Madam Speaker, before the member for Port Moody--Coquitlam--Port Coquitlam leaves the House, I would like to commend him for introducing the motion on greater democracy in our parliamentary system. It is extremely important that we democratize our parliamentary institutions and our voting system.
I want to say to him before he leaves that during the decade of the 1980s, I was the NDP critic for constitutional affairs for all five constitutional rounds. The most difficult issue I had to deal with pre-Charlottetown and the Beaudoin-Dobbie report and the Beaudoin-Edwards report, was the whole issue of what was to be done with the Senate.
The meetings went on for weeks and weeks here before Charlottetown. We kept leaving the Senate issue to last. It was more difficult than the division of powers. It was more difficult than the charter of rights. It was more difficult than language rights and all kinds of other very complicated issues.
It was interesting that at the very end we had a three party agreement on the Senate. This may surprise the member. Maybe he has already studied it. We recommended at that time that we elect the Senate and do it totally by proportional representation. The interesting thing was that we had all party agreement on it which took considerable compromise for our party, for example, and its historic position, and for other parties as well. That proposal of the House of Commons went to the first ministers. The first ministers decided to jettison that particular proposal.
It is a very complicated issue that we are dealing with today. It is historically very difficult. I commend the member for raising it. I think he means well when he says we should elect senators or appoint the senators who have been elected by certain provinces that have legislation to elect them. I see one major problem with that, and I say this in a very sincere way. I believe we would have all kinds of very unintended consequences if we were to appoint the senators whom different provinces elect.
Alberta has legislation to elect a senator. If we started doing that for Alberta, we would find that the other provinces would probably start doing the same thing. Before we knew it, in a very unintended way, we would have a completely elected Senate.
The powers of the Senate are the ones that were decreed upon it going back to 1867. The representation of the Senate is based on the population, the demographics and the intent of the Fathers of Confederation back in 1867. Once we legitimize the Senate, those senators who are then elected will not agree to any serious reform that would diminish their powers.
We would have 24 elected senators in Ontario, 24 in the province of Quebec, only six in the province of British Columbia and 10 in new Brunswick. British Columbia would only have six senators out of 104, which is 5% of the Senate, and the population of B.C. is already well over 5% of Canada and is growing very rapidly. In an unintended way we would lock in a very unfair system with tremendous distortions in representation. Prince Edward Island has four senators for some 130,000 people. British Columbia has a population of some three million or thereabouts. If in effect we were to put the cart before the horse by agreeing to allow the Prime Minister to appoint senators elected by the provinces based on the current representation, my fear is we would never change the representation in the Senate.
The current Senate actually has considerable powers. It does not use those considerable powers because senators are not elected. However, if they were elected, why would they not use those powers? They would have as much legitimacy as the House of Commons. Why would they not use those powers? We would invite deadlock between the two houses. That was not something that was foreseen by the people who drafted the Canadian constitution. They saw it as an appointed house with the House of Commons superseding the Senate in terms of powers. That would be one of the unintended consequences.
I can tell the member that when we dealt with the Charlottetown agreement a number of years ago, when different proposals were made, we always had difficulty in terms of representation and powers. If we had a vision of an elected Senate with a lot of powers, then there was no way under the sun we could get equality of the provinces. Ontario and Quebec would not stand for it, and why would they with so many people? Ontario and Quebec have two-thirds or 70% of the people of this country. Why would they agree to equality with Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and so on?
If we reduce radically the powers of the Senate to the point where it is not very relevant, why have a Senate at all? It is like a dog chasing its tail. The proposal, which is really well intended in terms of democracy and democratic reform, is putting the cart before the horse.
The question is what do we do? Historically I believe we should abolish the place. Prior to Charlottetown we came to the point of view that we would elect the Senate but we would do it totally by proportional representation. I am back to just abolishing the place because I do not think we are ever going to reform it.
I remember when Brian Mulroney came to the House of Commons as prime minister he wanted to abolish the Senate. Many prime ministers have wanted to reform the Senate: Prime Minister Trudeau; Prime Minister Pearson; Prime Minister Diefenbaker. Many prime ministers wanted to reform the Senate but it is never going to happen. It is easier just to abolish it, get rid of it.
In polls today about 5% of Canadians support the existing Senate with the existing powers, existing representation and so on. The other 95% are split roughly 50:50 between Senate reform and the abolition of the Senate. In the polls over the past five or six years, the abolition movement in Canada has been growing each and every year. People are frustrated spending $60 million a year on an unelected, unaccountable, undemocratic institution.
The member from British Columbia raised a very good question. He directed it to the NDP in general about what happens to the smaller provinces and regions if we have only one house, a unicameral system. The Senate is supposed to fulfill two responsibilities. One is a check and balance on the powers of the House of Commons. The other one is regional representation in the central institution of parliament.
In my opinion we cannot have the abolition of the Senate in isolation. We have to look at a democratic and growing reform mechanism. If we abolish the Senate, the checks and balances the Senate is supposed to have should be brought into reforming the House of Commons itself. MPs need more power, the committee chairs, the finance committee, all the committees need more power, more independence.
We are the most handcuffed parliamentary system in the world in terms of having confidence votes on almost every issue and having very few free votes. The Prime Minister should not have the power to make all the appointments that he does. There should be a ratification process by the relevant parliamentary committee. We should have fixed election dates, fixed budget dates to democratize our system. If we did that, we would move some of the checks and balances that were intended to be held in the hands of the senators by the drafters of the constitution in the first place into the House of Commons. We would have checks and balances on the executive or the government.
That is one important function of the Senate we can bring into the House of Commons and make the role of the ordinary member of parliament a great deal more meaningful than it is today. I have been here since 1968, except for four years. I have seen the erosion of the power and the relevancy of this place, the erosion of parliamentary democracy.
More power is being concentrated in the hands of the executive. It got worse during the latter part of the Trudeau days and worse yet during the Mulroney days. It is worse now during the days of the current Prime Minister. If anyone has to verify that, ask Liberal backbenchers about the power of the Prime Minister's Office and the lack of power of individual members of parliament. We cannot ask them publicly because our parliamentary system now has so much power in the hands of the Prime Minister and the executive that a government backbencher cannot speak out. It has to be changed.
With regard to regionalism, if we are going to get rid of the Senate we should bring in a system of proportional representation where the will of the people is reflected accurately here in the central institution, the House of Commons. We would have a parliamentary system, a voting system where if a party got 10% of the votes it would get 10% of the seats in the House. The regions would be represented here in the centre. Any kind of government or parliament in the world that has some measure of proportional representation tends to have a better national vision in how it governs. It forces all parties to have a national vision.
When the Liberal Party cannot win seats in the rural prairies or the NDP does not win seats in Quebec or the Alliance does not win seats in Newfoundland, we all as political parties tend to narrow our focus in terms of what we concentrate on. We need a system of proportional representation or a measure of proportional representation in order to reflect the will of people here in the House of Commons.
If we abolished the Senate, reformed the electoral system, reformed parliament and made parliament more democratic, I think we would have an institution that would make all Canadians a lot more proud than they are today.
The intentions of the member are honourable but I think if we elected a Senate based on existing powers and on existing representation we would be making the big mistake of locking into our parliamentary system a mechanism that was designed over 100 years ago.