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House of Commons Hansard #137 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.

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Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

moved that Bill C-43, An Act to provide for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to open the debate on Bill C-43, the Senate Appointment Consultations Act, which is important legislation to make Canada's democratic institutions better. It also represents another step in the positive reform of the Senate undertaken by this government.

This bill follows through on the promise made to the people of Canada in the Speech from the Throne to “explore means to ensure that the Senate better reflects both the democratic values of Canadians and the needs of Canada's regions”. More importantly, this bill strengthens the pillars of our proud Canadian democracy. Bill C-43 not only strengthens but also revitalizes and modernizes some of our traditional Canadian values. What I am talking about, of course, is what Prime Minister John George Diefenbaker called the “legacy of freedom” cherished by all Canadians.

In 1960, Prime Minister Diefenbaker's definition of Canadian values included the right to “be free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, and free to choose those who shall govern my country”.

The right to choose who will govern our country or the right to vote is perhaps our most precious and fundamental right, something that has been in our thoughts this week as we mark the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We on this side of the House are proud and honoured to be part of a Conservative parliamentary tradition of expanding rights to Canadians, including particularly the right to vote.

It was Sir Robert Borden's wartime government that first extended the right to vote to women who had close relatives in the armed forces through the Military Voters Act of 1917.

At the dawn of 1919 all women were enfranchised with the enactment of the Act to Confer Electoral Franchise Upon Women, again by Borden's Conservative government.

Likewise, in 1960 Prime Minister Diefenbaker put an end to what he rightly considered an unfair law that forced native people to choose between their right to vote and their treaty rights. Giving aboriginal people the right that was granted to them at Confederation was an ideal to which Prime Minister Diefenbaker had long been dedicated. He noted this in his memoirs:

I felt it was so unjust that they didn't have the vote.I brought it about as soon as I could after becoming prime minister.

Diefenbaker's government granted status Indians the right to vote, without having to give up their treaty rights on March 10, 1960, thus eliminating once and for all voting rights restrictions based on race or religion in Canada.

Our government is following the course charted by our predecessors in Parliament and strengthening the voice of the Canadian people in the Senate, one of our most valuable institutions. We had told Canadians that our government would be mobilizing and democratizing the Senate so that they could have a say in the appointment of their senators. It is time that all Canadians be allowed to exercise the most fundamental right in any democracy, namely the right to vote, in the selection of those who will represent them as senators.

As soon as it took office, our government undertook, as promised, a process to strengthen democracy.

The first legislation passed in this Parliament was the government Bill C-4 that created a review of party registration rules, and just before Christmas, we finally secured passage of the Federal Accountability Act. From a democratic reform perspective, the act reduced the influence of big money in election campaigns and imposed new donation limits and disclosure requirements on those who seek public office.

We have, again with the support of our colleagues in the opposition, passed legislation in the Commons to establish fixed dates for general elections, that is, every four years in October.

Just like the bill we are discussing today, Bill C-16 represents a meaningful improvement to the democratic landscape without requiring a constitutional amendment. Ironically, the Liberal Senate has blocked it from becoming law by amending it at the last minute. We will be asking the Senate to remove that inappropriate amendment so that fixed dates for elections can become law.

Bill C-31 will enhance the integrity of the electoral process. It is currently awaiting approval in the Senate and we would like to see it passed as soon as possible, so that it can be put in place for the next general election.

As we know, citizen involvement is fundamental to any democratic institution. Unfortunately, Canadians have had no involvement in the selection of their senators.

There is one exception. In 1990, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney appointed Stan Waters to the Senate after he was selected in a Senate election sponsored by the province of Alberta.

This week, the Prime Minister told us another exception is coming, with his intent to appoint Bert Brown to the Senate, also chosen by Albertans in a vote to represent them.

These are the harbingers of change and the democratization that will be made a permanent fixture in our Canadian democracy, allowing Canadians a say in who will represent them in the Senate, strengthening our Canadian democracy.

Bill C-43 moves to make this happen by immediately involving Canadians in the process.

This bill will enable the government to consult Canadians about the people who will be representing them in the Senate. It is also an important step in the evolution and modernization of a great Canadian institution.

Furthermore, this bill recognizes that citizens—not political friends or big donors—are in the best position to advise the Prime Minister about the people who should speak on their behalf in their institutions. We know that Canadians think it is time to act on this idea.

Bill C-43 will do more than enable Canadians to have their say about the representatives who will be making decisions on their behalf here in Ottawa. It also guarantees that those representatives will be accountable for the decisions they make.

Consulting the Canadian public on Senate appointments will help to boost the Senate's legitimacy in the eyes of Canadians by transforming it into a more modern, more democratic, and more accountable institution that reflects the core values of Canadians.

Senate reform has been something of a national preoccupation for more than a century now, consuming a great deal of time, energy, effort and attention, almost since Confederation in fact.

Well-meaning and reasonable proposals to improve the Senate have sadly become bound up in the broader national pursuit of omnibus constitutional reform, and those efforts to modernize the Senate came to naught.

