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.


House Of CommonsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to lay upon the table the performance report of the House of Commons administration for the period from April 1999 to March 2000.

Government Response To PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River Ontario


Derek Lee LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to two petitions.

Export Development CorporationRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

London—Fanshawe Ontario


Pat O'Brien LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister for International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table in the House today, in both official languages, the annual report for the year 2000 of the Export Development Corporation.

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Bill Graham Liberal Toronto Centre—Rosedale, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34, I have the honour to present, in both official languages as well as in Spanish and in Portuguese, the report of the inaugural meeting of the Interparliamentary Forum of the Americas, held here in Ottawa, March 7 to 9, 2001.

You were good enough to preside over the opening of the session, Mr. Speaker, which brought some 100 parliamentarians from the Americas together from 28 countries to form an interparliamentary forum which will allow us to communicate with one another throughout this hemisphere.

Parliament had the opportunity to serve as the historic place for this extraordinarily important meeting. At that time we were also able to provide information and guidance to the leaders of the Americas who will be meeting in Quebec City.

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


John Harvard Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34 I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, a report from the Canada-United Kingdom Interparliamentary Association concerning the visit to London, United Kingdom, held from March 4 to March 7, 2001.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Edmonton West Alberta


Anne McLellan LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-24, entitled an act to amend the Criminal Code (organized crime and law enforcement) and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Farm Credit Corporation ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Prince Edward—Hastings Ontario


Lyle Vanclief LiberalMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-25, an act to amend the Farm Credit Corporation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Divorce ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-334, an act to amend the Divorce Act (child of the marriage).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce this bill. The objective of the bill is to declare that a child who has reached the age of majority is not a child of the marriage within the meaning of the Divorce Act by reason of only being enrolled in a program of studies at a post-secondary school level.

Accordingly the court would not be able, except for some other reason, to make a child support order to cover all or part of the child's post-secondary expenses if the child has reached the age of majority.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Controlled Drugs And Substances ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-335, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (medical use of marijuana).

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to introduce this bill that would amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to authorize the possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana for medical purposes.

The only requirement would be for the user to have a medical certificate. The purpose of this bill is to decriminalize the medical use of marijuana and to follow up on a decision made by an Ontario court on July 31, 2000.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

April 5th, 2001 / 10:05 a.m.


Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-336, an act to amend the Criminal Code (genetic manipulation).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce today a bill to amend the criminal code in order to prohibit the genetic manipulation of a human cell, a zygote or an embryo with a view to preventing human cloning. Any person guilty of such an offence would be liable to a fine, imprisonment or both.

As we know, the pace of scientific discoveries and technical advances in biotechnology has accelerated over the last few years which forces the legislator to take note of the situation.

Faced with this undeniable fact, almost all the developed countries in the world have put on a spurt and, over the last few months, quickly passed legislation to prohibit human cloning or at the very least to strictly regulate genetic research. In Canada, there is nothing at all, there is a legislative vacuum. That is why I am introducing this bill.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed.)

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to present two more petitions from citizens of the Peterborough area and beyond, including Ajax, Durham, Victoria, Haliburton and Brock. They want the re-establishment of VIA Rail service between the city of Peterborough, the county of Peterborough and Toronto.

The petitioners point out the environmental advantage of a reduction in greenhouse emissions and the health advantages which also result from reducing emissions. They point to the benefits to Peterborough in terms of it being an educational and tourist destination and a commuter base and the advantages to Toronto in terms of relieving traffic in that area.

The two petitions urge the re-establishment of VIA Rail service between Peterborough and Toronto.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have another petition on behalf of people suffering from end stage kidney disease. The petitioners point out that whereas kidney dialysis and successful transplantations have helped and certainly do help, there are not enough organs for transplantation and dialysis services are very limited.

