House of Commons Hansard #36 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.

Topics

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Use of House Resources for Commercial Purposes
Points of Order
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, regarding the point of order raised yesterday by the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, I would like to inform the House, through you, that I have removed the ad for a package tour to Ottawa from my personal Facebook page.

I believe that it is my duty as a parliamentarian not only to comply with the rules of the Board of Internal Economy, but to encourage the people in my riding to come to Ottawa to see Parliament in action. I am sure that the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord appreciates my efforts to tell the voters in Lévis—Bellechasse and Les Etchemins about the excellent work being done by the team of Conservative ministers, members and senators from Quebec, who are making a real effort to promote Quebec's interests in Ottawa.

I understand that the member might be embarrassed to bring his constituents to Ottawa, because they might see for themselves that it is hard, even impossible, for the Bloc members to do anything for Quebec.

While the ministers, senators and members from Quebec are getting results for their ridings and all regions of Quebec, I would ask you, Mr. Speaker—because the member was asking you a question—whether the Bloc members are twiddling their thumbs in Ottawa.

One thing I can say is that I will keep doing what I can so that the people of Lévis—Bellechasse can have access to the resources of Canadian federalism, and that includes Parliament.

Use of House Resources for Commercial Purposes
Points of Order
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I thank the hon. member for providing additional information on this matter.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

April 29th, 2010 / 1 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

moved 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.

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today and bring forward this historic piece of legislation. Bill C-10 deals with the Constitution Act and 2010 Senate term limits. Term limits are an important component of our government's broader objective of modernizing Canada's Senate. As the throne speech stated, “We are a country founded on democracy”. However, our democratic institutions were established in the 19th century and reflect the prevailing democratic standards of the time.

Canadians' views of democracy have evolved since 1867, and we must ensure that our institutions keep pace with those changes. An obvious example of democratic evolution is in our voting rights. Today, we take the principle of universal suffrage for granted, but that has not always been the case. At the time of Confederation, qualifications based on property and income prevented large segments of the population from voting. Women did not have complete voting rights until 1918, and only recently did we celebrate the 50th anniversary of a law that recognized the unconditional right of first nations to vote.

I use the example of voting rights to demonstrate how our democratic institutions and practices have evolved to reflect the modern principles of democracy. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Senate, which still reflects antiquated principles of the 19th century. Over the past 143 years, there has been only one change to the Senate. In 1965, mandatory retirement at age 75 was introduced for senators. Prior to that, senators had been appointed for life. There have been no meaningful Senate reforms in our country's history, bar that one.

Canadians overwhelmingly believe that reform is overdue. According to a recent Angus Reid poll, 73% of Canadians want a new approach to the Senate. Our government made Senate reform a priority in the March 3, 2010, Speech from the Throne. It said:

Our shared values and experiences must be reflected in our national institutions, starting with Parliament.... Our Government...remains committed to Senate reform and will continue to pursue measures to make the upper chamber more democratic, effective and accountable.

That eloquent comment articulates why this reform is so important. Our government has been clear. Fundamental change is required to transform the Senate into a democratic and accountable institution. However, we recognize that there is insufficient support for fundamental constitutional change today. Instead, we are pursuing a practical, step-by-step approach to reform in areas where reform is possible within the federal jurisdiction. We hope this will ultimately build support for fundamental changes in the future.

Bill C-10 seeks to amend section 29 of the Constitution Act, 1867, to provide that new senators would be limited to a single term of eight years. This is an important first step to moving forward in fulfilling our commitment to Canadians to strengthen our democratic institutions. Limiting the tenure of senators is a modest but important step to making the Senate worthy of a 21st century democracy.

Our government hopes that parliamentarians will embrace this initiative and the overall reforms that are needed to modernize the Senate. In the past 30 years, there have been reports calling for major reform in the Senate. However, I am not aware of a single major study of the Senate that concluded that everything is fine and that no change is required.

Quite the contrary. While each study offered a unique alternative to Senate reform, the consensus is that the Senate suffers from a lack of credibility because its members do not have a democratic mandate from Canadians.

