Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in this debate on the accountability of the Senate of Canada.
I first want to congratulate my colleagues who have spoken before me on this subject, especially the member for Comox-Alberni from my home province of British Columbia. I wish to associate myself with his comments and the fact that the Senate Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration has refused to send a representative to justify Senate expenditures. Rather, the other House chooses to disregard modern democratic principles of accountability.
My colleague's motion actually reads:
Given that the Senate has failed to respond to a message from the House requesting that a representative of the Senate Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration appear before the Standing Committee on Government Operations to account for $40,000,000 of taxpayers' money, this House express its dissatisfaction with the Senate for disregarding modern democratic principles of accountability and, as a consequence, notice is hereby given of the opposition to Vote 1 under Parliament in the Main Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 1997.
As my colleague has explained, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations has made such a request and we have only had the Senate's refusal to appear as a response. A year ago I was Senate critic for the Reform Party. I wish I could say the Senate is changing or showing signs of change, but the same arrogance is still there. The Senate does not feel it is accountable to Canadians. This is unacceptable to my colleagues, it is unacceptable to me and it is unacceptable to Canadians.
There is enough disillusionment in this country with accountable elected politicians. Surely the members of the Senate of Canada do not need to add to it by arbitrarily increasing their own budget.
The question today is: Should the Senate be accountable to the Canadian taxpayers for the $40 million plus in taxpayer dollars that it wants to spend? The Canadian people can do nothing about making senators accountable if the government's will is not there. The only answer is an elected Senate.
We as Canadians have watched many parts of the world move toward more democratic forms of government. Will any of us ever forget our feelings of disbelief followed by joy when the Berlin wall was destroyed? It opened the eastern bloc to the fresh spring
breezes of democracy. Right now the media is full of complete reports of the democratic election for the president in Russia. The people of the former Soviet Union can now look forward to electing their political leaders and also holding them accountable.
Why then do we in Canada have to put up with an unelected second chamber of our central Parliament? The answer is that if we had a government that had the political will to make the Senate elected and accountable, then it would happen.
As the former Reform critic of the Senate I introduced a motion for a triple E Senate. It was selected by the House committee to be debated for one hour. The motion stated: "That in the opinion of this House, representation in the Senate should be equal from each province, elected by the people and have sufficient power to make it effective in order to better represent the people of the less populous provinces". Advocating a triple E Senate has been part of the platform of the Reform Party of Canada virtually from its inception.
As past Senate critic I had the opportunity to research the Senate. Senate reform, for the Reform Party and for all of us from the less populous provinces, addresses a feeling of alienation from central Canada and the central government which has grown through the last two decades. We believe that equality of representation of provinces in the second chamber of Canada's central Parliament would give the people of the less populous provinces real clout over the policy agenda of the federal government.
This feeling of alienation stems from the reality that governments will respond positively to pressure exerted by the provinces or the regions that contain the largest portion of our population. We know where that is: in Ontario and Quebec. Sometimes these policy responses are at the expense of the desires of the smaller provinces.
The Senate was designed to perform two main functions. It is a safety check, the review of legislation emanating from the Lower House. It must also provide a forum wherein the regions would have a voice in the central Parliament's law making process. It was intended to provide an institutional voice to small governments and perhaps to minority groups against the popular majority of the lower House. One could say that it was designed to act as a political bridge between the component parts of the federation and the central government.
The work of the Senate as presently constituted in the scrutiny of legislation has been praised by most political commentators. Senate committees have carried out useful investigative studies over the years which have added new information to policy development.
Yet criticism has been levelled against senators who have stayed in the post regardless of the fact that they may show up only once a year, some less than that. An elected Senate would get rid of this practice. This criticism stems from the fact that senators used to be in for life. Also because of undeserving patronage appointments, Canadians have lost respect for the Senate, so much so that it has resulted in uncomplimentary terms of reference such as the old boys club.
The main criticism of the role played by the Senate in our country concentrates on the inability of the institution to represent the regions. This has led to great frustration predominantly in western Canada. There is a definite perception that because of sheer numbers central Canada sets and controls the public policy agenda.
Following this argument is the feeling that because they are not elected, Senators have no legitimacy to act. Therefore even if senators decided to start voting in regional or provincial blocks, they would not have the ultimate legitimacy to do so since they are not elected by the people of Canada. This is a strong reason for an elected Senate.
Bear in mind as well that our present Senate's powers are virtually equal to those of the House of Commons except that while it can initiate legislation, except money bills, it cannot hold up constitutional amendments for longer than 180 days. With these two exceptions, it is important to note that it can defeat, amend or indeed stall all legislation coming from the House of Commons. However, because of its lack of legitimacy its exercise of these powers is constantly subject to criticism. Therefore, this lack of equality of representation and legitimacy to act to either defend or promote the interests of the smaller provinces has given great impetus to the movement of Senate reform.
