House of Commons Hansard #51 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.

Topics

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

José Nunez-Melo Laval, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his eloquent comments.

In response to his comments about what his constituents think, I can say that my constituents are concerned about the same things. This poll seems to show that 71% of Canadians support holding a referendum because they do not really see the relevance of the current process for appointing senators.

As we have just heard, the purpose of the current process is to get partisan people to support bills and to find people who share their ideology—their “idiocracy”—and to support something that looks like a crooked political system.

We are still in favour of abolishing the Senate because this chamber of elected members here, as in the other provinces, would help Canada be the best country it can be.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to enter into this debate on what is surely a relic of centuries gone by that has long since outlived its usefulness in this country.

I must also comment that the silence from the other side of this House is deafening. This is a government bill, yet only the official opposition seems to have anything to say about it. What does that tell us about where democracy is in this country?

Our comments are valuable and, in my opinion, are closer to the feelings of the Canadian public than is the bill. We believe the public generally does not wish the Senate to continue. Canadians do not believe, in our opinion, that the Senate serves a useful purpose. They believe it is merely a place for a government, as we have discovered in recent times, to undo the will of the elected people of Canada, meaning the members here in this Parliament. We believe that if it were put to a vote, the result would be that the Senate should be abolished.

What should the government do? It should not propose this kind of legislation.

The Prime Minister has talked on a number of occasions about the uselessness of the Senate. However, if we want the true opinion of Canadians, we should take the true opinion of Canadians, and if we want to take the true opinion of Canadians, we should hold a referendum to determine exactly what Canadians feel belongs in the government. We believe that Canadians feel the Senate should be abolished.

If it is in fact not the will of the people that the Senate should be abolished, then reform is needed, but we do not do this kind of reform without consulting with the provinces. The provinces, Quebec in particular, have stated quite clearly that they need to be consulted on any kind of constitutional reform. Quebec, in fact, is threatening to take the government to court over the fact that it was not consulted. Other provinces have stated quite clearly that the Senate should be abolished.

In any event, no consultation took place. There was no consultation about the expense of elections, no consultation about the methods of electing senators, no consultation about the term limits. No consultation about any of this was taken with the provinces prior to the bill's coming before the House.

The law itself, as proposed by the government, states:

And whereas Parliament wishes to maintain the essential characteristics of the Senate within Canada's parliamentary democracy as a chamber of independent, sober second thought;

What does that mean?

First there is the word “independent”. It flies in the face of those very words to read the rest of the government's bill, which demands that if political parties exist, they nominate candidates; that is, candidates must be nominated by political parties.

“Independent” also would imply that the government already believes that an essential characteristic of the Senate is that it be independent. However, as we have experienced most recently, in a non-independent and very partisan way, the Senate has killed legislation that was passed by this House, so that is clearly not what is happening. It is very clear that the government does not propose that the Senate remain independent. Indeed, it is not independent today.

It has also killed climate change bills twice, again in a very partisan way, with the Conservatives voting against the rest. As well, it killed a bill to provide generic drugs to Africa, again in a very partisan way, so to say that it is independent flies in the face of what is actually happening.

Next is “sober second thought”. It implies that this House is not sober. I am offended by that suggestion, because we are not a House of drunkards or laggards. I think the Conservatives would be just as offended it that were the implication. We are, in fact, giving sober thought to everything we do. To suggest that we need somebody else to look over our shoulders and give it sober thought is an affront.

Finally, in terms of independence, we have one of the senators appointed by the government from the elected version of the Alberta government, Bert Brown, suggesting that:

Every senator in this caucus needs to decide where their loyalty should be and must be. The answer is simple; our loyalty is to the man who brought us here, the man who has wanted Senate reform since he entered politics, the Rt. Hon. [Prime Minister].

That clearly shows what the government intends with regard to independence: loyalty is to the Prime Minister, not to some sense of independence nor to the people who, if this bill were to pass, would elect those senators.

In the bill we also discover the creation of a real dog's breakfast of senators. There would be three levels of senators as a result of the bill. There will be senators appointed for life before the 40th Parliament elections; those senators will continue to be appointed for life, and for some of them life will be quite long. It could be 14, 15 or 16 years in some cases. Those senators will continue well beyond any elections and well beyond the term limits of elected senators.

Then there are the senators who were appointed since the last election. Those senators will serve an additional nine years. Some of them will leave before nine years because they will reach age 75, but others will continue for their full nine years. They would have their terms shortened as a result of this bill by an average of about 13 years. There are a whole lot of senators who thought they were there for a long time; as a result of this bill, they would be there for a much shorter period of time.

Then there are the senators who would be elected in the future. Those individuals would have terms of exactly nine years.

That is an incredible dog's breakfast. In Ontario, where I am from, the Ontario government could have an election for 20 senators. Because of the bill, unless those 20 senators were actually appointed by the government, some of them would expire before they were ever appointed. Then there would have to be another election, because their elections only last six years. Unless there were enough appointments to fill those elections, the dog's breakfast would continue.

