Senatorial Selection Act

An Act respecting the selection of senators

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

Status

Second reading (Senate), as of March 10, 2011
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

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

This enactment establishes a framework for electing nominees for Senate appointments from the provinces and territories. The following principles apply to the selection process:

(a) the Prime Minister, in recommending Senate nominees to the Governor General for a province or territory, would be required to consider names from a list of nominees submitted by the provincial or territorial government; and

(b) the list of nominees would be determined by an election held in accordance with provincial or territorial laws enacted to implement the framework.

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.

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

March 3rd, 2011 / 4:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I must say at the outset I am absolutely shocked and dismayed that my friend from Acadie—Bathurst asked that question because, normally, he listens intently to every word I speak in this House. In fact, I would suggest that from time to time, he actually leans forward to listen more closely to what I have to say, and I appreciate that. I appreciate that he takes my words of advice so seriously that he would be confused, and so totally confused as he is today.

He asks why do we not allow Canadians to participate in this. That is exactly what these bills are about. Bill C-10 would put in term limits. We have heard from Canadians. They do not want to see anyone have a 45 year term. And Bill S-8 would allow for elections for Senate nominees at the provincial level. What more of a form of democracy can we have than allowing full participation from members in individual provinces?

I think the member for Acadie—Bathurst is far off the mark. Once again, I would ask that he sit back and listen to me intently. He might learn something.

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

March 3rd, 2011 / 4 p.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand here today and join in this very important debate coming from my colleague and friend from Hamilton Centre, talking about two elements of democratic reform.

The first obviously is the one we have been discussing for many months and, actually, for many years, and that is democratic reform of the Senate. The NDP's position is to abolish the Senate.

I will be concentrating all of my remarks on the first part of the opposition day motion that deals with Senate reform, as opposed to the latter part of the opposition day motion on proportional representation. Due to the limited time that I have before me, I will try to concentrate my remarks only on the Senate.

I should also say at the outset that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Calgary East.

Let me first assure my colleagues, particularly on the NDP side, that I share with them a lot of the frustrations that they seem to be expressing today about Canada's Senate. In fact, I can assure my colleagues that several years ago, before I was elected to Parliament, I completely shared their view that the Senate should be abolished. At that point in time in my view, the Senate was irrelevant, useless and served no useful purpose for Canadians.

However, since I have been elected and have been in this House since 2004, I have changed my mind 100%. I have seen the good work that the Senate can perform. I would also point out that throughout the western world and the democratic nations of the world, bicameralism, which is to say federal institutions having two legislative bodies, is quite common. The U.S., Germany, Australia, and many others have a similar situation to ours. It is there for a reason. It is there to observe and give sober second thought to the legislative process. In other words, it is a legislative review body. It is also a review body that gives careful consideration to policy.

Even though I had great and grave doubts about the Senate in years past, since I have been in Parliament I have seen on many occasions the work that the Senate has done, both in terms of legislative review and on proactive policy considerations, presenting papers for not only this House and our consideration but also for Canadians as a whole. Without getting into an ideological debate about whether the Senate should be a part of our constitution and our legislative process, I would suggest that we will always agree to disagree on that very point.

However, there are two elements to democratic reform within the Senate that I believe should be discussed. I welcome the debate we have before us today. The first is term limits. One of the most unsavoury aspects of the Senate is the fact that senators can be appointed and then serve for up to 45 years. These would be unelected and, some would suggest, unaccountable senators remaining in their positions for 45 years. I do not think by anyone's definition that is palpable. Canadians would not agree with the notion that someone can be appointed to a body and remain in that position for up to 45 years with literally no oversight.

Yes, there are times when senators can be removed with cause, whether they are charged and convicted of a criminal offence, whether their attendance is such that they have not proven their worth in the Senate, but generally speaking, senators can stay in their unelected positions for up to 45 years.

That is why we brought forward Bill C-10 on Senate term limits. Our position is that there should be a finite number of years that senators serve in the upper chamber. Forty-five years is clearly too long a period of time. We believe that eight years is the proper period of time.

