House of Commons Hansard #115 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was liability.


The SenatePrivate Members' Business

5:05 p.m.

Leeds—Grenville Ontario


Joe Jordan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak on the motion introduced by my colleague from Port Moody--Coquitlam. I was struck by the content of his speech. It seems to be some sort of rationalization as to why his party voted against Charlottetown.

I would suggest to him that Senate reform is certainly not an issue that is new to the House. About seven years after the BNA Act was brought into law, I think, the House debated Senate reform. I think the Senate itself started debating Senate reform in 1909 in terms of suggesting that there be term limits and that the provinces play a role in the appointment of the senators.

The fundamental argument or discussion we are having here today is about the system of government we have. I find it strange that a party which continually argues for democracy and for decentralization of power would then turn around and chastise the Prime Minister for not summarily throwing the constitution out the window and changing the rules of how the country is governed just because Alberta has a Senate election.

I think there is an inherent contradiction in that statement, in that scorched earth policy that the Alliance Party brought in, and the Reform Party before it, until they realized that it was burning the ground under their own feet. How can they come to Ottawa and decide, in the course of a year and a half, that somehow they have all the answers and they will fix our system of Senate reform?

The system of government that we have in this country is a system that has evolved. This government has said consistently that it is open to looking at the issue of Senate reform. However, the issue of Senate reform is far and away wider and more complex than simply putting in a process to elect senators.

The hon. member says we should look at Australia. We absolutely should look at Australia if we want to understand the effect of unintended consequences. If we look at parliaments that have derived from the British parliamentary system, they are systems that are rooted in majoritarianism: the majority rules. That is the system we have. We do not have the American system. Australia has taken on a bit of a combination, with an elected senate.

What we have that Australia does not is the supremacy of one House. We have an elected body and a Senate that is appointed and serves, in Sir John A. Macdonald's terms, as a House of “sober second thought”. This member can stand up here and rail against the effectiveness of the Senate--

The SenatePrivate Members' Business

5:05 p.m.

An hon. member

Of sober thought.

The SenatePrivate Members' Business

5:05 p.m.


Joe Jordan Liberal Leeds—Grenville, ON

Of sober thought, my colleague adds.

I would just point to very recent times and the role the Senate played in the clarity bill and the role it is currently playing in the anti-terrorism legislation. To somehow equate the method they are chosen by and the legitimacy is, I think, a bit of a stretch.

Senate reform has been an ongoing debate in the country. It is certainly nothing new. The Charlottetown proposal was part of a larger attempt to bring closure to a constitutional issue. Again, I do not think Canadians have an appetite right now to open up that constitutional debate. We might be able to find a collection of people who say the existing system is not meeting whatever needs they define as being important, but I would further suggest that finding a common ground on what that solution should be will prove extremely difficult, not that I do not think that exercise needs to be undertaken.

To go back to the Australian model, what they have with two elected houses is deadlock between the two. In our system the Senate very rarely vetoes bills coming from the House of Commons. It may try to improve them, but it does not exercise its constitutional veto because it understands that the elected body has supremacy.

In Australia it has evolved into two elected bodies, two partisan houses, which do not serve any real purpose. If we are to go down that road then we have to take a serious look at what the NDP is proposing, because an elected Senate, as far as I am concerned, does not make a whole lot of sense in the larger scheme of how government in this country works. In Australia, the other thing that happens with an elected senate is that pressure builds because it is pretty hard to defend the regional allocation of seats or states.

If we look at quotes very recently by one of the Australian senators from Tasmania, he himself said that he could no longer defend the fact that a small state like Tasmania is given equal representation as larger states.

Again I would just caution my hon. colleague that on the surface it may look like a good idea but the unintended consequences have to be taken into consideration.

In terms of Senate reform and what people mean by Senate reform, that too has evolved over time. Until very recently, Senate reform proposals and motions in this place and the other place have focused on what the Senate does and reforming that appointed body. Very recently Senate reform has become absolutely fixated on the election of senators and how they are chosen. It somehow equates that method of selection with legitimacy in terms of the role they play in the government.

I do not know what the issue is that the member has with the appointment process. We appoint the judiciary in the country as is done at the federal level in the United States. It is not an uncommon system. The role of the Senate is clearly defined and it performs that role well. I firmly believe that if we were to go ahead and make this one change we would be eroding regional representation. We would have a hard time convincing colleagues from Atlantic Canada that it is a good idea.

