House of Commons Hansard #84 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.

Topics

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Madam Speaker, at the start of this exercise I understand that there was at the very least a desire to strike a regional balance. I am not the only one to have observed that. Far more eminent constitutional experts than I noticed this. However, even that approach does not work, and worked barely, if at all, in the past.

My colleague from Sherbrooke just highlighted a tradition that goes back several decades of the party in power exploiting this chamber. Throw into the mix the fact that this limited desire initially to have some degree of regional representation, which might have been meaningful, was of little or no use. The only conclusion to be drawn therefore is that it is a chamber that is of little or no use.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, the members of the NDP need to get together, give their heads a shake and think about this. They are prepared to break up the country if in the province of Quebec there is 50% plus one. They will break up the country. On this issue, if 50% plus one in the province of Quebec say yes to Senate reform and having a Senate contrary to what the rest of Canada might say, the member is saying that he will not take the side of Quebeckers even if there is 50% plus one and he will go with the majority in the rest of Canada. Is that what he is saying? If we listen to what he says, that is what he is saying. I am asking him to be consistent with respect to breaking up the country and Senate reform.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Madam Speaker, the likelihood that there will be riots in Quebec regarding the Constitution and the Senate—that is, the kind of disastrous situation that my colleague just evoked—is non-existent. I can guarantee this. People do not care about the Senate. It will simply be a democratic exercise to determine whether the Senate should be kept in some intelligent form or completely abolished. There will be no riots in Quebec, there will be no breaking up the country over an issue like the Senate. That is impossible.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join this debate on Bill C-7.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please.

The member has the floor.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleagues for allowing me to speak. When they have the opportunity to ask questions, even repetitive ones, I will be happy to answer as best I can, as all the members who spoke before me have done.

I believe that Bill C-7 is a bogus reform of the Senate. The Prime Minister promised Senate reform. He obviously had no choice, because the legitimacy of the Senate is constantly being questioned by all sides.

Thus, we have before us a bill that attempts to save face and to support the legitimacy of a Senate by proposing measures that make no real changes and provide no pertinent solutions to the concerns that people have expressed about the Senate.

This is not the first time that we have seen bills that herald bogus and ineffective changes. For example, I would like to talk about last spring's proposal regarding income enhancement for seniors living in poverty. After the enhancement was announced, some major associations representing thousands of seniors in Quebec and Canada said they were more or less satisfied and pleased with the measure. They were expecting that it would really benefit seniors who needed additional income to leave poverty behind. However, after a more careful analysis of the eligibility criteria for such income, they came to the realization that very few seniors living in poverty would qualify. Thus, they felt betrayed by an announcement that said millions of dollars would be paid to seniors in need, but that did not disclose a number of criteria and sub-criteria and gave almost nothing—just two dollars a day more—to the poorest of poor seniors. It did not provide any real support.

That is just one example that illustrates how it is now commonplace to introduce bills that announce change, but are really just smokescreens.

For example, there is no mention in Bill C-7 of the unequal distribution of the seats in the Senate. That is a concern that has already been raised and it is not being addressed here in Bill C-7. We are trying to tackle the legitimacy of the Senate. Why do unelected members have the right to interfere in decisions by the House of elected members? What we have here is pure hypocrisy: the government says it is in favour of electing senators, but in fact the bill provides for holding an election to create a list that the Prime Minister could use to then appoint senators. Does that truly enhance the legitimacy of the senators? I do not see how, because at the end of the day, the Prime Minister still appoints his senators. What are the criteria? That remains to be seen.

There are other frustrations that might stem from Bill C-7, other things that can be refuted. For example, the provinces are not being consulted. A bill is introduced that says that the provinces could, if and as they wish, hold elections at their expense to allow the citizens of the province to elect potential senators and to establish a list. The provinces are being affected by a decision on which they are not being consulted at all.

Again, I am not really surprised. The government is constantly trying to send the bill to the provinces without consulting them or to pit one province against another. When the government was talking about minimum sentences, it forgot to mention that the bill would be sent to the provinces, whether they wanted the legislation or not. When the government was talking about abolishing the firearms registry, did it listen when Quebec said it wanted to recover the data? No, not at all. The government totally ignored Quebec.

Old age security is another good example. Lowering the age of eligibility for old age security would certainly mean additional costs for the provinces, which would have to provide social assistance to people with no income for an extra two years.

There are many examples. It is becoming common practice for the Conservatives to send the bill to the provinces and then turn a deaf ear to what they want. This is yet another case in which the provinces have not been consulted about measures that will affect them. This is rather unfortunate.

What tangible impact will a bill such as Bill C-7 have? Unresolved issues are still a cause for concern, and with good reason. For example, if senators are elected, will their mandate have to be redefined? Will senators who win an election be entitled to request more duties or to have their duties changed because they are now elected officials just like members of the House? This is a question to consider.

