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House of Commons Hansard #49 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senators.

Topics

Presence in GalleryOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Presence in GalleryOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I would also like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of the Hon. Patrick Rouble, Minister of Education for Yukon.

Presence in GalleryOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

The House resumed from February 11 consideration of the motion.

Tackling Violent Crime LegislationGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

It being 3:06 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on Government Business No. 3.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on Motion No. 3, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #40

Tackling Violent Crime LegislationGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare Motion No. 3 carried.

I wish to inform the House that because of the deferred recorded division, government orders will be extended by nine minutes.

Oral Question regarding Committee ProceedingsPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. On February 8 during oral questions the member for Beaches—East York asked a question that was the subject of the committee's proceedings, not just its agenda or schedule, as would normally be allowed.

In the question, the member asserted that the Minister of Canadian Heritage and for the Status of Women and Official Languages misled the committee during her appearance. This assertion was the subject of debate within the committee and was not the proper subject of a question to a committee chair.

I reference Marleau and Montpetit, at pages 429 and 430, under the category of questions concerning matters before committees, where it is stated:

Questions seeking information about the schedule and agenda of committees may be directed to chairs of committees. Questions to the Ministry or a committee chair concerning the proceedings or work of a committee may not be raised.

Further, it is stated that questions:

--on a subject matter that is before a committee, when appropriately cast, are normally permitted as long as questioning does not interfere with the committee's work or anticipate its report. When a question has been asked about a committee's proceedings, Speakers have encouraged Members to rephrase their questions.

After the improper question was put, the member for Don Valley East, the chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, responded and continued to assert a position which was in fact a matter of debate and opinion that was not shared by all the committee members.

I cite again from Marleau and Montpetit at page 827:

During the Oral Question Period in the House, a committee Chair may respond to questions, provided they deal with the proceedings or schedule of the committee and not the substance of its work.

I contend and would ask you to consider that this question and the answer from February 8 should be ruled out of order, as both contradict the normal protocols for oral questions in the House.

Oral Question regarding Committee ProceedingsPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The Chair certainly appreciates the diligence of the hon. member for Simcoe North in this matter. Having anticipated that this might be his point of order, I have the text of the question before me.

The hon. member for Beaches—East York in her question asked this:

Does the chairperson plan an early meeting of the committee to consider how the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages misled the committee this week during her appearance regarding equality?

In other words, the question did, in my view, deal with the schedule and agenda of the committee, which is a question that is permitted. The question did ask, is there going to be an early meeting of the committee? It did go on to ask about the business of the committee, but the agenda is properly part of the question. The question was, is there going to be an early meeting of the committee to consider this item on the agenda? In my view, that kind of question is in order.

The answer did not have much to do with the question, but Speakers are stuck on answers, as the hon. member knows. I am sure he is very sympathetic to the position of the Chair, because frequently we have questions that are asked and a response is given that does not answer the question and in fact has nothing to do with the question. But it is not for the Speaker to decide whether those answers are in order or not in the circumstances.

The provisions in Marleau and Montpetit deal with questions. The hon. member will notice that they do not tend to deal with answers. Some have suggested that question period in the House is called question period, not answer period, because the response does not necessarily answer the question that is asked.

In this case I agree that the response from the chairperson of the committee was not an answer, using the usual expression of answer, to the question that was asked. It was a response, but it had relatively little to do with the question.

I believe the question met the exigencies of our procedure in that it did deal with the schedule. It asked when the committee might meet and about the agenda for that meeting. In my view, therefore, it was in order. It may have had other undertones in it that Speakers would prefer not to have in there, but the fact is, in my view, that it did deal with those two items and therefore I allowed the question.

I can only sympathize with the hon. member when we deal with answers. As I have said, Speakers have very little to say over what constitutes the response to a question. If the response is not an answer to the question, I cannot rule the response out of order unless unparliamentary language is used in the response, which would of course be out of order and which he has not suggested occurred in this case. I sympathize, but there we will leave that one.

I appreciate the member's diligence in checking this out and raising the matter.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to resume the remarks I had begun concerning Bill C-20 prior to question period. First, I want to repeat for the benefit of those listening that the Bloc Québécois will be opposing this bill.

