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House of Commons Hansard #106 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was code.

Topics

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 81(18), a recorded division on the motion stands deferred until later today.

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Provencher Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews ConservativePresident of the Treasury Board

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Vote 1, in the amount of $58,467,000, under PARLIAMENT — The Senate — Program expenditures, in the Main Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2009, be concurred in.

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate relating to the main estimates for the Senate.

I am glad that the New Democratic Party raised this matter because it draws attention to a very important issue, the need for Senate reform. The government clearly agrees that the Senate cannot stay as it is. Certainly, we understand the sentiment of those who support immediate abolition, as the NDP does and as that party is attempting to achieve through this supply motion, because the Senate is far from the effective institution that it should be. However, the government wishes to take a constructive approach. We support reforming the Senate. Only when it becomes clear that reform is not possible should abolition be pursued, but clearly, the status quo is not acceptable.

Canadians have made it clear that they want change. They no longer have confidence in the Senate as currently instituted and they do not regard it as a legitimate democratic institution appropriate to this millennium. Over the past few years, the consistency in polling results on Senate reform has been quite remarkable. Canadians consistently support either the direct election of senators, or alternatively, that there should be consultations on Senate appointments. For example, an Angus Reid poll just last month indicated that 60% of respondents supported the direct election of senators.

We have listened to Canadians and this government has made it a priority to renew and improve our democratic institutions so that we can have a stronger, better Senate.

A strong and united Canada requires federal parliamentary institutions that reflect democratic values in which Canadians in every region of this country can have confidence and faith.

This is why our government has taken concrete action to develop a practical and achievable plan to reform the Senate. Canadians are aware of the difficulties of an in-depth constitutional reform. That is why the government has adopted an incremental approach that will produce immediate results.

In particular, the government has introduced Bill C-19, concerning Senate tenure, and Bill C-20, which would provide for consultations with the Canadian public concerning appointments to the Senate.

Unfortunately, our efforts thus far have been stalled and obstructed in the Senate, demonstrating to Canadians that the Liberals in the Senate refuse to change.

Bill C-19 to limit the terms of senators to eight years of course was originally introduced in the Senate as Bill S-4. In the Angus Reid poll that I referred to earlier, 64% of respondents indicated they support limiting the terms of senators to eight years. In fact, the Leader of the Opposition at one time actually supported Senate term limits of only six years. He is on the record supporting those six year term limits.

However, even though we knew this strong popular support existed before the Angus Reid survey, and even though the Senate Special Committee on Senate Reform confirmed the constitutionality and goals of the bill, as did numerous constitutional experts, the Senate killed the bill by refusing to allow it to go to third reading, unless it was first referred to the Supreme Court of Canada.

This was definitely an unprecedented move on behalf of the Senate, and I would even go so far as to say that the senators who opposed the bill shirked their responsibilities as parliamentarians.

And it is a perfect example of why Senate reform needs to happen. It also shows the difference between the approaches of the government, the Liberals and the New Democratic Party.

The Liberal Party seems determined to maintain the status quo with regard to the Senate and thereby to maintain the entitlements that go along with an antiquated, undemocratic method of appointing senators.

The New Democratic Party, to its credit, recognizes that there is a problem, but the solution offered by the NDP is to simply give up, to stop trying.

As I have demonstrated, the government's approach is to listen to the people who continue to demand reform.

I believe that Bill C-20 is another important bill that responds to Canadians' desire for fundamental reform.

If the bill on Senate tenure is a modest step towards the renewal and modernization of the Senate, the Senate appointments consultation bill will allow us to address a much more serious problem, that of democratic legitimacy.

The government's view is that it is utterly unacceptable that in this, the 21st century, and in a federal country such as Canada that prides itself on its democratic values, democratic values that we promote abroad as an example to others, that we have a chamber in our Parliament that lacks fundamental democratic legitimacy. This lack of democratic legitimacy in the Senate impairs its ability to act effectively as a legislative body that plays a meaningful role in the federal parliamentary process.

The Senate consultations bill is a positive step toward correcting this problem. It provides a means for Canadians to have a say in who represents them in what would finally be their Senate.

I find it hard to understand how anyone can disagree with that basic proposition. How can anyone argue that it is okay for a prime minister to consult with friends and family, MPs and party organizers about who should get a good plum spot in the Senate, but not be able to ask Canadian voters for their opinion on who should represent them in their Senate?

Senate reform has proven to be difficult. But that does not mean that we should quit before we have even begun.

Canadians expect more from their government, and with good reason.

