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.