Everyone knows very well that the Bloc Québécois has always said that it would be a waste of time to reform the Senate and that the only proper reform for this Senate would be to simply abolish it. That would represent real savings for the taxpayers. In any case, there is no longer an upper chamber in any of the provinces. It has already disappeared in Quebec, among others.

I began my remarks by saying that the Conservatives make election promises and then appear to keep them. It is one way of doing things. It is true that during the election campaign the Conservative party decided to promise Senate reform by making it an elected Senate. However, it must be understood that while it is nice to have dreams and make election promises, we are far from the reality.

I gave a first example: yes, the Conservatives promised legislation on transparency, on ethics and all of that. Strangely, the only members of this House who have not had their election expenses reimbursed by the Chief Electoral Officer are more than 60 Conservatives, including three ministers from Quebec, including the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Canadian Heritage. All of them failed to comply with requirements and have made expenditures that are not allowable and contrary to the Canada Elections Act. That is why those Conservative members have not been reimbursed for their election expenses. They promised legislation on transparency, ethics and integrity, and they are the only members whose election expenses have been refused by the Chief Electoral Officer because, obviously, they asked for reimbursement of expenditures they were not entitled to make.

Once again, when we look at the bill before us dealing with Senate reform, we recognize that the Conservatives made a promise. However, there is one problem: the only real way to reform the Senate is to re-open the Constitution, and that is not what they said.

First, in 1970, the Supreme Court of Canada, in a judgment entitled “The Supreme Court of Canada in Re: Authority of Parliament in relation to the Upper House, [1980] 1 S.C.R. 54”, stated that decisions related to the Senate are “essential” and that any reforms affecting the powers of the Senate must be carried out in accordance with the re-opening of the Canadian Constitution. Therefore, the consent of the provinces is necessary.

On this subject, it is all very well to introduce Bill C-20, but, in the end, to get around the Constitution, here is what the Conservative party is doing in trying to keep its election promise: it will hold elections, although the Prime Minister will not be obliged to accept the results of the election. So, they will hold elections for senators and afterwards, the Prime Minister will have the option of choosing senators from among the persons who were elected, since, under the Constitution, he is the one who chooses senators and appoints them.

First, quite simply stated, these amount to phony elections, because there is no guarantee that the Prime Minister will abide by the choice of the electors. Next, it is quite obvious they are simply trying to give a false representation of the principles of democracy. That is how the Conservative government is trying to operate: by distorting democracy.

In one particular case, the Chief Electoral Officer did not fall for that kind of manoeuvre. That is why 67 Conservative members did not have their election expenses reimbursed. They tried to manipulate the Canada Elections Act to go beyond the set limit for the reimbursement of expenses and now they are trying to manipulate the Constitution.

The province of Quebec responded very clearly through its Minister for Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs, Benoît Pelletier, who is not a sovereignist but a Liberal MNA. On November 7, he issued this warning to the federal government. I will read his statement:

The Government of Quebec does not believe that this falls exclusively under federal jurisdiction.

Minister Pelletier was talking about the Senate.

Given that the Senate is a crucial part of the Canadian federal compromise, it is clear to us that under the Constitution Act, 1982, and the regional veto act, the Senate can be neither reformed nor abolished without Quebec's consent.

On the same day that the Quebec Minister for Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs issued this statement, the following motion was passed unanimously by the National Assembly, that is by all parties, both sovereignist and federalist:

That the National Assembly of Quebec reaffirm to the Federal Government and to the Parliament of Canada that no modification to the Canadian Senate may be carried out without the consent of the Government of Quebec and the National Assembly.

And yet it is quite clear. In the opinion of the Bloc Québécois, at least, the Senate is a fine example of why Canadian federalism does not work. No constitutional amendments ever attempted have ever been accepted. The Conservatives are providing an even better example by trying to erode and circumvent the Constitution, by introducing a bill about electing senators. This will not be a real election, because ultimately it is the Prime Minister who will make the choice. He wants to have some kind of consensus through elections and he reserves the right, if he does not agree with the person who is elected, to appoint someone else.

