House of Commons Hansard #56 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.


SenatePrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON


That, in the opinion of this House, all proceedings of the Senate of Canada in the Senate Chamber should be televised.

Mr. Speaker, this evening's debate revolves around Motion No. 98, which states that in the opinion of the House all proceedings of the Senate of Canada in the Senate Chamber should be televised.

While the House of Commons will not hold a recorded vote on this subject, it is my sincere hope that perhaps some senators are watching and may finally take action. Perhaps some senators are even watching tonight's proceedings live on television. Maybe they are working late on Parliament Hill. Maybe they have gone home and are watching a rebroadcast on CPAC.

If I say something particularly outrageous tonight they may see it repeated on television newscasts throughout the day tomorrow, but I would never do that. I must therefore choose my words carefully.

The point is that our debates in this Chamber are open to television cameras. We have nothing to hide in this place. To senators watching tonight this may seem surreal. We are in front of television cameras debating whether the Senate of Canada should allow television coverage of its debates. Currently the Senate forbids such broadcasting. Granted, it allows some cameras into selected committees, but the Senate of Canada is not a group of committees engaged in study after study. It is a legislative body. It is the other half of Canada's parliament and it is a chamber where unelected people debate proposed legislation. It amends bills. It adopts bills. It even defeats bills passed by this elected chamber.

Regardless of how one views our current set-up, whether we want it to be reformed, abolished or left alone, surely we want to be able to watch our senators in action. We ought to be able to watch them stand and be counted.

The Senate of Canada should draw back its dusty curtains and expose itself to the scrutiny of television. Perhaps I should contrast the Senate's approach to television with our experience in this place. The House of Commons reached agreement to go on the airwaves in 1977.

By way of background, I should say that the legislative chambers in all democratic countries and states have public galleries. Since the days of the Magna Carta the public's business has been seen by the public. If I flash forward from 1215, some 762 years later a debate occurred here in the House of Commons on extending the galleries by way of television, realizing that in the era of electronics and as the medium known as television matured it was the ideal and modern way of extending the principle of the public galleries in the Commons into Canadian homes.

On January 25, 1977 the House adopted a motion to broadcast live all of its debates and proceedings. In September 1977 our Chamber went on the air.

The concept of extending the galleries is based on some very clear and sound philosophies. First, as I have said, the public has a right to see its legislators debating the public's business.

Second, for our federal chambers to be relevant—and we have to be more relevant—debates and proceedings must be fully accessible to the public.

Finally, public broadcasting gives viewers firsthand experience of legislators at work, as opposed to what otherwise would be received through reports or commentaries prepared by journalists. Quite simply, it is not filtered and it cannot be construed or censored in any way.

It is interesting to note that today more than 100 countries broadcast their legislative chambers' proceedings on a daily basis, yet in this parliamentary precinct, which was the first elected chamber in the world to broadcast its proceedings, there is an exception and it is called the Senate Chamber.

I should tell the House that the only debate in that place on this issue took place on November 5 and December 3, 1975, 25 years ago, when senators expressed a majority opinion that the public should not view their proceedings by way of television. I will provide details on this later.

I draw the attention of the House to the Senate rule book, which is the equivalent of the standing orders of the House of Commons. Its rule book says that the televising of proceedings is strictly prohibited.

I should declare my own bias concerning the Senate. It will come as a great shock. It would be my preference to see it abolished. In fact, I have joined with other members of this elected chamber in circulating petitions in support of abolition. I want to read part of the official response to these petitions. This is an official response from the government, and it states:

The government shares the petitioners' concern about modernizing parliamentary institutions. However, a constitutional amendment would be required to abolish the Senate—

We know that.

A consensus does not exist on what the role and form of the Senate should be in the future, that is, whether it should remain as it is, or be reformed or abolished....In the meantime, the Senate will continue to play a fundamental role in the federal legislative process.

Let me repeat that. “The Senate will continue to play a fundamental role in the federal legislative process”.

Let us look around the world. There are 80 countries which televise all of their legislative chambers' proceedings, yet we in this parliament average 50%, one out of two.

The British House of Lords, for example, went on the air in 1985, about four years before the British House of Commons, and rather than affect the general demeanour of that place, public opinion polls suggest in Great Britain that it has clearly revealed two points. First, the public in Britain actually like the House of Lords. In fact, it became a rating success. Second, it is agreed among the British public that the quality of debate in the House of Lords went up, not down.

Finally, I want to repeat that we live in an electronic information age. I have to ask, is it not ironic that the other place, the Senate of Canada, is not available to Canadians through the medium known as television?

We can gain inspiration from the practice of televised proceedings elsewhere in Canada. It is alarming to realize that the Senate of Canada is the only major assembly not to televise its proceedings. I think it is odd that such a centrally important institution is effectively not open to the public. Other sorts of assemblies in Canada are required to bear the democratic weight of visibility. Why should the Senate not meet this democratic litmus test?

Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of Canadians are effectively barred from the affairs of the Senate. For the 30 million Canadians who do not live within the boundaries of the national capital region and cannot make it to the Senate public galleries, the lack of television coverage means that they are unable to follow the business that is being transacted supposedly in their names.

Why deny access to a key component of our legislative process? Whether someone agrees or disagrees with a unelected Senate, the fact is that it is a central player in our legislative process.

No government bill, private member's bill or finance minister's budget can be enacted without the Senate. The Senate signs off on every piece of legislation it receives from the Commons. Without the Senate's acquiescence laws could not be made. That is the law of this country. That is the way it is.

Under the constitution the Senate holds as much power as this place, the House of Commons. While it has usually been the practice of that place of the unelected senators to defer to the elected Commons, there have been occasions when it has invoked its constitutional prerogative to reject or to withhold approval of Commons legislation.

We know by our constitution, principally by the British North America Act, that the Senate is central in the lawmaking ability of what we call the federal parliament. Canadians need to have access to this component of the Canadian legislative process. It is 50%.