Why eight years? Obviously it would take new senators a bit of time to become acclimatized to their new position, their new job, to learn the ropes so to speak. However, after a year or two, senators can properly function in the upper chamber. The most important part of a Senate term limit of eight years is that after eight years, senators have probably served their purpose to the maximum of their abilities. If not, at the very least we can look at renewal within the Senate.

What angers and offends Canadians more than anything else is to see senators who have served in the same position for 10, 20, 30, 40 years and beyond, paying little recognition to Canadians' true feelings. I believe that if senators were confined to a term limit of eight years, they would know that they had a job to do and that they had to get it done in a relatively short period of time.

I do not think there would be any argument that there should be a term limit put on senators. Whether it is eight years, twelve years or more, is open for debate. That debate would be extremely worthwhile.

I note that the former Liberal leader at one time said that he was in favour of term limits for senators. He was not sure whether eight years was the proper term. He suggested at one time 15 years and then 12 years. Nonetheless, he was a strong supporter of term limits. I am pleased to see that at least some in the Liberal Party agree with us that there should be term limits.

I would ask my friends in the NDP and the Bloc Québécois to also engage in this debate and hopefully come to the realization that if the Senate is here to stay, and I suggest it will be, then we should take a look at meaningful reform from within.

The NDP's suggestion that the Senate be abolished will probably be something that we will never see. It would never happen because to do that we would have to open up constitutional talks and there is no appetite in Canada, from the Canadians I have spoken with from coast to coast, to reopen the Constitution. We have seen the problems of the Meech Lake accord and the problems of other constitutional talks. There is simply no appetite for constitutional reform at that level.

I suggest that Bill C-10 would allow change and reform to the Senate without having to open up the constitutional talks again. The way we have drafted the legislation would allow reforms to be enacted with the approval of this House.

If the NDP members are truly sincere in their belief that there needs to be reform in Parliament, knowing that the constitutional talks would probably never occur, at least not in my lifetime, on Senate reform they should welcome the opportunity to try and enact positive change. In other words, rather than strictly abolishing the Senate, let us grasp the opportunity to make change for an institution that will be with us for the foreseeable future. I would suggest the same thing happen with senatorial appointments.

Right now we have a system where all Senate appointments are strictly that; appointments rather than elections. If we want to have a truly elected Senate, that would require opening up the Constitution. That will not happen. We do not want that to happen at this point in time. Canadians do not want that to happen.

What we have done, through the Senate, is introduce Bill S-8, Senatorial Selection Act. That, in a nutshell, would allow provinces to have elections for Senate nominees. Those nominees would then be presented to the prime minister of the day and that prime minister would be required to give consideration to those Senate nominees. I would also suggest that no prime minister, regardless of political affiliation, would take those suggestions from the provinces lightly. If a sitting prime minister decided not to appoint a senator who had been recommended and elected from a province, he would do so at his political peril.

These are two real changes that can be made to the Senate, as we speak. They can be made internally in Parliament, without having to reopen constitutional discussions and talks. They would enact real reform within the Senate. It is a set of concerns that all members should take very seriously.

I would encourage all of my colleagues to join with us as we move forward with our democratic reform package in the Senate and ask them to support both Bill C-10 and Bill S-8.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

March 3rd, 2011 / 10:40 a.m.
See context

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to the opposition day motion on electoral reform and Senate abolition that was moved by the hon. member for Hamilton Centre.

The motion that we are considering calls on the House to recognize the undemocratic nature of the current form of representation in the Parliament of Canada. It asks that the government propose amendments to the Referendum Act in order to allow the holding of a referendum on the Senate abolition at the same time as the next general election. It also calls for the establishment of a special committee on democratic improvement whose mandate would be to engage with Canadians and make recommendations to the House on how to implement a new electoral system that would combine direct elections with electoral districts and proportional representation.

I would like to thank the hon. member for moving this motion. As Minister of State for Democratic Reform, I am always pleased to have a robust discussion about democratic reform issues and I look forward to today's debate.