Senate reform has already proved to be a difficult task in no small part because of the negative attitude of Liberal senators and the Liberal Party toward improvement and change. However, I still believe it is important that we make every effort to improve this institution before resorting to move forward with abolition.

Therefore, I cannot support the NDP in its efforts at this time to withhold supply to the Senate. Rather, I call upon the NDP to join us in achieving real reform by supporting the government's proposed Senate reform legislation. In other words, let us respond to the desire of Canadians and work toward achieving a modern, democratic Senate.

If the NDP members want to engage in a democratic exercise to abolish the Senate, I invite them to introduce a private member's bill, to hold a referendum and ask Canadians if they want to keep the Senate as it is, to democratize it, or to simply abolish it. That open public debate is the democratically legitimate way to approach abolition, not a back door tactic such as we see tonight through a supply motion.

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague. We have certainly clashed on almost every issue under the sun, although I do not know which hockey team he supports.

However, I think he would agree with me that part of the problem in our dealings with the Senate is it is a group that is defiant, militant and belligerent in its refusal to meet the most basic elements of reform. We have tried many times to drag this group out of the swamps of cronyism and into the 21st century in terms of democratic obligation. Yet it seems continually to refuse the most basic steps forward. Part of the reason for this motion, is to put pressure on it.

We have clear conflict of interest guidelines as members of Parliament. If one is a municipal councillor, one has very clear conflict of interest guidelines. There is transparency and accountability. If one is a school board trustee, as I was in a rural region, there are very clear obligations in terms of pecuniary interest.

Yet senators can sit and participate in a debate when they have financial interest in it. Senators do not have to disclose that. Senators can sit on the boards of directors of income trusts or telecommunications companies and participate in debates where laws are made regarding these.

Family members of senators do not need to disclose any financial dealings with government unless there is a direct contract. Senators are allowed to participate in debates where their family members have personal private interests. Most of all, members of Parliament and cabinet ministers must disclose their bank accounts. Senators do not have to this. They have been defiant in their refusal to meet the most basic conflict of interest guidelines that any other democratically elected person, whether it is on town council or a member of Parliament, has to meet.

I understand the government is trying to take these steps to reforming 141-year-old anachronism, but time and time again we see this body absolutely refuses to be accountable and transparent in a 21st century democracy. How can we get those simple reforms through this group? Does he have any ideas how this could be achieved, other than us putting the question to the Canadian people about simply getting rid of this anachronism?

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated in my comments, I agree with much of what my friend has just said and invite him to take that step, as I said in my address, of putting the question to the Canadian people.

Undoubtedly the issues of conflict of interest and accountability existing in the Senate are ones that concern us. We have a very different set of standards in the House of Commons. We would like to see a similar kind of ethical standards applied in the Senate.

However, it is beyond our reach. It is an appointed body, unaccountable and largely Liberal dominated. Thus far it has resisted those kinds of changes in accountability that we would like to see, although it did not hesitate to get involved in dealing with the Federal Accountability Act.

What is more remarkable is our efforts to reform and change the Senate in some ways face another legislation coming out of the Senate, which seeks to make it harder for that change to happen. Believe it or not, it is a bill being put forward by a senator to make patronage appointments to the Senate mandatory and to compel the Prime Minister to make them now. It is hard to believe that exists, but it comes from a Liberal senator, so it is not entirely surprising.

We have indicated our strong resistance and opposition to that. I hope when it comes over to this chamber, our friends in the New Democratic Party will join us in opposing that measure. It is bad enough we have a Senate chamber that continues to be dominated by a single party, the Liberal Party, which has used it for its own benefit, to reward its activists, its fundraisers, its political campaign organizers, and has resisted any democratic change. However, to make mandatory that further patronage appointments have to be made now would help ensure that further efforts at reform down the road would take that much longer to legitimately democratize the Senate. We want to see it democratized. We want to see it reflect 21st century democratic values.

We would be happy if it represented 20th of 19th century democratic values. The fact is it is an institution more reflective of the 18th century, the time of aristocrats and noblemen. That is not the Canada of today. This is not the democracy of which we are proud, and we want to see that change.

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak to the motion. The heart of this motion is a cry from parliamentarians for accountability and transparency, as I said in my earlier remarks, for a body that has been defiant in its refusal to be accountable to the Canadian people.

When we talk about democratic reform in the Senate and where to take the upper House, we have to look back at the roots. It is not as if the Senate ever went wrong somewhere along the way. The Senate was founded on fundamentally wrong principles.

