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.