Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on the motion put forward by my hon. colleague for Comox-Alberni. The motion before us today, which calls for control-I will not say greater control, just control-to be exercised over how public money is spent at the Senate, is a timely topic.
In fact, the Senate of Canada, as we have known it since 1867 and whose functions have changed very little since, but I will come back to this later, has already become something of an anachronism in a democratic society such as ours. For all intents and purposes, there is no longer any institution similar to the Canadian Senate in the western world. The House of Lords has seen its powers drastically reduced by the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949; today, all it has left is protocolar powers, as it only has a suspensive veto.
We are in a situation where, in all matters except constitutional matters, the Canadian Senate has powers identical to those of the House of Commons. Several books has been written about the rights and privileges of the Canadian Senate, and the powers in question are enormous. The only difference between the Senate and the House of Commons, aside from the 180-day constitutional suspensive veto acquired in 1982, is the fact that money bills cannot originate from the Senate, but they still have to be approved by the upper House, which has the same powers as this House, at least in theory, in terms of legislation.
The members of the other place are appointed and therefore are not accountable. On the other hand, every five years, if not more frequently, all of us members of the House of Commons must account to our voters for our management of public funds and our individual budgets. People can ask us: "What did you do with the money you collected in taxes?" While they have, in law, the same powers as us as far as managing public funds and passing legislation are concerned, the members of the other place are not accountable.
There is a serious anomaly here, and our party has always been opposed to this way of doing things. A motion that will be a votable item will even be debated in this House, on Monday. I am referring to the motion of the hon. member for Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup, asking this House to support the principle of abolishing the Senate in its present form.
For the sake of history, let me quote a text prepared by the late Jean-Charles Bonenfant, a librarian for the Quebec legislature and an emeritus professor at Laval University's faculty of law, where I had the pleasure of being one of his students during a few years. This was written in the sixties, but his opinion about the Senate never changed much throughout his career. It is a well known fact that Mr. Bonenfant turned down several offers to sit in the Canadian Senate, because of what he thought of that august place.
I will read excerpts from an article published by professor Jean-Charles Bonenfant from Laval University. He wrote the following, and I basically agree with his views: "Rightly or wrongly, the Canadian Senate is the legislative body that seems to have the worst reputation in the whole world".
In 1942, journalist Grattan O'Leary wrote that the position of senator was not a job and that the Senate was not a place where one was supposed to work. Mr. O'Leary became a senator in 1962.
In 1961, Jean-Luc Pepin, who became the member of Parliament for Drummond and a cabinet member, passed a number of judgments on the Senate. He described it as "a political hospice, a sepulchre, the pound of flesh demanded by the parties, the most exclusive retirement club in the world, the fifth wheel of govern-
ment, the hollow echo of an optimistic past, the only sure weakness in the Constitution Act, 1867, a divorce mill, a tourist attraction, and the list goes on".
Finally, Marcel Faribault and Robert Fowler, imagining a new Constitution with a revamped Senate, in their book Dix pour un , wrote: ``Whether you judge it by its achievements or its reputation, the Canadian Senate has not been a particularly auspicious institution''. That is putting it mildly.
And yet, in a federation such as ours, the Upper House could have played a very important role. Representation in the Lower House is usually determined on the basis of population. Representation in the Upper House attempts to create a certain equality between the constituent parties.
This is why each of the fifty states in the United States, regardless of its size or population, has two senators representing it in the Senate.
In Australia, each of the six states sends 10 senators to the Senate, and in Switzerland the 46 members of the Council of States are divided equally among the 23 cantons.
The Canadian Senate has never played the true role of an Upper House in a federation type country. From the beginning, its composition has been along regional rather than provincial lines. In 1867, membership was 72: 24 for Ontario, 24 for Quebec, 24 for the maritimes, that is Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, which, when Prince Edward Island joined, had to give up 4 seats.
As new provinces appeared, the Senate added new members, finally settling, in 1915, at four divisions of 24 members. Quebec and Ontario remained unchanged; the maritimes division had 10 senators for New Brunswick, 10 for Nova Scotia, and 4 for Prince Edward Island; and the western division had 6 senators for each of the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
These 96 senators were joined, in 1949, by the six senators from Newfoundland, and later by 2 senators for the territories, raising the maximum to 104.
Under the administration that was in place during the 33rd and 34th Parliaments, a Conservative administration, we saw the hitherto unused clauses of the Constitution allowing the number of senators to be raised to a maximum of 110 or 112 put into application in order to push through the GST legislation.
Senators are appointed by the Governor General, and thus to all intents and purposes by the government, the Prime Minister even if he controls his government properly. Although a few examples of appointments outside political considerations can be found, we can state that one of the primary prerequisites for a senator is membership in the party in power.
The British North America Act requires certain qualities of senators, qualities in the sense of eligibility requirements. They must possess $4,000 in real and personal property, a quite exceptional amount in 1987. The Senate was therefore reserved for a quite specific category of person. Nowadays, it is quite easy to qualify. You can take your MasterCard or Visa, get a cash advance, and buy some property quite quickly, which was not the case in 1867.
In Quebec, theoretically, the senators represent 24 senatorial divisions. These correspond to the 24 divisions of the legislative council elected between 1856 and 1867. The territorial divisions act gives the divisions represented by senators. It is worth pointing out that, according to my personal research, not one Quebec senator has a division office.
