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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

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

February 12th, 2008 / 10:05 a.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 five petitions.

Public AccountsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the third report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts entitled “The Testimony of Deputy Commissioner Barbara George before the Public Accounts Committee”.

In this report, the committee found that the testimony presented by Deputy Commissioner Barbara George was either misleading at best or untruthful at worst. As such, the committee is recommending that the House find Deputy Commissioner George in contempt of Parliament. As this is sanction enough, we are also recommending that no further action be taken.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill S-213, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (lottery schemes).

Mr. Speaker, once again, I am pleased to sponsor Bill S-213, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (lottery schemes), concerning video lottery terminals.

Pursuant to Standing Order 86.2, I wish to state that this bill is in the same form as S-211, which was before the House in the first session, and I ask that this bill be reinstated.

As reported in the news this morning, more and more tragic suicides are happening because of gambling problems. In light of what we have learned about this, I think it is high time we addressed this issue. Members of the other place have done excellent work, and now it is our turn to move forward with this well-crafted bill.

(Motion deemed adopted and bill read the first time)

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order, please.

The Chair is of the opinion that this bill is in the same form as Bill S-211 was at the time of prorogation of the first session of the 39th Parliament.

Accordingly, pursuant to Standing Order 86.2, the bill is deemed read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Bill C-458PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise again today to present more petitions from across Canada. These particular petitions are from Alberta and New Brunswick and are all in support of Bill C-458, An Act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act (library materials), which will protect and support the library book rate and extend it to include audio-visual materials.

The EnvironmentPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, today I am tabling a petition calling for the elimination of detergents containing phosphates. It has been signed by 409 citizens of Verchères—Les Patriotes, and 171 others signed a reply coupon about this that appeared in my householder last fall. In all, 580 people have expressed their support for this measure.

I would invite the members to do the same by supporting Bill C-469, which was introduced by my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé.

I would also like to salute those companies, such as Innu-Science in Sainte-Julie, that are miles ahead on this issue and have been providing biodegradable household and industrial cleaners for 15 years now.

Age of ConsentPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition from a number of constituents in my riding who urge Parliament to help protect the children of Canada from sexual exploitation by an adult by raising the age of consent from 14 to 16 years of age.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.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, the following questions will be answered today: Nos. 1 and 134.

Question No. 1Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

With regard to RCMP officers: (a) when will the 2500 new RCMP officers be hired; (b) how many additional RCMP officers will there be by the end of 2007; (c) how many additional RCMP officers will there be in 2008; (d) where will the additional RCMP officers be sent; (e) what is the proposed budget allocation for fiscal year 2007-2008 and 2008-2009; and (f) how many C-division detachments have been reopened since January 2006?

Question No. 1Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day ConservativeMinister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, in response to (a), as recently announced in the 2007 Speech from the Throne, the government is committed to ensuring effective law enforcement, starting with resources to recruit 2,500 more officers to police our streets. To this end, the minister has been undertaking focused discussions with his provincial and territorial counterparts for the purpose of obtaining their views on how best to move this proposal forward. This initiative is intended to enhance provincial, territorial and municipal police capacity across Canada, and is not specifically directed toward increasing resources for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, RCMP.

In response to (b), the RCMP added 639 additional regular members in 2007.

In response to (c), the RCMP is forecasting that there will be 1,034 additional regular members by the end of 2008.

In response to (d), the regional deputy in consultation with the regional management team decides where the new RCMP officers will be placed. National and regional priorities are considered in the decision making process.

In response to (e), the budget allocation for the RCMP as per the main estimates for 2007-08 was $3.771 billion inclusive of revenues credited to the vote of $1.403 billion. The approved budget level for 2008-09 is $3.72 billion inclusive of revenues credited to the vote of $1.484 billion.

In response to (f), there have been no detachments reopened in “C” Division in the period beginning January 2006 to present. The RCMP will be considering its deployment of federal resources, including resources deployed in “C” Division as part of a broader examination of organizational issues following receipt of the report of the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP.