The undemocratic nature of the Senate is exacerbated by the fact that senators can remain in office for up to 45 years. That is right, 45 years. As the Prime Minister has pointed out on several occasions, the fact that unelected senators can keep their seats for such a lengthy period of time is at odds with the democratic ideals of Canadians.

It is not surprising that many studies have recommended limiting Senate terms. While the recommended lengths of term have varied, the general range appears to be between six and ten years.

Our government believes that a term limit of eight years strikes the right balance between ensuring that the essential character of the Senate remains intact and, at the same time, guaranteeing that renewal takes place. Fixed terms of eight years would provide senators with enough time to gain the necessary experience to carry out their important parliamentary functions while, at the same time, rejuvenating the Senate with new perspectives and ideas on a regular basis.

Our government believes that a renewed Senate would be a more effective Senate.

The vast majority of second chambers in other countries, both elected and appointed, have term limits. If Canada were to implement a Senate term of eight years, it would be the longest term of any country that currently has term limits in its second chamber.

I welcomed the recent comments of the Leader of the Opposition when he agreed that very lengthy terms are unacceptable and he favours term limits. While admitting that the Senate is “imperfect”, the Liberal leader stated he is “uncomfortable” with the idea of lengthy Senate terms. The Liberal leader has indicated he would support a 12-year limit for senators.

Let us reflect on that.

Clearly, the 15-year term recommended by the Liberal senators is too long. A 15-year term would not ensure that the Senate is refreshed with new ideas on a regular basis.

Whether a 12-year term would be sufficient is open to debate.

What is encouraging is the common belief that term limits are the right thing to do. I believe it is our duty as parliamentarians to listen to Canadians and move forward on this issue.

Now I would like to review other key aspects of the bill.

Bill C-10 makes specific reference to interrupted terms. An interrupted term could occur if a senator's seat became vacant by reason of resignation or disqualification, as set out in sections 30 and 31 of the Constitution Act, 1867, prior to the completion of an eight-year term.

The bill would provide that senators whose terms are interrupted may be summoned again to the Senate, but only for the remaining portion of their original eight-year term. For example, if a senator resigned from the Senate in order to be a candidate for the House of Commons, that senator could later be reappointed to the Senate, but only for the remaining portion of his or her term. This would eliminate any ambiguity about the length of term should such interruptions occur.

Unlike the previous version of the term limits bill, Bill C-10 contains a transitional provision, which would apply the eight-year term limit to all senators appointed after October 14, 2008. They would hold their seats for a period of eight years, once the bill received royal assent.

The transition clause demonstrates the commitment of our government and the commitment of our new senators to honour the principles of the Senate term limits once the legislation is passed. I would like to congratulate those newly appointed senators for putting the country's interests ahead of their own interests. That, I think, embodies the spirit of our Senate reform ideals.

The Senate term limits bill was first introduced in the spring of 2006. Members may recall that the Prime Minister became the first prime minister ever to appear before a Senate committee when he appeared before the Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform, which was created to study the content of that bill. The Prime Minister's appearance before the Senate committee illustrated the importance of Senate term limits for our government.

One of the important messages the Prime Minister delivered in his testimony was that our government was willing to be flexible with regard to potential improvements to the bill so long as any changes did not diminish the principles of the bill. That flexibility is evident in our response to the issue of the renewability of the terms.

As members will recall, in 2006 the bill was silent on the issue of renewability. That bill left open the possibility that a senator could receive a further eight year term if summoned again by the Governor General.

Some commentators expressed the concern that the possibility of a renewable term could compromise the independence of the Senate, since senators might adjust their behaviour in order to have their appointments renewed. The government has demonstrated its willingness to compromise by amending the bill to provide for non-renewable terms.

We are willing to listen and work together to ensure that the Senate is reformed in a respectful fashion. Our government's willingness to listen has also been demonstrated by preserving the retirement age of 75 years for all senators, whether appointed before or after this bill comes into effect. The amendment was recommended by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee following the review of our previous bill.

Our government continues to be flexible in making improvements to the bill so long as its underlying principles remain intact.

