House of Commons Hansard #106 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was code.

Topics

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest Code
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to correct my colleague because I know that he is very well informed on this matter. If we reread the Liberal Party motion, we see that it is calling for the Standing Orders of the House of Commons to be amended by adding paragraph (b.1) after paragraph (b).

The motion asks for the Standing Orders to be amended and for the Ethics Commissioner to revisit her decision once the amendments have been made. That is not at all what the member just told us. The commissioner based her decision on standing orders that had already been adopted.

I was a member of that committee. I was in Parliament when the code was adopted. We saw the loophole that was brought up by the member for Dufferin—Caledon. He made the statement in committee. He found that flaw. No problem, the Conservative Party lawyers went to work. They wanted to keep the member for West Nova from speaking, and they found the loophole. Except that it means that now everyone in this House is penalized. It means that the public or witnesses can file a lawsuit against us to keep us from asking them questions or discussing a topic, even though we are often the most expert in the matter. That must be corrected.

The Liberals have moved their motion and are asking that the Standing Orders be amended. And after that, they want the commissioner to revisit the issue. I think that the motion is very well constructed, and therefore the Bloc Québécois will support it.

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest Code
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was delighted to hear the remarks of the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, if for no other reason than he had other things to say. He was involved in the committee work that led to the creation of the Conflict of Interest Code and he was able to say that it was never envisaged when they developed the code that this type of outcome would happen. That is very important for the record. I am not sure I have heard it from others here today, but I thank him for putting that on the record. That is important both for us here in the House and for the Ethics Commissioner.

Then I ask him, in the event that a member here were to be advocating outside the House and inside the House, let us say, for the use of two official languages in one of the provinces and he or she got involved in a lawsuit and that lawsuit might entail the risk of costs being awarded against--

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest Code
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It is with regret that I must interrupt the hon. member.

There are 45 seconds remaining for the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest Code
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, if I take a guess at the question, indeed, if the law is not changed, the member could be prevented from speaking in the language of his choice. That is completely absurd. The member for Scarborough—Rouge River is absolutely right. That was not the intent of the legislator when this text was drafted.

I am repeating this because it is important. No one could have ever imagined that a situation would occur in which a member is sued, and our own Ethics Commissioner—a position we created—denies that member the right to speak in this House and in committee on a particular subject.

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest Code
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:25 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?

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest Code
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest Code
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

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

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest Code
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest Code
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest Code
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest Code
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 81(18), a recorded division on the motion stands deferred until later today.

Concurrence in Vote 1--Parliament
Main Estimates, 2008-09
Government Orders

June 5th, 2008 / 6:30 p.m.

Provencher
Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews President of the Treasury Board

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Vote 1, in the amount of $58,467,000, under PARLIAMENT — The Senate — Program expenditures, in the Main Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2009, be concurred in.

Concurrence in Vote 1--Parliament
Main Estimates, 2008-09
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate relating to the main estimates for the Senate.

I am glad that the New Democratic Party raised this matter because it draws attention to a very important issue, the need for Senate reform. The government clearly agrees that the Senate cannot stay as it is. Certainly, we understand the sentiment of those who support immediate abolition, as the NDP does and as that party is attempting to achieve through this supply motion, because the Senate is far from the effective institution that it should be. However, the government wishes to take a constructive approach. We support reforming the Senate. Only when it becomes clear that reform is not possible should abolition be pursued, but clearly, the status quo is not acceptable.

Canadians have made it clear that they want change. They no longer have confidence in the Senate as currently instituted and they do not regard it as a legitimate democratic institution appropriate to this millennium. Over the past few years, the consistency in polling results on Senate reform has been quite remarkable. Canadians consistently support either the direct election of senators, or alternatively, that there should be consultations on Senate appointments. For example, an Angus Reid poll just last month indicated that 60% of respondents supported the direct election of senators.

We have listened to Canadians and this government has made it a priority to renew and improve our democratic institutions so that we can have a stronger, better Senate.

A strong and united Canada requires federal parliamentary institutions that reflect democratic values in which Canadians in every region of this country can have confidence and faith.

This is why our government has taken concrete action to develop a practical and achievable plan to reform the Senate. Canadians are aware of the difficulties of an in-depth constitutional reform. That is why the government has adopted an incremental approach that will produce immediate results.

In particular, the government has introduced Bill C-19, concerning Senate tenure, and Bill C-20, which would provide for consultations with the Canadian public concerning appointments to the Senate.

Unfortunately, our efforts thus far have been stalled and obstructed in the Senate, demonstrating to Canadians that the Liberals in the Senate refuse to change.

Bill C-19 to limit the terms of senators to eight years of course was originally introduced in the Senate as Bill S-4. In the Angus Reid poll that I referred to earlier, 64% of respondents indicated they support limiting the terms of senators to eight years. In fact, the Leader of the Opposition at one time actually supported Senate term limits of only six years. He is on the record supporting those six year term limits.

However, even though we knew this strong popular support existed before the Angus Reid survey, and even though the Senate Special Committee on Senate Reform confirmed the constitutionality and goals of the bill, as did numerous constitutional experts, the Senate killed the bill by refusing to allow it to go to third reading, unless it was first referred to the Supreme Court of Canada.

This was definitely an unprecedented move on behalf of the Senate, and I would even go so far as to say that the senators who opposed the bill shirked their responsibilities as parliamentarians.

And it is a perfect example of why Senate reform needs to happen. It also shows the difference between the approaches of the government, the Liberals and the New Democratic Party.

The Liberal Party seems determined to maintain the status quo with regard to the Senate and thereby to maintain the entitlements that go along with an antiquated, undemocratic method of appointing senators.

