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

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed the hon. member's grand flourish at the end, although it seemed a bit inappropriate since what the bill would do is give the Prime Minister the option that he has right now. He can, right now, agree to appoint a senator elected from a provincial legislature or from the workings of a provincial election. He can do that right now.

If we were to pass the bill, the Prime Minister would not be required to appoint those elected. He can appoint whomever he feels like appointing. What would we be adding to Canadians? We would not have very much at all in that regard.

Would the hon. member explain exactly what he meant when he said this would be a grand change for Canadians?

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would point out to the member that he has a historic opportunity on behalf of the citizens of Western Arctic. I would also remind the member that when the Prime Minister in this Conservative Party of Canada had an opportunity to nominate someone who had gone through that process, our Prime Minister did just that. We are very proud of him for doing so, because he followed the democratic will of the people of Alberta. Our Prime Minister will follow the democratic will of the people across Canada.

We would be putting in place a formal understanding between the Prime Minister and the people of Canada that if they take part in the democratic process and make their voices heard by casting their ballots, that person would be considered by the Prime Minister, and I would say that any Prime Minister who thwarts the democratic will of the people would not be the Prime Minister for very long.

However, it will not be this Prime Minister. This Prime Minister has already indicated and clearly demonstrated that he will follow the democratic will of the people of this country when it comes to the Senate. That is why I believe that the Prime Minister will be the Prime Minister for a very long time.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member must keep in mind my suggestion that an old law of public policy says that the problems we have today are often the result of the institutional reforms of yesterday. I want to point out three problems with the bill that may create a lot of problems in the future.

The first is corporate donations. The Prime Minister created a law that banished corporate donations. However, they would be back with a vengeance with the passage of the bill because many provinces have weak or no regulations regarding corporate donations.

Second, it is very likely that the bill is unconstitutional. I understand that the member disagrees, but the list of experts saying the opposite is quite long. Premier Charest said he would go to court to fight the bill. In order to avoid this constitutional chaos, why not ask the Supreme Court for its view on the bill? It would be responsible to do so.

Finally, there is no constitutional mechanism to solve any disagreement between the two elected chambers. If the Senate were to be elected, the likelihood that the Senate would be of a different view than the House would be very high. What democracy would accept being in a situation in which there are no constitutional mechanisms to solve disagreements between the two chambers?

These are three clear questions. I would like my colleague to answer each of them.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member brings forward a number of very good concerns that I think are important and valid.

On his first question with respect to banishing corporate and union donations, we made that very clear in the Accountability Act.

Now, the NDP does not feel that it should follow it. We know the NDP accepted tens of thousands of dollars of illegal donations at its most recent party convention in June in Vancouver. That is an issue for the Chief Electoral Officer, and it is one we expect him to follow up on.

However, it is important, because in doing so, we have returned politics to the people. We have empowered the people by making sure that those with deep pockets cannot simply buy elections or buy the electoral process.

I think every province should have similar legislation. They should also ban third party advertising. If we look at what is going on in the province of Ontario right now, as far as I am concerned, that is not putting people first; it is in fact drowning out the voices of the people, and it is unacceptable.

With respect to the constitutionality of the bill, we have sought opinion and we believe it is well within the authority of Parliament to move forward with the bill.

I believe the member's last question had to do with sending the bill to the Supreme Court. We have no interest in being in a long-drawn-out constitutional battle. We do not think that is productive. We think bringing democracy to the Senate chamber is what Canadians want and deserve.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ron Cannan Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his excellent speech and for his hard work for his colleagues and constituents in Peterborough.

My question is specifically on the timeframe.

I represent wonderful constituents in Kelowna—Lake Country. We had a Liberal senator, Ross Fitzpatrick, who served our community very well. I worked nine years on city council before being elected three times to the House. I know being partisan was mentioned, and it was mentioned that we can elect a senator who does not necessarily have a political affiliation. In this case, Mr. Fitzpatrick was appointed by the Liberal Prime Minister at the time.

Mr. Fitzpatrick had to retire at the age of 75. I hear from constituents that 15, 30 or 45 years seems like a long time for somebody to have that job without either having to be elected the first time or being accountable.

My question to my colleague is this: why is a nine-year term proposed? What is significant about nine years?

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, the establishment of the term limit at nine years is in response to the concerns that were brought forward by some of the members in the opposition and some of the members of the public. They indicated that anything shorter would allow a government, in two majority mandates, to be able to dictate all of the membership of the Senate. Putting in place a nine-year term limit would be longer than two terms of Parliament. It was a fair compromise that we sought.

I go back to the argument. The hon. member represents, by the way, one of the most beautiful parts of this country. It is very close to being as beautiful as the Kawartha Lakes. In fact, some folks from there might even be deceived into believing it is more beautiful, but I will not enter into that debate.

