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.


Division No. 751
Government Orders

5 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion lost.

Division No. 751
Government Orders

5 p.m.


Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak to the amendments to Bill C-13, the CIHR.

I want to publicly congratulate Dr. Friesen on the great work he has done in pushing this through. I also want to make some comments about my friend from the NDP, the health critic, who also brought up some excellent points that were ignored in committee and to which answers were not forthcoming.

Quite frankly, when I sat on the committee last year as the health critic, we as a party were firmly in support of the essence of the bill, the organization of it and the public-private partnership notion. It had a great deal of foresight. Dr. Friesen and his colleagues deserve a great deal of credit for that. It is a good idea and something that we in the Reform Party support.

However, a number of very constructive solutions that our party put forward at committee stage were repeatedly shot down. Why? Because once again the committee demonstrated very clearly that it was not demonstrating the autonomy that it ought to have if it was going to have credibility as an institution.

Committee members made amendments that would have strengthened the bill and allayed the concerns of the research community. These amendments were universally defeated by the government without, I might add, a great deal of forethought. The amendments put forward—some by the NDP, some by the Reform Party and some no doubt by other opposition parties—would have strengthened the bill and made it better. However, those amendments were defeated because they came from the opposition, and I think that is a sham.

Unfortunately, this takes place far too often in committees. Committees are supposed to be an avenue where members from across political parties can negotiate, discuss and debate issues related to bills in a manner that is largely beyond partisanship. The health committee chose not to pursue that course on a bill which could be enormously supportive of the research community and of the health and welfare of Canadians.

The organization is fairly good. We support Dr. Friesen's contention and promise that a maximum of 5% of the moneys allocated toward research will go toward administration, making this a lean, mean organization, one where 95% of the money is spent on the hard edge of research, which we support. In order for this to happen, I put forward an amendment on behalf of the Reform Party but it was not accepted.

Another important issue is to ensure that basic research, a fundamental aspect of research in Canada, would be secured and that 20% of the money that was available would be proportioned directly to basic research.

One of the problems of involving a public-private partnership is that basic research, which does not have any short term to intermediate term benefit and no observable, concrete benefit in terms of profit-making for the private sector, would not be adequately funded in Canada. Dr. Polanyi, our Nobel prize laureate in chemistry, and other researchers, sent letters to all committee members saying that this was very important. We put forth an amendment to ensure that at least 20% of the money allocated to the CIHR would go toward basic research but that was defeated.

There are no assurances in the bill that basic research will be financially supported, basic research that may not have the support of the private sector. This is a flaw in the bill which I hope the government will rectify as soon as possible.

We also found that there was not enough support for conflict of interest provisions, which the NDP health critic talked about very eloquently. These provisions could affect the decision making and allocation of funds through the CIHR. This needs to be addressed and I would ask the government to do that.

I have further issues that need to be addressed in the bill for the sake of research in the country.

First, at least 20% of the money that is available should go toward basic research. I challenge the new CIHR to investigate naturopathic substances. As a physician, one of the problems we have in the practice of medicine is trying to incorporate naturopathic substances. We know some of it has a placebo effect, is not useful and is not backed by any science. Others have a demonstrative therapeutic effect on people but we do not know if it is a placebo effect or if it is based on good science. The medical community would love to know which naturopathic substances have a therapeutic effect and which ones do not.

Pharmaceutical companies are not prepared to engage in the roughly $500 million required to determine if a substance has an effect. Therefore, it would be up to organizations like the CIHR to engage in a public-private partnership to see which of these naturopathic substances have an effect and which do not. This would be fascinating.

It is frustrating to see substances such as EDTA being used by people in Canada and the United States with allegedly profound impacts on cardiovascular disease when there is not enough evidence to show whether it truly works or whether it has a placebo effect. If it does not work, then we should know about it. If it does work it could have a profound impact on lessening the need for surgical and non-surgical interventions in treating cardiovascular disease. Statements have been made by patients indicating that this has had a profound impact on their health and well-being. I have no factual evidence to back this up and no scientific proof that substances such as EDTA work.

St. John's wort can work very well for people with depression. This is the impression we have and it has worked on patients. However, we would like some scientific basis as to why these things work. It would certainly help medical practitioners in Canada.

I would also like to bring up the issue of research and how moneys are allocated. Too often moneys are allocated on the basis of special interest groups. The interest group that screams the loudest gets the most money.

My colleague from Vancouver North Shore has done a yeoman's job in bringing the issue of prostate cancer to the forefront. For many years prostate cancer did not get the funding it warranted based on the number of people it affected. Similarly, breast cancer did not get the funding it required based on the number of women it affected.

We should base the research, and the moneys that are proportioned to it, on the morbidity, mortality and economic effects a disease has on society. It should not be based on the group that screams the loudest.

The House might be interested to know that unipolar disorder or major depression will have a profound effect on our country in the future. In fact, it will be the second leading cause of disability in the next 20 years. Just imagine major depression being the second leading cause of morbidity in our country.

