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 senators.

Topics

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, when the Senate was first set up based upon the House of Lords and the British parliamentary system, there was some inkling of representation on that whole idea of representing the voices of the provinces in opposition to the great unwashed, the commoners who would be elected to Parliament. However, the establishment of the Senate has been so far removed from the concept of representation that it would be a huge stretch to ever think it could achieve that task.

I would suggest that if we were to have a referendum on the issue with the Canadian people, we may begin to get at some of that question of whether or not the Senate should exist, and if it does exist, upon what basis, so that it would be truly representative.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-7, an act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits.

The Senate was created in 1867 to mirror the British House of Lords to serve as a chamber of sober second thought, to provide regional representation, and to act as a check on Parliament. It was made as an appointed body so that it could not stop legislation from the House of Commons. It was to revise and review the legislation. It was also created to recognize the social and economic elite. It was in part created to protect the property interests of the wealthy. There was some concern by our founding fathers that an elected body, the House of Commons, would not do so. Today we know that this is not true.

The Senate is broken and no longer works in the public interest. The House knows it and so do the Canadian people. We need to go beyond simply changing term limits of the Senate. The Senate needs fundamental change.

I became convinced of the need to abolish the Senate after witnessing the vote in the Senate in 2010 that killed Bill C-311, the climate change accountability bill. That bill would have required the federal government to set regulations to establish targets to bring greenhouse gas emissions to 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and to set long-term targets to bring emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The government must take action on climate change. This bill would have been the first step toward setting hard targets to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. However, it has become abundantly clear that the government did not want to deal with one of the most pressing issues of our time, so it arranged for the Senate to do its dirty work.

Bill C-311 passed the House of Commons. The bill passed at committee. The majority of members in the House at that time passed the bill, yet it was killed in the Senate. Let me repeat for clarity. The unelected, unaccountable Senate shut off debate and called a snap vote to kill important legislation passed in the House of Commons.

This was an outrageous move. Canadians were outraged by this move. It was the first time since before the Second World War that the Senate voted down a bill that won the support of the majority of the House of Commons. This move did not get the attention it deserved. It was a fundamental change in the way our democracy operates.

The Conservative government is not known for its transparency and adherence to democratic principles and now it has appointed enough senators to circumvent the democratic process.

Only a short few years ago, before they were in power, the Conservatives had very real concerns about the way the Senate operates. While the Prime Minister was in opposition he claimed that he would never appoint a senator. At that time he considered the Senate to be undemocratic, and the Prime Minister was correct. The Senate is undemocratic. It is why the people of New Zealand abolished the upper house, the legislative council, in 1951.

It is amazing how things change once someone gains power. Now that the Conservatives are in power, they have completely changed their tune and are using the unelected, undemocratic body to push through their legislative agenda.

The Prime Minister has appointed 36 Conservative insiders to the Senate since coming to power. In 2008 he broke a record by appointing 18 people to the upper chamber in just one day. The Senate is now stacked with failed Conservative candidates, party fundraisers and political organizers. Let us not forget that this was the same modus operandi of the federal Liberal Party. It too stacked the Senate with friends and insiders.

A senator earns approximately $132,000 a year. The qualification to become a senator now is to be loyal to the ruling party that appointed him or her.

The Senate costs approximately $90 million a year to run. Taxpayers are paying a large sum for an unaccountable, unelected body in the Senate and for senators to block legislation passed by their elected representatives.

I believe it is time, through a referendum, that Canadians have a say on the future of the Senate. A referendum will open up a dialogue on the system in which far too many Canadians have lost faith. It will allow us to engage the population in an issue that is important to our very democracy.

It is time for an examination of democratic reform. It would show Canadians that we, as their elected House, care about their participation in our political system.

This is the third time the Conservatives have introduced legislation on an unelected Senate and legislation on Senate term limits. Each time the legislation died because of prorogation or dissolution of the House.

The NDP policy calls for abolishing the unelected Senate. It is fairly clear. It is a long-standing call that dates back to the 1930s. This policy has been constantly reaffirmed by the party. We want to maintain our position to abolish the Senate. We call on the government to hold a referendum, asking the Canadian public whether they support abolishing the Senate.

Who else has called for this? Let us look across the country. Both Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter openly have called for the abolishment of the Senate. The premier in my own province, B.C. Premier Christy Clark, has said that the Senate no longer plays a useful role in Confederation. Manitoba maintains its position on Senate abolition, although it does have plans, if this bill should pass, for Senate elections. Quebec has called this legislation unconstitutional. It has said that it will launch a provincial court appeal if the bill proceeds without consultation of the provinces.

