House of Commons Hansard #49 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.

Topics

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, the comments made by my hon. colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber are entirely relevant. That is precisely the other issue raised by the introduction of this bill.

This House recognizes that the Québécois form a nation. Should the members of this House not be doing everything they can to act on the unanimous consensus reached by the members of the National Assembly?

My hon. colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber strongly emphasized that, when it comes to the Quebec nation's higher interests and the overwhelming, unanimous and clear consensus reached by the National Assembly, the Conservative members in this House from Quebec prefer to keep quiet, sit down and vote in accordance with the same hard line that other members of the Conservative Party want to take with Quebec. This is unacceptable.

It bears repeating over and over: Quebeckers must remember this when the time comes to deal with these same members during the next election.

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the hon. member a simple question. There are elected senates in countries such as Australia, Mexico and Brazil. I believe that even in France there is an elected senate. What does the member have against elected senates?

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, first and foremost, reforming the Senate would require amending the Constitution. For constitutional amendment to occur, there must be consultation, the sharing of information and decision making with other governments in Canada, namely, Quebec and the provinces.

Before we can even talk about Senate reform, these partners, Quebec and the provinces, must be consulted to see what they think. In that regard, all Conservative members, beginning with the members from Quebec, must be aware that the National Assembly of Quebec has said that there cannot be any constitutional amendments or changes to the Senate without first duly consulting the members of the National Assembly.

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, It is my honour to weigh in on this debate. It is a critical debate and it is an issue which, quite frankly, Canadians have been waiting for Parliament to get on top of and deal with for some time. In fact, I have heard members speak of how Senate reform has been contemplated for some three decades with various efforts being thwarted, for lack of a better word.

This bill makes great strides in the right direction. We have to go back to why this bill has been reintroduced and what the government is ultimately trying to do. This is another example of a government doing what it said it would do.

Let us go back to the throne speech, which was democratically passed by the members of this House, and look at what the throne speech said. I would like to remind hon. members that they did vote in favour of it. The throne speech said:

Canadians understand that the federation is only as strong as the democratic institutions that underpin it. Our Government believes that Canada is not well served by the Senate in its current form. To ensure that our institutions reflect our shared commitment to democracy, our Government will continue its agenda of democratic reform by reintroducing important pieces of legislation from the last session, including direct consultations with voters on the selection of Senators and limitations on their tenure.

What the government said in October is exactly what the government is saying today in this bill. We are saying that Canadians should be consulted on who represents them. I heard the hon. member for Crowfoot a few minutes ago talk about how the constituents in his riding could not name the senators who represent them. I find that remarkable. In fact I find it sad that in a modern democracy such as Canada people do not know who their representatives are.

I would hazard a guess that virtually none of my constituents could name who represents Ontario in the Senate. However, I also would hazard a guess that close to 90% of the constituents in my riding know who their member of Parliament is, because I work for them each and every day, and they know that.

These constituents deserve to be represented in the Senate. They deserve to be democratically represented in the Senate. That is what this bill proposes. It does not propose constitutional reform that would enter the country into a debate that we certainly do not need to go into right now. What this bill provides is a mechanism for the governor in council to seek the views of electors in a province about appointments to the Senate for that province.

The bill also proposes strict rules of accountability for the Senate nominees. It creates a framework for governing the actions of political parties and spending by third parties. It establishes rules for the single transferrable vote and defines the roles and responsibilities of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, who will be responsible for administering the consultation.

I cannot understand why anyone in this House would be opposed.

I understand that the Liberal Party is opposed on the basis that it would prefer that the Senate continue to be a house of cronyism and partisanship. It is how it looks after its political friends and allies, the bagmen that deliver the money, but our party does not believe that is the way the Senate should work. We believe the Senate can play a crucial role in Canada's democracy, but not in its current form, not as long as Canadians are not represented democratically in the Senate.

I am sympathetic to what the NDP has to say about the Senate. The New Democrats say that the Senate has existed for years, that this is the way it has operated, that they do not agree with it and they feel that the Senate should simply be abolished.