Not willing to televise the Senate places a shroud over an integral part of Canadian governance and, at worst—and I think this is becoming more common—it creates the perception that something is going on that the Senate is hiding.

Let us open up the old heavy oak doors, part those old dusty curtains to allow the fresh breath of public transparency and the bright light of visibility into a place that has been, some would say, dark and stale for too long.

The Senate belongs to all Canadians and, while only a select few can trespass on to its royal red adornments, it is important to at least provide some degree of ownership to citizens over an institution that is key to the conduct of public affairs.

It is not as though what I am proposing can even be considered radical or trend-setting because legislative assemblies across Canada already broadcast their proceedings, as do municipal councils, school boards and all kinds of quasi-judicial tribunals. Even the Senate of Canada standing committees have been known on occasion to allow the public to catch a glance of senators at work in committee, although it should be noted that Senate committees involve only a dozen of the 105 people who occupy that place.

Not only in Canada, but elsewhere upper chambers have their proceedings televised. As I have said, the U.K., the United States, Australia and over 100 other chambers in countries around the world televise their proceedings. I should say that in my own municipality of Sarnia I can get the Sarnia city council, I can get the Chatham council, which is about 75 miles away, I can get two city councils, but I cannot, unless I have a Ouija board, get the Senate of Canada.

In the House of Lords of the United Kingdom daily sittings have been permanently broadcast since 1985. The opponents of Canadian Senate broadcasting wrongly argue that TV would destroy its deferential and so-called polite decorum at the very high level of civilized debate that we are told takes places in the Senate. One senator has even described the place as being serene.

In the early 1980s, when the House of Lords was discussing proceeding with broadcasts, some peers echoed a similar concern. However, the track record tells a different story. The decorum and the politeness of the lords' debates has not gone down, but has probably gone up. The Senate of Australia, an elected body, has been broadcasting since 1990.

The wonder of the Westminster parliamentary system is its ability to evolve toward greater democratic governance with stronger links to citizens. The history of parliaments in Canada and the U.K., and I assume elsewhere in the Commonwealth, has shown that they have never shied away from strengthening the link to citizens. Televising the Senate should be viewed simply as another logical step in that evolutionary process.

Even though television did not exist in 1867, the Senate, I would suggest, has a duty and a responsibility to adapt toward greater accountability and visibility so that the link with citizens is strengthened. Letting public business into the living rooms of Canadians is a good thing. Not only will it let citizens hold senators to account in a more effective way, it will also contribute to a heightened legitimacy of parliamentary institutions, this place known as the Parliament of Canada.

If, as senators maintain, they are truly effective and they make a positive contribution, they should not fear television. Their deliberations should be able to withstand the bright lights of TV cameras.

As I said, in 1975 the Senate debated the idea of televising proceedings. It decided against the practice at the time and since that time it has been loath in any way to discuss it.

In 1975 former Conservative Senator Martial Asselin provided insight into why the Senate is so apprehensive about televising its proceedings. At that time he said:

I will give you my own point of view, since I feel that the best way to get the Senate abolished is to permit television and radio coverage of our proceedings.

As the Senate Hansard showed, some hon. senators concurred by saying “aye, aye”. They obviously did not feel that the Senate's work at that time was all that valuable. He seems to indicate that it would not be able to stand up to public scrutiny and that upon seeing the Senate in action, or should I say inaction, the public would call for its abolition.

I think it is a sad state of affairs when senators themselves do not even have confidence in the work they do to hold up their institution to public attention. I think I speak for all members in saying that we certainly hope senators no longer believe this.

I would like to close by referring to an op-ed piece written by a senator who occupies that place at the moment. Senator Joyal lists his daily schedule and tells how busy he really is, or says he is. He may have chosen a busy day to illustrate his schedule. His examples are by no means an accurate composite of activities for all senators, nor does his schedule appropriately address the substance that a senator might encounter in a typical day's work. It was a criticism against a newspaper article. I think Senator Joyal's criticism should not be directed to a columnist's assertions that most Canadians would agree with, but rather should be directed to the institution and its members who have a massive credibility problem.

We know that 90% of Canadians would prefer to see it changed. Of them, half would support it being abolished and the other half would support it being elected in some way. We know that 10% have no opinion or like it the way it is.

It is an institution which has an incredible problem of legitimacy. I am saying that TV would encourage senators to respond to issues that Canadians care about, lest citizens judge them as completely useless.

SenatePrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Rob Anders Reform Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, why should the Senate be televised?

The regions of Canada need to be more involved in decision making and policy making at the national level. To meet the hopes and dreams of those who live in the west and the Atlantic, a reformed Senate is essential. It must be a Senate that is elected, effective and equitable.

Those were the words of the Prime Minister as recorded in Hansard on September 24, 1991.

I on the other hand support Senate reform. If it is done properly, a restructured and revitalized upper chamber can give Albertans a voice in the governance of Canada. If elected Liberal leader I pledge to work for a Senate that is elected, that has legislative powers of its own and contains strong representation from all regions of Canada.

That was said by the present Prime Minister on June 23, 1990. “You want the triple E Senate and I want one too”. That was the Prime Minister again in the Toronto Star on February 2, 1990. “The Liberal government in two years will make it elected. As Prime Minister I can take steps to make it happen”. Once again that was the present Prime Minister speaking to 400 delegates at the annual general meeting of the Alberta branch of the federal Liberal Party.

Liberal prime ministers agree that the Senate needs to be reformed. One of the steps to make that happen, one of those true reforms, is what the member for Sarnia—Lambton has put forward today in the House of Commons, which is the idea of making the Senate televised.

Even in the grandmother of all parliaments, in Westminster, in 1985 the House of Lords televised its proceedings. Indeed the House of Commons in the grandmother of all parliaments followed four years later and televised its meetings in 1989.

Our Senate is a place that is undemocratic in that it is appointed. Our Senate is a place that is not accessible. Instead of providing information via the electronic method where most people get their understanding of the news today, our Senate instead is a place that is out of control. It allows people like Andy Thompson to spend but one day in the spring sitting and one day in the fall sitting and collect a full salary. Only because of public pressure, because of media pressure, because of light shed on the institution and scrutiny brought to bear did those things change.