The public supports the idea of a referendum for the Senate, and it is growing. For instance, an Angus Reid survey from July of this year shows that 71% of Canadians are in favour of holding a referendum to decide the future of the Senate and 36% of Canadians support the abolition of the Senate. That is up from 25% a year earlier. We can see the momentum is growing. There have been 13 attempts to reform the Senate since 1990 and all have failed.

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

Senators will remain unaccountable to the Canadian people. By only being allowed, by law, to serve one term, senators do not have to face the public or account for the promises they made to get elected or the decisions they took in the previous nine years, and they get a pension when they leave office.

Having an elected Senate will fundamentally change the nature of politics in Canada. It will create a two-tier Senate, where those who are elected will feel they have more legitimacy. Since the Senate has virtually the same powers as the House, an elected Senate would have greater legitimacy to introduce legislation or oppose bills sent to it from the House of Commons. We could end up with the kind of gridlock we have seen in the United States.

The safest and 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.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate just how clear the member was about the NDP's position to abolish the Senate. I have had the opportunity to ask other members of his caucus about the potential of the Senate having some value. If a majority of Canadians supported it, would the NDP support abandoning its lifelong ambition to abolish the Senate.

My question is fairly simple and straightforward. If a majority of Canadians supported having a Senate, would the New Democratic Party stop pushing to abolish it if it were deemed there was some value to it? Or, no matter what happens in the referendum it called for, would its intention still be to abolish the Senate?

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is a good question. The premise of the question is hypothetical. We need to have a referendum to determine that. New Democrats have been calling for a referendum to determine the matter. I think Canadians would respect that if it went to them and they were engaged by being included in the discussion beyond the House.

We will look at the results when that happens, but at this time we need to have a referendum, hear from Canadians and consult with as many bodies as we can, including the provinces, territories and other organizations, to hear what they have to say on this important matter.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am interested in my colleague's remarks. In the opening of his speech, he gave a graphic illustration of how the Senate was perhaps no longer just a useless institution, but actually acted as a barrier and obstacle to simple democracy.

The only environmental legislation that came out of the 40th Parliament and that wound up in the Senate was summarily dismissed. How many witnesses did the senators hear before they voted down the climate change legislation and how many days did they actually give it serious sober second thought before they destroyed it?

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, with Bill C-311, the climate change accountability act, what outraged so many Canadians was how it duly moved through the House, a momentous occasion when it finally passed at all stages. It then went to the upper house, where it should have received sober second thought. There could have been witnesses called. My understanding is no witnesses were called, not a single person was heard. In fact, there was a snap vote. It was done in a way that it was defeated in no time at all. Unfortunately, after all that work, such good legislation, which would have been amazing for the country, was gone with the snap of fingers.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

We have one minute left for a brief question and a brief answer.

The hon. member for Sudbury.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, one thing I find very interesting about the bill is that if it were to pass, once elected, senators would never have to be accountable to the Canadian people again. They would have nine years, would serve their time and could make a whole bunch of promises, but at the end of the nine years, they would walk away. Would the member comment on that?

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, not only after that, they would get a pension. This is the kind of thing that turns the Canadian electorate off. Canadians want accountability. They have been demanding accountability. In fact, they want more representation in how elected officials are chosen, or selected or elected. They do not want to simply see appointments made where there is no accountability.

There is no way to be accountable to those who elect one into office. It is simply a matter of appointment. There is no way of letting that elected official know whether he or she is on track doing a good job or not. It is a term and he or she will serve it out regardless, and at a huge expense to the Canadian taxpayer.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate about Senate reform, albeit many of my colleagues, including the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam and the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, earlier talked about our stated policy.

On questions earlier, the member from Edmonton talked about our being all over the map today. Let me be abundantly clear, and the New Democrats have been clear since the 1930s: we think the Senate should go, just as many other Commonwealth countries that took up the Westminster model decided over the years that their senates would go.

We need not look that far afield. We do not have to look to New Zealand, as my colleague talked about. We just have to drive down the 401 from this place to Toronto. Toronto no longer has a senate for Ontario. In fact, no province in this country has a senate anymore. They are all gone. The last time I checked, Alberta was doing quite well without that senate.

