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House of Commons Hansard #148 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senators.

Topics

Human Resources and Social DevelopmentOral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

Fabian Manning Conservative Avalon, NL

Mr. Speaker, lately I have noticed a disturbing trend among the members of the opposition. Rather than letting the facts get in the way of a good accusation, they are taking allegations as truth.

In just one more example, last week the member for Brampton—Springdale accused the government of not acting for the homeless in this country.

Would the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development help the Liberals' research department with the facts on this issue?

Human Resources and Social DevelopmentOral Questions

3 p.m.

Medicine Hat Alberta

Conservative

Monte Solberg ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Avalon for recently announcing $1.4 million in new funding under the homeless partnering strategy for the Salvation Army Wiseman's Centre in St. John's.

The homeless partnering strategy works with all levels of government and not for profit to find local solutions to local problems. That is part of over $2 billion a year we provide to the provinces for not for profit housing and homelessness.

We are getting the job done where the Liberals really failed.

Presence in GalleryOral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I would like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of His Excellency Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.

Presence in GalleryOral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to 10 petitions.

The EnvironmentPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour of presenting two different petitions from British Columbia.

As many members in this House know, there are many people from British Columbia who are very concerned about the environment. These two petitions request that the Government of Canada legislate programs consistent with meteorological reality and act immediately to reduce the climate change crisis by diminishing fossil fuel dependency while sponsoring initiatives and incentives to promote less harmful technologies.

There are a number of people from my riding and other parts of British Columbia who have signed these petitions.

Tradespersons Travel and Accommodation DeductionPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present two more petitions, both of which were circulated by members and supporters of the building trades. The petitioners are from Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.

Building trades across the country have lobbied successive governments for over 30 years to achieve some basic fairness for their members. They want tradespersons and indentured apprentices to be able to deduct travel and accommodation expenses from their taxable incomes so that they can secure and maintain employment at construction sites that are more than 80 kilometres from their homes. It makes no sense for tradespersons to be out of work in one area of the country while another region suffers from temporary skilled trade shortages simply because the cost of travelling is too high. To that end, they have gathered hundreds of signatures in support of my bill, Bill C-390, which would allow for precisely the kind of deductions that their members have been asking for.

I am pleased to table these petitions on their behalf and share their disappointment that this item was not addressed in the government's budget in March.

Conscientious Objection to Use of TaxesPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present two petitions.

The first petition is from many people in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. They point out that in Canada there has been a long tradition of freedom of conscience and religion and that this has been a historical fact in Canada.

They also point out that contributing to the Canadian military through payment of income taxes is an infringement of the freedom of conscience and/or religion of those citizens who conscientiously object to participating in any way in the military and its associated activities which train people to kill and use violence.

Therefore, they call on the Parliament of Canada to establish the peace tax legislation by passing into law private member's Bill C-348, the conscientious objection act, which I have had the honour to table. The bill recognizes the right of conscientious objectors to not pay for the military but to apply that portion of their taxes that was to be used for military purposes toward peaceful, non-military purposes within the powers of Parliament.

Tradespersons Travel and Accommodation DeductionPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, as well, I have a petition signed by many people from the Vancouver, Burnaby and Coquitlam areas. They point out that many tradespersons can be out of work in one area of the country while another region suffers temporary skilled labour shortages simply because the cost of travelling is too high.

The petitioners call on Parliament to support Bill C-390, tabled by the member for Hamilton Mountain, which would allow tradespersons and indentured apprentices to deduct travel and accommodation expenses from their taxable income so they could secure and maintain employment at a construction site that is more than 80 kilometres from their home.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, Question No. 188 will be answered today.

Question No. 188Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

With regard to the Toronto Port Authority: (a) on what basis did the government classify the Q400 as a Dash-8, based on the definition of a Dash-8 as contemplated by the parties when they amended the tripartite agreement in 1985; and (b) will the government take effective measures to prohibit commercial service out of the Toronto Island Airport by any aircraft other than Dash-8s, as they existed in 1985, and short take-off and landing aircrafts, and if so, when?

Question No. 188Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Pontiac Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon ConservativeMinister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, in response to (a), the Q400 is an aircraft trade name. The Bombardier DHC-8 Q400 aircraft falls within the internationally recognized aeronautical classification Dash-8, in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organization, ICAO, standards.