The Conservatives will have invented just about anything. Every day, they pull a rabbit out of their hat. It is quite entertaining to see Conservative members from Quebec, or even ministers, going against the decision of the National Assembly of Quebec and trying, in addition, to distort and circumvent the Canadian Constitution in order to achieve their ends because they had the misfortune to make a campaign promise they could not keep. That is the reality. Quebeckers, who gave the Bloc Québécois a large majority, understood it well.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

An hon. member

And they will again.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

And they will again. My colleague is quite right and he has understood well what the Conservatives are. Obviously, they signal left and turn right. That has always been the case. They make promises, and in trying to keep them they have no compunctions about twisting the Constitution or the Canada Elections Act as they have done.

I reiterate that over 60 members, including three ministers from Quebec, among them the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages, have not been reimbursed for their election expenses because, once again, they have tried to twist the Canada Elections Act by attempting to put in for expenses they were not entitled to. That is the image that this Conservative government will be leaving in the public’s mind. Quebeckers will not be duped in the next election campaign.

Once again, they will have understood that the only way the Senate will truly be reformed is to abolish it. There are no other solutions. That is obviously what the Bloc Québécois proposes.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park. I always want to say Elk Island, but Sherwood Park.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I sure did make my mark in life as the member for Elk Island and I was honoured to have been only the second member of Parliament for that riding. It was a new riding in the previous election and then, of course, the boundaries were changed and it became the riding of Edmonton--Sherwood Park, which is where I now have the honour to serve.

After listening to the member's speech, one thing really puzzles me. How can the member continue to say that we will not appoint the person that is chosen by the people anyway? He quite distinctly said in his speech that if the people do not select someone that the Prime Minister likes that he will appoint someone else.

This whole exercise is about bringing some democracy, in other words the voice and the will of the people, to the selection of senators. There is no justification in our modern age where most western countries have a level of democracy and where the people are heard, whereas in Canada we have one of our houses of Parliament appointed without regard to the will of the people.

Alberta is a perfect example of that. Every member of Parliament from Alberta is a Conservative right now, and we hope that will continue, but only one senator is not a Liberal appointment. The choices made by Liberal prime ministers have been totally political appointments. Until Senator Bert Brown was appointed by the Prime Minister as a direct result of Bert Brown having won an election in Alberta, we had no members of the Senate from Alberta who actually represented the will of the people.

If we are going to have a Senate, how can the member possibly justify speaking against having the people make the choice, rather than some politician in Ottawa?

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am surprised at the hon. member. I have been here since 2000 and I know that he has been here for several years and that he very much enjoys following the debates in the House. I am surprised that he has not read the bill.

Under this bill, it is still up to the Prime Minister to appoint a senator even if this senator is elected. Why is it so? Because, anything else would require an amendment to Constitution.

It is quite simple. The Quebec National Assembly has responded very well. Let me again, for the benefit of the member, the reference to the Supreme Court of Canada entitled, “Re: Authority of Parliament in relation to the Upper House”, which states in part:

Decisions that affect a "fundamental feature or essential characteristic" of the Senate cannot be made unilaterally.

It is clear, for instance, that the appointment of senators, the process of appointing them, is an “essential characteristic”. Making the Senate a truly elected Senate would therefore require an amendment to the Canadian Constitution.

Like every government before it, the Conservative government did not dare to reopen the Constitution. Changes to the Senate have been proposed since 1894, but nothing ever came of it. Why? Because it would require reopening the Constitution.

Now, the Conservative government is again trying to avoid reopening the Constitution and transgressing the law. It should heed the warning from the unanimous vote taken by all parties represented at the Quebec National Assembly: do not do it, it is not legal.

I cannot understand how my hon. colleague, who is following the issue closely and trying to get interested, can support this bill. Why does he support it? It is unconstitutional. That is the reality.

The only way this can be done is through an election. The Prime Minister may select the candidate or not. That is what the bill his party introduced says. If he disagrees with that, he should have a word with the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons who introduced the bill.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau) Conservative Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Lanark--Frontenac--Lennox and Addington.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, seeing as you have taken occupancy of the chair, I must say that on the last occasion when you were in the chair and I rose you gave an extremely informed lecture on the history of the predecessor ridings to the one I now represent talking about the old riding of Lanark--Renfrew. It was an example of knowledge which I do not think you share with many people. That is a very specialized form of knowledge.