Question No. 134Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

With regard to the tracking mechanism put in place by Canada Post in calendar year 2007 to accurately determine the cost and usage of the Library Book Rate Program, based on the data available to date: (a) what is the total cost of the program for libraries; (b) what is the total cost of the program for Canada Post; (c) what are the financial losses and revenues of the program for Canada Post; (d) how many libraries are participating in the program; and (e) what were the actual and estimated costs of the program for each fiscal year from 2002-2003 to 2006-2007?

Question No. 134Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Pontiac Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon ConservativeMinister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, the library book rate, LBR, allows libraries to move books between public libraries and to rural and remote residents at significantly reduced postage rates. Canada Post appreciates the importance of the library book rate to Canadian libraries. Canada Post remains committed to working with the major Canadian library associations to ensure that the library community’s concerns are understood and that their needs are considered in the future.

In order to collect accurate data with respect to the LBR, Canada Post developed an electronic shipping tool for libraries in collaboration with the Canadian Library Association and l'Association pour la science et les techniques de la documentation. The library book shipping tool enables eligible libraries to prepare and pay for library book shipments. The library shipping tool was introduced in November 2005 and libraries were given until January 2007 to begin using the new shipping tool. Consequently, 2007 is the first year for which Canada Post will have accurate data on the LBR based upon use of the library book shipping tool.

In response to (a), Canada Post does not have information on the total cost of the LBR incurred by libraries. The only data available to Canada Post is the postage paid by libraries to Canada Post under the LBR. The 2007 year-end data from the electronic shipping tool will be available in mid-March. For the first 11 months of 2007, libraries paid postage of approximately $647,000.

In response to (b), based on the data collected from the library book shipping tool, Canada Post calculates that the LBR cost $5 million during the first 11 months of 2007. Therefore, Canada Post’s contribution shortfall in respect of the LBR for this period was approximately $4.35 million. Canada Post’s legislated mandate is to provide affordable, universal postal services to all Canadians and to do so on a financially self-sustaining basis. Canada Post receives no government appropriation or compensation of any kind for the reduced library book rates. Canada Post is committed to continuing to work with all stakeholders, including government, to ensure that this funding shortfall is appropriately addressed.

In response to (c), please refer to the response to part (b).

In response to (d), Canada Post does not collect information as to which libraries mail under the library book rate. According to the Canadian Library Association, 2,092 libraries have registered to access the LBR.

In response to (e), Canada Post has no reliable data prior to 2007 as all previous estimates were based on sampling only. In order to capture accurate data, Canada Post introduced the library book shipping tool in November 2005. As of January 2007, all libraries accessing the LBR use the new shipping tool.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.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

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Bill C-20. On the Order: Government Orders:)

November 13, 2007--Second reading and reference to a legislative committee of Bill C-20, An Act to provide for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate--Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

moved:

That Bill C-20, An Act to provide for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate, be referred forthwith to a legislative committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to open debate on Bill C-20, the Senate Appointment Consultations Act, which the government is reintroducing from the first session of this Parliament. This bill marks an important step in improving Canada's democratic institutions and is one of two bills advancing the government's efforts at meaningful Senate reform.

Our commitment to provide Canadians with a Senate that is relevant for the 21st century was clearly laid out in the Speech from the Throne and approved by the House:

--our Government will continue its agenda of democratic reform by reintroducing important pieces of legislation from the last session, including direct consultations with voters on the selection of Senators and limitations on their tenure.

Ordinary Canadians agree that the Senate cannot play its role with any credibility when its members can remain there until they are 75 and they are not accountable to the public.

That is why they are so supportive of measures to allow them to vote in a national consultation process for Senate appointments. Canadians were encouraged when they saw Bert Brown take a seat in the other place. He, of course, had been elected popularly by the voters. They were heartened to see the Prime Minister take account of the democratically expressed will of the people.

Reflecting the will of the people as the norm rather than the exception would enhance the Senate's legitimacy and relevance as a modern, vibrant legislative chamber while respecting its important and historic roles of providing sober second thought, which Sir John A. Macdonald indicated as a priority, and a voice for Canada's regions and minorities.

Senate reform has drawn a lot of attention since the 19th century but, unfortunately, the upper chamber is still stuck in that era.