While I am grateful that today will bring attention to democratic reform issues, I am disappointed that we will be spending time debating the reforms proposed in this motion, rather than working together to achieve real and attainable goals that this government has already set out on this topic.

For example, I point to the premise that representation in the Parliament in Canada is somehow undemocratic. Canada has a long history of democracy and Canadians are lucky to enjoy the very healthy system for which we all can be very proud. For example, all Canadians over the age of 18 hold the right to vote, there are free and fair elections and the administration of such elections is overseen by the independent Elections Canada. Elections are held on a regular basis, which allows citizens to hold government to account.

Therefore, the comment that this place is undemocratic just does not hold water, especially comparing Canada to other countries. Canada was compared to Egypt earlier. That is just not fair to Canadians or even to the people of Egypt because they are really fighting for even the seeds of democracy.

I would also like to talk about the electoral boundaries. These boundaries are redrawn on a regular basis by an independent commission that ensures ridings are designed in a fair , non-partisan way.

Finally, we have Elections Canada that provides for secret ballots, regulates political financing and ensures the integrity of the entire electoral machine.

Despite all the positive aspects of a democratic system, I do agree that there are fundamental elements that can be improved, and that is the principle of representation by population. The government introduced the democratic representation act to ensure that representation in the House of Commons would be fair and that Canadian votes, to the greatest extent possible, would carry equal weight.

The House of Commons no longer reflects fair representation of all provinces. This is particularly the case in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. The democratic representation act would amend the constitutional formula for the re-adjustment of seats in the House of Commons so that future adjustments would better reflect the democratic representation of faster growing provinces while protecting the seat counts of other provinces.

For example, the province of Ontario would receive approximately 18 more seats, Alberta would receive 5 and British Columbia would receive 7, which, of course, depends on the census results. However, it is a step forward and I hope the NDP will support this government's legislation on representation by population.

On the issue of the unnecessary Senate, our government believes that the Senate does play an important role in our parliamentary system, particularly with respect to the reviewing of legislation and the representation of regions and minority interests. We also believe that members of the Senate perform valuable work.

It is no secret that our government believes that the upper chamber, in its current form, does not reflect the ideals of the 21st century democracy in Canada. Furthermore, we believe the Senate has a legitimacy problem that is directly linked to the method of selection of senators.

Rather than simply doing away with a parliamentary institution, we have advocated for its reform. We believe the Senate should be reformed to become a more modern, accountable and effective chamber that Canadians deserve. In order to move forward with such a reform, we have introduced the senatorial selection act which encourages provinces and territories to establish a democratic process to consult voters on candidates they want for Senate appointments. Provinces, such as Manitoba, have looked into this and have suggested senatorial districts.

The member who moved the motion is very keen on proportional representation. Perhaps that is a method that could be used in the upper chamber.

The upper chamber, I will reflect, is quite different than the lower chamber. In the lower chamber, votes of confidence occur and the first past the post system is much more appropriate. In the upper chamber, perhaps there are other methods and we are open to discussing this with Canadians and other parties. Certainly Bill S-8 reflects our willingness to look at other ways of selecting senators.

The Prime Minister has always been clear that he is committed to appointing elected Senators, and has done so at his only opportunity.

The Prime Minister would appoint senators who are directly selected by the people of the provinces. It is very significant that the Prime Minister is willing to give that power to the people, in effect.

Our government has also introduced legislation that would limit senators to eight years in a non-renewable term. This would allow enough time for senators to gain experience while ensuring that the upper chamber would be refreshed with new ideas on a regular basis.

Despite our government's willingness to be flexible on reforms and to work with stakeholders to find common ground, we have not been able to count on the co-operation that is needed from the opposition parties to make Senate reform a reality. Today's motion proposes a referendum on the Senate abolition. I have concerns about this. Specifically, I have concerns about referendums in general and particularly on the issue at hand.