Another issue our policy makers are ignoring is the impact that psychiatric disorders, particularly dementia, will have on our health care system in the future. There is not enough leadership on this issue. I plead with the Minister of Health to meet with his ministers to look at what can be done today to address the future problem of dementia. As we get older the issue of psychiatric and dementia problems in the geriatric population will have a profound impact on our health care dollar. If we do not put in place today the tools to deal with it, we will be caught in a very difficult situation in the future.

I will now put a plug in for my private member's motion that passed in the House in May 1997 for the national headstart program. I know it was supported by members across party lines, but we need a spark to ignite it. It will save the taxpayers billions of dollars. It will save thousands and thousands of children in the country. It will deal with issues such as fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects. It will reduce teen pregnancy by 40%. It will keep kids in school longer. It is something that will benefit children.

Our party is prepared to work with members from across party lines to put this into action. I implore the relevant ministers to call their provincial counterparts in justice, health and human resources and work together to put a national headstart program in place that will benefit all Canadians.

Division No. 751
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.


Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak today in the debate on report stage of Bill C-13, the short title of which is the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Act. I would like to congratulate my colleague from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve for the excellence and relevance of his speech this morning.

My pleasure at being able to speak on the institutes of health research stems from my very longstanding interest in this matter. As far back as 1997, I wrote the federal Minister of Health submitting a medical research project in the area of genetics that had been prepared by a leading group of researchers in the region I represent.

At that time I asked him to examine the merit of the proposal in order to award it some funding. At that time, unfortunately, the Minister of Health informed me that there was no money.

Last June, I again wrote the Minister of Health, inviting him to take advantage of being in my region to meet a team of researchers interested in the possibility of a virtual research institute which might meet their needs.

My party and I have long been calling for a fair share of R and D investments for Quebec, and if these were to benefit my region, all the better.

I would like to conclude this overview by mentioning that last week I sent a letter to the Minister of Health in which I pointed out my disagreement with federal government cuts since 1993 in the health sector and with the longstanding unfairness in the disbursement of federal research and development funding in Quebec.

I then observed that of course we would respond favourably to an opportunity to receive our fair share of these new investments and to provincial jurisdiction over health being respected.

At this time, I also wish to thank the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve for giving me a prime spot in committee during clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-13.

I used the opportunity to invite two researchers from my region to appear as witnesses. Dr. Marcel Mélançon, director of Quebec's genetic and ethical research group at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, and Michel Perron, director of the ECOBES research group at the Cegep de Jonquière, which is studying the living conditions and needs of populations, pointed out that expertise in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region in the field of genetic determinants in the health of the population is very promising.

They also reminded committee members that it was important to consolidate scientific expertise in the regions and to promote the integration of researchers and interdisciplinarity. Mr. Perron said that it was essential to support the training of research graduates from the regions and that incentives were necessary to keep them in contact with regional health problems.

Mr. Mélançon testified that project evaluation should be done by peers, i.e. other scientists, and that it was essential that a single committee of experts not be given sole authority.

CIHRs should ensure that science is conducted with conscience and that it serves the public's best interests. The contribution of normative social sciences such as ethics and law should not be neglected. This is why he was saying that CIHRs should have ethics committees or even that an institute dealing exclusively with ethical issues in research would be totally justified.

It would be good if people outside the scientific community, sometimes called lay persons, could have their say, without interfering with strictly technical decisions, so that the wishes and concerns of the people can be heard and so that scientists are not isolated in their ivory tower.

My party, the Bloc Quebecois, and I have long supported the idea of reinvesting in research. The Bloc Quebecois supported the principle of the bill at second reading.

Even though we agree with the principle of the bill, it does not mean that we are willing to accept it as is. The Bloc Quebecois has proposed amendments which, if adopted, would make the bill acceptable. I truly believe in the importance of this bill and I think it is possible to amend it to make it better.

My colleague, the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, has brought forward essential amendments, which would recognize the provinces' jurisdiction in the area of health and which would subject CIHRs to a consultation process with the provinces. It is crucial that the bill be more explicit with regard to the importance of treating the regions fairly in allocating the research institutes that will be created.

I will briefly summarize the amendments brought forward by the Bloc Quebecois. Specifically, the first group of motions is comprised of 11 amendments, which clearly specify that the bill is about health research, not about a potential expansion of mandates beyond that research.

The idea is to ensure that decisions about the choices and principles underlying health networks and services to the public come under the exclusive authority of the provinces, as provided by the Constitution, which the Liberals claim to protect when in fact they are violating it through increasingly more unacceptable infringements on provincial jurisdictions.

We are simply asking that the bill allow the establishment of the institutes while respecting the division of powers.

This is why we insist on these amendments, which seek to clearly indicate that Bill C-13 is about health research. Again, it is not the establishment of institutes that poses a problem to the Bloc Quebecois, but the possibility of infringement on a provincial jurisdiction, namely health services to the public, without meaningful consultations with the provinces.