In response to (b), Transport Canada, as one of three signatories to the tripartite agreement, has and will continue to uphold its responsibilities under the agreement including its amendments.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

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

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Bill C-415--Canada Labour Code--Speaker's RulingPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

May 7th, 2007 / 3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The Chair is now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons on May 1, 2007, concerning Bill C-415 standing in the name of the hon. member for Davenport and Bill C-257 which, until recently, stood on the order paper in the name of the hon. member for Gatineau. Both bills amend the Canada Labour Code in relation to replacement workers.

I would like to thank the hon. Government House Leader for raising this matter, as well as the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River for his intervention.

The hon. government House leader began by reminding the Chair that it has already been obliged to rule on the issue of the similarity of another bill, Bill C-295, to Bill C-257. He commented that Bill C-415 is thus the third bill banning the use of replacement workers introduced in this Parliament alone.

The hon. government House leader expressed the view that Bill C-415 and Bill C-257 share the same purpose, namely, the banning of replacement workers; that they both accomplish this purpose by amendments to the Canada Labour Code; and that they differ only in one clause and one subsection. He reminded the Chair that Standing Order 86(4) prohibits the consideration of two items of private members' business “so similar as to be substantially the same” and cited House of Commons Procedure and Practice, at pages 476 and 477, to the effect that, “two bills similar in substance will be allowed to stand on the Order Paper but only one may be moved and disposed of”.

The hon. government House leader referred again to the ruling delivered on November 7, 2006 with respect to the alleged similarity between Bill C-257 and Bill C-295. He argued that the principle underlying the Chair's decision not to allow further consideration of Bill C-295, that the two bills “have exactly the same objective”, is equally applicable to Bill C-257 and Bill C-415. He dismissed provisions of the latter bill safeguarding essential services during a strike as ancillary to its purpose and cautioned the Chair that a decision to permit further consideration of Bill C-415 would amount to a revisiting of its ruling on Bill C-257.

In his brief submission, the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River pointed out that a determination, pursuant to Standing Order 91.1(1), by the Subcommittee on Private Members’ Business of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs with respect to the votability of Bill C-415 is imminent and may be material to the disposition of this point of order.

Having reviewed these submissions with care, the Chair takes the view that the fundamental question before it may be phrased this way: Would any motion or decision of the House in connection with Bill C-415 be out of order because of the bill's similarity in substance to Bill C-257?

Of considerable relevance in this regard is the ruling delivered on February 27, 2007 with respect to the admissibility of several amendments to Bill C-257 adopted by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. It was the hon. government House leader who presented so persuasive a case against the admissibility of those amendments that the Chair accepted his arguments. Ironically, his very persuasiveness on that occasion presents considerable difficulty to the case he is making today.

Two of these amendments to Bill C-257 provided for the maintenance of essential services in terms similar to specific provisions found in Bill C-415 and, of course, not originally included in Bill C-257. My ruling determined that these amendments exceeded the scope of Bill C-257 and I declined to accept arguments that they served only to clarify the bill's provisions with respect to replacement workers.

On April 28, 1992, at page 9801 of the Debates, Mr. Speaker Fraser warned that a committee:

—cannot go beyond the scope of the bill as passed at second reading, and it cannot reach back to the parent act to make further amendments not contemplated in the bill no matter how tempting that may be.

In his point of order, the hon. government House leader claimed that the two bills “have exactly the same objective”, relying in part on the fact that both bills accomplish their objectives by means of amendments to the Canada Labour Code. While this is certainly the case, only Bill C-415 amends section 87.4 of the Code which deals with the concept of essential services. It thus incorporates provisions not originally contemplated in Bill C-257 whose scope, as confirmed by my earlier ruling, was judged to be limited to measures regulating the use of replacement workers during a strike. In the view of the Chair, the amendments to section 87.4 of the Code included in Bill C-415 also invalidate any claim that the two bills, in Mr. Speaker Fraser's words, “obtain their purpose by the same means”.

A bill regulating the use of replacement workers need not deal with essential services. Providing for essential services in the event of the strike could quite legitimately have been the objective of a separate bill. Because of the inclusion of essential services in it, Bill C-415 has a broader scope than Bill C-257, despite similarity in addressing the issue of replacement workers.

Consequently, in fulfilling its duty pursuant to Standing Order 86, the Chair does not find that Bill C-415 is substantially the same as Bill C-257 and accordingly, the consideration of Bill C-415 may proceed.

I would like once again to thank the hon. government House leader for bringing this matter to the attention of the Chair.

