House of Commons Hansard #44 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was amendment.


Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central I am very pleased to participate in the report stage debate of Bill C-9.

Bill C-9 is an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

In the last session I spoke to Bill C-2 which was passed in the House. The Canadian Alliance or Reform Party at the time opposed the bill. The Liberals should be ashamed because Bill C-2 had so many serious flaws in it that it was not only undemocratic but almost anti-democratic. Bill C-2 made Canada look like a dictatorship.

Among other technical matters Bill C-9, which is an amendment to Bill C-2 passed in the last session, stipulates that if the chief electoral officer wishes to examine certain things like alternative voting processes such as electronic voting, the alternative cannot be used without the approval of both House and Senate committees. Clause 2, which we intend to amend, states:

The Chief Electoral Officer may carry out studies on voting, including studies respecting alternative voting means, and may devise and test an electronic voting process for future use in a general election or byelection. Such a process may not be used for an official vote without the prior approval of the committees of the Senate and the House of Commons that normally considers electoral matters.

The term Senate is used and that is why the amendment is being proposed. I congratulate the hon. member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière who moved an amendment which reads:

That Bill C-9, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing lines 31 to 33 on page 1 with the following:

“committee of the House of Commons that normally considers electoral matters, after consultation with the committee of the Senate that normally considers those matters.”

The Canadian Alliance supports the amendment because it takes the role of the Senate out of the bill. Our policy book, which is dictated by grassroots members of the Canadian Alliance, states in section 71:

We will support the election of senators who would then have a democratic mandate to carry out their constitutional responsibilities. We will further support the distribution of Senate seats on an equal basis determined through constitutional discussion with the provinces and territories.

The Canadian Alliance advocates Senate reform. Senators try to do their job the best way they can. As co-chair of the Senate and House of Commons Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations I had the opportunity to work directly with senators. There are senators who work very hard. There is wisdom in the other chamber and we look forward to the sober thought from the other place.

There are senators who want to have a veto in our elections act on how Canadians elect members to represent them in the highest chamber. The Senate wants to have a veto in the bill, a veto the weak and arrogant Liberal government is allowing in the bill. That is a serious concern. Senators are elected in other countries. Our largest trading partner, the U.S, elects its senators.

The point which would motivate us in the Chamber to support the amendment is that senators are not accountable to constituents because they do not have any constituencies. They do not represent constituencies. They are appointed by the Prime Minister of Canada and tend to be accountable to him.

I commend B.C. Senator Gerry St. Germain, who has offered, and who is prepared to resign from his senate seat provided the Prime Minister appoints an elected senator to the Senate. That senator has made a bold step and I appreciate his intention.

The Canadian Alliance members support the amendment. Under the current legislation, only approval of the House of Commons committee is required. Giving the Chief Electoral Officer the freedom to examine innovative alternatives that could help to modernize our electoral process is a good thing but it should be limited to the elected members who represent Canadians in the House of Commons.

On this side of the House, our ears perk up when we see the use of the word Senate, particularly in reference to it interfering in the election process. Are the Liberals preparing to have the Senate kill any innovative ideas the Chief Electoral Officer may propose? Maybe we cannot trust the Liberal government. The Canadian Alliance believes that the voters, not the government, should decide whether a party or a candidate is worthy of a vote.

As all opposition parties will be supporting the amendment, it is now up to the Liberals. If they do not accept the amendment, it would be another example of how they are making Bill C-9 anti-democratic.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.


Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to the motion in amendment put forward by my colleague for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière. It seems to me that it is totally relevant.

During my speech I may have the opportunity to respond to a number of the assertions made by my colleague for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, which, notwithstanding all the respect I have for him, appear to be slightly false.

I think that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has best described a moment ago in his speech how things have been done so far and why we are putting forward this amendment.

He explained how this provision of the elections act, within Bill C-2, came to be, to ensure that if new voting techniques were to be tried it would be only after the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which normally looks into these matters, approved the implementation of such a pilot project.

Everything was going well. The amendment proposed in Bill C-2 was passed. It was included in the Canada Elections Act which was used, need I remind members, in the last general election.

Bill C-9 corrects a series of small errors that had gone unnoticed because Bill C-2 was passed in such a hurry. Again, I need hardly remind the House that if this legislation was rammed through in such a hurry, it was essentially due to political considerations as the government wanted amended electoral legislation as quickly as possible in order to call an early election, which is precisely what happened and which confirms our opinion in this regard. The government has now introduced Bill C-9 to correct a series of small errors that had gone unnoticed in Bill C-2 given the haste I have just talked about and also to correct another element of the bill that is more substantial as it gave rise to a court ruling.

I should also point out that certain recommendations were made to the government following the Figueroa case. The government preferred to take the case to court, at taxpayers' expense, rather than consider the opinions expressed. It lost the case. It is coming back to us now to introduce a more substantial amendment in order to comply with the court decision in Figueroa concerning the number of candidates a political party must field in order for the name of the party to appear on the ballots.

Among those technical amendments they proposed one, amendment No. 2, which modifies section 18.1 of the Canada Elections Act to ensure that before any pilot project can be implemented to modify the voting process, the chief electoral officer will have to obtain not only the approval of the House of Commons committee that normally considers electoral matters, that is the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, but also the approval of its senatorial counterpart.