When I talk with my colleagues from Alberta, they say that not only is their economy humming, but with all the things that are happening, it is a great place to be. I was in Camrose two weeks ago and I concur; indeed, Alberta is a great place to be. It is humming along with just a legislative house and no senate. It did not need one. Everything seems to work without a hitch.

It brings me to a vivid thought I have in my mind. If I could hearken back to the days of Premier Lougheed and Premier Klein, I could just imagine Premier Klein saying, “Senate, this is what I need done”, and the Senate saying to the Premier of Alberta, “Wait a minute, Premier Klein, we don't think so”. I can just imagine the constitutional flummox that would have been. I can imagine Ralph standing up in Edmonton saying, “I don't think so”.

What we are saying on this side is that we do not think we should keep the Senate, but we do not think it is up to us. We think it is up to Canadians. Let us let them decide. Let us put it to Canadians and ask them if they think the Senate is a valuable institution for us to keep. It is their institution, although when it was founded, it really was not about them as electors; as my friend from Cole Harbour said, it was the great unwashed, meaning supposedly us as members in the green chamber, and not them in the other place.

Clearly it was the landed gentry who said they needed to have sober second thought, just in case we did something absolutely ridiculous in this House and tried to send it along to Canadians.

I have great respect for all of my colleagues in the House. They do not do things that would be so ridiculous that we would need to send it to an unelected body for sober second thought, because quite clearly, that sober second thought is a myth.

Why do I say that? As my colleagues have rightly pointed out, when it came to Bill C-311 in the last Parliament, in which I had the great privilege to be a member, that legislation on climate change, regardless of what individuals thought in here, was passed democratically, as we would expect this institution to do, and duly presented to the Senate for sober second thought. I will agree with the “sober” part, but I do not think I could agree with the “second thought”, because the senators did not give it a thought at all, not one. They simply said, “Goodbye. We do not want it. We will get rid of it. Done”.

If senators were truly serious about their job, whether they liked the legislation or not, they had an obligation to look at the legislation, call witnesses about the legislation, critique the legislation, and ultimately, if they chose to, deny the legislation. That is their right.

However, to suggest that the Senate is somehow the chamber of sober second thought when the senators would not take the time to consider legislation is a slap in the face to the duly elected members. We are the duly elected members of this country, not the folks in the other place. Their actions did a disservice to their credibility, not individually, but as an institution that says it will take into consideration what the House has passed, take a look at it, investigate it, make a decision on it and, if we in the House agree, make some changes.

That has happened over the years. The Senate has indeed made some changes and sent legislation back to the House for changes. It has happened, but in this case there was no second thought, sober or otherwise.

Ultimately, why do we have such a place? Does it live up to the reputation it supposedly has?

It is interesting to note what Senator Bert Brown said in his letter to his colleagues. Of course, it was not sent to all of the senators, only to those of the Conservative persuasion. That is because the other place has taken on the mantle of a partisan place, and I will speak to what the legislation says on keeping it a partisan place.

In his letter he said, and I quote:

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].

What happened to this place of sober second thought when the loyalty is to a Conservative caucus and to the Prime Minister of that Conservative caucus? What happened to the idea of standing back and reviewing legislation to give it that sober second thought?

In my view, it is not only diminished; it is destroyed by the very words of a senator appointed to the Senate by the Prime Minister. Clearly this senator has an understanding of where the intention is to go with this issue.

Regarding politicization in the legislation, the bill says that to run for the Senate one must be a member of a political party in the registered domain of the place one runs in, meaning either a territory or province. In other words, one could not run as an independent senator. It would seem that one would have to join a party in order to run.

We can wax poetic about the folks who are there: the ex-finance bagman of a political party, campaign managers and defeated candidates both Liberal and Conservative. It was used as a reward for those who stood aside to let someone new get a seat in the House or when a change in leadership gave different perspectives under different parties. People were rewarded by being sent to the other place. Now we are going to politicize this place, as much as all of us here know it is political anyway. Maybe the bill is just an admission that it truly is political.

Ultimately, if we are going to say that one must run for a political party to run for the Senate, how do we make those folks accountable?

As members, we are accountable. Under the Canada Elections Act we have to hold an election every five years, although usually it is shorter than that. In the last number of years it has been shorter; sometimes a Parliament lasts only a couple of years. We have to go back to the folks who allowed us to come to this place and ask them if they would like to send us back again. They have the ability to judge us on the things we have done. They can look at our record to decide if they like what we did and then support us, or not, once again.