Finally, I noticed that there is nothing in this bill concerning election financing. The government has made a few statements in the House about its wish to get the government out of financing elections; it feels that parties themselves should look after the financing of their members of Parliament and senators. However, this bill says nothing about it. Apparently the rules of the province or the municipality in which the election was to be held would determine whether election financing would be limited or whether unions or corporations would be allowed to donate to the campaigns of these senators. Depending on the province and the municipality, that could be large sums of money. Again, it flies in the face of what the government thinks is a reform of democracy.

On the accountability portion, there would no accountability. They would be elected for nine years, and they could not come back; therefore, no matter what they did in those nine years, they would have no accountability whatsoever to the electorate who put them there. That is not a democratic principle that we adhere to.

Finally, the Prime Minister would not be obliged to appoint any individual. Should Ontario or any other province elect a bunch of senators, the Prime Minister would retain the power to say, “No thanks. I have friends I want to appoint.”

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, on the one hand the NDP would allow the country to break up if a majority of Quebeckers, 50% plus one, were to vote for separation, yet when a majority of Canadians see value in having the Senate, the NDP does not believe that Canada deserves keeping it. How does the member reconcile those two points?

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, they are so different as to not require a discussion. Our point is that we believe that Canadians believe the Senate should be abolished. Our point is that if nothing else happens, there should at least be an opportunity for the people of Canada to give the government direction on exactly what should happen with the Senate. We believe that the people of Canada will tell the government that the Senate is no longer necessary, that it is a relic, and that it should not continue.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague from York South—Weston made a comment about sober second thought, meaning that maybe someone from the opposite side of the House thinks that we are all drunk here, but we are not.

A couple of weeks ago we had a motion in the House to ban asbestos. The Conservatives, even the good doctor over there, voted against all science that clearly indicates asbestos causes cancer. They voted against the Canadian Cancer Society, against doctors and against Canadians. They actually stood in the House and said that asbestos does not cause cancer.

Since my colleague mentioned sober second thought, does he think that members on the opposite side of the House were not sober when they voted against the motion to ban asbestos?

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, the question of asbestos is a very troubling one in the House. A very dear friend of mine died of mesothelioma and very likely it was as a result of the inhalation of asbestos fibres in an old building where he worked. It is absolutely shocking that the government would continue the mining and the manufacture of asbestos products in this country for sale elsewhere knowing what it knows.

Were we not sober when we made that decision? We certainly were not thinking straight. But when the bill gets to the Senate, because it is not independent, sober second thought in the Senate, it is unlikely the Senate will overturn that decision by the government. That is why the Senate needs to be abolished.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Louis-Hébert has time for a very quick question.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette Louis-Hébert, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to come back to the part of my colleague's speech that had to do with financing these election campaigns, where nothing is clearly worded and the rules seem to be flexible.

I would like him to talk about the inequities there.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, absolutely. We have a situation where members of this chamber have strict limits on who can donate and the parties that we represent have very limited access to financing, made more limited still by the government's recent budget. And yet, for a senatorial election, the bill is silent except to say that generally speaking the rules of a provincial election, should the province choose to hold it in that fashion, or the rules of a municipal election should the municipality choose to hold it in that fashion, would apply. That presents huge inequities. The Senate elections could then have large donations from corporations, unions and individuals.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Madam Speaker, I am not necessarily pleased to take part in the debate on this legislation, because the government is trying to force it down our throat. We, on this side, simply want a real indepth debate on this issue, but the other side wants to very quietly pass a bill dealing with the future of our country and of our parliamentary system. Our parliamentary system exists to discuss bills that will change our country, settle issues and bring solutions. Today, and in recent weeks, we have been presented with what seem primarily to be partisan tools for the party in office, while we on this side want to deal with issues.

Bill C-7 is about the Senate, the chamber of sober second thought. This makes me laugh because, historically, the Senate has never played that role. It has never done its job. Right now, they are trying to trade four quarters for a dollar. They want to change a Senate that does not do its job and whose members are appointed on a partisan basis. Under the new process, senators will still be appointed in a partisan fashion. An election will take place, but the candidates will have been selected in a partisan fashion.

Today's debate on the Senate gets me thinking more seriously about our democracy, our division of powers, our parliamentary system, our form of representation, our electoral practices, our media—which are part of our democracy—and about the Conservative government's attitude towards democracy.

I agree that we can choose the type of democracy that we want in Canada. Everyone agrees. This is a healthy debate and it is about our future. However, whose decision is it to make? Getting back to democracy, about one person in three voted for the current government. Do they all agree with the whole agenda proposed by the Conservative Party? For example, do they all support abolishing the firearms registry? Do they all support Senate reform? Do they all support the justice bill and all the other bills that were introduced recently with very short debates and closure?

What we are asking for regarding our democracy is that people be able to take part in this debate and express their concerns. This must be done through a referendum. Other countries have held referendums on important national issues. We should do the same.

As I was saying earlier, our Senate is there essentially to ensure there is some sort of division of powers, to ensure some representation of the regions and minorities in Parliament. Nonetheless, this has never been the case and now the government does not want to do anything about it.