When we talk about referendums, I would note that national referendums have been held only occasionally in Canada. There was the 1992 Charlottetown accord process, there was a referendum in 1942 regarding conscription and in 1898 on prohibition. It is a rarely used vehicle. While referendums can be used and be useful in engaging Canadians on questions of fundamental importance to the country, we have seen from previous experience that they can also be very divisive along regional and linguistic lines.

The motion also proposes to hold referendums at the next general election. As the motion acknowledges, the Referendum Act does not currently permit a referendum to be held at the same time as a general election, an issue that is divisive in itself. Referendums held during general elections can be done more cost effectively but, on the other hand, issues of a referendum can dominate the election period at the expense of the general electoral campaign.

I would also note that the opposition coalition has been threatening a general election within weeks. It would obviously be impossible to implement this motion before the next general election, which could happen within weeks. I hope the opposition does not call an election because it is not in the interests of Canadians and certainly not in the interests of the economy. The government wishes to work with other parties to ensure that the next general election does not happen for a long time.

In 1992, the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing found that in jurisdictions where referendums had been held with general elections, voter turnout tends to be lower and those who vote represent a small cross-section of the general population. In fact, in its 1992 report the royal commission found that having referendums at the same time as general elections was not a good idea.

More recently, in November 2009, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs began its review on the Referendum Act. Among other things, the committee was considering this very question. It has not yet completed its study and perhaps it would be more prudent to wait for the recommendations before making a decision on this issue.

On the issue of a referendum on the abolition of the Senate, I must say that I find the idea simplistic. Polls have continuously shown that Canadians support Senate reform. A recent poll on Senate reform found that two-thirds of Canadians would like to directly elect the Senate while only 30% support the abolition of the Senate. As the Prime Minister has said, abolition should be the last resort and all members of Parliament should be focused on making our government's reasonable Senate reform agenda a reality.

Participation in the political process by exercising one's right to vote is a cornerstone of our democracy. Of all forms of civic engagement, voting is perhaps the simplest and most important. That is why the idea of reforming Canada's voting system cannot be treated lightly.

At the outset, I would like say that I find the portion of the motion concerning electoral reform perplexing. The proposal is to create a special committee on democratic improvement that, among other things, would be responsible to engage Canadians, “on how best to achieve a House of Commons that more accurately reflects the votes of Canadians by combining direct election by electoral district and proportional representation”. However, the committee would not be mandated to ask Canadians what voting system they would like to have.

The motion presumes that Canadians are dissatisfied with our current system and eliminates the possibility for voters to propose another system, such as a preferential system which the United Kingdom will hold a referendum on this spring. However, it strongly suggests that the first past the post system will be preferred there as well.

Moreover, while the intent of the motion may be to obtain the views of voters on electoral reform, it did not propose a referendum on electoral reform, even though it prescribes abolishing the Senate. So there is obviously a contradiction in the logic.

Like Senate reform, electoral reform has received much attention in recent years. However, while there seems to be general consensus that the majority of Canadians support some form of Senate reform, this is not necessarily the case when it comes to changing our electoral system.

Voting system reform has been put to voters in three different provinces, British Columbia twice, Ontario and Prince Edward Island, and it has been rejected every single time. After significant citizen engagement efforts in these provinces, particularly British Columbia which included citizen assemblies, voters in each province were given the opportunity to vote in referendums on changes to the electoral system. In each case, they favoured the existing system.

In 2007, the Conservative government completed a series of cross-country consultations as well as a national poll in order to consult Canadians on democratic reform issues, including our electoral system.

The participants, who were broadly representative of Canadians at large, expressed satisfaction with the first past the post system and were disinclined to fundamental change. In particular, they valued the electoral system that produces clear winners, such as single party, majority governments that are more common under first past the post, than other forms of PR. This first past the post system also allows voters to hold governments accountable for their performance.

Although a system of proportional representation is not appropriate for the House of Commons, if the senatorial selection act is passed, provinces would be free to use proportional representation or any other democratic system for selecting Senate nominees that directly consults with the members and citizens of the province. This should be a reason why the NDP should support our Senate reform agenda. I would be interested to hear from them on why they would not.