I submit respectfully that it is surprising that we would have to consult a non-elected institution to determine the relevance or the opportunity of any pilot project concerning an election. That is why we thought it was appropriate to propose that this reference to the Senate be removed.

Needless to say that this amendment which we proposed in committee was rejected because the government House leader argued that ours is a bicameral parliament. Therefore we have two Houses, and as long as there are two Houses, as long as we do not decide otherwise—which brings us back to the debate of the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle—we must face that reality and take into account the fact that the Senate must concur in any legislation. Very well.

I am not particularly in favour of the Senate in its present form or of a second chamber within Canadian parliament, but I nevertheless agree that since we respect the institutions as they are right now we must involve senators in the passing of any legislation, until further notice. But this is not what we are debating now. What we are taking about is consultation, opinion and approval regarding the implementation of a pilot project, a new method of voting. If I have the time I shall return to this later.

This is simply a technical opinion. How is a group of unelected representatives in a position to provide an opinion on such a matter? I ask you, Mr. Speaker. I know that you are not going to give me any answer, Mr. Speaker, but I am asking anyway.

The question has to be asked eventually, as my colleagues for Regina—Qu'Appelle and for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough have suggested. Ultimately, we will have to look at the role of the Senate, at whether it is appropriate to maintain that institution. That is not however what interests us in this debate. The purpose of the amendment is not to exclude senators from the legislative process. It merely requires the chief electoral officer, when he wishes to test new voting methods, to consult those who being elected themselves are perhaps in a position of being able to provide him with appropriate feedback.

Recently, the government House leader has been doing the rounds and trying endlessly to convince us that the amendment presented by our colleague from Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière does not say what that member meant it to say.

I do not know if the government House leader has the extraordinary gift of being able to read people's thoughts and thus knows what my colleague from Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière had in mind when he drafted this amendment and when he introduced it in this House.

Personally, I think that this amendment says exactly what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House said earlier, namely that it seeks to ensure that before testing new voting processes, the chief electoral officer must get prior approval of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs of the House of Commons and must consult the Senate committee that considers these matters.

The claim made by the government House leader, which goes against the view of his parliamentary secretary but is supported, seemingly, by the Privy Council's learned legal officers, is that this amendment would require the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to consult its counterpart in the Senate before giving its approval to the chief electoral officer.

I respectfully submit that I cannot figure out which version makes Privy Council's legal officers come to that conclusion. Perhaps it is the English version which, incidentally, is a translated version since the motion was originally drafted in French.

In the French version a comma replaces the word “et” in an enumeration. In the current text, if we replace the comma with the word “et”, the amendment is very clear and specific. The purpose of this amendment is to provide that the chief electoral officer must get the approval of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and must consult its Senate counterpart before implementing a new voting process.

Unfortunately, I am running out of time and I will not have the opportunity to express my view on electronic voting. However I must say, with all due respect for the other place, that we chose not to exclude it from this technical process, but to get it involved through a consultation process. This is why I am asking all hon. members to support this amendment.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.


John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is one of these occasions when I am a little puzzled by what happens in this place because if I were an opposition member of parliament I would be firmly opposed to this particular amendment.

Rather than serve the opportunities of parliament in general in making sure that the government does not dominate, what this does is it gives back to the government enormous power over whether or not an official vote using electronic means will take place.

Originally in Bill C-2, there was a clause, the clause that is under debate right now, which basically said that the chief electoral officer can experiment with electronic voting, but if he wants to actually undertake an official vote with electronic technology he has to get the prior approval of the appropriate committee of the House of Commons. That committee, incidentally, we would assume to be the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

What the amendment in Bill C-9 does is it takes away this exclusive power of the committee of the House of Commons to decide whether an official vote will be taken with electronic means and adds in a committee from the Senate. So now under Bill C-9 there would be two committee approvals required. The motion before the House would again revert us back to Bill C-2 by taking away the approval of the committee of the Senate.

I point out that what we are talking about here is an official vote. That is what the clause says, an official vote. That means somebody is going to be elected or not elected.

The way the original clause read, by giving the decision on whether electronic voting should be used or not in an official vote, it was giving it exclusively to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, a committee that is dominated, always dominated, by the government. Basically, the original clause guaranteed that if approval was sought government approval would be given, either side. Or if the government disagreed with the possibility of using electronic voting, let us say it is a byelection, the government, using its majority on the procedure and house affairs committee, could stop it from happening.

This is where I get really puzzled. Basically, what the amendment does is it takes away some of that government power. It dilutes it by requiring approval to come from the appropriate Senate committee as well. That is not such a bad thing because the Senate is indeed not an elected body and it is not under the same direct pressure that MPs are from their own governments. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, on a standing committee it is very difficult for members on any side to buck the basic policy of their party, and you would not expect it to happen on the procedure and house affairs committee in this particular instance.

However, for a Senate committee, even if every member is appointed by the government, it would not matter because the senators are still unelected and when it comes down to a matter of having to use their conscience, their discretion on something that is extremely important, we are talking about someone being elected officially to the House by a certain means, so, Mr. Speaker, it seems to me, on the opposite side, on the opposition side, every MP should be opposed to the amendment.

I note that the Canadian Alliance speaker that spoke just before me made a mistake because he suggested that all opposition MPs were in favour of this particular amendment that is proposed by the Bloc Quebecois, but in fact I did note that the speech from the Conservative member was opposed.

