Senate Appointment Consultations Act

An Act to provide for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.


Peter Van Loan  Conservative


In committee (House), as of Feb. 13, 2008
(This bill did not become law.)


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment provides for the consultation of electors in a province with respect to their preferences for the appointment of Senators to represent the province.
Part 1 provides for the administration of a consultation, which is exercised under the general direction and supervision of the Chief Electoral Officer.
Part 2 provides for the holding of a consultation, initiated by an order of the Governor in Council.
Part 3 provides for a process whereby prospective nominees may confirm their nominations with the Chief Electoral Officer.
Part 4 addresses voting by electors in a consultation.
Part 5 sets out the rules for the counting of votes pursuant to a preferential system, which takes into account the first and subsequent preferences of electors as indicated on their ballots.
Parts 6 and 7 deal with communications and third party advertising in relation to consultations.
Part 8 addresses financial administration by nominees.
Part 9 provides for the enforcement of the enactment, including the establishment of offences and punishments for contraventions of certain provisions.
Part 10 contains transitional provisions, consequential amendments to the Canada Elections Act, the Director of Public Prosecutions Act and the Income Tax Act, coordinating amendments and commencement provisions.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


Feb. 13, 2008 Passed That the Bill be referred forthwith to a legislative committee.

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

October 22nd, 2013 / 3:25 p.m.
See context


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, contained in the question was the following comment: that the government seemed so loath to move legislation relating to Senate reform. I will look back at the legislative history of this government's attempts to cause the Senate to be reformed.

Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate tenure) was tabled in 2006. As members can tell from the date, in 2006, the first year of this government, it sought to introduce limits to Senate tenure, which would limit the term of senators, but the opposition blocked it.

In all fairness, that was in the Senate, and I think my colleague is pointing out these were not the New Democrats, and I accept that. However, the fact is the opposition held the majority in the Senate at the time and the government did move. The concern the member had was that the government had not taken action on the Senate.

Bill C-20, the Senate appointment consultations act, which was also moved by the government when it was in minority and opposed by the opposition, would have had the effect of setting in place a national electoral process with a preferential ballot designed to actually avoid some of the pitfalls that created a highly partisan nature in the Australian Senate. We would have ensured that there was none of what they call “above the line” voting that occurs in Australia that causes people to vote for parties instead of individual senators. We did that legislation.

Bill C-7, the Senate reform act, was also put forward by this government.

There are three pieces of legislation, all of which were opposed by the opposition. I cannot remember the details of when the NDP opposed, or which ones were opposed to others, but the general trend has been that NDP members oppose everything because they favour abolishing the Senate, which is a legitimate point of view. However, I do not think it is legitimate to go from that to say the government has not been trying very hard and consistently over the past few years.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

December 8th, 2011 / 10:20 a.m.
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Scott Simms Liberal 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 ActGovernment Orders

October 3rd, 2011 / 11:40 a.m.
See context


Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague, whose speech I very much enjoyed.

I would like to know what he thinks about more substantive and fundamental reform of our parliamentary institutions. The former Bill C-20 on Senate reform very clearly set out a transition towards a means of direct election for the Senate, which would completely change the system. This bill was simply a transition. That was completely cut out of the bill before us today. There is no more talk of a transition or of more substantive changes. This seems to be all that the Conservatives have to offer us by way of reform. I would like to hear what my colleague has to say about that.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

September 30th, 2011 / 1:55 p.m.
See context


Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak.

I recognize that it is a privilege to have the opportunity to address the House today. This is a privilege granted to me by the democratic principles of our country. Based on the supremacy of the rule of law, Canadian parliamentary institutions recognize this fact and often serve as an example throughout the world. Whether it be our Supreme Court, our Constitution or the House of Commons, the international news constantly reminds us that it would be very dangerous to take our democratic institutions for granted or to simply handle government business in a manner that is inconsistent with the most basic parliamentary rules.

This opportunity to speak about Bill C-7 is an opportunity to express my concern about the profound changes that this government wants to make to Canadian parliamentary institutions and, in particular, about the questionable manner in which it intends to go about doing so.

First, I would like to draw the House's attention to one thing, and that is the purely cosmetic nature of this bill. It is like a face lift that merely serves to superficially hide the signs of aging. This proposed Senate reform does not do much to hide the wrinkles. It is what I would call botched surgery. This bill does not address the real problems with the Senate.

First, this government is not above the laws, and certainly not above our Constitution. How does the Conservative government plan to justify the fact that it is blatantly thumbing its nose at the most basic rules of our state? In the preamble of the legislation, the government says it plans to use section 44, which, subject to sections 41 and 42, allows Parliament to make an ordinary law to change the way senators are appointed. This move would very clearly violate subsection 42(1) of our Constitution, which states:

An amendment to the Constitution of Canada in relation to the following matters may be made only in accordance with subsection 38(1)...

The Constitution unequivocally states that the powers of the Senate and the method of selecting senators cannot be changed without the consent of seven provinces representing at least 50% of the population of Canada.

This provision is in the Constitution in black and white. How does the minister justify ignoring it? If the government wants to reform the Senate, it must do so in accordance with the rules that have been established.

The government is saying that the scope of section 44 covers everything else, including, it says, what it is trying to do with this bill. This argument does not hold water, given the name of the bill: Bill C-7, An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits. That kind of language cannot go unnoticed. I urge the government to honour the procedure for amending the Constitution.

I would like to add something here. I took a look at the government's previous Senate reform bill, Bill C-20. It was very interesting. In the preamble, it states quite clearly that the reform based on consultative elections was to be a transition process that would lead to a more permanent constitutional reform of the Senate to provide for a means of direct election. This statement, which is quite significant, does not appear in Bill C-7. This is yet more proof of the superficial nature of this bill. This is all that the majority government plans to bring to Senate reform. It is amazing that this is being used for political games.

This government feels justified in using an undemocratic method to make an antiquated institution that is ill-suited to modern political realities more democratic. All I am seeing here is another attempt by this government to unilaterally move forward with institutional reform in the least collegial and transparent way possible. What is more, the government is saying that this is all there will be in the way of Senate reform. What a lost opportunity.

Flouting the process for amending the constitution would create a dangerous constitutional precedent. Is this the historic legacy this government wishes to leave? I would like to take this opportunity to say that the New Democratic Party will always defend the rule of law and stand up for healthy, friendly and constructive debate on the future of this country and the issues that directly affect Canadians. No government can avoid meeting this country's constitutional obligations. No government can do that.

I do not think it could be any clearer that the use of section 44 is a way to avoid debate and especially to avoid obtaining the consent of the provinces, which are also concerned about these changes. By proceeding in such a unilateral way, the bill sends an ambiguous and underhanded message to the provinces. Last I heard, they were an integral part of this country. Is this government afraid that this reform bill will not obtain the required consent? This kind of attitude tells me that the government is incapable of generating the support it needs to make these reforms. This bill, in its current form, is an excellent way of short-circuiting the provinces' opinions.

The provinces that had an upper chamber in their own legislature abolished it a long time ago. Furthermore, a number of provincial premiers have opposed this unilateral reform. It is blatantly obvious that the government is saying, “You do not agree with us? Oh well, too bad for you. Our mandate is too strong for us to worry about you. Here are the wonders of Canadian constitutional law, covered in Conservative sauce.” What a fabulous message to send to Canadian citizens. Does that really represent the actions of a responsible majority government that claims to work for all Canadians?

