House of Commons Hansard #63 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.

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Question No. 191
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

With regard to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada funding in the riding of Gatineau for the last five fiscal years: (a) what is the total amount of spending by (i) year, (ii) program; and (b) what is the amount of each spending item by (i) Technical Assistance and Foreign-Based Cooperative Activities (International Trade and Labour Program), (ii) Skills Link (Youth Employment Strategy), (iii) Consultation and Partnership-Building and Canadian-Based Cooperative Activities (International Trade and Labour Program), (iv) Canada Summer Jobs (Youth Employment Strategy), (v) Children and Families (Social Development Partnerships Program), (vi) Labour Market Development Agreements, (vii) Labour Market Agreements, (viii) Labour Market Agreements for Persons with Disabilities, (ix) Enabling Fund for Official Language Minority Communities, (x) Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities, (xi) Aboriginal Skills and Training Strategic Investment, (xii) Enabling Accessibility Fund, (xiii) Skills and Partnership Fund - Aboriginal, (xiv) Targeted Initiative for Older Workers, (xv) International Academic Mobility Initiative - Canada-European Union Program for Co-operation in Higher Education, Training and Youth, (xvi) International Academic Mobility Initiative - Program for North American Mobility in Higher Education, (xvii) Surplus Federal Real Property for Homelessness Initiative, (xviii) International Labour Institutions in which Canada Participates (International Trade and Labour Program), (xix) Labour Mobility, (xx) New Horizons for Seniors, (xxi) Career Focus (Youth Employment Strategy), (xxii) Fire Safety Organizations, (xxiii) Organizations that Write Occupational Health and Safety Standards, (xxiv) Social Development Partnerships Program - Disability, (xxv) Foreign Credential Recognition Program Loans (pilot project), (xxvi) Fire Prevention Canada, (xxvii) Adult Learning, Literacy and Essential Skills Program, (xxviii) Canada-European Union Program for Co-operation in Higher Education, Training and Youth (International Academic Mobility Initiative), (xxix) Labour-Management Partnerships Program, (xxx) Social Development Partnerships Program - Children and Families, (xxxi) Social Development Partnerships Program - Disability, (xxxii) Foreign Credential Recognition Program, (xxxiii) International Trade and Labour Program - Technical Assistance and Foreign-Based Cooperative Activities, (xxxiv) International Trade and Labour Program - Consultation and Partnership-Building and Canadian-Based Cooperative Activities, (xxxv) International Trade and Labour Program - International Labour Institutions in which Canada Participates, (xxxvi) Sector Council Program, (xxxvii) Federal Public Sector Youth Internship Program (Youth Employment Strategy), (xxxviii) Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership Program, (xxxix) Employment Programs - Career Development Services Research, (xl) Career Development Services Research (Employment Programs), (xli) Occupational Health and Safety, (xlii) Youth Awareness, (xliii) Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy, (xliv) Homelessness Partnering Strategy, (xlv) Youth Employment Strategy - Skills Link, (xlvi) Youth Employment Strategy - Canada Summer Jobs, (xlvii) Youth Employment Strategy - Career Focus, (xlviii) Youth Employment Strategy - Federal Public Sector Youth Internship Program, (xlix) Apprenticeship Completion Grant, (l) Apprenticeship Incentive Grant, (li) Work-Sharing, (lii) Small Project Component (Enabling Accessibility Fund)?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from December 7, 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

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

When this matter was last before the House, the member for Bonavista--Gander--Grand Falls--Windsor had the floor.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House and the Speaker for allowing me this time, as well as for allowing the debate regarding the House of sober second thought to move ahead.

Over many years, certainly since the inception of this country, this debate has raged on as to its content, how it proceeds, how it is selected and how it goes about its daily business. It has been debated across the country in many forums, sometimes high profile and other times not so high profile. Nonetheless, there have been several repeated attempts to make it better reflect the opinions and the diversity of this country, not just of persons but also the regions that many of us represent. Therefore, I will go through a brief analysis.

I do not think we thank the people who work in the Library of Parliament enough. However, I am thankful to them and, in particular, Sebastian Spano, who did some background information on this. He brought forward some great points. He also brought forward an historical context with respect to the Senate and, in particular, this bill, the thrust of which proposes two things: that we should limit the duration of time that senators can sit, in this case nine years; as well as allow the participation of the provinces in the selection of senators and, more to the point, in the election of senators, which is a practice that has been done circuitously at best when it comes to the situation.

For instance, we remember the particular appointments of the late Stan Waters, as well as Bert Brown, but they were not direct elections per se. This particular bill hopes to bring a direct election within the confines of the Senate, along with term limits.