We must repair what we can right now if we want to prevent the Senate from continuing its free-fall into what the Prime Minister has described as insignificance and oblivion.

Canadians expect more of their institutions, and the government will not shrug its shoulders while we wait for the ever elusive national consensus on fundamental reform. Those who insist that we wait for one are really looking for an excuse to leave the Senate just the way it is, although hardly any Canadian will publicly declare that the Senate in its current form is appropriate for a modern democracy.

The desire by Canadians to reform the Senate and make it a democratic and accountable institution was reflected in the government's consultations on democratic reform, which were completed last year. A survey conducted as part of the consultations indicated that 79% of Canadians, that is, four out of five Canadians, supported Senate elections. As a result, the government must and will continue with reforms that fall within the legislative jurisdiction of Parliament.

We have also reintroduced legislation to limit the terms of senators to eight years, a separate legislative measure that can be judged on its own merits. This time, we have laid that bill before the elected chamber first after the other place missed the opportunity to be engaged in its own reform and obstructed our efforts there, delaying it, in effect, for well over a year.

Today, we have before us Bill C-20, which would give Canadians a say in who speaks for them in one of their representative institutions.

The Prime Minister has said that the Senate consultations bill raises complex issues. As with all our democratic reform legislation, we are seeking broad debate at committee about its merits and its details. In this case, we are seeking referral to committee before second reading to ensure the broadest discussion possible. It is important, however, that we be clear now on what the bill contains and, just as important, what it does not contain, especially given what some in the opposition have said about the bill.

Bill C-20 creates a mechanism with which the government could ask electors in the provinces to select the people they would like to represent them in the Senate before the Prime Minister makes his recommendations for appointments to the Governor General.

Like the federal Referendum Act, this bill creates a consultation mechanism that will not be legally binding for the government. The bill gives the government the necessary flexibility to decide whether to use the mechanism, where and when to use it, and in how many places the consultations should be held.

The purpose of the mechanism is not to manipulate the Senate for partisan purposes, but to ensure that the systematic vacancies in the Senate when senators retire could be taken into consideration in the system.

It is essential for the government to have this manoeuvrability because the consultations will be held during federal or provincial elections.

If the consultations are held only on the seats that are currently vacant, then the seats that become vacant shortly after an election could remain so until the next election.

The bill will help ensure that candidates are available to fill seats as they become vacant.

The bill would create a mechanism for people to register as nominees, raise money and campaign, and proposes rigorous accountability for nominees.

It respects what is supposed to be the less partisan nature of the Senate by providing a limited role for parties, both in campaign financing and in not giving parties control over how candidates are listed on the ballot.

It provides for reasonable limits on third-party spending so that organizations cannot exert undue influence on Senate campaigns, while respecting the right to be heard in the political sphere.

It avoids upsetting the carefully balanced campaign financing regime in place for the Commons.

Taken collectively, these are reasonable measures to ensure that Senate consultations are fair, that they invite public confidence, that they respect the less partisan nature of the Senate as an institution, and that the integrity of the Commons campaign financing rules remains intact.

Let me be very clear about what this bill will not do.

It will not make any changes that require resort to formal constitutional amending processes. The bill is not a constitutional amendment. The government's position, supported by eminent constitutional scholars, is that these proposals do not require an amendment and are within the ordinary legislative authority of Parliament to act on its own.

The method of selection remains unchanged. The bill does not detract in any way from the constitutional powers of the Governor General to summon Canadians to the Senate.

It does not change the conventional prerogative of the Prime Minister to recommend appointments identified through this process or any other.

It does not change the qualifications of senators and it does not affect their terms or create vacancies.

It does not change the constitutional role of the Senate itself as the arbiter of questions respecting the qualifications of senators.

The process can take account of whatever length of term Parliament in its wisdom ultimately decides to establish for senators.

I hope that the opposition members will engage constructively in this debate and examine the bill on its considerable merits rather than spend their time on distractions and unrelated matters as they did in the previous debate on the identical bill in the last session.

I am pleased that we have this chance to resume our examination of a bill to give Canadians a say in who represents them in the Senate.