I would suggest that the opposition members reconsider because, while as a government MP I am happy to give my government lots of power and lots of things, I can tell you I am very nervous about giving my government, which could be the government of another party in the future, any kind of exclusive control over deciding whether or not an official vote should be taken by one means or another.

I point out, and I emphasize this to all members, that we are talking about approvals that come in committee. We are not talking about something that is debated in this entire House. We are not talking about a vote in the House or a vote in the Senate. We are merely talking about approvals in committee and I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, the way the clause was written in the original bill, Bill C-2, was seriously flawed because basically it gave the power of approval to a committee of the House which is dominated by the government, which would have meant it would have been a rubber stamp approval anyway, and the amendment which the government itself is introducing goes a long way toward diluting this power and making sure that, as best we can, there is another calculation, another evaluation of the issue by the members in the other place, who I think we could trust in a situation like something as important as a vote that would bring a new member to the House of Commons, that we could count on the senators no matter what their original party affiliations to act in their very best judgment.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Canadian Alliance Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a real pleasure to address this topic. I certainly concur with my Bloc colleagues that there is a very distasteful feature to having the Senate in its current form have a hand in deciding our electoral system.

Some members have said that the Senate has had nothing to do with our electoral process. I think they are wrong. Many of the people who are in our Senate today are there because they had a very direct hand in our electoral process.

They were excellent at raising and collecting money for parties. They ran very effective election campaigns for key people who would have had trouble winning without their assistance. There was a payoff from the electoral system for good work done for the party.

It was also suggested in the House that the Senate is the only appointed place that has anything to do with our electoral system. I remind members opposite that the current Supreme Court of Canada, armed with a new philosophy of judicial activism, has made major decisions about electoral law that have outraged the public. Ninety-five per cent of the public was totally outraged that a prisoner serving a life sentence would have the right to vote in an election. Perhaps prisoners would be able to run for election if we carried it far enough.

The government of the day decided it would not use a safeguard that is in our constitution, the notwithstanding clause. To say that appointed people have nothing to do with this is a little off base.

Much of the debate in the House since I have been here has centred on one issue: the concentration of power into one person's hands or one office. Everyone has heard Lord Acton's famous statement about corruption and how it can corrupt. I have heard some good speeches in the House in the last while. It is too bad they had to be misinterpreted for political purposes. People have pointed out historical experiences where Lord Acton's dictum could be shown to be true.

People in Canada assume those sorts of things cannot happen here. I do not want them to happen here either but we would be off base to ignore the lessons of history. We should be implementing safeguards to make sure we do not have that sort of concentration of power.

An individual for whom I have a lot of respect, Gordon Robertson, served under four prime ministers and was Clerk of the Privy Council. I think members opposite would be quite familiar with Mr. Robertson. He is a highly respected person. Mr. Robertson is very concerned about what has happened to parliament and about the concentration of power in the Prime Minister's office. He has stated that we have an elected dictatorship and that the cabinet has become nothing but a focus group for the Prime Minister's office.

Given those statements, I find strange some of the comments my NDP colleagues have made about the Senate. Their comments are out of sync with this place. If I understand my NDP colleagues, and they have supporters on the Liberal side, they want to abolish the Senate. They say that an elected Senate with regional representation would be good for the country but that Ontario and Quebec would not accept it. They say that it would take a constitutional amendment to change the Senate.

Did it ever occur to them that it would take a constitutional amendment to abolish the Senate? If we must go through the exercise we should do the right thing and not the wrong thing. Abolishing the Senate in its present form would only give the Prime Minister one more power card. It would complete the picture.

There are two very good reasons we should have an elected, independent and powerful Senate. First, it could deal with the issue we are confronted with in the House: the concentration of power into one person's hands. Concentration of power leads to abuse of power. There are no checks or balances in our system to effectively deal with it. That is the dilemma. Everyone is looking at the issue and asking what mechanisms we have to deal with wrongdoing, and there are none.

What a powerful, elected and independent Senate would do first and foremost is put in the system a badly needed check and balance, a counterbalance to the concentration of power.

I am surprised my colleague in the NDP does not recognize that an elected Senate that fairly represents the regions would go a long way toward alleviating the regionalism, alienation and fragmentation in the country. It would make people in all regions feel they had a powerful and effective voice in the federal government. Many of the folks in various regions of the country, believe it or not, do not believe they have any say or input into the system. They do not have connections to the Prime Minister's Office and they are left out of the equation.

I will address certain other matters that were said in the House. Somebody mentioned that the Charlottetown accord had a provision for an elected Senate and implied that the public had rejected the Charlottetown accord because of that provision. I think that is wrong. The Charlottetown accord, had it been any longer, would have been competing with War and Peace for length.

Under the accord one province, and I am surprised the province did not support the referendum, could have vetoed anything that affected culture. Culture to me is a mile wide and a mile deep. It probably deals with everything we do as parliamentarians. That proposal would have given one province a loaded gun. Some 58 things were open for further negotiation and discussion.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Is this Cross Country Checkup ?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Canadian Alliance Prince Albert, SK

Yes, it is. We are giving government members a check up. We are educating them. We are seeing if their listening skills are working.

It is also implied that we do not elect senators. Alberta elected one very good senator, Mr. Waters, an outstanding person. The people of Alberta voted for that person to be their Senate representative. The prime minister at the time had the courage to respect the democratic will of the people of Alberta.