The role of the Senate has been controversial since the early days of Confederation. If I may, I remind the House that the Senate, as an institution, was meant to be a chamber of sober second thought, a chamber of wise people chosen to represent the territorial diversity of the country and act as a counterbalance to the decisions made in the House of Commons. Today, the makeup of cabinet reflects one of the requirements for regional representation, which was previously a responsibility of the Senate. The role of the Senate has increasingly weakened since it was created at the time of Confederation.

Above all, the Senate must be absolutely devoid of partisanship. I am in no way questioning the wisdom of the current senators. However, it is clear that the Senate has never consistently attained the other objectives laid out for it. Territorial representation, a concern at a time when it took several days to reach the federal capital, is no longer relevant and does not protect remote regions. The Senate rarely opposes the decisions made by the House of Commons. When it does, it hinders the proper functioning of the democratic process. The perception of voters is not that the Senate is a chamber of sober second thought, but that it is the chamber where bills that are too controversial remain in limbo. Finally, and this is the key point, Senate partisanship is legendary. That is the greatest complaint about the Senate. Far from correcting the situation, Bill C-7 will only makes things worse.

To get an idea of its partisan nature, we need only watch the news. My colleague from Winnipeg Centre recently gave an interview in which he criticized the involvement of a Conservative senator who was serving as the election campaign co-chair and leading spokesperson for the Manitoba Conservative Party. It is clearly unacceptable for a member of the Senate, who is paid by taxpayers, to use his time for that purpose. If he wishes to get involved in the Manitoba election campaign, he should never do so at the expense of Canadian taxpayers. This example highlights how the Senate, in its current form, is poisoned by partisanship.

Canadians expect the Senate to act as independently as possible. Can the minister clearly tell this chamber that reforming the way senators are selected—by adding an election process—will make the Senate less partisan? No, I do not think he can, unless the minister outright contradicts a Progressive Conservative senator who told the Hill Times last June that Bill C-7 could be a threat to the Canadian parliamentary system. He maintained that the proposed reforms could politicize the Senate even further instead of making it free of partisanship. He also stated that a senator is more effective when there is no partisanship.

What more is there to say? This bill would clearly exacerbate the partisanship that is already all too prominent in the Senate. How can this bill possibly be described as an improvement to the democratic legitimacy of the Senate? The proposed nature of the method of selecting senators would poison the Senate's mandate, which is supposed to be as independent as possible. If we look closely at the government's line of thinking, there would be a huge divide among senators appointed before October 14, 2008, and those appointed after. How will these new, elected senators with fixed terms serve alongside senators who were appointed without any fixed terms? How will Canadians perceive this dual reality?

On that topic, I have a few questions I would like to raise. Approximately 60% of the current senators were appointed before October 14, 2008. This means that they would be able to fulfill their senatorial duty and enjoy the generous privileges of their position until the age of 75. The coexistence of the former kind of senators with the new kind of senators would go on for several years, perhaps even decades. Consider the example of a senator who still has 35 years of service ahead of him. How would the legitimacy of the former kind of appointed senator compare to that of the new senators with a fresh mandate from the electorate? The legislative process and the reputation of the Senate would definitely be undermined. This simply does not fit in with the vision of an independent Senate whose mandate is to remain as impartial as possible.

The Hill Times tried to contact the 37 senators currently serving who were appointed by the Prime Minister after October 14, 2008, and they received very few responses.

Most of them declined commenting or simply did not respond. There is not even a semblance of unity on this bill from Conservative senators. If their own senators do not support it, it is the ultimate insult to present it to this House. How can this government claim that its Senate reforms are based on increasing its democratic legitimacy? This same government did not hesitate a single second to appoint three candidates from its own party who were defeated in the last election. That is an insult to the intelligence of Canadians who clearly expressed their free and democratic choice.

If this government truly had the intention of reforming the upper chamber, as it has been claiming for a long time now, it would have avoided this unacceptable and irresponsible behaviour. This is yet more evidence of a consistently applied double standard: one policy for friends of the Conservatives, another policy for other Canadians. That is the reality of this government's policy. I doubt that the public takes this lack of respect for their democratic choices lightly. There are strong mandates, and then there are brutal mandates.

There are some aspects of this bill that are worth special attention. Unless they are declared as independents, provincial candidates for the Senate will be free to associate themselves with a political party during their election campaign. If the minister is hoping to cut down on the politicization of the work of the upper chamber through this initiative, I think he has misunderstood the role of the Senate, which is to protect regional, provincial and minority interests, while acting as a chamber of sober second thought to examine legislation in greater detail.

It all comes down to the same thing. How can this government say that greater politicization of the Senate could help deliver this mandate? And how does it reconcile overstepping the opinions of the provinces on this, when the mandate of the Senate is partially entrusted to them in order to balance representation within Confederation? Political party affiliation has a major influence on the work of the Senate. Through this bill the minister is proposing to increase the number of partisan battles by renewing the contingent of senators from each province every nine years.

By introducing a non-renewable term, the reform also denies Canadians an opportunity to reward the work of an elected Senator. If the senator is doing good work, he or she will not be able to continue and the voters will not have a chance to show their appreciation through a re-election. If, on the other hand, the senator is doing mediocre work, voters will not be able to punish his or her incompetence and the senator will leave when the nine-year term is up. Either way, citizens are denied their say in the matter. One of the fundamental principles of democracy currently seriously lacking in the Senate is accountability and this reform is devoid of it as well. This principle is working quite well in the House of Commons and it forces us to give the best of ourselves.

Again, this government does not know what it wants. It is trying to achieve a number of objectives without any real focus. This bill would give us a partially elected Senate that, according to the government, is more democratic by virtue of repeated partisan elections for a non-renewable and non-punishable term. Where I come from, we call that hogwash.

These things cannot be reconciled with the mandate of the Senate, as I was saying earlier. Allow me again to read part of the preamble to Bill C-7, which states that “Parliament wishes to maintain the essential characteristics of the Senate within Canada’s parliamentary democracy as a chamber of independent, sober second thought”. I do not think partisanship will create a climate for independent, sober second thought within the Senate. Just look at the climate in this House to see what I mean by that.

The objective of the bill contradicts its actual effects. The government must decide whether it wants to respect the historical mandate of the Senate or whether it wants to make the Senate more democratically legitimate through partisan elections. Regardless, it is inconceivable that the government would introduce this bill to the Canadian public and insist that these two goals are compatible. Frankly, such vague legislation should not be introduced. But perhaps the government is sacrificing finesse for strength.

I was also distressed to notice that the bill, vaguely and without explanation, shifts the responsibility for holding elections to select Senate candidates. Under the bill, Senate candidates would be elected during provincial elections, on a date to be determined by the lieutenant governor, or during municipal elections. Dumping this responsibility seems like a disorganized and very imprecise way of improving the Senate's democratic legitimacy. The government could have taken the time to draft a clear, detailed and intelligible bill, but instead, Bill C-7 is terribly unclear and illogical. For example, when Canadians choose their candidates during an election, they will not even be certain that the one they choose will sit in the Senate. The final choice will remain in the hands of the Prime Minister since the bill imposes no obligation.

I mentioned that this reform seems to be purely cosmetic and here is the evidence. Parliamentary institutions deserve a little more respect and rigour. Unfortunately, when I look at this bill, the public's cynicism about politicians seems justified to me. Nothing now guarantees that this government will take its reform of the Senate any further.

