Mr. Speaker, from the beginning of this evening we were told that this is not a debate about Senate reform or Senate abolition, and I agree. This is a debate about the supply motion. In about two and a half hours we are going to start voting on those supply motions. The first item we are going to vote on is the $30,051,000 which is the allocation for the Senate of Canada.
We are being told that the Senate is a legitimate body. Legally, that is absolute correct. The Senate of Canada today is legally a legitimate body. It is half of the Parliament of Canada. The Senate of Canada today is politically an illegitimate body, and that is what is creating the clash here. There is a clash in a sense between the two solitudes, one at this end of the building called the House of Commons, and the other at the red chamber, the other place.
What we are being asked to pass judgment on today by voting for these estimates is, in my opinion, what is reasonable and what is correct. If we flash back 132 years, we will know that when the Senate was created it was created by the British parliament after negotiations with our Fathers of Confederation who were beholden to the British House of Commons.
Out of that process came two chambers, the Senate and the House of Commons, the Senate being the mirror image, or the clone of the House of Lords and being populated with the elite of this country, and that was true in 1867. The Senate was better educated, more worldly and more outward looking. By and large, senators were better off. That was very acceptable. They were socially and educationally legitimate and they were, in a sense, politically legitimate having regard to 1867. We were, by and large, a society which was trying to emulate in its governance the British system which had a House of Lords and a House of Commons. Let us consider that in 1867 the House of Commons, this very place, was populated by people who were less educated, were perhaps a little rough around the edges, were less outward looking and were in fact what we would call today very provincial people.
If we flash ahead 132 years, much has changed in the country. In 1867 it was thought that the Senate would be a check. It would be the brakes on the House of Commons. It would be the brakes on the excesses of the House of Commons. It would be the constitutional arbiter of the House of Commons because at that time, being a new country, we were beginning to explore what were the divisions of powers and what were the rights of the federal government versus the rights of the provincial governments. The Senate was there to be a constitutional court, a constitutional check on this place called the House of Commons.
We had no supreme court in 1867. That would not come until the days of Alexander Mackenzie in the 1870s. We had very little in the way of checks on the House, and hence it was the Senate's job to do that.
We move ahead 132 years and what do we have? We have the Supreme Court of Canada which came into existence in 1949. Until that point, we still sent our appeals to the Privy Council in Great Britain.
We have a number of agreements which are checks on the House of Commons, such as agreements on federal-provincial relations in trade, NAFTA and the WTO. They are all checks on the House of Commons. For those who doubt that, I would invite them to look at Bill C-29 that was passed by the House and the Senate. It was thrown out because it was deemed to not be within the powers of the Parliament of Canada, in particular the House of Commons, because it offended federal-provincial agreements.
There are many checks today on the House of Commons, but I would suggest that the Senate is not one of them. As we know, the Senate today is less educated than the House of Commons. The Senate only works about 66 half days a year. Just this past week a local newspaper stated that the attendance record for senators at committee meetings versus members of the House of Commons were quite dismal. We have a rather dispirited group of people where history has passed them by. Political legitimacy has passed them by. However, they are still in a place where they have legal legitimacy. They are there and they have “a job” to do.
If we look at the history of the Senate of Canada, we will know that there has been but one change in that place in 132 years. That change was made by former Prime Minister Pearson in 1968 when it was deemed that senators who had originally been appointed for life would only be appointed to age 75.
If we compare that to what occurred in Great Britain in 1919, the British government moved to cut in half, some would say, the powers of the House of Lords. The House of Lords today is under full attack by the government of that country. There is massive change and it looks like they are going to disappear with time.
We have had this institutional stagnation in Canada, in particular in the other place, to the point where it is still legally correct and legally legitimate, but politically no one believes it.
We have heard reference to polls today. My colleague from Regina—Qu'Appelle referred to an Angus Reid poll earlier that says that about 90 to 95% of Canadians recognize that the other place is politically and totally illegitimate. Five per cent of people either do not know or are willing to accept it. I understand that.
If we go to the one big difference between the House of Commons and the other place, we will know that although the other place has powers tantamount to this place, when it comes to the appropriation of dollars we have the exclusive domain. We know that last year the Senate year had a budget increase of a little more than 10%. We also know that the chair of the internal economy board in the other place has tabled a budget which calls for an increase this year of 6.1%. If members look at the actual document they will see that it shows $30 million.
To follow up on a speech made by the government House leader earlier, he pointed out that we cannot do anything about some of this because we already voted for it. That is correct. That was the salary increase for senators, which was passed earlier this year, but that does not appear in the estimates and has nothing to do with the estimates. It is statutory requirements. The $30 million we are talking about is the $9,000 housing allowance that was voted on by senators for themselves for this year. That is $9,000 to live in Ottawa, when they are only here for 65 or 66 days in total, and for the operation of the Senate.
We heard from the government House leader that the Senate had to raise the salaries for its staff, and we understand that.
If one looks at the estimates and at the speech, the only speech made in the Senate with respect to its budget—there was but one speech made in that place—we would see that it is not $3 million going toward salary increases but about half of that. It is about $1.5 million in salary increases. The other $1.5 million is going into that black hole called services in the Senate.