It is too bad the Prime Minister who followed him ignores that procedure. We have elected senators-in-waiting in Alberta, whom the people want to be their voice in the Senate, being denied representation. There are people in Alberta who have worked hard for the party opposite, have collected money and have done good things for it. They are the people who have been elected and should be in the Senate.

If the country wants to go into the next century with a proper system of government and a proper system of checks and balances, it needs a powerful, elected and independent Senate, whether it wants to admit it or not. If we do not bring in that necessary reform we will one day regret not having seized the opportunity to do so.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

April 5th, 2001 / 11:35 a.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I too should like to participate very briefly in the debate today on Bill C-9. I support the modest proposal put forward by the Bloc to restrict the power of the unelected Senate to have a veto over elections. It is impossible to escape the irony of an unelected Senate somehow having a veto over what we do to further democracy in the land.

I have listened to some of the previous speakers. I agree with the speaker who immediately preceded me regarding the almost absolute power of the Prime Minister's Office. It has far more power than that of the president of the United States where there is a system of checks and balances.

We are aware that many attempts have been made over the years to reform the Senate and that all attempts to date have met with abject failure. I see this proposal as a very modest one to limit the power of the Senate. It proposes to consult the Senate on issues rather than give it a veto.

The Bloc has made a reasonable suggestion. I listened with care as well to the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough who cautioned against doing anything in a piecemeal fashion.

The concern of a number of us in this party is that past attempts to make broad changes and to have an elected Senate, as we have seen in Charlottetown, Meech Lake and other attempts, have all ultimately met with failure. We are grappling with the need to do something.

Members get up from time to time to talk about an elected Senate and they ask the Prime Minister, when a vacancy occurs, whether he would allow an election in the province where the vacancy has arisen. The answer is always no, with some qualifiers about Meech Lake and about Charlottetown.

What is proposed here is simply a modest way to curtail the power of the Senate. As I said, it is totally ironic that unelected senators should have a veto.

A previous speaker from the government side questioned whether a conjunction existed in English or whether the bill was lacking a conjunction. If that is his only problem why does he not move a friendly amendment and let us get on with it?

Earlier this week I had occasion to meet with someone from Bolivia, which we would normally consider a third world country. He was very interested in our political system. He wanted to know about elections to the House of Commons and then he innocently asked how our senators were elected and for what term of office.

It is embarrassing for most parliamentarians, and probably for many Canadians, to have to say that we appoint senators rather than elect them. We do not do the appointing. The Prime Minister appoints the Senate and each member therein.

He looked at me in a strange way, as do a lot of guests to our country when we reveal that we have one of the few bicameral systems in the world where one House is elected and the other is appointed. The upper chamber is appointed by one individual and has no checks and balances. There is no opportunity for a committee to decide whether a Senate candidate is suitable.

The Prime Minister can simply wake up one morning and say it is time to appoint so-and-so. That is why people like Gordon Robertson and Donald Savoie are concerned about the absolute power of the Prime Minister's Office and the almost total absence of checks and balances.

To come back to the amendment, it is a very modest one. It is trying to address the difficulty we have in dealing with electoral reform and whether we should have a Senate. The member for Regina—Qu'Appelle makes a very good point. He has come full circle on this issue and now believes that the way to go is to abolish the Senate.

In answer to the previous speaker, that would only give more power. If we were to have a system of proportional representation where we would perhaps have a first past the post system for some members and then proportional representation for some others, we could achieve the best of both worlds. However, we would do it in one institution, in the House of Commons, as opposed to having a House of Commons and a Senate.

I very much support this modest amendment made by the Bloc this morning and I encourage other members to do so as well.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to make a few comments on the amendment because it is an opportunity for us to reflect on the role of the other place in general, but also to reflect on the irony of a procedure established by the bill whereby the other place would have a decisive role to play in something having to do with elections.

The amendment does not completely leave out the Senate. It talks about consulting the other place. That is appropriate. We can consult the other place. We can consult Canadians. We can do a lot of consulting. The question is whether or not the other place, which is an appointed chamber and not an elected chamber, should have a decisive say in something having to do with elections.

There are two ways, it seems to me, that the argument for the amendment can be established. One is simply the argument based on democratic principle, that being the fact that elections have to do with democracy and the Senate, being an appointed body, should by definition keep its nose out of things having to do with elections out of respect for the fact that senators are not elected themselves.

The second reason is something which I suppose has always been the case but has become more aggravated in recent years, that is, generally election law is something that is decided on by all the parties in the House of Commons through a House of Commons committee or by consultation with parties outside the House. By involving the Senate in this way, we are basically saying that after all the work is done among the five parties in the House, and perhaps even after consultation with parties that have not been able to elect people to the House of Commons, a decisive role is going to be given to a chamber where really only two parties are represented. I know there is now an Alliance senator but that does not really take very much away from my argument.

The fact is that the Senate is a chamber made up of Liberals and Conservatives. It is made up of people who have been appointed over the years by those parties that have formed the government in the country. When the Liberals are in power, Liberals are appointed. When the Conservatives were in power, Conservatives were appointed. Sometimes there is the odd exception and an independent is appointed, but by and large the Senate is a chamber made up of people who belong to the two political parties in this country that have formed governments over the years.

Now that we have a five party House, it seems a little odd to me that a chamber or a House in which three of the parties are unrepresented should have this kind of role to play. That is one of the reasons I think this amendment is just not in order procedurally and also politically.

