House of Commons Hansard #138 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senators.

Topics

Statements by Minister for International Cooperation regarding KAIROS
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I thank hon. members for their submissions. I will continue to review the matter and hope that I will be able to come up with a ruling fairly promptly on this.

Procedure for Dealing with Matters of Privilege--Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
Oral Questions

March 3rd, 2011 / 3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am now ready to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. member for Vancouver East on February 18 concerning the need to clarify the process by which members give notice of questions of privilege arising out of committee reports. I thank the hon. member for bringing this matter to the attention of the House.

The House will recall that on February 17, 2001, two members gave notice of questions of privilege related to the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. One member did so before the report was tabled, while the other waited until the report had actually been tabled and, as a result, the member who chose to wait to give notice until the report had been tabled was not the first to be recognized.

In reference to the procedures members are to follow in raising questions of privilege, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 142 states:

A member wishing to raise a question of privilege which does not arise out of the proceedings during the course of a sitting must give notice before bringing the question to the attention of the House. The member must provide a written statement to the Speaker at least one hour before raising the question of privilege in the House.

For questions of privilege arising out of committee proceedings, O'Brien and Bosc states on page 151:

If the committee decides that the matter should be reported to the House, it will adopt the report which will be presented to the House at the appropriate time under the rubric “Presenting Reports from Committees” during Routine Proceedings.

Once the report has been presented, the House is formally seized of the matter. After having given the appropriate notice, any Member may then raise the matter as a question of privilege.

This passage implies that a report must have been presented to the House before a member can give notice of a question of privilege related to its contents. This is akin to our procedures with regard to notices of motions to concur in committee reports, which cannot be submitted until the report in question has been presented.

The Chair is cognizant that to do otherwise with regard to notices of questions of privilege might well give rise to situations in which a member could give notice as soon as a committee begins to consider a matter, or perhaps even earlier, when there is but an inkling that something may arise. This is neither desirable nor practicable.

Accordingly, in the interest of bringing clarity to this procedure, from now on, the Chair will not accept notices of questions of privilege based on committee reports until after the reports are tabled.

I thank hon. members for their attention.

The House resumed consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.

Opposition Motion—Representation in Parliament
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Before question period, the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier had the floor. We were at questions and comments following his speech.

The hon. member for Edmonton—Leduc.

Opposition Motion—Representation in Parliament
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his very thoughtful speech. I understand it is his practice in this place and I sincerely appreciate him for doing this.

I agree with his points about wholesale reform in the Senate being necessary.

There are obviously two options. One is to do wholesale reform of the Senate through a constitutional amendment process, which would be very long, complex and may have very little chance of success. The alternative is to do exactly what our government is proposing to do, which is to introduce bills such as those for the election of senators and for term limits.

Would the hon. member consider supporting these two important pieces of legislation as a way of getting the ball rolling on Senate reform so that we can make it an elected chamber where people cannot serve up to 40 years in that place. This would be a way of starting the reform ball going so that we can reform it to an institution where it is effective, elected and equal in the long term.

Opposition Motion—Representation in Parliament
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have always had the view that perhaps it was best to reform the Senate as a whole. However, I have to recognize that we have not proceeded a whole lot down that road.

The difficulty I have with the current approach that the government has undertaken is the lack of consultation, or the seeming lack of consultation, with provincial authorities. In the case of Senate reform, that is a necessity. The provinces must be included, consulted and hopefully brought into a consensus. Otherwise, we are likely to end up in a confrontation, which seems to be where we are headed. I gather the government has had public notice of some provinces intending to pursue the matter that is in front of the Senate now, in front of the courts.

I am not sure that either method will give us the results that perhaps Canadians want. That is why I suggest we ought to consider down the road another method which would perhaps involve a royal commission of sorts, but a method that would involve in its process provincial authorities.

Opposition Motion—Representation in Parliament
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier for his remarks. I particularly appreciate his tone and personal remarks. I have known the member quite well over the last few years working on the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association. I have the greatest respect for him and for his love and commitment to this country, but we disagree on some areas of how we should approach that.

I have always had a great deal of difficulty especially with the Liberals in defending the unnecessary Senate by virtue of the good work, the good reports and the good deeds it does. My thinking on that has always been, that is great, and there are some wonderful people there, but if we need them to do good deed work, we can create a committee, commission, or task force so they can do that work. The issue is that they ought not be allowed to have a say in what the laws of the country are because they do not have the legitimacy to do it, so I do not buy that argument.

I do want to ask about the notion of the check and balances, a favourite phrase of the Americans in their system. In ours, I do not see any check and balance. The hon. member mentioned one example where the Senate corrected a mistake or found a mistake here in the House. I served on two local councils and in the Ontario legislature and mistakes, unfortunately, are made all the time. However, they did not have a Senate or an overseeing body. They just made the corrections. In Ontario we did six amendments to fix one bill. It took a lot of time, but we were able to do it. We have the tools. There is nothing they do in the Senate that we cannot do here. I would like the member's thoughts on this.