I would like to conclude by briefly addressing the issue of the constitutionality of Bill C-10. There is no question that the bill is constitutional. Senate term limits can be enacted by Parliament pursuant to section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

This fact was confirmed by the Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform, which concluded that the bill was constitutional and no reference to the Supreme Court was required. This finding has been supported by Canada's leading constitutional experts, including Peter Hogg, Patrick Monahan and Stephen Scott.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the bill's constitutionality, the Senate defeated the bill by refusing to allow it to proceed to third reading unless it was first referred to the Supreme Court of Canada.

I trust that members of this House will judge the bill on its merits and not attempt to derail it with procedural tricks, frivolous or unsubstantiated charges about constitutionality.

Hon. members, it is time for parliamentarians to listen to Canadians and embrace reform of the Upper Chamber. Canadians understand the need for Senate reform. Every poll over the past two decades has confirmed that Canadians support Senate reform. Canadians particularly support limited terms for senators. Canadians recognize the importance of the Senate, but they do not believe it is fulfilling its full potential as a democratic institution.

Our government has listened to Canadians. We have made Senate reform one of our key democratic priorities. We can no longer tolerate an institution that has remained unchanged since Confederation and that is neither democratic nor accountable to the people of Canada.

A Senate based on 19th century norms cannot possibly meet the needs of a modern 21st century democracy. Our government is committed to the pursuit of practical and achievable reforms that will lay the basis for more fundamental reform in the future.

Bill C-10 is an important step forward in the reform of our institutions. I would encourage all members to embrace this important bill.

Senators who have been appointed since the 2008 election have demonstrated their commitment to Senate reform by agreeing to term limits, supporting legislation from the elected chamber, and supporting the overall reforms we are trying to institute in the Senate. These senators, as I said earlier, personify what it means to be in public office. They are putting the country's interests ahead of their own.

Together, I hope we can make Parliament more accountable to Canadians. Senate reform is a critical aspect of that. Canadians support Senate term limits and this government is moving forward with that reform. I look forward to all parties supporting this historic legislation to make for a better Canada and a better Parliament.

God keep our land glorious and free.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate term limits). As the Minister of State for Democratic Reform has said, this limits the tenure of senators appointed after the bill becomes law to one non-renewable eight year term, preserves the existing retirement age of 75 for current senators, and allows a senator whose term has been interrupted to return to the Senate and complete his or her term.

It is a privilege to speak to this because the Senate is an essential component of Canada's constitutional democracy and of course it is of interest to all members both in the House and the Senate. We are here because we have a commitment to improving our country and improving the lives of the people through the democratic institutions of which we are privileged to be a part.

I would like to also say that this issue is of great interest to constituents of my riding in Vancouver Quadra. I have the privilege to represent an area with a highly educated public and the great institution of UBC, so there are many people who are lawyers, constitutional lawyers, professors of public policy, and professors of political science who have a great deal of interest in our democratic institutions.

One of the town halls I hosted that was the most popular was called the “town hall on prorogation and democracy” where Doctors Resnick and Young came and talked about prorogation and the negative impact on democracy that they believed that the government's use of prorogation has had.

The Liberal Party has a deep, and long interest and commitment in democracy, engaging people and having an openness where people of Canada can have their say and be part of our democratic process. Winston Churchill has been know to say that “--democracy is the worst form of government - except all the other forms that have been tried from time to time”. Plato has a different view. His is that “Democracy is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequal alike”.

The Liberals have found over the last four years that it is the justice to the unequals that has been the most problematic under the current government and its undermining of democracy. But on a positive note, we just had a very good day for democracy recently. I want to refer to the minister of state's note that eight year term limits are needed to refresh and bring new ideas.

I would like to point out that I have a colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River who has been in this chamber for over 20 years and here is the result of his recent fresh new idea. It was a historic ruling by the Speaker that the Prime Minister was accountable to Parliament and not the other way around. The Speaker affirmed that Parliament has a fundamental and unlimited right to ask for Afghan records, that the Conservative Party appeared to be in breach of parliamentary privilege by failing to comply when opposition MPs, a majority in the House, voted to demand uncensored copies of the documents last September.