If we look back 141 years, when Canada was a fledgling community and it was still very much under the colonial influence of mother England, the belief in England was that commoners could not be allowed to have too much control. There had to be someone of peerage and title above them who could temper the vote of the common people. That belief was similar in Canada at the point the Senate was developed.

The difference in Canada was it did not have a history of the peerage system. It had the swamps of cronyism. The belief then was we had to put in a body that could be chosen from the backrooms of political parties, the hacks, the friends, the pals and the bagmen, to limit the ability of elected members who represented the common people.

One of the great myths and mistruths of what the Senate perpetuates today is that the Senate represents the rights of minorities. John A. Macdonald, as a founding father, said that we needed the Senate to be there for minorities. We will hear this from senators all the time, but they never say the second part of Sir John A. Macdonald's statement. He said, “We need a body to represent the rights of minorities”, because there will always be more poor people than rich people. That is why the Senate was put in place. It was not there to represent minorities as we understand it today. It was to represent the minority view of the rich so there could be a counterbalance to democratic voice.

Ever since then, we have been on the wrong path. The problem with democratic reform of the Senate is we have a body that simply will not allow itself to be reformed. I can understand my colleagues in the Conservative Party. They are certainly making attempts to find a way to reform and work through this Gordian knot of self-interest, but, at the end of the day, I believe the latest attempts will fail like all other attempts have failed. The fact is nobody, in 141 years, has asked the Canadian people what they think.

Many things have changed since 1867 in terms of representation and counterbalance to the weight of Parliament. Provincial governments have much stronger responsibilities. The number one relationship most Canadians have with government would be with their provincial government, not so much the federal government. The relationship between the provincial and federal governments has changed dramatically.

Then there are the courts. When we talk about the role of defending minorities, I have yet to see the Senate play any role. Yet the courts are clearly playing a very strong role as a counterweight to Parliament.

We have four levels of government right now. Do we need another level of unaccountable, unelected people who simply refuse to meet the most basic requirements?

So the folks back home will have a bit of a sense of what we are paying for, we are talking about the money we are spending year after year on an unelected, unaccountable group of senators who can sit in the Senate until their 75. Whether they show up or do not show up, whether they work or they do not work, they are there in perpetuity, maybe because some of them flipped pancakes for the Liberal Party for 30 years and were considered perfect people to be sober second thoughts for the democratic voice of the House.

Last year the Senate sat 62 fewer days than the House of Commons. Many senators missed at least a third of a session. Where else can people miss work day after day and still receive a paycheque? In the Senate. Senators do not have to worry about constituencies. When MPs are not in Parliament, they have to go back to meet their constituents and work for them. Senators do not have to do that.

That is nothing to disparage. There are very good senators and less good senators. but the difference is, at the end of the day, members of Parliament, whether lazy, brilliant, good or bad, have to go back to their people. They have to get the seal of approval from the people, and some great members of Parliament have lost their seats over the years. Senators do not have to do that.

Since 1993, the gross pay of senators has increased 70%. Senators get paid for working 30% fewer days than members of Parliament. Senators are allowed to miss 21 days without a penalty and this does not include the times that they are out working for the party during elections.

In my riding we talk about the senator is there for regional interests. I have the great Frank Mahovlich, I say great because he was number 27 and from Schumacher. The only times I get to see Frank in my riding is during elections, when he comes up to try to have me defeated. I do not know if he is on the Senate dime or not.

I will not mention the former Montreal Canadien who the Liberals brought up as well to have me defeated. The press asked me why, in the middle of elections, the Liberals were bringing up hockey players. I said that whenever their campaign started to go south, they were clearly had to rely on hockey players. I said that if the press ever saw them bringing Kenny "The Rat" Linseman into Timmins—James Bay in the middle of an election, it would know I was in trouble. I expect the next time I will see Frank is probably in the next election.

However, this is the big issue and this is where we have to be serious. Senators have phenomenal conflict of interest guidelines that allow them latitudes that would never be allowed even at the lowest municipal level or school board level. For example, they can sit as the heads of a board of directors of major corporations and still vote on issues in which they have a pecuniary interest. This is simply appalling in the 21st century. It is not accountability.

Senators are sitting on the boards of income trusts and telecommunication companies, where these issues are being debated and being brought forward to the Senate. This is not the kind of democracy and accountability that Canadians expect.

There is a whole list of senators, such as the hon. Michael Meighen who sits as a director and trustee on 25 different companies and trusts. He still gets paid, he still comes in and he is supposed to discharge the business of the country. That is perfectly okay when people are senators because they do not have to disclose their financial interests. They can participate in closed camera sessions, as senators, and as long as they tell their pals in the Senate that they have a pecuniary interest, they can participate in the vote.

