Mr. Speaker, since this is my first speech in the House of Commons in the 41st Parliament, I would like to thank the people of Nickel Belt for returning me to this House of Commons. I am grateful to the people from as far west as Foleyet, to the east of Garden Village, from the south in Killarney, and to the north of Capreol and River Valley, for returning me to this House.
One of their reasons for returning me to this House of Commons is due to the fine work that my staff is doing in Nickel Belt. I would like to thank them in this House, including Carmen McMurray in Nickel Belt and Val Caron, Ghislaine Millette in Val Caron, and Mona Noël and Don Pitre in Sturgeon Falls. I would like to thank them for the fine work they are doing.
Some of the reasons why we were re-elected to this House of Commons are because the people of Nickel Belt are more concerned about unemployment, health care, education and about their mothers, fathers and grandfathers. They are not too concerned about Senate reform. They are concerned about the things that affect them and Senate reform certainly does not affect them.
I am happy to rise in the House today to speak about the important principles of democratic reform and accountability.
I know the citizens of my riding of Nickel Belt want an electoral system where people are made to feel their vote counts. They want to feel good about government again, to see it as truly representative of them, and to feel they have a choice.
Five years ago, our Prime Minister was opposition leader. He recognized how wrong the unelected Senate was. He called it unfair and undemocratic. He called an appointed Senate a relic of the 19th century. Then, as opposition leader, he clearly did not like how the Prime Minister held a virtual free hand in the selection of senators and he made a promise that, as Prime Minister he would not name appointed people to the Senate. Sadly, we have seen another broken promise. Instead of fixing the problem with the Senate, the Conservative government has made the problem worse.
Consider the evidence. The Prime Minister now holds the all-time record for appointing the largest number of senators in one day. He has appointed Conservative Party faithful, spin doctors, fundraisers and insiders, his former Conservative Party president, his former national campaign director, and several defeated Conservative candidates. What more evidence do we need than seeing the architect of the Conservative notorious in and out scheme currently sitting in the Senate? Unnecessary Conservative senators spend their time voting down laws passed by elected members of the House of Commons, while burning through taxpayers' dollars to travel the country fundraising for the Conservative Party of Canada. Talk about doing politics differently; it is more of the same old, same old as we saw with the previous Liberal government.
Last fall, we watched in shame as the Conservative-dominated Senate was used to veto legislation that the Prime Minister simply did not like. The Climate Change Accountability Act, introduced by my colleague from northern Ontario, the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Superior North, was passed twice in a minority Parliament. Elected members representing Canadians passed the bill. A majority of elected MPs supported that legislation twice. Tragically, on November 16, 2010, the Senate, with its Conservative appointees, defeated Bill C-311 on second reading. There was no community discussion in the Senate and no witnesses. It was killed by unelected friends of the Prime Minister.
Unfortunately, the government's legislation related to the Senate is not about real democratic reform or delivering on commitments of accountability. New Democrats are talking about real democratic reform. We are calling for the abolition of the Senate. Canadians have had enough. The Senate has to go. Most Canadians would not miss it. Recent polling shows that only 18% approve of the actions of the Senate. Unfortunately, today's senators are too often partisan, working for their parties while being paid with public money. No sober second thought can come from unelected appointees with such obvious conflicts of interest.
Then there is the waste of money in the unelected Senate because Canadians are paying more and more for a discredited institution that does less and less at a time when people are dealing with slow economic recovery and the Conservative government is contemplating billions in cutbacks. Maintaining the Senate costs Canadians around $19 million a year. While folks are looking for jobs, trying to make ends meet when their EI runs out and scraping by on pensions that do not even cover basic necessities, senators are earning $132,000 a year for a three-day work week. Travel and expenses for senators cost $859,000 a year for an institution that will not play any relevant role in the lives of most Canadians.
I can think of a lot of things that matter to people, like creating family-supporting jobs, improving public health care, and building a decent future for our kids. Lining the pockets of party insiders probably is not high on anyone's list. I repeat that New Democrats want the Senate abolished. That has been the position of the New Democratic Party and its predecessors since 1930, and we are not alone.
The Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, and the Premier of Nova Scotia, Darrell Dexter, have publicly called for the Senate to be abolished. The Premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark, has said she does not think it serves a useful purpose within Confederation. Manitoba also maintains its position in favour of abolishing the Senate. Quebec has called this bill unconstitutional. The provincial government has said it would appeal the matter in court if this bill passes without prior consultation with the provinces.
