Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)

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

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

Sponsor

Steven Fletcher  Conservative

Status

Second reading (House), as of Nov. 19, 2010
(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.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

April 29th, 2010 / 4:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Jean Dorion Bloc Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the member who just spoke.

This bill does not take the Quebec nation into account at all. The Conservative government claims to have recognized the Quebec nation, but in reality, is it not disregarding the constitutional aspect of this national issue?

As other speakers have already said, in a federal system, this Senate reform cannot be passed without going through the constitutional amendment procedures.

Quebec was not consulted on this issue. The former Quebec minister for Canadian intergovernmental affairs, Benoît Pelletier, stated Quebec's position in 2007. He said:

The Government of Quebec does not believe that this falls exclusively under federal jurisdiction. Given that the Senate is a crucial part of the Canadian federal compromise, it is clear to us that under the Constitution Act, 1982, and the Regional Veto Act, the Senate can be neither reformed nor abolished without Quebec's consent.

That same day, the Quebec National Assembly adopted the following motion:

That the National Assembly of Québec reaffirm to the federal government and to the Parliament of Canada that no modification to the Canadian Senate may be carried out without the consent of the Government of Québec and the National Assembly.

Is the Canadian government not being quite arrogant by completely ignoring the will of Quebec and avoiding any consultations with it on this issue?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

April 29th, 2010 / 5 p.m.
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Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, the member made one statement that I will agree with 100%. The Senate is at the heart of the Canadian federalism. I pointed that out in my speech.

When we go back to the original debates, the chip on the table was that 24 senators would be allocated to the region of Quebec, which we can call the Quebec nation quite appropriately. Again, if there is any change to that formula, any change to the way they are appointed, to their capacities, to where they have to live, I think it would be tremendously difficult to do that without the consent of Quebec.

However, we are dealing with a tenure issue. I do not have the final legal say in that. There are opinions going both ways. It is unfortunate that we do not have a Supreme Court ruling. There is no question in my mind that one of the aggrieved provinces will probably take this to the Supreme Court at some time. However, again, that is a situation that has to be. All I say is let us get it to committee and have a debate. There is no question that eventually it will arrive at the Supreme Court of Canada for a legal opinion at some point in time.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

April 29th, 2010 / 5 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-10, which would limit senators' terms to eight years.

The Bloc Québécois will oppose this bill.

As my colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher commented, the Conservative government has once again chosen to tamper with institutions and make changes that could offend Quebec, without consulting it. The big news today is that it has found allies. The NDP and the Liberals are prepared to go along with the Conservative proposal.

It is clear that the Conservative government is trying to be divisive. It is trying to change the Senate by introducing bills in the House of Commons and the Senate, to avoid having to abide by the 1982 Constitution.

The position of the Government of Quebec has always been clear. It was stated in 2007 by Benoît Pelletier, a minister in the Liberal Government of Quebec who was a constitutional expert and a federalist. He was not a sovereignist, far from it. Once again, the National Assembly of Quebec, through the premier, who is a federalist Liberal and the former leader of the Conservative Party, is asking that the government make no changes without consulting Quebec and the provinces.

This is very surprising. The government is trying to do everything in its power to alter the very foundation of the Canadian Constitution without Quebec's consent. I am shocked at that. We are sovereignists, and we dream of having our own country. But when we have our own country, I hope we will never make the mistakes the Conservatives are making in trying to do everything they can to prevent the country's constituent parts from having a say, because they do not want to touch the Constitution or something else.

It is amazing to see the Conservatives in action. It helps us sovereignists see why we have to leave this country, but they are not setting a very good example for everyone else.

I can understand them to a certain extent. The Senate is a problem. I say that in all kindness. I have been in federal politics since 2000. Before 2000, I never ran into any senators. In Quebec, the upper chamber was abolished in 1968. I was born in 1957. I was 11 years old when it disappeared. This is not a problem in Quebec. I took a tour of the National Assembly of Quebec and was told there was a red room and a blue room where people used to sit. It disappeared a long time ago because it simply was not needed.

What I am saying as a federal parliamentarian is that I have never run into a senator in my riding. I know that there are some and I have to be careful not to name them. As I do not want to be in a position where I have to apologize, especially to a senator, because I named him or her here, I will refrain from doing so. I would not want to lower myself to apologizing to a senator. Personally, I have only seem them during election campaigns.

In 2004 and 2006, a Liberal senator attended a few events. I have a beautiful riding that includes Mirabel and part of the aerospace industry. Accordingly, senators like to be seen there during election campaigns. I knew there was a senator there. I saw her in every election because she would drop by to support the Liberal candidate. To me the Senate has always been a partisan stronghold. It is all about politicking, as far as I can tell.