Therefore they urge the federal government to support the development of the bioartificial kidney which will replace both dialysis and transplantation as a source of relief for people with end stage kidney disease.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River Ontario


Derek Lee LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members


The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-9, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

There is one motion, an amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-9, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

I have examined the motion carefully. I realize that it is similar to a motion that was debated and defeated in committee. In spite of some apprehension in selecting the motion, I have decided to give the hon. member the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, Motion No. 1 will be debated and voted upon.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC


Motion No.1

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.”

Mr. Speaker, the aim of this amendment is to prevent our being obliged to consult or include the Senate in amendments to the Canada Elections Act.

It would be a bit of a paradox, in the case of a law that applies to elections that apply to members of the House of Commons, to have people not elected involved. I would point out that I personally have nothing against those who make up the other House. We meet them fairly regularly and many of those I have met are competent and nice.

But one thing must be remembered. We must not forget that they are often appointed by the Prime Minister of the House of Commons. Who does the Prime Minister appoint? Generally, he appoints people he knows well and whose work, often partisan, he values. One way to compensate them for the work they have done is to appoint them to the other House.

Of course, we cannot rule out the fact that they have experience in a number of instances, but sometimes the subjective criterion is left up to the Prime Minister. There was the vote we had yesterday calling for a public inquiry on the conduct of the Prime Minister in his riding, especially given the fact that he himself appoints the ethics counsellor who reports to him.

We think that the people in the other House should not be consulted on this. They are just more people who would offer an opinion on ways to change the ridings and electoral boundaries.

When an election is involved, members of the opposition are entitled to speak, but if the dice are loaded from the start, if things are decided by friends of the Prime Minister or by people he considers his supporters, in principle, these people will tend to support the recommendations of the party in power, the party of the Prime Minister who appointed them.

This is why I am moving this amendment. It is out of respect for the people and because I am concerned about the continuity of this institution, which in our opinion, has become obsolete.

This is not the first time we have taken such a stand. In 1993 it was part of our election platform. We have consistently held that position since we first came here in 1993. We have always been opposed to having joint committees that include elected members of parliament and non-elected people to discuss, particularly in this case, electoral issues. Most of these non-elected people are not former members of parliament. They have not been confronted to electoral reality and they do not know what they are talking about in this regard even though they may have contributed, in a partisan way, to getting someone elected.

This is why the Bloc Quebecois feels that the proposed amendment is very relevant. Mr. Speaker, we thank you for having accepted it and thus allowing the House to look at it.

We invite our colleagues from all political parties, and particularly opposition parties, to support it. I am thinking more specifically of Canadian Alliance members. Even though we do not necessarily share their view, we arrive at the same conclusion. They are hoping for an elected Senate while we want to get rid of that institution. But we agree on the problem which is that the people in the other place are not elected.

Hopefully we can get the support of the other two political parties, namely the New Democratic Party and the Progressive Conservative Party. Members of these parties have already said that we should examine this issue among elected representatives and consult the public. We should get people's opinions because we work for them first and foremost. It is important to know what the public thinks because it is the public who elect us to this House. This must be done in the best possible conditions.

People must be confident that this parliament works in the best possible democratic spirit. Since I have a few more minutes, I might add in this connection that this government sees itself as the great champion of democracy on the international level. We must admit that it has acquired a certain reputation for this, so much so that some MPs, even opposition ones, are occasionally called upon to monitor elections in other countries.

As a member of the subcommittee on human rights, I know that Canada sees itself as a promoter of human rights. On occasion I have trouble adding my voice to those who say Canada is a champion in this field, when I see the major shortcomings that still exist within the country, particularly as far as campaign funding is concerned.

As the rules stand at present, big business can make campaign contributions. We have long opposed this and our last suggestion was that it at least be restricted to $5,000 or less.

I have no problem with the people across the floor, or anyone in this institution, ministers in particular, and the Prime Minister, making a contribution internationally with delegations or on other occasions making statements about how other countries ought to operate more democratically, ought to respect human rights more. However, we must ensure at the same time that we here in Canada really respect this evolution or, how shall I put it, this affirmation of these democratic concepts.

That is the reason behind my amendment this morning which was seconded by my colleague the hon. member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans. That is the reason behind this representation.