I want to talk a bit today about the Senate consultations bill that is before the House and, in particular, about the line of argument that has been presented, vis-à-vis the bill, that is not a very intellectually founded argument nor a practical one.

It is the Liberal line that no piecemeal reform can take place in the Senate. I use the word piecemeal advisedly because the right hon. member for LaSalle—Émard, when he was prime minister, would use the word piecemeal as his way of indicating that it was unsatisfactory. He wanted to have, so he said, the entire Senate change as a package and all problems dealt with at the same time. That was his mantra. It was his way of ensuring that in practice the Senate remained an appointed body because he understood, and I think the Liberals understand, that in practice, if we were to amend all the different aspects of the Senate that could be improved, we would find ourselves at an impasse.

We need to remember the different aspects of the Senate that have come up for discussion over the past couple of decades. We have the powers of the Senate. Should the Senate be a co-equal body to the lower House as it is now but not a confidence chamber or should it have its powers rejigged in some way? Members may recall, for example, that the Charlottetown accord led to changes to the powers of the Senate. In fact, to some degree, I think there was an increase in its powers.

We also have had discussions on whether there should be elections for senators or the kinds of advisory consultations that the government is proposing in the legislation currently under contemplation.

We have heard the idea of term limits for senators. The government, of course, has proposed eight year term limits for senators as opposed to the effectively limitless terms that start when one is appointed and continues on until the age of 75, allowing, at least in theory, members to be appointed to 45-year terms if they are appointed early enough in their lives.

Then there is the question of how the Senate is apportioned among the various provinces. Is it weighted correctly? Should there be some adjustment to the way the Senate is weighted? I come from a background in the Reform Party. I remember the party of which I was formerly a member, the old Reform Party, was in favour of a triple E Senate and one of those E's was for equal. The Reform Party believed that the Senate should be weighted equally by provinces. Other suggestions to change the weighting of the Senate have also come up.

If we do everything all at once, which, essentially, is what the Liberals argue we should be doing, then we would be confronted with the situation in which we would need to make these changes under various different sections of the Canadian amending formula, the amending formula that we use for amending our Constitution. To make this point, I would draw attention to the fact that changes to the terms of senators is currently being contemplated under the authority of section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Section 44, which is part of our amending formula, states:

Subject to sections 41 and 42, Parliament may exclusively make laws amending the Constitution of Canada in relation to the executive government of Canada or the Senate and House of Commons.

We have had some of Canada's most prominent constitutional experts, including Patrick Monaghan and Peter Hogg, indicate that they regard the proposal to amend the terms of senators under this formula to be constitutionally permissible.

If one wants to make other changes, however, one has to use a different section of the Constitution. It would be section 38, the 7/50 formula, where we must have seven provinces with 50% of the population of Canada if we want to change the powers of the Senate and the method of electing senators. I am referring to section 42 of the Constitution Act that specifies that the 7/50 formula must be used or if we want to change:

the number of members by which a province is entitled to be represented in the Senate and the residence qualifications of Senators;

That is a direct quote from the Constitution Act. Therefore, we see different sections of the Constitution being required.

If we try to do everything in a single package, by necessity we must introduce legislation, or a constitutional amendment, under the most restrictive of the available constitutional methods. In other words, under the 7/50 formula, what in effect we would be doing is taking all of the different aspects of the Constitution and making them subject to the approval of one of those giant, everything-included packages that tend to come out of meetings of the premiers. I think we have seen that this is not always a recipe for success.

Let me make this point by citing some examples from the past. In reverse chronological order, we have the Charlottetown accord, which attempted to make a variety of changes to the Constitution of Canada under one package. That, of course, failed.

Then we have the Meech Lake accord, going back to 1990. That, also, was not a great success.

Prior to that, we have the 1982 package of constitutional amendments. It got through the House and through most legislatures. We know it was not approved by the legislature of Quebec. I think a good case could be made that there was the near breakup of the country following the crisis over the failure of the Meech Lake accord. It goes back to a crisis started by the attempt to pass a giant package through on which a national consensus was not possible; not necessarily a good model.

Finally, going back to the early 1970s, we have the Victoria charter, which attempted to do the same thing, and which failed.

That is the history. This would appear to be a very bad way of doing things.

By contrast, I think considerable maturity is shown by the government's approach of dividing the Constitution package into sections and dealing with them one by one.