In addition to this important point, we must also consider the costs of this reform. However, Bill C-7 does not make any mention of these costs. As further proof of how vague this legislation is, the bill does not clearly set out which level of government will have to assume the new costs. In these uncertain economic times, the government is adding new costs without having analyzed the proposed reforms to determine how useful they actually are.

Senate elections would thus become a federal, provincial, or municipal matter. Nothing is clear because the bill allows for all three scenarios. How will expenses be shared in these even more complex elections? Moreover, this new use of public money will contribute nothing to democracy. Canadians have long questioned the usefulness of the Senate. I doubt that the public will find the Senate more attractive if it becomes more expensive. In other words, we do not know “when?” or “how?”, and especially not “how much?”. Would it not be preferable to reform the Senate by passing bills that have more substance than grey areas? Is that asking too much of the government?

These are the indicators of a sloppy bill that takes too simplistic an approach to the parliamentary institutions of this country. I am disappointed if this is all that this government can add to the debate on Senate reform. The regions, provinces and minorities of Canada are again left hanging and will continue to be represented by an upper chamber that is completely disconnected from contemporary reality.

This bill, in addition to moving ahead in a manner that is, at a minimum, constitutionally suspect, only masks the problem of the democratic legitimacy of the Senate, without undertaking the mandatory and necessary consultation of the provinces of this country and, above all, without considering what mandate Canadians realistically want an upper chamber to have. The message to the provinces is as follows: this government does not need to consult you to proceed unilaterally with constitutional amendments. The message to Canadians is that this government is not listening to them. Its mandate is too strong for it to worry about them, especially when they indicate their preferences in a general election.

My colleagues are certainly aware of all the attempts made to reform the Senate since its inception. These attempts all have one thing in common: they failed. In the past 100 years, 13 attempts have failed and, today, given the lack of provincial interest and the absence of a consensus on the nature of the reform, there is every indication that this bill will be added to that historic list of failed attempts.

The reality is that the Senate is a problem that no one has been able to fix. So, as our party is suggesting, it is time to consider another option that has yet to be explored—abolishing the Senate. That is why are proposing that we consult people about this, to see if they believe that the upper chamber still has a place in our democratic institutions. We want to ask them if they feel this legacy from the 19th century still has a place in a 21st century democracy. The provinces that abolished their senates did not stop functioning. Countries like Denmark and New Zealand abolished their senates and continue to operate without any problem.

Yes, I am critical of this bill, but the official opposition will not be content with simply criticizing in a stubborn and narrow-minded fashion. The opposition will do everything it can to propose well-thought-out and reasonable solutions for the good of Canadians. Our parliamentary institutions deserve more of our time and intellectual rigour. That is why I insist that when difficult issues such as Senate reform are brought before the House for debate, we should be discussing the option of abolishing the Senate and presenting that to the Canadian public as well. That is the spirit of what I consider to be constructive and respectful debate.

July 15th, 2008 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

Marc Mayrand Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Thank you.

Good morning, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.

I am accompanied today, as the chair indicated, by Mr. François Bernier, the legal services director at Elections Canada.

I was requested by the chair of this committee to assist members in the study of the review and treatment of election financial returns and the key considerations involved in the review of these returns. In discussions prior to my appearance, the chair requested that I provide a detailed explanation of the aspects of the legislative and administrative framework that relate to political financing under the Canada Elections Act and, more specifically, of the treatment of election expenses.

This will be the subject of the first part of the presentation. I hope it will provide the committee with a better understanding of the operating context in which decisions are made regarding reimbursement of electoral expenses. I will then turn to the subject of particular decisions of interest to the committee and explain how they relate to the legislative and administrative framework.

The mandate of Elections Canada is to administer the Canada Elections Act in a fair, consistent, transparent and impartial manner. As an officer of Parliament, my first duty is to serve Parliament and Canadians. While the committee is reviewing the activities of public office holders, I trust it will understand that in my capacity as Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, I can only speak to electoral matters. I will not comment on ongoing investigations of the Commissioner of Elections Canada, or the specifics of the case currently before the Federal Court. As well, I will not deal with any individual cases.

Mr. Chairman, with your concurrence, I will now proceed with the first part of my presentation. The committee has already received a presentation that extends to a number of pages—42 pages, I believe. So I won't read each of those pages, but I will simply make the main comments on the essential aspects of the presentation.

The presentation will contain four parts: first, the objective itself, as well as a part dealing with the key principles underlying the legislation and the administration of that legislation, the key aspects of the legislation, and, lastly, the aspects of the administration of that legislation. I will also provide a brief conclusion.

I think it's fair to say that the first hundred years of federal democracy in Canada have been focused almost exclusively on the conduct of elections and on progressively expanding the franchise--the right to vote--to all Canadian citizens. In fact, the right to vote became a fundamental right protected by the Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982.

This focus continues today, as the agenda of the 39th Parliament attests. For example, Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act, dealt with the appointment of returning officers, who are now the responsibility of the Chief Electoral Officer. It also dealt, under Bill C-31, with the integrity of voting. It also dealt with the issue of proof of residence, under Bill C-18. And it is considering, currently, Bill C-6, which deals with visual ID; Bill C-16, which deals with advanced polling; and Bill C-20, an important piece of legislation that deals with the appointment of senators. This is all to show that there is still a focus on the electoral process and the conduct of elections.

However, over the last 40 years, growing concerns have been expressed with regard to the influence of money in the electoral process. These concerns have led Parliament to incrementally design a regulatory regime to govern the use of money during electoral campaigns. We are now at the point at which Canada is at the forefront among mature democracies in how it regulates the influence of money in election campaigns. This regulatory regime of political financing was initially built in the seventies, and it has since witnessed repeated legislative reform that continues today. Again, this Parliament passed Bill C-2, which deals with contributions and gifts and which banned contributions from corporations and unions. It is also considering another important aspect of the financial regime, under Bill C-29, with regard to loans.

My purpose today will be to deal with a particular and key aspect of our political financing regime, that of election expenses and their treatment by Elections Canada under the Canada Elections Act. More specifically, I will touch on the legislative framework, the administrative framework, and the compliance and enforcement program.

There are certain principles underlying the legislative and administrative framework. First, to maintain public trust, are transparency and fairness. These principles are expressed through various provisions in the act that deal with public disclosure, expense limits, public funding, compliance and enforcement, and, something that is often forgotten, the distinctiveness of political entities. Each has its own regime, with distinct rights and obligations.

Transparency is about disclosure. It's about providing information to electors on candidates, parties, and other entities. It involves, with regard to financial matters, reporting revenues and expenses and the sources of those.

Fairness is the key principle of a healthy democracy. In our democracy, fairness is about allowing political parties' candidates to have an opportunity to present their visions, their policies, and their values to electors. What those are and how they are communicated to electors is the exclusive domain of political parties and candidates. However, legislation seeks to ensure that the competition among political parties and candidates to secure the vote of electors be conducted within certain rules designed to create and maintain a level playing field. One area of legislation, again, over the last 40 years, has been the adoption of rules that will foster this level playing field. These rules deal specifically with how money can be raised and how it can be spent in order for them to present ideas and reach out to electors.

