Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-20, which talks about what I would call an advisory election. It is a piecemeal effort on Senate reform.
First, I am not opposed to Senate reform. The Senate has been with us many years now and it is something on which perhaps Canadians and parliamentarians, both federal and provincial, should have an open and honest debate. We attempted it during the Charlottetown accord and Meech Lake discussions. Unfortunately, we did not make it all the way, but I thought we had some good discussions and very constructive proposals were put on the table, which perhaps would have solved this issue once and for all.
These discussions would have to be broad reaching. They would involve the powers of the Senate. If we look at the constating documents of our country, the powers of the Senate are not really set out as to how senators are appointed or elected, the term of the Senate appointment, whether appointed or elected, and the numbers, which is a big issue for many provinces across Canada. If we look at the United States or Australian models, we would be heading toward an equal effective model. In Canada we do not have that, which is a big issue. All of these issues are worthy of discussion, debate and, hopefully, resolution.
However, to deal with it on a piecemeal basis, is the wrong way to go. At this juncture, when we have never had a discussion about Senate reform or at least a recent discussion, it would be my recommendation for the present government and Prime Minister to call the provinces together and discuss this entire issue. There has been absolutely no consultation, no discussion, no meetings, nothing, zilch, regarding any form of Senate reform and no consultation on this bill.
If we do not have consultation or meet with the provinces, the first thing that happens is the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, Yukon and New Brunswick are up in arms and against the legislation. It is difficult for people to support it. I do not think the piecemeal approach is the way to go. I would urge the government, if it is seriously interested, to try to reform the Senate and move on that basis.
We have to look at the history of the institution when our country was established in 1867. The Senate was created to represent the regions. However, the western regions did not exist at the time. In fact, there was a higher population in the Atlantic region on a percentage basis than there is now. That is the way the Senate was adopted then. It reflected the dual cultural and linguistic nature of the country. Since then, it has not evolved to meet the changing nature or fabric of Canada.
The people who debate this issue should look at what happened in Australia and the United States. United States senators were originally appointed, I believe, by the state legislatures. Eventually there was an evolution to an elected Senate. In that case there is an equal Senate with the powers defined. In this case, we would not have that. There would be nothing to deal with the powers involved, which would be a quagmire. I suggest there be some effort made with the provinces to discuss Senate reform.
I realize there were efforts made in the Charlottetown accord and the Meech Lake accord and these efforts did not bear fruit. I know that. I believe Charlottetown was the last accord. Ever since those accords were voted down, there really has not been an effort. Probably people were sick and tired of it and just did not want to go into the discussion about Senate reform again. It was put on the back burner. It was not a priority for the provincial governments. It was not a priority for Canadians.
However, perhaps it is time to dust off the briefing books. It is time to dust off some of the position papers to look at this whole issue and it is time to call the provinces together. That is the most important point I will make in my debate this afternoon. To try to do this as the federal legislature without any consultation, without any meetings, without any discussions with the provinces, I submit is foolhardy.
I find it a little hypocritical for the government of the day to be doing this. I was really quite offended at the actions of the government, because in his very first item of business upon being sworn in after the election, the Prime Minister appointed to the Senate his campaign chair, who continued to be the campaign co-chair in the federal election of 2006. There was no talk of an election. There was no talk of a consultative process. The Prime Minister appointed him to the Senate.
Perhaps I would not have been offended at that, as it has certainly happened before, but the next thing the Prime Minister did was appoint him as an unelected Minister of Public Works and Government Services. For the last 25 months, he has been around Ottawa as the unelected Minister of Public Works and Government Services. He spends approximately $43 million each and every day. He answers no questions in this House. He answers no questions in the Senate.
I have absolutely no idea what this gentleman looks like. I have no idea what he does and I never will. No one else in this House is any wiser than I am insofar as that particular person. He is, I submit, accountable to absolutely no one.
I do not want anyone here to get me wrong. I do not have any problem with a discussion on Senate reform. I think it would be healthy for the nation, but I certainly think it is not going anywhere unless we involve the provinces. I submit and suggest that the government should call a first ministers meeting with one item on the agenda: Senate reform. They should talk about the powers, the numbers, the appointment process and the term.
The government should put everything on the table and just see if there is any common ground. It should just make an effort. It may be unsuccessful, and it would not surprise me if it were unsuccessful, but the government should see if there is any common ground that can be worked at between the federal government and the provincial governments representing all provinces. So if there is any resolution to this issue, certainly it would be advisable.
Again, on dispute resolution, as I said, when we look at the Constitution we see that there are the powers of the House--and we can only have one confidence chamber--and the powers of the Senate. They really are not delineated, so if we had followed this process to its nth result, we would I guess have a Senate that is elected by advisory elections. How is any dispute to be resolved in future years? These are unanswered and disturbing questions.
Again, let us look at other jurisdictions, especially Australia. I would urge members to look at this and bring Australian experts here to see if there is any common ground so that we can move forward.
As my time is up, let me close by saying that the tenor of my comments and my position are clear. I believe that the time has come and that maybe we should have a broader discussion rather than trying to accomplish this on a piecemeal basis.