Dealing with the issue of taking the indefinite terms of senators and turning them into defined eight-year terms, the government has used the approach of saying that this is constitutionally a fairly easy thing to do. Although it is a constitutional matter, it is dealt with by resolution. It, nevertheless, is treated like an ordinary piece of legislation and, therefore, it can be introduced as an ordinary piece of legislation. And of course the government has done that.

Separate from that is the matter before the House right now: the Senate consultation legislation.

What we have done here is to recognize that we cannot actually create Senate elections without seeking the support of seven provinces with 50% of the population. So, as an alternative, without violating the various prerogatives involved and the constitutional requirements involved in our Senate, which require that our Senate be appointed, we seek advisory consultations.

One can say those are de facto elections, but nevertheless the constitutional obligation is met and it can be dealt with as ordinary legislation. The other questions can be set aside and considered separately. The fact is that we have a workable method, something that actually can take place. It seems to me this is best way of proceeding.

I want to point out, in the minute that remains to me, one other consideration.

The Liberals make a great deal of the need for this holus-bolus, one-size-fits-all, single package of Senate reform when it suits them. However, their history shows that they were in fact perfectly willing to consider doing it one piece at a time.

I referred earlier to the Charlottetown accord and the Meech Lake accord. Both of those accords contemplated changes to one part of the Senate without dealing with all of the Senate.

Let me make this point by actually quoting from the proposed constitutional amendment from 21 years ago that dealt with changes under the Meech Lake accord to the Senate. It stated:

1. The Constitution Act, 1867 is amended by adding thereto, immediately after section 1 thereof, the following section:

25.(1) Where a vacancy occurs in the Senate, the government of the province to which the vacancy relates may, in relation to that vacancy, submit to the Queen's Privy Council for Canada the names of persons who may be summoned to the senate.

Subsection (2), and this is the important part:

Until an amendment to the Constitution of Canada is made in relation to the Senate pursuant to section 41 of the Constitution Act, 1982, the person summoned to fill a vacancy in the Senate shall be chosen from among persons whose names have been submitted under subsection (1)--

The point is that we are specifically saying that seeing as we cannot get unanimity on the broader question, we will settle for a partial reform. The partial reform approach makes sense. When it does not suit the partisan interests of the Liberals, they pretend it does not. Even Liberals agree with that.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is this. Why does the member feel that opposition parties continue to oppose any attempts to reform the Senate?

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, with regard to my hon. colleague's question, the Bloc Québécois has sort of a stock answer about wanting to go back to the appointed model I just quoted from, an appointment by the provincial legislatures.

In practice, though, the Bloc's raison d'être is to make sure that Canada breaks up and Quebec leaves the federation. If Canada works better, that pushes it further from its goal. Really, it is anxious to make sure that Canada does not work.

The NDP honestly believes that the upper House should be abolished. I do not support that position, but I understand it and I think it is intellectually honest in advocating it quite openly. That is not so easy to achieve as a practical matter. There are some hurdles that have to be achieved in terms of a very high level of consensus. That is a somewhat utopian goal that the New Democrats have, but they are sincere in their belief and I applaud them for that.

As for the Liberals, I can only conclude that they really want to have a continuation of the appointed Senate model. I mentioned that when the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard was Prime Minister he talked a fine talk about really wanting to have a reformed Senate. He proposed nothing, ever, to achieve this goal, except once in the later part of 2003, when he had just become Prime Minister to say, “We will consult with the House of Commons and have it make recommendations”. Then he backed off, and went ahead and made appointments.

All of his ideas were really always about appointments, a prime minister carrying on in the same old fashion that existed before. I believe that is essentially where the Liberal Party continues to stand to this very day.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate today on the Senate reform this Conservative government wishes to achieve. First, I would like to mention that from time to time, at receptions or on Parliamentary trips, I do exchange greetings with my colleagues in the Senate. As far as I am concerned, they are human beings just like us and friendliness is always in order whenever we have an opportunity to discuss matters. I make no secret of the fact that many of them have the best interests of the public at heart. Yes, what is more, some senators have even accomplished great things in our society. I thank them for their contribution. However, that is not the question.