Let us look at what the current Senate is made up of. Right now about one-third of the senators are women compared to about one-fifth of the MPs in this House. Which is more representative of Canada? It is the highest percentage of women in any Canadian legislative body. In fact it is the fifth highest of any legislative body in the world.

There are politicians from the House of Commons, from provincial legislatures, municipal politicians, lawyers, doctors, religious leaders, musicians, hockey players, farmers, teachers, journalists, business people, federal and provincial civil servants, men and women with deep roots in volunteer and political activities. Their average age is about 12 years older than the average age in the House of Commons. They bring considerable experience and life experiences.

The SenatePrivate Members' Business

5:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Canadian Alliance Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Democracy is more important.

The SenatePrivate Members' Business

5:10 p.m.


Joe Jordan Liberal Leeds—Grenville, ON

My colleague is chirping about democracy. I would ask him--

The SenatePrivate Members' Business

5:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I apologize to the parliamentary secretary but this is not a debate. You can carry the debate outside the House, I have no problem with that, but in the House please address your questions, answers and comments to the Chair.

The SenatePrivate Members' Business

5:10 p.m.


Joe Jordan Liberal Leeds—Grenville, ON

Madam Speaker, on the issue of democracy, if we are going to elect senators and say that just because we elect them it is democratic, but then force allocations that do not represent the population base in the country, I do not know what we would call that. I guess we would call it democracy light.

The Senate is not democratically selected by design. It is appointed and is more representative of the people of Canada than those of us who have to go through the electoral process. It is a very good cross-section of Canadians who have had successful careers and who apply that knowledge to the task at hand. As Sir John A. Macdonald pointed out that it is a house of sober second thought, making sure that governments do not move too swiftly.

In conclusion, I am not necessarily at odds with my colleague in terms of Senate reform. We have to take a look at the various aspects that run through virtually countless proposals for Senate reform, that is, the method by which they are selected, what it is they do, and the distribution and areas they represent. What the motion does is it takes one of those three things and says to address it. To simply elect senators and say the situation will be solved is very naïve.

What we need to do is undertake a fundamental discussion in the country about the role of the Senate, how senators are selected and the areas they represent. We have to include all the range of that spectrum. At one end is the status quo, at the other end is to abolish it altogether. Clearly the motion is too narrow to have any use at all. As the Australian situation points out, it could in fact have very negative unintended consequences for the country. Therefore I will not be supporting the motion.

The SenatePrivate Members' Business

5:15 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

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.

Business of the HousePrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, there has been consultation among House leaders and I think you would find unanimous support for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any standing order or usual practice, at 2 p.m. on November 21, 2001, a minister of the crown may propose the introduction and first reading of a bill entitled “an act to amend certain acts of Canada, and to enact measures for implementing the biological and toxin weapon convention in order to enhance public safety”.

By way of explanation, this is a bill for which members will receive a briefing tomorrow morning. In order to permit members to ask questions tomorrow at question period, we would seek this particular method to introduce the bill before question period rather than after because it is Wednesday.

Business of the HousePrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is there agreement?

Business of the HousePrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Business of the HouseThe Senate

5:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Progressive Conservative Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to the private member's motion put forward by the member for Port Moody--Coquitlam--Port Coquitlam. I commend him on the motion. It is important for us to debate issues of such importance here in the House. This is part of an institutional reform debate that I think we ought to be having more frequently.

As many of us reflect on our views of parliament and what we expected from parliament prior to being elected, I think most of us thought we were coming to a place where this would be the kind of issue we would sink our teeth into, debate, constructively propose ideas and then arrive at solutions for some of the problems facing Canadians.

Instead, sometimes we find we are put on a treadmill once we arrive in Ottawa, fed parliamentary gainsburger and kept busy so as not to offend the sensibilities of the Prime Minister's office and the cabinet. I am not saying that specifically as a representative of the opposition, but these are comments that frequently reflect the views of members opposite who are sitting in the backbenches and not regularly consulted.

I enjoyed the comments of the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle as to the need for a more holistic approach to institutional reform and to address the secular decline in the role of a private member that has occurred over the last 30 years. I think that is absolutely essential.