However, that would not be the case with this group. This group could promise the world during an election, and two things could happen. If the Prime Minister of the day liked the person, he or she would be appointed. If they represented the views of the Prime Minister and his caucus, they would be appointed.

However, we could also make the assumption that one could run and win an election in Alberta but not be appointed. There is no guarantee under the legislation that if elected, one would be appointed. The Prime Minister could simply refuse to make the appointment. One could wait six years and run again and still not get appointed. Therefore, even though the system down the hall in the other place is bad enough unto itself, we would make it worse.

It seems to me that if we want to reform the Senate, we should ask Canadians what they want. We should put it to them as to whether they want the other place. If they say yes, we should ask them what it should look like. We would then truly understand whether Canadians want it.

If the polls are right, more than 70% of Canadians say that the Senate's day has come. The sun has shone, and it is time to retire them all out of the chamber, roll up the proverbial red carpet and wish them all a Merry Christmas and a happy retirement.

That is exactly what we ought to do. We would be happy to help roll the first red carpet up as we let senators go on to whatever it is their lives will be, which is productive, prosperous and happy. We hope they enjoy the rest of their retirement.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Welland will have five minutes remaining for questions and comments when the House resumes debate on this motion.

Gender Equality
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier this year, the Minister for Status of Women announced Canada's support for an international day to promote girls' rights and address the challenges they face worldwide. On March 24, this chamber gave unanimous consent to Canada leading this effort at the United Nations. Yesterday in New York, the United Nations' third committee on social, humanitarian and cultural affairs passed a resolution to create an international day of the girl child.

If it is adopted, this international day will promote equal opportunities and equal treatment for girls in all regions of the world in terms of the law, nutrition, health care and education and training, and for a life free of violence and abuse. Canada has led this campaign for one reason: to bring about change in the lives of girls as citizens and as powerful voices for change within their families, their communities and their countries.

Pensions
Statements By Members

November 22nd, 2011 / 2 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, across Canada, and particularly in the Niagara region, many are finding it increasingly hard to retire. Consecutive years of Conservative and Liberal neglect have allowed good job after good job to flee the Niagara region, often with the support of wasteful and ineffective tax cuts provided by both the Liberal and Conservative governments.

The result of this neglect was the destruction of many defined benefit pension plans and, of course, reduced individual contributions to CPP because of extended periods of layoff.

The Conservative awakening to the pension crisis in Canada would normally be a good thing. Unfortunately, the pooled registered pension plan they have put forward seems tailored more to the benefit of Bay Street than to ordinary Canadians. This PRPP is privately managed and requires individuals to invest their retirement savings in the very markets that caused a pension crisis in the first place. Of course, it is pretty tough to do if one is unemployed.

This is the perfect opportunity to remind my colleagues across the floor that it is not too late to adopt the New Democratic plan, one that would lead to the doubling of CPP, one of the safest and most effective pension plans in the world, ensuring that all Canadians can retire with dignity.

Polish Gymnastic Association
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, this past weekend I was honoured to join the Polish Gymnastic Association, Sokol Winnipeg, for its 105th anniversary celebration. I want to commend this organization for its extensive contributions to the Polish community and to Winnipeg.

Since it was founded in 1906, Sokol Winnipeg has established a broad range of educational, cultural, language and sports programs, establishing itself as an integral part of Winnipeg's Polish community.

I want to also recognize Marian Jaworski, who was honoured with an award by Sokol Winnipeg last weekend for his invaluable service to the Polish community. Mr. Jaworski founded the annual Sokol Days, which has become a summer festival favourite for all Winnipeggers. Also, he founded the Sokol Youth Club and the Sokol Acrobatic Rhythmic Dance Club, equipping a whole new generation with Polish culture.

I invite all members to join me in congratulating Mr. Jaworski and the members of the Polish Gymnastic Association.

Sudan
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, while we celebrate the independence of South Sudan, this should not obscure the triangular threat and assault by the Khartoum government, including: the onslaught against the Nuba Mountain people in South Kordofan; the invasion of Abyei, with the denial of its independence and the driving out of the Dinka African tribe; and the attacks on the Blue Nile; the whole with a view to creating a new north-south border incorporating the southern oil fields in the north, while the violations in Darfur continue unabated.

Accordingly, we call on the militarized regime in Khartoum to cease and desist its ongoing assaults and criminality. We call on the Canadian government to list the regime as a terrorist entity, and to work to bring the indicted war criminals, President al-Bashir of Sudan and Military Governor Ahmed Haroun, to justice.