Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-7. I will begin by talking about the Senate and where it came from.
The Senate was established by the provinces. As everybody knows, Canada is a federation. Before Confederation, some individual provinces were working together, such as in the legislative Parliament of Canada, and Ontario and Quebec were in a confederation with the Atlantic provinces.
The origin of the Senate comes from Confederation. The provinces got together and decided they would have an elected House of Commons where most of the power would reside and then they would have a second body modelled after legislatures in other countries in which the members would be drawn from a class of people with a different viewpoint and it would be independent of the elected House of Commons. This legislature was established by the provinces when they got together to form the confederation that is Canada today. The existence and role of the Senate, the way it is composed and the way that senators are chosen is embedded in our Constitution.
The bill proposes to change how senators are chosen and, because that is a substantial change, I believe the only way to change how senators are chosen would be to amend the Constitution, which requires much more than an act of the House of Commons. In fact, it requires the participation of the provinces. It would require seven provinces with at least 50% of the population of Canada. It is my belief that the provinces should be involved in something that they helped set up in the first place.
We have a bicameral system, the House of Commons and the Senate, where the two bodies are supposed to be somewhat independent of each other. One should not be under the control of the other. They are supposed to think independently and have an independent point of view. Therefore, it should not be possible for one body to decide how the members of the other body are chosen. This is sort of a moral reason that we should not be acting unilaterally here in Ottawa to change how senators are chosen. We really should be consulting with the provinces and amending the Constitution.
If the government thinks that what it is doing makes sense from a constitutional point of view and really believes it is the right thing to do, I would challenge the government to go to the Supreme Court, as we have done with other questions, such as the lead up to the Clarity Act. The government should ask the Supreme Court if it thinks, in light of the Constitution, that this is a legal thing to do. That would probably save time, money and effort in the future when one or more of the provinces decides to challenge the act, if the bill is passed.
I would like to focus my remarks today on what I view as a contradiction and I will try to explain what the contradiction is.
The bill asks the provinces and territories to provide the Governor General with the names of people who could become senators. It is expected, by this legislation, that the provinces and territories would hold some form of election in order for the people of that province to choose a list of potential senators. It is a little bit strange because the legislation would not provide funding to the provinces to run these elections to choose a senator who will work in Ottawa. It is kind of strange that the federal government would not provide funding for these elections for which it is calling.
Because the legislation says that the provinces and territories would simply be nominating people, as a result of an election or by other means, somehow that is not a substantial change in how we choose senators. Somehow, because these recommendations are not binding on the Governor General or the Prime Minister, in effect, this is not a substantial enough change to trigger the requirement of the federal government to consult with the provinces before proceeding with this kind of change.
The contradiction is that if we are to take these elections seriously, if we really think we will be changing the Senate so that it becomes elected, which is one of the Es of the triple-E Senate that many members of the Conservative side, the reform side of the House, have spoken to in the past, we need to believe that these elections would have some force and that the Prime Minister would be bound in some way. If not legally, then in a moral sense, the Prime Minister would be bound to accept the results of these Senate elections.
If we are to take seriously the idea of having an elected Senate and that Bill C-7 would implement an elected Senate, then we cannot take seriously the argument that the bill is not a substantial change to how senators are elected and that somehow we do not need to consult the provinces. That is the essential contradiction.
Related to that there is another contradiction. A lot of people who have talked about Senate reform want the Senate to be more representative of the people of Canada. That is one of the motivations behind having an elected Senate. I think Senate reform is a good thing because, from what I have seen in my less than one year working here in Ottawa, senators represent a great source of experience and wisdom which would be too valuable to simply throw away, as some of my hon. colleagues would like to do by abolishing the Senate. The Senate is a very valuable source of advice and experience and sober second thought makes sense.
However, it has always been the case that the Senate, not being elected, has deferred to the elected House of Commons whenever there was a conflict. In the past, because the unelected Senate always deferred to the elected House of Commons, it was not such a big deal if, because of an historical artifact, certain provinces had a proportionally higher representation in the Senate than other provinces.
If we were to pass this bill and have an elected Senate, the Senate would have stronger powers. It would have a mandate from the people to sometimes challenge the House of Commons. It would have more power, which would be given to it by hon. members who want to reform the Senate, and there are such members on both sides of the House. At the same time as the Senate would be reformed in this way, we would need to face the fact that some western provinces, in particular Alberta and British Columbia, would be underrepresented. The other contradiction is that hon. members who want to reform the Senate would be handicapping the ability of Alberta and British Columbia to be properly represented in Ottawa.