The Senate should be a place that has nothing to hide, that stands behind no shroud. As a result TV cameras should be in the Senate.

I am going to talk about the public support for Senate reform, in particular an elected Senate, because it hinges on this very debate.

In British Columbia 84% of people are in favour of an elected and reformed Senate. In Manitoba 86% are in favour of such reforms. In my home province of Alberta 91% of people are in favour of reform of the Senate, of modernizing this institution. Television would modernize the institution.

We have had a recent development. One of the senators, the last Progressive Conservative or Tory senator in the province of Alberta, has expressed the intention to resign his seat as of March 31.

Last year Albertans elected Bert Brown, a man who has been campaigning for an elected, equal and effective Senate for over 10 years. He received more votes than any other federal politician in Canadian history. Even if we went back prior to 1867, nobody could compare to Bert Brown in the amount of votes he garnered. During the Senate election, in the midst of that process, the Prime Minister had the audacity and disrespect for the people of Alberta to appoint someone to sit in that chamber in Bert Brown's place. Shame on the Prime Minister.

Thankfully there is an opportunity to have that made right; that wrong can be made right. When that seat becomes vacant on March 31, I implore on behalf of the people of Alberta, on behalf of the premier and the letters he has written to the Prime Minister, and on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of people who cast their ballots, that the Prime Minister do the right thing. I ask that he stand by the convictions he ran for as Liberal leader in 1990 in Calgary, Alberta when he won his election, and by his predecessor Pierre Elliott Trudeau whom he served in cabinet, and uphold that idea of an elected Senate and appoint Bert Brown to that place.

My colleague from Sarnia—Lambton is talking about changing the rules of the Senate, section 130(1), which only allows for audio broadcasts in the Senate. My hon. colleague would like to expand it beyond audio broadcasts to broadcast the proceedings on television, to carry the business in the Senate as people see me tonight here in the House of Commons.

Canadians wherever they live should be able to see their government at work. They have seen their government at work in the House of Commons since 1977. The debate for that began in 1973. They now see their provincial legislatures at work from coast to coast to coast. They see their municipalities at work. Municipalities across the land have taken it upon themselves to televise their proceedings.

More than that, even school boards in this country have gone so far as to televise their meetings so that the public knows what they do in their interests and that the business be known to all.

Canadians deserve to know what they are getting for the $50 million plus a year they spend on the Senate. Last year the House of Commons attempted to draw before it those members of the Senate who did not want to explain their budget appropriations, their 16% increase in their budget. The people of this country deserve to know and to see with their own eyes what goes on in that place.

As it stands, people have to go into that chamber. Only from that vantage point, those few precious seats in that red chamber, are they allowed to see what goes on. As a matter of fact last year the Senate took steps to restrict access to the printed records of who takes their seat in the Senate and does their public business as they are paid to do. It is a crying shame that people are not even allowed to see those minutes, to have them published and available on the Internet as is other business of this Commons and of this parliament.

Michael O'Connor, a fellow who lives in Ottawa, was so upset over that very predicament that he took time away from his part time job to sit in one of the rooms in the Senate. He transcribed all of those sittings of the Senate to know who was or was not there and who was collecting his taxpayer dollars to sit or not sit in that place on his behalf. That type of thing is egregious and should not be going on.

When we consider that 80 countries in the world permit the broadcasting of all proceedings in their chambers and now over 100 countries permit some form of broadcast, the idea that our Senate allows none of its main chamber is a disgrace. The Senate must be reformed and televising it is but one of the mechanisms.

SenatePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

There has been some use of the word hypocrite flowing back and forth. I want to make it absolutely clear that we are not going to let the use of this word creep into the proceedings of the House.

I have previously intervened if the term has been used to describe a specific member or a specific minister or describe a specific person's actions. It has been used in the House to describe the actions of a group. While it is still a word that must be used in the English language, we are going to measure its use very carefully.

SenatePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Jean-Paul Marchand Bloc Québec East, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to thank the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton for Motion No. 98, which suggests that all Senate proceedings be televised.

Since the hon. member is in favour of the abolition of the Senate, knowing him as I do, I think his aim is mostly to get Canadians and Quebecers to see, through television, how useless the Senate is, how absurd what is going on there is, and how archaic and even undemocratic that institution is.

Basically, the hon. member wants to ensure that people understand that the Senate must be abolished. He said so himself in his remarks. My Bloc colleagues and I are in favour of the abolition of the Senate. But televising proceedings would be a waste of money, I believe.

Indeed, we know that the Senate spends over $60 million every year. This is a waste of money, because we know very well that the Senate, even though it has many powers, which are equal to those of the House of Commons, unfortunately exercises these powers in a partisan way. They are exercised by people who often use this money and these powers for personal and partisan reasons.

If we want more Canadians to be aware of what is happening in the Senate, we should ensure that its budgets are more transparent and that the auditor general can examine the Senate's books. I think people would then be much more aware of what is happening in the Senate.

We know that only one auditor general's report, the 1991 one, dealt with the Senate. The auditor general found that the Senate lacked transparency, that it was trying to hide what goes on there. Indeed, my Reform colleague pointed out how it is difficult to get a precise account on Senate attendance. All the information on the Senate is very difficult to access, or they are trying to hide it.

Senators have no benefit in being known to Canadians. Nevertheless, ensuring transparency on spending and budgets would be sufficient for people to call for the abolition of the Senate. Ultimately, this is the only solution: the abolition of the Senate.

We know, for example, how the money is badly spent. We know that the Senate costs more than $60 million a year. Public accounts show an amount of only $47 million. However, if we add the services provided by a range of federal departments and organizations, the cost of the Senate exceeds $60 million a year and could even reach $70 million.

