House of Commons Hansard #142 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was accountability.


The House resumed from April 20 consideration of the motion 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.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on Bill C-43, An Act to provide for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate.

I want to begin my comments with a historical perspective. It is interesting to go back to the beginning of our country and the constitutional debates in Quebec at the Quebec conference and the debates around the Senate. In fact, those debates were some of the longest debates, and some would say they were controversial, about what should be done in terms of that new idea, the new formation called Canada.

There had been a consensus about reforming and having responsible government. Indeed, after the rebellions in 1837, we saw it in 1841. The concept and the idea of responsible government had been born. The rebellions built on Upper and Lower Canada had taken place. In 1841 we saw the idea of responsible government after the Durham report, with all its ills, but there were some good things in it, and then in the Quebec conference in the discussion around what should be done in terms of a new country and the formation of a confederation.

In those debates, there were discussions among the reformers at the time, who were very different from the reformers of more recent times. The Browns, for instance, actually believed that an elected Senate at the time would be problematic. That is interesting to note because at the time Brown and his movement, the reformers of the time, were laying down the markers for what they believed would be more responsible and more representative government.

Yet there was a consensus at the time, after much debate, as I have said, to have an appointed Senate. The reason people gave was that they believed the two houses had to be given certain jurisdictions and responsibilities. There was a concern at the time that one house should not have dominance over the other house, notwithstanding the obvious submission of people who saw a democratically elected house as better than an appointed one.

These people shared some concerns. Many of the reformers at the time trumpeted the comments of John Stuart Mill, who said in 1861:

An assembly which does not rest on the basis of some great power in the country is ineffectual against one which does.

People consciously knew that by way of agreeing to an appointed Senate the upper house would not trump the House of Commons. They were very deliberate, because they did not want to see the quagmire. They saw the upper house as a check.

They were concerned about the experience in the United States at the time. We have to recall our history. The American civil war had just happened. People were very conscious of it. One of the reasons Confederation came together, notwithstanding the Fenian raids, was due to the concern about the Americans' creep north, so to speak.

They wanted to get it right. They wanted to make sure it was different. They wanted to make sure there were proper checks and balances. They subscribed to the idea of an appointed house.

I will go back in history to re-Confederation in terms of what the debates were at the Quebec conference, because it is very important to understand our history in order to understand where we are now and to understand this bill.

In essence what the reformers of the time were saying, Macdonald and others, was that we needed a balance. They wanted to make sure that the upper house was not going to trump the lower house, so that, as John Stuart Mill said, we would not have one “assembly which rests on the basis of some great power in the country”, i.e. the people, and one that would cause a disproportionate balance.

Because, if we look at the structure of the Senate, we see that there were senators appointed. We have to recall that it was the east and west, and the Maritimes were still discussing whether there would be a maritime union. Senators would not be appointed based on representation of exact population. It was very important that it was going to be an appointed Senate.

Delegates at the Quebec conference believed that to have responsible government, the principle that was fought for in the rebellions of 1837 and the act in 1841, there had to be responsible representation by population government in the House of Commons and oversight from the Senate.

If we fast forward to where we are now, this bill is not proposing an overview of what the Senate's roles and responsibilities are. It does not take into consideration, in my opinion, what the initial debate was in this place with the former Reform Party about the so-called triple E Senate. It is not a discussion that really deals with what the Senate's role and responsibilities are. It is simply a way to get around the obvious problem of having an appointed body in 2007. We have not evolved to having a body that is actually democratically respected and responsible.

The fundamental problem with this bill is that it is a half measure. It says that we can have a plebiscite. We have not quite decided yet how that is to be done, but let us say it is in a federal election. The plebiscite goes forward and the person who is nominated goes to the Prime Minister, who makes the appointment.

What it does not do is deal with the whole quagmire of the role of the upper house. That is fundamentally what should be dealt with. That is really what Canadians want. It is what many people believe the former Reform Party really wanted to deal with.

This bill skirts the Constitution because it does not open the Constitution to deal with the problem. It is simply a plebiscite of sorts to find out who is the most popular person to be appointed by the Prime Minister. That might sound good to some people. I am sure the governing party will say that it is a great thing, that it would be a step in the right direction and an incremental and positive step. We may see that as being the case, except when we look at what the government has done in the area of democratic reform and judge it on its record to date.

One bill that the NDP subscribed to and supported was Bill C-16, a bill that would fix election dates and will hopefully be enacted very soon. It was an idea that our party came up with. My predecessor, Mr. Broadbent, put it forward in his ethics package before the last election. The government then took it off the NDP shelf, put it into its platform, brought it before the House and everyone agreed to it. It made sense.