The Canada Elections Act passed it to the CEO to administer these complex rules, with a view to ensuring that key principles are maintained at all times. In doing so, Elections Canada must act fairly and impartially and exercise due diligence at all times. When it finds evidence of non-compliance and possible offences, it must exercise the authorities provided by the legislation in accordance with all the requirements of fairness and due process, within the strict limits of the law. To do otherwise would undermine not only Elections Canada as an institution but also the democratic process itself.

Let me turn now to the key aspect of the legislative framework as it relates to the treatment of election expenses and the role these key principles play in the electoral law.

The relevant aspects of the legislative framework involve key definitions, a brief discussion of duties of official agents, the notion and concept of election expense limits, the concept of transfers among political entities, reporting requirements for those political entities, entitlement to reimbursement, and key differences between parties and candidates. Note that some misunderstand the system and tend to view parties and their candidates as a single entity, yet the law makes clear distinctions and establishes distinct responsibilities, benefits, and obligations for parties and candidates. For the most part, these are treated independently of one another. This is particularly true in disclosure and reporting requirements, which are different for parties and candidates. Access to public funding is different. Spending limits are set differently for candidates and parties. To some extent, rules governing the raising of contributions are different for candidates and parties.

Let's first look at key definitions. Under candidate electoral campaign expenses, there are three key definitions that need to be considered: candidate electoral campaign expenses; candidate election expenses; and candidate personal expenses.

Electoral campaign expenses are expenses reasonably incurred in the election and include election expenses themselves and personal expenses. There are electoral campaign expenses that are neither election expenses nor personal expenses. An example is the audit expense in excess of the subsidy. It is an electoral expense, but it is not an election expense. There is also the rent of an office outside the rent period. For example, when a candidate rents an office before the writ is dropped or carries the office after the polling date, these are electoral campaign expenses, but they are not election expenses.

An election expense includes any cost incurred or non-monetary contribution received to the extent that the property or service for which the cost was incurred or non-money contribution received is used to directly promote or oppose a candidate during an election period. The expression “directly promote” does not refer only to expenses incurred to expressly urge voters to vote for or against a particular candidate. It has a much broader meaning that encompasses all expenses that directly assist in getting a candidate elected. For example, it includes the rental of office space, equipment in that office, the computers, the supplies, and the remuneration of campaign workers during the election period. All such expenses directly promote the candidate and are thus election expenses for the purpose of the act.

The third definition has to do with personal expenses. Personal expenses of a candidate are his or her electoral campaign expenses other than election expenses reasonably incurred in relation to his or her campaign. Personal expenses include travel and living expenses, child care, and similar expenses.

It's important to note that there are three categories of expenses, each with its own definition and standards. Election expenses must generally be disclosed. They are subject to a reimbursement, and they are subject to spending limits. Personal expenses must be disclosed, and they are subject to a reimbursement. Residual expenses that are neither personal nor for an election must be disclosed, but they are not subject to a reimbursement. Again, I mentioned previously the subsidy for audit.

Another key concept in looking at election expenses is the notion of transfer. The act allows specific political entities of the same political affiliation to move resources amongst themselves without being subject to the restriction on the source and amounts of contributions set out in the act. A contribution is the amount of money received that is not repayable; otherwise it would be a loan. It is the amount of money received that is not repayable, or the commercial value of a service or a property, or the use of property or money to the extent that it is provided without charge or at less than commercial value.

Again, this is a new, essential concept--commercial value. How is commercial value defined? It's the lowest amount charged for a property or service by the person who is in the business of providing that good or service. Alternatively, it's what another commercial provider charges for the property or service who is not in that business.

At the end of the electoral campaign, candidates must file an electoral campaign return. That return is an account of all financial transactions for an election. It consists of a form that has 15 pages and is divided into four parts. It's a bit longer than even a tax return, so there's a level of complexity attached to filing those returns.

Let me give you an example of how these concepts can come together. Let's assume that a party pools the purchase of lawn signs for its candidates and offers those lawn signs to candidates. They have the option of accepting the package or turning it down. Let's say one candidate agrees to purchase 1,000 signs for his campaign and that those signs have a value of $10,000; however, the candidate can only afford $2,000. Provided the signs are used during the campaign to promote the candidate, the return will have to show the transaction as follows. First of all, the election expense will be $10,000 for the candidate, because he received those 1,000 signs and used them during the campaign. That's the amount shown as the expense. Within that he will show the paid expense as $2,000. He will show a non-monetary transfer of $8,000, which is the commercial value of the signs that were transferred from the party to the candidate. The amount shown as the expense will be counted against the spending limit and it will be eligible for reimbursement. The amount shown as non-monetary will count against the spending limit, but it will not be reimbursed since nothing was paid for that amount.

This is a very simple example of how those transactions have to be reflected in the return.

To emphasize the critical role of money and the need to rigorously control inflows and outflows and ensure that financial activities are strictly within the constraints of the legislation, the legislation provides or requires that each candidate appoint an official agent. In fact, a candidate cannot officially run as a candidate without having appointed an official agent. This is a must under the legislation.

An official agent is much more than a bookkeeper. In fact, if we can do an analogy, he or she could be seen as a treasurer or a financial comptroller. You have on slide 9 the key duties of an official agent.

Generally, the official agent is responsible for controlling all electoral campaign expenses; that is, for a candidate's campaign, only the official agent or the candidate or someone authorized in writing can incur an electoral campaign expense. So you will understand that to fulfill his or her duties, the official agent must of course be familiar with all the concepts and the definitions I mentioned earlier and must develop a good understanding of the underlying principles of the legislation.

Let me talk briefly about expense limits. The first point to note is that there are separate limits for parties and candidates and that those limits apply to election expenses, whether paid or unpaid, and include the commercial value of non-monetary contributions or transfers.

Elections Canada calculates those limits for each in accordance with a formula set out in the act. I will not go through the specifics of the formula, except to say that, for candidates, that formula takes account of the number of electors, the population density in the riding, and the geography of the riding, and provides an adjustment for inflation.

Spending limits for parties are a little bit simpler to calculate. It's the number of electors in the ridings for which candidates are presented by the party.

For the 39th election—that's slide 13—the average expense limit for candidates per electoral district was a bit over $81,000, and for a registered party that endorsed a candidate in all 308 ridings, the limit was set at a bit over $18 million. What does that mean? One may be tempted to say that in total a party having 308 candidates could spend altogether up to $18 million for the party and up to $24 million, almost $25 million, given the limits of each and every candidate, for a total of $43 million. However, to look at it in this manner would be mistaken, as the law does not consider the political family as one entity but rather, in this case and this example, as 308 distinct, separate entities with their own rights and obligations.

Let me talk briefly about transfers. The Canada Elections Act recognizes the organic link that exists in the family of political entities, allowing them to move funds, goods, and services among themselves without treating those movements of resources as contributions. The provision of resources from one political party to another, which is not specifically provided for under the act, constitutes a contribution and is subject to the eligibility and limits set out in the act.

Transfer of expenses is not permitted, as this would render the distinct limit of parties and candidates meaningless. As you can see, it is absolutely essential to keep all those definitions and concepts as we look through various returns provided at the end of electoral campaigns.

You will find on slide 15 a table showing the transfers, what is allowed and what is not allowed. Clearly, you will see that transfers between parties and candidates are perfectly allowed by the Canada Elections Act. It has some standards, but they can move resources freely between entities.

You will note that for candidates, these movements of resources can start only after they've been officially declared candidates, meaning that their candidacy has been registered with the returning officer. You will also note that transfers to candidates after polling day are allowed only to pay for unpaid claims and for nothing else.