In fact, we have a complex system that has been around for a number of years. Are changes needed? Yes, without a doubt. However, we must also take the time to determine what the impact of such changes would be. In my opinion, the Conservatives have not done enough in this regard. They talk about measures and tangible results without telling us the basis for or the expected outcomes of these changes. Since the provinces will be able to choose whether or not to hold elections, some senators will be elected and others will not. Will this create a hierarchy among the senators? That is another question to consider. Unfortunately, the Conservatives have not had much to say on the subject. These are real concerns that deserve our attention.

We also have other concerns. What criteria will the Prime Minister use to appoint a senator from a list of elected candidates? Will more women and aboriginal people be appointed to the Senate? Or will selection be based on partisan considerations that will allow the government to have a new senator who is loyal to the government or the party? We have to consider these questions.

Once again, the authority will be left in the hands of a single individual with discretionary power, namely the Prime Minister. These are legitimate questions. Voters who will have chosen a list of Senate candidates may be upset to see the Prime Minister not appointing their first choice but, instead, their second one. So, this whole process all very vague and there are many questions about the criteria that will guide the Prime Minister's choice and the impact that choice will have.

There are other questions about this legislation. Ultimately, will senators still be appointed by the Prime Minister? Will they be less loyal to the Prime Minister who appoints them?

As I said at the beginning of my speech, there is a lot of dissatisfaction with the fact that senators are not elected. Now, the government is proposing a bill which includes an election process. Is this really going to change the legitimacy of senators? One has to wonder.

If I may, I would remind the House that the Senate, as an institution, was meant to be a chamber of wise people representing the territorial diversity of the country and acting as a counterbalance to the decisions made in the House of Commons. Wisdom is an important aspect. I do not want to question the wisdom of current senators, but what good is wisdom if, in the end, one must obey the Prime Minister and be faithful to one's party? What good is senators' wisdom and judgment? Can this aspect be questioned? Perhaps. After all, senators are not accountable to the people they represent for the decisions they make. Therefore, what is the impact of a decision? We really wonder about that.

Currently, one may even get the impression that the Prime Minister is doing through the back door what he does not want to do publicly.

These are my concerns about Bill C-7. All hon. members know that the NDP's position on the Senate is clear, so I will not repeat it in detail.

The solution is not Bill C-7 but, rather, the abolition of the Senate.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

February 27th, 2012 / 1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague said many very true things. She ended by saying that her party's position was clear. Would she mind clarifying her party's position? She seems surprised that her Liberal colleagues keep asking the same questions today. We have to, because we have not yet received any answers. I will make my question as clear as possible. I would like her to provide a clear answer, not beat around the bush like her colleagues.

If there is a referendum on abolishing the Senate, and if a majority of Canadians say that they want to abolish it, while a majority of Quebeckers say that they want to keep it, which majority will win the day?

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his very clear question, which I am sure everyone understood perfectly. If he wants to keep asking it, that is fine by me.

Earlier, my colleague asked whether we really had consulted the people and whether using the results of that consultation would be complicated. People can turn a blind eye and a deaf ear when they know that it will be complicated to do something about a problem or about what people want. Personally, I do not think that is the solution. We should consider how we can use the results of our consultations. That is fundamentally irrefutable. We have to ask whether the Senate should be abolished and involve Canadians in the decision-making process. If my colleague is against that basic fact, I would certainly like to hear about it.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Pierrefonds—Dollard for her speech. I am very pleased that she talked about how this will affect the provinces. Indeed, this government bill will have serious financial and other repercussions on the provinces.

This is completely typical of how this government normally operates, that is, downloading its responsibilities and putting another huge burden on the provinces. This has been the trend for nearly 20 years now, unfortunately, in many different programs.

According to the government's bill, the provinces would be free to chose their system of electing senators, but they would have to cover the cost themselves. After the election process, the Prime Minister would have the privilege of accepting or refusing the senators without any justification. What does my colleague think of a system in which the provinces would have to spend public money needlessly, while the final choice of senators would be left to the whims of the Prime Minister of the day?

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Madam Speaker, I asked myself that very question when I first read the bill. Would these elections bring anything positive to the Senate? Maybe, maybe not. It is not entirely clear. If the Prime Minister is the one who makes the final decision, to what degree would Canadians' choices be taken into account? That is a very good question.

Would this penalize provinces that cannot afford to hold an election? Would this create some sort of hierarchy in the quality of senators selected in each province? A great deal of uncertainty remains in that regard. However, one thing is certain: it is important that we probe much deeper into the issue of the Senate and ask ourselves if we should keep it or abolish it.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-7.