Ultimately, of course, we know that fundamental reform of the Senate will require complex, lengthy and multilateral constitutional change. There does not exist, sadly, at present, the national consensus or will required to engage in the inevitably long and potentially contentious rounds of negotiations that would be involved.

Some people say that it would be best to do nothing. They just want to shrug their shoulders and say they cannot do what must be done. That is exactly what the Leader of the Opposition did this week. Others prefer to close their eyes and wait until some other time when all of the issues concerning the Senate can be resolved at once.

That is not what the government thinks, nor is it what Canadians think. We believe that Canadians expect more from their national institutions and their government. In fact, that is what they have told us. They know that some Senate reforms are within our grasp, and they want us to act.

There are, of course, other elements of a reformed Senate that will have to wait for another day, most notably redressing the inequalities of provincial representation. However, our step-wise approach will lay the groundwork for a strong foundation for any future change.

I am pleased to note that during the consultations of the Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform last fall, leading constitutional scholars agreed with the government's interpretation that the approach taken in Bill C-43 is legally valid without a constitutional amendment.

Speaking of that Senate special committee, I would like to use the example of another piece of legislation, Bill S-4, as clear evidence that Canadians need and deserve an upper chamber that is more democratic and more accountable to them.

Bill S-4 is legislation that proposes to limit Senate terms to eight years. Bill S-4 was introduced in the Liberal dominated Senate for consideration on May 30, 2006.

Last spring the upper chamber struck a Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform to examine the subject matter of Bill S-4. The committee held exhaustive hearings with witnesses, including the Prime Minister, ministers from several provinces and constitutional experts. In October of last year it reported its findings, which supported the government's approach.

Let me emphasize the point that the special Senate committee with its Liberal Party majority, in its report, endorsed the government's incremental approach to Senate reform. It went so far as to pronounce itself hopeful that the government would continue the momentum of reform it began with Bill S-4.

Paradoxically, however, Liberal members of the Senate brought the momentum of reform, so admired by the committee, to a screeching tortuous halt. Bill S-4 is now the subject of a second round of hearings by a Senate standing committee, a committee that is essentially duplicating the efforts of the special committee.

Despite the endorsement of the special Senate committee, Bill S-4 languishes in the upper chamber still, an astounding 325 days after its introduction.

This is all the more remarkable when one considers that the Liberal Party leader says he supports term limits for senators. He even bravely declared months ago that he would get the Liberal senators to finally deal with the bill. According to the Canadian Press, Dion's decision “Breaks an impasse in the Senate”. Despite his bold declarations, he could not get it done. More Liberal senators continue to obstruct and delay the Senate term limits bill.

A national institution that is truly accountable to the people would not engage in this political muscle flexing for almost a full year so far. An institution that is truly responsive to the people it purports to serve would not employ these recalcitrant procedural manoeuvres for the sole purpose of frustrating the government's agenda, an agenda endorsed by Canadians.

I would like to take this opportunity to once again implore members of the official opposition to urge their colleagues in the Senate to stop playing games, stop resisting constructive change, and get on with the job that Canadians expect and want them to do.

The government rejects the tactics employed by some senators and is taking action to respond to the wishes of Canadians on the subject of Senate reform.

In conclusion, Bill C-43, the Senate appointment consultations act, will strengthen and revitalize the very values that define us as Canadians, values such as democracy and accountability in government.

Indeed, it extends to Canadians the most fundamental right of all, the right to vote, by advancing the principle that Canadians should have a say in who speaks for them in the Senate.

The government believes Canadians should have that right. Bill C-43 not only allows Canadians to indicate who they would like to represent them, it ensures that the people they select are required to account for their actions. In fact, the bill proposes rigorous standards of accountability for nominees, similar to the ones Parliament has put in place for the Commons through the Federal Accountability Act's amendments to the Canada Elections Act.

Bill C-43 is a realistic and achievable Senate modernization measure. It will not have to go through official constitutional amendment procedures. This is not a bill to amend the Constitution, and there is nothing in it that requires a constitutional revision. That is the government's position.

Rather, this is an important step that is part of a gradual approach. The ultimate goal is to bring the Senate into line with the democratic values of Canadians. We need to strengthen democracy. The act to provide for consultations concerning Senate appointments lays the foundation for future changes that will transform Canada's Senate from a 19th century institution into one fit for the 21st century.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, may I first perhaps help the government House leader out of a mistake that he made? I am sure it was unintentional. I know he would not have intentionally mentioned the leader of the official opposition by name, so he must have been referring to Céline Dion, one of the world's best performers, when he mentioned that name, and Canadians are all very proud to be citizens of the same country.

The government House leader mentioned Bill C-16, the fixed election date bill, as an example of the government's intention to further democratize government institutions of this country, but I note something strange about that. Just before the break three weeks ago, Bill C-16 came back from the Senate with a very minor procedural amendment. It was not significant at all. It was completely in line with the other provisions of that statute, which would have provided some flexibility to avoid election dates and conflicts between municipal or provincial and federal elections by having some discretion in the Chief Electoral Officer.