So we see that our democracy is alive and well; however, I think it should be an embarrassment for all the Conservative members that the opposition members had to go to so much trouble to have the basic tenets of democracy respected by the Prime Minister.

I want to talk about the important role the Senate plays in our democracy. It is an institution with a very proud history and an institution in which the members have done much good work over the years. For example, Senator Eggleton reporting on poverty, homelessness and housing, the work done by the standing committee; Senator Carstairs, the Senate report on Canada's aging population, very important work on understanding the demographics facing us and how to respond to them; Senator Fraser on children, the silent citizens; Hon. Mobina Jaffer and the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights on issues such as Canada's human rights record and reports on equitable pay. The Senate serves a very important function.

The Liberals are committed to a Senate in which the members can make the maximum possible contribution to public life and the public good in Canada. The Liberals do support Senate reform but it needs to be Senate reform that constitutes sound public policy and respect for the institution. It needs to be a holistic and not a piecemeal approach. There needs to be consultation with the provinces and, above all, respect for the Constitution. Those are things we have not been seeing with the current government.

The Liberals will be sending the bill to committee where public consultation with the provinces, which the government has consistently failed to do, can finally take place.

With respect to Bill C-10, with the stated intention of enabling the Senate to better reflect the democratic values of Canadians, it is important to talk about the government's objective and its credibility with that objective, and to talk about the process that has been behind the bill coming forward. I will then say some words on the content of the bill as well.

The credibility of the government is essential in trusting the intentions of this legislation. For example, in a conflict zone, if an organization were to come forward with an idea for peace, one would want to know its record of promoting peace or perhaps of undermining peace in the past, and that would be germane to taking what it has to offer at face value.

We should listen for a moment to what the Prime Minister had to say about the Senate. In 1996, he said, “We do not support any Senate appointments. Stephen Harper will cease patronage appointments to the Senate. Only candidates--”.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. The hon. member might not be aware but even if we are reading quotes she should refer to members by their titles or ridings. I would appreciate that.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

“Only candidates elected by the people will be named to the upper house”, said the Prime Minister in 2004. “The upper house remains a dumping ground for the favoured cronies of the prime minister”, complained the current Prime Minister in 2004. “A Conservative government will not appoint to the Senate anyone who does not have a mandate from the people”, again from the Conservative Party.

Those are some of the claims that the Prime Minister has made, along with many other statements about the Senate that, unfortunately, have undermined the credibility of the Senate in the minds of the public.

What has the Prime Minister actually done, given those very clear assertions over many years that he would not be appointing senators and that there would not be partisan appointments? The Prime Minister appointed more senators in a single year than any prime minister in history. He appointed 27 senators. He is the Senate patronage king, and these have been some of the most blatant, partisan appointments in history.

We have seen well-connected party partisans throughout the Senate appointments, including fundraising chairs, national fundraising chairs, top strategists, Conservative staffers, Conservative communications advisers, failed candidates, Conservative-leaning journalists and so on. Essentially, we have an entire national election team for the Conservatives now on the Senate payroll. That is not even speaking to some of the questionable histories of senators, such as the one who is facing a sexual harassment complaint before a Human Rights Tribunal and who was president of an organization under investigation for financial impropriety.

How does this speak to the credibility of the Prime Minister's claims about improving democracy through his changes to the Senate? Not well, I would contend.

The objective claimed is to modernize democracy, which is a laudable objective.

I would like to talk a bit about some of the context that the government has on its record in terms of democracy. If we are to take improving democracy at face value, we would expect to see that as having been an objective with the government and the Prime Minister. I would contend that the facts do not suggest that is the case.

What about the fundamental underpinnings of democracy, such as openness, accountability and integrity? How has the Prime Minister fared?

In terms of openness, is the Prime Minister willing to hear from Canadians? I think a number of organizations would contest that willingness. In fact, organizations that disagree with the government are finding themselves punished. A member of one organization in civil society told me yesterday that there was a chill right across civil society because many organizations, such as the Canadian Council on Learning, KAIROS and Rights & Democracy, are seeing their funding cut for ideological reasons or because they are speaking up, which is what their organizations are designed to do.

