That seems like a lot of money for the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre.
It might be better if there were some system of accountability but what kind of accountability is there? Can the members for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, Calgary West or Sarnia—Lambton know how we are accountable for this money?
Tonight maybe a lot of people are channel flipping between hockey games and baseball games and are watching this debate. Sixty million dollars is being spent. The Liberal member across the way laughs, but tonight there is going to be a vote and he has to be accountable to his constituents on how he votes. Is he going to vote for spending $60 million a year for that unelected undemocratic house?
There was a request by a lot of MPs to have Senator Rompkey, who is the chair of the internal board of economy for the Senate, to appear before the relevant committee of the House of Commons. He would not appear. He refused to appear to justify the estimates and the expenditures of the Senate of Canada.
Every department has to appear before the relevant committee of the House. The Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the CRTC, the Canadian Wheat Board, they all have to be there, except the Senate of Canada. Senator Rompkey said no that he was not accountable to the House of Commons, yet the House of Commons has to sign this blank cheque for the Senate of Canada.
Even the member for Brandon—Souris, that famous Tory who supported David Orchard for the leadership, must be hanging his head in shame on this one. I can hear him rattling his head from this far away. Is he going to get up and say he is going to sign this blank cheque for the Senate of Canada? His constituents are watching as they flip channels tonight. They are watching.
Senator Rompkey refused to appear before any committee of the House of Commons. No senator has justified the expenditures. No senator has been willing to sit there and be cross-examined by members of parliament asking why they want to spend so much money on the salary for Senator Balfour, or on a restaurant, or on a tunnel, or on a fancy committee room, or for travelling the world to study boreal forests and so on. They are not doing that.
What Canadians should do is take out their pencils and paper because the Senate unlike the House of Commons has a toll free number. We do not have a toll free number but it has one. They should call a senator. The member for Sarnia—Lambton did not know who Senator James Balfour was. Phone him tonight. Give him a call. They can call a senator at 1-800-267-7362. Does the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre remember that number? Can the member from Calgary remember that number?
That is what the Canadian people should be doing tonight and tomorrow. Pick up a phone and call their favourite senator. Ask why senators had a 10% increase last year, a 6% increase this year, a 16% increase over two years more than any government department received, more than the Department of Health for medicare, more than the educational system in this country, more than the salary increase the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre was lobbying for. People should do that.
I am anxious to see how the House will vote tonight on this particular motion, including our Conservative Party friend from Brandon.
We had a little demonstration outside the Senate today. A member from the Reform Party, the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois organized a little rally. No one from the Conservatives was there. They did not show up. Their caucus is dominated by senators. They were not there. They have a lot of senators in that caucus. They could have been there protesting this huge cash grab by the Senate of Canada.
The time has come for members of parliament to reflect what their constituents are saying when it comes to the Senate. About 5% of the people support the existing Senate. The rest either want to abolish it or reform it, change it in some way. Members of parliament should be listening to what their constituents are saying and reflecting what their constituents are saying.
I challenge every member of parliament, including the member for Brandon—Souris, to go out and knock on doors in their ridings. Ask the first 10 people on the street whether or not they support the existing Senate. Unless they run into a senator from Manitoba, the answer will be a resounding no. We should start reflecting that in the House of Commons and actually do in this place what the people of this country want us to do.
I also believe along with many others in the House that the Senate should be abolished. I also know there are members of the federal cabinet who would be on the record for talking about abolishing the Senate. The external affairs, constitutional affairs and industry ministers among others have spoken out at various times in the past about the abolition of the Senate.
The reason I am saying that is I have given up on the idea that we are going to reform the Senate. It has been tried ad nauseam year in and year out. We have had 132 years of the existing Senate. As the member for Sarnia—Lambton said, 132 years ago it was set up as part of our constitutional framework because we copied the model in Great Britain.
In 1867 the people elected the house of commoners. The people here were commoners. The aristocracy in those days thought there should be someone looking down on the commoners and keeping them in line. That was the House of Lords or the Senate in this country.
We have long evolved through that system where the commoners have to be looked upon and controlled by the aristocracy or the elite. We have come to the position now where there is no place for an unelected, undemocratic, unaccountable house. I believe we are never going to reform the Senate. There are many people in the Reform Party, some Liberals and some Tories who think we can still reform that place.
