Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Motion M-221 moved by my colleague and friend, the hon. member for Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup, and dealing with the abolition of the Senate.
For quite a number of years now, this issue has been surfacing regularly. Consequently, the government, and in fact all the members of this House, must give greater consideration to a situation which, over the years, has tarnished the reputation of
Canadian politics, and particularly the credibility of our role as parliamentarians.
In this context, the government should consider an in depth reform of federal parliamentarian institutions, so as to make them more effective and better adjusted to modern reality.
I am fully aware of the Senate's role in the traditional British parliamentary system and of its historic contribution. However, we are faced with a serious dilemma. On the one hand, the current economic context does not allow us to maintain a symbolic institution whose costs are in excess of $65 million a year and whose effectiveness is rather dubious.
On the other hand, as we approach the 21st century, it is clear that the governmental and legislative structures have not managed to modernize themselves. In fact, this archaic institution plays a role quite remote from its original raison d'être. Instead of protecting the public from the excessive ideologies of elected representatives, the Senate is now an instrument used to delay legislation on a purely partisan basis. In this regard, I wish to remind the House of the position held by the current government when it formed the official opposition.
At the time, the Liberal Party was open to a Senate reform. Now, it has a totally different attitude. The Liberal government does not seem to give the same priority to such changes, because it now controls this parliamentary structure, taking advantage of the situation. The most blatant example of this is undoubtedly the appointment of Mrs. Shirley Maheu to the Senate to make room for the new member for Saint-Laurent-Cartierville in a by-election last winter. The government thus made sure it had one more voice in favour in the lengthy legislative process, in addition to legitimizing the hasty appointment of the President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.
However, the contemptibly partisan political scheming behind these appointments pales in comparison to the image the public has of the Senate. Before preparing this speech, I took the time to consult with some of my constituents in order to find out just how they perceived the Senate, and especially what their concerns were.
In this connection, I would like to tell you how the upper House has dropped in the opinion of the people in my riding of Frontenac. The first image to come to people's minds is undoubtedly that of the senators lulled fast asleep by speeches that we would have thought were very interesting and compellingly delivered.
Ask anyone what their boss would think if they fell asleep on the job, and what would happen. The lineups would be even longer at the employment centres. Yet, as citizens and taxpayers, we tolerate a totally intolerable situation. It gives new meaning to the expression "asleep at the switch".
In another vein, I suggested to my constituents that they write to their senator, as they do regularly to their federal MP. They all seemed interested, but nobody knew to whom they should send their letter. Of all the constituents I met with, no one could say which senator represented, if I could put it that way, the Frontenac area.
At best, a few could name a few members of the upper House, including Senator Hébert, Senator Jean-Louis Roux and Senator Gérald Beaudoin. But these individuals were known to the public before they even became senators. And there is worse. No one could give the name of our Senate division, leading me to conclude that, in addition to being useless, the Senate is not well known.
On a more theoretical note, the reason for which the Senate was created no longer obtains. As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, the Senate originated out of a certain concern regarding the representatives of the people. The Senate was to provide a legislative alternative to the incompetence and excesses of members. But history has shown us that this aspect of parliamentary life has largely improved and that legislation introduced by the House of Commons responds satisfactorily to the expectations and needs of the public, and respects its interests.
The House of Commons, like the National Assembly of Quebec and all legislative assemblies of Canada, is a sovereign and democratically elected assembly. Why, then, hang on to an outmoded institution whose costly operation does nothing but slow down the operation of Parliament, and adds to taxpayers' dissatisfaction with how politicians are running the country?
My colleague representing the Liberal government spoke earlier about the primary goal of his party, aside from creating jobs and putting its fiscal house in order. Here are $65 million it could save year after year, and it is afraid to lift its little finger today and make it happen. Of course it will do nothing, given the appointments just made by its leader.
I see Sharon Carstairs. She was his friend, his ally in the fight against the Meech Lake accord. He appointed her for the next 23 years, at an annual salary of $64,000 and all the benefits that go with it. He appointed her for the next 23 years, until the year 2017. It is shocking. The same goes for Céline Hervieux-Payette.