The bill is divided into two parts. The authors of the bill, in this case the government and the minister in question, have expressed a desire to initiate a process for constitutional reform leading to an elected Senate “in the near future”, which begs the question whether this opens the door to something else. I assume that it does, given that the origins of the party in power always talk about the triple E Senate, equal, elected and effective, which, in my opinion, refers to two things, being equal and elected. Whether it is effective remains to be seen.

The legislative model would allow voters to select candidates wishing to be considered for appointment to the Senate. It does that on two levels. It does that at provincial elections and municipal elections, which is something I will discuss a little later.

It should be noted that the bill would impose no obligation on the provinces or the territories to establish a selection process. However, the nominees model and framework is set out in the schedule, a lot of which the entire framework is set out in the province of Alberta legislation, which is what the schedule is modelled on.

Bill C-20, An Act to provide for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate, was a past attempt to do this. There were past recent attempts in both the Senate and here. We had Bill S-7 and Bill C-20, which were two ways of doing that, both of which died on the order paper in 2008.

I will trace back to when it all started. Basically six major changes were proposed with respect to how the Senate should react through committees, through the House of Commons, as well as through the Senate. First, in 1887, they proposed a Senate in which half would be appointed by the federal government and the other half would be appointed by the provincial governments. Again, we go back to the appointment process. There was no election involved.

The second time this happened was at the end of the 1960s. In the constitutional conference of 1969, the federal government of the day proposed that senators be selected in part by the federal government and in part by the provincial governments, which is the same sort of situation we had in 1887. As well, the provinces could choose the method of selection of senators, whether by nomination by the provincial governments or with the approval of their legislatures. The difference here is that in the past they wanted to infuse provincial input into this by allowing them to appoint but it never set out the way it was to be done, whether by election or appointment. I am assuming they wanted to do it by appointment of the legislatures so they would choose their own, but we can get the idea.

What they wanted to do, for the most part, for the past 144 years, was bring the provinces into a direct consultation process and a process to directly appoint senators to Parliament.

Third, in 1978, the Government of Canada's proposal for a time for action, as the document was called, a renewed Constitution, which would include a house of the federation that would replace the Senate. How interesting is that? It was probably something similar to what the Council of Europe has in Strasbourg.

Basically, the legislators in their home provinces would come to Ottawa and use the Senate, the upper chamber, as a house of the federation, as it was called. Now that proposal did not last very long. It is did not cause a lot of excitement around here and it did not get a lot of media attention. Nonetheless, it was something that was brave and bold for its time.

Bill C-60 was tabled and received first reading in the House of Commons in 1978. In 1979, the Pépin-Robarts task force on Canadian unity recommended the abolition of the Senate and the establishment of the council of the federation. It moved one step further. The council of the federation was to be composed of provincial delegations led by a person of ministerial rank or by the premier of a province. I suggest that members in this House may want to look at that as a proposal, as an alternative, as in the case of the NDP who want to abolish the Senate. There is something there the NDP may want to consider.

In 1984, the Molgat-Cosgrove Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons recommended that senators be directly elected. The Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada recommended that senators be elected in elections held simultaneously with elections to the House of Commons. Therein lies the rub. That is where the direct participation of the provinces is needed, depending on the formula, in particular, seven provinces representing 50% of the population.

That brings us to 1987. I have three words, Meech Lake accord. We all remember that. That was one of the more high-profile attempts at reforming the Senate, a constitutional reform that would have had implications for the method of selecting senators.

With the Meech Lake accord, once a vacancy occurred in the Senate, the provincial government of the province in which the vacancy existed could submit a list of nominees for potential appointments to the Senate. It was somewhat circuitous in the way it went about its business. The provinces would provide a list of people for the prime minister through the governor general to select. That is a little different but, nonetheless, I do not think it would have put it into the context of allowing the provinces to be directly involved simply because it was more of an advisory role. That brings me to this bill, but I will get to that in a little bit.

In 1992, the Beaudoin-Dobbie Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons on a renewed Canada recommended the direct election of senators under a proportional representational system. Therein again lies the participation of the provinces.

Several provinces have enacted their own legislation to make way for this type of procedure where they would be involved in electing senators to the Senate. We know about Alberta. It enacted a senatorial selection act in 1989 which set out the guidelines by which they could do that.

In 1990, British Columbia enacted a senatorial selection act as well, which mirrors the counterpart in Alberta, and it did lapse by the way, but it has been reported in recent media accounts that British Columbia may revive this type of legislation.

In 2009, Saskatchewan passed the Senate nominee election act, which received royal assent but has not been proclaimed into force yet.

In Manitoba, there is the special committee on Senate reform. Manitoba took a different track. In November 2009, it proposed an election process for selecting Senate nominees to be administered by Elections Canada and to be paid for by the federal government. Manitoba went in a different way, which tied it a little more directly into the federal system, certainly with Elections Canada, and proposed that the federal government would look after it. As my hon. colleague from Manitoba points out, it was put forward by Gary Doer of the former NDP government.