It is important to state that this bill does not make senators accountable. Regardless of whether they are elected or not, they will not have to keep any of their election promises, knowing that their term is not renewable. That is one of the major problems with the Senate. Under the Constitution, the role of the Senate is to represent people, as we are doing today in the House of Commons. I am representing the people in my riding, La Pointe-de-l'Île. I must admit, I have never attended a debate or consideration of a bill in the Senate, but I am certain that no senator ever rises to go against the will of his or her political party and vote against something in order to defend the interests of the people in the Maritimes, for example, as the hon. member for Winnipeg North was saying. Senators have never represented the people they are meant to represent.

This bill does not resolve the biggest problem, which is that the Senate has become a political battleground to which the elected government appoints its cronies, its financial contributors or anyone else who has accomplished some obscure task. Senators will not be any more accountable.

What is more, the bill was supposed to correct those things that people and the Prime Minister himself have often complained about when it comes to the Senate, namely that senators should be elected. The Prime Minister has said himself that he would never again appoint an unelected senator. After the May 2, 2011, election he appointed three defeated Conservative candidates. I, personally, do not trust him. I do not think that Canadians are going to trust a Prime Minister who says one thing but does the complete opposite after the election because he won a majority in the House of Commons.

Then the bill gives the impression that senators will be elected. But as my colleague pointed out earlier, it may be that an individual will be elected, and that individual may also be appointed by the Prime Minister, but we cannot be certain. This means the provinces will spend money to hold elections and submit names to the Prime Minister, but the Prime Minister will keep the arbitrary power of appointing his own personal choice. I think we all agree that the bill, which seeks to have senators elected, does not really achieve its objective. That power remains with the Prime Minister. It is still an arbitrary and undemocratic power. The Prime Minister is under no obligation to respect the will of Canadians. We are well aware that, for this government, respecting the will of Canadians remains a rather vague and fuzzy principle that has yet to be defined.

All this to say that, personally, I think the government has failed miserably with this bill. It gets a 0 out of 10. I realize the Conservatives must keep certain tools at their disposal, but my party is in favour of abolishing the Senate.

As for the Senate itself, its mandate under the Constitution, which is to generally represent the population of a region, has never been respected. Instead, it is a political battleground to which the government appoints its friends to reward them.

We are talking about Senate reform, but there is currently no system allowing the House of Commons and the Senate to work in harmony. For example, in the United States, the institutions that fill the role of the Senate and of the House of Commons work in harmony. There is a system which determines how these institutions work together. For example, if senators were elected, who would have more power? Would it be the House of Commons or the Senate? How are we going to determine the way bills will be passed, and who is going to review them? What about amendments? Things will be exactly like in the United States. Bills will be blocked and it is going to take months before they can be passed. Even if we were to reform the Senate, it would be impossible to have harmony—and a system that works—between the House of Commons and the Senate.

Even if we reform the Senate, the House of Commons and the Senate cannot work in harmony. We do not have a system. It is not in Canada's parliamentary tradition. Therefore, abolishing the Senate is the solution. It would be impossible, especially with this bill, to solve all the problems of the Senate. Even if the government came up with a new proposal for reforming the Senate, it would not work. It would completely skew Canada's democracy. People are elected to the House of Commons. We, here, represent the people.

Bill C-7 does not make the Senate democratic, not in the least. Senators would purportedly be elected by the provinces, which will spend money on these elections, and then the government would retain the arbitrary power to appoint whomever it wants. None the problems with the Senate the Prime Minister has identified will be solved by this bill. It is wrong to say that passing Bill C-7 will make the Senate democratic.

How would we decide which house has the most power to pass legislation? A bill passed by the majority, or even unanimously, in the House of Commons could be rejected by the Senate. Voters in my riding could ask me to vote for a bill, which would be passed by the House of Commons and then rejected by the Senate. It will not work. It is undemocratic. The solution is to abolish the Senate. That is how we can solve the problems.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very persistent. Perhaps we will eventually get an answer. According to the hon. member, if a referendum is held and a majority of Canadians vote to abolish the Senate and a majority of Quebeckers vote to keep the Senate, which majority will rule?

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Madam Speaker, it is important to understand that the will of the people will rule.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be able to ask the hon. member a question. As she mentioned several times, this bill is a phoney reform. I get the impression that the Conservatives are trying to dodge the issue and avoid a constitutional debate. Right now, they are introducing a bill that will allow the Prime Minister to keep his power to choose. We do not need to amend the Constitution to do that. I get the impression that this bill is a way to avoid having the constitutional debate that perhaps we should have. The Conservatives are trying to undertake a reform without talking about the main issue—the Senate. We have reiterated our position on the Senate a number of times.

Does the hon. member think that, with this debate, the Conservatives are trying to avoid the issue and that they are pretending to undertake a reform without opening the debate on the Constitution?