As I said earlier, I was a rural school board trustee and we were not allowed to discuss any contract that had to do with hiring or firing of anyone, whether it was custodial or teachers, at a school board in Ontario. If any of us had a relative anywhere in the province of Ontario working in any school board in any capacity, we were not even allowed to talk about the contracts. These are the rules in place for small town school board trustees, yet senators sit on private health consortiums and talk about the future of health care. Whenever the Liberal Party gets whatever private member's bill on income trusts through the House, we will have senators who represent income trusts voting on that.

I do not think that passes the smell test for accountability and transparency in the 21st century. Therefore, we have a real problem. We have a body that simply refuses to reform itself.

Our colleagues in the Conservative Party would like to find other ways to do it, but we all have to deal with the fact that we have a very large mountain that is so high we cannot get over it, it is so low we cannot get under it and it is so wide we cannot get around it. It is the constitutional limitations on our ability to actually reform that.

The response of the New Democratic Party is quite simple. After 141 years of cronyism and patronage, we say put the question to the Canadian people. Why not let the Canadian people say what they think should be the future? That would certainly guide provincial leaders, if we saw a clear movement to say we have had enough of this, we do not need this in a 21st century democracy. I think it would actually impel our provincial leaders to come together and then move forward to the real steps of reform.

As much as I understand where the Conservatives are coming from on trying to reform this bunch, at the end of the day, we will end up in court. At the end of the day, we will have a Senate simply refusing to grow up and take responsibility as accountable citizens. The reality is they are not accountable because they are appointed. Always at the end of the day, they are friends of the party. In the 21st century we have to move toward a better standard of democratic involvement.

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my friend a few questions. I know he has an aversion to great hockey players. I have heard that story a number of times.

On a serious note, he has ended his comments by saying that this matter will end up in court. I want a clarification. The issue of Senate reform or the amendment of the Constitution will ultimately end up in court, at least that is how I read his answer.

Earlier in his comments, he talked about four levels of government. I do not know if he was including the Senate as the fourth or the courts as a level of government. I am not clear on that.

My question, in pith and substance, is this. With regard to the role of the courts, does he see that an amendment of our Constitution is inevitable, arising from the process that the Minister for Democratic Reform has put before the committee with Bill C-20, and will put before a committee with Bill C-19?

Does he not agree that a reference to the Supreme Court would probably be the only answer to the question of whether these bills are constitutional? Does he at least agree on process?

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, to give my hon. colleague two straightforward responses, when I talk about four levels of government, I am talking about municipal, provincial, federal and now we have the upper House. On top of that, we also have the courts which play a very large role. How governed do we need to be in this country, especially when members of one level of government, as I said, are friends of the party?

In terms of the question of these attempts, these baby steps, by the Conservative Party, the conundrum is that it cannot actually move to the electing of senators, because that will trigger a constitutional challenge, so it has set up a consultation process.

The problem with this process, at the end of the day, is that participatory democracies in any country in the western world, in fact anywhere in the world right now, recognize that there is no such thing as a consultation for an election. We are either elected or we are not. We cannot ask people if they think these six candidates might be good, and then it is at the desire of the Prime Minister whether to accept them or not. That simply does not pass the smell test.

When we talk about democratic reform, we are dealing, I think unfortunately, with the old Reform Party, but not democratic. Democratic has to be a voting proposition. It has to be mandatory. It cannot be at the whim of the Prime Minister. That is the problem. That would trigger the constitutional challenge.

I get back to the Gordian knot that we are facing. It is an outrageous situation we are in that Canadians cannot have reform of the Senate without it becoming a major constitutional challenge. It will basically return us to the old status quo, which is that friends of the Liberal Party and friends of the Conservative Party, who have done favours over the years, get dumped in the Senate.

We are in a real conundrum, so I understand where the Conservatives are coming from, but at the end of the day, if it is to be truly democratic where these elections are binding, we will end up with a constitutional challenge.

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by saying that as far as I know there are no famous hockey players campaigning against me in the next election, that I know of yet. I would hate to face that prospect, to be quite blunt. It might be worse to be campaigned against by a famous ex-rock star, one never knows.

In New Brunswick, one of the four provinces that was part of our Confederation from the beginning, the issue of Senate reform has been topical over the years. I do remember, as a younger person, being involved in Meech Lake and having the then premier of New Brunswick, Frank McKenna, ultimately be a very ardent supporter of the Meech Lake process.

