This is what I find really interesting. Whenever we have this debate, we hear nothing but chirping from the other side because we touch a nerve. The Liberals know what I am saying is right but they just do not like it. They do not like to hear the words which exhibit the type of favouritism and patronage they exhibited during the many years they were in government.
Again, I go back to the fact that if they truly believe what they are saying about accountability and democratic reform, why can they not support a bill such as Bill C-43? It is the height of hypocrisy and sanctimony. They say on one hand that they want democratic reform, but that they do not like this. They like the current system where they can appoint their friends to the Senate. It comes down to that.
Senator Jim Munson, who was the former director of communications to Prime Minister Chrétien, was appointed. Why? I suggest because he was a loyal soldier to Prime Minister Chrétien and was rewarded, when Prime Minister Chrétien left office, by getting an appointment to the Senate. Francis Fox is another example. There are many. It should not be allowed to happen. What is the problem with allowing individual citizens to comment on who they would like to represent them in the Senate?
I also want to point out that this concept of having the people engage in a consultation process before senators are appointed is widely supported by Canadians across Canada. There will be some, such as our friends in the NDP, who do not want a Senate at all. They want the Senate abolished. Therefore, they would not support a bill of this sort.
Some years ago I would probably have put myself in the category of those who wanted the Senate done away with. I did not really see the need for a Senate at all times or at any time. I have since changed my view on that. Since I have been in this place, I have seen, from time to time, the upper chamber actually perform the service it is intended to perform, and that is to be the voice of reason or the voice of sober second thought.
From time to time, pieces of legislation have gone from this place to the upper chamber and brought back with meaningful, realistic and important amendments that make a bill stronger. That is an important function. However, what I cannot abide by are bills like Bill S-4, which would purport to put a term limit on senators, unduly and purposely delayed, obstructed by the unelected senators in the upper chamber simply because they do not want the system to change.
It has been said in the House before that under the current system senators can serve their terms for up to 45 years. They can be appointed at age 30 and serve, as it stands now, until age 75. Bill S-4 would set a term limit of eight years so any senator, after being appointed, would only serve for a term of eight years.
I understand that the leader of the official opposition has taken several positions on this bill. I understand he supports it in theory. He has said from time to time that he supports terms limits anywhere from six to eight, to ten to twelve, to fourteen or fifteen years. I do not know what is going to happen when the Senate finally gets around to dealing with the bill. Regardless, it is one step in Senate reform to have term limits set upon senators who are appointed to that place.
This is another important step because it allows individuals to comment and express their opinions on who they wish as their appointed representatives. What could be fairer?
We have a democratic system in our country right now where all members of this place are elected. Would anyone suggest that we go away from that system and have members of Parliament appointed? Of course not, it makes absolutely no sense. One of the basic tenets of our democracy is the fact that elected representatives are just that: elected by the people they represent. Yet in the Senate, it is just the opposite.
We have senators in my province of Saskatchewan and in Ontario and in every province who are supposedly there to represent the people of those provinces, but were not elected by the citizens of those provinces. Where is the fairness in that? Where is the accountability? I would suggest there is none.
The bill would address that flaw in the current system. It would allow individuals across the country to cast a vote, to voice their opinion on who they wished to see as their senator in their region. Who can argue with that basic tenet?
Apparently Liberals can because they are voicing their opinion today in this debate. I certainly suspect that when it comes time for the bill to be voted upon, they will voice their opinion by voting against the bill, but I cannot understand why. How can they say they are in favour of democracy and then vote against the system that would allow democracy to take place?
There are a few aspects of the bill that are worth noting as well. The first one is the method in which voting would take place during the consultation process. Currently, as everyone here knows, to be elected as a member of Parliament, we go through the first past the post electoral system. In a federal election in our home ridings, if we get more votes than any of our opponents, regardless of the percentage of that vote, we will be elected to this place.
When I was first elected in 2004, I was elected with receiving just above 33% of the vote. I won by 122 votes. This means at that time roughly 67% of the people in my riding did not want me to be their representative, but they got me anyway. In the second election luckily I was able to increase that amount to about 43% or 44%, but it still was not the majority. The majority of people in my riding voted for someone else. We suspect that even though this system seems to have worked well over time for the members of Parliament, we should enact a different voting system for those people who cast ballots on the consultation process for senators. Why? For a couple of reasons.
The primary reason is if we had the same voting system for electing members of Parliament, the first past the post system, we might end up with the same results. I am not saying that is necessarily a bad thing. What I am saying is if we had a different system of voting, it might be able to properly reflect the wishes of the majority of people in that region who are expressing an opinion.
Therefore, contained in Bill C-43 we have a provision that would allow for preferential voting, or at least a preferential voting system, the single transferrable ballot, to elect members.
How that works very simply is this. There may be a number of candidates who are putting their names forward for senators. The individuals who wish to express their opinion cast ballots marking their preference, either one, two or three. If there were three candidates, they would mark their first choice, second choice and third choice. If there is no majority on the first ballot, in other words if none of the candidates receive over 50% of first ballot support, we would then go to a system where we start counting the second ballots and add that to the total.
At the end of the day, those people who were selected or at least elected at the consultation level would have at minimum 50% plus one vote of all those who cast ballots. By the time the prime minister got around to appointing the individual to the Senate, he or she could be absolutely assured that the individual had the majority of support of the people within their province.
We do not have this system in the lower House, but it is one that I believe is a very necessary and a very democratic method. That is why I believe this bill, through all the various aspects of the bill, is something we should support. Again, it allows for accountability. It allows for the senators, who are appointed, to be accountable to the people who cast ballots for them, rather than being appointed just because of who they know in the PMO. It also ensures that we have some democratic rights at the provincial and territorial level. Finally, it allows the assurances of the prime minister that the majority of people in the province actually voted for and wanted the senator who ultimately becomes appointed.
I look forward to taking questions from the members of the opposition.