However, I can say very clearly that the hon. member is representing his constituents and the overwhelming majority of Canadians in his support for a term limit on senators that is not up to 45 years.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very concerned about the bill.

First, it presents flimsy and minor changes designed to pander to a Conservative base. I am concerned that it will not have any real impact, and that if it does have any impact, as my colleague has pointed out, it is bound to be negative. Tie-ups between the House of Commons and the Senate are something we can ill afford at this time.

Second, it continues the trend of offloading to the provinces. There does not seem to be any provision in the bill to help provinces pay for elections. Just as in Bill C-10, there are basically no provisions to help provinces to absorb these additional costs that are being lowered onto them by the federal government.

Could the member opposite tell me how much it will cost British Columbians to hold these kinds of mostly meaningless elections?

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, it shocks me that the member is concerned about the cost of democracy.

What is the cost of not having democracy? What is the cost of having a completely and entirely appointed body that may not represent the views of the people of British Columbia? I would argue that the cost is a democracy stuck some 143 or 145 years in the past.

The member should take a second look at the bill. As I said previously, the member has the opportunity to do something historic: to start Canada down the road toward building a democratic chamber in the Senate and to start down the road of establishing a reasonable Senate term limit.

Is the member aware that there are people currently serving in the Senate who were appointed by Pierre Trudeau? Is he aware of that? Is the member aware of what their contributions may or may not have been, or whether anyone in their respective provinces supported those senators' appointments to begin with?

I am aware that most of the people in my riding cannot name a single senator. Some of them might be able to name two or three, but virtually none of them can name a senator who represents them. Under a democratic body, that would change.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, since this is my first speech in the House of Commons in the 41st Parliament, I would like to thank the people of Nickel Belt for returning me to this House of Commons. I am grateful to the people from as far west as Foleyet, to the east of Garden Village, from the south in Killarney, and to the north of Capreol and River Valley, for returning me to this House.

One of their reasons for returning me to this House of Commons is due to the fine work that my staff is doing in Nickel Belt. I would like to thank them in this House, including Carmen McMurray in Nickel Belt and Val Caron, Ghislaine Millette in Val Caron, and Mona Noël and Don Pitre in Sturgeon Falls. I would like to thank them for the fine work they are doing.

Some of the reasons why we were re-elected to this House of Commons are because the people of Nickel Belt are more concerned about unemployment, health care, education and about their mothers, fathers and grandfathers. They are not too concerned about Senate reform. They are concerned about the things that affect them and Senate reform certainly does not affect them.

I am happy to rise in the House today to speak about the important principles of democratic reform and accountability.

I know the citizens of my riding of Nickel Belt want an electoral system where people are made to feel their vote counts. They want to feel good about government again, to see it as truly representative of them, and to feel they have a choice.

Five years ago, our Prime Minister was opposition leader. He recognized how wrong the unelected Senate was. He called it unfair and undemocratic. He called an appointed Senate a relic of the 19th century. Then, as opposition leader, he clearly did not like how the Prime Minister held a virtual free hand in the selection of senators and he made a promise that, as Prime Minister he would not name appointed people to the Senate. Sadly, we have seen another broken promise. Instead of fixing the problem with the Senate, the Conservative government has made the problem worse.

Consider the evidence. The Prime Minister now holds the all-time record for appointing the largest number of senators in one day. He has appointed Conservative Party faithful, spin doctors, fundraisers and insiders, his former Conservative Party president, his former national campaign director, and several defeated Conservative candidates. What more evidence do we need than seeing the architect of the Conservative notorious in and out scheme currently sitting in the Senate? Unnecessary Conservative senators spend their time voting down laws passed by elected members of the House of Commons, while burning through taxpayers' dollars to travel the country fundraising for the Conservative Party of Canada. Talk about doing politics differently; it is more of the same old, same old as we saw with the previous Liberal government.

Last fall, we watched in shame as the Conservative-dominated Senate was used to veto legislation that the Prime Minister simply did not like. The Climate Change Accountability Act, introduced by my colleague from northern Ontario, the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Superior North, was passed twice in a minority Parliament. Elected members representing Canadians passed the bill. A majority of elected MPs supported that legislation twice. Tragically, on November 16, 2010, the Senate, with its Conservative appointees, defeated Bill C-311 on second reading. There was no community discussion in the Senate and no witnesses. It was killed by unelected friends of the Prime Minister.

Unfortunately, the government's legislation related to the Senate is not about real democratic reform or delivering on commitments of accountability. New Democrats are talking about real democratic reform. We are calling for the abolition of the Senate. Canadians have had enough. The Senate has to go. Most Canadians would not miss it. Recent polling shows that only 18% approve of the actions of the Senate. Unfortunately, today's senators are too often partisan, working for their parties while being paid with public money. No sober second thought can come from unelected appointees with such obvious conflicts of interest.