I remember as well the Charlottetown accord process, when I was first elected to municipal politics, and I remember that being a period of interesting consultation, with the voters and the provinces, with respect to Senate reform and constitutional reform in general.

What strikes me, as I begin the comment on the supply issue, is that I do think that both the Conservative Party and the NDP are being a bit sneaky, frankly, with their stances and I will explain that very clearly. The NDP, if it is as true to its convictions as it pretends to be, ought to open every session of Parliament with a private member's bill, a motion, or, perhaps with their new bed fellows often the government, a bill which calls for the abolition of the Senate.

It is one thing to say that we are continuously and regularly against the abolition of the Senate, but it is another thing to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. The NDP should in fact bring a vote for abolition, but it does not do that. It does this tonight, ladies and gentlemen of the public might want to know, it does it on a supply day.

The NDP members say that it is almost like the baby is coming, but we are not going to buy a crib for the baby. What they are really saying is that they will not fund the Senate, but they did not have the guts, it was not on their agenda. I am not accusing the member for Timmins—James Bay of not having guts or not making it his continual priority, but maybe he cannot get through to the leader to make it a priority to abolish the Senate. Maybe that is the case.

However, the fact is that we are standing here tonight discussing whether all of the departments of government should be funded, and the funding in question in this motion is the Senate, whether the Senate should be funded. If it is not funded, it dies. It cannot function.

That is a little sneaky. The real big sneak though is the government. The Minister for Democratic Reform, through his prepared text, would have Canadians believe that his party's sensible piecemeal approach, Bill C-19 and Bill C-20, of various ways to reform the Senate, are as a result of their consultation with the people of Canada and that is what the people want.

I do not know about that. If we want to talk about what the people want by virtue of polling, which is what he referred to, then really what we are talking about is the disrespect that Canadians now have in the honesty of the government. The government is falling in its credibility and honesty.

I think they will see that what the government is trying to do is to appease parts of Canada, and particularly western Canada that has in fact been underrepresented in the Senate of Canada since its inception and since the joining of provinces into Confederation, by promising them and their leaders in provincial capitals and movements like western think tanks and that sort of thing, promising them gradual reform but as an end game hoping that the gradual reforms do not work.

Then the end game for the Conservatives and the Minister for Democratic Reform is to do one of two things, I suppose, do what I think a vast majority of his caucus wants him to do, which is to join with the NDP and abolish the Senate. That would centralize the power of the governing party in the one house, the unicameral house.

There are very few unicameral houses in western democracies. Most evolved western democracies have bicameral systems, two houses: the congress and the senate, the senate and the people's house. That is generally the way these things work. So, he would be alone on that one but maybe that is what the government House leader wants. Maybe, however, he wants to fill the Senate with the people that he wants.

He said earlier that the only reason the vacancies have not been filled is because the government did not want to make patronage appointments. I do not know if that is an admission that Michael Fortier, the current senator, was in fact a patronage appointment. We heard some backtalk that it was necessary because we needed a minister from Montreal and he would run at the next available opportunity.

I do miss some press stories, but I have not seen Michael Fortier, the senator, run in any byelection in Quebec that was called recently. I think he is probably not going to present himself in a byelection and, therefore, the government's ruse in saying that it had to appoint someone to have representation really was false, as well.

Bills C-19 and C-20 are a furtherance of the government's disingenuousness with respect to achieving reform of the Senate, to which it pays lip service. That is because, despite the fact that a couple of eminent professors support, in the case of Bill C-20, Senate reform with respect to the election or selection of senators, the vast majority of academics have come out and said they are against Bill C-20, the bill that says provinces can select names that the Prime Minister can choose or not.

The vast majority of provinces, through their attorneys general, have been against the bill. It goes to the fundamental point, and it would have been a good question had I had the opportunity to ask it of the Minister for Democratic Reform, of whether the real public consultation that he seeks with the Canadians would be done in focus groups and hotel rooms in predominantly Conservative ridings? Or is he afraid of consulting with the provinces?

Provincial governments, and maybe the Minister for Democratic Reform did not know that, by some of his rhetoric inside and outside the House, I am not sure he does, are elected. Premiers, MLAs and MPPs are elected by the people of the provinces and they represent those provinces.

However, the Minister for Democratic Reform has serially called a number of them into question, that is, the premiers of the provinces. He has called the premier of Ontario, I think, the small man of Confederation. These kind of epithets are not really conducive to sitting down with premiers, which his government has not done yet.