We agreed that we should not open the Constitution for that particular bill. We did that because it was something that could be done without affecting the structure and functions of our Parliament. It was a process in terms of how election dates are set and it did not deal with undermining the whole idea of a minority Parliament and confidence. It was fine.

This bill is a sidestep on the Constitution. For that reason alone, personally I cannot support it. If we continue to skirt the Constitution, I think we are going down a dangerous road. I submit that the government has to understand that the Constitution is not a suggestion list. It is not something for which we say, “Maybe we would like to do this”. It is a fundamental foundation of our country and of the structure of this place and obviously of the other place.

If we are going to talk about substantive change and real democratic reform, then what we need to do is have an honest debate in this country. To be fair, the former Reform Party tried to do that. It attempted to have a so-called triple E Senate.

However, the Conservative government simply wants to do an end run around the Constitution and say, “Here, we have a plebiscite, we will rubber stamp the plebiscite choice, and the Prime Minister will appoint the person”. It does absolutely nothing to the roles and responsibilities of the upper house.

In fact, we will have a house that will have some people who are deemed to have been chosen by the people and some who are appointed, those who are flying, so to speak, on different octane, and people will ask who legitimately speaks for the other place. Is it the person who is there by way of plebiscite or the person who is appointed? It creates a quagmire for the upper house and therefore for this place.

On those points alone, I believe we cannot support the bill.

I want to now turn to where the government is on democratic reform. It is very sad to see that the government has decided not to embrace what the previous Parliament put forward through the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which was to go out to citizens and have a citizens' engagement on democratic reform and also have a House of Commons committee going out to Canadians to speak on democratic reform and find out what Canadians' ideas are.

Sadly, what the government came up with has been a disaster. The government will not admit that, but I know it has been a disaster. The government has had to backtrack and reassign contracts. It has gone to so-called “non-special interests”, which is laughable, and I will tell the House who it is, to go to Canadians and have a focus group on what they believe democratic reform should look like.

The paper that has been put out is called “Public Consultations on Canada's Democratic Institutions and Practices”. I have the participants' workbook here. I did not get it from the government website but actually from a participant who recently went through the process and procedure.

Mr. Speaker, you will know the group because it is out of Winnipeg. It is the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. I will not say anything too negative about the Frontier group, but what I can say genuinely is that it is not an objective think tank. Some have said that it makes the Fraser Institute look left wing, but I will not subscribe to what those others have said.

On its website, the Frontier group says it fundamentally does not believe in ideas like proportional representation. This is the group that the government has hired, with taxpayers' money, to talk to Canadians about democratic reform. So when the government presents a bill, Bill C-43 on Senate reform and change--

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10:20 a.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order which is perhaps irrelevant now, but I was going to ask the hon. member to refer to Bill C-43 as opposed to electoral reform and the process for looking at the lower house.

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10:20 a.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am surprised that the hon. member brings it up because in the contract the government assigned to the Frontier Centre, it is actually talking about democratic reform, so I might table this later so the hon. member can have a look at it. It actually questions later on table 5, about how to reform the Upper House. So, I think it is entirely relevant and I will provide a copy to the hon. member.

I brought this up because it is related to Bill C-43. The government has introduced a bill to deal with the Senate. On the other hand, it is out there hiring friends of the government to talk to Canadians about democratic reform.

I want to explain that initially Conservatives hired a group that went out to find participants for this consultation and sadly, the group they had subcontracted to did not really know what they were doing. They phoned Democracy Watch and asked if it could provide participants for their consultation. Duff Conacher was none too pleased when he found out that Democracy Watch was being asked to provide participants for everyday Canadians to speak on democratic reform. So Democracy Watch was fired and another group was hired and now we have this flawed process in front of us.

We see in chapter 4 of this public consultation, which is again a bit of an oxymoron because no one can actually get the document, where it talks about Canada's Senate today, and it talks about what this group believes should be done and asks what Canadians, through its hand-picked group, what they think about it.

I bring that up because it is very important that Canadians know the agenda of the government. The agenda of the government is to pretend to be doing democratic reform. If it honestly wanted to engage in democratic reform, it would support the motion the NDP is going to put forward to do what the previous Parliament, through the procedure and House affairs committee, had committed to do. That was to have a parallel process of a parliamentary committee speaking to Canadians about democratic reform. It could engage this place and the other place, and leave it up to Canadians to decide. It could have a citizens' consultation that would be a little less biased than the Frontier Centre.

If we look at Bill C-43, it actually tells Canadians already what they should be doing. They should be supporting the government's idea of a plebiscite with the Prime Minister appointing.

Just to recap, constitutionally going back to the Quebec conference and looking at what exactly the Fathers of Confederation envisioned, because it was all men at the time, and what they thought the upper house should be doing, they said it should not be elected at the time. Even the reformers at the time agreed to that.

