An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate term limits)

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.

Status

Second reading (Senate), as of Sept. 29, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

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

This enactment alters the tenure of senators who are summoned after October 14, 2008.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Concurrence in Vote 1--SenateMain Estimates, 2014-15

June 10th, 2014 / 7:50 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity tonight to speak to the proposal by the member for Winnipeg Centre to oppose Vote No. 1—Parliament, to provide the program expenditures to the Senate in the amount of $57,532,359 in the main estimates.

My remarks, I should say off the top, should in no way be confused as a ringing endorsement of the status quo in the Senate. Our government has consistently tried to reform the Senate while always recognizing the important role the Senate plays in our parliamentary system. That recognition is in direct opposition to the views of the sponsor of this motion, whose party would like to summarily abolish the institution. That is what the motion of the member for Winnipeg Centre would effectively do by depriving the Senate of the resources it needs to function.

Our government has always believed that while the Senate plays an important role in our parliamentary system, it needs to be improved to better serve Canadians in the way it was originally conceived.

A review of our government's record since taking office in 2006 demonstrates not only our government's commitment to Senate reform but also our flexibility in accommodating different views about Senate reform.

Legislation was first introduced in the 39th Parliament in April 2006 to limit Senate tenure to a period of eight years. Bill S-4 at the time proposed to amend section 29 of the Constitution Act of 1867 to limit Senate tenure to a renewable term of eight years and to remove mandatory retirement at 75 years for new senators coming in.

Also in the 39th Parliament in 2006, our government introduced Bill C-43, the Senate appointment consultations act. That was a bill that would have provided for a national consultation process through which Canadians would be consulted on their choice of candidates for appointment to the Senate. That was obviously modelled after efforts made in my home province of Alberta, where we had undertaken any number of these consultations in the past and where we had senators who were essentially elected by the people of Alberta. It was modelled after that particular idea, the innovative approach taken by my home province of Alberta. Unfortunately, as with the term limits bill, the opposition parties refused to support these important reforms.

In the second session of the 39th Parliament in 2007, our government introduced Bill C-19, an act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate tenure), here in the House of Commons. Bill C-19 proposed to limit Senate tenure to a period of eight years, the same as the bill we introduced in the Senate a year earlier. However, there were a couple of important modifications.

First, while Bill S-4 did not expressly forbid the possibility of renewable terms, Bill C-19 did in fact expressly provide for a non-renewable term.

Second, Bill C-19 contained the provision to permit a Senate term to be completed after an interruption. An example would be a term interrupted by a resignation. Despite these changes and our government's determined effort to bring change to an institution that had remained largely unchanged since 1867, the time of our Confederation, the opposition parties steadfastly refused to support our legislation.

Then, of course, our government was re-elected in 2008 with a mandate to reform the Senate, and we went to work on that. In the 40th parliament in 2009, our government introduced Bill S-7, an act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate term limits). It was introduced in the Senate, and it included two key changes.

The first was the idea of eight-year term limits. That limit would apply to all senators appointed after October 14, 2008, with the eight-year terms beginning from the time that the bill received royal assent. Then, of course, the retirement age of 75 years would be maintained for all senators. Once again, even this modest but important reform was opposed by the opposition parties.

In 2010, our government introduced Bill S-8, the senatorial selection act. It was a bill to encourage the provinces and territories to implement their own democratic processes for the selection of Senate nominees. It would have democratized the Senate and provided an opportunity for the provinces and territories to implement the processes to enable that to happen. This act included a voluntary framework that set out a basis for provinces to consult with voters on appointments to the Senate going forward.

We all know what happened there: the opposition parties refused to support that reform too. Is anyone sensing any kind of pattern here?

That year our government also reintroduced the Senate term limits bill, Bill C-10. That bill died on the order paper upon the dissolution of Parliament. Can we guess why? It was due to a lack of will for reform from the opposition parties once again. They refused to support any idea of reform in the Senate.

Canadians gave another mandate to our government in the election of May 2011 to again make changes to the Senate. A month and a half later, on June 21, 2011, our government introduced Bill C-7, the Senate reform act. Members can probably imagine where this is going. Bill C-7 would have implemented a nine-year non-renewable term for senators. That goes back to the point I raised earlier about being flexible and accommodating. Some concerns had been raised about the eight years, so we went for a nine-year non-renewable term.