It is essential that the federal government make it clear that it has no intention of using this bill to create parallel structures and that it supports the initiatives undertaken by the provinces.

In conclusion, the Bloc Quebecois is prepared to co-operate with the federal government to amend this bill, so that it will truly serve health research while also respecting federal and provincial jurisdictions, for the benefit of the public's health, and so that the region of Jonquière, which I have the honour of representing, can benefit from it. In our region, we have top researchers who, in spite of limited funding over the years, have made their mark at the local, provincial and national level.

Therefore I call on the government to pay very close attention to the Bloc's amendments. If it does, we will be pleased to support its bill. But if the government does not do that, we will unfortunately have no choice but to oppose the bill.

Division No. 751
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is extremely important that the Bloc Quebecois be here to speak to this bill.

While this may also be true of other provinces, we all know that, in Quebec, research, and health research in particular, has been extremely hard hit by the cuts made by the central government. We have just gone through a period when transfers were cut by some 40%. Universities have seen their budgets reduced. We has been hard to provide training to new researchers.

Yet, Quebec has continued to contribute more than Canada, allowing Canada to build up its resources, which, as we now know, have become surpluses the importance of which we will find out on Monday.

As a result, while graphs on the growth of health research in the United States showed an increase, those on health research in Canada for the same period showed a decline. It was urgent for the Canadian government to invest in health.

We have nothing against the Canadian government investing in health, on the contrary. But how does it go about it? It decides to change the structure. Instead of putting money back into the centre for biomedical research which had been funding and supporting, all over the country, groups that may also find other funding sources and thrive, as was often the case in Quebec—Quebec and its research groups are often cited as examples—the federal government has seen fit and necessary to centralize biomedical research through this legislation.

Some may argue that these are virtual centres. True, but the intention is clear. That is why one the Bloc's amendments seeks to change a paragraph in the preamble of the bill.

On page 2 of the bill it states, and I quote:

Whereas Parliament believes that health research institutes should be created to coordinate, focus—

I did not invent the word “focus”.

—and integrate health research based on

When they talk about co-ordination, one might wonder, because this usually involves independent entities. They use the word “focus” in reference to research, but focussing is not always necessary; sometimes complementarity is required, and teams working in different directions may, at some point in time, through healthy competition, achieve results faster. This bill however seeks to focus and integrate health research.

I know that distinguished people have worked on that issue, but we are here to fulfil our responsibilities as politicians and, in politics, one cannot rely on politicians and deputy ministers fits of generosity. We read the enactments. If we did not read them and report what we found in them, we would not be doing our job.

Too many extraordinary efforts have been made in the field of biomedical research in Quebec, and too much creativity and genius has been put into not only discovery but also preparation and organisation processes to let the federal government step in with its maple leaf and centralise and integrate health research when money is being invested.

It is totally unacceptable. There is no doubt that those who drafted this bill knew that it was totally unacceptable to Quebec, but they also knew that the research industry has become exhausted because of lack of funding and that it needs money. We do understand that. But it is our responsibility to say that we will not agree to anything just because we need money. Otherwise, we would be saying that the government was right in doing what it has done since 1994, which was to empoverish the provinces, and particularly Quebec, when we all know how the health budget was treated the last time. It would be saying that the government had been right, because it would allow it to take control over the centralization and integration of health.

This clearly shows the importance of the Bloc Quebecois' presence here.

Under such conditions, Quebec's opposition is not surprising. I am sure that nobody is happy about it, because we all know very well that we need the money, but we cannot easily give up what could be called community ownership. It would be utterly unacceptable.

Although its authors' intentions are praiseworthy, this bill is dangerous and unacceptable as it stands, and the Bloc will say that it is dangerous and unacceptable. Would it be so difficult for members opposite to accept to take away the words “to centralise and integrate the research”? I would be very surprised if they accepted to take that passage out.

What is happening with Bill C-20 can be seen in a general way in the attitudes. I know that the members opposite are laughing, but I urge them to try to understand that the people of Quebec, its representatives, the National Assembly and all those who defend our common heritage cannot understand that, for this country that they claim to care for, they do not accept to make amendments that are only legitimate, normal, necessary and minimum.

We will therefore strongly oppose this bill.

Business Of The House
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I inform the House that under the provisions of Standing Order 30, I am designating Thursday, March 2, 2000 as the day fixed for the consideration of private member's Motion No. 211, standing in the order of precedence in the name of the hon. member for Churchill.

This other period set out for the consideration of Private Members' Business will be held from 6.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. and the House will then move on to the adjournment proceedings pursuant to Standing Order 38.

It being 5.31 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business, as listed on today's order paper.

Private Members' Business

February 24th, 2000 / 5:30 p.m.


Roger Gallaway 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.

Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Rob Anders 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.

Private 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.

Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Jean-Paul Marchand 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.

Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


John Solomon 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.

Private 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.

Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Stéphane Bergeron 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?

Private 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.

Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Derek Lee 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.

Private 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.