Not every voting system is perfect, but we have a very good system here in Canada. I agree that there needs to be democratic reform and we are moving forward with democratic reform. We have taken big money out of politics by limiting campaign finances. We are trying to ensure that the House of Commons better reflects the population of the people of Canada and where they live.

This is what Bill C-12 does. It is representation by population, a principle that the vast majority of Canadians support. The Senate is designed to reflect the will of the regions. This is important in a federated model such as Canada where we have 10 provinces and three territories. It is important to have that balance.

We have proposed eight year term limits in the Senate in Bill C-10.

Bill C-10 would allow for the reduction of 45-year terms, which the NDP member correctly suggested there was an accountability and legitimacy issue. This bill would help to address that. Also, Bill S-8 would allow for the people of the provinces to select their senators.

This is a much more practical way to move forward on Senate reform. It is constitutional. It is a step-by-step approach that is easily understood. In fact, one could argue that what the NDP has suggested, which would require a huge constitutional change, is a statement of support for the status quo. All reasonable commentators, including in recent editorials in the Toronto Star, National Post and throughout the media, know there is no political appetite for these types of huge constitutional negotiations, like what occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. People want us to focus on the economy and other priorities of Canadians. They do not want use to get involved with deep constitutional quagmires.

I ask NDP members to take their energy, focus it on moving forward with the government's reform agenda, support Senate reform, support Senate term limits, support Senate elections, support representation by population, support our Bill C-12 and support our other initiatives to increase voter participation and campaign finance reform.

Again, I thank the hon. member for Hamilton Centre for raising this very important issue, and may God keep our land glorious and free.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

March 3rd, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.
See context

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his impassioned remarks and for bringing forward this important topic.

The government recognizes that the Senate needs to be reformed and we are taking steps to allow it to be reformed, including term limits and senatorial elections.

I wonder if the member would agree that abolishing the Senate, which is what the NDP is proposing, is not possible in the current political context where vast agreement among the provinces would be needed and huge constitutional discussions would need to be held, which is just not realistic.

With respect to PR, I wonder if the member would be open to having a discussion on senatorial selection, which is Bill S-8 in the other chamber, if we suggest a framework. It does not need to be a first past the post election in the upper House if that moves forward. It could be some sort of PR system. I wonder if the member would be open to the government and the provinces engaging in discussions on how senatorial elections could happen.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

November 17th, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.
See context

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, what we are proposing as a government is something that is within the purview of this chamber.

I am concerned that the amendment that was just proposed would go beyond what would normally be expected of this chamber.

Having said that, I would also like to reflect on some of the comments that were suggested before. The Prime Minister has said that he will appoint whomever the people of a said province would elect. He is willing to give up that power to ensure that people of the province are represented in the Senate through elections. In this way, we are moving the yardsticks forward.

The member talked a great deal about how the Senate has benefited one party, particularly the Liberal Party, in the past. I wonder if the member could speak to how the Senate as an unelected body has benefited the Liberal Party. What other methods, outside of abolishment, which is simply too difficult, does the member suggest that we adopt for Senate reform? We have the elections going with Bill S-8, and we have term limits.

This is a democracy, and I am open to hearing the member's suggestions.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

November 17th, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
See context

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the latter part of the member's comments. He concluded by stating that the Senate should be abolished. That would take a significant constitutional change. However, I think the member also recognizes that it is within the ability of this chamber, the House of Commons, to limit the Senate term, which was done in 1967 when it went from a lifetime term to a limit of age 75.

We are now looking at creating a proposal for an eight-year, non-renewable term. The people of Quebec support term limits. In fact, 71% of Quebeckers support a term limit of eight years. If the member would take this eight-year term limit in conjunction with our other Senate reform legislation, Bill S-8, Senatorial Selection Act, which empowers provinces to select senators any way they want, as long as it is in direct consultation with the citizens of that province, we could have a democratically elected Senate with eight-year terms.

It is pretty reasonable. The people of Quebec seem to support it. Will the member support it?