It was a very minor change. If the government was truly sincere in its wish to see fixed election dates moved quickly ahead, the opposition offered the option to fast track it, to get it through and have royal assent that very evening before the House of Commons broke for its recess. Strangely, that was refused. It was refused not because it was a substantial amendment, but because, one is compelled to suspect, the government did not want a fixed election date provision that would allow for a dissolution only on a non-confidence vote before the four year term came up.

If the government had agreed with that passage, it would have removed the ability the Prime Minister now has to do what he was critical of past prime ministers doing in the past, and prime ministers of both ruling parties, by the way, and that is to seek dissolution without a non-confidence situation. If the Prime Minister wanted to keep his options open for having a quick election, which he said he did not want to do, he was keeping his options open by that stall.

It is still stalled, which is extraordinary. It does not speak well of the Prime Minister's intentions and credibility when he says he wants fixed terms and he does not want prime ministers to fool around with a dissolution without a non-confidence vote, but then refuses quick passage.

Let me put this to the government House leader. Why will the government not accept this offer to fast track the bill now, get royal assent, get on with it, and check off a piece of democratic reform that many of us in the House think is long overdue and which the official opposition supports? Why will he and his government not take advantage of this opportunity to fast track that provision of democratic reform?

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, my friend raises two very important questions.

On the first point I will have to acknowledge that he is indeed correct in that this government has very few problems with the involvement that Céline Dion has had so far in our Senate term limits bill. Whatever her multitude of talents, I do not believe she is responsible for the obstruction that has occurred in the Senate or for the inability to persuade Liberal senators to follow the lead of their leader and get them to fast track that bill. Actually, “fast track” is a silly concept because it has been there for 325 days. Instead, I should say “actually deal with the bill”.

Thus, the member is absolutely correct. It is the Liberal leader who is responsible for that failure to get his own senators to follow his lead. It is his weakness and not the weakness of Céline Dion, who no doubt is very strong in many fields.

On the other question, which is the question of fixed date elections in Bill C-16, let us remember that this is our bill and we very much want to see it in place. If the Liberal Party was so keen on having that become law and having fixed date elections established and if the Liberals actually believed they wanted to see it in place, then they should not have amended it at the eleventh hour. It would have been law today had they not put in place an amendment at the eleventh hour.

Let us examine what that amendment was. It was an amendment that would have had the effect of saying that if a small town of 450 people in northern Ontario decided it wanted to have a referendum on a name change or if another town somewhere in Canada wanted to have a referendum on whether to build an arena, a federal election would have to cancelled.

We do not think that is a basis for cancelling a federal election. In fact, that undermines and defeats the entire purpose of Bill C-16, which is to create an element of certainty so that there cannot be that kind of manipulation of election dates and elections will occur at regular intervals.

That is why we are coming back to the House on Monday to ask the House to communicate to the Senate our wish that the central, original elements of Bill C-16 to establish genuine fixed date elections come into place. We are confident that the House will send that message to the Senate. We hope that in the Senate, if the Liberals are serious about wanting it to come into force, they will heed that message from the Commons and respect the important role of this chamber as the paramount chamber.

As long as the Senate consists of appointed senators, they should be respectful of the wishes of this chamber on important questions of principle, particularly questions of elections and democratic reform. The irony of the Senate questioning the House of Commons on its decisions on when elections should occur, on how our democracy works, is so deep that I am amazed the Liberals can stand in their places and raise questions about it.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to let my hon. colleague know that I am a firm believer in fixed election dates, but when I hear the Conservatives or the Liberals talk about the Senate I cannot help but take it with a jaundiced view, to put it in the politest way.

I remind my hon. colleague of the first thing the Conservative government did when it came into office. It appointed one of its Conservative fundraisers from Quebec who said he did not have time to run in an election because he was too busy. That was okay, said the government, and he was appointed as minister and put into the cabinet. When I hear the government talk about Senate changes, I cannot help but take it with a big grain of salt.

My answer for him is quite clear. Instead of tinkering around with the Senate, why does the government not do what most Canadians would like to see done? That is the abolition of the Senate, which we in the NDP have advocated for a long time. I know we need the consensus of the provinces for that, but why does the government not do something really dramatic and bold in this country? Why not stand up and tell Canadians once and for all that we are going to have fixed election dates and bring in proportional representation, but that first we will start off with the abolition of the Senate?

I say that with the greatest respect for all my friends and colleagues in the Senate. The reality is that we do not need it. The provinces do not have senates. They do very well with a single chamber. I believe we can do the same for this country.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, my friend from the NDP raises a legitimate and valid question when he raises the question of Senate abolition, because it is a very realistic alternative.

It is a very realistic alternative when one looks at how the Senate has been conducting itself in dealing with legislation from this Parliament, in delaying and obstructing a simple bill of 26 words, I believe it is, such as Bill S-4, for example, which is a very short bill. The Senate has been delaying that bill for a year and finding ways to avoid any kind of modest change to its own regime, and its members are creating an advertisement for exactly the position of my friend from the NDP, which is that not only do they lack the legitimacy that Canadians wish to see them have, they lack the legitimacy to even exist if that is how they are going to conduct themselves and utilize their powers. I say that with the greatest of respect.

