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.

Topics

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Royal Recommendation--Bill C-568
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

November 19th, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address the government's argument that Bill C-568, an act to amend the Statistics Act regarding the mandatory long-form census, requires a royal recommendation.

We believe it does not, and I will explain why.

First, we would like to remind the House that Bill C-568 was not included the Speaker's list of items that, in your view, Mr. Speaker, might require royal recommendation.

As all members know in this House, the Speaker always makes a statement on this question following a replenishment under private members' business.

However, in his remarks, the parliamentary secretary made the argument that this bill would not only require the expenditure of funds, but also change the mandate of Statistics Canada and give it so-called new responsibilities.

Before going any further, Mr. Speaker, I would like to read sections of the actual mandate of Statistics Canada under the act.

Section 3 states:

There shall continue to be a statistics bureau under the Minister, to be known as Statistics Canada, the duties of which are

(a) to collect, compile, analyse, abstract and publish statistical information relating to the commercial, industrial, financial, social, economic and general activities and condition of the people; ...

(c) to take the census of population of Canada and the census of agriculture of Canada as provided in this Act; ... and

(e) generally, to promote and develop integrated social and economic statistics pertaining to the whole of Canada and to each of the provinces thereof and to coordinate plans for the integration of those statistics.

That begs the question, what exactly would Bill C-568 do?

Would the bill create a new responsibility for Statistics Canada, as has been suggested?

It is very clear that its mandate is to take information for the census. It is as simple as that. This is not a new responsibility. This bill does not propose to produce a new function.

We would not be changing the mandate of Statistics Canada. We would simply be asking Statistic Canada to undertake the census in the way it has taken the census for the last 40 years, with a mandatory long form.

We would not be changing the mandate of Statistics Canada. We would simply be enabling Statistics Canada to fulfill its existing mandate.

The parliamentary secretary also argued that the bill would impose a cost of $50 million to carry out the long form census.

This entirely false, in our view. The bill would not impose any cost since the government already conducts a short and long form census. The forms are being printed and the money is already being spent. Bill C-568 would simply ensure that it is mandatory for Canadians who receive the long form census to respond to it. As a result, no additional expenditures would be required from Statistics Canada to do this.

Indeed, because the long form census is no longer mandatory, the government must print and mail significantly more forms out to the public to gather the necessary data and compensate for a reduction in the rate of response. It is estimated the new voluntary form would in fact cost $30 million more. As a result, Bill C-568 would actually reduce expenditures. I repeat, Mr. Speaker: it would actually reduce expenditures by $30 million.

In summary, Bill C-568 would not change the mandate of Statistics Canada. It would simply enable Statistics Canada to fulfill its existing mandate and reduce, not increase, expenditures by $30 million.

For these reasons, we believe the bill does not require a royal recommendation and we look forward to your adjudication and ruling on this matter.

Royal Recommendation--Bill C-568
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The chair will take that under advisement.

The House resumed 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

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity. It is good to have a chance to speak to Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate term limits). This bill actually seeks to establish a term limit of eight years for senators in Canada. That is the key part of this legislation.

What we are actually debating today is an amendment to the main motion that was moved by my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley. The amendment motion reads:

“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”.

It is an unusual step for us to move that kind of motion in debate on a bill like this, especially a bill that we had indicated we would support to get to committee for further discussion and for improvement. We were already saying that, even though we have very serious problems with the Senate and even though we have called for the abolition of the Senate, we were prepared to see this bill debated further and hopefully improved at committee.

The events of the past week have certainly changed our opinion about what should be done about the Senate at the present time and the government's attitude towards Canada's democracy and how this Parliament functions.

What I am referring to there is the decision by the government and by the Prime Minister to call on his senators to defeat the climate change accountability act, a private member's bill that moved all the way through the House of Commons. It was debated here in the House. It went to committee and had lengthy hearings.

It was a lengthy process on that bill by the elected representatives of the Canadian people here in the House of Commons. It passed all stages here in the House and was sent to the Senate, where it languished for months.

It was finally passed back in the spring of this year and sat in the Senate without any action until earlier this week when, out of the blue, the bill was called and defeated. It was without a hearing, without reference to a committee, nothing. There was no activity and no debate whatsoever at the Senate.

This is clearly an action by the government to defeat the only possibility of Canadian action on climate change that was in the works. This bill was something that New Democrats had put forward. It was put forward in the last Parliament.

Our earlier attempt at the climate change accountability act in the last Parliament, the 39th Parliament, was Bill C-377. After a great deal of hard work on the part of many members of the House of Commons with input from environmental leaders and other leaders from across Canada, that actually passed through the House of Commons in 2008. That was a cause for celebration among Canadians who are concerned about climate change and the environment.

