Thank you, Madam Chair.
I am going to present my ideas in English, however I would be glad to entertain your comments and respond to your questions in French. Thank you.
I suggest that Bill C-20, entitled the Senate Appointment Consultations Act, is giving a false impression to the regions of Canada, especially western Canada, that substantial democratic reforms are being attempted by the present government to do indirectly what cannot constitutionally be done directly under our Constitution. As many experts have pointed out, this act will entrench, enlarge, and enliven not the triple-E Senate that Bert Brown talks about, but the gross inequality of western Canada, the provinces, and indeed even Ontario in the Senate.
Let me explain further. The present distribution of seats in the Senate reflects the Canada of the 1860s. Due to the then population figures and the participation of the founding parts of Canada, the maritime provinces, Ontario, and Quebec each got 24 seats. Newfoundland, on joining Canada, got six seats. British Columbia, with a population now of four million, and rapidly growing, has six seats, while Nova Scotia, with a population of less than one million, has ten seats. Prince Edward Island, with four seats, has 21 times more power in the Senate than British Columbia, taking into account population. Alberta's growing population is also under-represented. Even Ontario may rightly feel unequal, as it has only 22% of the seats, but 40% of the population. However, this is expected of a federal government that attempts to deny Ontario's significant number of House of Commons seats under Bill C-22, which I have a lot to say about, given the opportunity and time.
So if the Prime Minister goes ahead with this major betrayal of the spirit of the triple-E Senate, or anything that vaguely resembles it, it would add to the democratic legitimacy of the inequality of western Canada. Indeed, any further attempts at constitutional change to redress the inequality could be blocked by the elected senators of the smaller provinces, in perpetuity.
In addition, the elected senators will rightly feel they have as much legitimacy as the elected members of the House of Commons to veto legislation, which again would put western Canada and Ontario at a disadvantage, not to mention the possibility of a gridlock. Bill C-20 has no provision on how to resolve an impasse between the two Houses. It is indeed astonishing that this could have been overlooked.
A disguised election for the Senate would be, in my view, an unconstitutional attempt to circumvent the express wording of section 42 of the Constitution Act, which clearly states that the general amending formula in subsection 38.(1)--namely the Parliament of Canada, plus two-thirds of the provinces, representing 50% of the population--applies to the powers of the Senate and the method of electing senators. In my view, Bill C-20 is an attempt to do indirectly what cannot be done directly without the clear instructions of section 42. It is patently unconstitutional.
I am aware that the Government of Quebec and indeed other provinces agree with this legal opinion, and that alone should give pause to the federal government, which has so enthusiastically passed the motion recognizing the Québécois as a nation. Surely that nation should be consulted and have a say over one of the Houses of Parliament that oversees legislation that could affect that nation.
It should also be noted that the House of Commons legislation gives a federal veto over constitutional amendments to Canada's regions, following the 1995 referendum in Quebec. Should not that veto power now extend to all the regions of Canada in an attempt to change the Constitution, whether directly, indirectly, or by stealth?
It should be kept in mind that the Supreme Court of Canada, in the famous patriation reference case, informed Prime Minister Trudeau that he would breach constitutional conventions if he did directly what he could do directly--namely, seeking the repatriation of the Constitution without the substantial consent of the provinces. In this case, we may have a more serious attempt to do indirectly what cannot be done directly under the constitutional conventions of this country and indeed under the Constitution Act of 1867.
There is even a question, in my view, as to whether the federal government has any jurisdiction under section 91 of the Constitution Act of 1867 to pass legislation that is intended to do indirectly what it cannot do directly. It is hardly a power under the peace, order, and good government provision to undermine the existing amending provisions of the Constitution.
Some justice department lawyers and other constitutional lawyers advising on this bill have argued that as long as the Prime Minister retains his discretion under the existing Constitution to recommend to the Governor General who shall be appointed to the Senate, an advisory federal election framework would be constitutional.
I would like to ask those experts, what would happen the very first time the Prime Minister refused to recommend an appointment of a duly elected person under the advisory election framework if all the others who had been so elected were appointed? What would the Supreme Court of Canada say about this refusal to appoint someone who has been elected? What if the court declared the whole process unconstitutional, so that those who were appointed were in limbo as to whether they could continue sitting? What would happen to the legislation that the Senate, which may have been partially elected, had passed? Would it be valid, or would it be null and void?
The enormity of these potential consequences requires, at a minimum, a broad consultation with all the partners in the Canadian federal state, and preferably a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada regarding the constitutionality of the entire framework, not only of this bill but the attempted Bill C-19, which deals with the eight-year limited term for senators, on which the Senate, in my view, rightly withheld judgment until the Supreme Court of Canada pronounced judgment.
The greatest of ironies lies in the professed reasons for introducing this bill. It refers to the need for Senate reform to reflect the democratic values of Canadians, one that equitably reflects Canada's regions, and to maintain the Senate as a chamber of independent, sober second thought. I suggest that if this bill passes, it will entrench regional inequality, create democratic gridlock, not enhance the democratic values, and even call into question the independence of the not really elected senators.
As has been pointed out by Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand, there are problems even in the political financing aspects of this bill. While party-sponsored advertising is not permitted under this bill, there is a possibility of massive spending in the transfer of goods and services, which, again, could make them beholden to deep pockets for the elections.
In addition, the House leader, Peter Van Loan, in introducing the original version of this bill, argued that it was the accumulation of the historic struggle for the rights of women, minorities, and aboriginal peoples to vote. Will they be represented under this framework if it passes? Undermining the Constitution is hardly a democratic value of Canadians. And the bill also, as I've mentioned, entrenches the inequity of Canada's regions.
Perhaps most ironically, the principle behind the consultative election for the Senate is that it reserves the right of the Prime Minister to ignore the results of the vote of all Canadians. That is hardly democratic. This may lead many, especially those in western Canada, and perhaps even in the rest of Canada, to the conclusion that the real reason for this attempt at an indirect and, in my view, unconstitutional amendment is to create an illusory perception of actually doing something on Senate reform for election purposes.
In my view, it is very dangerous to play politics with the most fundamental documents and institutions of this country.
Thank you, Madam Chair.