Despite ideological differences I may have with the senators, it is not the senators who disturb me but rather the institution of the Senate itself. I find it absurd that a democratic society, such as Canada claims to be, can still accept the notion that unelected people should play a role in approving legislation and in governing the affairs of the country.

I am not a historian, but I can easily remember that Canada’s upper chamber, the Senate, descends directly from the British House of Lords. At one time, those lords argued it was essential not to give power to the people and that it was necessary to offset the elected House with a chamber comprised of aristocrats. The Senate is the last sign of an old, obsolete monarchy in which the seats of power are allocated according to blood ties.

That way of thinking has not changed much. Today, some senators are appointed because of their family relations. I think, for example, of one senator from Quebec who was appointed because his father was a minister in the Trudeau government. In the case of other senators, the reasons for their appointments may be slightly different but they owe their places to connections, friends or political allegiance.

Will electing senators change this selection process? Not at all. In fact, the Conservative government must think electors are gullible if it would have them believe that this reform will make a big difference. In the formula proposed in the bill, the Conservatives are trying to reform the Senate with a simple bill, without getting into any constitutional details. I can understand their fear of starting a constitutional debate, as they did with the Charlottetown accord in 1992, because the Conservatives know full well that a reform of the Senate or the Constitution, like the one they are proposing, is unacceptable to Quebec.

Last November, the National Assembly of Quebec unanimously—including the government's ADQ friends—passed the following:

That no modification to the Canadian Senate may be carried out without the consent of the Government of Québec and the National Assembly.

Quebec is not alone in opposing the idea of Senate reform, as proposed by the Conservatives. Premiers Calvert, Doer and McGuinty have mentioned that it would be better to abolish the Senate than to try to renew it. Curiously, our party, the Bloc Québécois, a sovereignist party, has support from the governments of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario to abolish the Canadian Senate rather than have a piecemeal reform. For the Bloc, whether the Senate is reformed or not, it is still a useless institution.

For those who support Senate reform, the upper chamber draws its legitimacy and its need to exist from the fact that it provides a sober second look at the work of the House of Commons. Allow me to be skeptical. Senators are meant to take an objective and perhaps even a regional look at bills that are sent to them and review the work of the House of the Commons, but they are not elected and are not accountable for anything or to anyone. Over the years, partisanship has gained the upper hand over this supposed objectivity.

Electing senators will not change this partisanship in the least. According to the Conservatives' bill, the members of the upper chamber would be elected under a political banner and then appointed by the Prime Minister, if he so wishes. Since these new senators would be elected with a political affiliation, we can expect that they will toe their party's line.

The Bloc Québécois and I are not alone in saying this, and not only today in this House.

On October 1 of last year, Le Droit printed a quotation by Elaine McCoy, an Alberta senator. She said:

—the institutional structure causes senators to close ranks around party discipline and to hold the party line.

According to this senator, we would have to do much more than elect members to the upper house to put an end to this kind of discipline. In other words, electing senators would do nothing more than duplicate the House of Commons.

As everyone here knows, none of the provinces have had upper chambers since Quebec abolished its Legislative Council in 1968. In Quebec and the Canadian provinces, parliamentary democracy is working just fine without a second partisan review of decisions made by elected representatives. Furthermore, I am certain that Quebeckers would be delighted to find out that just by abolishing the Senate, we would avoid duplication and save between $80 million and $100 million per year.

Before wrapping up, I would like to make three points to illustrate the connection between the issue of Senate reform and other current issues.

First, as I said before, neither the existing nor a reformed Senate can be of any use, as evidenced by the fact that the institution slows down and hinders the democratic process. Bill C-2, the omnibus bill we talked about earlier, has been blocked in the Senate for partisan reasons even though this House, which was democratically elected, passed it unanimously.

Second, the Prime Minister rails against the Senate, but he, too, uses it for partisan purposes, as shown by his appointment of the Minister of Public Works. Many people no longer believe the Prime Minister when he talks about democracy, transparency and a new way of doing politics. What a wonderful show of federalism and openness. The Minister of Public Works has had four opportunities to run under his party's banner in Quebec byelections, but he chooses to be a ghost-like presence by putting in precious few appearances in the upper house. He gets paid pretty well for the tiny amount of time he spends there.