On the issue of an elected Senate, when I look at the qualities of some of our senators and at some of the very positive work that is done in our senate, particularly at the committee level, I think the committee that most closely reflects my activities on the House of Commons finance committee would be the Senate banking committee. I would have to say that in many cases, and perhaps the public is not as aware of this as it might be, we have a very effective Senate and some very effective Senate committees.

Some of our Senate committees have a depth and breadth of experience that would be impossible to duplicate here in the House for a number of reasons. I would not go as far as to say that sometimes the qualities required to develop public policy are mutually exclusive with those required to be elected but, that being the case, there are many people in our Senate who take their jobs very seriously, who work extremely effectively and who can draw on a level of experience that does not necessarily exist in the House and who might not be compelled to run as elected representatives.

Of course my party and former Prime Minister Mulroney appointed Stan Waters as an elected senator from Alberta, so there is a history to this. However that was an ad hoc appointment and the member is suggesting something much more significant.

One challenge or an unintended consequence that I think the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle alluded to is that currently, in terms of constructive opposition to government legislation, the Senate is actually more effective at this particular juncture than is the House of Commons opposition in many ways.

If we look at the House, it is not our fault specifically and there has been a decline of the role of the private member over the last 30 years, but we do not give adequate scrutiny to legislation in the House. The government railroads legislation through the House. We do not even give adequate scrutiny of spending.

There was a time when estimates were debated on the floor of the House of Commons. Now it is a perfunctory approach to the estimates. They are introduced and there is a tiny bit of discussion but there is very little substantive debate. There was a time when ministers, par for the course, had to defend their estimates on the floor of the House of Commons and that was the regular practice.

My concern is that if we were to move toward an elected Senate without fundamentally changing and reversing some of the decisions made over the last 30 years in terms of the role of private members in the House, we would actually be strengthening what Jeffrey Simpson referred to as the friendly dictatorship.

In some ways, we could have an elected body in the Senate that actually would be elected along the same lines and could reflect essentially the same numbers as would be in the House and the Prime Minister would ultimately have even less opposition than what exists currently.

With time allocation, the government, the Prime Minister's Office and, to a certain extent, the Cabinet continues to railroad legislation and initiatives through the House. If we look at the recent anti-terrorism legislation, the most effective and most constructive opposition to that legislation, I believe, came from the Senate. We have the minister today agreeing to I think 100 amendments. I do not think that level of compromise emanated from the House of Commons as much as it did from constructive opposition in the Senate.

I would argue that since 1993 the Senate has acted, in many ways, more effectively and, not through the fault of any party or any individual in the opposition based on institutional memory, there were some skills that were inherent in the experience of those in the Senate that were drawn on that actually provided very effective opposition during that period.

Ministers are more easily compelled to go to Senate committees than they are to House committees. When they go to those Senate committees, I would argue that in many ways they are grilled more comprehensively than they are at House committees.

Those are some of the issues that I think we need to address. However I am sure the hon. member would not want to see a greater of level of power transferred as a result of this, and through some unintended consequence, to the Prime Minister's Office and to cabinet.

That being the case, we have supported, in fact on our last platform, studying and moving toward an elected Senate. It makes a great deal of sense in the context of overall institutional reform and reversing many of the changes that have occurred over the past 30 years which have reduced the role of the private member in the House. To move toward an elected Senate without making those changes would be a very serious mistake.

Further to that, we also have to give thought as to the length of terms. In some ways, one of the benefits we have in terms of an appointed Senate is that many issues I believe are dealt with in a more long term way by senators, where they have a greater respect for the long term public policy implications when they are not focused necessarily on elections in three years and on public opinion.

We have seen such a movement toward poll based public policy in this country and elsewhere in democracies. Sometimes when we base our decisions on short term polls as opposed to long term impact of public policy initiatives we are very badly served.

If we were to move toward an elected Senate, I would posit that we should seriously consider eight year or six year terms or terms that would be of greater length than those of the House and would provide an opportunity for a more Burkean approach to some of the issues. I am sure the hon. member, based on our previous discussions, would support that.

If we were to not move in that direction, I would be afraid that we would have an upper chamber with many of the same faults that have evolved in our lower chamber which have emanated from a power hungry PMO and an all too malleable cabinet. I think we have to approach this in the very long term.

I have a document in front of me entitled “A Legislative and Historical Overview of the Senate of Canada”, October 1993. It is a summary in point form of some of the issues and some of the contributions of our upper chamber.

