Mr. Speaker, I truly appreciate the opportunity to speak to this issue because it is one I feel very strongly about. The basis for that is the fact that every one of us here had to knock on thousands of doors, be accountable for what we have done, and what we are going to do. We know that we have to go back to those same doors and be accountable for what we did here, what we said, and how we acted. In that other place, one only has to knock on one door, once, for life.
As someone who has travelled as a member of Parliament to other countries to assist in observing their elections, I want to say that it is downright embarrassing when those countries look at us as the evolution of the democratic process and hold it out as an ideal that they would love to be like Canada. Then we have this embarrassing albatross around our neck where the upper house is appointed for life.
I know I am not going to get through all my issues now, so I will be looking for other opportunities to speak because there is a lot to be said about this issue.
I have had the opportunity to work with individual senators and I would like to say that it was a horrible experience, that they are not very good people, and that they do not work very hard and this and that. However, none of its true. My experience with individual senators is that they are outstanding individuals. They truly are. Whether they have been the head of a mission that I have been a part of internationally or working on committee, they are hard-working, they care, they are certainly more than competent, and it is a joy to work with them as fellow Canadians. Where I have trouble is that they are fellow lawmakers.
I care enough about some of them that if one takes a look at my current calendar for December, it is me and a Conservative senator no less, arm in arm no less, waving Merry Christmas from Kiev, Ukraine where we were on one of those international election monitoring missions. By the way we were both cold sober.
It is a reflection of the fact that to me it is not about the individuals. In fact, the more I meet the more impressed I am. However, that alone is nowhere near reason enough to sustain the Senate. If we need good people to do good deeds, we have lots of opportunities to do that and if we do not think there are enough we can create more.
Telling me that senators produce good reports and individually they do good things does not cut it. If that is all they were about, a place of good deeds, that would be a whole other matter; a little expensive, a little bit of unnecessary pomp and ceremony one might argue, but if that is all they did, we would not be having this debate.
No, the issue is not whether or not the work that they do is good. The question is whether or not the powers they have are legitimate in a modern democracy. I argue and my colleagues argue, no.
I would like to go through some of the issues that I believe others have or will use in support of keeping the Senate, amended or otherwise.
First, this is a place of sober second thought. No, I am not going to touch the word “sober” because it is not about personalities and I am not going to go there and play those games.
We know historically that they were appointed to keep the House of Commons, which was the ordinary commoners, from running amok. We get into this mob atmosphere and we start doing crazy things, but we have these grown-ups in the other place who are there to be above that, who do not get bothered by partisan politics and some of the pettiness that goes on in the House of Commons. They are above that. They will look at the issues and say, “What is good for Canada? Unlike those House of Commoners who only care about elections, we will look at the issue”.
If that was the truth and that was the beginning and the end of it, I might have some room to give it a little bit of weight. The reality is that most senators go to their caucus meetings, but not all. There are independents. Not all go to their caucuses and not all vote according to their caucus line, but that is the same here, so there is nothing special about that. However, most of them go to caucus meetings. They do not go to caucus meetings to have sober second thoughts. They go to caucus meetings to be a part of their party's position on the issue of the day and then they just carry out their part of it in that place.
If we have any doubt about that, we should keep in mind that in the Senate there is a government leader in the Senate who is in the cabinet. How much sober second thought do we think is going on among cabinet ministers? Do we think that senator says, “Wait a minute. I need everybody to get above this partisan discussion and talk about what's in the best interest of Canada”? Come along. The sober second thought thing sounds good, but has nothing to do with reality.
The fact of the matter is that most of the time when the Senate has used its powers--and it has great power; it just does not use it often, but it does use it a little bit--we know when senators block legislation, it is for partisan reasons. It is no different from what happens in this place. That is what is so upsetting about arguing that this is all about sober second thought, that a check and balance is needed on those of us who are elected here by the people, that somehow we may run amok, or not put the interests of our nation first when, at the end of the day, we decide what to do.