House of Commons Hansard #100 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senators.

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The House resumed from November 17 consideration of the motion that Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate term limits), be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-10 is an act that would amend the Constitution Act. The summary states that:

This enactment alters the tenure of senators who are summoned after October 14, 2008.

More specifically, the bill states:

—a person who is summoned to the Senate after the coming into force of the Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits) shall hold a place in that House for one term of eight years.

The bill is modest in size. It seeks to impose limits on senators rather than having them appointed until age 75 or until they choose to leave.

I looked back to where we have been with this issue. This issue came up in 2006. As a result of elections and prorogations, et cetera, the bill made no progress. It came up again last April. A couple of hours of debate were held in May. Here we are again still debating the bill at second reading. As members are aware, second reading is the first opportunity for parliamentarians to give their views on a bill proposed by the government.

I went back to the original speech given by the Minister of State for Democratic Reform. We all assume that the person championing the bill will give substantive reasons why the bill is a good one. We just said a prayer of good laws and wise decisions. I looked for those substantive reasons in the minister's speech but I did not find them. The arguments that were made by the minister were more pros than fact. They were some sweeping generalizations without the substance that parliamentarians would like to have.

I also notice that government members are not speaking to the bill. It has been introduced by one person and the opposition parties have spoken to the bill. If government members do not get up to defend a bill, one must ask why not? Why are they not prepared to stand in this place and take questions from the opposition about its concerns with the it?

One of the phrases that came out in the minister's speech was the “step by step approach”. There is no question that the government's plans in the longer term are to have either an elected Senate or maybe to abolish it altogether.

If we look over the history of this issue since 2006, we will see that the Senate has been maligned. It has constantly been pointed out that the Senate is composed of unelected senators. It is undemocratic. It is full of all kinds of terrible people, who just sit there and serve for 45 years. We have been hearing all the negatives about the Senate. The Senate is a Canadian institution. We know the government's record in terms of respect for the institutions of our country.

The way the government has handled this, or not handled it, demonstrates, yet again, that the government really does not care if the bill gets passed. It does not care if we move it through the system and get it dealt with because it has a political benefit if not passed. It is like a political football. It is like the cat playing with the wool. When problems come up, the government will bring back the bill and take some shots at those terrible senators.

Having been here 17 years, I know many senators. Everybody in this place knows that the Senate does better committee work and study work than the House of Commons. The reason for that is because senators do not have constituencies that take up 60% of their time.

Senators are doing the job here. They are the sober second thought. They have the time to give to the studies, to hold comprehensive hearings and to go abroad to meet with other jurisdictions that have the same or similar problems or have entertained some changes. They take the time to do it.

I also note, and the members will also know, that the camaraderie within the Senate is better than it is in the House. Those people have great meetings. I was the chair of the scrutiny and regulations committee. Anybody who has attended a Senate meeting can see how important it is to have the institutional memory of some of the key areas that went by. We have files before the scrutiny of regulations committee that go back 25 years on the Fisheries Act, and the Minister of Fisheries would know that. The senators and many of those people have been there know what the arguments are.

One reason the Conservatives use to limit the terms of the Senate is that people lose the capacity to have fresh ideas. We get stale and we have to turn it over so we get some new ideas. I reject the argument totally. The example I will use to demonstrate it is the Supreme Court of Canada.

Would the government also argue that the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada lose the capacity to have any new ideas, to learn, to do good work? Absolutely not. Will we reform the Supreme Court so we can turn them over a lot faster? Absolutely not. It is not in the public interest nor in the interests of our country.

This is a one step by one step approach, but it is an approach in which the Conservatives do not want to engage. They would rather have this issue on the table, continuing to give them the opportunity to say what an undemocratic institution it is, unelected, not accountable, et cetera. I think they tasted blood this past week, when the Senate majority of Conservatives were instructed to kill a bill on climate change even before it was sent to a Senate committee for consideration.

Now the Conservatives can deal with it here. When they finally have to be pushed to put something through to the Senate, they know they have the Senate tool. This game is being played out on so many items. Members will be aware of all of the justice bills.

In looking at the minister of state's speech, he seemed to think that people of age had a problem, that when they reached 75, they were really coasting, that they do not have a clue and that they cannot do this. I am not sure whether the Canadian Human Rights Commission would agree with the principle that when one reaches a certain age, somehow one has to be treated differently.