The government gave a nice meal of venison and, I think, apple pie or cloudberry pie at Sussex Drive around Christmas, but it has not sat down with provincial premiers to discuss the idea of constitutional reform, which has been very much part of our Canadian history for some time.

I do not know if the member for Toronto Centre can recall any of these times, but even in the best of times, provincial leaders and prime ministers and their federal counterpart ministers had disagreements. So, if the Conservative government is afraid of disagreement, which clearly by the way the Prime Minister runs his caucus, it is, then that is fine. Why does he not come clean with the Canadian people, why does not the Minister for Democratic Reform come clean with the people and say, “Well, we're just not meeting with any provincial governments because we think there might be disagreement?”

I think the Minister for Democratic Reform has seen through the hearings we had on Bill C-20. We had Bênoit Pelletier, the minister for Canadian intergovernmental affairs of Quebec recently before the committee. I think he has seen that there is profound disagreement with the way the federal government is proceeding with Senate reform. He knows that in my own province of New Brunswick, Premier Shawn Graham, who is responsible for intergovernmental affairs, is against the procedure. Even what he thought were erstwhile allies in the west, they have said, “Well, we don't agree with the part of Bill C-20 that says that the election modality should be federal. It should be provincial.”

The Conservatives cannot even get their allies onside. They do not want these bills to pass. They are not genuine about Senate reform. I think in lieu of this supply item, the best they can do is hide their tails and oppose it.

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I want to respond to a couple of the questions that he wished to ask me that he did not ask. First, what kind of consultation do we envisage? It is quite clear. It is in Bill C-20.

He talked about the committee. Apparently, at committee, he has not bothered to read the bill which talks about actually asking Canadians in the provinces, by way of a vote, who they would like to represent them.

What is our view in terms of provincial consultation? We are quite open to having provinces look at their own electoral processes for doing so. In fact, the Prime Minister has actually appointed a senator who was elected through such a provincial process, Bert Brown, a senator from Alberta.

In fact, it is only Conservatives who appointed elected senators. It is only Conservative prime ministers, people who have, through a consultation with the voters in their province, achieved some kind of mandate. That is the kind of appointments we will contemplate right now. Those are the kinds of appointments that would occur if Bill C-20 were in place.

My question is very simple, having posed those questions in this House, I ask my friend: Has he actually read Bill C-20?

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is not in my character, but one snippy response deserves another, so I will say to the minister, yes, I read the bill, and I wonder if the Minister for Democratic Reform knows the difference between this and going to provincial governments, asking them to come for more than a sandwich next time and sitting down with the premiers at a first ministers conference, as has been the history and the practice of every Conservative and Liberal prime minister--the NDP will never have a prime minister--to discuss the issues of the day. They have always done that and that is what I meant by consultation.

Perhaps the minister needs to read about the great old days of Meech Lake and Charlottetown. Maybe he needs to know if first ministers conferences have ever been avoided by a government. Perhaps he needs to read a little history.

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bernard Patry Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

I would like to congratulate my colleague for his presentation this evening.

I would like to ask my colleague a question about an elected Senate. It looks like the province of Saskatchewan is looking at the possibility of having an “election” for senators during the next municipal election, knowing that during a municipal election the first nations in Saskatchewan do not elect municipal mayors, aldermen or councillors.

Does my colleague think it is fair to have an elected senator without representation from that 60% of the province of Saskatchewan who are first nations?

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the member for his question.

Of course it is unfair to exclude one aboriginal group from a process that would select representatives for the entire population of a province. There are ways of going about it other than that proposed in this unfair bill C-20.

We received a submission from the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada which is opposed to the process in Bill C-20 because it is an appointment process that seeks to avoid a neighbourhood or riding system. The results would discriminate against official language minority groups, including those in New Brunswick.

I am very familiar with the situation in New Brunswick. With this system, the francophone population of that province would run the risk of not having any Acadian senators. That is unfair. The Acadian population fought electoral discrimination in the last century. The Acadian community of New Brunswick is opposed to this bill.

Why has the Minister for Democratic Reform introduced and supported a bill which runs counter to the aspirations and the hopes of the Acadian population of New Brunswick?

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

June 5th, 2008 / 7:10 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois will support the NDP in contesting the vote for the Senate, for reasons that are perhaps not the same, but I am sure they are similar in some respects.