You will find again at slide 16 another way of looking at it. There is a triangle on that slide that shows the relationship between the party, the candidates, and the EDAs, and the respective rights and obligations for each. You will see clearly that the transfer of money, goods, and services among all three entities is allowed. You will also note that the transfer of expenses is not allowed, and you will see that Elections Canada is overseeing, through various programs, how the money flows among entities.

I should point out that for the 39th election, Elections Canada dealt with 15 registered parties that had over 1,200 electoral district associations, and with over 1,600 candidates, each with their respective agents.

On page 17 you will find a table of the transfers reported in Canada through returns for the 39th election. You will see that all parties represented in the House have transferred resources with their affiliated entities. These have taken place between candidates and parties, between candidates and EDAs, and between parties and EDAs.

June 18th, 2008 / 4:55 p.m.
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Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Senator, you've been talking about some changes that would necessarily involve a constitutional amendment using the 7/50 formula. And I would not dispute with you in any way that the kinds of things you're proposing—incorporating some provision like the Elton override, for example, or changes to the numbers of senators from each province—require an amendment under the 7/50 formula.

We've had some witnesses here who have suggested that this is the appropriate way to go with all Senate amendments of any sort, including the modest ones being contemplated in BillC-19 and BillC-20.

This gives me an opportunity to give a little editorial—which you're free to comment on when I finish—as to why it can be problematic turning to the provinces for their consent on these things.

Occasionally one of our witnesses will cite the way in which other countries have amended their constitutions. The Australians, for example, require the support of a majority of the states, so that's four out of six states. The Swiss require a majority of the cantons, and also a majority of the population. The Americans, of course, require the support of three-fourths of the states.

But in the Swiss and Australian cases, it's really the people of the states who decide the referendum. And in the case of the United States, just the very fact that there are so many states precludes what happens here in Canada, which is that you effectively are looking for the support of those individual premiers who, effectively, under our system, are elected dictators of their provinces, just as our prime minister is an elected dictator here, thanks to the strength of the party discipline in our system.

The consequence is that we can find ourselves being treated to the kind of thing we saw occur under the Meech Lake accord, and particularly the Charlottetown accord, where you essentially have them acting as feudal barons, horse-trading back and forth--“I will give you this provision if you give me that provision”, etc. Before you know it, you've created a cancerous growth like the Charlottetown accord, which effectively includes every imaginable provision—and the Senate is merely one part of this great tumour of a constitutional amendment you now have before you.

I worry very much that we would be unable to get the consent of the majority of the premiers, or of the seven premiers, representing half the population, without moving off the Senate and onto other topics. This fills me with some alarm.

I wonder if you have the same kinds of concerns—or perhaps you don't?

June 18th, 2008 / 4:40 p.m.
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Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

I wanted to get back, because my time ran out, to envisioning what would happen with an elected Senate and how those elected senators like yourself would feel. They would feel, I suppose, that they've been selected by the people to represent the people's interest, along the lines of what Rob Moore was saying. That sounds good. Canadians would accept that; I'm sure of it.

But on the House of Commons side, we have that already. We have people elected by the people. With this Bill C-20, in fact, I might argue that in my province of New Brunswick and Rob Moore's province of New Brunswick, each senator might have a bigger mandate--that is by votes--than each of us because their riding is the whole province of New Brunswick. So they might even feel more engorged with power, if you will. Then we come here with an elected Senate--say the senators from New Brunswick and the MPs from New Brunswick--and we're battling over a bill, let's say. The Constitution is not going to change with Bill C-20, so we will have, in fact, gridlock between the two houses with no mechanism to resolve that.

The words you spoke with respect to the Prime Minister's wish that the House of Commons maintain supremacy, while well-meaning on your part--and I take you as an honest, straightforward man who's been devoted to the cause for so long--seem hollow. The Prime Minister said to you that the House of Commons shall be supreme, yet the bill doesn't attempt to affect that, probably can't affect that without some sort of constitutional change. So is Bill C-20 just a waste of time? You believe--I think you do, and I can get your answer on this--that the House of Commons should be supreme to the Senate. Yet, if both houses are elected, I'll tell you, practically, I would think that elected senators might feel as powerful as elected MPs and in the fullness of time there might be quite a little fight over who has more power. The Constitution does not say the House of Commons is supreme.

If the Prime Minister meant what he said to you, I don't know why his Minister for Democratic Reform, the government House leader, didn't say that when he introduced this bill. I don't know why he didn't say that gridlock will not be an issue because we intend the House of Commons to be supreme. What are your comments on that?

June 18th, 2008 / 4:15 p.m.
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Alberta, CPC

Senator Bert Brown

Yes, through the chair again, Mr. Reid, I actually wrote a brief amendment to Bill S-224, suggesting that instead of forcing the vacancies to be filled on a specific timetable, they be filled after a consultative process with the provinces, making it as simple as I could while still reaching out to democracy.

I guess the one thing I'd say about Bill S-224 is that if it reaches approval in both Houses, I'm not sure it can be enforced. I went to the parliamentary library, which I found to be my biggest source of information since I've come here, and found that there have been vacancies as long as eight years. Manitoba actually holds the record. There have been a number of them at seven years and there have been many at six. There have been, I think, some down at 405 days, less than two years, but precedence is what runs our Constitution in many ways. The reason I say that is that there's no constitutional reference for the Prime Minister to appoint senators. It's the Governor General, if I may try to quote word for word:

The Governor General shall from time to time...summon qualified persons to serve in the Senate....

--to represent the provinces in the following numbers, and it goes on to list all those.

But I don't hold much more hope out for S-224 than I do for Bill C-20 in its current form. I think if we could talk about the fact that senators would like to accommodate something in terms of a 12-year maximum term and we could accommodate democracy by having an amendment that would allow for two six-year terms, we would have something spectacular for this country.

June 18th, 2008 / 4 p.m.
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Alberta, CPC

Senator Bert Brown

Yes, you're correct in your assumption about Bill C-20. While I support it, and while the committee I chair supports the idea of Bill C-20 for electing senators, we're not in lockstep with the Prime Minister on the bill in terms of our suggestion of the possibility of two six-year terms for being re-elected.

We felt that the one single term was not popular with the existing Senate and that it would take away the power of the ballot box. If you have an election for one term and then you don't re-elect them, you lose any ability for the people of the province that elected them to come and say, “Hey, if you want to be re-elected, you need to listen carefully to what we want you to do and how we want you to represent us in the Senate.”

The other part of your question was about a constitutional requirement. We are looking at Senate reform now, having been through both Meech Lake and Charlottetown. We're looking at Senate reform as a staircase, and you don't go from the bottom to the top of the staircase in one step. You take steps.

What we're proposing is the first step; that is, to accept the fact that the Prime Minister is very much committed to democratically chosen senators. He is not constitutionally bound to the outcome, however. It would only be his political word that would bind him, and we're hoping to take advantage of that and let as many provinces elect senators as they want. Politically, he would be committed to accept the outcome of those elections.

We're not suggesting that he is constitutionally bound by an election. We're suggesting that this is an elective process, and politically, the tie would be pretty strong.

June 18th, 2008 / 3:50 p.m.
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Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you, Senator.

Your comments are here. I've read them and listened to them. I know you've been around to a number of the provinces and you have spoken to a number of officials. We've read about that as well.