That is the path down which they are treading and they are certainly creating the constituency for the view held by the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore. On this side of the House, we in the government do not hold that view. We believe it is possible to achieve improvement and incremental reform for the Senate. We do not believe that body is beyond all repair.

Of course the approach my friend suggests would require a constitutional amendment, for which we do not see a consensus in place right now, but we do not believe that is a reason to abandon any efforts to improve and modernize our Senate and strengthen our democracy. That is why we are acting now to try to modernize and improve our Senate, to strengthen our democracy, to make it more responsive to the wishes of Canadians and to do what Canadians have told us they want to see done, which is to have a Senate that has term limits and where Canadians have a say in who represents them.

It is the most fundamental principle in a democratic system. In Canada we live in a democracy. Canadians should have a say in who represents them in passing their laws and granting their wishes on what they want to see as the shape of this country.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this morning to speak to Bill C-43, the consultations act. I think everyone understands, who has read the bill, that this is not to provide for the election of senators, but to consult provinces where there are vacancies in the Senate on who might be appointed then by the prime minister. The prime minister will still appoint senators at the end of the day.

It is passing strange to hear the House leader speak of delay. Bill C-43 was first tabled in the House four months ago, and it is only today coming forward for debate. There were many other opportunities to bring it forward. I do not think it should be a purpose of the government to complain about delay. The government had control of it and it has only now brought it forward for debate.

Also, Bill C-16, the fixed election dates, as I mentioned in my intervention, has been stopped in its tracks for want of a minor amendment from the Senate. If the government members had the respect for the Senate, as they suggest, then they would think carefully about the role of the chamber of second sober thoughts. It has thoughtfully looked at the process and determined there is one failure in terms of fixed election dates. Therefore, it has suggested there be a slight amendment for that purpose. I think there must be some other reason why the government will not go along with that. It is in the discretion of the Chief Electoral Officer. That discretion by that officer of Parliament would not be exercised lightly and not in the way the government House leader suggests.

Those on this side of the House have a great deal of respect for the purpose and the work of the Senate.

One example of the value to Canadians of that extraordinary group of people, and they are for the main part, is former Senator Kirby and his health committee. Over a period of years, I think they did the finest work on the ideas to reform and protect the health services of our country. With due respect to all the other commissions across the country and internationally that have looked at it, Senator Kirby's report on health care reform really hit the bell and resonated with Canadians. In fact, very similar conclusions that Senator Kirby's health committee report came to were concurred in by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Chaoulli case. It made many of the same observations about the health of our health care services and what needed to be done to protect them and the rights of citizens under those.

As well, last year Senator Kirby's committee published its mental health report, recommending a national mental health commission. It was done in a way that was thoughtful and sensitive of individuals whose lives were touched, through a family member or friend, by the horrible situation of mental illness.

Those are just examples of how valuable the other place can be to the rights and privileges and services of Canadians.

Let me talk a bit about consultation. We have heard a lot from the government House leader about the government wanting to consult Canadians and it is Canadians who should be consulted, in the words of this bill, for the appointments still of senators.

It is passing strange that Bill S-4, which has been mentioned, Bill C-16, Bill C-43, which we are discussing today, and the Federal Accountability Act, which deals with issues of democratic accountability, have been brought forward by the government before it even put forward its consultation plan.

We know with respect to Bill C-43 that Ontario, Quebec were not consulted about it. Nor were the other provinces or territories. The Governments of Ontario and Quebec have expressed their opposition to this bill as has Yukon. The consultation process was announced a couple of months ago by the Conservative government. It was going to hire a polling firm and a think tank for $900,000, which turns out to be an ideologically based organization. It has come out in favour of keeping the current electoral system in our country, denigrating the idea of proportional representation or any part of it. It was a bogus consultation across the country.

The government did not even wait for that consultation, bogus as it might be, before it brought forward its legislation. That is a strange process. We have seen criticism and problems with it since it started.

There is another irony here. Electoral reform, as another aspect of democratic reform, was put in the Speech from the Throne. The NDP put forward that amendment and it was accepted by the government of the day. In time a legislative committee was set up to look at that issue and to have real cross-country consultations conducted by members of Parliament, who have the responsibility to do that consultation, not polling companies and overpaid ideological think tanks holding a few so-called deliberative discussions behind closed doors. We must get on with that work before too long, certainly before we go ahead with rash changes to our electoral system.

Another irony is this. The Law Commission of Canada, which is an independent, statutory public body that works independently of government, came up with a report in the spring of 2004 on electoral reform in Canada. I invite government members, who would care to rise for commentary and questions, to comment on whether they have read that report. I invite anyone who rises to first comment on the wisdom of that report on two aspects; first, the indepth research that was done; and second, the indepth consultation across the country.

I have read a number of these reports from different countries. I know the respect that the Law Commission of Canada is held in throughout the Commonwealth and the common law world. The report is perhaps the finest treatment of the question of electoral reform in a modern democracy that has ever been written. I look forward to commentary from government members on that.