The first reason is that, like the NDP and many Canadians and Quebeckers, we think the Senate is an antiquated institution. In particular, the fact that the representatives are not elected means that the institution's legitimacy is by no means assured. Furthermore, all of the provinces got rid of this second unelected chamber a long time ago. It is obviously a legacy left over from a time when aristocrats, the elite, were afraid of the democratic decisions of the people, and created the Senate to act as a sort of counterbalance. The Queen of England and Canada appointed people back then. The Prime Minister has since taken over that responsibility. We know that officially, it is the Governor General who appoints Senators, after hearing the Prime Minister's recommendation. Thus, it is an antiquated institution.

It is also, and this is where we differ from the NDP and other Canadians, an institution that was part of Confederation in 1867.

In 1867, it was decided that the House of Commons would proportionally represent—although it was not entirely equitable—the population of each of the Canadian provinces and that the Senate would be a counterbalance—once again, not elected, unfortunately—to represent different regions in Canada: the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, Ontario and the West. This means that abolishing the Senate would require us to reopen constitutional negotiations and reconsider the question of representation of the Quebec nation within federal institutions.

Yesterday, Benoît Pelletier testified before the legislative committee examining Bill C-20. He said that Quebec has traditionally asked to appoint its own senators using its own democratic selection process. He certainly disagreed with the fact that it is the Prime Minister of Canada who chooses the senators who will represent Quebec.

What we now have is an institution that no longer has a raison d'être, but that, in the Confederation agreement of 1867, represented a counterbalance to Canada's changing demographics. In that respect, clearly, while we in no way approve of the Senate as an institution, we would like to remind the House that its abolition would force renewed constitutional negotiations to give the Quebec nation a presence and significant authority within the federal institutions.

I will not hide the fact that my preference would be for Quebec to escape from the shackles of Canada and have its own democratic institutions. We can now very easily imagine the National Assembly being complemented by a house of the regions. All possible scenarios are being studied at this time within the sovereignist movement. But until sovereignty is achieved, the people can be assured—and the Bloc Québécois has made this its first priority—that the interests of the Quebec nation will be met.

I know the Conservative government has made a threat in that respect. It has said that if the recommended changes to the Senate are not accepted, it would abolish the Senate. It is not that simple, as we all know, and as I just pointed out. Negotiations could be held, however, under the rules set out in the Canadian Constitution. As I have often said, and yesterday I reminded Benoît Pelletier, Quebec's minister of intergovernmental affairs—who was appearing before the legislative committee—that we are the only ones, that is, Quebec and the Bloc Québécois are the only ones trying to ensure respect for the Constitution of 1867 in this House.

It must be ensured that the results of these negotiations respect the political weight of the Quebec nation, as they will entail the enforcement of rules from amendments in the 1982 Constitution—that is, seven provinces representing 50% of the population.

Quebec has made its opinion known. We want 24% of the members of this House to come from Quebec, no matter the distribution of seats. For example, we are currently studying Bill C-22, which would increase the number of seats in Ontario and two western provinces. This increase, which is completely legitimate in light of demographic changes, will diminish the relative political weight of the Quebec nation. We find that unacceptable.

The Quebec nation must maintain 24% of the political weight in this House as long as Quebeckers decide to stay within the Canadian political landscape. I have no problem with increasing the number of seats in the west or in Ontario to reflect demographics. But I do not agree with marginalizing Quebec through that increase. I am not the only one to say so. The Bloc Québécois has said it, and the National Assembly unanimously passed a motion in this regard.

That leads me to the second reason why we support the NDP's opposition to the vote regarding the Senate, namely the manner in which the Conservative government, the Prime Minister and especially the Leader of the Government are going about their so-called reform, which does not alter the main characteristics of the current Senate with Bills C-20 and C-19.

They are trying to do indirectly what cannot be done directly. However, no one is being fooled. I would say that 80% of the constitutional experts who appeared before the committee—and I can assure him that there were not many sovereigntists among them—told us that the government's bills touched on the essential characteristics of the Senate and would require the reopening of the Constitution. Negotiations would require the application of the rules for making amendments set out in the Constitution Act, 1982, namely approval by seven provinces and 50% of the population.

The Conservative government wants to avoid that scenario and would like to present Quebec and Canada with a fait accompli. We will oppose this way of proceeding, as did the National Assembly. If the federal government wants to reopen constitutional negotiations to reform the Senate, Quebec will be there with the demands of successive Quebec governments.

If that happens, we will also raise the issue of the federal spending power. It is clear that the Conservative government does not really have the political will to get rid of that power. It is very clear that if Senate reform negotiations take place, Quebec will not only ensure that the Quebec nation's interests are protected, but also take on certain other irritants that are not working for Quebec, issues that the federal government refuses to address. These issues include the elimination of the federal spending power in areas under Quebec's and the provinces' jurisdiction.