Our party has taken a different position. We have said that the Senate must change. It must become democratic. It must become more modern in the way it functions, or it must be abolished. We are not prepared to accept the status quo any longer.

Maybe the Liberal Party would like to go to Canadians and put forward its position that the status quo on the Senate is acceptable, but I do not believe anybody in my riding believes the status quo on the Senate is acceptable any longer.

We can see example after example of bills that have been sent to the Senate, bills on which the people of Canada have weighed in and have provided their opinions. They have put their weight behind bills that the government has brought forward. What has the Senate ultimately done with them? It has delayed and obstructed. Why? Because it does not take its direction from the people.

Senators take their direction from the political party or the leaders that appointed them. That is not right. That is not acceptable. The Senate is supposed to represent the various regions of the country. The House of Commons is supposed to represent approximately by population the various populations of the country. There is supposed to be representation by population in the House, and while I would argue that we need to make a bit of progress on that, I think that largely that is true of the House of Commons.

The Senate is supposed to represent regional interests. It is there to represent the various regions of Canada. It is not supposed to be the place for political bagmen, for the people who are owed favours and for pure partisanship, but that is the way it exists today.

I hear a number of my Liberal colleagues piping up with comments. I know they like the status quo on the Senate. Perhaps they have friends they would like to appoint. Maybe they owe some favours to some people who helped them get elected in the various regions. I am not sure, but I will say that the Senate must change.

Again, I can cite all kinds of examples. If we look at the tackling violent crime act and the various measures in it, we will see a bill that has been obstructed for years. Our government has been in place for more than two years. These were measures that we ran on in the election. We introduced these bills. We fought to get the measures in these bills through committee. That has not been easy, because while all the parties ran on an agenda of cracking down on crime, once the Liberals got here they fell back into their old ways of being soft on crime and not really being concerned about tackling crime the way it should be tackled or about restoring balance in the justice system.

However, we did fight to get them through and we did get deals from the various parties to make these bills work. We have sent them to the Senate. All of the witnesses have been heard. We believe the balance of justice is in these bills.

We know what Canadians, in significant numbers, believe. Last night on the news, there was a story about a poll. I watch the news quite often. Last night on the news, there was a story about a poll on dangerous offenders, specifically on the reverse onus portion of the tackling violent crime act and whether Canadians felt that the reverse onus for dangerous offenders was an important measure and something they supported. Seventy-six per cent of respondents said they believe this is necessary and that it needs to be done.

There is also the age of protection bill. A pastor in my riding said to me that he really appreciated the fact that our party has moved on the age of protection legislation, as it is something that they have been supporting for a long time. He said that we need to protect our children from sexual predators. I told him that I appreciated the support, but that we had not been successful in getting it through the Senate yet. He wanted to know what he could do. I told him that the first thing he can do is support us in the democratic reform of the Senate. That is why it is ultimately very important for us to do this.

Senators very often do not speak the same language as our constituents. Senator Carstairs, for example, last week said that she does not support the age of protection bill specifically because 14 year old and 15 year old prostitutes might be afraid to be tested for HIV and STDs and we would force them underground.

Why does she not understand that the point is that we want to protect them? We do not want 14 year olds and 15 year olds being exploited for sex any longer, but that is how the Senate works. Senators do not have to deliver democracy. They do not have to listen to Canadians. If she had a conversation with the church pastor who spoke to me, or with his congregation, would she speak the same way if she had to be democratically elected? I doubt it.

I would also say in regard to the Senate that many senators never leave Ottawa. If they never leave Ottawa, they cannot possibly represent the people of my riding or the people of the various regions in this country, because this area has a beat all its own, one that is not necessarily representative of all Canadians.

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's presentation today. I was not sure where he was going when he talked about Senate reform and dangerous offenders. Then I remembered that the current Prime Minister had appointed Michael Fortier to the Senate and put him in charge of all the contracting of the Government of Canada, and there have been some very dangerous offences in that line, so I think the link is made.

I believe, like every member here and like the vast majority of Canadians, that we need some restructuring of our democratic institutions, but a system whereby we have a right to vote on who we think the Prime Minister might appoint is not an elected Senate. I think there is a process in place. We have to respect that we do work within the Constitution and have true reform of our Senate.