We are now in 2007. Most people would believe that the process, and we see it with the House of Lords in England which is being challenged right now to reform itself, needs to be more than just a half measure, more than just a plebiscite so the Prime Minister can appoint. What we need to have is real reform.

I want to emphatically underline the fact that the government is on the wrong path for democratic reform and remind Conservatives that it was one of the predecessors of the now Conservative Party who talked about a triple E Senate. Two Es have fallen off the table with their intent now.

They think that they can fool Canadians by telling them they have had real Senate reform by having a popularity contest and a rubber stamp from the Prime Minister. Canadians will not be fooled. Our party will not be fooled. This place, I am sure, will not be fooled when we hear from the other parties.

However, the issue of democratic reform should be put in front of Canadians genuinely. Our party has said we believe that the mixed member system is a good idea and we have done that deliberately because we need to have a debate in this country about democratic reform.

The Reform Party, to give it credit, believed in a triple E Senate and put an idea forward. We are not sure where the Liberal Party stands on it and I am not sure the Bloc really has an idea on the issue because it is an issue for all of Canada.

What we need is to have ideas put forward in front of Canadians, so that we can have a genuine debate. Bill C-43 does not do that. It is simply saying to let us have an end run around the Constitution, let us have a half measure and say that we have done something.

I think that would be a disservice to Canadians and even to the Fathers of Confederation, the founders of the country, because they would have wanted, and I cite George Brown from the debates during the Quebec conference, genuine reform, not this tinkering and saying that by way of a plebiscite with the Prime Minister having the ultimate power, that this would be real reform. He would be flipping in his grave right now if he say the government putting this forward and calling it real reform.

I will sum up by essentially giving our party's position. We will not be supporting the bill. It is a half measure. It does not deal with real democratic reform and does absolutely nothing to deal with the issue of the roles and responsibilities of the other place.

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10:25 a.m.

Prince George—Peace River B.C.


Jay Hill ConservativeSecretary of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, I really do not know where to begin after that presentation by my colleague from the New Democratic Party, but I must say at the outset that it certainly does not surprise me.

All too often we see when parties and governments endeavour to make some substantive reform, some change, they run into this type of nonsense. Certainly, in the nearly 14 years that I have been here, I have confronted this at every turn. I remember the former Prime Minister, Mr. Chrétien. I remember the immediate past Prime Minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, spouting the same kind of nonsense, that if we cannot have this all encompassing dramatic reform, then nothing is worthwhile.

The member used the terms “tinkering” and “half measures”, and that is why he is not going to support it. Even a cursory examination of reforms that have taken place in other countries would show that all too often this is how we have to begin. We have to start somewhere to make some change and get the ball rolling.

Our Parliament is well over 130 years old and that archaic other place, the Senate, still has vacancies filled by appointment. The current Prime Minister is the first Prime Minister who has decided to take definitive action by taking some steps to change that after all that time.

I am the first one to admit that this is not a triple E. We are not trying to fool Canadians into believing that somehow the bill is going to bring about an instantaneous triple E Senate. I still believe in the principle of a triple E Senate. I got involved in that. I used to proudly wear the three E lapel pin. I still have it at home.

I have not lost my desire to see that type of dramatic and substantive reform to the upper chamber in this country, but the reality is that we have to start somewhere.

I would suggest that this is a start. If we look at what happened in the United States when the Americans eventually arrived at a triple E senate, their senate was filled by appointments as well. But a few states started the process, just as Alberta has started the process in Canada, and it grew from there. This legislation will accomplish that.

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10:25 a.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know where to start as well. Let us start off with the tradition of the Westminster model. I was sad to hear the member refer to a political structure that is highly irrelevant to ours.

I encourage him to read the debates of the Quebec conference, read the debates about what the House was supposed to do. He is suggesting that we can do a little end run around the Constitution. That is not good enough for Canadians. It does not respect the history of this country. Responsible government is about being just that.

The bill says that we do not have to worry about the Constitution. We can do a little end run around it and the Prime Minister can rubber stamp it. That is not good enough.

I am sorry, but for that member to call this substantive change in that incrementally that is the way it is done, he should look at the Westminster model. No one has done this. It requires a constitutional change. If the member does not like the other place, then it should be abolished and the government could then bring forward real reform.

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10:30 a.m.


Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Which is your position?

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10:30 a.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Absolutely, that is our position. We have been consistent on it.

Then we have to take a look at how to represent people. I am absolutely shocked that a member from British Columbia would not address the fact that there is disproportionate representation in the other place to his region and he thinks it is okay. I am gobsmacked.

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10:30 a.m.


Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I remember when I was first elected in 1993 and we had a very strong issue with respect to an elected Senate. I remember standing over there and asking the then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien why the list of his party hacks was a better source of choices for a Senate appointment than the list provided by the people in an election. I would like the member to answer that. In both cases the prime minister would appoint the senator, but which list would he use? In this legislation the list would be from the people.

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10:30 a.m.

An hon. member

Selected by the people.

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10:30 a.m.


Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Selected by the people or selected from among party hacks, which would the member prefer? I would like him to be very specific and answer this question, and not go on a big rant on another topic.

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10:30 a.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, surely the member is not asking the New Democratic Party to support party hacks being appointed to the other place. We are the only party that has been consistent with respect to this issue. When the Conservative Party was putting its bagmen into the upper house, we were the only party before the Reform Party came around to criticize that. There is no argument here. I am not sure if the member has convenient amnesia about our party's position.

My mentor, as a kid and a hero to this day, Tommy Douglas, used to say Tweedledum and Tweedledee. That is what we have here with the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. The government is just deciding what way it can get its friends into the other place.

This is not going to work. It is not going to work because it is really not democratic. Do we need change? Absolutely. Is this the right kind of change? Absolutely not.

In the end, it does not deal with the fundamental issue of the role of the Senate. Certain senators, and I mentioned this in my comments, will be deemed as representing the people and others not. It will be utter confusion.

One day in the green and pleasant land for the Conservatives, all senators will be elected. I am sure they will have to deal with the issue of proportionality, as I mentioned to my friend from B.C., in terms of dealing with who is represented. Is the representation for P.E.I. versus B.C. acceptable right now? Absolutely not. Is that more important right now? Absolutely. It is part of the equation. That needs to be dealt with. We need real democratic change and not tinkering, and that is the problem with this bill.

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10:30 a.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Ottawa Centre for bringing a lot of substance to this debate by giving a historical view of how the Senate came about and what the real issues are before us.

I also thank him for the work he has been doing on this file in terms of bringing forward the substantive issues on democratic reform, as did the previous member for Ottawa Centre, Ed Broadbent. It was Ed Broadbent who really picked this up and set before Parliament the real qualitative changes that need to be made. The current member for Ottawa Centre is continuing that work.

The problem with this bill, like so many other bills that come forward, is that it is just window dressing. When we think of organizations like Fair Vote Canada or the Citizens' Assembly that took place in British Columbia, these are substantive processes that show there is a hunger out in the communities to address democratic reform.

I find it interesting that both the present government and the previous government had ministers responsible for democratic reform and yet we saw nothing happen. I think part of the question here is the process for arriving at democratic reform. I would like the member for Ottawa Centre to comment on that in terms of the kind of process we need to see, rather than this phony one that is set up for these focus groups, to actually engage people in the question of democratic reform.

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10:35 a.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I laid that out. We have a motion in front of this House of what we think is the model. The Conservatives need to go to Canadians, not to their friends in the Frontier group or to paid consultants. Canadians are thirsting to contribute but the government puts up barriers every time Canadians want to be heard.

What we need is a process that all parliamentarians agreed to in the last Parliament, which is a Citizens' Assembly engagement and a parliamentary committee. We need to do our work. We should not pay consultants to do it. Canadians sent us here to listen to their good ideas.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had actually hoped to ask the hon. member for Ottawa Centre a question but maybe after my speech he will want to intervene during the long period for questions and comments.

I had wanted to ask the member if we remembers his predecessor, Ed Broadbent, a man I liked and admired and still do. I wonder if he remembers that Ed Broadbent and I had a difference of opinion in the procedure and House affairs committee concerning a report, to which he is referring, about changes to the electoral system and that the process for searching out this change existed. Mr. Broadbent advocated a system very similar to the one the government has actually implemented. Conservative members actually advocated a much broader consultation but, when we pushed hard on it, Mr. Broadbent organized a walk out from the committee to deny us a quorum and then raised the matter in the House.

What I am getting at is that there has been a reversal of position here and I think everyone should be aware of that. I would like the member to comment on why the New Democrats, or at least he, have now switched to a position of favouring narrowing consultations, although he says that he is now in favour of a citizens' assembly as well, which they opposed at the time. I am actually a little unsure of which particular iteration of the changing position he is on at the moment. I will leave that thought with him. This is not strictly relevant to Bill C-43 and the Senate, which is the subject to which I will now turn.

When the end of the government comes, be it soon, be it off in the distant future, the bill and the work we have done on democratizing our Canadian institutions, this bill and other bills along the same lines, will be regarded as the greatest accomplishment of the government unless they are totally blocked by the other parties, in which case they will be regarded as the greatest missed opportunity that this Parliament had.