The House resumed 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

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ron Cannan Conservative Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk about something that is very near and dear to the constituents of Kelowna—Lake Country. I know that when the Prime Minister campaigned in the riding at the end of 2005, there was incredible support from my constituents as soon as anything was mentioned about reforming the Senate. It is near and dear to the folks out west.

All Canadians need to have a real awakening. They have seen the reformation that needs to take place. In fact, we have an institution that has been around since 1867, since Confederation. There has been absolutely no reform or change of the Senate other than the provision in 1965 for mandatory retirement at age 75 from the previous appointment for life.

The government is determined, and based on its promises to Canadians, that at least some first steps should take place and to date there has been no progress whatsoever. I know the members opposite, the interveners earlier, were talking about it being piecemeal, that it is just trying to circumvent the constitution.

The reality is that they had 13 years to come up with some sort of concrete democratic reform and nothing took place. Working together in a minority government, we are trying to work in a compromise manner and in increments. I think the government approach is a really achievable, positive and practical step that makes a lot of common sense.

I really find it difficult that specifically my colleagues from British Columbia could vote against this bill. This is one step in the triple E Senate that we are looking at reforming.

I had the opportunity last week to meet Mr. Brown from Alberta. Since 1989 Albertans have been voting for senators-in-waiting and he is the second such individual in Alberta. Mr. Waters was the first, but he unfortunately passed away after a short term in the Senate.

Mr. Brown is ready, willing, and able to step in when the time is appropriate. I think that speaks volumes of the government for listening to not only Albertans but all Canadians, and the hue and cry that has been coming forth, that we need to reform the Senate. Introducing this bill allows the consultation with constituents from sea to sea to sea.

The fact that senators are not elected is seen by many as contrary to the democratic values of Canadians and a major reason why the legitimacy of the Senate is often called into question.

I have the opportunity occasionally to take guests from the riding to the other house. An individual, a page, there does an excellent job. I had a chance to speak with Brad Ramsden a couple of times and he has enlightened me as to the role that the Senate plays.

I think that it does have a value in our constitutional role and our government in Canada. I value its input, but the fact is that today the 105 members, less the vacancies, who are appointed there have been appointed based on patronage, favouritism, and I think that does not speak very well for our democratic system. We live in a country that has a fundamental freedom of democracy. I do not think that there is any greater right than giving people that freedom to consult and select the individual who they want to represent their community.

The government has also introduced the bill because it reinforces, revitalizes, and modernizes long held Canadian values and most importantly the full right of Canadians to be able to choose those who will govern them.

This fundamental value has historically been enhanced and expanded by previous Conservative governments and the present Conservative government is simply continuing that tradition. I think of the statue of Robert Borden that we all walk by just outside the West Block. He led the wartime government that gave the right to women to vote. I think of Mr. Diefenbaker who gave that right to aboriginal people. These are some of the legacies of previous Conservative governments. They were excellent prime ministers and leaders such as the Prime Minister we have today.

Listening to the debate over the last few weeks there have been interveners who asked why the bill was introduced in the House of Commons rather than in Senate.

Bill C-43 authorizes the expenditure of funds related to the implementation and ongoing administration of the consultation process and pursuant to the Constitutional Act, 1867, bills that require the appropriation of funds must be initiated in the House of Commons.

At present the Governor General has the power to summon individuals to the Senate pursuant to section 24 of the Constitution Act, 1867. It states:

The Governor General shall from Time to Time, in the Queen's Name, by Instrument under the Great Seal of Canada, summon qualified Persons to the Senate;--

In my mind the word “qualified” is a very serious word that we need to stop and take a look at. What does qualified mean? It is up to the individual Canadians in each of the provinces and territories to decide who they feel is most qualified to represent them, not somebody who has given the Prime Minister or the leader of the government of the day the most money or helped them out the most to get them into power. We have seen this in the past, no matter which political party.

From a non-partisan perspective, we all need to take a step back and realize this is a very positive way. It is a legacy we can all be proud of in making a positive change in the Government of Canada.

The only difference today is that Canadians now have the opportunity to express their preferences for Senate nominees to the Prime Minister before he provides his advice to the Governor General. Looking at this process since 1989, Albertans have been providing that opportunity for their residents to vote and then give that name forward to the Prime Minister to make that choice.

The challenge of opening up the Constitution, as the Liberals have specifically indicated, is that it is a seven-fifty amending process formula. That means that seven provinces representing 50% of the population have to be in agreement, and we know how difficult that will be. It has been very difficult. Our Minister of Agriculture has been working with all the provinces to revitalize our CAIS program, helping our agricultural community and working tirelessly, and that is a very challenging perspective, getting all 13 voices together.

