That, in the opinion of this House, the government should abolish the Senate.
Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to open House proceedings this morning on the motion in which I call on the government to abolish the Senate.
First of all, I would like to thank all members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for allowing this motion to be put to a vote, because I think it is important for the House to have an opportunity to deal with this significant matter.
Why do I want the Senate to be abolished? The reason I moved this motion is that I realized that, throughout Quebec in particular, the Senate symbolizes in a way the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of Parliament. A case in point, which is a caricature because it does not concern all the senators, is when we saw some of them doze off on television during the throne speech.
That incident made me think about the following question: Why do we still need today a second House like the Senate, an unelected House? The senators were never elected by the people to carry out this function; they were appointed on the Prime Minister's recommendation. Senators are often appointed as a political reward, because they helped run a political party so it could win an election, or because they will work on an election campaign in the future.
I can give you two examples: Céline Hervieux-Payette was defeated as a Liberal candidate before being appointed to the Senate; she is now co-chair of the Liberal Party of Canada's organization for the next election campaign. There is also Mr. Nolin, who plays more or less the same role for the Conservative Party of Canada.
Although they were not elected, these people sit in a House with the same responsibilities as the House of Commons. Let us not forget that after a bill passes third reading here in this House, it is sent to the Senate, which goes through the same stages. This is a form of duplication. We saw in the Pearson airport case-and the Liberals were the first ones to be affected as a government; I think this will make them think about how relevant this motion is-how the bill was stalled in the Senate for several months. The reality we are facing is that elected parliamentarians who have passed a bill are now paralysed in their work by an unelected House. This, I think, is unacceptable in this day and age, on the eve of the 21st century.
The Senate's existence was understandable when the Canadian Confederation was created, because we wanted an equivalent to the British House of Lords. It was said at the time that the people sitting in the Commons might not have had all the intellectual capacities necessary. That kind of thinking was prevalent at the time, and all the problems had to be given due consideration. It was therefore decided to institute a kind of patriarchal entity, a House capable of seeing to it that things are done properly. But times have changed.
Today, members of Parliament have all the capabilities required to do their jobs; they have different opinions they are entitled to voice. They have researchers working for them and people lobbying them. Really, the Senate is no longer useful.
The other theoretical function of the Senate was that of representing the various regions of Canada. I have a teaser for you and all members of this place for that matter. Who can identify the senator responsible for his or her riding? Who can give me the designation of the Senate division or district represented by their senator?
I have asked the people of my riding time and time again and no one could tell me the name of the senator representing us or the designation of the division. We are part of the Grandville division and we are represented by Senator John Lynch-Staunton; he is certainly a very fine man. This goes to show that the Senate has not fulfilled this regional representation mandate because nowhere in Canada is a region associated with a senator in particular. And the reason for this is surely the fact that senators are not elected. There is also the appointment process. Often, senators to be were selected or appointed even before knowing what division they would be representing. There was also a requirement for holding property. We have seen cases where, on the eve of their appointment,
individuals rushed out to by a property to meet this statutory requirement. But the Senate no longer meets the objective inthis regard.
Another aspect seems very important to me today. Our constituents are asking us to cut the fat in government spending. They are asking us to look for areas where there are unnecessary expenditures being made. The government took a stringent measure in reforming the unemployment insurance program. Just to save a couple hundred or thousand dollars here and there, legislation was passed that gets down to the nitty-gritty, checking up on recipients to ensure they do everything by the book, all under this very complex act basically designed to hunt down abusers. But at the very same time, we have here a House, the Senate, with an annual budget of $43 million; that is a consideraable amount for an unelected Chamber.
And that is not counting expenses attributable to the senators' activities and associated costs. This amount covers wages, staff compensation and travelling expenses in general. Should we not eliminate the Senate, instead of targeting unemployment insurance beneficiaries? This would generate savings of $43 million. This is an expenditure that recurs year after year. The amount of $43 million is the actual budget. However, when senators delay the passing of a bill for six months or a year, this also generates major costs and it has a very harmful effect on the actions taken by the government and by Parliament.
We should modernize things somewhat. Eliminating the Senate would be one way of doing it. In this respect, the federal government is lagging behind. For example, it was almost 30 years ago that Quebec's National Assembly, then called the Legislative Assembly, eliminated its legislative council, which was more or less the provincial equivalent of the Senate.
I can assure you that things are not going any worse. People do not call to say that they miss legislative councillors. I do not think there would be any more problems if we did the same with senators.
Why is that institution such an anachronism? It may be that, at the turn of the century, there were more complex issues requiring an expertise that elected representatives did not always have. Today, a support system has been developed for MPs and it includes all the functions necessary to that end.
A debate in the Senate does not shed new light on a bill. The legislation goes through all the stages in the House: introduction, followed by first, second and third readings, as well as consideration in committee. Let us not forget that consideration in committee did not exist 10 or 15 years ago. Since then, this stage has become a very important part of the process. Committee members consider bills clause by clause; they have expertise.
The Library of Parliament provides non partisan support and research services. It is very easy to get information on issues of interest. Nowadays, members of Parliament are very well equipped to give thorough consideration to legislation.
There is no longer a need to rely on outsiders whose mandate is unclear. We do not really know whether senators represent the interests of lobbyists or those of the public. That is not always clear. There are some rather ambiguous connections, and, since they are not elected, senators have a great deal of room to manoeuver. They do not have to take any account at all of what they have been told by their fellow citizens in the positions they adopt.