In terms of openness, we have an Information Commissioner calling the government the most secretive in history. I have an example of that in a freedom of information request that I put forward around the disaster in a Canadian pavilion at the Olympics. I received two blanked out pages. Maybe that information was a state secret or a military secret but I do not think so.

In terms of openness, the government is preventing debate on critical issues by slipping key public policy changes into budget implementation bills, so that it does not have to debate on their merit. These are key issues, such as pay equity, the Canada Environmental Assessment Act and the protection of our environment. One must conclude that openness, that fundamental tenet of democracy, is not something that the government has promoted. In fact, it has seriously undermined it.

The same argument, unfortunately, needs to be made for accountability. The ruling by the Speaker the other day was an example. There are numerous other examples of accountability breaches by the Conservative government.

One of the key democratic mechanisms that we have as parliamentarians is the oversight officers of Parliament. The list of those oversight officers, or independent officers, whose job it is to ensure the integrity of government, who have been fired, sidelined, “resigned” early in their term or not reappointed, is very long. It includes the president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Linda Keen; the environment commissioner, the president of the Law Commission of Canada, the head of the Canada Emission Reduction Incentives Agency, the Military Police Complaints Commissioner, the RCMP Public Complaints Commissioner; and the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.

The Liberal Party of Canada hosted a round table on that very issue during prorogation here in Ottawa. We heard from a range of constitutional experts and others as to the weakening of the fabric of democracy that takes place when the oversight officers are not able to speak their minds and are not able to speak the truth without fear of retribution. How does that illustrate the government's commitment to democracy? It actually illustrates the opposite.

I would remind all members of the words of Aristotle:

If liberty and equality, as is thought by some are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.

That is not what we have been seeing under the Conservative government. unfortunately.

This is relevant to Bill C-10 because there is a claim here that the government is trying to strengthen democracy.

The process by which Bill C-10 has come about is one that raises great questions. I will just provide a quick summary of the timeline.

Bill C-10 has several predecessors. In May 2006, Bill C-4 was introduced. It was recommended by the Senate to go to the Supreme Court of Canada on the constitutionality issues. The bill died when Parliament was prorogued in September 2007. This was followed by Bill C-19, which was tabled but never brought back for debate. It died in 2008 when an election was called just after the government passed a fixed election date law.

In May 2009, Bill S-7 came back to the House with the same eight year term limits. It was debated for three days only and then it died when the Prime Minister prorogued the House in January 2010 to avoid accountability with respect to questions on the Afghan detainee issue.

The bill has come back a fourth time as Bill C-10, with some minor modifications. One must question whether this is actually a serious attempt to improve democracy or whether it is posturing by the government. Whatever it might be, one must conclude that this process does not create confidence in the government's intentions with respect to this bill.

Let us look at the content of the bill itself. The Minister of State for Democratic Reform spoke to this issue briefly. A key legal issue to this is whether it is constitutional. The minister of state claims that there is a consensus that it is. The reading that I have done shows that the very serious question of constitutionality has not been resolved and unilateral action by Parliament to amend the Senate in this type of case should be referred to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The legal issue is around the upper house reference case of 1980 in which the Supreme Court of Canada decided that amendments affecting the essential characteristics or fundamental features of the Senate must have provincial involvement. Despite the amending procedures in the Constitution Act of 1982, this judgment continues to have relevance, according to many constitutional authorities.

Then the question is, does this bill affect the essential characteristics or fundamental features of the Senate. Of the two principles, one is experienced oversight, that is, both of legislation and complex societal issues, and two, independence. Let us consider how this bill might affect these essential characteristics.

I ask members to think back to eight years ago in their own lives and ask themselves whether they have mastered something to the point where they would be capable of sober, credible oversight for all Canadians on the issue. Eight years may seem like a long time, but it does not enable a person to provide the kind of input that our senators, whom I am very proud of, are able to provide. Aboriginal elders, for example, are the wisdom of their communities. Are they cut off after eight years as no longer being relevant? No.