That was the first time any legislature in the world had actually passed legislation that would deal with the post-Kyoto greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Canada, this Parliament, this House of Commons took an extremely important step in the last Parliament, in 2008, with the passage of the climate change accountability act. Unfortunately the election was called and interrupted that progress. It stopped the bill in its tracks, and that meant it had to start all over again when we returned after the election in 2008.

New Democrats did put it back on the agenda. Our member from Thunder Bay put that bill back on the agenda and had it debated here in the House. It went through the same long, laborious process and was again passed in May 2010.

On two occasions, the elected representatives of the Canadian people, the members of the House of Commons, have dealt with this important piece of legislation and have passed it. When it was finally sent off to the Senate, where in our process it needs to be dealt with further, going through the same kind of process, the unelected and unaccountable members of the Senate, presumably under marching orders from the Prime Minister, killed the bill without so much as a debate, without so much as a referral to committee for further study.

It is an absolutely outrageous affront to our democracy and an unconscionable use of the power of the Senate, of the unelected and unaccountable appointed Senate.

This bill, the climate change accountability act, would have established greenhouse gas reduction targets 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. It was hailed as important legislation by many respected people.

I have to point out that Mark Jaccard and Associates, an independent environmental assessment firm, did a survey of this bill. Mr. Jaccard is an important environment scientist from Simon Fraser University. Its conclusion about Bill C-311, the NDP's climate change accountability act, was that the targets it established would also encourage growing economy, increasing jobs and improving the quality of life for Canadians. It said there was a positive impact of this bill, an analysis that flies in the face of the government's blanket denunciation and rejection of the proposals in the NDP's climate change accountability act.

Unfortunately, this action has stopped. Any reasonable, effective or appropriate Canadian response to climate change was stopped dead in its tracks. It was our best opportunity and it is gone. It was done by unaccountable, unelected senators appointed by a Prime Minister who at one time did not seem to have much regard for the unelected, accountable Senate.

On a number of occasions, we have seen the Prime Minister and his Reform predecessors have had great criticism for the Senate. In December 2005, the Prime Minister said, “An appointed Senate is a relic of the 19th century”. I have to agree with the Prime Minister. It is not often that I do, but on that I certainly do. An unelected, appointed body is a relic of another era. It is an anti-democratic relic of a colonial era.

Some of the requirements to be a senator are relics of that era as well, such as the fact that senators have to be 30 years old before being appointed and that people have to own property outright in Canada before becoming a senator. Even though the threshold is now really low, the intention years ago was to make sure that senators were from the moneyed classes. They had the expectation that they would represent that class in Canada.

Today the threshold is low, but the requirement is still there. We have even seen in the past an interesting example when a nun was appointed to the Senate and, because of vows of poverty, did not have any property. Her order had to actually transfer some land into her name so she could take her seat in the Senate.

It points out the ridiculousness of that requirement. If it were a legitimate body, any Canadian of voting age, no matter what the individual's personal economic circumstances, should be able to serve in a body in the Canadian Parliament. However, not in Canada and not with the Senate. The Prime Minister was right. This unelected, unaccountable body is a relic of another era and of the 19th century.

In March 2004, the Prime Minister also said, “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”. How many times has the Prime Minister broken that promise and turned his back on that important statement of principle that came out of the convictions of the Reform Party, his predecessors? It boggles the mind the number of times he has chosen to ignore that advice.

In this corner, we are very concerned and outraged by what happened this week. It is ironic that we have this bill that would establish a term limit for senators, but that is not the issue. The issue is still that they are unelected, appointed by the Prime Minister and unaccountable to anybody. Whether they are there for 8 or 45 years, it is still an inappropriate, unelected and unaccountable body, and it should not be part of our system. It is an affront to democracy, and we need to abolish this relic of the past.

This is a very important issue. I am glad we were able to debate it this week, given that Bill C-10 was on the agenda when the inappropriate use of the Senate's power was mandated by the Prime Minister to kill the climate change accountability act. We are very lucky to have had this opportunity to draw to the attention of the House and Canadians why this body is inappropriate and why this proposed Senate reform bill does nothing to address the main problems with the Senate.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from B.C. mentioned the comments of the Prime Minister and I remember those comments as well. I remember when the Reform Party was starting off and people were looking to it for change and to have accountability, democracy, a new voice and a new way of doing politics, and now, as I have said before, there is nothing left. It is a corpse over there, and a stinking one at that. It is just sitting there without any principles.

Conservatives say now that they will appoint senators for eight years. In eight years, if there are two majority governments, they could still stuff the Senate, so it matters not that we can take it from 45 to 8. It matters whether or not the senators are elected, and the Conservatives will not deal with that.