I just want to go through and mention some of the legislation we have put forward, of which Bill C-43 forms a package. We have Bill S-4, which would create fixed terms for senators, and it is in the upper House. That bill has been executed, not as part of a grandiose single package but as a separate piecemeal, to use the word that the member for LaSalle—Émard, the former prime minister, used to use, or incremental reform. The adoption of that bill is very important if we are to move to electing senators so that we are electing people for fixed terms.

The advisory consultations or informal elections that would take place for senators is another step in that package, and that is what Bill C-43 is all about.

We also have Bill C-31, which is designed to reduce to the extent possible electoral fraud throughout the country. We have also moved to change electoral financing rules. This would be very significant in reducing the influence of corporations, unions and non-voters in the financing of our elections and, therefore, the manner in which our decisions take place.

Those are all substantial moves forward. However, what is of particular importance is the work we are doing on the Senate. I am surprised at the way this gets belittled by some members of the House. This is an extraordinary measure. Canada has had an unelected chamber as its upper House for over 100 years. We are not quite unique in the world but we are getting closer and closer to being unique in the world in having an unelected upper House with full powers. It is an equal House to this one, with the exception of its inability to create money bills, and yet it is completely unelected.

This was a model that was considered by the Australians when they were designing their Senate over 100 years ago and rejected as being antiquated. They opted for an elected Senate.

We are looking at the replacement, in the member's words, incremental replacement, but we are looking at the replacement of an antiquated way of doing things with the modern and democratic way of doing things.

I want to talk a little bit about some of the things I think are important. Let me begin with a really basic one, which is the need for bicamerals and the need for a federation like Canada to have a bicameral system as opposed to a unicameral system where there is one chamber. This is a matter where I respectfully disagree with the position of the hon. member's party.

I would just point to the examples of federations in the world. Many countries claim to be federations but many of them are not real federations. For example, the Comoros Islands claim to be a federation but it is not a real federation. However, there are several long lived and successful examples of federal systems. Canada, of course, is one and Switzerland, the United States and Australia are others. We can also look at Germany and Austria. What we see in all of these cases is that they have, through one means or another, an elected upper chamber. In particular, the examples that are closest to Canada would be Australia and the United States but they have elected upper houses.

There are a number of purposes for having two chambers. One is to allow, and this is using the language of the Fathers of Confederation, a chamber of sober second thought, a place where decisions that may be taken in haste in this House can be examined, perhaps improved and sent back to us. As we know, the Senate is not shy even now about sending back measures that have been passed in this House for reconsideration.

Unfortunately, sometimes I think the Senate does so excessively on the basis of the interests of the partisanship of the party that put the senators there. That is a long term history. If we go back and look at the appointed Senate, it has either acquiesced completely to the government in power when the majority in the Senate reflects the majority in the lower house, or it has been unnecessarily obstructionist. That is a fundamental flaw with an appointed Senate, appointed effectively by the prime minister because the Governor General always takes the prime minister's advice on Senate appointments.

A significant change and improvement would be to move away from a Senate that is, depending on the moment, either a lapdog or excessively aggressive to one that gives considered sober second thought. That can be accomplished by an elected upper house. All we need to do is look at the examples that I have cited of other mature, responsible federations to see how this can work.

The other thing about an elected upper house is that it will tend to be elected on a separate mandate, both geographically and in terms of the electoral system we propose and also, to some degree, in terms of timing from the lower house that provides a different cross-section of Canadian public opinion and public sentiment over a broad period of time. The classic federalism theory is that we ought to have counterbalancing mandates for the upper and lower houses.

I want to turn now to the question of incremental reform, that which the former prime minister and now the hon. member for Ottawa Centre have derided as piecemeal reform versus wholesale reform. We have an unhappy series of experiments in our recent history with attempts at mega-constitutional reform. They have not been successful. I am thinking here of the Meech Lake accord and the Charlottetown accord. We are trying to move away from that.

The simple, practical reason for moving away from that to incremental reform is that it works. Incremental reform, making changes that are possible, does not involve hanging us up the way the country got hung up on the Meech Lake accord in which the part of the accord that had the highest threshold for approval became the standard by which everything had to be dealt with, which effectively guaranteed that it would be impossible to get it through.

The problem with wholesale reform is that in order to change the terms of senators and the way in which senators are selected, and to move from an appointed to an elected or an advisory elected system, and the changing of the regions and the representation by regions would involve, by necessity, moving to the seven-fifty amendment formula, which means having the approval of seven provincial legislatures representing 50% of the population on the very sticky issue of who should get how many senators.

