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House of Commons Hansard #98 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senators.

Topics

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, you are most generous to give me six minutes for my speech and ten minutes for questions. I will not let them go to waste.

On May 25, I spoke about Bill C-10, which aims to limit the term of senators appointed after October 10, 2008, to eight years. It would be retroactive for two years since it is now November 2010.

The Canadian Constitution is a federal constitution. Accordingly, there are reasons why changes affecting the essential characteristics of the Senate cannot be made unilaterally by Parliament and must instead be part of the constitutional process involving Quebec and the provinces.

The Conservatives want to strengthen the Constitution by ignoring the provinces and Quebec. In the late 1970s, the Supreme Court of Canada considered the capacity of Parliament to independently amend constitutional provisions relating to the Senate. According to the ruling it handed down, decisions pertaining to major changes affecting the Senate's essential characteristics cannot be made unilaterally.

In 2007, Quebec's National Assembly unanimously adopted the following motion:

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

The government has to amend the Constitution to make these sorts of changes to the Senate. The Senate itself and other issues could potentially be on the table. Quebec would be prepared to discuss an even wider range of issues, but we know that that is not likely to happen any time soon.

It would be simpler to propose that the Senate be abolished. We all know that the Senate serves only the interests of the party in power, the Conservative Party. Senators are appointed, not elected. If we were forced to keep the Senate in perpetuity, I would strongly advise that the Senate be elected and that the senators have no connection with the other parties in the House of Commons.

Senators are appointed to serve the government's interests. Let us look at my riding, for example. One of the senators lives in Sherbrooke, but he is not the senator for Sherbrooke. The senator who represents Sherbrooke does not live there. So there is a problem right from the start.

In 1867, it was probably called a senate duchy. Now, it is called a senate division. Sherbrooke is in the senate division of Wellington. Léo Housakos is the senator for that senate division. The senator who lives in Sherbrooke is Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, who represents the senate division of Lasalle.

There is no sense of belonging, aside from the basic connection the senators have with the government. I have two quick examples.

The first example concerns Mr. Housakos, a big financier who gets money for the government. The newspapers have given a fair bit of coverage to his connections in the financial community.

The second example concerns Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu from Sherbrooke. This man has suffered some devastating losses in his lifetime. He was an advocate for victims' rights and victim protection, but unfortunately, now he is an advocate for law and order and the government's “tough on crime” agenda.

We can see that this has nothing to do with real life. The senators exist only to serve the government and the party in power. To paraphrase Quebec humorist and realist Yvon Deschamps, what is the point of the Senate?

It should just be abolished.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the latter part of the member's comments. He concluded by stating that the Senate should be abolished. That would take a significant constitutional change. However, I think the member also recognizes that it is within the ability of this chamber, the House of Commons, to limit the Senate term, which was done in 1967 when it went from a lifetime term to a limit of age 75.

We are now looking at creating a proposal for an eight-year, non-renewable term. The people of Quebec support term limits. In fact, 71% of Quebeckers support a term limit of eight years. If the member would take this eight-year term limit in conjunction with our other Senate reform legislation, Bill S-8, Senatorial Selection Act, which empowers provinces to select senators any way they want, as long as it is in direct consultation with the citizens of that province, we could have a democratically elected Senate with eight-year terms.

It is pretty reasonable. The people of Quebec seem to support it. Will the member support it?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member mentioned the age limit of 75. In 1867, senators were appointed for life, which truly meant “for life”. A multitude of caricatures in various newspapers ensued over the years. It was only relatively recently that the age limit was set at 75. This is a perfect example of something that did not require the Constitution to be reopened. Nonetheless, if the Constitution were to be reopened, it would be for more reasons than just limiting Senate terms to eight years.

What exactly is the government hoping to achieve by limiting the terms to eight years and what does that have to do with the age limit of 75? Does the government want to appoint older senators with more experience?

Something does not add up. We know full well, and many agree, that this would take a constitutional change and that the government does not have the right to go over the head of Quebec and provinces.

The hon. member also referred to polls in Quebec. In fact, the majority of Quebeckers think that the Senate has no worth in its current form and even more Quebeckers are in favour of abolishing the Senate. If they were asked specifically whether they prefer an eight-year term over an age limit of 75, they would definitely say yes. However, the best move would be to abolish the Senate.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a question. Last night, there was a vote in the Senate on a bill that came from the House of Commons, which is comprised of elected officials. It was a surprise and a disaster; it was absurd. The Senate killed a bill passed by people elected by Canadian citizens.