This bill is an important step in the government's unflagging efforts to modernize our democratic institutions and it is a priority for the government.

The bill advances the principle that Canadians should have a say in who speaks for them in the Senate and does do so in a way that is respectful of the Senate itself, respects the primacy of the democratic mandate of the House of Commons, and conforms to the constitutional realities of Canada.

The Senate appointments consultation act will build momentum for further reforms. Meanwhile, it stands on its own as a useful step, indeed an essential one, in furthering the goal of a Senate worthy of the 21st century.

Senate reform is perhaps the most studied and most talked about subject among Canadian political science academics. The talk of reforming the Senate goes back almost to its beginnings. When the fathers of Confederation met, more time was spent on constructing the Senate than on any other subject.

I will go back to an observation made by John Diefenbaker, when he said the following to the notion that Senate reform was always talked about:

I recall very well the election of 1925 when the then Prime Minister, Right Hon. W.L. Mackenzie King, stated that reform of the Senate was a first and foremost course of action needed to assure democracy in this country. He said the same thing in 1926. I recall so well the promises of that day.

But to that Liberal prime minister, Senate reform was not the kind of democratic reform we are talking about. I will go on to quote Diefenbaker, who said about Mackenzie King:

He said he was going to substitute live Grits for dead Tories in the Senate. Some of those appointed were only half qualified....

The fact that this joke rings true today tells us why it is that we need to have this kind of Senate reform. I urge this House to seriously consider Bill C-20 and send it to committee so that a broad study can occur.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have a number of short questions for the minister.

He is right when he says that Senate reform has been a topic bandied about academically and politically for many years. That does not excuse the government from addressing the issue in the way it was intended to be addressed, and that is looking to the stakeholders with respect to the Senate. I am very glad that he refers to the Confederation debates. He will know that the Senate was intended to protect regional and primarily provincial interests.

Why is it, I ask, that the government has not consulted with the province? Can the minister inform us that as a result of consultations with each minister of intergovernmental affairs or premier he can report to the House their position on this bill? We have read accounts about provincial positions on this bill.

Why is the minister and the government fomenting western alienation by not dealing with the number of seats that each province has at a constitutional conference? Alberta and British Columbia are underrepresented. They even have vacancies that have not been filled by the government. There are 14 vacancies in the Senate. If the government wants to abolish the Senate, as many colleagues he sits with do, then should it not be truthful with the Canadian public and say, “We want to abolish the Senate?”

I have two final, very short questions. Are the elections envisioned in Bill C-20, it is very unclear and I ask for a genuine answer, or the selections, so to speak, binding on the Prime Minister? If the Prime Minister does not like the election selection, can he legislatively, constitutionally and legally refuse to appoint that nominee?

Finally, what does one do in a case of a deadlock between the two Houses with two fully elected bodies? What would the government do?

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, if I were to answer all of those questions, I believe I would be well through the next speaker's time. However, I will try to address the first two.

The first was a question regarding the consultation with stakeholders. It was whether we have consulted the stakeholders. I obviously have a very different view of how democracy works than my hon. friend on the other side.

I happen to think that the most important stakeholders in Parliament and in democracy are the people of Canada. Those are the true stakeholders, not elected officials, not bureaucrats, and not people who happen to be holding seats in the Senate or even those in the House of Commons. It is the people of those provinces.

The very essence of the bill is to go to the people of those provinces and consult them every time there is a decision made on who should be appointed to the Senate, so that they get to choose who represents them, not some of the other stakeholders, not a prime minister, not a cabinet, not a provincial premier but the people of that province. That is what we consider to be consultation, the most genuine consultation. That is the essence and purpose of this bill.

I know there are those who wish to see the Senate remain unchanged. There are many members in the Liberal Party who want to see it remain unchanged because it has served them very well over the years as an institution dominated by appointed Liberals. However, we believe it should be an institution that serves and represents Canadians in the provinces and that is why our structure is that Canadians in each province would be consulted to select their representatives.

On the question of underrepresentation, he talked about the need to change the distribution of seats in the House of Commons so that the western provinces that are underrepresented could have better representation.