Proposals for reforming Senate tenure, again from 1867 to 1985, I mentioned the Molgat-McGuigan committee and others. There were several guiding principles involved, which brings me to the point I am trying to make here when it comes to Senate reform. This is why this particular bill could find itself in trouble.

A few years back a former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Danny Williams, made a representation by saying that this cannot be done without the provinces. I think he was right and here is why.

In a judgment delivered in 1980, the court articulated a number of guiding principles in the British North America Act and the Senate. It said, basically, that in many ways we cannot change the spirit of the legislation because of the effect of direct election to the Senate. It said that what we would end up doing is changing the very thrust of the way the Senate operates. However, in this particular case, the Conservatives will convince themselves that it is not direct, but it is, thanks to clause 3, which states that the Prime Minister must consider this.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the Liberal Party for his views on Bill C-7, the act respecting the selection of senators.

Earlier today, during routine proceedings, there were no fewer than three pieces of legislation introduced in the House of Commons that had their origins in the other place, the unelected, undemocratic Senate. I would like to ask him if he shares my view that it is completely inappropriate for the democratically elected House of Commons to be guided by and, in fact, have its business interrupted and interfered with by bills originating in the Senate, which take primacy and bump the business of the House of Commons.

Regardless of the fact whether he shares the NDP's view that the Senate should be abolished, does he at least concede that it is inappropriate and wrong for the Senate to be dictating the course of action and the debate in the elected chamber, the House of Commons?

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, that is a good point. I would point out one thing. Despite their origins, they still have to get through this House, which is a good thing. The origin of which in many cases was introduced by a member of Parliament.

With regard to the abolition of the Senate, one of the things being talked about is a referendum to choose whether it should be abolished or not. It is a pretty sincere motive, but the problem with that is the provinces also have to get involved, which in many cases could become a cumbersome event. Nonetheless, if that is the way New Democrats feel, the only thing I can suggest they do is win a majority government and give it the boot.

Nonetheless, in the meantime, this bill is probably the wrong way to go about doing this as the provinces are not involved. That is the fundamental flaw of this legislation because, according to the legislation, as I pointed out earlier, the reference to the Supreme Court said that we cannot change the spirit of the Senate without going to the provinces for consultation and their approval.

This does because there are elections in the provinces. Not only that, clause 3 states that the Prime Minister must consider it, which binds him to the will of provincial legislation, which, in turn, has to enact that formula, which is seven provinces and 50% of the population.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will not talk about hypocrisy, but I will pose a question. Just prior to starting the debate, New Democrats gave unanimous support for a motion that came from the Senate dealing with a world issue. I believe they gave unanimous support because they recognized what the Senate had done was of value.

The province of Manitoba had a public consultation to deal with what we could do to add value to the Senate and people of all political parties in the province of Manitoba at least recognized that. Does he not think that other jurisdictions like Manitoba would benefit if, in fact, the public was consulted as to what sort of future role the Senate would play, and whether the Senate would be elected or appointed?

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, the member brings up a valid point when it comes to the Senate, how there are many facets of it and how it should be reformed. The vernacular bandied about here is that it is the House of sober second thought. Certainly, it is. Many of my colleagues, I know when it comes to defence issues, such as Roméo Dallaire and others, bring some great input into the debate in Parliament.

However, bear in mind, the thrust of my speech is about the provincial consultation method that is there. The provinces have the right to be involved in Senate reform as well as if we had a referendum to abolish the Senate. They have a right to be involved in that, as well. That is the gist of what I am saying. Whether we believe in the abolishment of the Senate or not, we have to engage the provinces because they are part of the process.

This legislation points out a fundamental flaw. We need to bring these provinces into this discussion, for their agreement, and for the constitutional amendment, because it states quite clearly that we should. That is something that I have not seen from the government; namely, the language saying that the provinces will be involved. That is just not there.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, the bill the Conservative government has introduced is a travesty of democratic reform and an affront to Canadians’ intelligence.

If the bill is passed, our Senate will no longer be representative either of Canadians’ choice or of the cultural reality of Canada, and we will inherit a hybrid Senate devoid of the independence it needs if it is to be more credible in the public’s eyes.

If I may, I would like to explain why this reform is sloppy, incomplete and scandalous. I would then like to add a few thoughts about genuinely democratic reform of our parliamentary system.

Let us see. This reform would allow the provinces to hold elections in order to participate in the process of selecting senators. The bill proposes a framework for holding these “elections”, which could be held at the same time as municipal or provincial elections, for example. The public would be invited to go and vote for one of the candidates in the running. Citizens would do their civic duty and put their ballot in the box. And then what would happen? The province would submit the list of candidates selected to the prime minister of Canada, who would decide whether to take the recommendations into account. But the prime minister would retain the privilege of choosing the candidates. He would therefore not be at all obliged to take the voters’ choice into account.