We need to take this in baby steps. It is a stepped approach. It is common sense, realistic and achievable.

Paragraph 42(1)(b) of the Constitution Act, 1982, requires a seven-fifty amending process for an amendment to the Constitution to alter the method of selecting senators, but the Senate appointment consultations process does not change the method of selecting senators provided in the Constitution. Therefore, there is no requirement for a constitutional amendment and no need for a Supreme Court reference.

The opposition members have to get it through their heads that this does not require a Supreme Court or a constitutional amendment, and I am opening the whole debate. This is an achievable approach. It is realistic and we need to hammer that home. We are standing up for Canadians and asking the 308 elected members in this House to do the will of Canadians.

The Governor General currently has the power to summon individuals to the Senate on the advice of the Prime Minister and this will continue after the passage of the bill. Basically nothing will change. The people will vote and through their local provinces or territories, the names will come to the Prime Minister. In reality, I cannot see any Prime Minister not accepting that person's name if he or she is qualified. The Prime Minister will do that. I know our Prime Minister has firmly said that he will be doing that as the opportunity presents itself.

Basically, this bill provides a mechanism for consultations to be held in one or more provinces to seek the preferences of the electorate on individuals who offer themselves as potential Senate nominees. Anyone who is 30 years of age right now can get into the Senate, except it is for 45 years. With our 66 word bill that is still floundering around there in the other place, we are trying to get a term limit through, whether it is 7, 8, 10 or 12 years instead of the 45 years. We are trying to have two accountable houses and an open, transparent government for Canadians.

The Prime Minister will still have the discretion to decide in which province or provinces the consultations will be held, how many places in the Senate are subject to the consultations, and in fact whether the consultations will be held for current vacancies only or current vacancies plus future vacancies, or just future vacancies.

The process is not triggered automatically by vacancies and there will not be Senate byelections. Consultations will normally take place at the same time as a federal general election, so there is no real additional cost to Canadians. It is included in the process. They will go to the ballot. They will choose the party member that they want to select, and check off the name of the individual, the party, or someone who is running under an independent banner for the Senate.

Consultations will be smooth. The bill provides for some flexibility though, allowing that the consultations could be held at the same time as a provincial general election if an agreement is in place with the province. We are working together with the provinces and territories. I know that is something we always have to keep in mind, that we are partners in government and we work together.

This bill provides for consultations to be carried out with the use of a preferential voting system known as the single transferrable vote. In contrast to the voting system used for the House of Commons elections, electors will be able to rank their preferred candidates on a ballot.

Candidates receiving a defined quota of votes will be included on the list of selected Senate nominees for the Prime Minister's consideration. Should a selected nominee receive votes in excess of the quota, those votes in excess of the quota would be distributed to the electors next preferences. The vote transfer process will continue until enough nominees are selected for the number of places subject to consultation.

It is a privilege and an honour as the member of Parliament for Kelowna—Lake Country to stand here in the House today and speak about a bill that is helping to bring reformation to the other place in this Parliament that is long overdue.

I thank the members opposite for their attention. I hope they will give due consideration for this incremental step that I have said is common sense, reasonable and achievable.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my hon. colleague's speech and a few things puzzle me about his speech.

First of all, we have perhaps the first and second actions of the Prime Minister on taking office which are: first, appointing someone, a former financial supporter from Montreal to the Senate, which he said he would not do; and second, he put that person in the cabinet as Minister of Public Works. The two first decisions of the Prime Minister regarding the Senate go against his election promises and go against what he says he is trying to now rapidly run backwards and trying to fix with Bill C-43.

Let me ask the hon. member a question because it is another would-be senator that is of interest as well. We have Mr. Bert Brown, the senator-in-waiting, for supposedly the same principles that are enunciated in the bill, taking the consultative referendum or preference given by a province or territory.

I would ask my hon. colleague to consider and recall how many Es did Bert Brown plough in his barley field? It was not one E. There were three Es: equal, elected, effective and comprehensive. It is not done piecemeal. There is no room for what the hon. member calls baby steps.

Canada is a big country. Let us have the constitutional courage of the Fathers of Confederation, and open it up and do it properly if we are going to do it. We should not say we are going to do one thing and do another as with Senator Fortier. Then, of course, even worse, trying to do it piecemeal.

The most extraordinary thing is that this hon. member pretends to represent people from British Columbia, the most disadvantaged people in the country, by giving more validity, more credibility, and elected status to a senator when the distribution is so clearly against the equal distribution for the west and British Columbia.