We know real democratic reform is not achieved by tinkering with how senators are appointed or chosen from the provinces. We will need to introduce fair voting and proportional representation where the franchise of every voter is respected. We are calling on government to hold a referendum asking the Canadian public whether they support abolishing the Senate.
Today, I am asking the Prime Minister to start with two modest but vital first steps. First, I am asking the Prime Minister to stop appointing failed candidates and party insiders to the Senate. I am asking him to reach out to Canadians by making that a firm commitment.
Second, I am asking the Prime Minister to work with me to ensure all senators are banned from fundraising for political parties. No sober second thought can come from unelected appointees with such an august conflict of interest. It makes a joke of our democratic system, and it is not fair to Canadians.
In the long run, New Democrats remain firmly committed to following other modern democracies, as well as Canada's provinces, by abolishing the upper house and continuing to call for a pan-Canadian referendum to allow Canadians to provide a mandate on how to proceed.
We, as New Democrats, want Canadians to feel good about government again, to see it as the embodiment of their collective capacities as citizens, and to feel they have a voice. Let our elected members of Parliament, and only our elected MPs, speak on behalf of Canadians.
Second, let us stop wasting money on the undemocratic parts of our country that are not benefiting Canadians.
I want to bring out some key facts on this Senate reform. All provincial Senates were abolished by 1960, and provinces have continued to function properly. For those from the opposition who think we cannot work without a Senate, the proof is in the pudding. The provinces got rid of all Senates in 1968, and they are still functioning.
Public support for a referendum on the Senate is growing. An Angus Reid survey from July 2011 showed that 71% of Canadians were in favour of holding a referendum to decide the future of the Senate; and 36% of Canadians supported abolishing the Senate, up from 25% one year earlier.
If we really want to hear what Canadians have to say about the Senate, maybe we should have a referendum and let Canadians tell us what they want. With this Angus Reid survey, we know what Canadians want. They want the Senate abolished.
The Conservatives have said that they do not want to tear the other place down, they want to rebuild it. They are accusing us of wanting to tear the other place down. There have been 13 attempts to reform the Senate since the 1900s, 13 times Canadians wanted to remodel the Senate and failed every time. We are not going to accomplish anything this time either.
The government has been all over the map when it comes to Senate reform. A previous Conservative bill called for a federally regulated electoral process, while another bill called for eight year term limits.
The Conservatives have not properly consulted with the provinces about whether or not they agree with the content of this bill. When this bill was first introduced in June 2011, Conservative senators, even those appointed by the Prime Minister, pushed back against any plan for Senate term limits.
Senators will remain unaccountable to the Canadian people by only being allowed by law to serve one term as senators. They will never have to face the public to account for the promises they made to get elected or the decisions they made in the previous nine years, and they will get a pension when they leave office.
The safest, small c conservative approach to the Senate is to abolish it. We know how the House of Commons works, but we have no idea what will happen with an elected Senate.
The Prime Minister has called the Senate a relic of the 19th century. In 2006, the Conservative Party platform stated:
The Conservatives...believe that the current Senate must be either reformed or abolished. An unelected Senate should not be able to block the will of the elected House in the 21st century.
That is exactly what happened to Bill C-311.
The government has used the Senate as a dumping ground for party operatives and fundraisers who are using public money to campaign for the Conservatives. We are seeing that right now with the provincial elections going on across the country. We are seeing senators going from province to province and riding to riding campaigning for the Conservatives at a cost to public money.
The Prime Minister has used the unaccountable and undemocratic Senate to kill legislation that had been passed by the House of Commons twice. As I mentioned previously, Bill C-311 and, this past spring, killing Bill C-393, generic drugs to Africa.
We have Alberta senator, Bert Brown, whose name has been mentioned quite often by Conservative members today making him the god from Alberta. Bert Brown made it very clear in his letter to the Senate dated June 15, when he stated:
...our loyalty is to the man who brought us here, the man who has wanted Senate reform since he entered politics....
It was not to their regions or constituents.
What a shame that an appointed senator would say something like that. He is not there to represent the regions or his constituents. Who is he there to represent if he is not there to represent Canadians? It is a shame.