One might wonder what is the point of dividing Quebec up into senatorial divisions if the people serviced, if I may use that expression, cannot track down their senators.
Moreover, if you carry out a survey of no scientific value whatsoever, asking passers-by to name their senator, it is rare to find anybody who can do so. This is far different from the situation with their MP. Whether they like the person representing them in the House of Commons or not, they are generally able to identify that person and to say: "So and so is my representative in the House of Commons and I will vote (or not vote) for him or her in the next election". Generally, members of the House of Commons are recognized, while the members of the other House do not enjoy the same high profile. This does not mean that there are not some fine people there. It is not my aim to judge the members of the other House, but rather the institution, which, as I said earlier, is completely outmoded.
We must remember that, until 1965, senators were appointed for life, and a number admirably benefited from the privilege. There was the Hon. David Wark, from Fredericton, for example, who was appointed in 1867, at the time of Confederation, and died in 1905 at the age of 102. The Hon. Georges Dessaules of Saint-Hyacinthe died in 1907 at the age of 103.
Under Bill C-98 introduced on April 27, 1965 by Prime Minister Pearson, which was passed by both Houses, a senator appointed after the bill became law would remain in the position until he reached the age of 75.
I have always wondered whether the Governor General could reappoint someone to the Senate, who had retired at the mandatory retirement age of 75, once they turned 76, since the 1965 legislation contains no such prohibition. Perhaps we might see people like Senator Wark or Senator Dessaules come back to sit in the Senate if such an interpretation were possible. A senator can always resign,
of course, and risks losing his seat in the Senate if he no longer fulfils the requisites of his appointment.
As with what happens in an elite club, the Constitution provides that the decision rests with the Senate in the case of a vacancy in the Senate or on the matter of a senator's ability to sit there.
This is sort of the way it was in the United Kingdom in the 1940s. At that time, the House of Lords had the power to judge any of its members accused of a crime. That practice continues today here, even though it was abolished nearly 50 years ago in the United Kingdom.
Yesterday, my hon. colleague from Vancouver Quadra made a brilliant speech before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on the powers of upper houses in British type parliaments. My hon. colleagues should refer to the proceedings of this committee.
I can therefore say that the Senate is an upper chamber similar to the British House of Lords, on which the Fathers of Confederation modeled the Senate to some extent when they established it. But contrary to popular belief, its powers are not as limited as those of the British Upper Chamber following the Asquith Bill of 1911. This first Parliament Act to be passed was complemented by the 1949 Labour bill. These two bills considerably reduced the powers of the House of Lords, which is now left with only a suspensive veto.
On the other hand, the Canadian Senate has all the powers of the House of Commons except, as I mentioned earlier, that it cannot introduce a bill providing for a tax or an expenditure.
In 1918, the subject of Senate powers was thoroughly examined by two great Canadian legal scholars: Aimé Geoffrion and Eugène Lafleur. They submitted a conclusive and momentous opinion in writing supporting the Senate's omnipotence, which the Lower House, the House of Commons, still does not recognize, particularly as regards financial matters.
Note that, since 1982, the powers of the Senate regarding constitutional amendments were slightly curtailed, as this House now has only an 180-day suspensive veto, as I indicated earlier.
It is strange, to say the least, for a House where appointed members sit until they turn 75 not to have any public accounting procedure and to hide behind its privileges and some pretty outdated traditions to justify itself.
I think that, in requesting that representatives of the Senate appear before the Standing Committee of Government Operations to review annual expenditures of approximately $40 million, the committee was acting not only in good faith, but also in response to the public's wish to know how their money is being spent. To try to see how the money is spent is, of course, a first step.
In every riding I travelled to, but I will focus on my own riding, the majority of people do not see the use of an upper house like the one we have at present. It should be either abolished or reformed. In the present circumstances, as desirable as it may be to everybody, a reform is clearly not possible.
Seventy years ago, and even at the Charlottetown conference and the Quebec conference, such a reform was discussed before the Senate was even established. Some advocated an elected Senate, based on the model of the united Canada legislative council, while others wanted an appointed house. The decision to establish the Senate in 1867 was not a unanimous one. Some wanted to reform this institution before it was even set up, which was definitely a bad start. They never could reform it. Given the constitutional yoke created by the 1982 amending formula, we can wonder whether such a reform will ever take place.
All the parties in this House have taken a stand regarding the Senate. The Prime Minister and member for Saint-Maurice clearly indicated that he is in favour of having an elected upper house. His position is clear. As for the Reform Party, it is in favour of a triple E Senate, even though some Es are disappearing. A Senate that is equal, effective-there is also another E-oh yes, a Senate that is elected, equal and effective.
Some E's are disappearing right now, including the E for equal, because we realized it did not really make sense to have the same number of senators representing a small province and a larger one such as Quebec or Ontario.
As for us, we say that, in its present form, the Senate must be abolished. If it must be brought back to life to reflect a different Canada, then it should have another structure. It is unacceptable to keep a non-elected house with such large powers. If it were an advisory body, and if we could afford it, it might be helpful, but it is no longer acceptable, in 1996, to have a house with powers equal to those of the House of Commons.
This is why the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of a single house system of government whose members are elected by the population as a whole. This is an issue that we should tackle at the earliest opportunity.