I would like to hear the hon. member explain to his constituents and my constituents in British Columbia why this could possibly be a good thing, entrenching and amplifying the distribution that is so much to the disadvantage of British Columbians?

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ron Cannan Conservative Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the fact that Senator Fitzpatrick in British Columbia and I work very closely. He is a very hard-working individual and will be retiring soon. He is in the last year of his term and will be turning 75 on his next birthday. He has been a real asset to our community.

I spent nine years on city council and was disappointed that my predecessor, Werner Schmidt, who sat in the House for almost 13 years was often not included in some of those discussions. I think there needs to be more cooperation between the two houses. By electing people, rather than appointing them on partisanship, it would eliminate a lot of those implications. We need to work together.

The fact is that we are speaking up for our constituents in British Columbia who want an elected Senate. We realize we cannot have all three Es at once.

I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Brown last week when he was here in Ottawa. I had three high school students from my constituency visiting and we had a good chat. Mr. Brown is very excited about the opportunity. He realizes that he is part of a process in moving toward the triple E. Hopefully, one day he will be sitting in the Senate when that happens. I have mentioned that we need to work in stages that are realistic, achievable and common sense.

With regard to Senator Fortier, he is a dedicated, hard-working and very talented individual who actually took a pay cut to come and work in the Senate. He has agreed to have his name stand in the next election. I think that speaks volumes for his integrity.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I wonder which of the three Es this bill purports to achieve. It is obviously not equal, because British Columbians are disadvantaged, and that problem has not been solved. It is obviously not going to be effective, because of the gridlock that it will cause between the two Houses, as has been outlined earlier. Last, it is not elected, because the Prime Minister gets to make the choice in the end just like he does right now, so it does not change a thing.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ron Cannan Conservative Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member is correct in the sense that western Canada, specifically Alberta, with 28 Conservative members of Parliament and only six Liberal senators, is definitely not equal. We are looking forward to having individuals in Alberta, B.C. and across the country elect those individuals that they feel will best represent their concerns. As I mentioned, the prime minister of the day will have the opportunity to appoint the individuals that Canadians have elected. I cannot see any prime minister not going with that train of thought.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, taking part in this debate on Bill C-43, is a little like going to the dentist. Personally, it is the last thing I want to be doing, but what can I say, sometimes we need to go to the dentist. However, we never need to go to the tooth puller.

I truly think the bill before us is of absolute no relevance. It addresses a very secondary matter to the detriment of more pressing priorities than the proposed reform, and that the Conservative government should be concerned about.

Bill C-43 provides for the consultation of electors in a province with respect to their preferences for the appointment of senators to represent the province.

Part 1 provides for the administration of a consultation, which is exercised under the general direction and supervision of the Chief Electoral Officer.

Part 2 provides for the holding of a consultation, initiated by an order of the governor in council.

Part 3 provides for a process whereby prospective nominees may confirm their nominations with the Chief Electoral Officer.

Part 4 addresses voting by electors in a consultation.

Part 5 sets out the rules for the counting of votes pursuant to a preferential system, which takes into account the first and subsequent preferences of electors as indicated on their ballots.

Parts 6 and 7 deal with communications and third party advertising in relation to consultations.

Part 8 addresses financial administration by nominees.

Part 9 provides for the enforcement of the enactment, including the establishment of offences and punishments for contraventions of certain provisions.

Part 10 contains transitional provisions, consequential amendments to the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act, coordinating amendments and commencement provisions.

As I mentioned from the outset, the bill is irrelevant. First, it is quite clear to us that the government, the House of Commons, cannot unilaterally change the Senate without the Constitution being changed. Since the Constitution is a federal constitution, all the stakeholders, in other words, all the provinces, Quebec, the federal government, the parliaments of these different jurisdictions, have to take part in the reform process.

As I said at the beginning, we do not think this bill is appropriate because what we really need is something that includes a review of the Constitution. In the late 1970s, the Supreme Court of Canada studied Parliament's ability to unilaterally amend the constitutional provisions concerning the Senate and, in a 1980 decision concerning Parliament's jurisdiction over the upper chamber, decided Parliament could not unilaterally make decisions about major changes to the essential character of the Senate.

It is likely this legislation will encounter opposition from the provinces, including Quebec. Quebec is not the only province that does not support this government's approach in tabling this bill. The government is heading down a path that leads to the reform of an institution whose relevance is in doubt. Even so, the proposed reform is a minor one.

