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

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Barry Devolin Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, a democratically legitimate and therefore more meaningful Senate can fulfill several roles in Canada's Parliament.

First, work sharing takes place at the committee level as well as within the legislature. The Canadian Senate plays that role today to a certain extent. When many pieces of legislation are brought forward, a certain amount of due diligence needs to take place. The volume of work that Canada's Parliament could deal with would be enhanced if there were two different chambers, two different groups of people to deal with that.

Second, we can read some of the justification in the United States. When its house and senate were set up, the senate would run on a different electoral cycle. As we know, some issues rise today to be of great importance and six months from now they are less important. We are all elected at the same time in this place. Having the other place on a different electoral cycle, people would go in at different times from different parts of the country. This would ensure that the issue of the day would have an impact, but it would not be the only issue that would carry forward. Spreading out the times when parliamentarians are accountable to the voters is a good thing.

Third, the upper chamber typically has a role more focused on regional representation. It is a certain irony that a member of the Bloc has asked why we need more regional representation in this place. That is a role for the Senate to play. Years ago we had the proposal for a triple E Senate, which would be equal. Different parts of the country would have a strong voice, even the less populated provinces, in one of the two chambers, and that would ensure their voices were heard.

Those are all legitimate roles that could be played by a democratic Senate. From my point of view, those are all reasons why a reformed Senate is preferable to abolishing the Senate. We need to move in that direction.

If I had been asked five years ago, I would have said my first choice would have been a reformed Senate. My second choice would have been the status quo. My last choice would have been to abolish the Senate. In the past year the first place is still a reformed Senate. However, I have come to the point where I flip two and three in my own mind. Abolishing the Senate is preferable to the status quo, but it is inferior to the option of fixing the place. If this bill and our Senate term limits bill passes, those are two important steps in the right direction to ensure the Senate of Canada plays a meaningful role.

To go back to the notion of people being elected at different times, Ontario just had a provincial election and the dominant issue arose for six weeks and then disappeared. No one has talked about it since, yet we have a government for the next four years based on one odd issue. Having two chambers would help us to avoid in Canada's national Parliament.

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-20, which talks about what I would call an advisory election. It is a piecemeal effort on Senate reform.

First, I am not opposed to Senate reform. The Senate has been with us many years now and it is something on which perhaps Canadians and parliamentarians, both federal and provincial, should have an open and honest debate. We attempted it during the Charlottetown accord and Meech Lake discussions. Unfortunately, we did not make it all the way, but I thought we had some good discussions and very constructive proposals were put on the table, which perhaps would have solved this issue once and for all.

These discussions would have to be broad reaching. They would involve the powers of the Senate. If we look at the constating documents of our country, the powers of the Senate are not really set out as to how senators are appointed or elected, the term of the Senate appointment, whether appointed or elected, and the numbers, which is a big issue for many provinces across Canada. If we look at the United States or Australian models, we would be heading toward an equal effective model. In Canada we do not have that, which is a big issue. All of these issues are worthy of discussion, debate and, hopefully, resolution.

However, to deal with it on a piecemeal basis, is the wrong way to go. At this juncture, when we have never had a discussion about Senate reform or at least a recent discussion, it would be my recommendation for the present government and Prime Minister to call the provinces together and discuss this entire issue. There has been absolutely no consultation, no discussion, no meetings, nothing, zilch, regarding any form of Senate reform and no consultation on this bill.

If we do not have consultation or meet with the provinces, the first thing that happens is the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, Yukon and New Brunswick are up in arms and against the legislation. It is difficult for people to support it. I do not think the piecemeal approach is the way to go. I would urge the government, if it is seriously interested, to try to reform the Senate and move on that basis.

We have to look at the history of the institution when our country was established in 1867. The Senate was created to represent the regions. However, the western regions did not exist at the time. In fact, there was a higher population in the Atlantic region on a percentage basis than there is now. That is the way the Senate was adopted then. It reflected the dual cultural and linguistic nature of the country. Since then, it has not evolved to meet the changing nature or fabric of Canada.