I have a new Liberal opponent who is the son of a senator. Now, his father, the senator, has begun coming around. I can honestly say that, up until 2009, I had never seen him. However, he came and attended some events and told us that he had been a Liberal member in part of my riding, in Deux-Montagnes. He discovered matters of interest there because he does not live in the riding.

That amounts to political partisanship; they are partisan appointments. Bill C-10 proposes appointing senators for eight years rather than life, to age 75. The bill proposes nothing more than partisan appointments. It is an aberration and we cannot support it.

I know that the Minister of State for Democratic Reform explained that another bill before the Senate will ensure, one day, that they are no longer appointed. However, we still cannot support this bill.

The Conservative government combed the Constitution, together with experts, to determine what it could do. Lawyers said that if the government changed the length of the term, it might be able to do through the back door what it could not through the front door. They have forgotten an obvious principle of law: you cannot do indirectly what cannot be done directly. I am a notary and not a lawyer, but all lawyers understand this principle.

When I asked him the question, the Liberal member answered that the Supreme Court should have examined this issue. When the issue was before the Supreme Court, we should have asked if we could split up. We know already that the Government of Quebec will be opposed and that the issue will go to the Supreme Court.

So why is the government doing this? To keep a partisan stronghold. That is terrible. If the government had the courage to follow through on abolishing the Senate, it could work. The deficit is going to hit close to $50 billion. We could at least cut part of this spending that serves no purpose, other than partisanship. But instead they have decided to reinvest in this part of Canada's political evolution.

Ontario got rid of its upper chamber in 1867, and Quebec did the same. I do not understand. A number of my fellow politicians have a backwards attitude, and that will not change. I see that Parliament will be living in the past for a long time.

It is deplorable, because it is not as though this is something new. Other colleagues have already mentioned this, but I think it is worth repeating what minister Benoît Pelletier said in 2007 regarding Quebec's traditional position:

The Government of Quebec does not believe that this falls exclusively under federal jurisdiction. Given that the Senate is a crucial part of the Canadian federal compromise, it is clear to us that under the Constitution Act, 1982, and the Regional Veto Act, the Senate can be neither reformed nor abolished without Quebec's consent.

This press release was issued by the minister on November 7, 2007. That is a great date, since it is also my birthday. But I am sure that is not why he issued the press release; it was not just to make me happy.

That same day, Quebec's National Assembly unanimously passed the following motion:

That the National Assembly of Québec reaffirm to the federal government and to the Parliament of Canada that no modification to the Canadian Senate may be carried out without the consent of the Government of Québec and the National Assembly.

This stance has been known since 2007. Once again, the Conservative government probably wants to please its electors. Why else would it do this if not to show off its backwards ideology? I do not know who the government is making these amendments for. The polls are clear. In March, an exclusive Canada-wide poll of 1,510 adults by Léger Marketing for QMI Agency showed that 35% of Canadians believe that the Senate can only be effective if senators are elected and not appointed.

The bill before us today is not about electing senators, but about appointing them for eight years. Meanwhile, 25% of people, one quarter, believe that the Senate should be abolished; 12% are in favour of appointments based on gender and regional balance. In Quebec, only 8% believe that the Senate plays an important role and that the system for appointing senators works well; 22% want an elected Senate and 43% want the Senate abolished. I am part of that last statistic, but I was not polled. That does not include the 31% of people who have no opinion because they do not know what the Senate does. Approximately one third of the population does not know what the Senate does.

In my experience, senators create partisan politics. The Senate is a stronghold of partisanship and political organizers. They have a nice salary, an office and staff to do that work. My senator gets around, taking his son by the hand, and participates in every event at government expense. He will be my next opponent. That has always been the Liberal way of doing things. They always find a way to take taxpayers’ money to pay for their election campaigns. It happens to me, but it does not cause me any problems. It makes me laugh, but today, I am trying to understand why we would be trying to save this partisan stronghold at the expense of the actual constituent members of the federation.

In 2007 the government of Quebec said that there would be no amendments without constitutional negotiations. That is simple. The request was made by a federalist premier of Quebec who said not to change anything without consulting the provinces. Today, the Liberal Party, the NDP and the Conservative Party are hand in glove to try to amend it piecemeal, bit by bit. We can change this but not that; there is the Supreme Court judgment, and so on. This issue is going to end up in the Supreme Court. That is what will happen.

Quebec has not agreed from the outset. I will explain again that you cannot do by the back door what you may not do by the front door. In law, you cannot do indirectly what you may not do directly. But that is how the Conservatives do things. What surprises me is that the Liberal Party and the NDP are playing the game and trying to work behind the backs of Quebec and the provinces. Some provinces may agree. In that case, we should immediately initiate constitutional negotiations on the Senate. The provinces that are for this reform will say so and those that are against it will also say so. There will be debate and negotiation.