Do they seriously think that a constitutional negotiation process—which would be necessary, as I said—makes sense right now when the government and Parliament should focus their attention on far more important issues? Just consider reintegrating Quebec into the Constitution that Pierre Elliott Trudeau unilaterally patriated.

All of Quebec's governments, regardless of whether they were Liberal or Parti Québécois, have refused to sign the Constitution as it was patriated in the early 1980s. I would note that there is a three-party consensus on this in the National Assembly among the Liberal Party of Quebec, the Parti Québécois and the Action Démocratique du Québéc.

It is clear to us that neither the powers of the Senate, nor the senator selection method, nor the number of senators for each province, nor the residency requirements for senators can be changed without going through the usual amendment procedure set out in section 38 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which requires the consent of the Senate, the House of Commons, and the legislative assemblies of at least two thirds of the provinces, that is, seven provinces, making up at least 50% of Canada's population.

This is the famous 7/50 formula.

We can see that this bill is irrelevant and could even be harmful, setting in motion a round of constitutional negotiations on a relatively minor issue, as I said. On September 21, 2006, Quebec's intergovernmental affairs minister, Benoît Pelletier—who was recently reappointed—testified before the Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform, where he stated:

—from the Quebec government perspective, clearly any future transformation of the Senate into an elected chamber would be an issue that should be dealt with through constitutional negotiations and not simply through unilateral federal action.

He added:

If the Senate becomes a chamber of elected representatives, its original purpose would be changed. Whether this is achieved directly or indirectly, it becomes an extremely important change which must be debated within the framework of constitutional discussions.

So as I mentioned, Quebec's intergovernmental affairs minister, Benoît Pelletier, simply reiterated Quebec's traditional position to the senate committee by saying two things: first, that the federal government cannot reform the Senate unilaterally, and second, that the federal government cannot achieve indirectly what it cannot achieve directly. Clearly, introducing this bill is a way of doing indirectly what the government does not want to do directly.

As I said earlier, Quebec is not alone in its opposition to electing senators. The premiers of Saskatchewan and Manitoba have called on the government to abolish the Senate instead of trying to reform it. Even the premier of Ontario has expressed serious doubts, saying that electing senators would exacerbate inequalities, under the Senate's current mandate.

Electing senators indirectly would change the relationship between the House of Commons and the Senate and create confusion. I will come back to this. These changes cannot be made unilaterally without the consent of Quebec and the provinces, as Quebec is now recognized as a nation by the House of Commons. Everyone will appreciate that such a reform would be most unwelcome and would not be in keeping with the spirit of either the Constitution or what has been passed in this House.

I said that the first reason this bill is irrelevant is that it will inevitably lead to a round of constitutional negotiations, which do not make a great deal of sense, whether they concern the Senate or just the election of senators. Therefore, once again, if the government goes ahead, it will come up against this constitutional problem.

The second thing that, to me, makes this bill irrelevant, is that, even reformed by Bill C-43, the Senate is still an useless institution. Originally, the Senate was supposed to be a chamber of sober second thought. It was also supposed to protect regional interests. But when we look at the current makeup of the Senate, we see that the appointments were clearly partisan, which has distorted the nature or mandate of the Senate.

Introducing the election of senators will not resolve the issue, because senators will sooner or later have to affiliate themselves with a political party in order to have the necessary resources for the elections. So the Senate will become more partisan and we will depart even further from its original purpose, which, in my opinion, is no longer relevant in the 21st century.

As I was saying, the indirect election of senators would not improve this situation. On the contrary, the electoral process will tend to increase the role of political parties and indirectly elected senators could become concerned with things that now fall under the authority of the House of Commons. This would create a duplication, or, at the very least, confusion, at a cost of $77 million a year. We think this is an extremely high cost for an institution that is not only useless, but that , in the case of the proposed reform, would create confusion and a significant duplication of legitimacy.

It is important to note that because of the evolution of the democratic process in Canada, in the provinces and in Quebec, no province has had an upper house since 1968.

It is interesting to note that members of several provincial upper houses—unlike the Senate of Canada—once had to earn their election, for example, Prince Edward Island. Such upper houses have disappeared over the years, however. Quebec abolished its legislative council in 1968. That was nearly 40 years ago.

Furthermore, I feel it is important to point out another factor. Bill C-43 is irrelevant. Despite the amendments proposed by the bill, the Senate would not be truly democratic. The indirect election by Canadians would give the Senate a superficial democratic credibility. In many respects, the Senate would remain a democratic aberration.