I am a big supporter of a triple E Senate, whereby we would have a realignment of the Senate by region, elected and effective, but not voted for at the same time as the parliamentary elections so that it just reflects Parliament. There would be a staggering. Also, if we are going to go with restricting term limits, sure, but not in the sense that the prime minister of the day could appoint the whole Senate.

I am listening to what the Conservatives are saying about an elected Senate and what the New Democrats are saying about proportional representation. If we followed through on those things, we would have some sort of elected Senate and an appointed House of Commons, so I do not think that would advance the situation of democracy very much in this country.

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, those are certainly very interesting comments, but I would invite and encourage the member to go back to the Liberal senators and ask them to follow Minister Fortier's lead. They can all stand for election in the next general election. Then perhaps Senator Carstairs could go back to the good people of Manitoba and talk about how 14 year old and 15 year old prostitutes should not be protected and see how that works for her. I am not sure that it will be a real vote-getter, but maybe she knows Manitoba better than I do.

Quite frankly, I am encouraged by what I hear from the Liberals: if the bill were to pass, Liberal prime ministers would not listen to the consultations of Canadians, or at least that is what I just heard, and prime ministers ultimately would not have to follow the outcomes of Canadians by whom they have been elected. I will be very excited to stand in front of the people of Peterborough and say that I can guarantee that when Ontarians make their voice known, when they say who should represent them in the Senate, my prime minister will select that person. I guess a Liberal prime minister would not. That is something I want to talk about in the next election.

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the comments by the member for Peterborough. There is finally some common sense coming from that side of the House. It is just fantastic. His is a refreshing voice over there.

I can tell members, being from the province of Manitoba, that we definitely want to make sure that we raise the age of sexual consent, despite what Senator Sharon Carstairs has said, and protect our youth.

Based upon the comments I have just heard, I need a clarification. The member is talking about that palace of patronage in the Senate and how senators are there at the power of their party. I want to have him clarify this: is the Leader of the Opposition actually the puppet master of the Liberal senators?

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

To be honest, Mr. Speaker, I do not know. There are rumours about his role and certainly the amount of power that the Leader of the Opposition swings in the Senate. Some people say there may be as many as three different Liberal factions there. Ultimately, though, I think the Liberal senators stand for the same thing as the rest of the Liberal Party. They stand for power. They stand for access to the trough. Ultimately I think they can unite on that. I do not really know that they stand for anything in particular other than power, but I do believe they stand for power.

One thing that I believe Liberal senators understand is that there will not be any more of them, at least not put into the Senate in that fashion, unless they can get another Liberal government elected. On that they can unite. They can unite on the need for patronage to get Liberals into position so that ultimately they have access to the trough.

I heard an NDP member talking about a Senate appointment as a cash for life victory for a Liberal. I tend to agree. I think it is time that it was put to an end. I do not want 45 year terms for senators any more. I do not want any more senators put in place by someone who owes a debt to someone else.

I think senators should represent Canadians. They should represent the views and needs of Canadians. That is the only thing that they should represent: the needs of constituents and their best interests, not a party's best interests.

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel has four minutes before question period.

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois on Bill C-20, which provides for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate.

Hon. members will know by now that the Bloc Québécois will oppose any reform of the Senate, because the Bloc simply wants to abolish the Senate.

I am happy to speak, because we hear all sorts of incredible things here, and it makes me smile to hear the Conservative members say that they have kept the promises they made in the last election, when every day their actions tell quite a different story.

I remember that they wanted to introduce a bill on transparency, ethics and integrity. More than 60 Conservative members still have not been reimbursed for their election expenses. Three of those members are ministers from Quebec, including the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages. The Conservatives promised transparency and integrity, but the only members of this House who have not been reimbursed for their election expenses are Conservatives.

So that is the sort of bill the Conservative Party introduces. This bill on Senate reform is another good example.

True, the Conservatives promised that there would be an elected Senate, but what they are proposing is an elected Senate that violates the Canadian Constitution. Everyone, including the Supreme Court, agrees that the only way to have a Senate that is truly elected and complies with the law is to amend the Constitution. The Conservative Party has introduced a bill that provides for electing senators, but allows the Prime Minister to decide whether or not to honour the will of the electors.