As well, that bill would have once again enabled a voluntary framework for the provinces to implement Senate appointment consultations. Processes were put in place for that. As with all the other times, the opposition parties still would not change their minds. They refused to support meaningful Senate reform.

Throughout all of those debates on the Senate, time and time again our commitment to reform was crystal clear, as was our recognition of the value of the Senate in our parliamentary system.

Our commitment to reform was also demonstrated by a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada on Senate reform that our government launched in an effort to clarify questions about the constitutionality of legislation that we brought forward. While we were obviously disappointed by the court's decision, it is unfortunately one that all governments will have to respect going forward.

However, the court's opinion does not in any way change our view that improvements to the Senate are needed, nor does it change our view about the value the Senate can play in our bicameral legislative system. My hope certainly remains that reform will be accomplished at some point in the future.

In the meantime, there are other ways of improving the operation of the Senate, as demonstrated by the measures that the Senate itself has initiated to improve transparency and accountability with regard to its expenses.

The Senate plays a key role in the review of legislation. My Liberal colleague across the way can debate what sober second thought means, but he was right that this idea of sober second thought is a learned opinion of second thought. That is something the Senate provides, and it has resulted in improvements to legislation in the past.

The Senate also plays an important role in its committees in the investigation of issues of importance to Canadians. Certainly, the committees, as has been mentioned already in the debate this evening, have produced comprehensive reports. They have produced many, in fact, that have proven to be of tremendous value to the debate and to learning and understanding here in Parliament and throughout Canada. The Kirby report on mental health was an example of that. There was a study done by the national finance committee in the Senate on the price gap between Canada and the U.S. Again, the national finance committee looked studied the elimination of the penny. I could go on and on, citing reports that have been helpful and that have come from the Senate.

There is no doubt that, while the Senate is one of our key institutions here in Parliament, it has been hampered in its role by the lack of accountability that we have seen. There is no question. This lack of accountability has, in turn, been created by the lack of a democratic basis to the system of appointments. Despite the best efforts of most senators and the good work that does get done, some have questioned the legitimacy of the Senate because it lacks that democratic basis.

As I said earlier, I personally do not question the work of the Senate. However, clearly the events of the past year or so have fairly resulted in some damage to its reputation. While we agree about the need for improved accountability, and there is no question that it is needed, we do not believe that the solution is to remove the Senate altogether from our parliamentary system. Rather than destroy the institution and the valuable role it does and can play, we continue to believe that it can be improved and that it can continue to function as one of our key institutions.

Clearly, the recent decision by the Supreme Court on the Senate reform reference has changed the outlook considerably on the reform front. However, improvements can still occur, and the Senate itself has been a leader in that regard over the past year. The Senate has an important role to play in making the improvements. That it has the responsibility to regulate its own affairs is the prime reason for that.

I would draw to members' attention section 33 of the Constitution Act of 1867, which says:

If any Question arises respecting the Qualification of a Senator or a Vacancy in the Senate the same shall be heard...by the Senate.

The Senate has made some progress in dealing with the issues it has faced in this area of financial accountability and transparency. Much of the progress has been the result of the investigations carried out by the Senate Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration. As a result of that committee's recommendations, the Senate has adopted new administrative rules to render the reporting system more transparent and to tighten the requirements that senators must meet in filing their expense claims. Some senators have been required to reimburse the Senate for expenses that were considered to be improperly claimed.

The Senate has also asked the Auditor General to conduct an audit of Senate expenses, which will take place in the months ahead. The Senate has also acted by suspending several senators without pay or without access to Senate resources. It seems as if the Senate is taking these matters into its own hands, as it should. Our government has encouraged the Senate to address these issues, and it supports the progress that has already been made.

Since 2006, our government has made a number of attempts to reform the Senate, as I have outlined throughout my remarks here this evening, and as I have indicated, the opposition parties have continued to stand in our way every single time. We as a government continue to believe that providing a democratic basis for the Senate would be a vast improvement and that it would in turn improve accountability.

Our reform efforts, of course, culminated with the introduction of Bill C-7, the Senate reform act, in the last Parliament. Bill C-7 would have introduced non-renewable terms of nine years and provided for a voluntary framework, which provinces and territories could use as a basis to consult their populations on their preferences for Senate nominees, again, as I have indicated, much like what has been done in my home province of Alberta many times. It has produced some great senators, some senators with democratic legitimacy and accountability. The ideas in Bill C-7 were real and concrete measures to reform the Senate.

