Mr. Speaker, Bill C-10 is an act that would amend the Constitution Act. The summary states that:
This enactment alters the tenure of senators who are summoned after October 14, 2008.
More specifically, the bill states:
—a person who is summoned to the Senate after the coming into force of the Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits) shall hold a place in that House for one term of eight years.
The bill is modest in size. It seeks to impose limits on senators rather than having them appointed until age 75 or until they choose to leave.
I looked back to where we have been with this issue. This issue came up in 2006. As a result of elections and prorogations, et cetera, the bill made no progress. It came up again last April. A couple of hours of debate were held in May. Here we are again still debating the bill at second reading. As members are aware, second reading is the first opportunity for parliamentarians to give their views on a bill proposed by the government.
I went back to the original speech given by the Minister of State for Democratic Reform. We all assume that the person championing the bill will give substantive reasons why the bill is a good one. We just said a prayer of good laws and wise decisions. I looked for those substantive reasons in the minister's speech but I did not find them. The arguments that were made by the minister were more pros than fact. They were some sweeping generalizations without the substance that parliamentarians would like to have.
I also notice that government members are not speaking to the bill. It has been introduced by one person and the opposition parties have spoken to the bill. If government members do not get up to defend a bill, one must ask why not? Why are they not prepared to stand in this place and take questions from the opposition about its concerns with the it?
One of the phrases that came out in the minister's speech was the “step by step approach”. There is no question that the government's plans in the longer term are to have either an elected Senate or maybe to abolish it altogether.
If we look over the history of this issue since 2006, we will see that the Senate has been maligned. It has constantly been pointed out that the Senate is composed of unelected senators. It is undemocratic. It is full of all kinds of terrible people, who just sit there and serve for 45 years. We have been hearing all the negatives about the Senate. The Senate is a Canadian institution. We know the government's record in terms of respect for the institutions of our country.
The way the government has handled this, or not handled it, demonstrates, yet again, that the government really does not care if the bill gets passed. It does not care if we move it through the system and get it dealt with because it has a political benefit if not passed. It is like a political football. It is like the cat playing with the wool. When problems come up, the government will bring back the bill and take some shots at those terrible senators.
Having been here 17 years, I know many senators. Everybody in this place knows that the Senate does better committee work and study work than the House of Commons. The reason for that is because senators do not have constituencies that take up 60% of their time.
Senators are doing the job here. They are the sober second thought. They have the time to give to the studies, to hold comprehensive hearings and to go abroad to meet with other jurisdictions that have the same or similar problems or have entertained some changes. They take the time to do it.
I also note, and the members will also know, that the camaraderie within the Senate is better than it is in the House. Those people have great meetings. I was the chair of the scrutiny and regulations committee. Anybody who has attended a Senate meeting can see how important it is to have the institutional memory of some of the key areas that went by. We have files before the scrutiny of regulations committee that go back 25 years on the Fisheries Act, and the Minister of Fisheries would know that. The senators and many of those people have been there know what the arguments are.
One reason the Conservatives use to limit the terms of the Senate is that people lose the capacity to have fresh ideas. We get stale and we have to turn it over so we get some new ideas. I reject the argument totally. The example I will use to demonstrate it is the Supreme Court of Canada.
Would the government also argue that the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada lose the capacity to have any new ideas, to learn, to do good work? Absolutely not. Will we reform the Supreme Court so we can turn them over a lot faster? Absolutely not. It is not in the public interest nor in the interests of our country.
This is a one step by one step approach, but it is an approach in which the Conservatives do not want to engage. They would rather have this issue on the table, continuing to give them the opportunity to say what an undemocratic institution it is, unelected, not accountable, et cetera. I think they tasted blood this past week, when the Senate majority of Conservatives were instructed to kill a bill on climate change even before it was sent to a Senate committee for consideration.
Now the Conservatives can deal with it here. When they finally have to be pushed to put something through to the Senate, they know they have the Senate tool. This game is being played out on so many items. Members will be aware of all of the justice bills.
In looking at the minister of state's speech, he seemed to think that people of age had a problem, that when they reached 75, they were really coasting, that they do not have a clue and that they cannot do this. I am not sure whether the Canadian Human Rights Commission would agree with the principle that when one reaches a certain age, somehow one has to be treated differently.
The Prime Minister appoints senators. If the Conservatives are concerned about people serving for too long a period, why would they appoint somebody who is 35 years old? If we look at the people in the Senate, these honourable senators, we will see some people of great character, of great information and knowledge, representing the cross-section of our country and every geographic corner of our country.
I was disappointed at the lack of substance in the minister's speech in justifying the bill. I agree with the other parties that the bill should go to committee so we can have others, outside of this chamber, come before the House of Commons committee and explain to the government why its presumptions on which the bill is based are faulty and not in the public interest.