Opposition Motion—Representation in Parliament
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have to say that the example I gave was pertaining to Bill C-10 in the 39th Parliament where there was an omnibus legislation and there was one parcel in the bill that basically would have given the Crown, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the authority to exercise censorship in moviemaking in this country and essentially could have destroyed the entire apparatus we have built up over the years for that industry.

The government should have pointed these things out when it presented its legislation. It did not. Nobody on the opposition side saw that. It was picked up in the Senate and stopped by the Senate. If it had not been stopped I would argue that I do not think that the government would have introduced legislation to change that. Therefore, we would have been stuck with a system that the majority in this House did not want and that the Senate at the time did not want. I said that at that time the Senate saved the day.

There are a number of examples along those lines where it has corrected legislation, where it has picked up things that the House missed. Perhaps down the road there may be another method used than the Senate, but in a bicameral system the notion of checks and balances is imperative. I recognize that some days it may not work. I understand that if we were to end up with a majority Conservative government in the House and a Conservative majority in the Senate, the checks and balances would go out the door. However, most times it does seem to work.

If we are to get rid of the Senate, which is something that the motion put forward by the member calls for, I would rather see something in its stead before we get rid of it. That is why--

Opposition Motion—Representation in Parliament
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Opposition Motion—Representation in Parliament
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please. I would encourage all members to direct their comments to the Chair.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

Opposition Motion—Representation in Parliament
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and start off by paying tribute to the member for Hamilton Centre who has brought this motion forward in the House of Commons today. As the NDP critic for democratic reform, he has brought the views of Canadians right to the front and centre of the House of Commons. He deserves the thanks of all members of Parliament and Canadians across the country. We praise him for his work.

I am flabbergasted. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why Conservatives and Liberals are going to stand in the House and say they do not support a motion that starts off by saying it is going to consult Canadians. We will have a parliamentary committee consulting Canadians on proportional representation, on modernizing that essential electoral system, and I will come back to that in a moment. I think it is self-evident, but the importance of modernizing our political systems does bear speaking about for a few moments.

Mr. Speaker, I should note that I will be dividing my time with the member for Ottawa Centre.

I cannot for the life of me understand why Conservative and Liberal MPs are, on the one hand, saying that they do want a consultation on proportional representation, yet on the other hand, saying that they absolutely refuse to have a national referendum on the Senate.

It is quite clear, or it should be, to everyone that with the falling rates of voter participation, it is absolutely essential that we modernize our political institutions to deal with the existing democratic crisis. Barely over 50% of Canadians voted in the last national election. It was particularly appalling among the youngest Canadians. About 25% of 18 to 24-year-olds actually voted. Therefore, there is an institutional problem when Canadians do not feel their vote will count and do not show up at the polls.

We will see what Canadians say about getting rid of the Senate, or at least allowing Canadians to have a voice on that and make their choice. Canadians in my riding are saying they do not believe the Senate is democratic, that it is political nominees who come from the Conservative Party, and I will come back to that in a moment. They simply would love to have the opportunity to vote on that and vote to abolish it, as every province in the country has chosen to do. Every province that had a senate abolished it. When we go to what were formerly the legislative councils, they have all been abolished. No one regrets that. There is no call in British Columbia or Quebec to re-establish the senate, to reappoint political hacks and bagmen and bagwomen. There is simply not that outcry.

Why Conservatives and Liberals are so resistant to modernizing those political institutions is a question that hopefully individuals will ask. If there is an election campaign in a few weeks' time, I think individuals will ask the candidates from those parties why they refuse any sort of modernization of our political institutions.

I have a lot of respect for people who vote, whether they vote NDP, or Liberal, or Conservative or Bloc The fact that they vote is important. Conservative voters voted often for the Conservative Party because they were told it would bring change to Ottawa. It has been exactly the contrary. In fact, the situation, the misuse of government resources, the sense of entitlement of the Conservative government and Conservative politicians is as bad or even worse than it was under the former corrupt Liberal regime.

Canadians voted for change. Many people in Canada voted in good faith for the Conservative Party. Now they are seeing that the commitments made by Conservative politicians have been completely betrayed.

Members may remember the Prime Minister saying that he would change the Senate, that he would stop using the Senate as some kind of warehouse for defeated party candidates the way the Liberals used to do. Let us look at the appointments that the Prime Minister has made, using taxpayer money, using the hard-earned money of softwood workers in British Columbia. They work hard and they pay their taxes. Their tax money is going to fund a group of bagmen and political hacks in the Senate.

Who has been appointed?

The former director of the Progressive Conservative Fund was appointed to the Senate and is now being paid, when we include office expenses and other expenses, half a million dollars. That money is being taken from the hard-working taxpayers of B.C., Alberta, Ontario, Atlantic Canada, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The tax money of Canadians who are working hard and dealing with record debt loads is going now to fund political hacks, and there is no other way of putting it, in the Senate.

The Tories national campaign director for 2006 and 2008 was appointed to the Senate. Half a million dollars of hard-working Canadian taxpayer money is being shovelled right at him every year.