No one knows that. At this time, no one in Canada and not a single member of this House knows exactly how much the Senate costs. If only we knew the exact amount, we would be getting somewhere. We do not know how much the Senate costs because, unfortunately, this kind of information is not disclosed. About two years ago, the House of Commons invited the Senate to appear before the House's standing committee to explain its expenses and cost increases, which had reached 16% over the two previous years. Well, the House of Commons was not allowed to know how the Senate had spent its $47 million budget which, as we know, actually exceeds $60 million.

We also know that senators do not work very hard. They sit an average of 65 days a year, for about three hours a day, and half or at least a third of the senators are absent half of the time. I did a calculation of the efficiency of senators and if you take all those factors into account, the cost of a senator reaches between $3,000 to $6,000 an hour. Those people, who spend $60 million of the taxpayers' money, do not account for what they do and, furthermore, some of them may even use their position as senators to advance private interests, to become members of boards of directors or to get involved in many partisan activities.

For example, people should know that senators use their status, their offices, their funding, their privileges and their frequent flyer points for partisan purposes, either for the Liberal Party or the Progressive Conservative Party. I find it utterly immoral and unacceptable. However, it seems that here, in Canada, such practices are accepted in the Senate.

Moreover, senators can sit on boards of directors, which opens the door to potential conflicts of interest. Senators who sit on such boards are required to disclose the names of the companies.

I know that one senator sits on Power Corporation's board of directors as vice-chairman. Last year, just for sitting on that board, he received $430,000. Add to that what he gets for sitting on other boards of directors, his salary as a senator and all the benefits he gets as a senator.

I have no problem with people who sit on the boards of large corporations being paid $1 million. However, I find it immoral that they also sit in the Senate and use their privileges as senators to lobby officials in various departments. It is not illegal, at least not for now, but it is highly immoral.

When one looks closely at the Senate, when one sees how undemocratic and archaic it is, one realizes that it should have been abolished a long time ago. The longer this kind of institution is kept in place, the easier it will become to see how rotten it is, or so I hope. It is not necessary to put cameras in the Senate because I think that it would only be money wasted over and above what the Senate already wastes.

I suggest that my colleague from Sarnia—Lambton go directly to the heart of the issue. As a Liberal member, I find him very courageous to voice his opposition to the Senate and to work for its abolition. I think that we must go all the way and simply abolish the Senate. That would be doing an excellent service to everybody.

We would save the $60 million given each year to that institution. That money is wasted each year. This is not money that we waste once in a while but money that is thrown out the window every year. Over ten years, that adds up to $600 million.

If that money were invested in job creation or in constructive projects, I think it would be a lot more useful to Canadians than to give it to tired old politicians who are there only due to patronage.

If the Liberals, among others, had the courage to do so, it would be very easy to get rid of the Senate. All they have to do is vote against the Senate's budget in June. That is what I suggest they do.

SenatePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


John Solomon NDP Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton has moved an incredible motion. As a matter of fact I consider it to be quite mischievous.

I went door to door during the 1993 federal election campaign and 90% of the constituents in my riding signed the petition to abolish the Senate. The other 10% did not want to talk to me because they were concerned about other issues, were busy making supper and did not have time to sign it. There was not one person in my riding, and I canvassed about 45 polls, who said they would not sign a petition to abolish the Senate.

Televising the Senate proceedings would be like archaeology, moving a set of bones from one grave to another. They could have a sitcom style program if they televised it: Who wants to be a millionaire senator . Of course the questions would be rigged and the moderator would be the Prime Minister, and only his friends would win. That is what the Liberals would do.

Since it already costs $60 million a year to operate the Senate, television producers might consider a weekly format. They could call it What's in it for me . Selected senators would discuss a piece of government legislation and how it would personally benefit them or their friends or the Liberal or the Conservative parties. It would be a great program, but there are no New Democrats in the Senate. There never have been and never will be.

If they televise the proceedings in that place, which by the way I do not support, I hope the Canadian public understands that it is just a Liberal and Tory chamber, somewhat like a bedchamber. Televising the Senate would the parliamentary version of the sitcom Friends , or I mean friends of the Prime Minister.

What a novel idea is televising the Senate. Ratings would go through the roof. Can we not see the viewing public glued to their television sets while watching the senators cavort for the cameras? It would be like televising the Titanic at the bottom of the ocean hour after hour, week after week, year after year.

There would be some difficulties in translation if we were to televise the Senate, because how would we translate snores? Televising the Senate would be like televising homemade bread rising. Watching homemade bread rise would be more exciting than televising the Senate.

I have 10 top reasons why the Senate should be televised. The No. 10 reason for televising the Senate is to assist Canadians who are deprived of sleep. No. 9 is to show Canadians the fine and expensive furnishings of the Senate chamber. No. 8 is to provide an outlet for people experiencing anger management problems. No. 7 is to provide Canadians with a true non-news program. No. 6 is to provide Canadians with the funny side of politics. No. 5 is to give Canadians a break from reality. No. 4 is to encourage young entrepreneurs who want to know how to make a fortune by not doing anything useful with their lives. No. 3 is to endlessly bore Canadians. No. 2 is to frustrate Canadians. The No. 1 reason for televising the Senate is to reveal just what a bankrupt, nonsensical, patronage ridden, decrepit, useless outfit it really is.

SenatePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I did not want to interrupt the hon. member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre just in case a talent scout from The Letterman Show happened to be watching CPAC and there may be a new job in line.

However, the fact of the matter is that parliament as a whole includes the Senate of Canada. One of the arms of governance of our country is the Senate of Canada, as is the supreme court, as is this Chamber. If we do not respect the occupants at any particular time, we must respect the institutions. If we choose to change the institutions then let us change the institutions in a parliamentary manner.

Our rules state very clearly that there should not be reflections on any of the chambers as a whole. I will not get to reflections on the Chair. We will save that for a different day. I will just talk about reflections on the House and the Senate because we must have respect for our institutions if we expect others to have respect for our institution:

Disrespectful reflections on Parliament as a whole, or on the House or and the Senate as component parts of Parliament are not permitted. Members of the House and the Senate are also protected by this rule. In debate, the Senate is generally referred to as “the other place” and Senators as “members of the other place”. References to Senate debates and proceedings are discouraged.