In your remarks and in your brief, you say that for the first time Canada has a prime minister publicly committed to the election of senators. I want to be clear. Have you talked to the Prime Minister, and has he said to you and in public that he is committed to the election of senators?

I say that because this bill is couched in terms of the selection of senators. Even Peter Hogg suggests that is the reason it is constitutional, because it is a selection that is subject to the Prime Minister's prerogative to accept or not.

The implication of your remark, sir, is that the Prime Minister has committed to the election of senators, and that the selection, which is the word used in Bill C-20, is in fact an election that the Prime Minister must respect. Is that your view of things?

June 18th, 2008 / 3:45 p.m.
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Senator Bert Brown Alberta, CPC

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

It is interesting that you mentioned that it's been over 20 years. It's been almost exactly 20 years since I appeared before a committee of the House of Commons, a joint committee of the House of Commons and the Senate, 20 years ago. Interestingly enough, the subject is the same as it was 20 years ago.

Without further adieu, with your permission, I'll go ahead with my presentation, which will take about 10 minutes. I didn't know our chair would be “Madam Chair” when I wrote this up, so you'll have to forgive me, I hope. But I'm very pleased to be here today.

I have attached copies in English and French of my statement, “The Case for Initiating Senate Reform”, which I've been presenting to the premiers of the provinces and territories as we have met with them over the past few months. I thought it was only fair that this committee hear exactly what I've been giving the premiers of the country as I've toured since the beginning of January.

The points for Senate reform will take about 10 minutes to go through. I am prepared to answer any questions you may have on the points, as well as on my thoughts on Bill C-20 and its constitutionality and/or possible amendments that might make it more attractive to all parties in the House of Commons.

Support for Senate reform in the public polls is now 79% for the election of future senators—and that's Canada-wide.

For the first time in history, Canada has a prime minister publicly committed to the election of senators.

Real Senate reform can benefit every province, large and small, as well as minority interests within provinces.

Reform of the Senate is an important enough issue of long-standing interest to Canadians to warrant the focus of the provincial legislatures on it as a single issue.

The call from the western provinces for a triple-E Senate was never meant as an attack on central Canada or Atlantic Canada, but a desire for a real voice and real vote in Canada's upper house.

The Meech Lake accord failed because it didn't address the desires of provinces outside of central Canada.

The Charlottetown accord was rejected by the majority of Canadians and the majority of the provinces because it tried to address too many issues under one blanket constitutional proposal.

The Federation of the Provinces is a worthwhile sounding board for the concerns of premiers, but because it convenes only a few times a year, it has no ongoing input into federal legislation.

Only an elected Senate in session, in conjunction with the House of Commons, can be capable of providing continuous input into the proposed federal legislation, backed up with a vote and, if necessary, a veto by a majority of provincially elected representatives.

A reformed Senate could have prevented past majority governments from taking Canada to the brink of financial disaster. Our nation needs a counterbalance to federal parties that pursue party interests by buying votes on a national credit card.

Only a reformed Senate can prevent any future return to a single federal party putting its interests ahead of the national interests.

Senate reform does not require a constitutional amendment. Alberta has held three senatorial elections, and the winners of two of these elections have been appointed without constitutional change.

The only requirements for a prime minister to appoint elected senators have always existed. They are: a prime minister committed to respecting provincial Senate election results, and provinces willing to hold senatorial elections.

There are 14 existing Senate vacancies in seven provinces and one territory. Before 2008 ends, there will be 17 vacancies in eight provinces and one territory. As of yesterday, Senator Gill spent his last day in the Senate, so there are already 15.

If a number of provincial legislatures grasp this historic opportunity, they can have elected representatives to protect and forward their interests in the upper house daily.

It is possible to have a majority of elected senators within less than eight years, simply by filling naturally occurring retirement vacancies with provincially elected representatives.

That timeframe provides the provincial governments with eight years to discuss and agree upon the necessary conditions for a stand-alone amendment to the Constitution for, first, the change in numerical representation in the Senate by province. Whether those numbers are half of equal numbers to the large provinces, three-quarters of equality, or full equality, the provinces will have to decide. The second condition would require an agreement on an override for the House of Commons to assuage the fears of those who oppose an elected Senate with veto powers.

The provinces and their leaders have a time-limited opportunity with a willing prime minister and a huge majority of Canadians who want to democratize their Senate for the 21st century.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I have read some of the testimonies of previous individuals and panels who have spoken to Bill C-20. My committee and I find ourselves in agreement with most of the recommendations of Vincent Pouliot of the Centre for the Study of Responsible Government.

Mr. Pouliot recommends that the Chief Electoral Officer be charged to ensure that nominees qualify to be senators as set out by section 23 of the Constitution Act. That would also have to include a clause on page 7 of the Constitution. The phrase “political party”, he recommends, should be changed to read “provincial political party”. Bill C-20 should permit the provinces to determine otherwise how they wish to be represented in the Senate. For example, Quebec will, in the beginning, want to elect their future senators through the votes of their National Assembly. That was their position during the Charlottetown negotiations when I was there, and I assume it still is the same.

We agree with the above.

Very recently we were asked for an override provision that would permit the House of Commons to retain supremacy over an elected Senate with a majority opposed to a bill of the Commons. In consultation with Dr. David Elton, professor emeritus, political scientist, and others, we developed what l have named the “Elton override”. It is simplicity itself as well as brief in form.

When the Commons approves a bill and sends it to the Senate, which finds a majority of senators voting opposed, the bill would be sent back to the Commons immediately. Thereafter, the Commons would want a bill to become law and be unaltered. The Commons would send it back to the Senate by the same vote, not more or less, but by a simple majority.

The Senate must then vote a majority of its members, including seven provinces out of 10, representing 50% of the population. The timeline for this second Senate vote would be very short, possibly one month or 12 sitting Senate days.

Such an extraordinary majority as the Elton override requires from the Senate justifies the powers now existing in the Senate to remain in a reformed, elected, and more equally represented Senate of the future. The new Senate would truly be the House of the Provinces.

Thank you, Madam Chairman.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

June 9th, 2008 / 4:20 p.m.
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Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, with regard to the Senate, I am not the one who is saying that. Of the constitutional experts who testified, 80% said that Bill C-20 was unconstitutional, and the other 20% agreed that the government and the Prime Minister were doing indirectly what they could not do directly. Opinion was unanimous, and that was condemned by many of the experts who appeared.

Still with regard to the Senate, not only is the Conservative government paralyzing the work of the House, but it is also paralyzing the Senate. In fact, since the Conservatives came to power, they have not replaced any senators who have retired or died. The Senate currently has 15 vacancies. Last week, Christian Dufour, a political scientist at ENAP, said that at this rate, the Senate would also be paralyzed.

So we are not the ones who are bringing things to a standstill. It is the Conservative government. Moreover, its reform is not at all consistent with what is written in constitution. We have reached the point where it is the Bloc Québécois that is trying to uphold the Canadian Constitution of 1982. That is pretty amazing.

I will conclude by answering the member's last question. We agree that the regions of Canada are entitled to fair representation in this House. But we need to recognize that if Canada is shared by at least two nations, the nation of Canada and the nation of Quebec, then the nation of Quebec must have a political weight in this House that remains unchanged at 25%. We have had 75 members, guaranteed by the Constitution, but 75 out of 308 is not the same as 75 out of 350. It does not give the same political weight. What we are asking is that Quebec, which has been recognized as a nation, maintain its political weight within federal institutions as long as Quebec remains part of them.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

June 9th, 2008 / 4 p.m.
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Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will start off by saying that the Bloc Québécois, like the official opposition, and like—I believe—the NDP, will opposed the motion by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to extend the sitting hours, for a number of reasons.