While I would certainly agree that British Columbia is very underrepresented, which I think we can all agree on, we may discover, as we try to put in more seats for British Columbia and other provinces, that we may not get a national consensus on that. It is easy to say that we should get a consensus, but I would encourage the hon. member, if he gets a chance to stand up, to perhaps provide the percentage, the number of seats he would offer for each province and see whether he would get the support of all provinces or even of his party in all provinces on this subject. There is not a national consensus on this point. We can throw the baby out with the bathwater, which was the approach of the former prime minister, and say that since we cannot get to perfection from here we cannot go anywhere.

However, I still advocate perfection, an unspecified kind of perfection, but I advocate it, or we can work on practical piecemeal incremental reform. This is the route to success. I invite all hon. members to look at the history of elected upper houses in the federations that most closely resemble our own, the Australians, the Swiss and the Americans. What everyone will notice is that in each case they went from much less democratic institutions to much more democratic institutions: to equal, elected, effective senates by means of incremental reform.

For example, 101 years ago was the anniversary of the election of the first American senator. It was an informal election held in the state of Oregon in 1906. Prior to that date, state legislatures had appointed senators. The famous Lincoln-Douglas debates in the 1850s were not debates between two men seeking direct office. They were seeking to cause people to influence their votes for the state House of Representatives, which would then choose which of those two people would go on to the senate.

That changed through the action of one state. Once that state acted, other states began to act the same way. There was a popular groundswell in support of elections and by 1913 the constitution was amended. In short, piecemeal reform produced a breaking of an impasse that would have continued to exist had there been an attempt of wholesale reform.

Australia moved from a first past the post system for its upper house, which was its initial system, to a proportional system. Again, that was done incrementally through piecemeal constitutional reform.

If I have time I will return to this. I note the system we have proposed in the upper house does involve a system of proportional representation known as a single transferrable vote. It is the same system, with some improvements, that exists in the Australian upper house and a number of other countries, including Ireland and Malta. It is a great success in producing more proportional representation.

I mention this simply because part of the critique raised by my predecessor, the hon. member for Ottawa Centre, was that the government was doing nothing on electoral reform. I suggest that moving from completely unelected partisan appointments by the prime minister to a system of proportional representation in the upper house is the greatest move toward any kind of proportional representation we have seen anywhere in this country's history. It is a great accomplishment.

I have mentioned how we are moving in this direction incrementally.

I point out that not only do we require the 7/50 amendment formula, which I would suggest is practically impossible, to move to a different representation province relative to other provinces in the upper house, we require the same thing to abolish the Senate.

While there are people who support abolition of the Senate, in fact the hon. member's whole party would support that, it requires the support of seven provinces with half the population. I think we will find that is just as difficult to attain as a process for changing the proportional representation of the provinces in the upper house. In practice, it is as Utopian as the other suggestion and leads to the fundamental problem of essentially leaving us with the status quo.

The Prime Minister is faced with a choice of attempting to act incrementally, as he is doing, or simply going to direct appointments based upon his own preferences, which might be wise or might be entirely partisan, who is to say, but they would not be democratic by definition.

The problem here, constitutionally, is that there is a section of the Constitution, specifically section 42(1) of the Constitution Act, which deals with and explains our amending formula as it relates to, among other things, the amendment of the Senate. The following categories of rules regarding the Senate are constitutionally protected and cannot be changed without the 7/50 formula.

The Governor General's power to appoint senators cannot be changed without the 7/50 formula. That is why the law is structured as it is. It is a Senate consultations act. It is not a Senate elections act because these are formally consultations. In Canada it is the convention. We have come to understand that the Governor General's power to appoint means in practice a prime minister's unfettered right to advise the Governor General and to expect his advice to be taken without question.

That cannot be changed except, as we are doing, through a law that effectively creates a convention. To those who object to the idea that we should move incrementally and use conventions for our Constitution, I point out that so much of our Constitution is conventional, such as the notion of a prime minister at all. The prime minister is not mentioned in the Constitution. He is purely a convention. This is a very honoured place in our system. In fact, I do not think our Constitution could function without conventions having a central role.

The constitutional qualification for Senators is one cannot become a Senator in Canada unless one is 35 years old. I do not think that is terribly fair, although I feel it is a bit fairer than I did when I was under 35. However, we do not have the power to change that provision, without the 7/50 formula, much as I would like to see that change. Perhaps that can be a non-controversial amendment in the future that all members could support.

I note that constitutional scholars over the years have been clear that the government's approach would not constitute a breach of the relevant sections of the Constitution. It can be done through non-constitutional means.

What we see here is the way mature federal systems act. If we take a look at other federations, one of the things that distinguishes their constitutional history from Canada's recent constitutional history, not Canada's entire constitutional history, for the last say 40 years is this.