I listened with interest to the apologia for the Senate that was given by the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough. He was being a faithful Conservative and defending many of his colleagues in the Senate. That is understandable, but it seems to me the argument he made, which is that there are good people in the Senate and they do good work, is just not sufficient. It is true that there are good people in the Senate and they do good work. It is not the work they do: it is the role they have.

The Senate has a decisive constitutional role in our democracy which we say is inappropriate given the fact that senators are appointed. There are all kinds of people throughout the country in various contexts who are good people and do good work, but they do not have the constitutional power that the people in the Senate have, who are good people and do good work. If they want to be good people and do good work they can do it somewhere else. They can do it where they do not have the constitutional power that should be vested only in people who are elected.

That is our point and it is the reason why for so many years the NDP and, before that, the CCF have been for the abolition of the Senate. It is an affront to our democratic principles to have this appointed body in our midst with that much power. I say that with all due respect to the many senators whom I know who are very dedicated to the country and do very good work. That is beside the point, and that is the point I am trying to make.

It may be that abolishing the Senate is not on and that reforming the Senate, as many have suggested over the years, is what we need to look at. We in the NDP have been open to that. We supported Meech Lake and we supported the Charlottetown accord even though those accords did not abolish the Senate, but because they went some way toward reforming the Senate and making it democratic or in some cases such as Meech at least making it more responsive to provincial input and in Charlottetown actually making it elected.

We in the NDP supported that kind of Senate reform. We are not absolutist in our demand that the Senate be abolished but we are absolutist in our demand that it be changed and in our demand that ultimately the Senate be made a democratic Chamber rather than an appointed Chamber.

It is true that one of the ironies of recent Canadian political history is that the very same party that has made a political career out of exploiting the need for Senate reform, particularly as it relates to western and regional alienation, is the same party that in my judgment and in the judgment of others has actually stood in the way of Senate reform on a couple of occasions. While I am sure that there are people in the reform alliance political constituency who genuinely wish for Senate reform, it almost seems to me sometimes that if we ever did have reform, it would be a disaster for them because it would mean that this great hobby horse of theirs would be eliminated.

There is some evidence to back this up, because on two occasions there was opportunity for Senate reform. In Meech the provinces were going to be given the opportunity to provide a list that the Prime Minister would have to pick from in order to appoint senators, until such time as there was genuine Senate reform, so that there would be pressure on the federal government to reform the Senate. If there was no reform, then the provinces in perpetuity would have the power to influence who became senators in this way. However, that was not on. That was another occasion for outrage on the part of people in the reform alliance political constituency. Then in Charlottetown we had another opportunity.

I think these things are worth saying because it may well be that when the history of our democratic institutions is written, unless something dramatic and hopeful happens in the next little while, the very people who have made so much out of wanting to reform the Senate will be shown to have been the people who stood in the way of that very reform.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was not going to rise on this occasion, but after the speech from my colleague from the NDP I cannot help but respond to some of the things he has said. Imagine putting at our feet the responsibility for preventing reform of the Senate when we have been the champions of it. I cannot believe he would even try to do that.

I would like to set the record very straight. So often when we talk about the unelected Senate, the Prime Minister in particular loves to do what the member for Winnipeg—Transcona just did, which is to say that we had the choice and we were against the Charlottetown accord.

Mr. Speaker, I want to point out to you, to other members in the House and to all Canadians who have ever heard our story that we were against the Charlottetown accord for 100 reasons. Unfortunately, the few tepid movements in that accord toward reforming the Senate were not sufficient for us to say that we would eat all the gravel, the dirt and the stinkweed in that meal and call it a pie. No, we were not ready to do that.

Indeed, the accord did say that there was some measure of voting for the Senate. If we look at it more carefully, it did not give the right to the people to elect the Senate. That was an option, but as I recall, the Charlottetown accord said senators could also have been put forward by lists from the legislatures of the provinces. What we have there is just another way of getting an unelected Senate.

We proposed, and we stand by it, that in our modern society in Canada, where we call ourselves a democracy, there should be nothing less than a Senate that consists of members elected by the people they represent, just like we are sent here by electors in our ridings. That is how senators should be elected. When the Prime Minister and members of the NDP tell us they are against an elected Senate because our party did not accept the Charlottetown accord, that is a misstatement of our representations in that area.

Another thing I have to say on this issue of the Senate is that we believe the House of Commons is properly constituted when it represents the population in the country. Right now we have the situation, and we have had it for many years, where, because 60% of the population of the country is in Quebec and Ontario, 60% of the members of the House are from Quebec and Ontario. We accept that. That is representation by population.

However, the Senate has 24 members from Ontario and 24 members from Quebec. What does British Columbia have, which is the third most populous province in the country? It has six senators. Did the Charlottetown accord correct that? No, it did not. Not only do we have the overbearing weight of legislative authority by two provinces telling the others what will be done in the country, but we have it duplicated in the Senate.

It is absolutely positively true that what we need is a Senate that is proportional to the provinces, not the populations of them. It is done in the United States and in a number of other countries. Maryland has two senators and California has two senators, which is not in proportion to their populations but because the role of the U.S. senate is to balance the interests of regions and states against the predominant majority, and in our case it would be the House of Commons and a predominant majority from the two most populous provinces.