But they want to do it all by getting confirmation that everything is fine from lawyers who are probably being paid fat fees. The Conservatives pay their constitutional lawyers. The lawyers give them reports explaining that this or that will be allowed and that you can divide it up into several bills scattered around the Senate and the House of Commons. They will try to get it all passed without having to amend the Canadian constitution, because they do not want to do that. The way the Conservatives do things is intolerable.

In Quebec, the Conservatives are at about the same level as Quebeckers’ interest in the Senate. If that is what they want, they should keep on doing this kind of thing. Only 8% of Quebeckers think the Senate is good for anything. I will refrain from mentioning the percentage of Conservatives from Quebec. I know what it is and they do too. The harder they work on it, the closer they get to the 8% of Quebeckers who are satisfied with the Senate.

The Liberals and NDP want to go in the same direction. It is a thing of beauty to see them at work, defying the wishes of Quebeckers. I know it has been tough for Quebec in the House of Commons over the last few weeks. The other parties are trying to crush it by reducing its political weight in the House. Another bill is attempting to add an additional 30 members. They are trying to crush Quebec because, with the reforms in the bill the minister has introduced, it will have fewer members than it deserves given its population, although it had more until 1976. But the Conservatives have decided otherwise. That is their way, but it cannot go on forever. Things cannot continue like this forever without provoking a strong reaction in Quebec.

In regard to the Senate, Quebec’s reaction has been known since 2007 and it is strong. There was the unanimous resolution adopted in the National Assembly, and it is clear that Quebec will go to the Supreme Court to defend its interests.

The Conservatives might like to wait for the Supreme Court decisions. That way they can please somebody or other. I am trying to understand whom they want to please. More than a third of Canadians would like to see the Senate abolished, so they are certainly not the ones the Conservatives are trying to please. Maybe there are people they are trying to please, senators whom they promised a chance to get elected, but I do not know how that will work. I really do not want want to discuss the other bill to change the law so that senators are not appointed but elected. There is even a list that could be provided by the provinces, although the Prime Minister would not be required to abide by it.

In the end, they wish to retain control of this political instrument, even though the real politics should take place here, in the House of Commons. That is understood by the people. If one third of the population does not even know what the Senate does, it is because they realize that the real politics take place in the House of Commons. We should get rid of this instrument, which is expensive and a stronghold of partisan players and political organizers.

I realize that the Conservatives and the Liberals who appointed senators over the years do not wish to deprive themselves of this political arm that they can use. However, it would be a good way to show the people, who are growing increasingly cynical about elected politicians, that they have listened and that the senators have not managed to prove their usefulness over the years. We should be talking about abolishing the Senate, and discussing it with the provinces once again. The Bloc Québécois does not intend to participate in any debate about the Senate if the Constitution is not respected. When we have our own country, we will want everyone to respect our constitution and, as long as we are part of Canada, we will respect the Canadian Constitution.

We believe that any debate on the Senate should involve constitutional negotiations and must include Canada's partners, the provinces. If they have decided that the provinces are no longer partners, they should say so. The Conservatives should have the courage to say that they do not want to hear anything more from the provinces and that they will go it alone. This might be an intelligent way of setting out their strategy but they will not do it. For that reason, it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to win the approval of Canadians. In Quebec, as I was saying earlier, the Conservatives's polling numbers will soon match the 8% of Quebeckers who think the Senate is important.

Therefore, it is obvious that we will be voting against Bill C-10 because, although the bill limits senators' terms of office to eight years, they will still be appointed. As long as senators are appointed and as long as the Senate remains a partisan stronghold, the Bloc will never support it. This bill does not mention another means of Senate reform. It states that senators will be appointed for eight years. Therefore, we will be voting against this bill, especially because the Quebec National Assembly has been telling the federal government since 2007 that no changes should be made to the Senate.

I will not reread the government position drafted by Benoît Pelletier, a renowned Liberal constitutional expert who was a federalist Quebec government minister. This position was backed by a unanimous National Assembly resolution against negotiations about the Senate unless Quebec was an active participant in such negotiations. We will always stand for that because we are the only party in the House that stands up every day to defend Quebeckers' interests even when the party advocating those interests is a federalist party. We are always logical. We stand up for Quebec. That is what we have always done and will always do. That is why, no matter what happens, there will be more and more of us here in the House of Commons.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

April 29th, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, the member comes from a great part of the world. We all live in the greatest country in the world at the best time in human history to be alive. I think everyone in this chamber understands that.

We are trying to improve our Parliament, a federal institution. That is why all federalist parties support the bill. There may be differences, but everyone in this chamber, on the federalist side, wants to make our country better, and that includes improving the Senate. We have heard today that some sort of term limit, non-renewable, will make our country better.