Once again, the Conservatives are trying to tell us that they are keeping their election promises, but they have manipulated all the laws, just as they manipulated the law on political party funding and the Canada Elections Act. This is the same thing. The Conservatives are manipulating the laws to serve their own purposes, when the position of the Government of Quebec has always been clear. It is not shared by the Bloc Québécois, but this is the position taken by the National Assembly of Quebec on November 7, 2007. A motion was unanimously adopted in the National Assembly and reads as follows:

That the National Assembly of Québec reaffirm to the federal government and to the Parliament of Canada that no modification to the Canadian Senate may be carried out without the consent of the Government of Québec and the National Assembly.

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member will have just over seven minutes left after question period. We will move now to statements by members.

Safer Internet Day
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, today, more than 43 countries around the world are recognizing Safer Internet Day.

Safer Internet Day is a chance to educate parents about the dangers that lurk online and encourage them to protect their children from harm. As the Internet continues to reach into more homes and be accessed by younger children with each passing year, this need is becoming even more critical.

Our government has taken strides on this important issue. Bill C-2, currently in the Senate, would raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 years old and protect Canadian teens from so-called sex tourists who would take advantage of our existing laws to abuse our precious children. We need that bill passed by the Senate and we need it into law now.

All organizations, like Kids Internet Safety Alliance, deserve credit for their tireless efforts to eliminate online sexual exploitation of children and youth, but the battle is far from over.

On this Safer Internet Day, I ask everyone to please encourage everyone who cares for a child to educate themselves and their children on how to stay safe online and to put pressure on the Senate to get the job done and get Bill C-2 passed now.

Youth Exchange Programs
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, a group of about 30 cadets from Montreal will soon arrive in Repulse Bay in Nunavut's Kivalliq region to spend two weeks in the community.

Repulse Bay, a community situated on the Arctic Circle, is considered one of the more traditional Inuit communities and is the entryway to Ukkusiksalik National Park where the wonderful Wager Bay teems with wildlife, such as polar bears and whales.

A group of Repulse Bay cadets will then travel to a southern Canadian community in the coming year. I wish the two parties the best in their adventures.

I am a great supporter of these exchange programs for youth as these programs open their eyes to the incredible differences that exist within our great land of Canada while giving our youth a chance to showcase this part of our country. Friendships formed from these exchanges help to foster a better understanding for tolerance and diplomacy in Canada.

I congratulate all the volunteers and teachers in all the Nunavut communities who are working hard helping in fundraising and filling out applications.

International Child Soldiers Day
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Freeman Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, February 12 is International Child Soldiers Day. Throughout the world, hundreds of thousands of children are forcibly enrolled in militias or join out of need. These children serve on the front line, and are used as scouts or, worse, as slaves. They are deprived of a decent childhood. They suffer injury, abuse or deep trauma, and die in combat.

That is why the Geneva Convention and the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child seek to prohibit the involvement of children in armed conflict. Since the late 1990s, a multitude of international treaties, resolutions and protocols have been added to guide the protection of child soldiers.

I therefore reaffirm the Bloc Québécois' unfailing support for the cause of stopping the use of children as soldiers, so that these children can have a real childhood.

Forestry Industry
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the pine beetle crisis is not going away and the Conservatives are not doing nearly enough for the hard-working people of British Columbia.

More than 25,000 families have been affected by this devastation. Eighty per cent of the pine trees in B.C. will be gone by 2013. Seven million hectares of land have been affected and there has been more than $10 billion in lost value.

First nations and isolated British Columbian communities surrounded by standing deadwood are living in fear waiting for that fire that is certain to come.

When communities ask for accountability for the money promised them more than two years ago, they are met with blank stares and delays from the government.

The government needs to step up and improve on its record of negligence. An example of this was the $1 billion that the NDP and communities across the country forced out of the government for communities in need right now.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. The implications are serious and far-reaching. This crisis of national scope requires leadership and courage, and the NDP and its leader will provide this leadership.