is taking a snapshot in time. I wonder, and maybe the Canadian public wonders, if this were a Conservative-dominated Senate of the day and it voted with the government all the time, because of the nature of collegiality and the conformity to one's party, whether we would be here.

This is shortsighted for two reasons. Governments need checks and balances. It is why, Mr. Speaker, you have to sit through the gruelling, incisive and informative question period every day. Question period is an opportunity for opposition members to keep the government on its toes.

If not, what are we left with? We might be left with the press, members of the fifth estate, to be the official opposition. I lived as a citizen through something like that. Of course members will think I am talking about some despotic state in an undeveloped part of the world. I am talking about New Brunswick after former Premier McKenna wiped out the opposition parties with a 58 to zero majority.

As a former premier, he has spoken of this. He says that it was the worst nightmare for a premier. It was not that he had 58 colleagues. He may have said that privately and I do not want to quote him. The point was there was no institutional opposition to his government. It is a dangerous thing. He very much took steps to make opposition party leaders, although not having seats, comfortable in the democratic questioning process. He elevated the press to a higher position of knowledge and accountability than it likely was prepared for.

It is not a system that works very well, and these are unicameral situations in our provinces. They do not happen that often. There are usually oppositions in the democratically elected houses of our country. However, it would be a dangerous thing if the Senate were completely abolished. We are here to talk about making it more effective.

If the Senate were completely abolished and there was an overwhelming majority of any party, and we cannot see that in this minority Parliament because it is pretty well balanced, there would not be the institutional opposition or that chance for review and verification of legislation that exists now.

Is the Senate perfect? We can have that debate another day. Is the Senate open to change? Certainly. However, what are we discussing if, at the end of the day, a constitutional amendment is required? Why are we here at all if the government is too timid to meet its provincial homologues, both in terms of intergovernmental affairs and premiers?

Is the Prime Minister in fact afraid to meet other first ministers? Is there a problem that he cannot sit down with his confreres and discuss issues like this because he is afraid of the results?

We saw the Prime Minister attack the Premier of Ontario yesterday. I need to go very far east to say that he has not had collegial relationships with the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador. On these issues reflecting Senate reform, at least four provinces have written us as to their opposition to Senate reform without consultation.

The two key issues here are that we need to have consultations with the provinces, in whatever form, to verify what their wants and desires are. This second House was founded for them, for the protection of their rights. We do not have any official word on what the provinces feel. We have letters written after spats that the Prime Minister created and we have the Minister of Democratic Reform going around and getting telephone opinions as to what people in certain provinces want, but it cannot be said that we have the stakeholders' interests in mind.

Finally, there is a huge question of constitutionality. If this matter proceeds to committee, which it likely will, it is very clear to me that we will have to hear from constitutional experts, who may well suggest that it may be necessary for this bill and other bills coming to be referred to a court of competent jurisdiction, whether that is a provincial Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court of Canada itself.