In countries like Switzerland, Australia and the United States we see small incremental constitutional amendments discussed, sometimes accepted and often rejected, but never by means of attempts to create vast new edifices, dramatic changes. We see reasonably regular changes to their constitutions. Whereas in Canada we have developed this idea that we must always act as we did in 1982, with the constitutional package that changed our amending formula and introduced the Charter of Rights and so on, but also caused some other problems. As we know there are many Quebeckers who feel greatly dissatisfied with this arrangement and with the fact that their province and their legislature did not sign on to it.

As we did in the Meech Lake accord in 1987 through 1990 and as we did in the Charlottetown accord, attempts were made to create vast new changes, to essentially pull the system up by the roots to examine it and see if it is still growing. These other countries have acted in piecemeal manners and the result is they have gone further in changing and modernizing their constitutions than we have done.

Therefore, it is precedented. It speaks well that we are acting this way through our maturity as a country. It also reflects a part of our constitutional history that gets forgotten, and that is the fact that we actually have had successful piecemeal changes to our Constitution in recent years in areas that were for some mystical reason not seen as being part of a vast edifice.

I think of things like the Prince Edward Island bridge amendment. We had to amend the Constitution to allow a bridge to be constructed to Prince Edward Island. We had an amendment dealing with Newfoundland schools. We had an amendment to change the name of the province of Newfoundland to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. We also had an amendment on the Quebec schools system that moved to a non-confessional system.

All these amendments have been done successfully, as were some others as well. They were all piecemeal and they all dealt with specific problems.

The attempt here, because we cannot deal through the Constitution, is to step aside, deal through a convention effectively with this law and thereby deal in the same spirit in the same way, which has brought success to our country and other countries, in order to achieve a mature bicameral democratic and, to a greater degree than ever before, a proportional system of democracy in the country.

I am excited by this. I think when the time comes in the future, all Canadians will look back at this move forward as one of the keystones in our country's democratic development.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will take this opportunity to address the question the member had for me in his preamble.

I recall speaking to Mr. Broadbent about the same committee meeting to which the member was referring. In fact, he remembers it quite differently. I guess I trust Mr. Broadbent's version of events and the fact that the member was filibustering because he did not want to engage in the question of citizen consultation. I will leave it to them to settle who walked out on whom and why.

The bottom line is we had an all party committee agree, and Parliament therefore adopted it, to a consultation. Sadly, the Liberal Party decided not to engage in it. It let the date of October come and go and that was the date the committee had set to have the citizen's consultation process engaged.

I have to ask the member this. I find it strange that he would want to have citizen's consultation and support this flim-flam sham of a consultation through the Frontier Institute, which calls people like Democracy Watch to get a couple of people to participate because it does not know how to do it.

Would the member not believe that Canadians, along with Parliament, are the ones who should be the ones to decide how this is done? Why is he so afraid of the Constitution? There is an amending formula simply because the Constitution is set up so parties like his cannot come up with what they decide is best and not go to Canadians. Does the member not understand the importance of the Constitution and that he should not treat it as a suggestion list? It is the rules and the foundation of any mature country.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am at a bit of a disadvantage in responding to what he says about my discussions with Mr. Broadbent because they have been in the context of an in camera committee, so I cannot provide any details. This also means that the hon. member could not have been there, notwithstanding his, I think, honestly mistaken assertion. He may have spoken to Mr. Broadbent, but that would mean that Mr. Broadbent broke the in camera convention in telling him what went on in committee.

If I could, Mr. Speaker, could I ask the hon. member to maybe be quiet during my speech, just the way I was during his comments? That would be a real treat.

I cannot respond to that, other than to say I am trying to respect the in camera convention. However, I can say that my position, which was reflected in the dissenting Conservative Party report at the time, was that there should be wider consultations, and Mr. Broadbent objected to it. That is very easy to look up in the relevant report, although we did support it.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have to rise on a point of order. The member is insinuating that there was some trust broken in an in camera meeting, when he was the one who brought it up. I plead to the member to apologize to Mr. Broadbent, through me. He brought up the whole subject. He is the one who is—

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. The hon. member has made his point and unfortunately no one will have a chance to make any further points at this point, but we can resume the question and answer period after question period. Statements by members will now begin.

Jack LapinStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.


Betty Hinton Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, today Barriere, B.C. bids a fond farewell to Regional District Director, Jack Lapin.

“Poppa Jack” and I first met in 1986 when we served together on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board.

Jack was NDP to the core. I am Conservative. In the minds of many that would mean there could be no common ground. Two decades of friendship between us serve as an example of how politics can work when elected representatives hold office to serve their constituents and not themselves.