The Prime Minister appoints senators. If the Conservatives are concerned about people serving for too long a period, why would they appoint somebody who is 35 years old? If we look at the people in the Senate, these honourable senators, we will see some people of great character, of great information and knowledge, representing the cross-section of our country and every geographic corner of our country.

I was disappointed at the lack of substance in the minister's speech in justifying the bill. I agree with the other parties that the bill should go to committee so we can have others, outside of this chamber, come before the House of Commons committee and explain to the government why its presumptions on which the bill is based are faulty and not in the public interest.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was absolutely flabbergasted to listen to my hon. colleague's speech in the same week that the unelected and unaccountable house trashed a bill on climate change, which was voted for by the democratically elected members of the Canadian people.

The Liberals have never wanted to touch Senate reform because they have always used it as a place where they put the bagmen and the party hacks. However, if we looked at the Senate rules for conflict of interest, senators would not meet the most basic test that any rural town councillor, or any small town school board trustee would have to meet.

Under the Senate's conflict of interest guidelines, senators can review legislation where they have a pecuniary interest. They can sit on the boards of major corporations. They have all manner of financial interests that they do not have to disclose. Any city or town councillor in any community in the country would have to disclose those, but not the senators.

If these representatives are supposed to do sober second thought, would the member not agree with me that we have to clean up and have clear guidelines on conflict of interest so the money, the bagmen and the oil industry cannot overrule the House?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

I agree, Mr. Speaker, but the bill is not the solution when we consider some of the work that has been done, such as the work on mental health, the work on climate change in the Senate, the work on euthanasia.

Everybody in this place knows that the Conservative majority in the Senate did not make the decision to defeat Bill C-311 before it completed second reading. The direction came straight from the Prime Minister of Canada, who believes that Kyoto was a socialist plot.

The members know that.They should not blame the Senate for it. They should blame the Prime Minister and the Conservatives who cannot even hold on to an environment minister because they have no policy, no interest in the environment.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to my hon. colleague, I really enjoy his speeches many times, but on this occasion, he must take pause for reflection.

If the Prime Minister gave orders to the Senate majority to do what it did over this week, that is another nail in the Senate's coffin as far as I am concerned. This says that we have a Senate that is completely malfunctioning.

When we look at the content of the bill to shorten terms of Senators and when we look at the possibility that the actions taken this week could transfer forward into the next government, we could see the situation where the Senate could, without debate, cancel a government bill. This is totally unacceptable.

We have a crisis in our Parliament and the bill before us will not solve that. It gives us the opportunity to debate it in a fashion. We need to make that—

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I have to stop the member there to give the member for Mississauga South enough time to reply.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree with everything the member has said. The bill does not deal with the real problem. The real problem is that the Prime Minister has a problem with democracy. He knows that whenever he gets in trouble, all he has to do is bring up a bill like this or bring up another justice bill, something like getting tough on crime week, so we switch the channel and take the focus off the real issues, the real problems facing the nation.

The Conservatives do not want the bill passed. They have been playing around with it like a cat with a ball of wool, and they will continue to do that. They know this has better political mileage because they can continue to use their slogans like “undemocratic, unelected, useless people”. Yet every member in this place will go to an event to say goodbye to a senator when he or she retires because they respect the work that has been done.

The Conservatives cannot deny that. We have some work to do, but the Senate did not make decision to defeat Bill C-311. It was the Prime Minister himself.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on the amendment to Bill C-10, an act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, regarding Senate term limits.

For the record, the amendment calls for striking out all of the words in the motion after the word “That” and substituting the following:

the House decline to give second reading to Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate term limits), because the term limits do not go far enough in addressing the problems with the Senate of Canada, and do not lead quickly enough to the abolition of the upper chamber, as recent events have shown to be necessary.

The New Democrats' position is clear. This bill falls far short on the changes necessary if the Senate is ever to be effective.

I wanted to rise during this debate because there are some important points that need to be made.

At the outset, I want to address the cynical workings of the government. It knows, as does every MP in this chamber, that the length of time that the senators stay in their appointed seats is not the real issue. The real issue is how they got to the Senate in the first place.

We know that the 35 unelected senators appointed by this Prime Minister were instrumental in killing, without debate, Bill C-311, the climate change accountability act by my colleague from Thunder Bay—Superior North.