I understand that we are debating whether the Senate should be televised. I am quite prepared to allow us to have some fun with this, but we must keep in mind that we have the institutions of parliament in our hands and in our trust while we occupy our positions. We will come and go and our parliament will withstand any of us who happen to be elected at any particular time.

SenatePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. You have just read a short excerpt from Montpetit-Marleau. I must say that it makes me uneasy, since this excerpt says that we must show deep respect for the institution of the Senate.

I have a problem with that because if, as elected members of parliament—we know full well that the members of the other place are not elected—we want to make major changes to the other place, it means that we do not have a very flattering opinion of it, so to speak. If we want to bring about theses changes, we will be forced to voice opinions that might be less than flattering or more or less unrespectful.

In such a case, how will we settle this conflict between what the jurisprudence says and what our own convictions are, if we really want to make changes to the unelected Senate?

SenatePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Bloc is that although the Bloc came to parliament with a specific raison d'être, it has worked scrupulously within the confines of the democratic process. That is, in my view, a great honour for members of the Bloc Quebecois. The nature of our parliament is to have the freedom to do what we need to do to change the way our country works but to do so within the regulations that are set down before us.

If we want to change those regulations then we should change them; and they can be changed through democratic and parliamentary means. It is not impossible to make the statements that are necessary to be made in order to effect a change in the other place and still have fidelity to the rules by which we conduct ourselves. It may require persistent application of imagination and it may require quiet consultation, but it can be done.

I meant it very sincerely when I said that if there is one group of parliamentarians in the House that has been respectful of the rules of democracy, it is the members of the Bloc. It is a great testament.

SenatePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure our colleagues appreciate your guidance in this debate.

In the instance that the remarks of the hon. member from the New Democratic Party were egregiously unparliamentary, I would suggest that at least toward the end of his remarks there are elements that should be withdrawn because they were unparliamentary. You might invite the hon. member to withdraw them. He will stand advised and be guided by your remarks.

SenatePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I appreciate the intervention by the parliamentary secretary. I chose, rather than to draw specific attention to any one member at any one time, because this is something that has been going on for some time, to make a statement to parliament as a whole. It was not my intention to address this to any one member. For that reason, I would not ask the member to withdraw his statement.

SenatePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


John Solomon NDP Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate your remarks. The Speaker is always correct in his observations and I respect that. If I have offended anyone, I apologize.

I will continue my remarks by saying that the Senate can never be reformed. The Reform Party members have said that the Senate costs us $60 million and that they want to reform it. They want an elected Senate which will cost Canadians $120 million or more every year to operate. If we put this question to a referendum and asked Canadians if the Senate should be abolished, my sense is that they, in a unanimous way—probably around 80% to 90%—would support the abolition if the alternative, as the Reform has said, will cost twice as much money.

I put the case forward that if we abolish the Senate we would encourage Canadians to petition us in the House of Commons to strike yet one more level of government that would cost all this money. I bet there would not be a lot of people signing a petition to do that.

The reason I say that is because we are already overgoverned in this country. We have municipal governments, urban hamlets, towns and villages, rural municipalities, counties, school boards, hospital boards, provincial governments, the federal House of Commons and the Senate. We have more governments than people want to pay for. They are asking us to downsize the number of politicians not to increase the number of politicians.

What we should be doing instead is undertaking a referendum on the abolition of the Senate. We should be downsizing the number of politicians we have in the House of Commons and eliminate the Senate. We should argue and put the case forward for more democracy for the members of parliament who are elected to represent constituents in this very important Chamber.

We should, for example, have a forced representation system to empower Canadians to elect as many individuals as they see fit. Whether they vote for the NDP, the Bloc, the Reform Party, the Liberal or the Conservative Party, their vote would count. Therefore, on a percentage basis, if the Conservative Party got 20% of the votes it would get 20% of the seats in the House of Commons. The same would go for the NDP, the Bloc, the Reform Party and the Liberal Party. This means that Canadians would have a vote that counted as opposed to the vote they now have where, in many ridings, they cast a ballot for candidates in political parties that do not get elected.

We should also move to more free votes in the House of Commons. This would empower members of parliament. Committees would be a little more worthwhile and a little more important if we gave members of parliament a little more authority in committees. If we made committees more democratic they could actually look at reviewing the thousands of appointments made by the Liberal government every week and month. They could make sure that appointments were reasonable and fair and that the people who were appointed were fairly competent, as opposed to the many cases where they are not.

The final check and balance we need once the Senate is gone is to have less power in the Prime Minister's office. Let us share the power with some of the cabinet members and some of the members of parliament like they do in other countries through the proportional representation system.

I want to tell a story that I think is very important. If we were to have two elected bodies at the federal level, including an elected Senate that the Reform Party is always pushing for to spend more money on government and politics, the result would be gridlock.

I had the honour and the occasion to meet Bob Dole's campaign manager. Bob Dole ran for president of the United States four years ago. His campaign manager told me that he admires the Canadian democratic process because in the House of Commons the government is accountable every day to the opposition which is elected by other Canadians. He said that what they have in the states is total gridlock. He told me that he was withdrawing from the political process because all they have are very wealthy individuals getting elected to congress and the senate, who are looked after in terms of their priorities and their time by the 12,000 registered lobbyists in Washington. He said that only the wealthy had access to their politicians. They are not accountable every day as we are in this House. We may not like the answers we get in question period, we may not like the things the government says from time to time, but the importance is that we have a democratic process in this country that with the House of Commons alone, if it was empowered in terms of more Canadians becoming involved, empowered because we would have more individual influence on committees, on free votes and so on, we have a very democratic process here.

I maintain that another elected Senate would be a gridlock. It would be counterproductive, costly and I do not think Canadians really want it.