I want underline to my colleague from B.C. that we trusted the Conservatives once on fixed-date elections. They said there would be no constitutional change. We told them that was fine and we would sign on to that. What did they do when they put that into place? They broke their promise and called an election, so why should we trust them on this one? We will not be fooled again.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I agree completely with my colleague from Ottawa Centre, as I regularly do, which will not surprise anybody here.

We heard from the current Minister of State for Democratic Reform of the constant need to modernize the Senate. What do we get instead? We get the same old stuff that we used to get from the Liberals: stacking the Senate with bagmen, with party insiders and with the representatives of the upper class in Canada. We get the same old appointments to stack the Senate to get government business through, to do the bidding of the Prime Minister. These are people who have no accountability to the Canadian people. The only accountability they have is to the person who appointed them, and that is the Prime Minister. Time after time they show that is where their accountability lies.

I do not want to deny that the Senate has done good work from time to time, but it is still not a legitimate body. I have a mandate from the Canadian people. I stand at election regularly and I am accountable to the people who elect me. People in the Senate never have to do that, and that is wrong.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, it is important to realize that Bill C-10 will apply to all the senators that the Prime Minister has appointed since 2008, upon royal assent.

The member has talked a lot about the fact, and I think we agree, that there is an undemocratic and unaccountable nature to the Senate that we would like to improve. The NDP's position is to abolish the Senate, but that will not happen, to be realistic. However, we can introduce term limits and we can also have Senate elections.

I wonder if the member could reflect on this scenario. We have term limits of eight years. We have the Senate selection act, where Canadians would be able to elect their senators to the other chamber. Canadians could end up with a scenario where Canadians elect an NDP member to the Senate, so the NDP could end up with senators. If there were problems like the ones on Tuesday night, NDP senators could stop what the member is complaining about. At least that would be an improvement. Would the member not agree?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

No, Mr. Speaker, I do not agree, because an appointed Senate, whether it is for 8 years or 45 years, appointed by the Prime Minister is still wrong. That is what we will get with the bill.

The bill does not change the fundamental problems with the Canadian Senate. The fundamental problem is that there is still no accountability to the Canadian people, given this legislation and given the way the current Prime Minister and the current government is using that body.

That body has no legitimacy. Here in the House of Commons we stand for election. We have to have the confidence of the people in our constituencies to take up the responsibilities we have here. Senators do not do that. The bill may limit them to eight years of unaccountable representation, but that is all it does and it is not enough.

It is a pathetic attempt at modernizing the Senate. It is a pathetic attempt at dealing with the problems of the Canadian Parliament and Canadian democracy. I think people will see through that, and they will see that it is just not good enough when it comes to the kinds of promises the government and the Prime Minister made to the Canadian people before he was elected and when he was running for election. I think there will be an accountability moment there for the government and the Prime Minister.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to speak to Bill C-10 to alter senators' tenure.

The Bloc Québécois opposes the principle of Bill C-10. This is not the first time the Conservative Party has tried reforming the Constitution without the provinces' approval. Personally, I am not a big fan of the Canadian Constitution, but the fact remains that outside of Quebec, Canadians identify with the Constitution.

In the late 1970s, the Supreme Court of Canada considered the capacity of Parliament, on its own, to amend constitutional provisions relating to the Senate. According to a ruling handed down in 1980 regarding that capacity, any decisions related to major changes affecting the essential characteristics of the Senate cannot be made unilaterally. Quebec has already informed the Conservative government that it will not accept any changes to the Senate, apart from abolishing it. That is a fact.

The Conservatives are still trying to turn a blind eye to the fact that the vast majority of Quebeckers want the Senate simply to be abolished because this political structure is outdated. I have statistics from a poll taken in 2010 to prove it.

I know what I am talking about because I have to live with the fact that a Liberal senator has decided that his son will be my opponent in the next election. I will not say his name because he does not deserve it. I have no problem with that. I had not seen him at all since 2000; I have been here for 10 years. He pushed to have his son be my opponent. I see this senator almost every weekend. He does fundraising for his son's election campaign. Senators are fundraisers for the Liberal Party, as seen by this example.

The same is probably true for the Conservatives; senators are fundraisers. I had never seen him or heard him. He is a former Liberal cabinet minister who had to step down because of a controversy he was involved in. I will have a chance to bring that up during the election campaign; I have a few more secret weapons that I am saving for the election. The fact remains that I find it completely ridiculous to have a second democratic system.

The people elect us here to the House of Commons to pass laws. This week, an environment bill was before the Senate for discussion and passage and it was supported by the majority of the House. The government needed to have its hands completely free before the Cancun summit and it decided to give orders to its unelected senators to cut short their study of this very important bill on the environment. The Conservatives are using the Senate for purely partisan purposes, as did the Liberals when they were in power.