With respect to the amendment putting the Senate in control, in any way, of affecting our legislative outcomes in elections, it is almost an oxymoron. These members are not elected but are going to become involved in our elections. How absurd. I simply say, loud and clear, let them be elected. Let them represent the people who they are supposed to represent.

The province of Alberta, from which I come, has 23 out of 26 members of parliament who are Canadian Alliance members. That is a simple fact. Alberta people believe most strongly in the policies, the principles and the integrity of our party so they voted for us.

When we had senatorial elections, whom did they select in our province? With more votes than any member of the House of Commons got, they selected two members who happened to be associated with the Canadian Alliance. Those are our senators in waiting. Are they getting respect? No. Who does the Prime Minister appoint when there is a vacancy in Alberta?

I have no disrespect at all, because I know that it is against the standing orders, but I say this genuinely. I have the highest respect for people who are in the Senate from our province. I happen to know Tommy Banks a bit. I have admired some of his works for many years. Now he is a senator which is great. Had he run for election and the people said that he was their selection, then fine. However, we had an election for the Senate and he did not even run.

I have heard it said in the United States that to be a senator one has to win an election. In Canada to be a senator, one has to lose an election. People who run for the currently governing party, if they lose in their riding, end up getting appointed to the Senate instead. That is absurd. It does not sit with modern day democracy.

We are talking about a Senate which balances the powers of this place by one in which senators are equally represented across the country, in terms of the same number of senators per province. We are talking about an elected Senate, elected by the people. We are talking about an effective Senate which basically would continue with the powers that the Senate has now.

I strongly urge members, especially the Prime Minister, to watch his tongue when he says that we rejected an elected Senate because we did not support the Charlottetown accord. One just cannot give a guy a little bit of a dirty stick with some icing on it and say “Here, eat the whole thing”. We would have taken the icing all right but it was covered with so much other totally objectionable material that we had no choice. The Canadian people proved that we were the ones who were right. When an analysis was done across the country, the Canadian people were the ones who rejected the Charlottetown accord. It was not us. All we did was get into the debate.

Just talking about the Charlottetown accord debate, I remember I was a recently elected nominee for our party at that time. I was elected in June 1992 to represent our party in the next federal election which we thought would possibly be that fall. Of course we know that the Conservatives postponed it because all indications were that they were going to lose, and how they lost.

Here I was a neophyte, a math and computer teacher, and I was asked to go to a forum in one of the towns in my riding to debate the Charlottetown accord. I was on the stage with no less than the woman who until recently was the leader of the Liberal Party in Alberta. At that time her name was Nancy Betkowski. She was an Alberta cabinet minister in the Conservative government of the day. Next to her was Brian O'Kurley, the previous member of parliament for Elk Island. He was of course a Conservative member. There was a Conservative member of parliament, a Conservative member of the cabinet from the province and me.

In my introductory speech, which was one of my first public speeches, I remember clearly saying I never thought that I would see the day when I would be standing on the platform with two other people and they would be considered the heavyweights.

As it turns out we had the right ideas. We had the right analysis on the Charlottetown accord, and we stand by it. As they say on that good game show “that's my final answer”.

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12:05 p.m.


Ghislain Lebel Bloc Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate to support the amendment moved by the member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière. Under the proposed electoral reform, the Senate, that group of wise individuals who represent the financial interests of Canada's economic elite more than they represent the Canadian people, is to be consulted.

I think that these people, who are not elected, should not impose their view of how members of this chamber should be elected. This would give them a power and authority that they do not legitimately have because they are not elected.

Nor can I let pass without comment the views of the Canadian Alliance member who is all for what was described in the Charlottetown accord as a triple-e Senate: elected, effective, and I forget what the third e stands for.

I would like the member to give this some thought. The Bloc Quebecois is saying that the Senate should be abolished; it no longer has a role to play. The Senate had a purpose in the time of Caesar in ancient Rome. But I ask the member who is waxing on about the beauty and grandeur of an elected Senate what happens when an elected Senate opposes a policy of the governing party.

We have experience of this in Quebec. At one point there was an independence party in power in Quebec and 75 federalist MPs representing Quebec in Ottawa. The federalist MPs said “We represent the views of Quebecers just as well as MNAs do”. What happens when an elected Senate tells the elected representatives of this House “We represent the Albertans who elected us just as well as the Canadian Alliance, 23 of whose 26 candidates were elected. We are just as legitimate as the Alliance”?

This is where things get tough and complicated when a second elected House wants to have its authority recognized and sometimes claims to have greater authority than the elected members of this House. Instead of solving the problem we are inviting squabbles between elected members in both houses.

We used to have that situation in Quebec. This is nothing new. Until 1965 when it was abolished, we had a second chamber called the executive council. Nobody in Quebec has ever asked for the reinstatement of this provincial institution. It has never been said in print or elsewhere that this was a great loss for democracy or for the Quebec people. For all intents and purposes, this assembly of unelected members did not represent in any way the day to day interests of the public.

Now that my distinguished colleague of the Alliance who spoke so highly of the triple-e Senate has finished his discussion with his colleague, I would ask him to think this over. He said that in Alberta his party won 23 seats out of 26. If we had an elected Senate, senators elected in Alberta would be able to work against the elected Alliance members of Alberta. We would end up with the same kind of situation we had with Trudeau. He was a member from Quebec in Ottawa and he said that he represented Quebecers as well as the Quebec government did. He even said we were a tribe and many other things besides.