The third and final point that connects the bill with current events is being played out in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the courts. Certain Conservative members and ministers broke Elections Canada's rules during the last election. I have no doubt that the Conservatives would consider themselves above the law and use the same tactics when the time came to elect senators.

The simplest solution for everyone—and I would recommend it to my Conservative colleagues who have not yet gotten the point—is simply to abolish the Senate. We should not waste our time on piecemeal reform. The Senate costs a fortune, has no legitimacy and more often than not holds up decisions of the House.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Myron Thompson Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I could not help but think of one particular statement the member made at the start of her speech where she said that having elected senators would have no effect.

We are elected in this House, and if any of us had made some of the statements, as reported in the news, that Senator Sharon Carstairs made recently, does the member think we would get away with that? The senator can because she does not have to face the people to be picked. Senators can say whatever they want in the Senate and they do not have to worry about being re-elected.

I can almost assure the member it is not a correct statement that elected senators would have no effect. Elections would make those people think twice before they used their words with no fear of ever having to be nominated or campaign again.

The member who just spoke is going to have to campaign again. I would have to campaign again, but the senator would not. If nothing else, to be accountable for what we say and do in this place would be a start in the right direction.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the question from the member for Wild Rose. In my opinion, the solution is simply to abolish the Senate. Then we would not be discussing whether or not it should be elected. Even if it were elected, as my friend said, the senators would represent a party. And if they represented a party, they would tow the party line.

I like it when the Conservatives cry wolf, even though the first thing the Prime Minister did was to appoint an unelected minister, Michael Fortier, who is in charge of one of the largest departments, Public Works and Government Services Canada. He does as he pleases. He is paid as a senator. He has a card and he punches in and out, which takes only 30 seconds. He is paid by the Senate to punch in and out. He is campaigning on a bus paid for by the Senate and taxpayers.

I believe that the Senate should just be abolished. Senator Fortier would run for election at the same time as everyone else.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Barry Devolin Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the bill.

I have listened to many of my colleagues give their rationale as to why all members of the House should support the bill. There has been a lot of technical information and a lot of legislative and legal support for arguments put forward. I would like to take a somewhat different approach in terms of my remarks today.

As a member of Parliament, I often speak to school students. In Ontario, grade 5 students have a section on Canada, so sometimes I speak to grade 5 classes and other days I speak to grade 10 classes, because grade 10 students in Ontario have a civic section in the standardized curriculum. Those are the two grades I visit.

Often the students ask me about my job and about Parliament. I have a very difficult time explaining to students why our Senate exists the way it does. If we take a step back, it is actually shocking that in a mature and developed democracy like Canada, we still have an institution like the Senate.

Years ago I went to graduate school in the United States and I actually taught a course on government there. Students and colleagues would ask me about Canada. They were not familiar with our system.

When I would explain to American political science students how the Senate worked in Canada, they were shocked. They actually did not believe what I was saying. They would say, “Come on. That is not the way it really works”. They did not believe that we could have a system where prime ministers can unilaterally put whomever they want into the Senate for 20, 30 or 40 years and that person functions as a parliamentarian with an office, staff and voting rights, and participates in the great debates in our country with absolutely no credibility or democratic legitimacy.

That is what this all boils down to. For years I thought I was the only one who thought that our Senate was shocking simply because it existed the way it does. I remember in the early 1990s the first time I heard Preston Manning speak. It was before the Reform Party was even in Ontario. He talked about democratic reform. I thought to myself that finally someone was talking about this. I remember thinking that I was not the only one who thinks that the Canadian Senate is grossly inappropriate and should be fundamentally changed.

I am very proud that I was one of the first people in Ontario to join the Reform Party and was involved with the party at that time. I came to the Reform Party because of my interest in democratic reform, not so much on judicial or economic reform, although I agreed with those planks, but democratic reform.

We have about 400 parliamentarians in Canada and 100 of them are in the Senate. They are there simply because one individual, the prime minister of the day, put them in the Senate and they stay there, at one time it was for life, but now it is until they are 75 years old. I am a pretty calm person, but if I want to get myself agitated, I just think about the Senate. The Senate is something that can actually make my blood boil because it is so outrageous the way it exists.