As members of this House, we are only too aware of this. When there is a controversial bill, a situation that is more difficult to analyse, we are approached by lobbyists, but also by our constituents. Imagine how differently you would do things if all you had to take into account in reaching a decision were lobbies. In the end, what we have is a sort of outmoded 19th century democracy, one that does not correspond to our needs today in the information era. What we need above all is people well attuned to their communities, something the senators certainly are not.
Earlier, I mentioned the $43 million budget. This is a lot of money. Freeing up this amount would still not solve the problem of the Canadian deficit, but it would be an important symbolic gesture. When we ask the public to do their part and accept cuts, we are asked all the time: "Are you guys in Parliament doing your part? Are you doing what is necessary so that the best possible decisions are taken at the least cost?"
The Senate is a flagrant example of the sort of area where we could make an important symbolic gesture in the vote following this debate. This would not exclude a debate at a later date on the advisability of having a second House in Canada. What form would this House take? Should it be a House whose seats are distributed by region, or should there be no regional representation at all? This debate can take place later on.
I think there are speakers who are going to raise these points in the debate today, but that is not the real focus of the debate. These are significant considerations, but it is important to realize that the motion is concerned only with the abolition of an archaic institution no longer meeting any need. Agreeing to this motion does not preclude another subsequent debate on a motion proposing a different solution. That is a debate on another scale, with constitutional ramifications. It will be up to the House and the different political parties to defend their points of view in the debate over the coming weeks, the coming months, and probably up until the next
election campaign. There may be differing positions on the relevance of a second House.
But today the purpose of the motion is to identify clearly the importance of making such a gesture, of sending a message to the public that we think that senators, with their present mandate, are no longer needed.
We no longer have any need of a chamber of this type, because the mandate is totally met by the House of Commons. We have MPs capable of performing its duties and this also represents an opportunity to help solve Canada's financial problems. I refer to all of the costs relating to the work of the senators.
In this connection, I would refer you to the 1991 auditor general's report in which he made 27 recommendations for corrections to certain practices of the Senate. We have no way of knowing if those corrections were made, for last week the government operations committee was told by the Senate, giving rise to an interesting motion by the Reform Party: "We do not have to be answerable to the House of Commons. As a chamber, we, like the House of Commons, have only to answer to the Governor General. We do not have to account to you for the $43 million".
In my opinion, that on its own is a provocation and ought to lead Parliament, the House of Commons, to adopt the motion I am proposing, for it seems to me that we ought to have had the opportunity to find out in the House the implications of the auditor general's recommendations, and to analyze in committee whether they had indeed corrected the improper practices. There were a number of significant charges against the senators, whose overall policy was that they could spend like there was no tomorrow whenever anything was needed.
Reference was made to messenger services, travel services, documentation services. In a number of aspects, the Senate is still living high off the hog while the rest of us in Parliament are having many items questioned by the board of internal economy in order to ensure that funds are being properly spent. The desire to economize is not found in the Senate.
How could the Senate be abolished? With the way the motion is presented we are not saying that the Senate is to be abolished the day after a vote here, rather we are giving the government the mandate to see that job is done. I think a number of these people are ready for a golden handshake. Starting with conditions that are acceptable here, we would work it so that within perhaps a year or two the matter would be settled and the other House would disappear on its own.
Those senators still with a taste for politics could simply be invited to come back into the real political arena, that is the next election campaign, where they could face the electorate. They will be able to judge whether they can convince their fellow Canadians that the positions they defend in the Senate are relevant.
The quality of parliamentary debate arises from the fact that, during election campaigns, elected officials have to confront the needs of the population on the campaign trail. Let us remember that we have been here two and a half years and that we must be careful not to live in a parliamentary bubble and to return and visit the people. Basically that is why elections are held. Every four years or so we do a check to see whether what we have done meets the expectations of the people. This is the basis of democracy. I do not think we need outdated institutions today, particularly costly institutions like the Senate.
If the House were to pass this motion, I would feel I had contributed significantly to the quality of democratic life and to ensuring that the Canadian system, as we know it, is as functional as it can be and that it will permit better management of the public sector and better response to the requests of our fellow Canadians.
One of the Bloc's prime mandates, to defend Quebec's interests, includes this notion. You may be sure that the abolition of the Senate is a matter of almost total consensus in Quebec. We never felt there that the Senate satisfactorily represented us and we do not want more governments either. We want to eliminate one level of government.
So we can safely say that throughout Quebec, when we look at the list of senators and their designations, few people know that Victoria, De Salaberry and Mille Isles are represented by senators or can give the names of the corresponding senators. So no one in Quebec would be sorry about the abolition of that House.
We would make the House of Commons accountable by giving it the ultimate power of decision. There would be no second level of decision. The decisions affecting the federal Parliament would only be made here.
Once the debate on this motion is over, I hope enough members will vote for it so we can take the significant action of giving Canada even better democratic tools and strengthening the House of Commons' powers, while at the same time doing something that is very significant these days by saving the money we would no longer have to spend on the Senate.
That is why I ask every member of this House to consider this motion individually. It is not a matter of toeing the party line but of determining if the Senate is still useful to Canada, if it makes a contribution, or if things would not run more smoothly without the Senate and their negative public image. This might help raise people's level of satisfaction with the work of their elected representatives.
In conclusion, I hope that, after the vote, all of us can in a way go down in history by abolishing an unelected House and allowing the government and the Canadian Parliament to act in accordance with
the mandates given by the people, and by taking the symbolic action of cutting some unnecessary spending in Canada. In my opinion, the most significant way to do so with regard to Canada's current institutions is to abolish the Senate.