Members can see the dichotomy this created within the population of Quebec between the federalists and the sovereignists. At this point there would be a similar split between the Alliance partisans and the Senate partisans, if we can put it that way.

The position of the Bloc Quebecois is to abolish this outmoded institution which dates, as I said, from ancient Rome before the time of Caesar. It is very costly, adds little and defends little or rather does not represent the day to day interests of the public. These are people who are, more often than not, being compensated for services rendered.

I agree with the member who said that in the United States a person has to be elected to become a senator. In Canada, a person has to be defeated. A person must have run in a riding during an election, lost or been rejected or revoked by the public. This is the way to become a senator. This is the history of the Senate in Canada.

Most of those who sit in the Senate are being thanked. It is a way of recognizing service which, at times, has nothing to do with the administration of a country. It is pure and simple recognition for support, a hand up, a kind word with respect to the Prime Minister during an election, for example, or an attempt to influence the public during a vote which is compensated by an appointment to the Senate.

For example, there are appointments in other areas. I learned that my adversary in 1993, the person running against me in Chambly, is now the president of the Canada Post Corporation. I am delighted at his appointment as, he is a competent individual. This is perhaps not the usual way to get this sort of job, but luck arranges many things. The current president of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is, in my opinion, a competent individual, and I am delighted at his appointment.

However, I know lots of others who had absolutely not one ounce of administrative ability or anything else. As a reward for running or for getting absolutely slaughtered in the polls—because they knew in advance that there was no hope of victory in a given riding—they were told “Run, and you will get your reward”. Depending, I presume, on people's qualifications, they ended up at various levels of government bodies or agencies or crown corporations. Some of them are here on the Hill in ministers' offices when their only qualifications are to have been a defeated candidate.

We are saying that this change to the Elections Act, is necessary. The chief electoral officer, a neutral citizen, must be given authority. Until now his neutrality in performing his duties has never been questioned. The Elections Act contains many shortcomings.

All members here are elected. As the hon. member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans has said, no one has ever been elected to this place after campaigning at gun point in his or her riding. We are all representatives of the people, democratically elected and entitled to hold a seat in this place, even if this does not always suit those who are seated on the opposite side of the floor. The opposition has a right to be here under our parliamentary system and it plays an important role.

In my opinion, there are many things that need changing. Surely electronic voting will be one of those changes. The bill permits electronic voting to be used, but there are some other points that are questionable. For instance, for the owner of a nursing home to be able to vote for all his residents is somewhat undemocratic, in my opinion.

Thought should perhaps be given to having a voter's card because there is too much of this kind of substitution. There are people who vote eight, ten, twelve, fifteen times on the same voting day. Unfortunately the legislation governing the last election was new as well. It had been substantially amended and instead of improving matters it made them worse.

In the future, I hope that electronic voting or some other process will bring about an improvement instead of the opposite.

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12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Canadian Alliance Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an interesting debate today. When it comes to democracy most politicians have something to say.

I have some background on the proposed legislation from the standpoint that it all derives from what happened to the Communist Party when it was running candidates and what happened in the courts when it was stripped of its assets because it ran less than 50 candidates. The government, in my mind, went overboard.

The government has done everything it could to have a monopoly on politics and to find a way to exclude parties that it considers potentially troublesome. That is not democracy. It is not acceptable for the government to take the actions that it does.

The only accommodation that the Liberal government has made toward the response of the courts in this whole action is that it is now saying that a party only needs to run 12 candidates in order to have a party label on the ballot. That is a precious small concession when one considers what it takes to run a political party.

Candidates need the ability to raise funds and to mobilize for byelections. They need the ability to secure party assets that continue from election to election and to have a continuous stream of revenue for political activity. They need to be able to carry out those activities without being hampered by a size determined by the government. It is very anti-democratic.

It has to be looked at not from the standpoint of a start-up or smaller party but from the standpoint of being a member of the public. Does the public not deserve to know, according to label, what that person wishes the label to be?

None of it makes sense when it is looked at in the true spirit and sense of democratic principle. It only makes sense if one is trying to restrict the political spectrum in some way and trying to create a monopoly on politics.

It goes to the posture and attitude of government and of governance. It is one more reflection, after being in this place for eight years, of a government that enjoys governance too much. It is prepared to dismiss anything that may disquiet its enjoyment of governance.

It is reflected in many ways. I must conclude that government members, whether they are on the backbenches or in cabinet, are so immune to other people's feelings that very often they do not actually even recognize other points of view. Nor do they recognize the toxic ramifications of some of their actions. They may not today or tomorrow but they do filter into our society and into our so-called democracy in ways that chip away day after day at basic democratic principles and basic individual rights.

What is being done now will be challenged and it will go to the courts again. The government has attempted to control third party spending limits on advertising and that kind of thing. It is a whole attitude posture, positioning to increase the comfort zone of the government, fortifying its monopoly on politics and excluding criticism.

The government is very consistent in how it approaches all these issues. When there is pressure for change the status quo is worse than standing still. The status quo is going backward because most of the other western democracies are not retaining the status quo. They are moving forward. Considering where we stack up on basic democratic principles, we are having a much more difficult time justifying that we are a true democracy.

I will refer to something that is near and dear to my heart. Some members did bring into the debate some of the experiences they shared in terms of the Charlottetown accord and all the discussion, debate, heat and light that led up to that whole exercise.