First, it is important to remember—and this was mentioned by the House leader of the official opposition—that the government and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons have been completely unwilling to negotiate and cooperate. Usually, when Parliament is running smoothly, the leaders meet and agree on some priorities, some items and some ways of getting them done. But since the start of this session, or at least since September, House leaders' meetings on Tuesday afternoons have simply been meetings where we hear about a legislative agenda, which, within hours after we leave the meeting, is completely changed.

That is not how we move forward. Now the government can see that its way of doing things does not produce results. In fact, I think that this is what the government wanted in recent weeks, to prevent Parliament, the House of Commons and the various committees from working efficiently and effectively.

As I was saying, usually such motions are born out of cooperation, and are negotiated in good faith between the government and the opposition parties. But we were simply told that today a motion would be moved to extend the sitting hours, but with no information forthcoming about what the government's priorities would be through the end of this session, until June 20.

This was a very cavalier way to treat the opposition parties. And today, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the Conservative government are reaping the consequences of their haughty attitude. As the saying goes, he who sows the wind, reaps the whirlwind. That is exactly what has happened to the Conservatives after many weeks of acting in bad faith and failing to cooperate with the opposition parties.

In this case, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons—and earlier I mentioned his arrogance, which, to me, has reached its peak today with the way the motion was moved—gave us no indication as to his government's priorities from now until the end of the session, despite the fact that he was pointedly questioned about that matter. What we did receive was a grocery list with no order, no priorities. As the leader of the official opposition said earlier, when everything is a priority, it means that nothing is.

That is the current situation: they gave us a list of bills which, in fact, included almost all of the bills on the order paper. Not only were things not prioritized, but in addition, as I mentioned before, it showed a disregard for the opposition parties. There is a price to pay for that today—we do not see why the government needs to extend the sitting hours.

Not only was the grocery list not realistic, but also it showed that the government has absolutely no priorities set. The list includes almost all of the bills, but week after week, despite what was said during the leaders' meetings, the order of business changed. If the order of business changes at the drop of a hat, with no rhyme or reason, it means that the government does not really have priorities.

I am thinking about Bill C-50, a bill to implement the budget, which we waited on for a long time. The government is surprised that we are coming up to the end of the session and that it will be adopted in the coming hours. However, we have to remember that between the budget speech and the introduction of Bill C-50, many weeks passed that could have been spent working on the bill.

As I mentioned, the list presented to us is unrealistic. It shows the arrogance of this government, and furthermore, the order of the bills on the list is constantly changing. We feel this is a clear demonstration of this government's lack of priority.

In light of that, we can reach only one conclusion: if the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform cannot present us with his government's legislative priorities as we near the end of this session, in effect, it means that his government has no legislative priorities. It has no long-term vision. Its management is short sighted, very short sighted indeed. I would even say it is managing from one day to the next. From my perspective, this can mean only one thing: it has no legislative agenda. When we have before us bills dealing with only minor issues, this is what that means.

Proof of this lack of legislative agenda is easy to see, considering the current state of this government's agenda. An abnormally small number of bills for this time of year are currently before the House at the report stage and at third reading. Usually, if the government had planned, if it had been working in good faith and had cooperated with the opposition parties, in these last two weeks remaining before the summer recess, we should have been completing the work on any number of bills.

Overall, as we speak there are just five government bills that are ready to be debated at these stages, in other words, report stage or third reading stage. Among those, we note that Bill C-7, which is now at third reading stage, reached report stage during the first session of the 39th Parliament, in other words in June 2007. It has been brought back to us a year later. And that is a priority? What happened between June 2007 and June 2008 to prevent Bill C-7 from getting through third reading stage? In my opinion, we should indeed finish the work on Bill C-7, but this truly illustrates the government's lack of planning and organization.

As far as Bill C-5 is concerned, it was reported on by the Standing Committee on Natural Resources on December 12, 2007, and voted on at report stage on May 6, 2008. Again, a great deal of time, nearly six months, went by between the tabling of the report and the vote at this stage, which was held on May 6, 2008, while the report was tabled on December 12, 2007.

Finally, Bills C-29 and C-16 were both reported on by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs roughly six months ago.

All these delays of six months to a year force us to conclude that these bills are not legislative priorities to this government.

It would be great to finish the work on these four or five bills, but let us admit that we could have finished it much sooner.

This lack of legislative priority was even more apparent before question period when the House was debating second reading of Bill C-51 on food and drugs. Next on the agenda is second reading of Bill C-53 on auto theft.

If these five bills were a priority, we would finish the work. But no, what we are being presented with are bills that are only at second reading stage. This only delays further the report stage or third reading of the bills I have already mentioned. If we were serious about this, we would finish the work on bills at third reading and then move on to bills that are at second reading.

Furthermore, if its legislative agenda has moved forward at a snail's pace, the government is responsible for that and has only itself to blame, since it paralyzed the work of important committees, including the justice committee and the procedure and House affairs committee, to which several bills had been referred. And then they dare make some sort of bogus Conservative moral claim, saying that we are refusing to extend sitting hours because we do not want to work. For months and months now, opposition members, especially the Bloc Québécois, have been trying to work in committee, but the government, for partisan reasons, in order to avoid talking about the Conservative Party's problems, has been obstructing committee work.

Earlier, the NDP whip spoke about take note debates.

Once again, it is not the opposition that is refusing to work on issues that are important to Canadians and Quebeckers. Rather, it is the government that refuses to allow take note debates, because of partisan obstinacy. In that regard, we clearly see that the argument presented by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform is mere tautology or a false argument. In fact, it was the Conservative Party, the Conservative government, that slowed down the work of the House and obstructed the work of several committees.

Not only is the government incapable of planning, vision, cooperation and good faith, but furthermore, its legislative agenda is very meagre and does not in any way warrant extending the sitting hours. In addition, the Bloc Québécois sees many of the bills that are now at the bottom of the list as problematic, but if we extend the sitting hours, we will end up having to examine them.

Take Bill C-14, for example, which would permit the privatization of certain Canada Post activities. Do they really think that sitting hours will be extended to hasten debate on a bill that threatens jobs and the quality of a public service as essential as that provided by the Canada Post Corporation? That demonstrates just how detrimental the Conservatives' right-wing ideology is, not just to public services but to the economy. Everyone knows very well—there are a large number of very convincing examples globally—that privatizing postal services leads to significant price increases for consumers and a deterioration in service, particularly in rural areas.

I will give another example, that of Bill C-24, which would abolish the long gun registry even though police forces want to keep it. Once again, we have an utter contradiction. Although the government boasts of an agenda that will increase security, they are dismantling a preventtive tool welcomed by all stakeholders. They are indirectly contributing to an increase in the crime rate.

These are two examples of matters that are not in step with the government's message. It is quite clear that we are not interested in extending sitting hours to move more quickly to a debate on Bill C-24.

I must also mention bills concerning democratic reform—or pseudo-reform. In my opinion, they are the best example of the hypocrisy of this government, which introduces bills and then, in the end, makes proposals that run counter to the interests of Quebec in particular.