I thank in advance all opposition members and those in the Liberal ranks as well who dare to support us. A number of them have often told me that they are not always totally thrilled—like last night—to toe the party line. They are sometimes obliged not to follow their convictions. In this case, since elections are concerned, I trust they will be faithful to their convictions and think of democracy.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague, the hon. member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière. By this amendment and by this motion, he is showing that he is capable of expanding his horizons and that he is an extremely versatile member of parliament. We know the work that my colleague from Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière has been doing in the shipbuilding area, in shipyards not only in Quebec but also in Canada. Our colleague from Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière has managed to get all shipyard owners and unions throughout Canada to reach a consensus.

I think the fact he has moved this amendment to Bill C-9, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, shows that he is capable of speaking out on other issues. Thus, the hon. member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière is not a one issue man; he is a versatile man.

That being said, during the short time that has been allotted to me I would still like to add for our viewers and for our colleagues here in the House who are listening very carefully to my speech, that this amendment is being made to page 1 of the bill. It would amend section 18.1 of the elections act and would boil down to changing the role of the other House with respect to adopting amendments to the elections act. Specifically, the chief electoral officer would be able to use an electronic voting process.

I sit on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. About ten days ago, Mr. Kingsley tabled his report on the last general election held on November 27, 2000. We will have the opportunity to come back to it and to suggest further amendments to the elections act.

But I can say that it is in several ridings of Quebec and Alberta— and I know this has not happened by chance because there is a majority of Alliance members in Alberta and a majority of Bloc Quebecois members in Quebec— that there were the most problems during the last election held November 27.

In only 10 minutes I do not have time to list all the problems with unco-operative returning officers and unsuitable polling stations.

In a space no bigger than 10 square feet there were six or seven polling divisions. According to the elections act, candidates can visit polling stations, shake hands with the representatives of all parties. We could literally see for whom people would be voting. Some polling stations were located very far from the homes of elderly people whose mobility is sometimes reduced and that was to discourage them from voting.

I must tell the House that the Bloc Quebecois is drawing up a list of the problems from the November 27, 2000 election and we will have an opportunity to come back to them. I personally advised Mr. Kingsley that there will have to be improvements.

This bill introduced by the government House leader gives returning officers authority to try alternative voting means, including electronic voting. The bill provides that the introduction of such a process would require the approval of both Houses, the House of Commons and the other chamber, whose members as we know are not elected.

We are being upfront. The purpose of our amendment is to take away the right of the Senate—the other chamber—to give its approval and amend the clause such that only consultation is required. We realize that there is a difference between consulting and obtaining approval. We are aware of this difference and we have moved this amendment deliberately.

We have done so because 301 members of this House, whatever their political stripe, recognize that members of this House were all democratically elected—some races were tighter than others—by the people of Quebec and Canada.

Contrary to what goes on in other countries, nobody in Canada or in Quebec voted in the November 27 election with a machine gun to their back. People expressed their choice freely. The result is the 37th parliament. In my view, the 301 members here are entirely legitimate, regardless of their political affiliation.

The problem arises when a non-elected House is given the power to decide how elected representatives will be elected. I do not know whether that is clear; I am getting lost myself. There may have been too many “elected's” in my sentence, but I think the House understands. The problem is giving to another appointed body—a body that is rewarded, therefore not elected—the power to decide how elected representatives will be elected. This makes no sense.

It should be consulted because it is supposed to be a House of sober second thought. We know that under British parliamentary tradition the House of Commons represents commoners. We are the representatives of the common people, while the other chamber represents the aristocracy, the lords in the British system.

I am sorry but I prefer to be a member of the House which represents the population, the ordinary people, those who every four years can tell us “You are doing a good job, we will keep you” or “You are not doing a good job, you are out”. This is democracy and this is why, in democracy, we go from one government to the other, which is called state succession.