Bill C-311 would have committed the federal government to achieving practical, science-based greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Bill C-311 was passed by a majority of the elected members of Parliament, representing the majority of Canadians.

This Prime Minister said in 2004, “I will not name appointed people to the Senate. Anyone who sits in the Parliament of Canada must be elected by the people they represent”.

For the record, let me name those unelected Conservative senators who voted to kill Bill C-311. They include David Angus, unelected, unaccountable; Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, unelected, unaccountable; David Braley, unelected, unaccountable; Patrick Brazeau, unelected, unaccountable.

I would like to talk a little about Senator Brazeau. I would like to quote Don Martin in an article he wrote, from February 3, 2009:

It's hard to imagine how such a thoroughly damaged resumé could've survived the supposedly ruthless scrutiny of the Prime Minister's Office, particularly when the job is a 40-year guaranteed Senate gig with an annual salary of $130,000 plus perks....

The man described in his bio as a loving father of three is darn close to qualifying to be a deadbeat dad with the mother of one offspring telling CTV that Brazeau hasn't seen or properly supported his 14-year-old son in eight years.

He questions whether this is the calibre of individual the Prime Minister had in mind when he set out to reform the Senate.

The list continues with Bert Brown, unelected, unaccountable; Claude Carignan, unelected, unaccountable; Andrée Champagne, unelected, unaccountable; Ethel Cochrane, unelected, unaccountable; Gerald Comeau, unelected, unaccountable; Anne Cools, unelected, unaccountable; Consiglio Di Nino, unelected, unaccountable; Fred Dickson, unelected, unaccountable; Mike Duffy, unelected, unaccountable, and it must be pretty tough for this guy, carrying the party line instead of asking tough questions of politicians; Nicole Eaton, unelected, unaccountable; Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis, unelected, unaccountable; and Linda Frum, unelected, unaccountable.

As well, there was Irving Gerstein, and I will expand a little on this senator.

In his 2007 book on the Prime Minister's team, subtitled Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power, Tom Flanagan, a former top PM adviser, had this to say:

Under Irving Gerstein's direction, the grassroots model of fundraising has built the Conservative Party into a financial powerhouse

What is his reward? It is $130,000 plus perks, all on the taxpayers' dime. What a slap in the face to Canadians. This is the senator who is going from community to community, province to province, raising funds for the Conservative Party.

The list continues with Stephen Greene, unelected, unaccountable; Leo Housakos, unelected, unaccountable; Janis Johnson, unelected, unaccountable; Noël Kinsella, unelected, unaccountable; Vim Kochhar, unelected, unaccountable; Daniel Lang, unelected, unaccountable; Marjory LeBreton, unelected, unaccountable; Elizabeth Marshall, unelected, unaccountable; Yonah Martin, unelected, unaccountable; Michael Meighen, unelected, unaccountable; Ruth Nancy, unelected, unaccountable; Richard Neufeld, unelected, unaccountable; Kelvin Kenneth Ogilvie, unelected, unaccountable; Donald Oliver, unelected, unaccountable; Dennis Glen Patterson, unelected, unaccountable to the Canadian people; Donald Neil Plett, unelected, unaccountable; Rose-May Poirier, unelected, unaccountable; Bob Runciman, unelected, unaccountable; Hugh Segal, unelected, unaccountable; Judith Seidman, unelected, unaccountable; Gerry St. Germain, unelected, unaccountable; Carolyn Stewart Olsen, unelected, unaccountable; David Tkachuk, unelected, unaccountable; John Wallace, unelected, unaccountable; and Pamela Wallin, unelected, unaccountable.

These are all the senators who killed Bill C-311.

Let me speak a bit about another senator who was not present for the vote, Senator Doug Finley.

Bill C-311 was killed by this unaccountable Senate.

How about Michael Douglas Finley, who had to be escorted by security out of the House of Commons committee because he showed up uninvited and refused to leave, displaying such utter disrespect for this great institution?

We could spend a lot of time on all the other worthy services he delivered for the Conservative Party, but we do not have time to go there.

The Conservative committee that searches for these candidates should take a lesson from DND and advertise on the Internet for candidates, on such sites as craigslist and soft porn sites, like DND did. It may end up with better candidates to appoint to the unelected, unaccountable Senate.