I guess the triple irony is that the Law Commission of Canada, as announced in the government's economic update in the fall, has had its budget cut to zero as of April 1. It is extraordinary. This is while we are paying ideological flacks $900,000 to gather some bogus public consultation on democratic reform, yet we have this respected body. I am sure some members have not even read the report.

That is another aspect of democratic responsibility. Imagine having the Law Commission of Canada Act, an act of Parliament, disrespected by the government. There are statutory responsibilities under that act to perform services for Canadians. The government, without having the courage to bring legislation to repeal the Law Commission of Canada Act, has cut its budget. It sounds kind of like the gun registry. I do not want to get too off course here, but it is an elementary question of democracy. It has had no courage to bring legislation before this House to repeal the gun registry. Rather it frustrates it. It gives endless time for people to register their guns.

They are laughing across the way. Whenever we talk about democracy and the gun legislation, let us remember earlier this week when the Canadian Police Association came to Ottawa to talk to parliamentarians. The single most important message that the president, on behalf of the police organization, had for us as parliamentarians was it used the gun registry 6,000 times a day, including the long gun registry. He said it was valuable.

Let me now turn to the specifics of Bill C-43, reform of the Senate. I will talk about Bill C-43 in a different context, in the context of Senate reform exactly. Yes, members on this side of the House are in favour of reform. Members in the official opposition are in favour of Senate reform. However, it has to be comprehensive reform and not piecemeal reform.

The trouble with piecemeal reform is this. The Senate, the traditions and the institution of that important body of Parliament, are a Rubik's cube of at least three colours. Two of those colours represent the selection process, including the term of office, and the mandate. Remember we have to think about the mandate of its relationship to the House. If they are identical with identical electoral status, then we will get gridlock. To avoid that, if the mandate is going to be exact with the same electoral legitimacy, then we had better have a dispute resolution mechanism to resolve gridlock when it occurs or the governance of the people of Canada could be frustrated.

The third colour in the Rubik's cube is distribution. Of the issues before us today, this perhaps is the most important. I look across the aisle at government members from British Columbia and Alberta. I cannot believe government members from British Columbia and Alberta could support giving greater powers, greater credibility and greater authority to the other place without a redistribution of seats to fairly treat British Columbia and Alberta, which are woefully underrepresented in the other place.

Let me quote from the preamble of Bill C-43, second clause:

WHEREAS the Government of Canada has undertaken to explore means to enable the Senate better to reflect the democratic values of Canadians and respond to the needs of Canada’s regions;

The bill tries to selectively deal with electoral matters and bring in greater credibility, therefore, power to the Senate, but leaves British Columbia and Alberta so woefully underrepresented.

Let me go back to the government House leader's point that Bill S-4, the bill introduced in the other place to deal with fixed terms for the appointment of senators, has lots of positive support. The trouble is this creates another problem that has to be dealt with on distribution. Other senators, Liberal senators and a former Progressive Conservative senator, put forward, for consideration by the same Senate committee, the idea that there be a redistribution by giving more seats to the four western provinces so the horrid imbalance and disadvantage to the west could be corrected, and without constitutional change as well. It would be an addition of extra Senate seats, but it would balance, for the first time, the rights of the people of western Canada.

This is why Bill S-4 has been held up for the last year in the Senate. It is not because of term limits. Everybody agrees there should be term limits. It is to get the distribution and that is the Rubik's cube that has to come into conformity before we can give greater mandate or greater credibility. Therefore, let us do it all at once.

I keep hearing that we cannot have constitutional change, that we cannot possibly open the Constitution to deal with something of such importance.This timidity would make the Fathers of Confederation blush if they thought they could not do anything to the institution in a constitutional way. One can only think of what would have happened if those fathers meeting in Charlottetown had the timidity of the members of the government today who say that we cannot go near the Constitution.

Let us think carefully about this but let us do it all at once, by all means, and let us do it comprehensively and do it properly.

I want to talk very briefly about other areas of electoral and democratic reform which have been raised by the House leader.

Parliamentary reform is very important. We saw with the last Liberal government a number of elements of parliamentary reform that came in, sometimes by resolution of opposition members at the time. One was the three line whip by the former Liberal government to allow for votes of conscience, free votes, two line whips for people not in cabinet and full votes of conscience. We see that regularly in this party in official opposition. We saw it regularly in the previous Parliament of the previous Liberal government. We do not see it across the aisle here. I do not recall, and I try to watch quite carefully, one vote that has been brought forward where members of the government have been, apparently, free to vote.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

How was that hepatitis C vote? How did that vote go?

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

I was not here at that time. I am a very recent member.

Another area of parliamentary reform is floor crossing. The NDP, to its credit, brought forward a bill two years ago but it was inadequate. However, I personally brought forward an amendment to the Federal Accountability Act to deal with floor crossing to allow for a limited recall. That would have gone through, even though it was ruled to be out of order, but we had a vote to see whether it could be re-instituted and, unfortunately, the government voted against it. It voted against recall for floor crossing, which is interesting. All members from any party would have been subject by now to that fine provision of parliamentary reform.