Unfortunately, our efforts to move those important reforms forward came to an end with the release of the Supreme Court's decision on the Senate reform reference. The fact that in that reference we included a question on abolition was not in any way an indication that our government favoured abolition as an instrument. Our first choice has always been the introduction of reforms that would enhance the Senate's democratic legitimacy.

The Senate certainly has an important role to play in our system. I believe that abolition would remove an important player in the parliamentary system and would leave a huge hole in the legislative process, and for no good reason. Those who know even a little about our system of government, just a bit, know that the Senate has an important role to play in our system, despite what opposition parties may have tried to claim. The Senate's role in the legislative review process is invaluable to our system. We need to continue to provide the Senate with the resources it needs to function effectively.

Of course, we expect the Senate to treat those funds with respect. There have been a number of rule changes designed to ensure that is what is happening. However, we cannot simply remove the entire allocation to the Senate. As I said, we have brought forward a number of suggestions and bills, both in the Senate and in this place, seeking to provide the reform, to create the democratic legitimacy, and to create the accountability that we believe is necessary in the Senate. As I have said, every single time, time and time again, those measures and those attempts to make the reform were blocked by the opposition parties. They would not support anything we tried to do in terms of reform. We brought forward a number of different proposals. We were willing to be flexible, we were willing to be accommodating, we tried different approaches, and we did everything we could to see that reform come to fruition, but the opposition parties refused to allow reform to happen, every single time.

As I have indicated, we understand that there have been some issues with regard to expenses and whatnot in the Senate over the last year or so. There is a need to address those issues and create better accountability. As I have said tonight, there have certainly been efforts undertaken in the Senate itself to try to accomplish those things, and we continue to encourage and support that. We know that reform is something that needs to happen some time in the future. Hopefully, we will get some recognition of that from the opposition parties at some point in time. We can keep trying and hoping, but what we cannot do is simply remove the entire allocation from the Senate and pretend it never existed, and that is what is being proposed here tonight.

I cannot support the proposal by the member for Winnipeg Centre to oppose this allocation of the resources to the Senate, which is clearly a thinly disguised attempt to abolish an institution that fills an important function in our legislative process.

Combating Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

October 19th, 2012 / 12:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent.

Today I rise alongside my colleagues, to speak against Bill S-7, an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act and the Security of Information Act. The bill goes against the values of Canadians. It infringes upon civil liberties and human rights, a repeated theme among the actions of the government, I must add. It has measures that have been proven to be unnecessary and ineffective.

I would like to be clear. The New Democratic Party believes that it must seriously address the issue of terrorism. Keeping Canadians safe is of the utmost priority. However, we also must ensure respect for our rights and freedoms. The provisions in the bill fail to balance our need for security and our basic fundamental rights. Both are equally important to Canadians and espouse Canadian values.

Bill S-7 is the most recent iteration and measure of a series of anti-terrorism laws that began with Bill C-36, tabled in 2001. The Anti-Terrorism Act, tabled in 2001, was enacted to update Canadian legislation and respond to international standards, specifically the requirements of the United Nations, as well as to actually present a legislative response to the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

The provisions of the act remain in place today, except for two of the troubling provisions: the investigative hearings and the recognizance with conditions. The bill was adopted in response to a horrific event on September 11, 2001, which we all know too well. It left people in a state of panic and fear.

The excessive provisions in the act expired four years ago. A sunset clause was rightly added to these provisions back in 2001, with certain provisions to expire in 2007. This was following concerns that were raised during the legislative process in 2001 that these measures, without any precedent in Canada, could have been used inappropriately.

In order to extend these provisions, both Houses of Parliament must adopt a resolution to that effect. In February of 2007, when they expired, such a resolution was rejected by the House of Commons, with a vote of 159 to 124, because the controversial provisions had not even been used. We now have learned that there is no empirical evidence to support such legislation. When the provisions expired in 2007, there had been no investigative hearing and no situations that required a recognizance with conditions. Actually, I must add that the investigative hearing has been used once since it was created in 2001, as part of the Air India inquiry, but that led to no conclusive results.

New Democrats oppose the bill because it is ineffective in combatting terrorism. In a parliamentary review of the bill, committees heard over and over from stakeholders and experts that the current Canadian legislation was sufficient. It begs the question, why is the government choosing to ignore experts? We all know this will not be the first time that the government chooses to ignore experts in the field and writes erroneous legislation based on its own ideology.