I am certain that the hon. member would not want to leave Canadians with the wrong idea that our upper house has not been working actively to provide sound and constructive opposition to the government during the last seven or eight years. He would probably agree with me that the Senate has played a very vital role with a divided opposition over the last several years in terms of holding the government's collective feet to the fire during these confusing political times.

Business of the HouseThe Senate

5:35 p.m.


Rick Laliberte Liberal Churchill River, SK

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for raising the issue and bringing about debate on the parliamentary structure and the different roles the houses play for our country and our government.

He indicated that the history of debates which have accumulated up to now, especially those surrounding the Charlottetown accord, spoke about the role of aboriginal peoples and the intention of inclusion of aboriginal peoples.

There is a debate to abolish the other house and make a single house. I would like to share the idea of three houses of parliament. When the country was created the crown negotiated with aboriginal nations through treaties. It was not aboriginal peoples; it was aboriginal nations. Those nations are alive and vibrant in Canada. The Neheyo which is part of the Cree, the Dene, Mohawk, Musqueam, Squamish, Huron and Algonquin are vibrant nations.

It would be very advantageous and crucial at this time in our debate to include these nations as part of the governing structure of Canada. I offer as a third house an accumulation of aboriginal nations of the country.

This third house actually exists in a building called the parliamentary library. The parliamentary library was a gift given to us in 1916 because it survived the fire of 1916. The square building on Parliament Hill burned but the round one did not. The symbol of the circle is very sacred because it is a symbol of the medicine wheel. If we look at the floor plan of the parliamentary library it symbolizes the medicine wheel with all directions pointed on it.

I want the hon. member to put this point into context because looking at only an elected Senate is a narrow perspective. I would like to broaden the member's perspective in this regard.

I would like to take an holistic view of how the country is evolving. We are a very young country. We are barely shaking off the cloaks of colonialism. They are not even freshly off our shoulders yet. We are trying to rejuvenate a country and a governing structure that can serve the best interests of the country with pride, confidence and certainty. That will not take place unless we see a rightful place where aboriginal nations are recognized. That would be a fine example.

We had an honourable citizen recognized yesterday, Nelson Mandela. His people chose the rainbow coalition as a means to include all the peoples in South Africa to create a country. It is time for Canada to look into this debate.

I look at the symbolism of this room. The room is rectangular in nature and designed for us to fight in. Opposition and government members are two sword lengths away so we do not hurt ourselves. I look at the parliamentary structures in Europe where the symbolism of this parliament was adopted. The European parliament and the German Bundesrat are both in circular form. The Swedish parliament is in a semi-circular form.

Canada is begging for the symbol of unity. It is not only the debate between Quebec and the rest of Canada or between the French and the English. It is time for all of us to unite.

We can keep the country strong, united and vibrant if the aboriginal nations are given their rightful place. An aboriginal parliament could address the major economic, social, health and environmental issues affecting our aboriginal communities. We need to come together and find out what our responsibilities are so we can exercise the responsibilities we have in housing, education, law, business and trade. These are responsibilities that were here before the country was formed and even before other persons found their way here.

These responsibilities have to be exercised and nurtured. If we do that a consciousness in this country will be awakened.

I must give honourable mention to the member who brought forth this debate which allowed me to address the issue. It is time that we look at the holistic perspective of the Canadian government, its parliamentary structures and the symbolism of unity that this country is dying for.

It is an honour to raise this issue today. The debate may come back if the motion is defeated. However I encourage the new member who has found his way to the House of Commons to continue to try to find a rightful place for this parliamentary structure. I hope I can contribute to that.

Business of the HouseThe Senate

5:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, I congratulate my colleague for bringing this topic to the floor of the House. I must say that the past hour has been extremely enjoyable for me. I have been listening to speakers from all parties in the House debating something that needs to be debated.

As Mark Twain said “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it”. We have been talking about the Senate for years and long before some of the speakers tonight were even born. However we have not changed anything. I agree with my colleagues that we need to sit down and discuss this issue.

I point out something very fundamentally different between Canada and the United States. In history 101 or whatever it is now regarding Canada, the professor would probably tell us right off the bat that the existence of Canada is a sin against nature or a sin against geography.