It is therefore important to take away from the Senate the power to decide about electronic voting.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

It should be abolished.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

As my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot has just said, the solution would be to abolish the Senate. But we must not forget that in the present system, when pollsters ask Quebecers about the Senate, 84% are in favour of abolishing it. In the other provinces, they want a triple E Senate, a Senate with more powers.

We will probably not see the abolition of the Senate in this lifetime. We in Quebec, however, could go about it differently through sovereignty for Quebec. Once we are sovereign there will be no more Senate, no more Governor General, no more lieutenant-governor, but only government of the people by the people.

I know that I am running out of time, but I would like to talk about a number of members of the other place. Are we, as elected representatives, prepared to give non-elected parliamentarians like Lise Bacon, a former Liberal minister appointed by Liberals, John Bryden, a Liberal senator from New Brunswick, Ross Fitzpatrick, a bagman from British Columbia, and the list goes on, the power to decide for us, we who represent the people and speak for the people in this House?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today in favour of the amendment put forward by my hon. colleague, the member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière.

The member suggests that the committee reviewing any possible electronic voting or voting changes would only seek consultation from the Senate and that the committee of the Senate would not exercise a veto over any proposed changes to the voting.

This is an excellent idea. A similar amendment, which I thought was a good idea, was proposed by members of the Bloc Quebecois in committee. I believe the suggestion was actually an improvement over what was suggested when the bill was being reviewed in committee because it allowed the committee of the Senate to actually provide some guidance.

We can benefit from the wisdom in the Senate. The Senate was originally understood to be, as we all know, a chamber of sober second thought. In fact, this might be sober first thought, as it were, but nonetheless a sober commentary, not an actual veto. I think that is a very profitable thing to do.

However, giving a veto over changes, which is the way the relevant section of the proposed law is currently worded, would give a committee of an unelected chamber actual control under the law of Canada over a part of the election law of the country. I think that is a precedent that has already been set, but it is a slippery slope down which we do not want to continue where unelected people have greater and greater control and those of us who are elected, and therefore those who elect us, are less and less in control of the political agenda. This is particularly true when we are speaking of the actual election law of the land, surely the most sacred of all our democratic institutions.

The suggestion I would make is that the Senate actually would have a valuable role and a Senate committee ought to have a veto over any election law changes if the Senate itself were elected. When the amendment came up at committee meetings, I raised the point that it would be very advantageous if in the future we were to allow for greater control from the Senate if it were ever elected. I know I differ from my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois and the New Democrats in favouring an elected Senate as opposed to the abolition of it, but there is a valuable role a second elected chamber can play, particularly when it is elected on a different basis from the House of Commons.

Many countries around the world have an elected second chamber. I am thinking here for example of Switzerland, the United States, Australia and Germany which use different systems. We forget sometimes that prior to 1867 the united province of Canada did have an elected second chamber. Perhaps one of the greatest steps backward that occurred at the time of confederation, when so many other good measures were put forward and set in stone, was that we went from an elected to an unelected second chamber.

My colleagues from the Bloc Quebecois are particularly sensitive to the problems of having an unelected body practising a veto over the electoral law because of the fact that Quebec has not that long ago had the experience of having its own unelected second chamber. It was only in the 1960s that a constitutional amendment was passed removing that unelected second chamber in Quebec.

I recently had the experience of going through an old issue of a magazine, I think it was the French version of MacLeans published around 1965, which listed all the then incumbents in Quebec's second chamber. It included the dates members were appointed and their ages. One member on that list had been born in the 1870s, a man practically as old as confederation itself. This was an unelected member sitting in that chamber and serving out his time. As it turned out, he was a very long lived gentleman who had been appointed back in antediluvian times and continued to serve as a member of that chamber. I have no idea of his attendance record or of his mental state but he continued to function and, along with a small group of colleagues, to have the ability to block all the laws of the province of Quebec.

In fact that upper house sometimes did block laws when its own privileges were being attacked. It was very concerned about its own privileges. I do not think we want to see that kind of power, which already exists to some degree in the Senate, in Canada. We do not want to see that kind of power being used by committees over business that relates purely and entirely to this Chamber.