The committee heard that the Criminal Code has sufficient provisions to investigate those involved in criminal activity and detaining anyone who might be an immediate threat to Canadians. In a 2011 review by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on Bill C-17, the former version of Bill S-7, a spokesperson for the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group said that between 2007 and today, police investigations have successfully dismantled terrorist plots without having to resort to any of the provisions discussed here. Also, even since 2001, or for 10 years, among the investigations leading to accusations or convictions, none required the use of these extraordinary powers, including the Khawaja case, the Toronto 18 case, or more recently, the case involving four people from the Toronto region.

In addition to the fact that the bill will be ineffective in combatting terrorism, I want to stress the point that Bill S-7 stomps on basic civil liberties and human rights.

Our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is fundamental to Canada and to Canadians. We cherish the charter. Yet over and over again, we see legislation from the government that tramples upon Canadian values.

What is even more alarming is that, as experts have indicated, this infringement on rights and freedoms is completely unnecessary and utterly ineffective. Yet, the government goes ahead anyway.

A spokesperson from the International Civil Liberals Monitoring Group said the use of arbitrary power and “a lower level of evidence” cannot replace the properly carried out work of the police. “On the contrary, these powers open the door to a denial of justice” and the substantial likelihood of ruining the reputation of innocent individuals, as was the case for Mr. Arar.

These kinds of decisions reveal a government that does not respect Canadians or Canadian values. We believe on this side of the House that Bill S-7 violates the most basic civil liberties and human rights, specifically the right to remain silent, the right to not incriminate oneself and the right to not be imprisoned without first having a fair trial.

Experts have warned that Bill S-7 would make it punishable by imprisonment for up to 12 months, or impose strict conditions on the release of individuals who have never been charged with a criminal offence. We believe this goes against the core values of our Canadian justice system.

Moreover, the provisions in the bill could be used to target individuals participating in activities, such as active protest, dissent, which has absolutely nothing to do with the reasonable definition of terrorism.

Canadians take their rights and responsibilities to protest to heart and use them to make their voices heard. The arbitrary nature of the provisions in the bill could certainly lead to an abuse of power, and we have seen that happen many times by the government.

Canadians would not be better protected by legislation that infringes upon their rights and freedoms, but rather they will be better protected with intelligence efforts and appropriate police action.

Canadians are tired of seeing actions and legislation that show such a lack of respect for our Canadian values. Let me conclude by reminding the members opposite that actions and legislation that show such a lack of respect for Canadian values creates a disconnect between policy-makers and the needs of the people they represent.

The Criminal Code contains all of the provisions necessary to fight terrorism. Yet here we are, discussing a bill that shamefully infringes on our civil liberties and human rights.

Sadly, the bill is yet another example of the government missing the mark on writing sound legislation. The bill, as it stands, has no balance between the need for security and the protection of the fundamental rights of Canadians. Therefore, I cannot support the bill.

As many experts in the field have said, it is quite unnecessary and full of holes. It introduces concepts that are foreign to our Canadian values and it risks causing many more problems than those that it actually solves.

Canadians expect the government to prioritize tangible job creation in our communities across the country, measurable environment protection and real action for community safety, not the infringement of our basic human rights and freedoms.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

December 8th, 2011 / 10:20 a.m.
See context

Liberal

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.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)Government Orders

April 30th, 2010 / 12:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Andrew Kania Liberal Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour of addressing the House today on the issue of Senate reform and specifically with respect to Bill C-10. I would like to state that I do support Senate reform. I do support sending this bill to committee so that the issue can be studied in full. However, any type of Senate reform must be logical, democratic and constitutional. I do not believe that this bill fits any of those three criteria.

Why has there been no consultation with the provinces at all by the government? The Conservative Party espouses provincial rights. The Conservative Party talks about that and tries to compare and contrast with other parties. Why has the Conservative government ignored provincial rights? Why have the Conservatives not consulted them? Why is this bill so urgent that the government cannot consult the provinces in circumstances where it had a virtually identical bill, Bill S-7, that was introduced prior to prorogation?

The Conservatives had no difficulty suspending Parliament and killing that bill through prorogation, yet they must now take the position that this is so urgent that, although they killed the bill through prorogation, they now do not have time to consult the provinces with respect to this bill. I think that is wrong.

If the government does not even know if the provinces will support any amendments, notwithstanding what the government is trying to do, or if the provinces are prepared to support amendments, what type they would be, why are we taking the time of the House of Commons to deal with this? Should we not first know that the provinces will support this?