While the impetus to a triple E Senate seems to have grown out of actions by the previous Liberal government to implement the national energy program, there have been other proposals for reform. In fact, I have a Canadian Press release which speaks of the idea for an elected Senate. It is dated July 1992, before many of us were in this House. The Canadian Press release states:
At least 19 senators are interested in running for a seat in an elected Senate, a survey of the upper House shows. But 34 of the existing 99 appointed senators told the Canadian Press they would not run if an election were called under the current plan for a revamped Senate-.But even if the plan is ratified by the federal government and the provinces, the first Senate election is not expected before 1997.
Most of us are aware that we have already had an elected senator in Stan Waters from Alberta. So this prophesy did not hold true.
Quebec Tory Gerald Beaudoin, who was co-chairman of a Commons-Senate committee on constitutional reform, was initially critical of the Senate proposal,
saying it would mark an unacceptable loss of power for Quebec. But now he thinks the proposed Senate will be interesting and he will probably be a candidate.
Other prominent Senators interested in running include: Conservative Pat Carney of B.C., a former Tory cabinet minister, and Liberals Joyce Fairbairn of Alberta, and Michael Kirby, Jerry Grafstein and Royce Frith, all of Ontario. Gil Molgat a Liberal from Manitoba says he is interested but wants more details on the proposed Senate. "Our system needs checks and balances and that is what an elected Senate would provide", he said.
Even at that time it was recognized that the Senate is not accountable.
Then there is Nova Scotia's John Macdonald, one of two lifetime appointees left in the Senate. At age 86 he said he is ready to take on all comers. "I would be prepared. I like being a Senator. I have been there a long time. I would like to complete it".
It is not an unacceptable position for some senators to be elected. Obviously, the idea has been discussed at length. In actual fact, the idea of an elected Senate attained prominence in 1981 with the publication by the Canada West Foundation of "Regional Representation: The Canadian Partnership". It was based on work done by Dr. David Elton of the foundation and Mr. Burt Brown of Alberta. In 1982 Senator Duff Roblin, former Premier of Manitoba, proposed that senators be elected on a basis similar to that in Australia.
The first federal parliamentary report to espouse an elected Senate was written by the Special Joint Committee on Senate Reform and released in 1983. It is noteworthy that the Senate co-chair of the committee is now the Speaker of the Senate, Senator Gil Molgat of Manitoba. More recently the Meech Lake accord in 1987 proposed a hybrid type of appointment procedure for Senate vacancies. In 1992 we are all aware that the Charlottetown accord proposed an elected Senator.
I remember how this was interpreted in British Columbia by our present NDP government. As a matter of fact it was the B.C. provincial government's interpretation of proposals for Senate change in the recent Charlottetown accord that helped to precipitate my entry into politics. At that time there was some suggestion that the provincial government would control the format of how the elections by the people would proceed. In B.C. statements were made by elected government MLAs and the premier that we would have equal men and women and that the government would look after the candidate selection for Senate seats. Hardly democratic.
The first statement flies in the face of Canadian tradition. Canadians have long been committed to a system of merit for job applications, that is, those who can do the job best should do it. Any potential candidates for a Senate position must come from all spectrums of the province, not from government's patronage lists.
We in the House know that during the 1980s a unique event in the history of the Senate occurred in Alberta. Alberta enacted legislation to enable persons to stand for election on a province-wide basis to contest a vacant Senate seat. The election was held and Reform Party member Stan Waters topped the polls. He was subsequently summoned to the Senate by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. Unfortunately we lost Stan Waters before he had the opportunity to show Canadians just how valuable an accountable senator could be.
However, the election of Senator Stan Waters is a valuable precedent. Unfortunately it was not followed with later Senate appointments from Alberta. The recent Senate appointment of Senator Jean Forest is a travesty against the recent democratic election process in Alberta which elected Stan Waters.
Very briefly, that is the history of how we got to where we are now. One would conclude that the Reform Party of Canada definitely reflects the will of Canadians with its policy of an elected triple E Senate. However, until we have a government that believes in democracy, rather than rewarding old party faithfuls, we will have no change in the Senate.
It is not just in our dealings with the other place. Democracy seems to be a rare commodity with the government in committees as well. When the members of the House give unanimous consent at second reading to a private member's bill and refer it to a committee, under this government, government members of the committee can disregard all expert testimony by witnesses; witnesses who were brought in by the committee and paid for by the Canadian taxpayer. Government members of the committee can vote down the bill without giving any reason for doing so. Even judges must give reasons for their judgments.
Do we assume that these elected members of the committee are to be held in higher esteem than judges? Are they not accountable to the members of the House for the business of the House? They can go one step further than voting down a bill. They can vote down returning a private member's bill to the House.