It is very important that we have that distinction as long as this is the only democratic Chamber in the country. As long as the country does not have any form of referendum law, citizen initiative, recall law or any of the basic accoutrements of a democratic society, as found in the more democratic societies of the world, then surely we do not need unelected bodies having direct control over changes that would make this place more democratic and the manner in which members are elected to this Chamber more democratic.

I want to briefly refer to the concept of electronic voting and other types of voting that was suggested in the original text of the bill. That is actually a very valuable provision. We should be considering the possibility of electronic voting for citizens.

When I was seeking election there were a number of people unable to cast ballots because they were ill, incapacitated or out of the country. Proxy voting allows to some extent for this problem to be dealt with, but it is an awkward system. It is possible that it could be improved upon. I know all members would want to see any improvement in access to voting for Canadian citizens to go forward. The idea of having some provision that permits for the potential for electronic voting for Canadians is something that should be encouraged.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

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.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River Ontario


Derek Lee LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it is always interesting to see how we grapple in the House with issues involving the other place. I want to put on record my position and what I believe to be the position of the government in relation to the amendment.

The current legislation governing elections allows the chief electoral officer to undertake studies and test or pilot projects involving the use of electronic voting in elections. That was an innovation put into the Canada Elections Act adopted by parliament last year.

Most Canadians would agree it is a useful device. It allows the chief electoral officer to alter the way Canadians might vote in a test or pilot project without having to change the legislation first. It is forward looking and a little bold. Parliament decided that if we were to allow this test or pilot project to occur, we would want the House to approve it first. I am sure Canadians would agree with that as well.

When the bill was passing through the other place senators made the point that they had been excluded from the process which in part pre-empts the existing law on how elections are held. The government through the minister gave an undertaking to the Senate that when the bill was passed there the government would introduce an amendment to address that issue.

In the current bill before the House there is an amendment which provides that before such a test or process takes place approval would be obtained from both the committee of the House and the committee of the Senate that normally deal with those issues.

The amendment before the House now would alter that approval process in the bill. It would call for the House to give its approval but for the Senate only to be consulted. That is the proposed change to the bill, but I also point out that a plain reading of the motion before us suggests that the House must consult the Senate before it gives its approval to electronic voting.

I am not entirely sure that is what the mover intended. I am not sure it was intended that the House be restricted when it gives its approval; perhaps only that the Senate be consulted. In any event the amendment as it is now drafted is unclear on that point because of the apparent absence of the conjunctive word and. I will not inquire further into that except to say that as I read it the proposed amendment may not accomplish precisely what the mover wanted.

The Senate wanted the amendment to ensure that its approval was obtained before the test or pilot project was adopted. As all members know, the Senate, the other place, wishes to deliver on its role as an equivalent house of parliament. It would not in the ordinary course want to be excluded from legislative matters. I suspect it would never even permit itself to be excluded from the legislative process, but it certainly did notice when the bill was passed that it had been excluded from the approval process which would allow the pilot project to pre-empt the otherwise prevailing laws governing elections.

It is in good faith that the Senate requested the amendment. The Senate continues to have a strong interest in how elections in Canada are run. It wants to be involved in any change.

If we ask average Canadians on the street whether the House should have an exclusive right of approval and the Senate should not have any role in making changes to the Canada Elections Act, not all but many would say that the Senate could probably make some good, objective commentary in the process. The Senate would not be involved in elections. At present senators are definitely not involved in elections.

Members of the House might take umbrage at any suggestion that they have a role in elections. but the Senate has a role to play when it comes to the framework legislation that governs elections and delivers on the charter based rights of Canadians to vote to ensure their constitutional democratic system is operating properly. Many experienced senators in the other place understand how elections are run and can participate constructively in that type of approval process.