In order to get a meaningful constitutional amendment through, which I believe is what needs to occur and not simply this bill, we need the support of 50% of the population representing at least seven provinces. Even on a basis of good faith, I would like to know why the government has not taken the time to consult with the provinces to see whether there is that form of support across the country for this.

I mentioned three criteria. One criterion is democracy. Whenever somebody talks about Senate reform, they assume that they are proposing something that should be followed or that there is some urgent need for it. If we are going to do this, we should not make the situation worse. My fear is that an eight-year term would be a risk to democracy, not a benefit.

Various people have thought about this. The Senate is supposed to be a chamber of sober second thought. In order to get that, we need people with some institutional memory and experience who have been around for a reasonable period of time. More than that, we need to consider what they will do when they are there.

I would refer to an article written by David Akin which appeared in the press a couple of weeks ago. There are arguments against the eight-year term. The main argument is:

For example, under the terms of [the Prime Minister's] initial proposals, any Prime Minister representing any party would be able, over the course of only two Parliaments, to appoint – yes, appoint – senators to every one of the 105 Senate seats. Talk about a rubber stamp! Any semblance of the institution’s independence would be gone.

The first issue, especially in circumstances where we have had minority governments since at least 2006, is that it would be a risk to democracy to allow any sitting prime minister to, in theory, appoint the entire Senate through only two mandates.

In short, the Liberal Party is in favour of Senate reform, but we have to work in conjunction with the provinces to get there. We would like to know what our provincial partners think. We do not think it is appropriate to ignore them and not consult them, as the government has done.

In terms of the exact proposals, other comments have been made. From that same article, I quote:

The proposals by the present government, one to limit the terms of senators to eight years, and another for indirect senate elections, are not real or meaningful reform, in that they do not propose to alter the Constitution in any way. In fact, they have been painstakingly designed to avoid doing so.

If we are to have meaningful, long-term, democratic Senate reform, it requires consultations with the provinces to get that required 50% of the population with seven or more provinces, and we need to amend our constitution in a proper manner. Anything short of that, frankly, is unacceptable.

There is another comment in terms of Senate reform and limiting the terms. We already have the risk that we have discussed in terms of having one prime minister potentially appointing the entire chamber if the term is eight years, but there is another issue also. I would like to go to a journal article of UBC entitled “Transforming Canadians Governance Through Senate Reform Conference, April 18-19, 2007”.

There is another issue, and I think this is actually the more important issue. It is not so much what the terms are for the Senators. I support doing something about this. I am not against it, but once again, it has to be democratic, constitutional and logical.

The bigger issue is not the term, but the legitimacy of the Senate once in power, because as indicated, having reference to the United Kingdom's House of Lords, the issue is to keep the chamber bipartisan, so we actually get sober second thought, the main original goal of the Senate, and we have some check, some thought about the legislative agenda of the House of Commons. I will read from this article as well. On the question of legitimacy, and it is talking about a presentation, it states:

—stressed the legitimacy of the currently constituted House of Lords in the sense of broad public endorsement of an appointed chamber challenging the legislation of a popularly elected government. The secret, Meg Russell argued, was in the partisan balance maintained in an the appointment to the House of Lords, so that neither government nor opposition alone had the ability to control the chamber. Legitimacy came from independent—or at least bipartisan—action by a parliamentary chamber, not only from the mode in which members were selected.

In short, the problem with the proposal in this legislation is that in theory it gives the Prime Minister the power to appoint the entire chamber and there is no check on how that gets done. We need a method to ensure that the bipartisan, the rough balance that we have in the Senate, is maintained so all parties are represented and so it is not simply a government Senate chamber, whatever the government of the day may be.

If we deal with Senate reform and spend the time of the House of Commons and of a parliamentary committee, bring witnesses in and incur expenses, should we also not know that it is constitutional? Why is there no reference to the Supreme Court of Canada?

In 2006 the Prime Minister, when he appeared before the Senate committee speaking on Bill S-4, said, “The Government believes that S-4 is achievable through the action of Parliament itself”. This is not democratic, and I do not think it is even constitutional. We have scholars such as Alexandra Dobrowolsky, the chair of the Department of Political Sciences, St. Mary's University, who clearly says “that the failure to consult with the province violates the constitutional conventions”.

