Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House today to defend the interests of Canadian and Quebec taxpayers, by demanding that votes for the Senate's expenditures be cancelled.
I believe that this whole debate on the Senate is highlighting two aspects of Canadian federalism; it proves that it is not only inefficient, but also unable to renew itself to meet the challenges of the 21st century. As we all remember, on February 22 last, the Liberal government tabled its budget.
We must remember that this budget made significant cuts affecting the unemployed and senior citizens. Moreover, it increased the tax base for the middle class. Therefore, this budget hit the unemployed, senior citizens and the middle class.
When reviewing allocations in this same budget, one notices that close to $27 million are ear-marked for Senate expenditures. No cuts there. This very brief analysis of the latest budget tells a lot about the Liberal government's real priorities, and even more about the operation of this bankrupt Canadian federation.
We do not want to play party politics, because we know full well that the previous government would have done just the same, and that the next one will do likewise. As we just saw, it is now simpler for the government of this country, regardless of the party in office, to hit the poor, those who are already reeling from the recession, than to ask its very rich friends, the senators, to do their share.
A country where it is easier to let the deficit grow, signing away future generations' life, where the only cuts are made on the backs of the needy, where government patronage appointees do not reduce their extravagant lifestyles while the public is stuck in a very hard recession, is a very sick country. It could even be terminally ill.
All in all, when we add indirect spending inherent in its operation, this Senate packed with the government's non-elected and non-representative friends, spends more than $54 million dollars over some forty sitting days a year, about twelve hours a month. Moreover, the absentee rate of some senators is around 66 per cent. All this is highly significant.
Those nasty Quebec separatists are not the only ones asking that this House made up of non-elected members be eliminated. Somebody called Claude Ryan-maybe some of my colleagues have heard about him-proposed in 1980, in his beige paper, the elimination of the Upper House. That is why during the 1980 referendum debate in Quebec, federalists were proposing the total elimination of the Senate.
A few months shy of another important referendum, what do federalists suggest to Quebecers? The status quo. In other words, they want taxpayers to go on paying more than a million dollars a day to keep a House that represents no one.
Some Reform Party members could argue that, contrary to their unimaginative Liberal colleagues, they have a suggestion for Quebecers: the well-known triple-E Senate.
This brings me to the second part of my speech in which I intend to demonstrate once again that Canadian federalism does not work and never will.
The proposal for a Triple E Senate reflects a very poor understanding, not only of Quebec but of the history of Canada and of the purpose of our institutions. I would urge the Reform Party to examine the reasons and discussions that led to the adoption of the Constitution Act, 1867. At the time, francophones and anglophones decided to unite in a confederation that recognized the equality of its two founding peoples. It took some vigorous negotiating before these two founding peoples managed to agree on their choice of political institutions for this country.
A constitutional expert, whom I will not name but who is also a member of the Senate, recalled, and I quote: "Sir George-Étienne Cartier wanted parity between Quebec and Ontario for the Senate and he got it, in other words, 24 senators for each province".
We signed acts of union with a partner, English Canada, based on two houses, one with proportional representation and one with equal representation for Upper and Lower Canada. Over the years, as new English-speaking provinces were added and of course new senators for each province, Quebec's political clout in the Senate gradually diminished, so that today, Quebec is under-represented in the Senate in terms of its demographics, with only 23 per cent of the members in that house.
As though this were not enough, our English Canadian partner now wants to marginalize us even further and consider us as only one of ten partners. I may recall that in 1867, the Fathers of Confederation felt that the presence of the Senate was also required to restrain the democratic excesses of members elected by universal suffrage.
Perhaps the Liberal government still thinks it is necessary to restrain the democratic excesses of elected members. However, it should realize that times have changed and that Canadian and Quebec public opinion has changed as well.
To sovereigntists from Quebec, English Canada's desire to make the Senate more effective, elected and equal is not a problem. However, there is no way we would agree to be included in this reform.
We will not let the other provinces further diminish Quebec's political clout within our federal institutions. On behalf of all Quebecers, we say no, no forever to this kind of reform. Senate reform will happen without Quebec, or not at all. If the Reform Party or the other supporters of a Triple E Senate truly wants to provide English Canada with a democratic legislative system, one that is less cumbersome and more efficient, then they should begin by ensuring a victory for the sovereigntist forces in the next Quebec referendum.
Need I remind members that to reform the Upper House, the constitutional debate would have to be reopened? Pursuant to section 42 of the Constitution Act, the consent of the federal government and of seven provinces representing more than 50 per cent of the population is required in order to alter the powers of the Senate or the way in which senators are appointed.
After the recent failures of the Meech and Charlottetown agreements, to name only two, I think that Canadian federalism has proven itself to be inflexible and incapable of adapting to new realities.
The members of this House who are concerned about the state of Canada's public finances must support the Bloc's motion. Canada can ill-afford from an economic standpoint the luxury of having a Senate. It is no longer dynamic enough or flexible enough to carry out in-depth reform. Until such time as they acquire institutions which correspond to the realities of Canada and Quebec, the members across the way sometimes enjoy pointing out that the official opposition is not truly representative of Canada as a whole.
In conclusion, I would simply like to recall the findings of the latest Gallup public opinion poll which asked how Canadians and Quebecers felt about the Senate. On July 22, 1993, Gallup found that for the first time ever since it started asking this question, that is since 1944, a majority of Canadians said they were in favour of abolishing the Senate. Fifty-four per cent favoured abolishing the Senate, as the Bloc advocates, while 37 per cent said it should be reformed, the option favoured by the Reform Party, and 4 per cent preferred the status quo, the option being defended today by the Liberals.
The results in Quebec are even more revealing. Sixty-eight per cent said they were in favour of abolishing the Upper House, while 20 per cent would prefer to see the Senate reformed and 4 per cent prefer the status quo.
The numbers speak for themselves. All that remains for the government to do is to heed the will of Canadians and Quebecers and vote in favour of the Bloc Quebecois' motion.