I take it from that point that my friend will be supporting our democratic representation by population bill, Bill C-22, which will be coming up for debate later in the week because that is the objective of that bill: to move toward representation by population, to give them their fair share, to give Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and underrepresented provinces, more seats than they are entitled to under the existing formula.

I know that because Liberals really do not want that to happen, they will talk about it, say they support it, and then vote against the principle and the bill or obstruct it because that is the way the Liberal Party always works.

It has built institutions that primarily serve the partisan interests of the Liberal Party and does not want to see those institutions change one bit. Liberal members will say one thing and do the other. It has been seen back to the time of Confederation. I do not expect it to change in this Parliament, though I will be delighted if they surprise me by supporting Bill C-20 and Bill C-22 to allow some kind of reform and change to actually happen.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

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.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.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, I listened carefully to my hon. colleague's presentation and I have a few comments, observations and a question.

While the hon. member was talking about the need for revised regional representation in the Senate, he failed to recognize the fact that to do that would require constitutional change.

He also went on to mention that the government was not engaged in any meaningful consultations with the provinces and territories as to Senate reform. I would point out to the hon. member and the rest of the members in the House that there have been attempts in years previous, going back probably 80 years, to work with provinces. However, because the provinces cannot agree to any one form of democratic reform or Senate reform, whether it be revamped regional representation formula, abolishment or true reform, nothing has ever been done.

The member now is suggesting, in some form in his presentation, that we actually try to engage in a constitutional amendment so that we can look at the regional representation aspect. I would suggest to the hon. member that if we go down that road once again nothing will get done.

We are attempting to make meaningful change to the Senate, which I believe most members agree needs reform. Reform has been talked about and agreed upon by all provincial and federal leaders for the last 100 years but nothing has ever been done because we run into the impasse of constitutional problems or non-agreement between provinces. We were attempting to ensure that something gets done that will not require constitutional change.

While the member opposite has said that we have a hidden agenda to abolish the Senate, I would point out that is clearly not true. We said that we needed significant democratic reform but if that cannot be achieved, then abolishment should take place.

The reason that our minister spoke of going to the people to allow them to express their wishes on who they wish to see representing them in the Senate is primarily democratic in its nature.

I would point out to the member opposite a number of examples of how the appointment process that we currently have has worked over the course of Canadian history. This has been on both sides of the House. I admit that both Conservative and Liberal prime ministers in years past have shown patronage when it comes to Senate appointments.

However, could the member answer this simple question? Does he think it is fair that in the course of history, for example, Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, a Liberal prime minister , in his 15 years in office, appointed only Liberals and no other Senate members from any other political party? Mackenzie King, another Liberal, in 22 years in office he appointed 103 senators and all but 2 were Liberals. St-Laurent, in 9 years in office, appointed 55 senators and all but 3 were Liberals. Finally, on a yearly basis, Lester Pearson, in only five years in office, appointed 39 senators and all but one were Liberals.

Does the hon. member think that is democratic, fair and truly represents the diversity of opinion in this great country?

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, the amplification system may not be working. I think the member was talking about recent government appointees to the Immigration Review Board and the Employment Insurance Umpire Board, who I think were 100% Conservative appointees.

However, if I heard him talk about Senate appointees, I make no apology for prime ministers and parties who were in this place 100 or 150 years ago. In some of those years, women were not allowed to vote. There was hanging in this country. It was not the country that it is today. I do not know where that is coming from.

I am suggesting that the government ought to speak to its provincial counterparts. It ought to come back with a bill that is destined to deadlock between the two Houses. That member may find himself some day in an argument with some senator, elected or selected from Saskatchewan, who claims that because he had a province wide election he has a lot more clout than that member and whatever he says in the Senate is more important. I am not saying that is good or bad. They work it in the United States but they have had a history of a powerful bicameral government. We have not had that history. The Senate was designed to safeguard provincial interests but it was not given the power that this House has.