With respect to my colleague from Sarnia—Lambton who does support the abolition of the Senate, as I and all other members of the NDP do, I am not sure we will able to support the motion, although individually some might. However, I really believe that spending extra money on the Senate at this time is throwing good money after bad. We should try to husband our resources like they are our resources, as opposed to the ministers' and the Prime Minister's money.

We should husband the resources that are given to us by the taxpayers and make sure they are spent efficiently and more wisely than we actually are spending them right now.

SenatePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the private member's motion, Motion No. 98. I find it rather disturbing, with all the serious problems facing Canadians throughout the country, that the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton would choose to introduce a motion calling for the introduction of television cameras in the Senate to cover Senate proceedings.

I have listened closely to the debate this evening and two words keep coming to mind to describe it. Those two words are gratuitous frivolity. I have to question why we are debating having television cameras in the Senate at all. It is obviously not a point for the House of Commons to debate. It is a question for the Senate to debate.

The hon. member for Quebec Est discussed, at some length this evening, the attendance of Senate members. We never refer to the attendance of members of the House of Commons. It is against the rules to refer to the attendance of members of the House of Commons, yet we stood here and talked about the attendance of members of the Senate of Canada.

I would suggest, Mr. Speaker—and I am saying this very carefully trying to stay within the rules—that any member who introduces any bill, private member's bill or other bills, in the House should stay for the full and complete debate of that bill. I think that would be following parliamentary procedure.

I recognize that the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton who proposed the motion has been openly critical of our Senate. He has certainly voiced his opinion on this subject through a number of mediums. Now he wants to use the time allotted for Private Members' Business to once again address the issue.

Major changes to the Senate, as all Canadians know, whether we are talking about the abolition of the Senate or the introduction of an elected Senate, will require constitutional change. I am convinced that Canadians do not have the patience for renewed constitutional discussions. Remember, we are not that far removed from the failed Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords. Minor changes to the Senate, such as TV cameras, must come from the Senate, not from the House of Commons.

Since Confederation there has been a certain decorum that has been strictly adhered to by the upper and lower Houses. The House of Commons governs the way we operate just as the upper chamber governs itself.

Although there have been many disagreements among members of both chambers, there has, nevertheless, been a sense of mutual respect for each other's role in our confederation. Both Houses have their own important role to play in our government.

The member for Sarnia—Lambton appears to want to infringe upon the responsibility of the upper chamber. He wants to impose his views on how the business of the upper chamber should be managed and reported to the Canadian public. We may or may not agree with his opinion on TV cameras. Really, that is a moot point. It really does not make any difference. It is not up to us to decide.

I am sure his intentions are honourable. Perhaps he believes there is not a role for the Senate in the Canadian confederation, that it is a waste of money. Perhaps he believes we should have a cameral versus a bicameral system of government. To make this point he introduced a motion that would see the government invest significant amounts of money to televise Senate debates. This little gamesmanship is being played at the expense of the Canadian taxpayer.

Every time we rise in the House it costs Canadians money. Why is the member for Sarnia—Lambton not focusing on some of the major problems that we have in the House of Commons rather than going on a tangent about the upper chamber? Would we not think that after witnessing the terrible debacle that was orchestrated by his government over the past three weeks that he would be looking to make significant changes in the House of Commons and leave the Senate be?

With the Department of Human Resources Development being involved in the greatest example of government mismanagement in the history of Canada, we would think that the member would be pushing his government colleagues to provide Canadians with answers to how $1 billion in government mismanagement was allowed to occur.

Why is he not pushing for changes within the House of Commons and, more specifically, question period? Right now question period is simply that, questions. We ask the questions of the government and it either chooses to ignore them completely or it answers something that is totally irrelevant to what was asked in the first place. Why is the member not pushing to change question period into question and answer period, whereby the government would be forced to answer the questions that are being put to it? Would that not be a novel idea?

Over the past three weeks the acting Minister of Human Resources Development and the real minister in charge, the hon. Prime Minister, have consistently ignored, sidestepped or made light of very serious questions and accusations. Actual answers to the questions have been at a premium. The government—particularly these two individuals—believes that it can simply throw Canadian taxpayers' money into the wind and not have to be held to account.

I really believe that Canadians do care how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent. I firmly believe that the government has the duty to tell them. The government's smoke and mirror answers will eventually catch up to it and it will be held accountable for its actions.

The House of Commons and the upper chamber are filled with tradition. One of these traditions is that we respect each other's role in confederation and do not go about telling one side or the other how to run its business. In short, each House governs its own processes within our bicameral system.

If I remember correctly, another longstanding tradition in government has been maintaining the contents of the government's budget secret. Think about it. We have a budget coming down and the budget is secret. Nobody knows what is in the budget. Nobody has a clue what the finance minister is about to deliver to the House of Commons and, therefore, through the House of Commons to the people of Canada. Nobody has any idea what is in the budget.

I do not think that is necessarily correct. I think we do have some idea. Has it not become a joke the way the finance department has been leaking contents of the budget to the media in recent weeks? It is a wonder if anything will be left to announce come budget day. It will just be another day in the House.

It is no surprise that Canadians have been made privy to some of the details of the finance minister's budget. The government has been desperately trying to deflect attention away from the embattled Minister of Human Resources Development. The government hopes that by spreading a little good news here and a little good news there that the Canadian taxpayer will somehow overlook a $1 billion discrepancy. The sheer amount of leaked information coming out of the finance department simply highlights the extent to which the Liberal government is concerned about the damage it has done by the HRDC fiasco.

There are a few other issues I want to raise. There are other important issues that we should be debating in the House of Commons. One of them is the HRDC debacle. The other one is the September 17 Donald Marshall Jr. decision made by the Supreme Court of Canada and the way the government has handled that decision. It is deplorable.

We do not have a set of rules. It has been five months. There are 33 bands in Atlantic Canada and one of them has been dealt with. One band out of 33. In less than 60 days the lobster season will open on the east coast and we will be putting boats back on the water. What is going to happen then?