In delivering on its commitment the government at this point is quite certain that the amendment in the bill, not the motion in amendment proposed by the hon. member, reflects the undertaking given at the time of the passage of the bill last year. For the other reasons mentioned in my remarks I cannot support the motion.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the Bloc member for bringing forward this motion in amendment. It is a sincere attempt to improve upon a bill which is rather narrow and rather focused in its content. It is a response to a supreme court decision in Queen v Figueroa that basically looked at the definition of a political party as it appears on a ballot and at the requirement to have a certain number of candidates in an election to qualify for the right to have a name denoted on a ballot.

This debate is somewhat digressing into a broader issue. A number of members have a very legitimate interest in the issue. The member for Regina—Qu'Appelle has been a longstanding abolitionist of the Senate. He brings a great deal of knowledge and history to the debate. We have heard his facts as well as the comments of other members about what they would prefer to see.

As a member of the Conservative Party I am quite proud of the fact that real efforts were made to reform, improve and modernize the Senate. Major initiatives were put before the country. The Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords dealt in great detail with the ways in which we could approach the Senate.

There are recent converts to the cause who suggest the Conservative Party has perpetuated the existence of the Senate. There were very legitimate attempts to bring the Senate into the modern era. In fairness, when we look at the model in Great Britain, the mother of all parliaments, we see that country struggling with its upper house.

The member for Regina—Qu'Appelle also talked about the history of the provinces, particularly the province of Quebec which most recently went through this debate and in its wisdom decided to do away with its upper chamber.

There is a very legitimate basis to the motion that has been put forward today. On behalf of the Conservative Party I would reluctantly say that this is not the way to go about it. It should not be done in a piecemeal fashion. I do not say that in a derogatory sense, but to exempt the Senate from certain legislation while allowing it to continue to perform its function on other legislation is not the way to go about changing the current system. It is not the approach we would advocate.

There is a legitimate concern when we are talking about elections. This legislation is about elections, yet senators do not subject themselves to elections.

However, to suggest that we simply exempt them from the process of sober second thought, of examination of legislation on this one bill as opposed to other bills, is not the approach we would advocate.

As a member of the Conservative Party I do not shy away from involving myself. The party has never shied away from looking at how we bring the Senate into the modern era, if at all. There are many members in our party and many senators who realize that the system cannot currently bump along and continue to exist in its present form. It is not acceptable. It is not something that the overwhelming majority of Canadians accept.

The Senate, as it has in the past, continues today to perform a very legitimate service, although the fashion in which it is constructed is not in favour with most Canadians. It is not popular or politically correct to praise senators, but there are many in the Senate who currently take their role extremely seriously. They serve the country with great distinction. They come to the Senate with skills that are of great assistance and they continue to be a great asset.

It is wrong to suggest that because senators have never been elected it is illegitimate that they sit in the upper chamber and preside over medicare improvements, justice issues or issues that affect Canadians in a fundamental way.

There was a gathering this morning in the foyer of the Senate where they were discussing ways in which the medical community could work closer with politicians, both elected and unelected, to improve our health care system. Liberal Senator Kenny presided over a Senate committee that has brought forward many good ideas which form the basis of the upcoming study that will be chaired by the prominent former premier, Mr. Roy Romanow.

It is a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If we rush headlong into Senate abolition there is a risk of losing a great repository of information, knowledge and ability. That would be a shame if that were to happen.

I am not in favour of the amendment. There is a time and a place to go into the issue of Senate reform and the ways we can improve our entire democratic system. There are ways we can improve our electoral system and the voting process which is the basis of how this place exists and how we interact with Canadians at election time. However, to vilify the institution in its entirety and to denigrate individual members is not the approach that I would put forward.

There are recent converts. The Canadian Alliance has a senator. It is quite interesting how its approach has softened so much, now that there is a senator in its midst. We have to be at least intellectually honest when we are discussing this issue. There have been offers in the past for members of the New Democratic Party to join the Senate. To their credit they have remained consistent in their position on how they would approach the Senate.

The motion focuses on removing the Senate from how legislation would proceed. If we are to do it, we should do it in an overall fashion, not by exempting Senate deliberations on singular bills, which is what the amendment would accomplish.