We can still have the equality of the provinces, with Prince Edward Island with as many senators as Ontario or as many senators as Quebec. Quebec has seven million people and Ontario has ten million. Prince Edward Island has 130,000 people. But we are never going to get an agreement that will call for the equality of all those provinces in terms of the configuration of a new Senate. I believe it is never going to happen.
We should go out across the country and campaign among the people of Canada. Between now and the next federal election we should campaign on the issue of abolishing the other place. Make it an issue in the next campaign. Force the people in all political parties to take a position on what they want to do with the Senate.
If we do that and we get rid of the other place we then have to reform the House of Commons and bring into this place many of the things the Senate was supposed to do. It was supposed to be a place for checks and balances. It was supposed to be a place to review legislation. That is obviously not happening in the other place.
We can do it here by strengthening parliamentary committees, by having fewer confidence votes, by having more free votes. We can do it by giving the committees of the House of Commons the power to initiate legislation, initiate studies and reviews. There can be better budgets for committees so they can set their own timetables, and they can actually timetable when legislation must come to the House of Commons.
It is also time to take away power from the executive, namely the Prime Minister. This is no criticism of any particular Prime Minister; it is a criticism of our system. The Prime Minister's office in Canada has immense power to appoint cabinet ministers, parliamentary secretaries, parliamentary committees, even though there is a so-called election in the committees. A lot of that power should be taken away.
We should also take away a lot of the power that the Prime Minister has in making major appointments to crown agencies. I think of the CRTC, the Canadian Wheat Board and many other agencies, boards and commissions. I also think of the Supreme Court of Canada and federal judges. I do not think the federal government should have the unilateral power to appoint federal judges to the Supreme Court of Canada.
In most of these cases the federal government should have the right to nominate someone it wants to nominate but it should go to the relevant committee of the House to have hearings and ratify or reject the nomination of the Government of Canada.
I came to that conclusion in about 1978 or 1979 when I saw the then Prime Minister, who happened to be Pierre Trudeau but it could have been anyone else including the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, appoint Bryce Mackasey as the head of Air Canada. Bryce Mackasey knew as much about Air Canada and aviation as I know about the Atlantic fishery, which is very little.
I did not meet a single Liberal backbencher in those days who supported the nomination of Bryce Mackasey, who by the way was and is a friend of mine and a very honourable gentleman. He is a very wonderful person. I am not criticizing him. But that was not the position he should have been appointed to.
I did not meet a single Liberal backbencher in those days who supported the nomination of Bryce Mackasey as the president of Air Canada. Of course it was a crown corporation in those days. But because of our parliamentary system, they were handcuffed. Their hands were tied. They could do nothing about it because it was the prerogative of the Prime Minister to appoint the president of Air Canada, just like the Prime Minister now appoints the president of the CBC who last time around happened to be another good friend, Perrin Beatty, who was a minister in the cabinet of Brian Mulroney.
In any event if we had had serious parliamentary reform in those days and the Prime Minister could have only made the nomination but the relevant committee, transport at that time, would have the right to have hearings and ratify or reject, Mr. Mackasey would never have been nominated by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister would have known that Mr. Mackasey would never have survived those review and ratification hearings. There would have been a nomination by the Prime Minister of someone who would have been more able and capable to be president of Air Canada.
That is why we need some serious parliamentary reform. When we vote in the House of Commons to reject the estimates of the Senate, we do so knowing that we just cannot get rid of the other place and leave a vacuum and a vacancy but it is important to also reform the House of Commons. Bring the process of review and the process of checks and balances into the House of Commons itself.
I also believe that other powers should be taken away from the prime minister. There are many countries in the world, for example, where the prime minister or the president cannot set the election date unilaterally. I think we should look at that as well. Many countries do not give the right to their prime minister to set the election date. If we took that right away and had elections every three, four or five years, that would take a lot of power away from the prime minister.
I also think that we should have in statute set times for throne speeches and budgets so that we could have a timetable for those items as well, not in accordance with the wishes or the agenda of the prime minister, but in accordance with what is best for the country as a whole. We pretty well have the practice of setting the budget date in the month of February, but it is not in statute and we do not have set throne speech dates. If we did there would be a better planning process for the provinces, the municipalities, the school boards, the hospitals and so on.
I believe that these are some of the things we should be looking at as parliamentarians.
I want to make one final comment this evening, which is a bit more radical.