Are we really going to ask Canadians to go and vote, and not be able to assure them that their choice will be honoured? And the government calls this a democratic reform? We already have a declining voter turnout for federal, provincial and municipal elections. Canadians are completely disillusioned about our political system, and they are being asked, with a straight face, to take part in a travesty of democracy. Is this a joke?

That is not all. These senators will be appointed or elected, as the case may be, for a maximum term of nine years, and will be allowed to serve only one term. These new senators will be sitting alongside colleagues who are senators appointed for life and will be telling them that since they were elected, they have more legitimacy than they do. This will create a two-tier Senate.

As well, once the senators are elected, they will never again have to account to Canadians. Because they will be unable to stand again, they will not have to face the public and keep their campaign promises. The provinces will be able to decide to hold elections without even knowing whether the voters' choice will be honoured. And who is going to foot the bill for those elections? The provinces, of course.

We might say that this has become a bad habit with Conservatives. This looks like the omnibus bill, Bill C-10, which provides for more prison terms and more prisons. Who will pay for that? The provinces will, again. It is easy to make reforms when you can pass the buck and the consequences on to someone else, but it is hard for the provinces to swallow, given, moreover, that they are not the ones who are making the decisions. This really looks like an ad hoc, sloppy bill. The fact is that this is the third time the Conservatives have proposed a bill relating to Senate elections, and my Liberal colleague has explained that very well. And yet they still have not managed to do any better than this. To me, this looks a lot like a manoeuvre to get us to swallow an ad hoc reform at top speed, in order to circumvent the constitutional rules of this country.

If the government truly wanted to respect democracy, it would follow the rules laid down in the supreme law of this country, our Constitution, which states that any reform relating to the selection and qualification of senators requires an amendment to the Constitution of Canada.

It is true that section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982, authorizes Parliament to amend the Constitution without the agreement of the provinces in certain circumstances, however paragraphs 42(1)(b) and 42(1)(c) of the Constitution Act, 1982, set out four exceptions to this rule, and in these cases the agreement of the provinces is required. The exceptions are as follows: amending the powers of the Senate; the method of selecting senators; the number of members by which a province is entitled to be represented; and the residence qualifications of senators.

So what is the government doing in order to avoid consulting the provinces? It is trying to make people believe that senators will be elected while continuing to appoint them. It is trying to reform the Senate without asking the opinion of the provinces.

This trick, however, is perhaps not even constitutional. In fact, in a very important decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 1980, the justices of the highest court in the land stated that Parliament alone cannot make substantive amendments to the “essential characteristics or fundamental features of the Senate”. Moreover, Quebec intends to challenge the constitutionality of this bill, if passed.

What can be made of a bill that is nothing but a parody of democracy and does not respect the Constitution of our country? What can be made of a government that says it supports democratic reforms in Libya and in other Arab nations, touts democracy in China, Burma and Vietnam, and is not even capable of following its own democracy’s rules? What can be made of a government that negotiates free trade agreements and security perimeters behind closed doors and Conservative members who shut down standing committees by systematically directing committees to go in camera and cut short debates in the House? This government is very poorly placed to talk about democracy.

Moreover, the purpose of the Senate must be kept in mind. The Senate was created by the Fathers of Confederation to ensure the independence of our democratic system, a long-term perspective, continuity and equality between the regions, all in keeping with the principle of federalism of our nation. If the government wanted true reform of the Senate—democratic reform—it would modify the upper house to reserve a special place for the first nations, women, francophones—especially francophones outside Quebec, who presently have no national voice in our system—a place to better respect the contemporary nature of our Canadian societies with seats for the cultural communities.

I am convinced that Canadians also have their thoughts on the matter. Why not give them a voice? A referendum on the reform or abolition of the Senate would provide us with a real democratic verdict. We should let Canadians have their opinion on such an important subject. We should give Canadians a real voice instead of having them participate in a mere semblance of democracy. Canadians deserve much better than this botched reform.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate many of the member's comments. She has described what she does not like about the Senate and the reasons to get rid of it. However, I do not think undermining the role of democracy is the way to go.

If we go ahead and abolish the Senate and it is no longer, what do we do then?

Senate Reform Act
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10:45 a.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, if we abolished the Senate, we could reinvest thousands of dollars in communities. Last July, 36% of Canadians said they were in favour of abolishing the Senate. It is up to Canadians to decide. We need to have a referendum, to consult the provinces, as the Constitution demands. That would be a much more democratic approach and would allow people to have a say, share their opinion.

We are elected by the public and are accountable to them. The three reforms the Conservatives are proposing in the current bill do not even allow senators to be accountable to the public, since a senator's term would end after nine years. They would be replaced before they could even serve a second term, precluding the need to take responsibility for their decisions or to justify the choices they force on the public. For all those reasons, this cannot stand and we must abolish the Senate.