Mr. Speaker, I want to say a few words in support of the motion put forward by the member from the Bloc Quebecois. It is really to remove the veto from the Senate in terms of legislation we are debating today concerning the Elections Act of Canada.
I suppose the most perverse power we could give the Senate is a veto over election laws because its members are unelected. Why the government would insist on doing that is beyond me.
Members of the Senate of Canada are appointed. The Senate is not democratic and its members are not elected nor accountable. Its members do not have constituencies. They do not face voters and they do not get swayed by public opinion. However the Senate does have veto power in terms of changing the electoral law of the country for those of us who are elected, who have constituencies and who go back to our ridings and face our electorate time and again.
That is a very perverse type of democracy if one were to define what democracy is. I therefore certainly support the Bloc Quebecois in terms of the amendment before the House today.
The Senate issue has been around for a long time. My recollection of history is that when the country was founded every province had an upper house and a lower house, whether it was Ontario or Quebec, the Atlantic provinces, Prince Edward Island and so on. I think even Manitoba had that. I think six or seven of the provinces had upper and lower houses. One by one their upper houses were abolished. I think Quebec was the last one to abolish the upper house.
It was in 1968. The Quebec Legislative Council, Quebec's senate, was abolished. It was the red chamber and it was abolished in the province of Quebec. The same thing happened in every Canadian province where there was a second chamber. It was abolished because Canadian provinces did not need two chambers.
However we have an anachronism in the House of Commons. About an hour ago, while speaking at a public policy forum here in the city, one of the questions that came up was that of the Senate.
We now have an unelected Senate. All the polls I have seen show that about 5% of the people support the Senate and yet the government across the way does nothing about it. There is a debate in the country whether or not we should reform the Senate, elect it or abolish it.
Over the years many attempts have been made to change the Senate, to elect the Senate. I remember back in 1991-92, right before Charlottetown, when there were committees of the House of Commons, the Beaudoin-Edwards and the Beaudoin—Dobbie committees. The most difficult issue we had to face was what to do with the Senate. That was the very last issue with which we dealt.
At the end of the day the three parties of the House of Commons came to an agreement about reducing the powers of the Senate, ensuring it had equal representation, not from each province but from the five regions of the country. We had the Atlantic, Ontario, Quebec, the prairies and British Columbia, along with the north. It would have given each of the five regions in the country 20% of the seats in the Senate.
Then we all agreed, which was difficult for some New Democrats, but I was the party spokesman at the time, to elect the Senate and to elect it entirely by proportional representation. That was a three party agreement.
I see a great Liberal Party enthusiast from Hamilton cringing in his seat, but that is the record of the House. If he goes back to the Library of Parliament he would see where his party stood. His spokesperson then was André Ouellet, the former minister of external affairs from Papineau who is now the chairman of Canada Post. The Liberal Party, led by the present Prime Minister, endorsed the idea of an elected Senate by PR, with reduced powers and equal representation, not from each province but from the five regions.
What happened to that unanimous proposal of parliament was that it went to that great Canadian institution, which is also a little bit undemocratic, called the first ministers' conference. The first ministers, Prime Minister Mulroney and the premiers, took only a few minutes before they rejected the idea proposed by the House of Commons and came up with the proposal in the Charlottetown accord which was still an appointed Senate with reduced powers and an increase in the number of seats in the House of Commons. It was a convoluted dog's breakfast that was turned down by the people of the country.
Once again we are back in the same place. During Meech, as well, there was an attempt made around that time to change the Senate. I think at that time there was a proposition that the Prime Minister would appoint senators from a list provided to the Prime Minister by each of the provinces. That actually did not make it into the Meech Lake accord but it was one of the proposals at the time.
There have been all kinds of different proposals on the Senate. The triple-e movement, which was spawned in part in western Canada, requires that every province have an equal number of senators. We would have a powerful House of Commons and a powerful Senate and the two would balance each other off.
That never got off the ground and never will because Ontario and Quebec with their population and their power cannot agree, will not agree and have never agreed to an equal Senate where Prince Edward Island has the same power as Ontario and where New Brunswick has the same power as Quebec, if indeed the Senate has any powers at all. If the Senate does not have any powers, why even have a Senate if it is just to become a debating chamber?
There have been all kinds of attempts to reform and change the Senate. Another idea pushed by the Alliance and the Reform Party is to start on an ad hoc basis electing senators one by one. I think that would be a great mistake. If we start electing senators one by one at the present time, we would empower these people. We would enshrine in perpetuity the present extremely unfair representation in the Senate where British Columbia with around three million people would have six senators and New Brunswick with 500,000 or 600,000 people would have ten.
It would also enshrine the existing powers which are almost as strong as the powers of the House of Commons. It would be locking into our constitution a vision that was drafted back in the 1860s. That is not the right vision to pursue. That is a vision that would discriminate, for example, against western Canada. British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba would have six senators; New Brunswick and Nova Scotia would have ten; Newfoundland would have six; and Prince Edward Island would have four.
Yet the position of many people in the Reform Party is that we should start electing these senators on an ad hoc basis, as was done in the United States many years ago and led to an elected senate in that country.
I do not think many Canadians would want province by province representation in the Senate today because it does not reflect today's population. It does not reflect the large populations in Alberta and British Columbia. It does not reflect the tiny populations in some of the Atlantic provinces. I do not think many Canadians, if we had an elected Senate, would want to have the Senate exercise its existing powers, which are pretty awesome powers compared with those of the House of Commons. They are very seldom exercised today because the Senate does not have legitimacy.
It is like a dog chasing its tail. It is a never ending debate. It goes on and on. To get the triple-e we would need a constitutional amendment. At the very best we would need an amendment supported by the House of Commons, the Senate and two-thirds of the provinces reflecting 50% of the population, a never ending debate.
The Prime Minister at one time played around with the idea of Senate abolition. John Crosbie's biography states that when Brian Mulroney was first elected prime minister the first thing he wanted to do was to abolish the Senate. He never got around to doing it because of the complexities of the present system.
I have come full circle. In the final analysis there is no way we will ever reform the existing Senate. There is no way the existing Senate will be elected with any significant powers to make it worthwhile.
If we elect the existing Senate it will not cost the existing $60 million it spends. Once it is legitimate and elected with powers, we could double and triple the cost of the Senate as it empowers itself because it is legitimate, because it is elected.
I question whether we need two big, powerful elected bodies. The way to go is to abolish the existing Senate and bring the checks and balances into the House of Commons by empowering parliamentary committees and creating more independence for each and every member of parliament through fewer confidence votes, as is the case in most parliamentary democracies around the world. That is the direction in which we should be going.
It is time we had a backbench revolt on this issue. It is time we empowered ourselves as parliamentarians and said to the government that enough is enough, no more of the charade of unelected people parading around pretending they have all this power and yet have no legitimacy, no democracy and no accountability to anyone in the country.
That is a national disgrace. It is an eyesore. In the name of democracy, let us change that situation and change it now. This modest amendment by the Bloc will go part way to doing that by saying it wants a veto over the election bill. Instead all we do is consult with the Senate, but we cannot veto it.
Let us stand and vote for this change. To hell with the party whips. Let us make that modest change by ourselves.