House of Commons Hansard #25 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senators.

Topics

Notice of Motion
Ways and Means

October 3rd, 2011 / 11:05 a.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, since July 2009, nearly 600,000 new jobs have been created here in Canada. Our government is committed to continuing this strong record. That is why, today, I am pleased to table, pursuant to Standing Order 83(1), a notice of ways and means motion respecting An Act to implement certain provisions of the 2011 budget as updated on June 6, 2011 and other measures.

I ask that an order of the day be designated for consideration of this motion.

Notice of Motion
Ways and Means

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Accordingly, pursuant to an order made on Wednesday, September 28, the ways and means motion is deemed moved, the question is deemed put, and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until later this day at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

The House resumed from September 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-7, An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources has 15 minutes left to conclude her remarks.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, as I was mentioning a few days ago, the Senate reform act will also introduce term limits for senators. The act will restrict the length of time that senators can sit in the Senate to a nine year term limit. This will apply to all senators appointed after the royal assent of the bill. It will also apply to current senators appointed after October 2008 whose terms would end nine years after royal assent.

We believe that a nine-year term provides enough time to enable individual senators to gain the experience necessary to carry out their legislative functions while also ensuring regular renewal of the upper chamber. At the same time, a nine-year term does not compromise the Senate's role of sober second thought in independent legislative review and in in-depth policy investigation.

Unlike the selection provisions which do not amend the Constitution, the term limits provision would change the Constitution. However, this change is within Parliament's exclusive constitutional authority under section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

I would now like to address in more detail some of the concerns that have been raised about the constitutionality of this bill.

While some commentators would argue that this bill presents a fundamental constitutional change requiring the support of the provinces, I disagree. Our government has been careful to ensure that our approach to Senate reform falls within the federal government's constitutional jurisdiction. Let me explain.

Concerning Senate consultations, I have already noted that the process would not require constitutional amendment because it does not change the method of selecting senators. The bill does not require that the Prime Minister recommend the names of individuals selected as a result of the consultation process. Any provincial process would only be consultative in nature and not legally binding. The fact that these processes would be consultative is a key aspect of this bill, especially considering that consultation with citizens is a fundamental element of our democratic system. In many ways, these consultative processes would resemble non-binding referendums or plebiscites.

In that vein, I would note that the majority of provinces have legislation that enables them to seek the views of citizens through a referendum on any matters of public interest or concern. I would also note that the Prime Minister already consults with a number of people when making recommendations on Senate appointments and this bill would not change that. The bill simply proposes a method to enable the Prime Minister to consult with Canadians on who should be selected to hold a position in the Senate.

In 2006, the Senate convened a special committee to study the issue of Senate reform. The committee heard from a number of distinguished constitutional scholars, including Peter Hogg, Patrick Monahan and Stephen Scott. In its report, the committee noted that Professors Hogg, Monahan and Scott supported the view that if the result of a consultation process was simply to create a pool of individuals from which the Prime Minister could make a selection, then there “would not likely be any objection on constitutional grounds”. Since this is the approach presented in the Senate reform act, I am confident in the constitutionality of these provisions.

Concerning term limits, I would point out a similar amendment was passed by Parliament, acting alone, in 1965. At that time, Parliament reduced the tenure of senators from a lifetime appointment to mandatory retirement at age 75.

The Constitution provides specific authority for the Parliament of Canada to legislate with respect to the Senate. The Constitution also very clearly sets out those types of changes to the Senate that requires some level of provincial consent. Our legislation has been very carefully designed to ensure that we are acting in those areas where we have authority to legislate.

In its 2006 study, the special Senate committee concluded that the constitutionality of term limits was sufficiently clear and that a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada was not necessary. In fact, the committee further reported that most members of the committee endorsed the principle of the bill and agreed that “a defined limit to the terms of senators would be an improvement to Canada's Senate”.

As a final point, I would note that nothing in the Senate reform act would fundamentally alter the role or powers of the Senate. The House of Commons would continue to be the chamber of confidence and the Senate would continue principally as a revising chamber, offering its valuable insight in the review of legislation. While our proposed agenda focuses on achievable reforms, that does not mean that the more fundamental issues, such as Senate powers and the appropriate representation of the provinces, are insignificant.

These are important questions that must be considered and discussed; however, we will continue to concentrate on our incremental approach and how its successful implementation will possibly ignite interest in further enhancing the role of the upper chamber.

The reforms proposed by the Senate Reform Act are not radical changes but are important changes that provide an alternative to the status quo which is no longer acceptable to Canadians. Doing nothing is simply not an option.