I notice the growing discomfort on the faces of Conservative members as I read the names of these unelected, unaccountable and unrepresentative senators into the record of this chamber.

Is it any wonder that even in the Conservative-friendly corners criticism is mounting about the Prime Minister's unbelievable record of broken promises.

Let me quote John Ivison, who wrote in the National Post this week:

All politicians are haunted by things they’ve said in the past. All governments are buffeted by events and forced to shift position.

But how many times can a politician say something and then do the precise opposite before even his strongest supporters start to doubt him? The bond of trust between Mr. Harper and Canadians is eroding, according to opinion polls by Nik Nanos.

The list of those broken promises is long.

Can members imagine how Preston Manning must feel about the actions of the Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister is betraying all those who voted for him and the Reform Party.

He is betraying all those who thought they were getting a new form of government, one that was not as morally corrupt as the previous Liberal government.

Instead, we have a hyper-partisan, morally bankrupt, anti-democratic government that is thumbing its nose at every institution that upholds democracy.

Democracy--

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I will have to stop the member there.

I will open the floor to questions and comments. The hon. member for Timmins—James Bay.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague. We have seen how the Conservative Party came in. It told Canadians that it was going to be an ethical government and was going to do something different. Yet we see the pattern. As soon as the Conservatives got their hands on the Senate, they started to fill it with the bagmen and cronies, people like Leo Housakos and Doug Finley, who gets paid by the taxpayer to run the war room for the Conservative Party.

Then, of course, there is the Hon. Irving Gerstein. Here is a man who shows what the Senate is all about. The Liberals have accused us of using the word “bagman”, but Senator Gerstein said in a speech he gave:

Well, I want to tell you that I do not admit to being a bagman; I proclaim it.

I believe that the job of raising funds for the Conservative Party...is both necessary and honourable.

That is his job in the Senate, a man who the Prime Minister chose to go in, along with the other bagmen, who brags that he is there to raise money for the Conservative Party, and the taxpayer pays for these people.

My hon. colleague has seen the hypocrisy of the government and how these members stood year after year and said when they came in they would deal with the issue. What they are doing now is, of course, mere window dressing. They would put term limits, but the fact is that they are using the Senate as a dumping ground for their party hacks and the people who collect the money.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague why he thinks it is that the government has betrayed the promises it made to people who voted for them thinking that they were going to clean up that cesspool.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will answer the question this way. Democracy has become an inconvenience to the government. It has perfected the art of violating the spirit and intent of this great Parliament, and for what? It is for the government to hold on to power for as long as it can, even if it means turning more and more Canadians away from the political process, even if it means discouraging youth from becoming involved.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have some questions to ask the member opposite. I know the NDP is of the view that there should not be a Senate at all. As we know, things move incrementally in this place. Even if I strongly disagree with his point of view in respect of the removal of senators altogether, would it not make some sense to at least get on board, make the adjustment and modernize to the present, and then they can go their way and do what they think they need to do thereafter?

Canadians across the country, as he well knows, have shown a clear desire to change the Senate, to have Senate reform, and we are committed to modernizing the Senate to reflect a 21st century democracy. Surely we could have basic agreement to say that a senator being elected for terms up to 45 years is not right or appropriate in this modern era and that something in the order of eight years would certainly be better.

Would the member opposite not agree that rather than 45-year terms for unelected, unaccountable senators, a term of eight years would be an improvement on that?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not think senators should be elected for eight years. I think they should be done away with, period.

I want to quote from someone from the media, Mr. Ivison, who may have coined a new term for the Senate. As described in the headline to his recent National Post article, the “Triple-U Senate” is “unelected, unrepresentative, [and] under [the PM's] thumb”. That is why we do not want senators.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Quebec abolished their senates years and years ago. In the vote we just had on Bill C-311, we heard the Liberals talk about it in the House in a very defensive way. I understand that is because it was the Liberals who called for the vote in the Senate that set this situation up. Is the member aware of this?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Yes, Mr. Speaker, I am quite aware of that. When the hon. member from the Liberal Party was giving us his speech a while ago, he was blaming the Conservatives for what happened to Bill C-311. In reality, he should be looking in the mirror and blaming the Liberals, especially the Liberal senators. All they had to do was stand up and say, “No, we are going to debate the bill”. That would have been the democratic process. Instead, they sat in their chairs and the bill was killed.