Citizens who work extremely hard have seen their retirement savings eroded as a result of the economic crisis. Company pension funds were affected. People lost money on their RRSPs and other savings. In my opinion, this second system, which is costing the state a lot of money, should be abolished.

Quebec abolished its upper chamber a number of years ago, and Ontario did the same. We have to change with the times. This is not the first time that I have said in the House that the Conservatives are like the Liberals. They are two old parties that no longer deserve to govern Canada because they are doing things the same way they were done 100 years ago.

They have not changed. I see proof of this every weekend. There is a Liberal senator who is fundraising and trying to help set his son up as my opponent. This is the first time in the past 10 years that I have seen him. He simply decided that he was going to become involved in politics. I had never heard anything about him or read anything about him in the paper. Yet, for the past while, he has been trying to get out in the public eye to raise his political profile through his son's activities.

I do not have a problem. We will beat him; that is not a problem. It is just that it must be disappointing for the people watching these goings-on. I have heard all sorts of comments from people who have just seen him for the first time as senator. They are wondering what he is doing at certain events and so on. It is not good for him, but it is good for me. It is not good for democracy because people find it frightening that public funds are being used to finance a Liberal Party fundraiser, but that is what the Liberals used to want to do. The Conservatives want to try and change that. All this bill does is limit senators' terms to eight years. Replacing one senator with another will not change anything. We simply need to abolish this outdated institution outright since it has no virtues and only serves to raise funds for the older parties, such as the Liberal and Conservative parties.

That is the reality in an era where, every day, the people who listen to us work hard to pay their taxes. They pay taxes every day. They purchase items and pay sales tax, the GST, the QST. Some of their money is used to pay for these institutions, that is, the House of Commons and the Senate, among others.

I can provide statistics from a Léger Marketing poll carried out in Quebec in 2010. It is important. Whatever people thing, the fact remains that polls are used a lot, even in politics. We are living in the age of polls. As for Quebec respondents, only 8% believe that the red chamber—the Senate—plays an important role and that the system for appointing senators works well, whereas 43% want the Senate abolished. Another 23% do not understand how the Senate works and do not see the purpose it serves. They know so little about it that they have no opinion about the Senate. It is quite telling that 23% of respondents do not even know that the Senate exists. But that is the reality, and it can easily be explained by the fact that senators are just fundraisers who we see during election campaigns.

The Conservative Party fuels this opinion, and its own position is quite archaic, as we can see when it comes to the environment. The Conservative Party is not very evolved, but it came out of the Reform Party, which was already not very evolved. The Liberals are determined to have a debate because they are likely going to vote against this bill. I commend them for that, but they have never talked about abolishing the Senate. I do not know of many Liberals who would want to abolish the Senate, because it serves them well.

The Senate will serve them in my riding, because there is a Liberal senator who is promoting and lobbying for his son and spending Senate money to attend events while fundraising and so on. He probably has the money. He is entitled to do what he is doing, but people are not fooled. People can see that a senator is ultimately just a political tool, nothing more.

Members will understand that the Bloc Québécois will vote against Bill C-10.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's comments with interest. I find it ironic that the member talked about fundraising when the Bloc, by far, relies almost solely on a taxpayer subsidy from the Canadian taxpayer for the running of its party.

Bill C-10 does limit the term of senators. The member is advocating the abolition of the Senate, which is not possible without significant constitutional reform and would, by the way, reduce the number of representatives in Parliament for Quebec by 24. Therefore, the member is actually arguing to reduce the representation of Quebec.

We are arguing for Quebeckers to be represented in Parliament. We are arguing that there be some accountability and that in conjunction with the eight year term limit, there be voluntary elections by the provinces.

Why does the member not want Quebec to be promptly represented, democratically, in this chamber?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary knows the Bloc Québécois is fighting mainly to ensure that representation in the House is not changed. He himself introduced a bill that would give Ontario and British Columbia more seats in the House at Quebec's expense. So once again, we do not need to take any lessons from him. Maybe he would like to see Quebeckers represented in the Senate, an institution that serves no purpose. Maybe that is what he would like, but Quebeckers are smarter than that.

Before the Liberal Party reformed party financing, we fought election campaigns and won in Quebec. If further reforms were made, we would still win. The only problem is that government funding prevents friends of the party from corrupting governments. That is probably what the Conservative Party wants to do. It has already built up a war chest for several election campaigns, and it probably wants to surround itself with its friends, people who would give it money and whom it could be accountable to and pay back. That is not what the Bloc Québécois wants, because our party has integrity.