The Senate estimates have eight headings, such as information and rentals. What does this all mean? I have no idea what it means. However, the fact is the House of Commons is the place that has to approve appropriations. Tonight we are being asked to blindly approve a 6.1% increase for the other place.
It is easy to say that senators are doing their job. I have no disagreement with that. They have a job to do and it is in our constitutional framework. It was set in stone in 1867. However, I think we can have a legitimate debate in the country on whether we are going to abolish the Senate, have a triple E Senate, or have a single E Senate. I totally agree with that and I think my position is well known.
However, are we to blindly approve a 6.1% increase because the other place has said that it needs the money? We must not put this into the context that because they have requested it we, in the House of Commons, must blindly give it to them. Let us put it in the context of what is reasonable, reasonable under current economic circumstances, reasonable in making a comparison to other sectors of the economy and reasonable in terms of what the Canadian public, who will ultimately pay for this, would say is the case.
If we clearly look, we will see that nobody in the country is getting 6.1%. There is nobody in the country getting 6.1% save and except the Senate of Canada.
We should not talk about this being an all or nothing proposition. It is clearly not that. What the government House leader failed to point out is that there are three motions for amendment on the Order Paper. One of the motions calls for zero dollars for the Senate. The second one calls for zero dollars to the Senate. I understand both of these motions, but the third motion states that we should limit the Senate's increase to 2%, which would represent an increase of about $1.5 million.
What are we looking at in the Senate? According to the chair of the Senate's internal economy board, the Senate needs about $1.5 million to meet its budgetary increases in terms of employees. I think we can all understand and agree with that. People in the public service have certainly not had raises for a number of years. I do not think it is unreasonable to give them a 2% increase? I also do not think it is an issue that the Canadian public would feel offended by.
By and large I do not think anyone in the Canadian public will react to a 2% raise for employees whether they work on Parliament Hill or for someone else in the country, especially having regard to the history of limited increases for some time now.
However there is a big but that I want to emphasize and underline. Is 6% reasonable having regard to the fact that in the past year they had 10%? Is 6% reasonable, knowing full well that the chair of the internal economy board of the Senate has said that they are asking for 6.1% today but do not think it will be enough and will have to get more before the fiscal year is out?
Although I have said that the Senate is legally legitimate I think it is politically illegitimate. That is my opinion. If we cannot debate parliamentary reform in this place, I do not know where we can do it. If this is a body which is legally legitimate, which it is, should it not act in a reasonable fashion?
All Canadians ask is that their political institutions be reasonable. Should that place, which has a very limited function today, not send a signal? Should it not be a symbol? Should it not send a message to all Canadians that it understands money is hard to come by, that it has a constitutional obligation or duty to fulfil, and that it will do it in a fashion which does not increase the demands upon the public purse in an unacceptable fashion?
In many cases we get back to what I term as the test of reasonableness which comes from making comparisons with other sectors of the economy. I have noted that no one is getting this kind of increase whatsoever.
The Senate says it is doing its job. I think to a certain extent it has a function to perform. I learned earlier today that it has found strange ways of spending the $30,051,000 that it requested and has already started to spend.
Earlier today I was pleased to participate in a demonstration in front of this building with colleagues from other parties in the House. I learned from certain media representatives that the Senate was concerned about the demonstration. In fact it was so concerned that it hired two public relations gurus to spin its story. Today the Senate of Canada used public money to spin its side of the story.
One would think that a legislative body which is under attack from all directions would try to be prudent, would try to be circumspect, and would change its behaviour in some way. I do not know. To find out today that questions being posed by reporters to those who participated came from media gurus or public relations and media relations agents which were hired by the Senate is an interesting, bizarre and pathetic set of circumstances. If that is the way that place uses its money, let us pull it back, recognizing that it needs some money to fulfil its constitutional obligation but not 6.1%.
We have the right in this place to pass judgment on appropriation. As noted earlier, the chair of the internal economy board of the other place refused point blank to appear before a House of Commons standing committee to answer some simple questions. His comment as reported in the press was “I account to the public” That is very easy to say but the public knows that is not the case in any way.
The same member of the other place has been quoted as saying that they do legitimate work and that they clarify and improve legislation from the House of Commons. Is it not interesting that when the Senate makes an amendment to a bill it is deemed to be a clarification issue or an improvement issue? Is it not interesting that we would allow a group of people who apparently are now a house of distinguished Canadians the right to pass judgment on what the elected officials have decided?
Is it not interesting that after 132 years we have all corners of the country crying out for change to this legally legitimate body? We can argue that change at another time. Yet it uses that institutional shield to protect itself from change.
I am not talking about profound change in the sense of downsizing. We cannot change its constitutional mandate. I am talking about change in terms of consumption of money, change in terms of being open to the public, change in terms of working with the House of Commons when it comes to its budget, and change in terms of answering the questions that the elected people will be asked to pass judgment on tonight. We are being told by the Senate that we have no choice. The appointed body will say that we will pass it or else. We will pass it or it will have a work stoppage.
It is a sad commentary that 132 years after Confederation we are still living in a society where the elected representatives of the people are being held hostage by a group of 104 people who have no political legitimacy. Therefore I ask members tonight, especially those in the Conservative Party, to seriously consider what they are doing when they vote for Senate appropriation.