First of all, public consultation is not binding. The bill provides for public consultation, but does not talk about an election, per se, in order to select senators. The Prime Minister maintains the authority to appoint or not appoint the senators chosen by the public and could therefore decide not to appoint a candidate selected in the election process. In one of the background papers provided by the government concerning this bill, it states:

The Prime Minister can take into account the results of the consultation when making recommendations to the Governor General regarding future representatives of a province or territory in the Senate.

Furthermore, how can we trust this Prime Minister, who did not hesitate to appoint Michael Fortier to the Senate, even though he himself criticized the Liberals' partisan appointments? We therefore see that this new Conservative government—which is no longer new, since it has been in power for 15 or 16 months—simply copied the Liberal method of appointing senators.

Also, I recall very well that, during the election campaign, the Prime Minister promised to appoint only elected members to the cabinet. With that Senate appointment, he broke the promise he had made to voters during the campaign. During the next election, voters will be able to judge for themselves how well the Conservatives can keep their promises.

One more factor is very worrisome. Voters will not be represented equally in the Senate. For instance, in the case of Prince Edward Island, one senator will represent some 27,000 voters, while in other areas of Canada—particularly in Quebec—that proportion will be much higher.

There will be virtually no way to remove senators.

The bill provides for the consultation of the population for the appointment of senators, although it is not binding, as we have just seen. They will be appointed for one term. I realize that some say that the bill provides for a maximum term of eight years for senators, which could solve the problem. But it seems to me that presenting oneself to the electorate only once in eight years is far from a guarantee that these so-called “elected” senators will reflect the concerns of citizens of Quebec or Canada.

In addition, the Senate is an institution that was created a very long time ago, and I find it ridiculous that certain restrictions on presenting oneself as a candidate for the position of senator have been retained. At present, you must be at least 30 years old and own real property worth at least $4,000 in the province and the riding that the individual is appointed to represent. Hence, all those under 30 are excluded. I find that very discriminatory. The rule about assets penalizes a part of our population that might seek to be candidates for such elections. This additional factor demonstrates that the proposal before us does not address the root cause of the problem and that it even seeks to rehabilitate an institution that has lost credibility in the eyes of a good number of Canadians and Quebeckers.

Indirectly, the elected Senate would even undermine the parliamentary system. I will come back to that. As you know, in the British parliamentary system, the executive defends the confidence conferred on it by the House of Commons, which is also elected. Thus, the election of the Senate alone would undermine the preeminence of the House of Commons and would create confusion. The election of two Houses would complicate the issue of preponderance and consequently would weaken the parliamentary system.

The Bloc thinks that this is an ill-conceived and irrelevant bill. Moreover, there is no set spending limit for the candidates. The government says that the individual contribution limits and the transfer limits imposed on parties will be sufficient to limit spending. However, since there is an unlimited number of potential candidates and election spending is subject to partial reimbursement out of public funds, it seems unreasonable not to limit individual spending. Lastly, some seats could be vacant for four years, unless there is a reserve. If a senator left their seat for health reasons, if they died or left for some other reason, we would have to wait four years for a new senator. As I said, unless a reserve is created, the bill is ill-conceived from this perspective.

For all these reasons, we would have preferred debating another subject today. As I said earlier, I feel as though I am at the tooth puller instead of being at the dentist. I do not want to alienate my dentist or dentists in general. It is good to go to the dentist, it is even recommended. But it is not recommended to go to a tooth puller.

I think we should be addressing real problems and real issues, such as the fiscal imbalance. In the budget—we continue to support Bill C-52, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 19, 2007—there is a partial financial correction to the fiscal imbalance, but the crux of it is not corrected. The federal government has too much revenue in relation to its responsibilities. Its transfers related to matters under provincial jurisdiction continue to keep Quebec and the other provinces at the mercy of unilateral decisions made here in Ottawa, even though those jurisdictions belong to the provinces. The Bloc feels that the tax base corresponding to the transfers for health, social programs and post-secondary education should, quite simply, be transferred to the provinces as tax points, whether through the GST or income tax.

Still with the fiscal imbalance, the ability to control or even limit the federal government's spending power should be a priority. The Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister have repeatedly promised legislation to limit federal spending power. We are still waiting for this legislation. Such legislation would allow a province, such as Quebec for example, to withdraw from a program implemented, in a shared or unilateral manner, by the federal government in the jurisdictions of the provinces and Quebec. Quebec could opt out with full compensation and without condition. This is important for the people of Quebec and people who need a good health care system, a good education system and social programs that provide an adequate social safety net. For those people, the Senate is of little or no concern in their daily lives.