I will speak to one other area of parliamentary reform and that is the secret ballot for the chairs of House committees. I think it came from a Conservative resolution when the Liberal government was in power. It was accepted and there were secret ballots for committee chairs. That has been rolled back so that now it is back in the PMO.

We are talking about democracy and all of these things. The trouble is that we cannot just pick and choose, which is, of course, the weakness of Bill C-43. It is piecemeal. It is not comprehensive.

The other issue is public engagement because we are talking about consultations with the public for ideas on who should be appointed to the Senate, which is now done by the Prime Minister at his discretion. Public consultation needs information. A very important part of that information to the public so they can properly be consulted and provide advice to us as legislators is provided through the access to information legislation.

In the last election campaign, the Prime Minister, very broadly, boldly and without any shadow of a doubt, said that the Federal Accountability Act would be the first bill the government would bring forward if he were elected and that it would incorporate the whole access to information draft bill that the Information Commissioner had brought forward at the request of a parliamentary committee.

What was brought forward was just a minor part of it in the Federal Accountability Act. In fact, the Information Commissioner, highly regarded and respected, and actually consulted by all of us, including the present government, for his advice, called the so-called access to information provisions of the Federal Accountability Act retrograde and dangerous. This is our officer of Parliament, now the government, who pledged during his election campaign to incorporate all of his suggested open government act provisions in there.

Let us do this right. If we really see flaws, inadequacies or things that are out of date, we need the courage to say that an unelected legislative body in a modern democracy is an anachronism. I think we all feel that. We need to get together and fix it comprehensively without causing more difficulties rather than solving the democratic deficit of this particular aspect of our democracy.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, after listening to the member for Vancouver Quadra speak, I understand why he will not be seeking re-election again. It must be very embarrassing and very difficult to stand in the House and defend the record of the previous Liberal government and compare it to the progressiveness and the moving ahead steps that this new Conservative government is taking.

I hearken back to 1993 when I came to this House and, unfortunately, had to sit through three successive majority Liberal governments that had all the opportunity in the world to make whatever changes they wanted as to how government was run and pass them through and yet we saw zero, nada.

We then had a period of a minority government under the member for LaSalle—Émard who basically dithered away his year and a half in office without even attempting to do anything. Now we have this government trying its best to make this place more democratic and those members have the audacity to stand and try to criticize it. My God, where does the embarrassment stop?

The member said that we had disregarded public consultations with respect to recommendations to the Senate. A province-wide vote was held twice in Alberta to identify who the people of Alberta wanted to represent them in the Senate. The first person was Stan Waters who was appointed, and rightly so, by the prime minister of the day. Now we have Mr. Bert Brown who is about to be appointed to the Senate after having gone through two votes by the people of Alberta. How much of a more purer public consultation is there than to have hundreds of thousands of people voting for that person?

The last thing I would like to mention is the access to information. One of the first steps we took was to include certain crown corporations under access to information. The former Liberal government could have done this so easily but it refused because it had a closed little cadre of puppets working in some of the crown corporations. The Liberals did not want to give any information out.

This government is getting things done. The Liberals had 13 years to do things and they did not get the job done. Now they think it is just not fair that we are getting things done.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, in the member's commentary he did not say whether he had read the Law Commission of Canada report that I mentioned and I think he should really do that. It is very enlightening with respect to reforming all our institutions in Canada. That is actually something very important that the last Liberal government set up in 1997, one of the most respected law reform bodies in the common law world. The former previous Conservative government cancelled the old law reform commission, which was also highly respected. It took us a few years to get that done. Of course, we had to deal with the $42 billion a year deficit that the former Conservative government left the new Liberal government in 1993.

The member talked about the former prime minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, not getting anything done. What about the national consultations; the deep research; the major policy initiatives on child care development policies; the cities agenda, to which everyone agreed; the Kelowna agreement, to which everyone agreed; and, the international policy statement, which is now being perverted by the present government's actions and directions in Afghanistan? Those are tremendous aspects of policy that came in, in those two short years that, unfortunately, were shortened by, if I may say so, the unnecessary last election.

The government is going piecemeal. It must go comprehensively. If we really want things down, we need to open it up in the Senate and do it properly.

We must remember that Bert Brown, who may go to the Senate, plowed into his barley field three Es, not one E.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

It was actually a wheat field.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

No, it was barley. Whether it is wheat or barley, the government says that it wants choice in wheat and barley. His choice was three Es, not one E. He knew it had to be comprehensive. While I am sure he is delighted at the prospect of being appointed by the Prime Minister to the Senate, he would like to see three Es, not just one. He knew they had to be all at once.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's take on the bill. I know he has been a strong proponent for democratic reform. I also know that people should be judged by their actions and not just their words.

It was interesting when one of the Conservative members mentioned, I think it was a Freudian slip, that it was a consolation for our new senator. I think he had it right, it is a consolation for people who have done work for the old party.

