Mr. Speaker, I have the honour of addressing the House today on the issue of Senate reform and specifically with respect to Bill C-10. I would like to state that I do support Senate reform. I do support sending this bill to committee so that the issue can be studied in full. However, any type of Senate reform must be logical, democratic and constitutional. I do not believe that this bill fits any of those three criteria.
Why has there been no consultation with the provinces at all by the government? The Conservative Party espouses provincial rights. The Conservative Party talks about that and tries to compare and contrast with other parties. Why has the Conservative government ignored provincial rights? Why have the Conservatives not consulted them? Why is this bill so urgent that the government cannot consult the provinces in circumstances where it had a virtually identical bill, Bill S-7, that was introduced prior to prorogation?
The Conservatives had no difficulty suspending Parliament and killing that bill through prorogation, yet they must now take the position that this is so urgent that, although they killed the bill through prorogation, they now do not have time to consult the provinces with respect to this bill. I think that is wrong.
If the government does not even know if the provinces will support any amendments, notwithstanding what the government is trying to do, or if the provinces are prepared to support amendments, what type they would be, why are we taking the time of the House of Commons to deal with this? Should we not first know that the provinces will support this?
In order to get a meaningful constitutional amendment through, which I believe is what needs to occur and not simply this bill, we need the support of 50% of the population representing at least seven provinces. Even on a basis of good faith, I would like to know why the government has not taken the time to consult with the provinces to see whether there is that form of support across the country for this.
I mentioned three criteria. One criterion is democracy. Whenever somebody talks about Senate reform, they assume that they are proposing something that should be followed or that there is some urgent need for it. If we are going to do this, we should not make the situation worse. My fear is that an eight-year term would be a risk to democracy, not a benefit.
Various people have thought about this. The Senate is supposed to be a chamber of sober second thought. In order to get that, we need people with some institutional memory and experience who have been around for a reasonable period of time. More than that, we need to consider what they will do when they are there.
I would refer to an article written by David Akin which appeared in the press a couple of weeks ago. There are arguments against the eight-year term. The main argument is:
For example, under the terms of [the Prime Minister's] initial proposals, any Prime Minister representing any party would be able, over the course of only two Parliaments, to appoint – yes, appoint – senators to every one of the 105 Senate seats. Talk about a rubber stamp! Any semblance of the institution’s independence would be gone.
The first issue, especially in circumstances where we have had minority governments since at least 2006, is that it would be a risk to democracy to allow any sitting prime minister to, in theory, appoint the entire Senate through only two mandates.
In short, the Liberal Party is in favour of Senate reform, but we have to work in conjunction with the provinces to get there. We would like to know what our provincial partners think. We do not think it is appropriate to ignore them and not consult them, as the government has done.
In terms of the exact proposals, other comments have been made. From that same article, I quote:
The proposals by the present government, one to limit the terms of senators to eight years, and another for indirect senate elections, are not real or meaningful reform, in that they do not propose to alter the Constitution in any way. In fact, they have been painstakingly designed to avoid doing so.
If we are to have meaningful, long-term, democratic Senate reform, it requires consultations with the provinces to get that required 50% of the population with seven or more provinces, and we need to amend our constitution in a proper manner. Anything short of that, frankly, is unacceptable.
There is another comment in terms of Senate reform and limiting the terms. We already have the risk that we have discussed in terms of having one prime minister potentially appointing the entire chamber if the term is eight years, but there is another issue also. I would like to go to a journal article of UBC entitled “Transforming Canadians Governance Through Senate Reform Conference, April 18-19, 2007”.
There is another issue, and I think this is actually the more important issue. It is not so much what the terms are for the Senators. I support doing something about this. I am not against it, but once again, it has to be democratic, constitutional and logical.
The bigger issue is not the term, but the legitimacy of the Senate once in power, because as indicated, having reference to the United Kingdom's House of Lords, the issue is to keep the chamber bipartisan, so we actually get sober second thought, the main original goal of the Senate, and we have some check, some thought about the legislative agenda of the House of Commons. I will read from this article as well. On the question of legitimacy, and it is talking about a presentation, it states:
—stressed the legitimacy of the currently constituted House of Lords in the sense of broad public endorsement of an appointed chamber challenging the legislation of a popularly elected government. The secret, Meg Russell argued, was in the partisan balance maintained in an the appointment to the House of Lords, so that neither government nor opposition alone had the ability to control the chamber. Legitimacy came from independent—or at least bipartisan—action by a parliamentary chamber, not only from the mode in which members were selected.