Will the member be straight up with us and say what is really happening here, and that is Bloc members will, for ideological reasons, oppose anything that will make Canada a better place?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

April 29th, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, hearing that kind of thing always makes me smile. The Bloc Québécois did support two Conservative budgets in 2006 and 2007 because the government said that it wanted to correct the fiscal imbalance. The National Assembly passed a unanimous motion in support of that approach. We have always been consistent. The National Assembly passed a unanimous motion against reforming the Senate without consulting the provinces.

All federalist parties have the right to join forces against Quebec. That helps me because I am the Bloc Québécois' chief organizer in Quebec. The more they do that kind of thing, the better off I am. In fact, I should just let them do their thing and keep my mouth shut. They are all working for me. I have no problem with that. What I have a hard time understanding is why they would attempt an indirect approach to changing something that cannot even be changed directly without negotiating with the provinces. If the federalists think of the provinces as a kind of ball and chain, they should say so and see what kind of reaction they get.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

April 29th, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his excellent speech concerning the Senate and all the issues in the bill that affect Quebec.

When I was first elected to the House of Commons, I saw there was a chamber next door called the Senate. I wondered what those people did in there. I soon realized it was a little like Groundhog Day, a movie I am sure we have all seen many times. The Senate carries out the same activities as the House of Commons. The same committees are duplicated there. It only slows the process of introducing and passing bills.

There is one aspect my hon. colleague did not address. The costs associated with the Senate are enormous. The cost to run the House of Commons is already considerable. Many witnesses come to testify before House committees. The same thing is repeated in the Senate, which is very costly in terms of time and money.

This money could be used to reform the employment insurance system and to help people in need, instead of being wasted. According to surveys, 43% of Quebeckers oppose the Senate. Quebec is being trampled on; the Quebec nation is not being respected. I am convinced that all the other provinces oppose this Senate reform.

I would like to hear my colleague's thoughts on this.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

April 29th, 2010 / 5:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé for his excellent question. He is right. At a time when money is tight and deficits are enormous, we could be taking this opportunity to save a great deal of money. The Conservatives have gone from a $17 billion surplus, which they inherited from the Liberals, to a $50 billion deficit. Of course they will tell us there is a global crisis and so forth.

My colleague is doubly right when we see how the parliamentary system works. A bill is passed and sent to the Senate where senators can make amendments to it. However, if we are not happy with those amendments, we can bring the bill back to the House of Commons and reverse the Senate's decision. That is what happens. In theory, there should not even be a Senate. We should pass legislation and that is where it should end.

The Senate did a study on safety, noise, nuisances and so on in the railway system. When it looked at the bill passed by the House of Commons, the Senate only called in the railway companies because it did not want to hear from those who were reporting the problems with the railway in the first place. The Senate ended up changing our bill because the Conservatives convinced the Liberals to do so. They were already lobbying then.

When we saw the senators engaging in such partisanship and listening only to those they were interested in, we should have stood up to them and passed the bill as it was. The House of Commons has priority. In the legislative system, the Senate serves no purpose.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

April 29th, 2010 / 5:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member said that he will respect the Canadian Constitution. Therefore, he knows that this measure falls within the purview of Parliament.

The member talked about the representation of Quebec in the Senate. This bill would improve Quebec's representation in Parliament because it would help to renew the senators from Quebec in this great institution.

Again, I come back to my previous point with the member. The reason the Bloc is opposing this bill is that the Bloc opposes anything that would make Parliament better, including improving the representation of Quebec in Parliament through the Senate. The Bloc is just being negative because it is against the Bloc's philosophy to improve federalism and improve Quebec's representation in Parliament. It just goes against the Bloc's reason to be. It is very disappointing.

I wish the member would just be honest. The reason he is opposing this is that he does not want to strengthen Quebec's role in Parliament. He just wants his own disappointing end.

We live in the greatest country in the world. I wish the member would support that and help make Parliament better.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

April 29th, 2010 / 5:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, Canada will make an excellent neighbour. I have no problem with that.

For the rest, I will try to explain why we are opposed to this bill. I will re-read, nice and slowly, the unanimous motion passed by the Quebec National Assembly on November 7, 2007:

That the National Assembly of Québec reaffirm to the federal government and to the Parliament of Canada that no modification to the Canadian Senate may be carried out without the consent of the Government of Québec and the National Assembly.

We will rise every single day to defend the interests of Quebec. That motion was adopted in 2007 by a federalist government. Its Liberal Party leader was the former leader of the Conservative Party.

The Government of Quebec adopted this motion because the Supreme Court rendered a decision in 1970 after examining Parliament's ability to unilaterally amend the constitutional provisions concerning the Senate. The Supreme Court found that Parliament could not unilaterally make any changes to the essential characteristics of the Senate. This is why the National Assembly adopted that unanimous motion, and this is why we are once again defending the interests of Quebec in this House.