In this case, the first action the government took was to appoint a backroom fundraiser of the Conservative Party to the Senate. It is interesting, is it not, that the first action of the government, a government that purportedly wanted to take up electoral reform, supposedly, and Senate reform, appointed one of its friends and then vaulted him into the cabinet.

I wonder if the member could connect what the government is putting in front of us now with its first actions. Sorry, it was its second one. It had the floor crossing with the Minister of International Trade and then it had the appointment to the Senate. Could the hon. member connect the actions and the words of the government?

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I know the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra is very anxious to respond but he will have to wait till a little later this day because it is now 11 o'clock and accordingly the rules require that I proceed with statements by members. The member will have two minutes remaining in the time for his remarks when the debate is resumed.

Canadian 4-H CouncilStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to honour the Canadian 4-H Council.

As many members of the House are aware, the 4-H Council recently hosted its 35th national seminar of citizenship in Ottawa. Seventy participants from across the nation attended. The participants earned the trip by accomplishing outstanding achievements in their local and provincial districts.

The youth learned first-hand about the Canadian parliamentary system and their own rights and responsibilities as Canadian citizens. They toured the Supreme Court, attended a question period, attended a citizenship ceremony for new Canadians, hosted an MP luncheon, as well as took the time to meet on an individual basis with their own members of Parliament.

I had the opportunity to meet with one of these exceptional participants from my riding. Andrew McTaggart and a 4-H volunteer, Shonna Ward, provided me with first-hand knowledge about the program and its dedication to the citizens and communities in which they live.

With young people like Andrew McTaggart and organizations like 4-H, Canada's future is bright and secure.

John RobertsStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honour John Roberts, who lived the life of an academic, diplomat and member of Parliament. Mr. Roberts passed away last week at the age of 73.

Born in Hamilton and later a resident of Toronto, John Roberts had a passion for the arts and the environment and was truly ahead of his time. He was both elected and defeated in the ridings of York—Simcoe and St. Paul's on three separate occasions. Whether in victory or defeat, his approach toward a sustainable environment and his support for a vibrant cultural community was the bedrock of his every campaign.

During the repatriation of our Constitution, the hon. John Roberts was an irreplaceable colleague to Prime Minister Trudeau. He lobbied British parliamentarians on the idea of a Canadian constitution and briefed the prime minister on how it could be achieved. As minister of the environment, he successfully drew the Americans into the battle against acid rain.

I am sure that this House will join me in saluting a remarkable Canadian, a great parliamentarian and a man who led a truly extraordinary life. Our friend and colleague John Roberts was kind, and one of a kind. He will be greatly missed.

Yvon MénardStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the extraordinary dedication shown by Mr. Yvon Ménard to his community of East Angus.

Mr. Ménard has been a volunteer for over half a century, contributing to the growth of his community. He has been particularly devoted to the golf club and to the revival of the Lions club of East Angus. He chaired the local chamber of commerce, sat on the city's health committee and, since 2006, has been a municipal councillor.

A Quebec pioneer in the use of sawdust in hydroponics, Mr. Ménard also won the Gilles-Bordeleau award of merit for his work within the federation of Quebec greenhouse producers.

Mr. Ménard said it best himself: he may be retired from a payroll, but not from an active life. This full-time volunteer is an invaluable asset to the community of Haut-Saint-François.

Congratulations, Mr. Ménard. Your remarkable contribution serves an example for everyone.

Workers' RightsStatements By Members

11 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, the first bill I introduced in the House was the workers first bill, an act to protect workers' wages and pensions in cases of corporate bankruptcies. Such legislation is desperately needed in my hometown of Hamilton where Hamilton Specialty Bar is but the latest company to face the threat of bankruptcy.

Although the last Parliament did pass the wage earner protection program act, which would protect at least the wage portion of moneys owed to workers, the Liberals failed to proclaim that act into law. They hoped no one would notice, but of course everyone in the labour movement did.

The NDP has redoubled its efforts to ensure that this act will come into force. The only thing standing between the protection of workers' rights and the requisite legislation is the political will to get this initiative passed. Workers know that New Democrats have that will. Workers know who is on their side when it comes to back to work legislation and anti-scab legislation.

It is time to approve this essential piece of legislation to defend workers' earnings. I urge all members of the House to support the speedy passage of bankruptcy protection for Canadian workers. I pledge my party's support.

Glenbow Ranch Provincial ParkStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the Harvie family for its contribution to the new Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. The park will encompass over 3,000 acres and 14 kilometres of the Bow River shoreline.

The Harvie family sold this land to the government of Alberta at much less than market value to establish this park. This land will provide a legacy of conservation, education and recreation opportunities for Albertans. Tim Harvie, a constituent of Macleod, has been custodian of this land with his sister Katie and it has been in the family for more than 70 years.

The park presents a showcase of the natural grasslands and unique ecological attributes of the Alberta landscape and will protect Calgary's water supply and all water users downstream on the Bow River.

Ecological entrepreneurs such as Tim, Katie and the rest of the Harvie family are taking action to demonstrate the importance of conserving our land and preserving it for future generations. Please join me in acknowledging the Harvie family for its contribution.