In short, the problem with the proposal in this legislation is that in theory it gives the Prime Minister the power to appoint the entire chamber and there is no check on how that gets done. We need a method to ensure that the bipartisan, the rough balance that we have in the Senate, is maintained so all parties are represented and so it is not simply a government Senate chamber, whatever the government of the day may be.
If we deal with Senate reform and spend the time of the House of Commons and of a parliamentary committee, bring witnesses in and incur expenses, should we also not know that it is constitutional? Why is there no reference to the Supreme Court of Canada?
In 2006 the Prime Minister, when he appeared before the Senate committee speaking on Bill S-4, said, “The Government believes that S-4 is achievable through the action of Parliament itself”. This is not democratic, and I do not think it is even constitutional. We have scholars such as Alexandra Dobrowolsky, the chair of the Department of Political Sciences, St. Mary's University, who clearly says “that the failure to consult with the province violates the constitutional conventions”.
The Library of Parliament of Canada disagrees with the Prime Minister. I will quote from its writings on August 17, 2009:
There is, however, an involved debate as to whether the constitutional amendment procedures introduced in the Constitution Act, 1982 would allow Parliament to modify the main characteristics of the Senate without the consent of the provincial legislative assemblies. The Supreme Court has issued an opinion stating that Parliament does not have that authority, but the decision dates from 1980 and thus precedes the amendment mechanisms introduced in the Constitution Act, 1982. The question is therefore unresolved.
I do not think it is responsible for the government to go through this process without first consulting the provinces, as I have already indicated, but also knowing whether this is constitutional.
It is common sense to state that there should be a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada to make this determination rather than requiring persons after the fact to engage in lengthy and expensive litigation to challenge this. I anticipate that if this goes through, some group will challenge this, there will be such legislation and we will be tied up. Why not, since the Prime Minister has the power, simply refer this to the Supreme Court of Canada now and seek a ruling?
There is a certain irony in terms of what is occurring with these proposals. I am going to read three quotes. The first is, “Only candidates elected by the people will be named to the Upper House”. The second is, “the Upper House remains a dumping ground for the favoured cronies of the prime minister”. Both of those quotes in 2004 were from the Prime Minister.
Another quote from the Conservative Party was “A Conservative government will not appoint to the Senate anyone who does not have a mandate from the people”. I am sure Canadians will find that most ironic considering what has taken place.
Another example from May 28, 1996, the Reform Party opposition day motion speaking to it at paragraph 3049, stated:
The Reform Party proposal for a triple E Senate, a Senate which is elected by the people with equal representation from each province and which is fully effective in safeguarding regional interests would make the upper House accountable to Canadians. Implementing changes to the Constitution to provide for a triple E Senate, an extension of Alberta's Senatorial Selection Act into other provinces, is the best means to proceed in permitting Canada's regions to have a greater say in Ottawa and bring democratic accountability to government.
What happened to that? What happened to the positions of the government members when they were in opposition? Why are they not fulfilling their promises in seeking an attempt to bring meaningful Senate reform to Canada with consultations with our provincial partners? Why this legislation in this form? It is not democratic and it is quite ironic that the government is doing this considering its various prior statements.
In terms of other broken promises, I already read the quotes of the Prime Minister in terms of never appointing senators who have not been elected. I find it ironic that a record was broken with the Prime Minister appointing 27 senators in one year. There have now been 33 unelected senators appointed by the Prime Minister, despite very clear promises that he would never do that. That must go to the credibility of the government. Of course this is not the only promise that has been broken.
We also had the promises of income trusts, the public appointments commission, to never run deficits, to follow fixed election dates, which we know did not take place during the last election, and to not raise taxes, although we have a huge payroll tax, which, according to economists, will kill 200,000 plus jobs. This is just a litany of broken promises by the government that Canadians frankly need to know about.