We want to talk about Private Members' Business and we want to talk about the role of parliament. We have issues to debate and one of them is not whether we have cameras in the Senate.

We have a trucking situation going on from coast to coast in this country—

SenatePrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I fail to see the relevance of what the member is saying. We are here to debate Motion No. 98, having to do with the televising of debates in the Senate. Is what he is saying relevant to the debate?

SenatePrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I have been following the member's remarks. From time to time it has been a stretch. There are other issues which, in the opinion of the member, are points of debate which he feels could be more relevant.

SenatePrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, there are many relevant items that need to be debated. There is the Atlantic fishery. There are serious problems in our farming communities. Sixty thousand farmers in western Canada are facing bankruptcy. High diesel prices are forcing our truckers off the market and out of business, which will raise the cost of living and the cost of doing business in Canada. We have a 15% tax on diesel fuel. The government brings in nearly $4 billion a year and spends $150 million of that $4 billion on highways. Where has the rest of it gone? Who is it benefiting? Why do we have truckers going bankrupt in Canada? We cannot move goods and services.

There are a number of issues which need to be debated in the House. There are a a number of issues which need to be brought to parliament to be debated by all parties, by all members, but this is not one of them.

SenatePrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank everyone who has spoken, even the member from the fifth party, who, in my opinion, gave a very spirited speech which displayed why he is a member of the fifth party. He has made a very convincing argument about why this is the last place we can argue about the relevance of parliament. That is a very interesting perspective.

It was also interesting that a party which some would suggest has had chemical traces in the public opinion polls would want to defend that 45% of the Senate of Canada which it holds.

I congratulate the speaker from the fifth party for convincing me, and I hope others watching, that the fifth party does not get enough floor time to speak in this place and that it has shown very clearly why its members are having problems following the national agenda.

I appreciate the point of order made by the parliamentary secretary because there is something called relevance in this place. Indeed, there is something called relevance in politics. That party has clearly shown tonight why it might be deemed to be irrelevant at the ballot box.

I want to quote from a book written by a former occupant of the other place, Phillipe Gigantes. He wrote a book called Thin Book: Reforming the Senate . In his opinion “The evolution of the Senate as a more effective institution will be slow and will require changes in attitude from current senators and the House of Commons”—and I am sorry to reveal that to the fifth party—“but will be worth it. If we do not attempt to reform the Senate it will be abolished. If we persist in failing to address the shortcomings of the Senate there will come a time when it becomes impossible to justify its existence”.

This is a former occupant of the other place who said, notwithstanding what the fifth party says, that it must be done from within the House of Commons and the other place.

I have never pretended to advocate anything but the abolition of the Senate. However, on the issue of Senate TV, I think that former Senator Gigantes and other like-minded occupants and former occupants of the other place can make common cause with me in the effort to have the other place televised. With this in mind the televised broadcasting of all Senate proceedings could accomplish the following.

It could give Canadians the opportunity to judge for themselves whether they are getting their money's worth. They pay about $60 million to shore up the other place and keep it going. Are they getting their money's worth?

The occupants of the other place would no longer work in relative obscurity such as those members in this place who are in parties which do not get a lot of time to speak. In fact, I would be very surprised if the average Canadian could identify one occupant of the other place. If Senate proceedings were open to television cameras, a consensus might finally emerge on the issue of the Senate itself.

In the year 2000 the occupants of the other place can no longer hide behind the curtains and maintain the quality of their debates is higher. They say that the quality of their debates is higher in the absence of television coverage.

I am absolutely shocked that members of the fifth party in this place would use the House of Commons to defend the approximately 48 members in the other place who are there, who are not accountable and some of whom were given 35 years of uninterrupted service to this country by their former leader. I find it shocking that they would try to defend that in this place. This is a place of debate and they do not want to debate it and that is that.

SenatePrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

SenateAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Rick Laliberte NDP Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker,

The new millennium offered Canada an opportunity to start a new approach to resource development across this great country. We have a responsibility to learn from the mistakes in the last century so we do not repeat them in the next.

We have a duty to involve and respect the people's views and recommendations to resource management issues. This includes the extraction of resources and the crown's responsibility under the charter to respect traditional land use for hunting and gathering purposes.

As parliamentarians it is our duty to represent the best interests of Canadians and to ensure that our decisions today do not harm the generations that will follow.

I bring to the attention of the House that there are serious problems associated with the proposed Diavik diamond mine in the Northwest Territories. A multibillion dollar fiasco is unfolding in Canada's north.

The Diavik project is an important step toward providing jobs and self-sufficiency for northerners. Northwest Territories proponents stated in an open letter to the Prime Minister that the 20 year project could create $1 billion in federal corporate taxes, $600 million in federal royalties and $500 million in territorial corporate taxes. This $2.1 billion is in addition to the $1.3 billion construction investment. The total is $4.3 billion and most important, 400 permanent jobs will be created.

Liberal government mismanagement and a disregard for a proper environmental assessment process have placed this project and the crown's integrity at risk.

In October 1999 the environment minister was presented with serious concerns from the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board. The highlights included: abandonment and restoration of the Diavik diamonds project was not considered in the comprehensive study report; the environmental impact of loss of wilderness as a social value was not assessed; the cumulative effects of nearby mine operations were not addressed, a specific promise made by the government.

The environment minister decided to ignore the first major challenge by the Mackenzie Valley board to ensure proper resource procedures were followed. His decision placed little assurance on future northern development and community concerns.

The minister also chose to make his announcement while out of the country and not subject to direct questions or accountability for his actions. Thankfully the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development showed courage and called for specific recommendations to be met before land use permits would be issued, thankfully because a dramatic demonstration in federation incompetence soon followed.

The Northwest Territories Water Board discovered during routine proceedings that the tailings liners, a plastic and cement material crucial for protecting the environment, did not work in cold conditions. How could a federal environment minister approve a project when key project components failed? More remarkable, CBC North footage which aired on February 11 showed that work had begun on the site without permits. Shame.

With taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in northern mine site cleanups, and with northern regions of Canada pleading for sustainable development that does not destroy the land and traditional land use, when will the Liberal government put competence and respect ahead of arrogance and neglect?

I look forward to the parliamentary secretary's response, although I do not expect specific details as the Diavik project is under federal investigation.

SenateAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Burlington Ontario


Paddy Torsney LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, in response to questions by hon. colleagues from Churchill River and Yukon on the Diavik mines project, let me say that the government's actions are completely consistent with the commitments outlined in the Speech from the Throne. We in the government continue to set tough environmental standards across Canada. We are taking steps that will continue to protect the northern environment and safeguard the long term interest of Canadians who live in the north.

The comprehensive study process for the Diavik diamonds project was the most detailed comprehensive study review that has taken place under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act so far. The Government of Canada spent more than 18 months working on the assessment of this project. Public consultation was extensive with more than 300 meetings, workshops and technical discussions conducted in affected communities throughout NWT.

More than three-quarters of a million dollars was provided to northern stakeholders to help them participate in the review process, a process that was open and inclusive and placed a high priority on public participation. The minister heard from and took into account the concerns of aboriginal organizations, environmental groups, concerned citizens, as well as the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board.

The comprehensive study report prepared by the departments of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Fisheries and Oceans, and Natural Resources reflects the tremendous amount of effort that has been invested in assessing the potential environmental impacts of this project. The minister fully supports the conclusions of the comprehensive study prepared by these federal departments. He is confident that with the implementation of the mitigation and monitoring measures set out in this report, the Diavik mines project is not likely to have significant adverse environmental affects.

To further demonstrate the government's resolve in protecting the northern environment, I draw my hon. colleague's attention to the additional commitments set out in the decision on this project. These commitments include the implementation of a regional, cumulative effects management framework, establishing a monitoring program mechanism that will include aboriginal peoples, and the approval of a program to abandon and restore the mine site in a manner consistent with sustainable development. These commitments address concerns raised during the public consultation process, and they will contribute to further reducing the residual effects.

These actions demonstrate the government's environmental commitments, including the commitments set out in the Speech from the Throne.

SenateAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, in October I raised the issue of the terrible situation facing visible minorities in the federal public service. I pointed out at the time that the Canadian Human Rights Commission noted that there was a decrease of 501 visible minorities in permanent public service jobs in 1998. Of the 28 executive positions filled from outside the public service, a grand total of zero were visible minorities.

The minister responded by claiming that the government had been “working for years to increase the number of people of visible minorities working in the public service”. It is now four months later, and we have still seen no action.

This month is Black History Month. The Liberal government has taken no major concrete action this month or since its election to address the representation of blacks or other visible minorities within the federal public service.

In about one month from now I expect the task force on the participation of visible minorities in the federal public service to table its report with the President of the Treasury Board. On behalf of all Canadians seeking fairness, justice and equity, I challenge the Liberal government to act quickly and with integrity when the report is tabled. The report may very well call for specific quotas and targets to be met in the short and medium term.

While there are legitimate concerns with quotas, I fear that the Liberal government has let racism and discrimination in the federal public service become so out of control that such short term measures are the only way to begin to address the extent of the crisis.

I am appalled that the government has chosen to exclude those designated as permanent residents who are not Canadian citizens from the available rate established for visible minorities. Our Canadian community includes visible minorities, many of whom are permanent residents but not yet Canadian citizens.

It is outrageous and inexcusable that the Liberal government treats these people as statistical pawns in an ill fated effort to make the numbers look better. The Liberal government can also take action to improve the current accountability mechanisms used by departments with respect to staffing and equity.

While the Canadian Human Rights Commission does very good work, it should not fall upon it to undertake employment equity audits or complaints investigations. Surely simple logic would suggest that the government has an obligation to people of colour and to all Canadians to ensure there is accountability that works.

The accountability mechanisms must ensure that non-complying departments and agencies can be dealt with and forced to comply. Will the government also ensure that the increasing number of hirings done through acting appointments and secondments are subjected to the same scrutiny and considered part of the analysis of hiring shares which are used by the government to determine participation rates from various sectors of society?

I also encourage the Liberal government to no longer hide from the issue of the participation of visible minority women. I challenge the government to develop concrete plans out in full view of the public to increase the participation of visible minority women in non-traditional occupations. Is the government even aware that the proportion of visible minority members entering the female dominated administrative support category is at 40%?

In closing, should the Liberal government finally agree to meet the challenge posed by racism and discrimination in the public service by actually coming forward with a plan, I encourage the government to work closely with its elected employee representatives.

SenateAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.

Burlington Ontario


Paddy Torsney LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in response to the question posed by the hon. member for Halifax West. This is an issue that has been near and dear to my heart in all my life and in all my career.

As the President of the Treasury Board has already pointed out, the government is working to increase the number of people in a visible minority in the federal public service. It is important to recognize that during fiscal year 1998—99 there were a total of 14,338 indeterminate departures from the federal public service, of which 3.7% were visible minority employees. During the same period we recruited 2,533 new indeterminate employees, of which 6.9% were persons in a visible minority. While we recognize that 6.9% does not meet the labour market availability of 8.7%, we are continuing to make progress toward a representative public service.

During fiscal year 1998—99, 38 executives were hired from outside the public service, of which 10.5% were persons in a visible minority. We are demonstrating our commitment to increased representation of persons in a visible minority in the executive ranks.

A task force on the participation of visible minorities in the federal public service was established in April last year, as the member opposite recognized. The task force is examining the situation of visible minorities, building on previous studies and developing a government-wide action plan with concrete strategies to address the issues and improvement of the situation of visible minorities in the federal public service.

We expect the action plan, as the member recognized, to come in the coming months. The government is committed to making the Public Service of Canada better reflect the diversity, the strength and the growth of the Canadian society. I join the member opposite in encouraging the President of the Treasury Board and all hon. members, in making their suggestions for concrete action, to come forward and see that plan implemented. It is important for all Canadians.

SenateAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6.54 p.m.)