How can this be in a democratic country? How can 7, 8 or 9 government members tell 295 elected members that a bill which unanimously passed second reading can disappear? Democracy? I think not.
I am told that a committee is a master of its own fate. That is an interesting phrase. Is it an excuse wherein committee members can act with arrogance, which is so typical of this government which promises one thing on election day, yet does quite the opposite in practice? They promised open, honest government. Shame. De-
mocracy? Certainly not. I forget, as Mark Antony was heard to say "that these are all honourable men. So were they all honourable men".
I believe the government is as arrogant as members of the other House. The one reality, however, is that this small group of elected MPs, who arrogantly made fun of the very real grief and pain suffered by our senior citizens who, for no legitimate reason, no longer are able to see their grandchildren, is that they will be held accountable for their actions by the Canadian electorate. That time is coming soon.
This government is a master of deceit. In the preamble of Bill C-33 it preached protection of the family. Then it gave special rights to special interest groups and in the same breath destroyed the very foundation of our families, our grandparents, the Canadian citizens who gave us all our present social programs through their many years of hard work and contributed tax dollars.
Is it possible that the Prime Minister can change the present system of appointment and patronage in the Senate? It is a simple matter for the Prime Minister, in conjunction with the government of a province where there is a vacancy, to hold an election. It was done in Alberta quite successfully, as we have heard, resulting in the election of the late Stan Waters.
We recently received direct support from the premier of Alberta to hold an election to fill Alberta's vacant Senate seat. However, the government has convinced itself that it can ignore the wishes of the people and still remain popular. It might be successful for a while, but in the long term ignoring the wishes of Canadians is a fateful political game.
It may take 10 years to balance the budget, 10 years to lower taxes and 10 years to reform the Canada pension plan, but with the Liberals in power it only takes 10 minutes to reward friends with Senate appointments.
In this era in which democracy is sweeping eastern Europe it is shameful that the government continues to treat Canadians with such disrespect. When we are trying as desperately as we can to restore the faith of Canadians in our public institutions, how can we sit by and allow members of an appointed body to ignore their duty to be accountable?
We are in a time of fiscal restraint. All Canadians are being asked to bear some of the burden of reducing the deficit so we may get to a balanced budget. All Canadians seem willing to accept part of the burden, except of course those in the Senate. It seems that Senators are immune from deficit reduction, immune from accountability and immune from the reactions of the people of Canada. The more they defy democracy, the more they make the case for Senate reform.
I am proud to be a member of the Reform Party of Canada. It is the only political party that believes in true Senate reform, the triple E Senate, a Senate which is characterized by equality, effectiveness and above all elected by the people of Canada.
It is a fundamental belief of members of the Reform Party that all Canadians are equal before the law. All Canadians are equal and all Canadian provinces are equal. The Senate's membership should reflect this equality. Let the House of Commons reflect the population differences in Canada's provinces but let the second chamber reflect equality and accountability.
When the Senate is considering legislation let it be said that no one province is above or better than another. The second chamber visualized by Reform would have sufficient power to ensure it is effective. At present the Senate has powers virtually equal to that of the House of Commons. Except for the introduction of money bills and the possible veto the Senate holds over constitutional changes, its powers equal those of the House of Commons. However, its powers are rarely exercised. But when it is elected I would hope that with legitimacy would come the exercise of power.
Therefore, in order to make Senate reform meaningful the result must be a Senate with real significant powers that can be exercised should the government fail to take into consideration the wishes of those in Canada's less populous provinces. How many times have we seen the government fail to heed the wishes of Canadians?
In order for Senate reform to be successful, the end product must be elected senators. The second chamber must become a truly democratic chamber. The people of Canada must have a direct say in who will represent them in the Senate.
As I said at the outset, this could be done now. In fact my colleagues and I are appalled that it has not been done. Perhaps if the Prime Minister had moved in this direction we would not be dealing with a situation where the Senate is defying the House of Commons on budgetary matters.
I deplore the actions of the Senate and I urge all members of the House to support the motion before us today. I would like to echo the question that was asked by my colleague. What is the Liberal position on our motion? Should the members of the government be held accountable to Canadians for spending taxpayers' dollars?
Following that line, should the Senate be accountable to the Canadian taxpayer for the $40 million plus of the taxpayers' money it is going to spend? The reality is that this is a part of the federal government's plan to spend the taxpayers' money which is not accountable. From what I have heard from the few people speaking on the opposite side of the House today, there is nothing to suggest that they intend answering our question and dealing in a satisfacto-
ry way with the wishes of all Canadians on spending money which we do not yet know what it is for.
I would ask for the unanimous consent of the House that this motion be made votable.