Since this is under the democratic ministry, let us talk about democracy. With the 33 Senate appointments that the Prime Minister has made, let us examine them. These were not bipartisan appointments for the benefit of Canadians. Essentially these were Conservative mainly defeated candidates. I think Canadians need to know this.
I quote an article, once again by David Akin, of January 20, 2010. He states:
There is an irony to the appointments [the Prime Minister] has made that is not lost even on some of [the Prime Minister's] own advisers and supporters. As a young Reform party organizer and MP, [the Prime Minister] campaigned vigourously to make the Senate more independent of the prime minister. And yet, to create the Senate he wants, [the Prime Minister] now needs a Senate that will do precisely what he wants.
With the five members he is expected to appoint Friday, [the Prime Minister]—who once said he would never appoint senators—will have named 33 senators since taking office in 2006...
Who are those people? He goes on to state:
In fact, 20 of the 33 appointees were failed Conservative candidates, former political staff to Harper or the party, or were members of the Conservative party or its predecessor parties, the Reform party, the Progressive Conservative party and the Canadian Alliance.
I think Canadians have a right to know who those people are. This is the lost: Bert Brown, Reform Party organizer; Claude Carignan, failed Conservative candidate; Fred Dickson, adviser to former Nova Scotia Premier John Buchanan, a Progressive Conservation; Nicole Eaton, writer and community leader who chaired the Conservatives last two national conventions; Doug Finley, Conservative national campaign manager; Michael Fortier, co-chaired of Conservative national campaign; Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis, former Progressive Conservative MP; Stephen Greene, Reform Party staffer; Michael MacDonald, Conservative Party executive; Fabian Manning, former Conservative MP, lost re-election in 2008; Yonah Martin, failed Conservative candidate; Percy Mockler, New Brunswick Progressive Conservative; Richard Neufeld, provincial politician active in social credit reform and B.C. Liberal Party; Don Plett, former Conservative Party president; Michel Rivard, failed Canadian Alliance candidate; Judith Seidman, co-chaired the Prime Minister's 2003 leadership bid; Carolyn Stewart Olsen, long-time Prime Minister communication aid; and the last, John Wallace, failed Conservative candidate.
In terms of John Wallace, I will have to admit I know him. He is a good appointment. However, did the Prime Minister actually ask Senator Wallace before he was appointed to limit his term to eight years? Did he know this was coming? Senator Wallace gave up his lucrative business to come here. Maybe he should have asked him. Maybe that would have been fair. Maybe that would have been trustworthy.
There is a history here. Why are we dealing with this Senate reform package now? Obviously it was not urgent, because if it were so urgent, the government would not have killed it by proroguing Parliament, which also killed the legislation. It would have continued with Parliament to ensure this was taken care of before.
We do have urgent matters, though, that the government has sought to avoid by bringing forward this type of legislation, Senate reform at this stage. I am not saying we should not do this at some point, but why now? I have made this point in terms of the law and order legislation as well. Although I support almost all of it, why now? Why not deal with the issues that are urgent for Canadians when we are living through the worst recession since the last depression? Why now?
I am going to give one example. I have a top 10 list here that, frankly, the government should have dealt with already or should be dealing with, which it is seeking to avoid. This has nothing to do with the recent scandals and everything that has been going through question period. It has to do substantive issues that matter to Canadians for their ordinary daily lives. They are simply being ignored.
I sat in the transport committee this week, but I am not on the committee. I was shocked. In questioning pilots, as one example, members talked about these new SMS safety standards. In 2007 there were amendments to the Aeronautics Act contained in Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act. This would have clarified Transport Canada's authority to regulate SMS, enhanced the sharing of safety data with Transport Canada and provided protections for employees who reported safety concerns internally under SMS.
The pilots who testified clearly stated that this was something they needed, that it was important, that it was required for the safety of air passengers across Canada. How many Canadians travel on aircraft? Yet it has not been reintroduced and the pilots, who were before the committee, want it introduced. Why has that not been done rather than go through with this law and order legislation and go through Senate reform at this stage? Why not pick other meaningful things that should be dealt with for the benefit and safety of Canadians?
As I essentially have no time left, I will not have a chance to go through the entire list. That is one example, and there is a whole litany of those that have been ignored.