The only way to be absolutely sure that the federal government will not encroach on Quebec's areas of jurisdiction is to ensure that Quebec and other provinces that want it have the right to opt out with no strings attached and with full compensation. So we say yes to reopening constitutional talks on Senate reform, but the government can expect Quebec to bring other things to the table: all of the demands of successive Quebec governments, both the sovereignist and the federalist ones.

That is what Mr. Pelletier said yesterday, and I will end on that note. The Conservative government's current plan for Senate reform is unconstitutional, it is against the Quebec nation's interests, and it is against the motions that were repeatedly and unanimously adopted by the National Assembly, most recently in May 2007. It is clear that this government's support for the motion that was passed almost unanimously in the House concerning recognition of the Quebec nation was nothing but an election ploy. Quebeckers have now realized that and condemned it.

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Windsor--Tecumseh. I would like to advise the hon. member for Windsor--Tecumseh that in about seven minutes he will be interrupted and I will put the question at that time.

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is good to know because it means I do not have to worry about responding to some of the questions that might come particularly from the Liberal side.

I rise in strong support of this motion that we have moved to undermine in a very effective way an undemocratic institution that has been foisted on the Canadian people for 141 years now.

We heard from my colleague from Timmins—James Bay the type of abuse that goes on there in terms of the senators not performing any valuable function whatsoever, or at least the vast majority of them. I recognize that some of the people who are there are decent people; they are probably the exception, but there are a few.

The reality is we believe in democracy. I believe in democracy. I believe every constituent of Windsor—Tecumseh believes in democracy and they do not believe in an unelected Senate, a Senate that has consistently, and I saw it at a very personal level very recently, gone out of its way to thwart the democratic process in this country. We saw it a number of times in the period from 2004 to 2006 when the unelected Senate, in protecting big financial interests, thwarted legislation that was designed to protect wage earners in this country where their employers went bankrupt or into receivership and where priority was given not to the labour side of the equation but all priorities were given to the capital side.

We saw repeatedly that legislation was stalled, oftentimes by Liberal Senators, so that it would expire in the course of the upcoming election. Other times legislation was amended, or it simply sat there literally for a year, or a year and a half in one case.

That is simply not tolerable in a country that prides itself on being a democratic country, one that is a beacon for democracy in the world and one with every right to be proud of that reputation, but for this blight that we have in the other chamber.

I saw it very personally and it was so offensive, the work that a cadre within the Senate did to prevent the passage of legislation to protect animals in this country. It did it repeatedly. Not once but on three different occasions the Senate has been able to manipulate the constitutional framework of this country to the benefit of a very small segment of people that it wanted to take care of. The end result is that there have not been amendments in the animal cruelty area for well over 100 years, in spite of passage of bills in this House on two separate occasions. It was the Senate that prevented that.

I looked at some of the letters and petitions that came into my office from across the country. There were two things that showed up. One was outrage that it has taken our level of government this long to deal with the issue. The other thing that showed up was a combination of shock and sadness that after all this time an unelected Senate, an unelected body, an unresponsive body to the needs of the country could thwart the votes in this House, could thwart the desire right across the country of the need for this legislation to go through.

As I said earlier, there are any number of other pieces of legislation we can look to. Inevitably when we look at legislation that has been stalled, it has always been stalled, stopped or prevented from going ahead in the Senate because members in the other place were taking care of their buddies, always, every single time. It has never been done on principle. it has never been done on ideology. It is all about whom they are going to take care of. It is always their friends. It is always the big financial interests in this country that they take care of.

Today, we have the opportunity to send a very clear message. The Bloc members are going to be with us, but I invite the Conservatives to take a look at this. Bill C-19 and Bill C-20 are not going anywhere. They have a chance here tonight to send a message to members in the other place that we are sick and tired of them, we are not going to take it any more and we are going to shut them down. There will be no more wasting money.

The Senate costs us over $90 million a year. It is not in the motion that we have before us this evening but it costs us $90 million for absolutely nothing, other than to destroy parts of our democracy.

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have great respect for the member. We have served on committees together. I know he has many more years of experience in life and at the bar than I do.

I want to ask him very plainly, does he not think that Bill C-19, Bill C-20 and any of the other bills the government is proposing with respect to Senate reform need to pass muster by way of reference to the Supreme Court of Canada or in each province, as the case may be?

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

7:25 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I just have one word: yes.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It being 7:30 p.m., pursuant to order made on Tuesday, June 3, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the business of supply.

Call in the members.