I heard one of my colleagues say that while he does not agree with the NDP position on abolition, he can respect it. I feel the same way. I believe that in a large diverse federation like Canada a bicameral legislature will work better than a unicameral legislature. I appreciate there are lots of people in my party who think the Senate should be changed.

The really interesting question is, who on earth actually thinks the current Senate is defensible? How would people justify the structure of the Canadian Senate today? I have come to the conclusion that there are only two groups of people who would support the current structure of our Senate.

The first group would be the people who are already there, because it has worked for them. They would argue that the system works fine because it put someone such as themselves into the Senate. The second group would be the people who thought one day they might be appointed to the Senate. They think if they play their cards right, if they are nice to the party leadership, if they raise funds, if they do this and that, maybe somewhere down the line, as a reward, they will become senators, and they do not want to close off that option. I put that group of people in the same category as the 20% of the public who say that part of their retirement plan is winning the lottery. I guess a certain number of Canadians think getting appointed to the Senate is part of their career path and they do not want to lose that option.

This is the first point I make with students when I talk to them. I tell them that it is outrageous in the 21st century in a country such as Canada that we still have one of the two chambers of our national legislature where members are appointed for life by a prime minister.

I remember 10 or 15 years ago when the Iron Curtain came down in Europe. Many of the countries in Eastern Europe took the tentative first steps to establish democracies. Countries in the Middle East and other parts of the world had already crossed that gap and had gone from a military government or a totalitarian or a communist state to become a democracy. I imagine at the time, those countries looked at how they should structure their new democratic government. They probably looked at other countries such as Great Britain, or France, or the United States or other places to get ideas whether they would use a parliamentary system or a presidential system and how they would set it up.

I have often thought what would have happened had those countries brought in consultants and asked them how they should set up their new democratic government and the consultants told them they should have bicameral legislatures, but one chamber would be elected by the people. However, there would be strict party discipline and the prime ministers would pretty much control that in a majority government. In terms of the judiciary, they would let the prime ministers unilaterally appoint all the judges. Maybe the prime ministers would also unilaterally appoint the heads of all crown corporations and all ambassadors. For the second chambers in the national legislatures, the prime ministers would also unilaterally appoint all members to them.

If a consultant had said that in one of the countries in Eastern Europe 10 or 15 years ago, the individual would have been laughed out of the room. Somebody would have said that it was an absurd notion that any country could function in that way. I guess the consultant would have said that was not true, that Canada functioned this way.

In considering this bill today, we are talking about taking one step in the right direction. Some of us, particularly on this side of the House, would like to take more steps and we would like to take them faster.

We are satisfied with taking steps to deal with at least indirectly electing senators, having some mechanism where people would have some say in who would become their senators. If that is combined with the other bill that would limit Senate terms to eight years, those two things would create a somewhat legitimate democratic institution infinitely better than we have today.

I hope we will take those two steps. I think they would work, they would make the Senate a more legitimate place and it would create an appetite for more steps in that direction.

Members in the Liberal Party say that they want everything or nothing, either a comprehensive fix the whole Senate package of reforms or they do not want to change anything. There is one of two explanations for that. First, they want comprehensive reform to the Senate. However, given they have been in power most of the last 50 years, they have had ample opportunity to do that but they have not. Second, they do not want any change to the Senate, but it is a convenient way for them to not publicly say that they are against Senate reform.

If the Liberals can have all the pieces fit together at the same time, if it is done through proper channels, including the constitutional amendment, then they will support that. However, they will not support other measures even though they are easily defensible, are logical and unarguably make the Senate more democratic than it is now.

On that basis, I encourage all members of this place to support the legislation. Help us take one baby step in the right direction. Before I leave this place, I hope we have a Senate that functions with the robust energy of a legitimate, democratic institution and that it can play the role that it is meant to play in our national political debate.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague from the Conservative Party talk about the changes he would like to make to the Senate. I found it all very interesting, but I would have liked to hear him address other issues and I would like him to answer the following questions.

While he is in favour of having an elected Senate, he did not mention anything in his speech about how useful that Senate would be. How could it really assist with the work done in this place, given that the bills brought before us are referred to committee, where witnesses are heard? Bills go through a long process before they are passed. They are considered in depth by the various political parties, which each has their own vision.

Elected or not, how could the Senate really make a greater contribution to the Canadian people and the analysis of proposed legislation?