The people who debate this issue should look at what happened in Australia and the United States. United States senators were originally appointed, I believe, by the state legislatures. Eventually there was an evolution to an elected Senate. In that case there is an equal Senate with the powers defined. In this case, we would not have that. There would be nothing to deal with the powers involved, which would be a quagmire. I suggest there be some effort made with the provinces to discuss Senate reform.

I realize there were efforts made in the Charlottetown accord and the Meech Lake accord and these efforts did not bear fruit. I know that. I believe Charlottetown was the last accord. Ever since those accords were voted down, there really has not been an effort. Probably people were sick and tired of it and just did not want to go into the discussion about Senate reform again. It was put on the back burner. It was not a priority for the provincial governments. It was not a priority for Canadians.

However, perhaps it is time to dust off the briefing books. It is time to dust off some of the position papers to look at this whole issue and it is time to call the provinces together. That is the most important point I will make in my debate this afternoon. To try to do this as the federal legislature without any consultation, without any meetings, without any discussions with the provinces, I submit is foolhardy.

I find it a little hypocritical for the government of the day to be doing this. I was really quite offended at the actions of the government, because in his very first item of business upon being sworn in after the election, the Prime Minister appointed to the Senate his campaign chair, who continued to be the campaign co-chair in the federal election of 2006. There was no talk of an election. There was no talk of a consultative process. The Prime Minister appointed him to the Senate.

Perhaps I would not have been offended at that, as it has certainly happened before, but the next thing the Prime Minister did was appoint him as an unelected Minister of Public Works and Government Services. For the last 25 months, he has been around Ottawa as the unelected Minister of Public Works and Government Services. He spends approximately $43 million each and every day. He answers no questions in this House. He answers no questions in the Senate.

I have absolutely no idea what this gentleman looks like. I have no idea what he does and I never will. No one else in this House is any wiser than I am insofar as that particular person. He is, I submit, accountable to absolutely no one.

I do not want anyone here to get me wrong. I do not have any problem with a discussion on Senate reform. I think it would be healthy for the nation, but I certainly think it is not going anywhere unless we involve the provinces. I submit and suggest that the government should call a first ministers meeting with one item on the agenda: Senate reform. They should talk about the powers, the numbers, the appointment process and the term.

The government should put everything on the table and just see if there is any common ground. It should just make an effort. It may be unsuccessful, and it would not surprise me if it were unsuccessful, but the government should see if there is any common ground that can be worked at between the federal government and the provincial governments representing all provinces. So if there is any resolution to this issue, certainly it would be advisable.

Again, on dispute resolution, as I said, when we look at the Constitution we see that there are the powers of the House--and we can only have one confidence chamber--and the powers of the Senate. They really are not delineated, so if we had followed this process to its nth result, we would I guess have a Senate that is elected by advisory elections. How is any dispute to be resolved in future years? These are unanswered and disturbing questions.

Again, let us look at other jurisdictions, especially Australia. I would urge members to look at this and bring Australian experts here to see if there is any common ground so that we can move forward.

As my time is up, let me close by saying that the tenor of my comments and my position are clear. I believe that the time has come and that maybe we should have a broader discussion rather than trying to accomplish this on a piecemeal basis.

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

February 12th, 2008 / 4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have to ask a question regarding the member's words about consultations. We constantly hear about this. We hear about consulting with the provinces and consulting with this group and that group. We never hear the words “consulting with the Canadian people”.

In the Charlottetown accord, great consultations went on. The provinces were working together. All the political parties were working together. They were pounding out this Charlottetown accord that was to be brought to the people. They were going to say to the people that there it was, the answer, what we had been looking for, but nobody consulted with the people.

For the first time since I had been in this country, and I have been here since 1968, there was a referendum and this was put to the test. Lo and behold, 65% of the people or thereabouts rejected the Charlottetown accord. Why? Because nobody consulted with them.

