Mr. Speaker, I gave the minister a few lob ball questions, which I thought he would hit out of the park, but he could only get to two of them and he answered those poorly.
I want to speak today about Bill C-20, about the Senate in general, and what this bill in particular seeks to do. It seeks to establish a national process for consulting Canadians on their preferences for Senate appointments.
The bill will see voters choose their preferred Senate candidates to represent their provinces or territories. As such, it seeks to fulfill a Conservative campaign promise to reform Canada's Senate and move toward an elected Upper Chamber.
I am very confused as to whether the Conservative government is putting forward bills toward Senate reform or Senate abolition. When you hear members of the government speak privately, and I have heard the catcalls across the way that in fact there is quite a bit of foment in the Conservative caucus and in the government in fact for abolition.
I think that is a position that can be held. I think that if the Conservative government is really wanting to abolish the Senate totally, then it should probably say so. Maybe there is a bit of a disconnect now.
Finally, the Conservatives are in government and this party over there has a disconnect between the frontbenchers and the middle and backbenchers. It seems to me that maybe the frontbenchers are not listening to the backbenchers and the middle benchers, people who have been around the block a long time, people who have been advocating for the abolition of the Senate.
I think that is the real debate we are having here, and it seems from the tenor of the remarks by the hon. minister who just spoke here and outside of this House, and by the bills that are being presented, that in fact what the government wishes to do is to abolish the Senate. If that is the debate we are having, why do the Conservatives not just bring forward a bill for the abolition of the Senate, and we can have that debate.
Well, there is a reason. There is division over there on that question. It seems that the Conservative government as elected, and that is the frontbench mucky-mucks, has made promises that it is for Senate reform. Senate reform includes consulting the provinces and looking toward an elected body representing Canada's regions fairly, but also entwining it with issues of representation by population.
Now if the Conservatives truly meant to do that, they would have gone to their first ministers across this country and at least had a conference. We have to ask ourselves, what is the government afraid of?
How bad can it be to have a real meeting with the provincial and territorial leaders, something more than just a main course of bison and a dessert of crème brûlée in a two-hour meeting where they are rushed out to the airport before any real discussion takes place, as we saw from the last conference?
What would be so wrong with sitting down with the territorial and provincial leaders and saying, “This is what we want to do. What do you think?” Then at least we would have on the record, through a conference, certainly not unanimity and certainly not agreement in total, at least a discussion of where the government should go, where the obstacles are, and where the opposition lies.
What we have instead is a patchwork. We have bills rushed through in three days, affecting the future of the Senate. We have television commentary, variously, in Ottawa representing the government's position but also in provincial capitals representing various provincial representations.
With all due respect to the media, they do not play every word that is said. We cannot be sure that what the government mouths, through its spokespersons at night on television, is exactly its position. We cannot be sure that provincial and territorial leaders are being quoted accurately. But it would seem that there is no consensus on this bill and the other Senate reform bills.
A little bit about this bill. It calls for significant Senate reform, this and a companion bill with respect to tenure. Now as my hon. member colleague mentioned, there have been calls for Senate reform since the mid-1970s, when Canada was undergoing major demographic shifts. We had shifts.
I come from Atlantic Canada. There has been a diminution in the population of Atlantic Canada for a generation now, and there has been growth in western Canada for over a generation now, perhaps two generations. With that, the population and the economic clout of Alberta and British Columbia were very evident.
They were growing much faster, for instance, than Quebec. Quebec still had and still does have 24 Senate seats, while Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. held a combined total of 24 seats. We mean no disrespect to the important primordial position of Quebec within this Confederation, but we must recognize that these regions of Canada require a revisitation of the number of seats in the Senate that they require.
In 1989, as members all know, a Senate seat became vacant in Alberta. The provincial government held an election and Mr. Waters was elected to the Senate, appointed by former Prime Minister Mulroney.
On April 18, 2007, the Prime Minister of this country appointed current senator-in-waiting Bert Brown to fill the Alberta Senate vacancy created by the retirement of a senator there, so there has been some movement with respect to the appointment of selected senators. Bill C-20 attempts to codify the past practice with respect to these two selections.
The process allowing elections or consultations to be conducted to elect senators-in-waiting, however, has four distinct flaws.
First, it was introduced, as I mentioned, without consultations with provincial governments. Again, the Canadian public must understand that provincial governments have a stake in what the Senate is. They should either be for its abolition because it no longer represents provincial interests, which is one position, or they should be for reform as it relates to their own representation within the Senate or the efficacy of the Senate, or they should be for the status quo or some version of modified reform.
We have no record of what the provinces and territories feel about Senate reform and what their position on Senate reform is. Yes, from time to time we will have an interview. Yes, from time to time we will have a letter from a premier or a minister respecting intergovernmental affairs from a province supporting a particular position, but what is the overall position on Senate reform from the provinces and territories?
It is unbelievable that almost one year after its introduction, the Prime Minister has still not engaged his provincial counterparts in meaningful discussions on this legislation.
The second flaw is that it tries to skirt around the Constitution, and haphazardly electing senators in this way will still do nothing to improve the representation of British Columbia and Alberta in Canada's Senate.
Both provinces are, as I mentioned, currently underrepresented in the Senate in comparison to provinces that have not had similar population growth. I do not know if the people of Canada know, or if the ministers in provincial governments know, that there are 14 vacancies in the Senate.
If the Senate is supposed to work to protect provincial, regional and other interests that are not represented by population in the House of Commons, then whether we are going to change the Senate, whether we are going to abolish the Senate, should we not have the Senate as it is working the way it is designed to work?
Many will argue it is not working. I presume that is why the minister has made such bombastic comments and the government has made the drastic step of saying that the Senate, over in the other place, shall do something by a certain date. I am not going to get into the debate on tackling violent crime. We had that yesterday, but just think of that. The minister and the government know, or should know, that this House cannot legally bind the other place, so it is mere puffery.
Think of the situation should this bill pass and in a generation or two be in effect. It would mean that every province would have a form of an election. Every senator would be duly elected directly by the people and we would have a body that would claim, as much as this place, to be the democratically elected representative of the country.
Would that motion, which the government is attempting to pass telling the Senate what to do, be received in the same light? Would it be offered by the government, had it an elected Senate of its own type? Or is this just pure politics? Would we be addressing these bills if there was a Conservative majority in the Senate?
Third, the process to elect senators in large provinces will unfairly benefit urban areas.
Finally, the bill would allow Senate nominees to be elected, but does not make those elections binding.
In this environment, when we have non-political appointees fired, if we were to have a political appointee elected by a province in a non-binding election who is not the flavour du jour of the prime minister, can anyone imagine the prime minister actually selecting that person?
The bill is ripe with flaws. It does not reflect the good spirit of our Constitution and the good flow of provincial negotiations that had to have taken place before the bill was posited.