The Library of Parliament of Canada disagrees with the Prime Minister. I will quote from its writings on August 17, 2009:

There is, however, an involved debate as to whether the constitutional amendment procedures introduced in the Constitution Act, 1982 would allow Parliament to modify the main characteristics of the Senate without the consent of the provincial legislative assemblies. The Supreme Court has issued an opinion stating that Parliament does not have that authority, but the decision dates from 1980 and thus precedes the amendment mechanisms introduced in the Constitution Act, 1982. The question is therefore unresolved.

I do not think it is responsible for the government to go through this process without first consulting the provinces, as I have already indicated, but also knowing whether this is constitutional.

It is common sense to state that there should be a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada to make this determination rather than requiring persons after the fact to engage in lengthy and expensive litigation to challenge this. I anticipate that if this goes through, some group will challenge this, there will be such legislation and we will be tied up. Why not, since the Prime Minister has the power, simply refer this to the Supreme Court of Canada now and seek a ruling?

There is a certain irony in terms of what is occurring with these proposals. I am going to read three quotes. The first is, “Only candidates elected by the people will be named to the Upper House”. The second is, “the Upper House remains a dumping ground for the favoured cronies of the prime minister”. Both of those quotes in 2004 were from the Prime Minister.

Another quote from the Conservative Party was “A Conservative government will not appoint to the Senate anyone who does not have a mandate from the people”. I am sure Canadians will find that most ironic considering what has taken place.

Another example from May 28, 1996, the Reform Party opposition day motion speaking to it at paragraph 3049, stated:

The Reform Party proposal for a triple E Senate, a Senate which is elected by the people with equal representation from each province and which is fully effective in safeguarding regional interests would make the upper House accountable to Canadians. Implementing changes to the Constitution to provide for a triple E Senate, an extension of Alberta's Senatorial Selection Act into other provinces, is the best means to proceed in permitting Canada's regions to have a greater say in Ottawa and bring democratic accountability to government.

What happened to that? What happened to the positions of the government members when they were in opposition? Why are they not fulfilling their promises in seeking an attempt to bring meaningful Senate reform to Canada with consultations with our provincial partners? Why this legislation in this form? It is not democratic and it is quite ironic that the government is doing this considering its various prior statements.

In terms of other broken promises, I already read the quotes of the Prime Minister in terms of never appointing senators who have not been elected. I find it ironic that a record was broken with the Prime Minister appointing 27 senators in one year. There have now been 33 unelected senators appointed by the Prime Minister, despite very clear promises that he would never do that. That must go to the credibility of the government. Of course this is not the only promise that has been broken.

We also had the promises of income trusts, the public appointments commission, to never run deficits, to follow fixed election dates, which we know did not take place during the last election, and to not raise taxes, although we have a huge payroll tax, which, according to economists, will kill 200,000 plus jobs. This is just a litany of broken promises by the government that Canadians frankly need to know about.

Since this is under the democratic ministry, let us talk about democracy. With the 33 Senate appointments that the Prime Minister has made, let us examine them. These were not bipartisan appointments for the benefit of Canadians. Essentially these were Conservative mainly defeated candidates. I think Canadians need to know this.

I quote an article, once again by David Akin, of January 20, 2010. He states:

There is an irony to the appointments [the Prime Minister] has made that is not lost even on some of [the Prime Minister's] own advisers and supporters. As a young Reform party organizer and MP, [the Prime Minister] campaigned vigourously to make the Senate more independent of the prime minister. And yet, to create the Senate he wants, [the Prime Minister] now needs a Senate that will do precisely what he wants.

With the five members he is expected to appoint Friday, [the Prime Minister]—who once said he would never appoint senators—will have named 33 senators since taking office in 2006...

Who are those people? He goes on to state:

In fact, 20 of the 33 appointees were failed Conservative candidates, former political staff to Harper or the party, or were members of the Conservative party or its predecessor parties, the Reform party, the Progressive Conservative party and the Canadian Alliance.

I think Canadians have a right to know who those people are. This is the lost: Bert Brown, Reform Party organizer; Claude Carignan, failed Conservative candidate; Fred Dickson, adviser to former Nova Scotia Premier John Buchanan, a Progressive Conservation; Nicole Eaton, writer and community leader who chaired the Conservatives last two national conventions; Doug Finley, Conservative national campaign manager; Michael Fortier, co-chaired of Conservative national campaign; Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis, former Progressive Conservative MP; Stephen Greene, Reform Party staffer; Michael MacDonald, Conservative Party executive; Fabian Manning, former Conservative MP, lost re-election in 2008; Yonah Martin, failed Conservative candidate; Percy Mockler, New Brunswick Progressive Conservative; Richard Neufeld, provincial politician active in social credit reform and B.C. Liberal Party; Don Plett, former Conservative Party president; Michel Rivard, failed Canadian Alliance candidate; Judith Seidman, co-chaired the Prime Minister's 2003 leadership bid; Carolyn Stewart Olsen, long-time Prime Minister communication aid; and the last, John Wallace, failed Conservative candidate.