Take Bill C-20, for example, on the consultation of voters with respect to the pool of candidates from which the Prime Minister should choose senators. Almost all the constitutional experts who appeared before the committee currently studying Bill C-20 said that the bill would do indirectly what cannot be done directly. We know that the basic characteristics of the Senate cannot be changed without the agreement of the provinces or, at the very least, without following the rule of the majority for constitutional amendments, which requires approval by seven provinces representing 50% of the population.

Since the government knows very well that it cannot move forward with its Senate reforms, it introduced a bill that would change the essential characteristics of the Senate, something prohibited by the Constitution, on the basis of some technicalities.

It is interesting to note that even a constitutional expert who told the committee that he did not think the way the government had manipulated the bill was unconstitutional admitted that the bill would indirectly allow the government to do what it could not do directly.

They are playing with the most important democratic institutions.

A country's Constitution—and we want Quebec to have its own Constitution soon—is the fundamental text. We currently have a government, a Prime Minister and a Leader of the Government in the House of Commons who are manipulating this fundamental text— the Canadian Constitution—in favour of reforms that would satisfy their supporters in western Canada.

We do not want to rush this bill through the House by extending the sitting hours. It is the same thing for Bill C-19, which, I remind members, limits a Senator's tenure to eight years.

These two bills, Bill C-19 and Bill C-20, in their previous form, meaning before the session was prorogued in the summer of 2007, were unanimously denounced by the Quebec National Assembly, which asked that they be withdrawn. It is rather ironic that the federal government recognized the Quebec nation and then decided to introduce two bills that were denounced by the Quebec National Assembly.

I must say that the two opposition parties are opposed to Bill C-20, albeit for different reasons. Thus, I do not think it would be in the best interests of the House to rush these bills through, since we are far from reaching a consensus on them.

I have one last example, that is, Bill C-22, which aims to change the make-up of the House of Commons. If passed, it would increase the number of members in Ontario and in western Canada, which would reduce the political weight of the 75 members from Quebec, since their representation in this House would drop from 24.4% to 22.7%. It is not that we are against changing the distribution of seats based on the changing demographics of the various regions of Canada. We would like to ensure, however, that the Quebec nation, which was recognized by the House of Commons, has a voice that is strong enough to be heard.

The way things are going today, it is clear that in 10, 15 or 20 years, Quebec will no longer be able to make its voice heard in this House. We therefore believe we must guarantee the Quebec nation a percentage of the members in this House. We propose that it be 25%. If people want more members in Ontario and in the west, that is not a problem. We will simply have to increase the number of members from Quebec to maintain a proportion of 25%. There are a number of possible solutions to this.

Once again, I would like to point out that we introduced a whole series of bills to formalize the recognition of the Quebec nation, including Bill C-482, sponsored by my colleague from Drummond. That bill sought to apply the Charter of the French Language to federally regulated organizations working in Quebec. That was for organizations working in Quebec, of course. At no time did we seek to control what happens elsewhere in Canada. The bill would have given employees of federally regulated organizations the same rights as all employees in Quebec, that is, the right to work in French.

Unfortunately, the bill was defeated, but we will try again. Once again, the fact that Bill C-482 was defeated does not mean we are about to throw in the towel and let Bills C-22, C-19, and C-20 pass just like that. As I said earlier, we will certainly not make things easy for the government by rushing debate on these bills here.

And now to my fourth point. I started out talking about the government's lack of cooperation, vision and planning, not to mention its bad faith. Next, I talked about its poor excuse for a legislative agenda. Then I talked about the fact that we find certain bills extremely problematic. We will certainly not be giving the government carte blanche to bring those bills back here in a big hurry before the end of the session on June 20. Our fourth reason is the government's hypocrisy, in a general sense.

This has been apparent in many ways, such as the government's attitude to certain bills. I would like to mention some of them, such as Bill C-20. I cannot help but mention Bills C-50 and C-10 as well.

Bill C-50, the budget implementation bill, makes changes to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration's powers, but that is not what the debate is about. Bill C-10, which introduces elements that allow the Conservative government—

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

June 5th, 2008 / 7:25 p.m.
See context


Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have great respect for the member. We have served on committees together. I know he has many more years of experience in life and at the bar than I do.

I want to ask him very plainly, does he not think that Bill C-19, Bill C-20 and any of the other bills the government is proposing with respect to Senate reform need to pass muster by way of reference to the Supreme Court of Canada or in each province, as the case may be?

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

June 5th, 2008 / 7:20 p.m.
See context


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is good to know because it means I do not have to worry about responding to some of the questions that might come particularly from the Liberal side.

I rise in strong support of this motion that we have moved to undermine in a very effective way an undemocratic institution that has been foisted on the Canadian people for 141 years now.

We heard from my colleague from Timmins—James Bay the type of abuse that goes on there in terms of the senators not performing any valuable function whatsoever, or at least the vast majority of them. I recognize that some of the people who are there are decent people; they are probably the exception, but there are a few.

The reality is we believe in democracy. I believe in democracy. I believe every constituent of Windsor—Tecumseh believes in democracy and they do not believe in an unelected Senate, a Senate that has consistently, and I saw it at a very personal level very recently, gone out of its way to thwart the democratic process in this country. We saw it a number of times in the period from 2004 to 2006 when the unelected Senate, in protecting big financial interests, thwarted legislation that was designed to protect wage earners in this country where their employers went bankrupt or into receivership and where priority was given not to the labour side of the equation but all priorities were given to the capital side.

We saw repeatedly that legislation was stalled, oftentimes by Liberal Senators, so that it would expire in the course of the upcoming election. Other times legislation was amended, or it simply sat there literally for a year, or a year and a half in one case.

That is simply not tolerable in a country that prides itself on being a democratic country, one that is a beacon for democracy in the world and one with every right to be proud of that reputation, but for this blight that we have in the other chamber.

I saw it very personally and it was so offensive, the work that a cadre within the Senate did to prevent the passage of legislation to protect animals in this country. It did it repeatedly. Not once but on three different occasions the Senate has been able to manipulate the constitutional framework of this country to the benefit of a very small segment of people that it wanted to take care of. The end result is that there have not been amendments in the animal cruelty area for well over 100 years, in spite of passage of bills in this House on two separate occasions. It was the Senate that prevented that.

I looked at some of the letters and petitions that came into my office from across the country. There were two things that showed up. One was outrage that it has taken our level of government this long to deal with the issue. The other thing that showed up was a combination of shock and sadness that after all this time an unelected Senate, an unelected body, an unresponsive body to the needs of the country could thwart the votes in this House, could thwart the desire right across the country of the need for this legislation to go through.

As I said earlier, there are any number of other pieces of legislation we can look to. Inevitably when we look at legislation that has been stalled, it has always been stalled, stopped or prevented from going ahead in the Senate because members in the other place were taking care of their buddies, always, every single time. It has never been done on principle. it has never been done on ideology. It is all about whom they are going to take care of. It is always their friends. It is always the big financial interests in this country that they take care of.

Today, we have the opportunity to send a very clear message. The Bloc members are going to be with us, but I invite the Conservatives to take a look at this. Bill C-19 and Bill C-20 are not going anywhere. They have a chance here tonight to send a message to members in the other place that we are sick and tired of them, we are not going to take it any more and we are going to shut them down. There will be no more wasting money.

The Senate costs us over $90 million a year. It is not in the motion that we have before us this evening but it costs us $90 million for absolutely nothing, other than to destroy parts of our democracy.