We cannot go on with the discrepancies in numbers that currently exist. For example, Quebec and Ontario have more people in the Senate than the entire western half of the country. That is absolutely not right. I have nothing personal against senators. I know all the senators from my province.

We have to do something in a hurry as Canadians from coast to coast look upon a bicameral institution of government as a bit of a joke. I do not say that in a demeaning way. I say that we should have this debate again and I congratulate my colleague for bringing it before the House.

Business of the HouseThe Senate

5:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Canadian Alliance Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member, the great member of parliament for Souris--Moose Mountain in Saskatchewan, for his kind words.

I only have five minutes but I want to comment briefly on each of the presentations that were made after mine. I will offer my comments in reverse order.

The member for Churchill River, the former NDP member who was elected on the principle of abolishing the Senate, now believes not only in sustaining the current institution but in creating a third institution. He thinks having it circular is somehow a good idea. I am trying to be a bridge builder. The hon. member should note that these two things can be accomplished. The United States senate sits in a semi-circular room and is elected on the triple E basis of equality for all states.

The member for Kings--Hants applauded the quality of work that has been done in the upper chamber by certain members of our Senate. There is no question that quality work gets done in the current Senate. I am thinking specifically of Bill C-36 and the amendments being made to it. The Senate has made a substantive contribution regarding the issue of drugs. It has done substantive work in debating how to go forward on the issue and whether to reform our current regime in the war on drugs.

Let us imagine that every member of the current Senate was elected and had the democratic legitimacy to talk about issues the House may not be talking about but on which it may want to slowly move the ball. Let us imagine Senators engaging in debates with vigour, putting forward legislation, aggressively amending legislation before the House and effectively working in the Senate chamber. It would have a remarkable impact for Canadians on the quality of legislation coming not just out of the House of Commons but out of parliament.

The NDP member for Regina--Qu'Appelle said the Senate should be abolished. He has held that view for quite some time. However it should be noted that his constituents in Saskatchewan would be left way behind.

The population of Saskatchewan is dropping by a point or two a year. There is talk about restructuring the seats in the House of Commons. Saskatchewan would not get more seats. It could not have fewer seats election by election but proportionately it would have a smaller and smaller voice in this place.

If we got rid of the Senate the views of Saskatchewan would have a weaker and smaller voice. Saskatchewan is dealing with health care reforms, a potential change of government coming down the pike where it is hoped Mr. Hermanson will become the next premier, and aboriginal issues as the proportion of its aboriginals rises dramatically relative to other provinces. Saskatchewan has substantive issues. For it to have a weaker and smaller voice in this place would do a total disservice to the home province of the hon. member.

The member mentioned the principle of a unicameral legislature. Unicameral legislatures work well in provinces but they do not work in large, vast countries like ours where we have diverse populations. Unicameral legislatures only work in unitary systems. Canada is a federal system with diverse needs and views which must be accommodated in a system that understands, respects and represents those views.

Last but not least, the almost right hon. member for Leeds--Grenville who was elected by a majority of 40 or 50 votes chooses his words carefully in this place. I will repeat my motion to remind Canadians what it says:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should take measures to provide that the Governor General summon only fit, qualified and democratically elected people to fill Senate vacancies for provinces that have legislation providing for the election of Senators.

The hon. member said the example of Alberta in 1998 where it has Senate election laws would be unconstitutional. That is not true at all. All the constitution says is that the Prime Minister must appoint senators. It says nothing at all about the mechanism the Prime Minister uses to select the person he or she appoints. The motion is totally constitutional. It would put the power back into the hands of the public.

The member said it is great that more than 50 per cent of our current senators are women. That is not a virtue in and of itself. A greater virtue is the principle of democracy. We should strive for excellence and hope for equality, not strive for equality and hope for excellence. There are greater principles here. There is the principle of representation, the principle of democracy, and the principle of putting this House and the upper chamber back into the hands of Canadians where they belong.

Given that the hon. member for Leeds--Grenville is the only member who can prevent this from happening, and given that he was elected with only a 50 seat majority, I seek unanimous consent from the House to make private member's Motion No. 361 votable so we can have a full debate about the nature of democracy in Canada.

Business of the HouseThe Senate

5:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is there unanimous consent to make the item votable?

Business of the HouseThe Senate

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members


Business of the HouseThe Senate

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members


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.

Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 5.50 p.m.)