I want to come back to the division of powers. As far as our electoral practices are concerned, in addition to the related costs, if we ask our provinces to choose candidates for the Senate elections, we are simply transferring the partisan decision to the provinces instead of to the federal government, but it remains a partisan decision nonetheless. What is more, the Prime Minister in power when the elections are held and the nominees are chosen has the last word. In the end, nothing changes.

If we look at what happens in other countries where there are two chambers, we see that in the United States, it is a source of division that borders on chaos.

In the event that the two chambers do not agree, there will be constant obstruction and a host of strategies to defeat what the government is proposing in the other chamber, and even sometimes, for partisan reasons, to oppose certain bills, despite how much they matter to the entire country, simply because it was the other institution that introduced them.

In my opinion, this could happen here if the government goes ahead with this reform. We have to avoid that situation, especially considering there is going to be an election in the House of Commons every four or five years and in the Senate every nine years. The elections will therefore not be held at the same time and people will not necessarily vote for governments that are able to work together.

I have some examples. A constituent in my riding told me he voted for the Conservative Party in 2011 for one reason only and that was because he wanted to get rid of the firearms registry. The New Democratic Party wants to keep the registry. He then said that once that was done, since he is not in favour of any of the Conservative Party's other plans, he would vote for an intelligent government. He did not come right out and say it was our party, but he was not referring to the Conservative Party he voted for in 2011.

There are always going to be attitudes like that and we must not judge people for it. But if people vote for a party for one reason only and that creates situations where the parties cannot agree, it will always be a source of conflict and chaos in our parliamentary system.

On the question of the costs associated with this reform, we see that the plan is to transfer the costs of selecting nominees to the provinces. It talks about our democracy, our federal parliamentary system, but the plan is to transfer the costs to the provinces. To me, that is illogical and almost absurd. If we are not prepared to make changes to our parliamentary system and at the same time assume responsibility for the repercussions in terms of the cost, then let us find other solutions or let us not do it.

As well, a second chamber, which I think is pointless for the reasons I have stated, would also cost even more, because over a long period of time, more senators will have spent time in that chamber and more senators will be entitled to retire with a pension paid for by that chamber. Those are all costs associated with this reform.

The problem right now is that we have a government that is proposing something that it wants to slip past us. As I have often said, we are talking about the future. I would like the government to consider that we are talking about something quite important right now and that we have to do more than this; we have to ask the public whether they support it. There may be other methods, but there is one obvious one: a referendum. Every citizen could say what they think. Every citizen could say whether it is a good idea or not and there would be a thorough debate before the referendum on Senate reform was held.

In Canada, a majority of provinces have stated a position and agree with the NDP that this bill is absurd. For example, Dalton McGuinty, Premier of Ontario, and Darrell Dexter, Premier of Nova Scotia, have publicly called for the Senate to be abolished. The premier of British Columbia has said that the Senate plays no useful role in our Confederation. Manitoba has also maintained its position on abolishing the Senate, stating that it had a plan if it happened, but obviously, if it happens, there will be no choice but to live with that decision. So decisions about this have to be made.

Quebec has already called this bill unconstitutional. All Quebec actually wants is separation of powers. That is a debate we should have by holding a referendum.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette Louis-Hébert, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech.

The purpose of this bill is to make changes by proposing a pool of people who might become senators someday. I would like my colleague to say a little about this stealthy change to our parliamentary system and the consequences of this kind of thing. When we do something to a structure like the parliamentary system, we have to look to see where it is going to take us. Here, I am not certain that the government is seeing the big picture. I would like the member from Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord to comment on the big picture we should be looking at when we address this kind of question.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Madam Speaker, the consequence of this bill will be to create the illusion that something has been settled, but nothing will have changed. Senators would be elected on a partisan basis. Ultimately, nothing will have changed. Before our democracies were established, one segment of the population made the decisions. Now, everyone does. One segment of the population decided how our parliamentary system was going to operate. Today, I think we have got to a point where everyone must express an opinion. In an election, everyone gives an opinion about the relatively near future. The same should be true for something that is so important and that will last a long time. We are going to be living with this parliamentary system until the next reform. There must be a referendum involving all Canadian citizens.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

NDP

François Pilon Laval—Les Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague spoke a little about the costs associated with this reform. I would like him to speak to one aspect in particular.

In this bill, the costs of electing future senators are going to be foisted onto the provinces. Except that, even once they are elected, these people have no guarantee they will someday be appointed to the Senate. Does my colleague think the provinces will want to get involved in investing money in electing senators without being sure they are going to be appointed someday?

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Madam Speaker, this is my personal opinion, but the provinces might simply propose names. Instead of investing money, they will give the Prime Minister the names of people they know, or people who have an interest in this election. The last word will go to the same person as today: the Prime Minister. He is the one who will decide who participates in the Senate election. It comes down to trading four quarters for a dollar.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

November 22nd, 2011 / 11:15 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord.

Ontario and Nova Scotia have publicly called for the Senate to be abolished. The Premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark, has said that the Senate is useless. Manitoba is in favour of abolishing the Senate. Does my colleague think that the government does not want to hold a referendum to hear the opinion of Canadians because it sincerely believes it will lose?