Then there is the waste of money in the unelected Senate because Canadians are paying more and more for a discredited institution that does less and less at a time when people are dealing with slow economic recovery and the Conservative government is contemplating billions in cutbacks. Maintaining the Senate costs Canadians around $19 million a year. While folks are looking for jobs, trying to make ends meet when their EI runs out and scraping by on pensions that do not even cover basic necessities, senators are earning $132,000 a year for a three-day work week. Travel and expenses for senators cost $859,000 a year for an institution that will not play any relevant role in the lives of most Canadians.

I can think of a lot of things that matter to people, like creating family-supporting jobs, improving public health care, and building a decent future for our kids. Lining the pockets of party insiders probably is not high on anyone's list. I repeat that New Democrats want the Senate abolished. That has been the position of the New Democratic Party and its predecessors since 1930, and we are not alone.

The Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, and the Premier of Nova Scotia, Darrell Dexter, have publicly called for the Senate to be abolished. The Premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark, has said she does not think it serves a useful purpose within Confederation. Manitoba also maintains its position in favour of abolishing the Senate. Quebec has called this bill unconstitutional. The provincial government has said it would appeal the matter in court if this bill passes without prior consultation with the provinces.

We know real democratic reform is not achieved by tinkering with how senators are appointed or chosen from the provinces. We will need to introduce fair voting and proportional representation where the franchise of every voter is respected. We are calling on government to hold a referendum asking the Canadian public whether they support abolishing the Senate.

Today, I am asking the Prime Minister to start with two modest but vital first steps. First, I am asking the Prime Minister to stop appointing failed candidates and party insiders to the Senate. I am asking him to reach out to Canadians by making that a firm commitment.

Second, I am asking the Prime Minister to work with me to ensure all senators are banned from fundraising for political parties. No sober second thought can come from unelected appointees with such an august conflict of interest. It makes a joke of our democratic system, and it is not fair to Canadians.

In the long run, New Democrats remain firmly committed to following other modern democracies, as well as Canada's provinces, by abolishing the upper house and continuing to call for a pan-Canadian referendum to allow Canadians to provide a mandate on how to proceed.

We, as New Democrats, want Canadians to feel good about government again, to see it as the embodiment of their collective capacities as citizens, and to feel they have a voice. Let our elected members of Parliament, and only our elected MPs, speak on behalf of Canadians.

Second, let us stop wasting money on the undemocratic parts of our country that are not benefiting Canadians.

I want to bring out some key facts on this Senate reform. All provincial Senates were abolished by 1960, and provinces have continued to function properly. For those from the opposition who think we cannot work without a Senate, the proof is in the pudding. The provinces got rid of all Senates in 1968, and they are still functioning.

Public support for a referendum on the Senate is growing. An Angus Reid survey from July 2011 showed that 71% of Canadians were in favour of holding a referendum to decide the future of the Senate; and 36% of Canadians supported abolishing the Senate, up from 25% one year earlier.

If we really want to hear what Canadians have to say about the Senate, maybe we should have a referendum and let Canadians tell us what they want. With this Angus Reid survey, we know what Canadians want. They want the Senate abolished.

The Conservatives have said that they do not want to tear the other place down, they want to rebuild it. They are accusing us of wanting to tear the other place down. There have been 13 attempts to reform the Senate since the 1900s, 13 times Canadians wanted to remodel the Senate and failed every time. We are not going to accomplish anything this time either.

The government has been all over the map when it comes to Senate reform. A previous Conservative bill called for a federally regulated electoral process, while another bill called for eight year term limits.

The Conservatives have not properly consulted with the provinces about whether or not they agree with the content of this bill. When this bill was first introduced in June 2011, Conservative senators, even those appointed by the Prime Minister, pushed back against any plan for Senate term limits.

Senators will remain unaccountable to the Canadian people by only being allowed by law to serve one term as senators. They will never have to face the public to account for the promises they made to get elected or the decisions they made in the previous nine years, and they will get a pension when they leave office.

The safest, small c conservative approach to the Senate is to abolish it. We know how the House of Commons works, but we have no idea what will happen with an elected Senate.

The Prime Minister has called the Senate a relic of the 19th century. In 2006, the Conservative Party platform stated:

The Conservatives...believe that the current Senate must be either reformed or abolished. An unelected Senate should not be able to block the will of the elected House in the 21st century.

That is exactly what happened to Bill C-311.

The government has used the Senate as a dumping ground for party operatives and fundraisers who are using public money to campaign for the Conservatives. We are seeing that right now with the provincial elections going on across the country. We are seeing senators going from province to province and riding to riding campaigning for the Conservatives at a cost to public money.