The New Democratic Party, to its credit, recognizes that there is a problem, but the solution offered by the NDP is to simply give up, to stop trying.

As I have demonstrated, the government's approach is to listen to the people who continue to demand reform.

I believe that Bill C-20 is another important bill that responds to Canadians' desire for fundamental reform.

If the bill on Senate tenure is a modest step towards the renewal and modernization of the Senate, the Senate appointments consultation bill will allow us to address a much more serious problem, that of democratic legitimacy.

The government's view is that it is utterly unacceptable that in this, the 21st century, and in a federal country such as Canada that prides itself on its democratic values, democratic values that we promote abroad as an example to others, that we have a chamber in our Parliament that lacks fundamental democratic legitimacy. This lack of democratic legitimacy in the Senate impairs its ability to act effectively as a legislative body that plays a meaningful role in the federal parliamentary process.

The Senate consultations bill is a positive step toward correcting this problem. It provides a means for Canadians to have a say in who represents them in what would finally be their Senate.

I find it hard to understand how anyone can disagree with that basic proposition. How can anyone argue that it is okay for a prime minister to consult with friends and family, MPs and party organizers about who should get a good plum spot in the Senate, but not be able to ask Canadian voters for their opinion on who should represent them in their Senate?

Senate reform has proven to be difficult. But that does not mean that we should quit before we have even begun.

Canadians expect more from their government, and with good reason.

Senate reform has already proved to be a difficult task in no small part because of the negative attitude of Liberal senators and the Liberal Party toward improvement and change. However, I still believe it is important that we make every effort to improve this institution before resorting to move forward with abolition.

Therefore, I cannot support the NDP in its efforts at this time to withhold supply to the Senate. Rather, I call upon the NDP to join us in achieving real reform by supporting the government's proposed Senate reform legislation. In other words, let us respond to the desire of Canadians and work toward achieving a modern, democratic Senate.

If the NDP members want to engage in a democratic exercise to abolish the Senate, I invite them to introduce a private member's bill, to hold a referendum and ask Canadians if they want to keep the Senate as it is, to democratize it, or to simply abolish it. That open public debate is the democratically legitimate way to approach abolition, not a back door tactic such as we see tonight through a supply motion.

Concurrence in Vote 1--Parliament
Main Estimates, 2008-09
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague. We have certainly clashed on almost every issue under the sun, although I do not know which hockey team he supports.

However, I think he would agree with me that part of the problem in our dealings with the Senate is it is a group that is defiant, militant and belligerent in its refusal to meet the most basic elements of reform. We have tried many times to drag this group out of the swamps of cronyism and into the 21st century in terms of democratic obligation. Yet it seems continually to refuse the most basic steps forward. Part of the reason for this motion, is to put pressure on it.

We have clear conflict of interest guidelines as members of Parliament. If one is a municipal councillor, one has very clear conflict of interest guidelines. There is transparency and accountability. If one is a school board trustee, as I was in a rural region, there are very clear obligations in terms of pecuniary interest.

Yet senators can sit and participate in a debate when they have financial interest in it. Senators do not have to disclose that. Senators can sit on the boards of directors of income trusts or telecommunications companies and participate in debates where laws are made regarding these.

Family members of senators do not need to disclose any financial dealings with government unless there is a direct contract. Senators are allowed to participate in debates where their family members have personal private interests. Most of all, members of Parliament and cabinet ministers must disclose their bank accounts. Senators do not have to this. They have been defiant in their refusal to meet the most basic conflict of interest guidelines that any other democratically elected person, whether it is on town council or a member of Parliament, has to meet.

I understand the government is trying to take these steps to reforming 141-year-old anachronism, but time and time again we see this body absolutely refuses to be accountable and transparent in a 21st century democracy. How can we get those simple reforms through this group? Does he have any ideas how this could be achieved, other than us putting the question to the Canadian people about simply getting rid of this anachronism?

Concurrence in Vote 1--Parliament
Main Estimates, 2008-09
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated in my comments, I agree with much of what my friend has just said and invite him to take that step, as I said in my address, of putting the question to the Canadian people.

Undoubtedly the issues of conflict of interest and accountability existing in the Senate are ones that concern us. We have a very different set of standards in the House of Commons. We would like to see a similar kind of ethical standards applied in the Senate.

However, it is beyond our reach. It is an appointed body, unaccountable and largely Liberal dominated. Thus far it has resisted those kinds of changes in accountability that we would like to see, although it did not hesitate to get involved in dealing with the Federal Accountability Act.

What is more remarkable is our efforts to reform and change the Senate in some ways face another legislation coming out of the Senate, which seeks to make it harder for that change to happen. Believe it or not, it is a bill being put forward by a senator to make patronage appointments to the Senate mandatory and to compel the Prime Minister to make them now. It is hard to believe that exists, but it comes from a Liberal senator, so it is not entirely surprising.

We have indicated our strong resistance and opposition to that. I hope when it comes over to this chamber, our friends in the New Democratic Party will join us in opposing that measure. It is bad enough we have a Senate chamber that continues to be dominated by a single party, the Liberal Party, which has used it for its own benefit, to reward its activists, its fundraisers, its political campaign organizers, and has resisted any democratic change. However, to make mandatory that further patronage appointments have to be made now would help ensure that further efforts at reform down the road would take that much longer to legitimately democratize the Senate. We want to see it democratized. We want to see it reflect 21st century democratic values.

We would be happy if it represented 20th of 19th century democratic values. The fact is it is an institution more reflective of the 18th century, the time of aristocrats and noblemen. That is not the Canada of today. This is not the democracy of which we are proud, and we want to see that change.