I was highly motivated as a citizen in 1992 to do something about what I saw as an imposition by all political parties in the House and by all provincial premiers. We were not here. We only had one member. The comfortable political elite of the nation tried to ram down the throat of Canadians an agreement that would have changed the country forever and would have made it even more difficult to make effective, progressive and democratic change in the future. However we have been going backward even without the referendum.

I was very motivated personally and that is what led me into the political arena. If I had not been motivated in that regard I would not have been motivated to run for federal politics and I would not be here today. It is that simple. Maybe that is good. Maybe it is bad, but I have enjoyed my time here.

It was interesting to be part of the no side with limited resources, resources that were raised in ways that involved a lot of personal sacrifice, and then to watch the highly financed yes committee. There is no way to compare it. If a forensic audit were carried out, it would find that some business was done in that time that was not tidy. I am thankful for the opportunity to have spoken to the legislation.

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12:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Canadian Alliance Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak on behalf of the constituents of Calgary East. I had no intention of speaking to the bill, but as the debate carried on and the points of view were put forward I thought it would be appropriate to join the debate.

The points that were raised have strong ramifications. There is a plea from members on this side of the House for the government to look at the way parliament is functioning, at the way elected officials are functioning and at the way power is concentrated in the PMO.

I have two points to make. Before I speak about the Senate and the way our democracy works, I would like to make a small point about elections. When I was signing my final returns the returning officer brought to my attention complaints that she and other returning officers had received when the chief electoral officer had made comments regarding his consultation process during the last general election.

The chief electoral officer said that he had met with DROs and key players to prepare his report. Unfortunately he made comments in his statement concerning DROs whom he had not consulted. He did not explain why he had not consulted them. It raised unhappiness with the DROs who were not consulted. By addressing the issue here I would hope that the chief electoral officer would address it with the DROs who were not consulted and who were not very happy with those comments.

I would like to talk about democracy in our country. In 1999 I had the privilege of being asked by the former Governor General of Canada to join him on a state visit to five countries in Africa. I was informed that the purpose of the state visit was to promote democracy in these countries where democracy was slowing taking root.

When I looked at who was going on the state visit I found out that we would be accompanied by two senators. The comments that I am about to make have no bearing on the two senators or their characters. I am sure they are very fine gentlemen. I know them very well and I have great respect for them.

It is the institution we are talking about and not the individuals. I was puzzled and disturbed to be going on a state visit to other countries to talk about democracy accompanied by the symbols of what is not a democracy in this country. These are people who sit in a chamber. They are not elected by the people of Canada but are appointed by one individual at his whim. How can we call that a democracy? That institution represents a power that is in one office.

Here we were going to another part of the world to tell it about democracy and how democracy works in our country. I found that very contradictory, so I wrote back to the Governor General and told her that. I asked if she would perhaps allow me the opportunity, when meeting with parliamentarians in other countries, to tell them that there was a problem with democracy even in our country and that reforms were needed. After some pause I was given permission by the Governor General to bring up this point.

Henceforth, everywhere we met with parliamentarians, I made sure they understood that there was not a full-fledged functioning democracy in Canada, that Canada also had problems and that Canadians were demanding reforms to make it a truly functioning democracy.

When I brought up this subject, it was amazing that parliamentarians in other countries stopped, looked and listened. They could not believe we had an upper house in Canada that was not elected, that it was appointed and appointed by one person. They could not believe that was possible, and that we call that a parliament of Canada. The more I talked about it the more they shook their heads. I told them they should not do this. I told them that as they were laying the foundations of democracy not to import to their countries the mistakes, those cracks in democracy.

When I meet with foreign delegates who come to Canada, the first thing they ask is how can we have a chamber that is not elected. Democracy means the voice of the people, not the voice of the elite. The people can only be heard through elections, not through appointments.

What we have is a fundamental flaw in our democracy. That is why the voices of Canadians across this nation are demanding that this parliament be reformed so that it can truly represent the voice of the Canadian people.

Our provinces have asked that their voices be heard. That is why the province of Alberta went through an election and elected two senators. This is the choice of the people of Canada.

At this stage I would like to commend the former senator, Mr. Ghitter, who resigned from the Senate because he felt it did not reflect the will of the Canadian people. I hope that is the reason he quit.

Senator St. Germain is still in the Senate but has publicly stated that he would like to be an elected senator. I am sure those senators would. I have met nice senators. There are good senators and hard working senators. I am sure if all senators ran for election and got the legitimacy of the people, they would be far happier to sit in that chamber than they are right now.

Those are the comments I wanted to make. I hope the words spoken by the members in this place will have some impact on the government to see that there is a reform of parliament and that there is a voice of the people in this parliament.

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12:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

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Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

The question is on Motion No. 1. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion.

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Some hon. members


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Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

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Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

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The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

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12:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I was at a distinct disadvantage since, as you know, I am totally unilingual so I speak only English. There was no translation available and I do not know what the government member said. If you will inform me of what he said, and depending on that, then I would possibly have a response.

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12:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

With somewhat different approaches, the whip on behalf of the government and the hon. member for Crowfoot on behalf of the official opposition, we end up with the same result. When a vote is deferred to the next sitting day, in this case being Friday, it is automatically deferred to Monday.

The recorded division on report stage Motion No. 1 will take place on Monday, April 23 at the end of government orders.