Does the bill mean that the two Houses would be on a collision course and that you, Mr. Speaker, would be a much less powerful person in this country? I hope not.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said yesterday, right off the top, I am not very happy to speak in a debate about Motion No. 3, which would send a message to the Senate about its work on Bill C-2. I would rather have spoken about a bill that the government had introduced to increase its assistance to the manufacturing and forestry industries. If they had done that, we could have been dealing with problems that are much more urgent for our fellow citizens than Senate reform.

In any case, though, this reform does not pass muster in our view. As I said yesterday in the debate on Motion No. 3, we think the Senate is a political institution that is not only undemocratic but in the modern era has lost its very reason for being. It is simply a vestige of colonial times and the British monarchy. For these fundamental reasons we will oppose referring it to committee before second reading.

I think we would have opposed it even after second reading because we are opposed to the very principle underlying this bill. Its purpose is to reform an institution that, in our view, is no longer relevant if it ever was. There is no point trying to amend a bill in some way when it is so unacceptable in content and form and when no amendments could possibly make it acceptable. We will therefore vote against referring this bill to committee.

We disagree with the very principle of this bill because it is obvious in our view—and Canadian and Quebec history make it crystal clear—that Canada’s institutions cannot be reformed. By trying to reform the Senate through bills rather than a constitutional amendment, the Prime Minister is confirming something that was already evident to many people in Quebec. For Quebec sovereignists, of course, it is impossible in any case to make significant changes to the Canadian constitution, even more so when taking into account the national reality of Quebeckers.

It is also deeply shocking to see the Conservative government and the Prime Minister bring in bills with which not only the Bloc Québécois but also the National Assembly of Quebec have said they disagree. This is true of both Bill C-20 and Bill C-22, the latter dealing with a redistribution of seats in the House of Commons.

Each time, it is clear that behind these changes—I am not even talking about reforms, because I think the word “reform” has a positive connotation—there is never any will to take into consideration the existence of at least two nations within the current Canadian political space: the Quebec nation, which was recognized by this House, the Canadian nation, which we readily recognize, and, of course, the first nations and the Acadian nation.

I think this has been the problem since Canada was created, and is why Canada's political institutions cannot be reformed. I am obviously talking about the lack of will from the majority of this political space, meaning the Canadian nation, to recognize, and not just by a motion in this House, the existence of several nations within the Canadian political space.

I could talk about the history, but not this morning. At certain points in the history of Canada and Quebec, it would have been possible to mutually recognize two nations and to recognize the first nations and the Acadian nation, in order to build a political structure representative of this multinational space. Unfortunately, the past, and also more recent history—for example, the Charlottetown accord and the Meech Lake accord—has shown us that there was not a broad enough will, yet alone a majority, within the Canadian nation to change the political balance and reflect this reality.

Unfortunately, the current Parliament seems to be the perfect example of the crisis in the Canadian system. I am not talking about the Bloc Québécois, because we chose to represent the Quebec nation in the House of Commons. I am talking about the political parties that call themselves national, but should call themselves pan-Canadian, the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party and the NDP.

Those parties all have essentially regional foundations: the Conservatives, more in the west; the Liberals, in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces; and the NDP, a bit everywhere. They are not yet sufficiently entrenched in a region of Canada to claim to be pan-Canadian parties. It is not their fault. Quite simply, no one has wanted to recognize this multinational dimension in the past.

The Quebec-Canada relations crisis is not a crisis for the people of Quebec. It is a crisis in the Canadian system, with ups and downs, since history is never linear. It is very clear that, as long as people fail to grasp this reality—and in the case of the Bloc and Quebec sovereignists, we will take this reality into account as soon as Quebec decides to become a sovereign country—we cannot resume discussions with our Canadian neighbours to reorganize an economic space, at least, and perhaps a political space between our two nations.

That being said, within the existing political space, considering the mindset of Canadians, it is obvious that Canadian institutions cannot be reformed. This situation will certainly not be corrected by trying to reform the Senate, especially since Bill C-20 is aimed primarily at marginalizing the Quebec nation more than anything else.