The Prime Minister has used the unaccountable and undemocratic Senate to kill legislation that had been passed by the House of Commons twice. As I mentioned previously, Bill C-311 and, this past spring, killing Bill C-393, generic drugs to Africa.

We have Alberta senator, Bert Brown, whose name has been mentioned quite often by Conservative members today making him the god from Alberta. Bert Brown made it very clear in his letter to the Senate dated June 15, when he stated:

...our loyalty is to the man who brought us here, the man who has wanted Senate reform since he entered politics....

It was not to their regions or constituents.

What a shame that an appointed senator would say something like that. He is not there to represent the regions or his constituents. Who is he there to represent if he is not there to represent Canadians? It is a shame.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please. My apologies to the hon. member but I must interrupt him at this time. The hon. member for Nickel Belt will have four minutes remaining when the House returns to this matter.

National Seniors Day
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, on Saturday, we celebrated the first National Seniors Day in Canada.

Like many members of this House, I was pleased to host a Coffee and Tea with the MP event at the Meadowvale Community Centre for seniors in my riding. Representatives of both the River Grove and Meadowvale seniors' social clubs were there sharing their stories of the very important programs and services they provide in our community. These clubs are designed to keep seniors active and provide support services to them.

Our government continues to invest in our seniors. We have recently brought in the largest increase to the guaranteed income supplement in 25 years. We brought in income splitting for pensioners and have made a large increase in funding to the new horizons for seniors program.

I am proud to be part of a government that puts seniors first.

Seniors
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, October 1 was International Day of Older Persons, as well as National Seniors Day in Canada.

On this occasion, I would like to commend the work of municipalities, community organizations, volunteers and all other institutions that work with and for seniors.

Elder abuse, financial insecurity and poverty, affordable and adapted housing, home care and support for caregivers: indeed, there is still a lot to be done.

The percentage of seniors will increase considerably in Canada in the coming years. What is in store for them? What will be their quality of life? It is high time to take a more serious look at these questions.

National Seniors Day in Canada is also an occasion to point out the important contribution seniors make to our society. Together, we must ensure that seniors have the place they deserve in our country.

Human Trafficking
Statements By Members

October 3rd, 2011 / 2 p.m.

Conservative

Terence Young Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I stand to recognize the work of 27-year-old Shae Invidiata from my riding of Oakville. Shae has worked tirelessly, both in Canada and abroad, to raise awareness and fight the practice of human sex trafficking.

At present, there are more than 27 million people enslaved by human trafficking worldwide; 80% are women and children, of which 70% are trapped within the sex trade. The average age of a girl in this dark situation is just 13 years old.

Shae Invidiata has taken action and has helped to raise over $25,000 through public speaking and events, such as the annual Freedom Walk in Toronto, to fight this abhorrent practice. She is also the founder of Free-Them, a not-for-profit organization that partners with organizations and businesses to fight human trafficking all over the world.

This dedicated young woman is committed to raising awareness and supporting the fight against global human trafficking.

I ask the House to join me in recognizing and congratulating the hard work of this remarkable young women who is leading others of all ages to help expose and eliminate human trafficking.

National Seniors Day
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, Saturday was National Seniors Day and I will take this opportunity to pay tribute to Canadian seniors.

Seniors made this country great and it is our responsibility to ensure they can live their lives in dignity. After a lifetime of hard work, seniors deserve the assurance that our universal health care system will be there for them and that they will be financially secure when they retire.

As our fastest growing demographic, we face challenges in ensuring seniors can maintain the quality of life they have earned. Seniors have the right to the quality public health care that they need whenever they should need it. Seniors also deserve financial security. They deserve a strong Canadian pension plan and they deserve a government that is not only committed to protecting the CPP but is dedicated to improving its benefits. Sadly, that is not currently the case.

On behalf of the Liberal caucus, I thank our seniors for their contributions to Canada. They can be assured that the Liberals are committed to working on behalf of seniors all across Canada.

Religious Freedom
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, since the 1979 revolution, authorities in Tehran have condemned Iran's 300,000 Baha'is as apostates.

Twenty years ago, the Ayatollah drew up a secret blueprint to destroy the Baha'i by expelling its followers from universities and denying them employment. That led Baha'i leaders to create their own university, the Institute for Higher Education, which teaches young Iranians who are otherwise deprived of tertiary instruction.

In May, the government arrested dozens of those educational leaders, and many remain imprisoned to this day.

Meanwhile, authorities have recently sentenced seven Baha'i followers to 20 years in prison for ill-defined and unproven allegations. They join at least 100 Iranian Baha'is jailed for their faith.

Canada calls upon the authorities in Tehran to end this odious persecution, release innocent Baha'i prisoners and leave Iranians to enjoy the freedom of religion that is their birthright.