Independence is clearly impacted by an eight-year term because in two terms a prime minister can turn over the entire membership of the Senate, which would clearly impact its independence. We could have a Senate consisting of one party or another. As Benjamin Franklin said, democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. That seems to be what Mr. Harper is aiming for in the Senate with this bill.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I would once again remind the hon. member that we do not use proper names, only titles or ridings. As it is, the time allotted for her speech has expired, so we will move on to questions and comments.

The hon. member for Elgin—Middlesex—London.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, in the hon. member's dissertation, she asked a question of us, so I will try to provide an answer. She asked if we could look back some years ago, whether it is eight, six, five or nine years, and say that we were able to master something in that period of time. I am here to say yes, through life experiences we come prepared to take on new roles and handle new pieces of information. Quality people are appointed to the Senate.

She would agree the average length of time served by senators since 1965 when we last changed the tenure of senators is about 9.25 years. This bill asks for it to be eight years. I do not see a significant difference between the two. I would ask her to tell me how that extra year and a quarter would magically add an infinite amount of wisdom to the Senate when people go to the Senate with the ability to do the job properly and can learn the job as they go along in that eight-year period of time.

I would like her opinion as to what difference the year and a quarter would make.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, the issue is not my opinion. The issue is that it is a time period that risks making the Senate more partisan. This has not been referred to the Supreme Court of Canada. There are many who believe it is unconstitutional. There have been no consultations with the provinces, which is not surprising in light of the fact that at least five provinces and territories came out squarely against this proposal in one of its earlier iterations.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the fact that my colleague from Vancouver Quadra wondered whether this would improve democracy. That is a very good question, and that is why I would ask her whether, now that the government has recognized the existence of the Quebec nation, but is refusing to act accordingly, she believes that Bill C-10 could lead to greater democracy and full recognition of Quebec as a nation.

She could perhaps talk about the famous peace march in Quebec. In her opinion, is this openness to the Quebec nation?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, indeed the member's province is one of the ones that has made it very clear that it does not support this reform.

The minister of state said that his government would like to modernize our institutions and make the Senate more accountable. The key challenge is that the government continually, and I think I have made a few points on that score, has undermined democracy and our institutions and has made government less accountable.

I would say this is not the priority. The priority is to clean up the government's own act.

The Liberal Party of Canada requests, as we have requested before, that this issue be referred to the Supreme Court of Canada regarding the constitutionality of it and that there be consultations with the provinces, as any responsible government would do.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I realize how difficult it must be for the member to defend the 143 years, mainly Liberal years of government and having done absolutely nothing to make changes that we are talking about right now.

The Minister of State for Democratic Reform pointed out that in 143 years, there was a change limiting the retirement age of senators to 75 years back in 1965.

The fact of the matter is the NDP have been in favour of abolition of the Senate for many years. However, I think we have to recognize that incrementalism in this case is perhaps something we have to deal with. We are not looking at abolition so we may have to take this one piece at a time.

The Conservative minister who is proposing the bill is actually coming out of a process where the previous party wanted many more changes. It wanted elected senators and many more changes but it was unable to get them because of the constitutional aspects.

We have to give the minister credit for at least making a little bit of a step. This is not a big step. I do not see why the Liberals should have a big problem with this and would want to delay it another 10 years by sending it to the Supreme Court.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would just reaffirm that the Liberal Party is committed to a healthy democracy, democratic institutions and renewal of the Senate.

We will be supporting sending the bill to committee where it will get the consultations that it should have had in the first place. We will be able to hear from the public and from the provinces.

I will end with a quote of what Thomas Jefferson said:

I know of no safe repository of the ultimate power of society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough...the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.

That is what I hope to see happen.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, it is good that we are having this debate. It is an issue that should be debated, but I would suggest that we have an obligation to look at the debates that were held by the delegates in conjunction with the establishment of the Senate and when the colonies came together. Basically the Senate was a chip that was put on the table that made the country work. Its formation was to protect minorities. The minority they were speaking of at the time, since females and aboriginals did not have the franchise, was French Catholic males.

The concern I have is that this matter is before Parliament without the consultation that I would have thought should have taken place. Does the member have any real concerns regarding this lack of consultation with the provinces, which are of course the successors to the colonies?