I will mention some more Conservative appointees to the Senate: the former chair of the Conservative Party Fund; a former Conservative MP who was defeated in the 2008 election; an unsuccessful Conservative candidate in B.C. in 2008; an unsuccessful Conservative candidate in the 2006 election; an unsuccessful former Conservative candidate who ran for the Canadian Alliance Party in 2000; a former Conservative MP from 1984; the former president of the Conservative Party; the former co-chair for the Prime Minister's leadership campaign; a former press secretary to the Prime Minister; former provincial Conservatives; another unsuccessful Conservative candidate in 2008; another unsuccessful Conservative candidate in 2008. The list goes on and on.

These people were rejected by the Canadian public. The Conservatives offered them up and Canadians said that they did not want them. What did the Conservatives do? Showing the utmost hypocrisy even for their own voters, giving the back of the hand to their voters, many of whom voted in good faith for the Conservative government, they stuff the Senate with their party hacks and take taxpayer money in the most abusive way and use that as their own resource just for themselves.

Rather than addressing the crucial issues that the NDP has been bringing forward, such as the shortage of physicians and nurses, the record levels of student debt, the tremendous poverty in which Canadian seniors are living, the fact that our veterans are treated despicably by the government, and I could go on, the Conservative administration, with that sense of entitlement that goes beyond even what the former corrupt Liberals felt, has been stuffing the Senate at half a million dollars a pop with failed Conservative candidates and other party bagmen and bagwomen.

We have been talking about scandals in the House of Commons such as the Conservatives misuse of taxpayer resources to further their own political ends, the misuse of ideology in government grants. In perhaps no other way does this show how profoundly mistrustful Canadians will be of those Conservative politicians who come forward in the next campaign and say that they have cleaned up Ottawa.

They are rolling in muck and mire, just like the Liberals did. They are showing the same contempt for the public as the Liberals did. Five years ago Canadians voted for change and voted to have some cleaning up. What we are seeing is the same level of trough, the same rolling in the muck and mire that we used to see.

The Senate is packed with insiders. NDP members are saying we must have a referendum. We must consult Canadians. We must put in place an electoral system that, yes, would be to the disadvantage of the Conservatives because they did not get the percentage vote in the House. The House of Commons will be a much more representative population and the Senate will be abolished, because that is what Canadians will decide.

Opposition Motion—Representation in Parliament
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I caught some of the member's comments. I have certainly listened to the debate this afternoon and this morning. I always come back to the fact that the government has a realistic Senate reform strategy to have term limits and senatorial elections. These are doable within the Constitution. They do not require the huge Meech Lake or Charlottetown kind of constitutional wrangling that tied up our country for virtually two decades.

Canadians want us to focus on the economy. Why does the NDP not come on side and support the government on these three bills: the Senate term legislation; senatorial selection, which although is in the other place it can still support it; and seat redistribution, where faster growing provinces that are currently under-represented will be represented appropriately, including B.C., Ontario and Alberta, in all of which the NDP has members? I cannot understand why the NDP is against democratic reform as presented already.

Opposition Motion—Representation in Parliament
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the minister already knows the answer to that question.

First, members will recall that the Conservative government broke its word on the fixed election dates. It brought that legislation in and we supported it. What did it do? It broke that commitment.

What the minister is not saying is that ultimately it is the Prime Minister who decides. He is appointed. Therefore, this idea of some kind of sham Egyptian-style election is simply inappropriate. I thing people around the world are actually fighting for real democratic reform.

The other point I want to raise is this. The government has shown such incredible contempt for British Columbia. It has forced the HST on British Columbians. It has done absolutely nothing to address key B.C. issues. If the government wants to permanently enshrine B.C. with only six members in the Senate, which is far below its population ratio in the country, that shows just one other reason why British Columbians should vote NDP in the upcoming election.

Opposition Motion—Representation in Parliament
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, when I heard the minister of democratic reform speak, I was reminded of the word “reform”. I remember the old Reform Party that claimed, at one time, it believed in things such as initiatives, recall and referenda. The whole purpose behind referenda is to restore to the people of a country the right to express their democratic opinions on a particular issue, particularly one as important as one of the two chambers that govern our country.

I noticed that the motion calls upon us to hold a referendum to put a simple question which would allow Canadians to vote on whether they wanted us to abolish the Senate and whether they wanted a new system of proportional representation.

Could my hon. colleague can comment on the concept of allowing Canadians to express their opinions, votes and wishes to us, instead of having the Conservative government and the minister of democratic reform tell Canadians what they want? Perhaps we should hear from Canadians and let them tell us what they would like in their government.

Could my colleague comment on that?

Opposition Motion—Representation in Parliament
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I believe Canadians who have listened to the debate today already understand that the Conservatives and Liberals do not want Canadians to be consulted. They are telling Canadians to let them run their little shell game here, let them take taxpayer resources so they can fund their Conservative Party and let them use public moneys for their private gain.

What is very clear from this debate is Canadians should be writing their Conservative and Liberal MPs, asking them why they are stopping them from having the right to voice their vote on the future of the country. They should ask them what is wrong with them having a vote on the Senate and why they have been denied their right to vote. Canadians should be asking them those questions.