That is what we are short of in this country on a regular basis. I wonder if the member has consulted with his constituents. Have they described to him what kind of Senate they would like to see? I have consulted with mine. I am going to give a speech in a minute and I am going to reflect what my constituents would like to see in the Senate.

We are always consulting the elite. Then the members of the elite come forward and go out on a big campaign trail.

As we can remember, all the leaders of every political party and all the leaders of the provincial parties were saying that we had to support the Charlottetown accord, that folks had to do it, that the elite had made a decision on our behalf. Yet 65% of the people said no. Does that not give a message to the member about consultations?

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am not going to disagree with the member across. I think it is important to consult with the people. It is important for each member in the House to consult on what the people that he or she represents want as far as a reformed Senate is concerned, if a reformed Senate is wanted.

However, I want to point out to the member that in this country we have a Constitution which specifically states that no amendment to the powers of the Senate can be made without the consent of at least 50% of the provinces representing at least 66% of the people.

With that constraint facing us, why would we just ignore it? It is there. It is in the Constitution. We cannot change the Constitution unilaterally, so we have no choice but to consult with the people. The member is quite right. However, we have no choice but to consult with the provinces too, because if we do not consult with the provinces this is not going anywhere.

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I remember hearing a speaker a long time ago who was talking about the plight of hungry children in third world countries. He said that he could not save them all, that he could not do everything, but that he could do something. “I will help one or two if I can,” he said.

I use that as an analogy for this. The Liberals keep saying that“ we cannot do everything and therefore we will do nothing”. I challenge them to ask why we do not do what we can. This particular initiative being undertaken by the government involves no constitutional changes. It is simply an act which will provide for consultation with the people, with a commitment that when the people express themselves in a vote on whom they want to have in the Senate as their representatives, then the current government will appoint them.

It takes nothing. There is no need for a constitutional amendment. Let us do what we can and move toward democracy.

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, very briefly, here is my answer to the member across. Why do we not try to take the bold approach? Why do we not try to do what is right?

We know the constitutional constraints face us, but that should not stop us from having a discussion with the people, as the member for Wild Rose has said, and with the provinces, as our Constitution says. If we do not do that, this whole exercise and this whole discussion are doomed to failure.

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Windsor West, Passport Canada; the hon. member for Victoria, Education; and the hon. member for St. Paul's, HIV-AIDS.

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to know how much time I have.

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska has 10 minutes left, but he will likely only be able to use two this evening.

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank you. That is what I thought.

Since I have about two minutes left, I will immediately get to the conclusion of my speech on Bill C-20.

I am going to sum things up rather quickly by saying that the government is trying to do indirectly what it cannot achieve directly. The bill provides for the consultation of electors in a province with respect to their preferences for the appointment of senators to represent the province.

The Bloc Québécois feels, as does the vast majority of Quebeckers, that even if it is reformed, the Senate will remain a useless institution. We cannot insult the other place here, but one thing is sure. This is not meant as an insult, but in Quebec it is widely believed that we really do not need the other place.

Initially, the Senate was supposed to be a chamber of sober second thought that also protected regional interests. That is why it was created in the 19th century. Regional equality in the Senate was supposed to counterbalance representation in the House. However, it seems that partisanship has gained the upper hand over regional representation, thus rendering null and void the purpose of the other place, which has a tendency to follow the lead of the House of Commons. This is what we call—and some of my colleagues have pointed it out—duplication. Heaven knows that the Bloc Québécois is opposed to any form of duplication, and particularly so in the case of the Senate.

How can this government justify having a Senate whose responsibilities would be much like those of the House of Commons, at a cost of $81 million per year?

This was my introduction to set the stage for the rest of my speech. In short, we are totally opposed to this bill.

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith all questions necessary to dispose of the motion now before the House.

Is the House ready for the question?

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

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

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Senate Appointment Consultations Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

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