In terms of John Wallace, I will have to admit I know him. He is a good appointment. However, did the Prime Minister actually ask Senator Wallace before he was appointed to limit his term to eight years? Did he know this was coming? Senator Wallace gave up his lucrative business to come here. Maybe he should have asked him. Maybe that would have been fair. Maybe that would have been trustworthy.

There is a history here. Why are we dealing with this Senate reform package now? Obviously it was not urgent, because if it were so urgent, the government would not have killed it by proroguing Parliament, which also killed the legislation. It would have continued with Parliament to ensure this was taken care of before.

We do have urgent matters, though, that the government has sought to avoid by bringing forward this type of legislation, Senate reform at this stage. I am not saying we should not do this at some point, but why now? I have made this point in terms of the law and order legislation as well. Although I support almost all of it, why now? Why not deal with the issues that are urgent for Canadians when we are living through the worst recession since the last depression? Why now?

I am going to give one example. I have a top 10 list here that, frankly, the government should have dealt with already or should be dealing with, which it is seeking to avoid. This has nothing to do with the recent scandals and everything that has been going through question period. It has to do substantive issues that matter to Canadians for their ordinary daily lives. They are simply being ignored.

I sat in the transport committee this week, but I am not on the committee. I was shocked. In questioning pilots, as one example, members talked about these new SMS safety standards. In 2007 there were amendments to the Aeronautics Act contained in Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act. This would have clarified Transport Canada's authority to regulate SMS, enhanced the sharing of safety data with Transport Canada and provided protections for employees who reported safety concerns internally under SMS.

The pilots who testified clearly stated that this was something they needed, that it was important, that it was required for the safety of air passengers across Canada. How many Canadians travel on aircraft? Yet it has not been reintroduced and the pilots, who were before the committee, want it introduced. Why has that not been done rather than go through with this law and order legislation and go through Senate reform at this stage? Why not pick other meaningful things that should be dealt with for the benefit and safety of Canadians?

As I essentially have no time left, I will not have a chance to go through the entire list. That is one example, and there is a whole litany of those that have been ignored.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)Government Orders

April 29th, 2010 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

“Only candidates elected by the people will be named to the upper house”, said the Prime Minister in 2004. “The upper house remains a dumping ground for the favoured cronies of the prime minister”, complained the current Prime Minister in 2004. “A Conservative government will not appoint to the Senate anyone who does not have a mandate from the people”, again from the Conservative Party.

Those are some of the claims that the Prime Minister has made, along with many other statements about the Senate that, unfortunately, have undermined the credibility of the Senate in the minds of the public.

What has the Prime Minister actually done, given those very clear assertions over many years that he would not be appointing senators and that there would not be partisan appointments? The Prime Minister appointed more senators in a single year than any prime minister in history. He appointed 27 senators. He is the Senate patronage king, and these have been some of the most blatant, partisan appointments in history.

We have seen well-connected party partisans throughout the Senate appointments, including fundraising chairs, national fundraising chairs, top strategists, Conservative staffers, Conservative communications advisers, failed candidates, Conservative-leaning journalists and so on. Essentially, we have an entire national election team for the Conservatives now on the Senate payroll. That is not even speaking to some of the questionable histories of senators, such as the one who is facing a sexual harassment complaint before a Human Rights Tribunal and who was president of an organization under investigation for financial impropriety.

How does this speak to the credibility of the Prime Minister's claims about improving democracy through his changes to the Senate? Not well, I would contend.

The objective claimed is to modernize democracy, which is a laudable objective.

I would like to talk a bit about some of the context that the government has on its record in terms of democracy. If we are to take improving democracy at face value, we would expect to see that as having been an objective with the government and the Prime Minister. I would contend that the facts do not suggest that is the case.

What about the fundamental underpinnings of democracy, such as openness, accountability and integrity? How has the Prime Minister fared?

In terms of openness, is the Prime Minister willing to hear from Canadians? I think a number of organizations would contest that willingness. In fact, organizations that disagree with the government are finding themselves punished. A member of one organization in civil society told me yesterday that there was a chill right across civil society because many organizations, such as the Canadian Council on Learning, KAIROS and Rights & Democracy, are seeing their funding cut for ideological reasons or because they are speaking up, which is what their organizations are designed to do.