I would now like to talk about the environment. It seems to me that, ever since the plan was introduced by the Minister of the Environment, criticism has not stopped flooding in from all sides, including from scientists, environmentalists and industrialists alike. We just learned this morning about a poll conducted in Alberta that reveals that 92% of Albertans believe that the oil companies should make a greater effort to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Even more interesting, 70%—I am not sure about this percentage—of Albertans said that these reductions should be in absolute targets, and not intensity targets. What people want in the next few years is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to what we have seen in recent years. They do not want to see merely a slower increase, which would still mean more in the end, even if we produce less per tonne. It is not only Quebeckers and the general population of Canada that are concerned about this. These are also the concerns of Albertans, who, as we all know, are closely tied to the oil and gas industry.

I would like to talk about foreign policy. This should have been a concern. We do not have a foreign policy statement. The Liberal government, before the election that brought its defeat, had introduced a foreign policy statement dealing with defence and international trade.

No one seems to know where we are headed with this, but we are still spending. The government has just announced the purchase of more tanks, but they were purchased on the sly. International cooperation, however, has not seen much development.

Lastly, employment insurance, assistance programs for festivals and exhibitions, the Saint-Hubert airport, these all deserved greater attention, but that attention has been diverted to Bill C-43.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his thorough coverage of this issue as well as some other important issues to Canadians that do not directly relate to Bill C-43.

I certainly agree with what the hon. member said about the need for a comprehensive reform of the Senate if we are going to make any changes at all. The built-in inequities that currently exist and the potential for a gridlock with the House of Commons could be exacerbated if there were elected senators without dealing with issues such as mandate and distribution.

On the issue of distribution, the hon. member mentioned the disproportion between Quebec and one of the Atlantic provinces, which he mentioned but which I cannot remember which one, that had a Senate seat for every 27,000 people. That is an extremely important comparison to make but only to give further emphasis to the discrepancy in representation for those in British Columbia where there is one senator for every 660,000 people. That is an extraordinary difference.

I am hopeful that the hon. member from the Bloc is suggesting that in any change to the Senate there would be a redistribution of seats so that British Columbia would enjoy the same representation as Quebec currently does. That would be an extremely important improvement.

My colleague raised the issue of Quebec not having been a signatory as a province to the 1982 Constitution. We know that is so and we regret that fact. I think all members of the House would like to have seen that happen. However, that raises an interesting situation. My numbers may be slightly off but the vast majority of federally elected members of Parliament from Quebec, I think it was 74 out of 75, voted with the Liberal government of the day to support the repatriation of the Constitution and the constitutional amendments, including the charter. Quebec has been a magnificent model for the rest of the country in terms of its charter legislation provincially and the jurisprudence that has come out of that.

If the hon. member does not think it is significant that elected MPs from Quebec supported the charter, I wonder what he thinks the significance is of his role as a federally elected member of Parliament in the Bloc. Does he then relegate the Bloc Québécois to insignificance in this chamber?

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague asked a number of questions just now. I will start by addressing the last one because it is extremely relevant. It shows how important the Bloc's presence is here in Ottawa as long as Quebec is part of the Canadian Confederation, which we hope will not be for much longer, but that is the subject of another debate.

The member is right. In 1979 or 1980—I do not remember exactly when the vote took place—73 or 74 Liberals voted for this bill. As far as I know, three members—two Liberals and one Conservative, Roch LaSalle, the member for Joliette, if I may remind the members—voted against it. At that time, nobody in the House of Commons—except for a few individuals—was particularly concerned about protecting Quebec's rights as a nation. Now we have a political party that represents a large proportion of the people of Quebec, who believe that they are a nation and that that nation should have everything it needs to develop fully, including a country of its own.

The Bloc Québécois' presence here has done away with the schizophrenia that existed back then. Had the Bloc Québécois been around for that vote, there might have been 50 Bloc Québécois members voting against the unilateral patriation of the Constitution. Obviously, this debate is ongoing in Quebec and is far from over.

I would like to clarify something else. We do not want to reform the Senate. We are not here to reform Canadian institutions. We want out. We will not stop amendments that may be relevant on a democratic level—like the amendment to the Canada Elections Act concerning campaign financing—but we are not here to make major changes to federal institutions. We are here because we want out.