Manufacturing IndustryStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, over 200 hard-working, reliable employees in my riding of Brant recently lost their jobs when GenFast Manufacturing declared bankruptcy and closed its doors. This is only the latest blow to the manufacturing sector in Brant. GenFast has had roots in Brantford since 1910. Its closing has devastated the lives of its employees and their families.

I have heard from many who have not received benefits, severance, wages and vacation pay. Workers' rights have been put in jeopardy and the government must immediately take steps to ensure that money owed to workers is the first priority of any company and the government.

The nature of manufacturing is changing. Many Canadian workers are at great risk of encountering a similar fate as GenFast workers. Over the past few years over 200,000 jobs have been lost in the manufacturing sector.

It is imperative that the government take a leadership role to promote the future sustainability of the manufacturing industry and protect the jobs and the rights of its workers.

SudanStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, Canada is committed to helping to achieve a lasting peace for the people of Darfur. Canada welcome's Sudan's recent acceptance of the full heavy support package of UN assistance to the African Union mission.

Given Sudan's record of stalling international efforts to achieve peace in Darfur, Canada is calling on the Sudanese government to demonstrate that it is a full partner in this process. We must now focus on ensuring that the next step, a hybrid AU-UN mission, is in place as soon as possible.

Canada is part of a concerted international effort to bring about a just and lasting peace throughout all of Sudan. Since 2004 Canada has spent over $368 million working to improve the human rights and the humanitarian situation in Sudan. This includes support for urgently needed humanitarian aid, diplomatic efforts to achieve peace and of course our support as a principal donor to the African Union's peacekeeping mission in Darfur.

Rita TrépanierStatements By Members

April 20th, 2007 / 11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, on April 17, 2007, the Outaouais lost a dedicated volunteer, Ms. Rita Trépanier, who passed away after several months of battling cancer.

Rita was a spirited woman, who was always there to help those around her and who was convinced that Quebec would one day be a country. Treasurer of the Bloc Québécois, member of the Société nationale des Québécois et des Québécoises de l'Outaouais, she was an active participant in election campaigns, in addition to volunteering for the hot air balloon festival, meals on wheels, the tax clinic and Operation Red Nose. In fact, that is where I saw her for the last time, last December. She was a woman of many talents.

I would like to tell her family and friends, and her sovereignist family, that our hearts are with them. A few days before her death, she said the first thing she would do in the afterlife would be to say hello to René Lévesque. Believe me, this woman of action will hasten to do so.

National Volunteer WeekStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, to give and share is to pass on something of oneself. This is National Volunteer Week, which turns the spotlight on Canadian volunteers. I want to pay tribute to the volunteers across Canada, who work to better their community and the quality of life of their fellow Canadians.

Volunteerism is a way to meet people's needs and getting them involved in good causes, wherever those causes may be. Canadians do more than 2 billion hours of volunteer work a year. As an important side benefit, volunteerism gives us a better understanding of people and their differences.

I want to mention the wonderful work being done in my riding, Beauport—Limoilou, by the ROSCB, the Little Brothers of the Poor, La Bouchée Généreuse, Maison Agapè and the Centre d’action bénévole Aide 23.

I pay tribute to these men and women who find a purpose for their lives in volunteering and who, by giving of their time and listening to others, give dignity to those who need it.

Christopher StannixStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, on Easter Sunday, Master Corporal Christopher Stannix and five others were killed while serving their country in Afghanistan. His bravery and commitment live on in his family, his friends and his community who all mourn his loss of life.

Last Friday I was proud to be at Auburn Drive High School when his bravery and memory were acknowledged by the students of the school, which he attended only a few years ago. During a moving tribute to this young man, every student stood at attention, fought tears and honoured the achievements of his short life.

In a letter to the Halifax Herald this week, his sister Lesley spoke of Christopher and his colleagues by saying, “Soldiers have a strength of character, a courage in their convictions and a true bravery”.

Master Corporal Christopher Paul Stannix of the Princess Louise Fusiliers will be buried this afternoon at CFB Stadacona.

To his parents Ken and Kathy, his sisters Meaghan and Lesley, and his fiancée Candice, we offer our support, prayers and thanks as we honour another fallen hero.

AfghanistanStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, yesterday in this House we debated the future of Canada's role in Afghanistan.

While many in Canada understand very well the necessity for international assistance to the democratic Afghan government, others do not. The critics seem to feel that we in the west somehow provoke the extremists, that it is somehow our fault and that we can find an accommodation with these extremists. Considering that the extremists cite the independence of East Timor and the conquest of Andalusia in the 15th century as two rationale for their terror, reasonable people must understand there is no assuaging them. They will find any excuse for their hate.

We are in Afghanistan for two reasons. First, we are there out of compassion to provide peace and humanitarian relief for that country. Second, we are there to make sure that Afghanistan never again becomes a place for extremists who hate our way of life.

Ultimately, Canadian Forces are in Afghanistan to protect what we hold most dear: life; life in Canada and life in Afghanistan.