In terms of openness, we have an Information Commissioner calling the government the most secretive in history. I have an example of that in a freedom of information request that I put forward around the disaster in a Canadian pavilion at the Olympics. I received two blanked out pages. Maybe that information was a state secret or a military secret but I do not think so.

In terms of openness, the government is preventing debate on critical issues by slipping key public policy changes into budget implementation bills, so that it does not have to debate on their merit. These are key issues, such as pay equity, the Canada Environmental Assessment Act and the protection of our environment. One must conclude that openness, that fundamental tenet of democracy, is not something that the government has promoted. In fact, it has seriously undermined it.

The same argument, unfortunately, needs to be made for accountability. The ruling by the Speaker the other day was an example. There are numerous other examples of accountability breaches by the Conservative government.

One of the key democratic mechanisms that we have as parliamentarians is the oversight officers of Parliament. The list of those oversight officers, or independent officers, whose job it is to ensure the integrity of government, who have been fired, sidelined, “resigned” early in their term or not reappointed, is very long. It includes the president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Linda Keen; the environment commissioner, the president of the Law Commission of Canada, the head of the Canada Emission Reduction Incentives Agency, the Military Police Complaints Commissioner, the RCMP Public Complaints Commissioner; and the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.

The Liberal Party of Canada hosted a round table on that very issue during prorogation here in Ottawa. We heard from a range of constitutional experts and others as to the weakening of the fabric of democracy that takes place when the oversight officers are not able to speak their minds and are not able to speak the truth without fear of retribution. How does that illustrate the government's commitment to democracy? It actually illustrates the opposite.

I would remind all members of the words of Aristotle:

If liberty and equality, as is thought by some are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.

That is not what we have been seeing under the Conservative government. unfortunately.

This is relevant to Bill C-10 because there is a claim here that the government is trying to strengthen democracy.

The process by which Bill C-10 has come about is one that raises great questions. I will just provide a quick summary of the timeline.

Bill C-10 has several predecessors. In May 2006, Bill C-4 was introduced. It was recommended by the Senate to go to the Supreme Court of Canada on the constitutionality issues. The bill died when Parliament was prorogued in September 2007. This was followed by Bill C-19, which was tabled but never brought back for debate. It died in 2008 when an election was called just after the government passed a fixed election date law.

In May 2009, Bill S-7 came back to the House with the same eight year term limits. It was debated for three days only and then it died when the Prime Minister prorogued the House in January 2010 to avoid accountability with respect to questions on the Afghan detainee issue.

The bill has come back a fourth time as Bill C-10, with some minor modifications. One must question whether this is actually a serious attempt to improve democracy or whether it is posturing by the government. Whatever it might be, one must conclude that this process does not create confidence in the government's intentions with respect to this bill.

Let us look at the content of the bill itself. The Minister of State for Democratic Reform spoke to this issue briefly. A key legal issue to this is whether it is constitutional. The minister of state claims that there is a consensus that it is. The reading that I have done shows that the very serious question of constitutionality has not been resolved and unilateral action by Parliament to amend the Senate in this type of case should be referred to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The legal issue is around the upper house reference case of 1980 in which the Supreme Court of Canada decided that amendments affecting the essential characteristics or fundamental features of the Senate must have provincial involvement. Despite the amending procedures in the Constitution Act of 1982, this judgment continues to have relevance, according to many constitutional authorities.

Then the question is, does this bill affect the essential characteristics or fundamental features of the Senate. Of the two principles, one is experienced oversight, that is, both of legislation and complex societal issues, and two, independence. Let us consider how this bill might affect these essential characteristics.

I ask members to think back to eight years ago in their own lives and ask themselves whether they have mastered something to the point where they would be capable of sober, credible oversight for all Canadians on the issue. Eight years may seem like a long time, but it does not enable a person to provide the kind of input that our senators, whom I am very proud of, are able to provide. Aboriginal elders, for example, are the wisdom of their communities. Are they cut off after eight years as no longer being relevant? No.

Independence is clearly impacted by an eight-year term because in two terms a prime minister can turn over the entire membership of the Senate, which would clearly impact its independence. We could have a Senate consisting of one party or another. As Benjamin Franklin said, democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. That seems to be what Mr. Harper is aiming for in the Senate with this bill.