Whether he was gardening, plumbing or standing up for constituents, he always gave 100 per cent of himself. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Yvonne and his daughters Marlene, Theresa, Corinne and Cathy today as we remember this wonderful man and the many wonderful contributions he made to his community.

Sol KaneeStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to pay tribute to a distinguished citizen of Manitoba and of Canada.

Sol Kanee, Officer of the Order of Canada, died April 21, 2007 at the age of 97. Born in Saskatchewan in 1909, he was educated in both Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

After practising law, he joined his family business, Soo Line Mills, and became one of the foremost leaders of the milling industry in western Canada. A member of the board of the Bank of Canada for 17 years, he was also chairman of the Federal Business Development Bank and he served on the boards of Transair and MONY Life Assurance.

His record of service in the Jewish community of Canada was outstanding, including as president of the Canadian Jewish Congress and in leadership positions in the World Jewish Congress. The Jewish community of Winnipeg annually awards its highest recognition for leadership and volunteerism in his name.

In Winnipeg the United Way, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the University of Manitoba and the Canadian National Millers Association, among others, benefited from his leadership.

His recognitions included a doctoral law degree from the University of Manitoba, the Order of Manitoba, and as I mentioned, Officer of the Order of Canada.

Sol Kanee was a commanding presence in our community. He was smart and he was wise. He was tough and he was caring. He was a practical man and he was a visionary. His legacy will live on for many generations and Winnipeg will be the richer for it.

Tourism AwardsStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, on March 21, Tourisme Laurentides recognized its regional winners at the Grands Prix du tourisme Desjardins Laurentides 2007 gala.

In the category of tourism restoration-development, Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines' country-style restaurant La Conclusion won the gold.

Its owners, Chantal and Gilles Fournier, are very deserving of this honour, since they are members of Agricotours, and especially since their restaurant is certified country-style dining. With their hard work, their passion, their hospitality and the quality of their service, they have given our region a place to feature local products from my riding.

La Conclusion was also awarded the Coup de coeur du public award for agri-tourism, and on May 4 we will hear whether La Conclusion will win the Grand Prix du tourisme québécois. We wish them the very best of luck.

Foreign Credential RecognitionStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, for the past several years Canadians have been concerned about the issue of foreign credential recognition. The process for newcomers to Canada to receive recognition for their skills lacks coordination among different levels of government and is often unfair and fragmented.

This leads to trained professionals in professions where we have serious labour shortages not being able to work in their field of expertise. They become underemployed and struggle to achieve their earning potential, which in turn leads to unacceptable levels of child poverty.

Recently I held several forums with foreign trained professionals and local immigrant settlement workers in my riding of Ottawa Centre to engage in discussions and develop pragmatic solutions to identify the barriers faced by new Canadians.

We all must work to ensure that the credential recognition process is transparent, objective and impartial. We also should support community based organizations that help newcomers become more quickly established in their new communities.

According to Statistics Canada, new immigrants will account for 100% of Canada's new net labour growth by 2011. Yet less than 20% will find work in their profession.

Spelling BeeStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize a young constituent from my riding, Dakota Thiel, of Weyburn, Saskatchewan, who earned top honours winning the 2007 CanWest CanSpell Leader-Post Southern Saskatchewan Spelling Bee in Regina last month.

Dakota, who has become the community's newest celebrity, is a grade 7 student from St. Michael Junior High School in Weyburn.

This month Dakota paid a visit to Ottawa where 40 other national finalists gathered to participate in the 2007 CanWest National Spelling Bee championship. He made a valiant showing despite all the attention and pressure that accompanies a national competition. I know that making new friends and meeting the Prime Minister had to be highlights for him.

The journey does not end here, however, as Dakota will compete once again as he travels to Washington, D.C. next month for the Scripps National Spelling Bee championship.

I wish to commend Dakota for his hard work and the countless hours he has spent. My constituents, especially the city of Weyburn, are all very proud of his achievements.

On behalf of myself and the Government of Canada, I congratulate Dakota on a job well done.

Status of WomenStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Roger Valley Liberal Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, last year, 2006, should have been a year worth celebrating. It was the 25th anniversary of Canada's ratification of the only UN convention on women's human rights, yet there was no celebration.

The new federal government has made some very disturbing changes to Status of Women. It has removed the word “equality” and changed the rules regarding funding for women's groups to ban all domestic advocacy and lobbying with federal funds. It has closed 12 of the 16 Status of Women Canada offices, one of them being the only northern office, in Thunder Bay, which was important to the women in the Kenora riding.

Many women's groups, especially aboriginal women's groups, will not have the necessary access to funding initiatives. Women in the Kenora riding and throughout Canada will be impacted negatively by these changes. Women's voices will be weakened.

The Prime Minister has said that he would respect and uphold women's human rights--