I was saying that we are against the bill because Canadian institutions cannot be reformed. Indeed, in our view, the very spirit of the bill is unacceptable. Nevertheless, there is also the fact that Parliament cannot reform the Senate unilaterally and without making constitutional amendments. As many constitutionalists have said, the National Assembly has confirmed, and Quebec's Minister for Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs, Mr. Pelletier, has said on many occasions, any attempts to change the composition or the method of appointing senators would require a constitutional negotiation. Obviously, for us as Quebeckers, and especially for sovereignists, a constitutional negotiation will not be held on the Senate question alone, since it is far from our primary concern. We often even forget that that institution exists.

It is therefore very clear to us that the bill as it now stands cannot be acceptable to Quebec or to anyone who wishes to abide by the Canadian constitution.

I often find it amusing—it should make me cry, but I tend to be an optimist—to say that the only people who try to ensure that we abide by the Constitution in this House are the Bloc Québécois. For example, when we talk about respecting the jurisdiction of the provinces or combating the federal spending power, we are unfortunately the only ones who stand up for what was set out in a document that may, in fact, be too old, because it does not reflect the present-day reality of the Canadian political space.

The fact remains, however, that as long as the Constitution has not been amended and as long as we are within the Canadian political space, Quebec, Quebeckers and the Bloc Québécois will stand up for the idea that there can be no amendments relating to the specific method by which senators are appointed without constitutional negotiations. Once again, on the question of constitutional negotiations, when that door—some would say that Pandora's box—is opened again, very clearly there will be other matters to be brought in besides mere questions about the Senate.

There is a fourth point that I think it is important to make. Even if it is reformed, the Senate is a useless institution, as I said earlier. It is a legacy of the monarchy, a legacy of British colonialism; it is the fear that the founders of the Canadian political space had of seeing a sovereign people make decisions through elections and elected representatives.

So they appointed these wise and elite people, who are often conservative. I am not speaking here to Conservatives as such. We are talking about elites who often wanted to oppose the desire for social and economic progress felt by a majority of the population. That is true for Quebec and it is also true for Canada.

I will conclude on that point because I have been told that my speaking time will soon be up. The bill itself is full of problems, even though it might have been thought to have some value.

Under Bill C-20, given that indirect election of senators is not going to make the Senate democratic, we are creating senators whom it will be virtually impossible to unseat. This is a non-binding consultation and it is full of holes.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask my colleague what will happen if the context of this bill is respected. However, I will speak in English for greater clarity.

The government seems to have this old, broken down jalopy called the Senate which barely functions. There are 14 vacancies which Canadians seem unconcerned about. My constituents in British Columbia are consistently confused as to the Senate's actual role and what value for money Canadians receive for the work done in the Senate.

Rather than change the entire car or fix its engine, the government bill proposes to change the paint or to put more air in the tires, yet the car still will not function. The car still will not function to get the work of the country done.

What would my colleague suggest is a more fundamental approach? The NDP has a very clear and long-standing position on abolition of the Senate, moving toward something a lot more effective. Is his party in support of such a position or does he feel there is another avenue that would more fundamentally address what is wrong with that place? What better way is there to address the democratic deficiencies that we have pointed out from all four corners of the House?

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question. I think I was very clear when I spoke: the Bloc Québécois believes that the Senate is an institution that is no longer relevant. In my opinion, it never really was relevant. I closed my remarks by stating that it was a counterweight that the elite had put in place at the time to minimize the role of the House of Commons. In this regard, we are for abolition.

Having said that, we must realize that abolishing the Senate will require starting up constitutional negotiations. Quebec and the sovereignists in particular will not debate just the issue of the Senate. When the Senate was created, there was a balance created between Quebec and Canada by the composition of the Senate. When the Senate no longer exists—and I agree with the member's criticisms—we will have to ensure that the Quebec nation has effective representation within the federal institutions of the House of Commons. That is not necessarily the case with the presence of Quebec senators in the Senate. We will have to ensure that this nation, with the proposals of Bill C-22, will not have its representation drastically reduced.

Therefore, we say yes to abolition, but we have to realize that constitutional negotiations will be required and that these will deal with many more issues than just the Senate. I wish us good luck. As we know, all constitutional negotiations in the past 30 years have ended in failure. As a footnote in history, the Bloc Québécois was born out of one of these constitutional failures, that of Meech Lake.