Our government is doing its part to ensure that we can improve and enhance our institutions to make them better for Canadians. Our reforms are practical and achievable, and we hope they will lay the foundation for more fundamental reform. To implement these changes, however, we need the co-operation of parliamentarians. Until now our government has faced resistance to our attempts to modernize the Senate, in particular some from within the Senate itself.

It is my hope that we can count on all parliamentarians to come together to implement these important reforms for all Canadians.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I cannot help thinking that this entire piece of legislation is a bit rickety. Where I come from we might call it held together with duct tape and chicken wire. It is hardly an overwhelming reform, and I do not think it has much of a chance of success. We are going to end up with much of what we have now.

Could the member tell us to what extent she has consulted with provinces, and how many provinces have actually signed on to this legislation?

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, our government has been given a strong mandate. Part of that strong mandate was for Senate reform. We have taken a flexible approach to this with incremental changes, so that we can implement those things that are important to Canadians, to improve the democracy that we hold dear to us, and to improve our Senate from the standpoint of ensuring there are limited terms as well as ensuring that we have some degree of flexibility in what we are doing moving forward.

We are consulting. We had a substantive consultation earlier this year on May 2. The Canadian public gave us a strong mandate to move forward on Senate reform.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, my colleague did not answer the question. There is one reality for the Government of Quebec and another reality for the other provinces.

Which provinces did the Conservative Party consult? Does it have the support of these provinces? Which provinces support it? Is my colleague not concerned that this will still end up before the courts?

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I said, we consulted all Canadians with respect to our plan.

On May 2 Canadians brought us forward with a strong mandate for Senate reform. As the member opposite knows, there is already legislation in place for democratic selections in other provinces, whether that be in Alberta or Saskatchewan, which have enacted legislation for democratic selection processes.

There is a broad consultation that will be taking place. In the case of Alberta, it moved forward in 1989 with the senatorial selection act, and in 2009, Saskatchewan moved forward with the senate nominee election act.

This government is moving forward by creating a reformed Senate, so that we can ensure that we have democratic institutions that are modern in this country.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, on Saturday I attended a round table in Toronto with the Minister of State for Democratic Reform. We had a very diverse group of people around the table.

We talked about different things around democratic renewal generally, and we did talk a little bit about the Senate. One of the things that people around that table did say was that they wanted to see the Senate be more effective. They believe the Senate plays an important role in representing regional interests and regional differences.

Perhaps the parliamentary secretary could give a little bit more background on how these reforms are going to make the Senate more visible and more active for Canadians?

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Senate Reform Act would encourage the provinces to enact the democratic process so Canadians would have a greater say in who represents them in the Senate. It would provide more of a dynamism in the Senate.

The bill provides a voluntary framework to assist the provinces in implementing a selection process to bring forward names of individuals for the Prime Minister to consider. It also introduces term limits for senators. After the bill receives royal assent, senators will be appointed for a non-renewable term of nine years. This will allow a routine and regular turnover of senators so that fresh and new ideas are brought forward. We want to move forward with this reform of the Senate in order to modernize the democratic institutions in this country.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was wondering whether the hon. member has considered the question of costs. Time and again we see Conservative proposals presented in this chamber with no costing. Could she comment on the more than $100 million the Senate costs us every year?

In addition, what about costs for holding those election campaigns? On this side we question the value of a second house. The House of Commons is elected and does a very good job doing the public's business. Do we need to spend several hundred million dollars more on a second chamber?

Could the member comment on what costs would be associated with the bill?

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, this issue has come up. The bill does not provide funding for provincial and territorial consultation processes. Our government believes provincial and territorial processes should be funded by the provinces and territories.

Alberta has already had three consultative processes and the Government of Canada has not contributed funding for them. Alberta's most recent consultation process was held in 2004 in conjunction with its general provincial election. Alberta estimated that it cost approximately $1.6 million. The Government of Alberta is the one that took on that cost.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not entirely satisfied with the answer from the parliamentary secretary to the question posed by my hon. colleague from Bourassa.

The hon. parliamentary secretary and I come from a province where the government is opposed to having a Senate and would like to abolish it. I was wondering if the parliamentary secretary would like to comment on what would happen if a province decided that it did not want to participate in Senate reform because the province wants to abolish it. What if a province does not want to participate in the process as set down by the government in the bill?

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, as was mentioned before, this process is voluntary. We look forward to working with the provinces and using the framework as a base for creating what the provinces believe to be the best process for consultation. The federal government is not imposing this framework; it is voluntary. Each province should be given the flexibility and ability to put forward names. However, we are not taking away the ability of the Prime Minister and the Governor General to choose those individuals. In order to increase representation, whether that be of minority groups or women, the Prime Minister would still be able to select individuals even if they are not presented on the list provided by the provinces.