Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the motion of my colleague, the member for Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup.
History has shown us that, from the very beginning of the Canadian federation, the need for the Senate has been constantly questioned. At the time of union, as I was mentioning the other day, the Fathers of Confederation could not agree on whether it should be elected or appointed, because, since 1856, they had had an elected legislative council.
Therefore, the united Canada which came into being in 1840 was more advanced than the institutions we know today. We took a step backward in 1867, with an appointed Senate with responsibility for protecting the regions, minorities, and, although this was not spelled out, the general public against the abuses and excesses that might be committed from time to time by the House of Commons.
It was perhaps justifiable in 1867 to think that the House of Commons might, in the heat of the moment, take measures requiring some control by the Senate. This is no longer true today, with the advent of universal suffrage. We must remember that women in Canada did not have the vote until 1919-20. Limitations on the right to vote were abolished and any Canadian citizen aged 18 and over is now entitled to vote.
Accordingly, the reasons set out in 1867 for having another House no longer obtain. Almost all Canadians are agreed that the Senate is no longer necessary, and that it should be reformed or abolished, but almost everyone agrees that that will not happen.
I was listening to the speech by the member for Calgary Centre a little earlier, in which he gave a perspective of the Senate of Canada quite different from mine. Personally, as an elected representative from Quebec, I am not interested in having a stronger Senate, an elected Senate, in Ottawa. What would be the result? This Senate, of course, would acquire legitimacy in the eyes of the public. If the 24 senators from Quebec were elected by the public, it would strengthen the central institution. It would be one more House to reinforce the power of the federal government, to the detriment of provincial governments, and it would take up a position somewhere between the provincial first ministers and the Prime Minister of Canada. It would be just one more obstacle, not to the Reform party but to distribution, to the proper operation of the system.
Some time ago we reached the conclusion that the Senate was not reformable, since everybody wants reform but nobody wants the same reform. The Reform members want one that is elected, equal and effective, suggesting six to ten senators per province, regardless of population, in a Senate that would have the same powers as the House of Commons and be elected by universal suffrage.
Liberal members, or rather the Liberal Party, stated in the red book that the Senate would merely be elected, so already there is a divergence between the two. And what do we want? Basically, we are here to promote Quebec sovereignty. We are therefore not fighting to reinforce federal institutions, but to reform this institution, theoretically, in a way which might be desirable. If indeed we were here to reform federal institutions that might be possible, but that is not what we are here for. As well, any reinforcement of federal powers will take away from the powers of the provinces, Quebec in particular.
Reform members have chosen to influence Ottawa by reforming institutions. They said: "If the provinces were properly represented in an equal, elected and efficient Senate, that would be one way for them to exercise more power". We take a different approach, knowing that we will never have a majority in this country, but that we will have a majority in our own space, which is: "Let us withdraw from the Canadian federation". It will probably be easier for Quebec to withdraw from the Canadian federation than it will be to reform the Senate.
So I have a hard time with the amendment by the member for Vegreville, who proposes to abolish the Senate in its present form. In principle, I could say yes, knowing nothing would come of it.
Earlier, the member for Vaudreuil said, getting back to the relevance of the debate, in his last two sentences, that an editorial had said the unanimity rule was required. It has not often been raised in the context of amending the Constitution to permit the abolition of the Senate.
In my opinion, section 38 of the Constitution Act, 1982, the seven and fifty rule, would normally apply with, in my opinion, the mandatory approval of Quebec, since sections 23 et sequentes of the British North America Act of 1867 contain provisions on
senators with respect to Quebec specifically. I think Quebec should be one of the parties assenting to the abolition of the Senate.
However, speeches in election campaigns and here in the House and perhaps the inability to do anything have prevented anyone from taking the initiative. Fortunately, the member for Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup has taken this initiative, which will at least shed some light on things, following the latest events. Yesterday, for example, the bill on the Pearson airport was defeated by a House that is not accountable to anyone for its actions. Before that, there was Bill C-69 on electoral boundaries. A bill of this elected assembly which had been developed in committee for one of the first times in the history of Canada's Parliament was defeated by the Senate. It does tend to stop you in your tracks when people who have not been elected come and tell you how to get elected. Some things just do not work.
My colleague, the member for Beauce, said the other day that, in his riding, three voters out of four favoured abolishing the Senate. In my riding, the proportion is probably slightly higher.
In 1978, I was 30 years old and did not even have $4,000 worth of belongings-had I, though, and it does not take long to accumulate if you know you are headed for the Senate, you can get a loan-but had Prime Minister Trudeau been in my riding and said to me: "My fine young man, you would be an asset to the Liberal Party of Canada, would you be interested in being a senator in Canada's Parliament?", I might have said yes at the time. I would have been here for 45 years, because the Prime Minister liked my smile or enjoyed a brief conversation. There are no selection criteria, other than pleasing the prince of the moment.
I prefer the more difficult, demanding and valid rule of going before the supreme court of the electorate every four or five years as we do. This is what makes you and me and the members of this House, wherever they sit, responsible for our actions. This is what we have in common.
It is not just because our name appears on the ballot every four or five years, but it is generally because people reach us in the riding, because we see them. The calls come in, the letters come in and we are in constant contact with our electors, who judge us. However, 98 per cent if not 99 per cent of the time our electors are unable to identify the senator representing them.
So when it comes time to vote, I will see whether I will support the motion of the member for Vegreville, that is, the amendment. As for the motion by the member for Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup, I will certainly support it, particularly because the hon. member is currently circulating a petition addressed to the House of Commons in most ridings in Quebec seeking the abolition of the Senate.
I would suggest that voters lucky enough to be represented by a member of the Bloc Quebecois sign this petition. Those who are not, whose member is from another party, should ask their member or another one to have it sent to them. We would be happy to send it. It will be no easy job abolishing the Senate, but we have always said that the first step in such an undertaking is particularly important.
On this point, Mr. Speaker, I wish you a fine and restful summer. You look tired; come back refreshed in the fall.