If the Senate was able to do such a thing to a bill on climate change—critical for the environment, the economy and the future—what bill, concept or subject that is very important to Canadians will the Senate vote down next? The Senate will oppose anything at the behest of the Prime Minister.

These are the issues surrounding Bill C-10. The House must do something to improve the Senate. What we would all really like to know now is which bill the Senate will defeat next.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, the fundamental question is this: what is the purpose of the Senate? Originally, those who created our Constitution intended the Senate to be a safeguard or an element of protection. It is meant to guard against foolish decisions. There may have been some aberrations at some point. The Senate was intended to be a chamber of sober second thought, a chamber of people who could make wise decisions about whether what the House of Commons was doing was acceptable for the public.

Now, the government wants to set senate term limits. As the member said, the Senate has a specific affiliation; it has specific interests to defend, which are normally those of the government and the political party in power. Senators are appointed along party lines, with a specific affiliation. All the Senate does is support the party in power. The opposition is no longer able to strongly oppose bills that the government wants to pass. Some members give in and do not express public opposition to a bill, since the Senate would support it regardless, even if it goes against the wishes of the public.

That said, we would be better off to abolish the Senate and to find other safeguards.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has just spoken about Senate term limits; however I would like to further discuss the point raised by my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley. We are debating a bill that will be sent to the Senate. I wonder if the Senate will pass it. What guarantee is there? Changes really must be made to the Senate.

Look at what happened yesterday. We decided that a bill on climate change should move forward. Some senators did not even want to examine or discuss the bill. They voted against the will of the House.

This is troubling. Does the government really want this bill to be passed if it gets to the Senate?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thought I had addressed this in my previous statement. Clearly, we cannot be certain that the Senate will take the same direction as the House of Commons. The Senate majority makes all the difference. The goal of every successive government is to obtain a majority. Currently, the Senate must approve the decisions of the House. If the Senate blocks a bill, something is not working. If a bill is passed by a majority of the 308 elected members of the House, which is the ideal situation, the Senate should approve that bill unless the Senate finds that the bill contains fundamental technical errors that the members of the House did not see and that could be corrected through amendments by the Senate.

Given the potential for abuse, as mentioned by the hon. members of the NDP, Canada may have to look into a new way of doing things. In our opinion, the Senate should be abolished.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate term limits), raises serious questions for the House just through its very title.

Bill C-10 limits the tenure of senators appointed after the bill becomes law to one non-renewable eight-year term. At the same time, it preserves the existing retirement age of 75 for current senators. It further allows a senator whose term has been interrupted to return to the Senate and complete his or her term. The bill also contains a provision for senators summoned to the Senate after October 14, 2008, but, before the coming into force of the act, they remain a senator for one term which expires eight years after the coming into force of this act. That is just a little bit of background.

The Liberal Party has repeatedly made it clear to Canadians that we support and have a continued interest in Senate reform. We also have adamantly insisted that any such reforms must reflect sound public policy and respect our most sacred of documents, the Constitution.

It is our hope that the committee will study and amend this bill before us today and return something to this House that respects the Constitution and the role of the provinces in democratic reform.

The bill is another attempt by the Prime Minister's Conservative government to dismantle the Senate piece by piece. What needs to be clear for all of my colleagues in the House, in the Senate and all Canadians is that this is not simply a cosmetic tweak of an old but venerable institution. The legislation before us today amounts to parliamentary reform, reform that arrived today without consultation with provincial or territorial governments.

We must make no mistake that this is nothing short of another attempt by the Conservative government to unilaterally transform our system of parliamentary democracy. The government has shown a blatant contempt for the Constitution and the federation to which it speaks.

This is not the first time that the government has targeted the Senate and, by extension, Parliament, with its so-called plans for reform. This bill has come before the House on two previous occasions. We have it today in its third incarnation. Perhaps the Prime Minister and the Conservatives were thinking that three was a lucky number or that the third time would be a charm. However, it is widely accepted that three strikes also means one is out.

The bill was originally introduced in the first session of the 30th Parliament as Bill S-4. At that time, the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs proposed several amendments to the bill. Specifically, the committee proposed that the duration of a Senate term be extended from an eight year term to a fifteen year term. The reason for that is important to the principles of parliamentary democracy within our Constitution.

An eight year term for senators would allow a party that has won two consecutive majorities to appoint virtually a whole team of senators, an entire roster of senators to simply rubber-stamp the party's legislation, instead of having the Senate serve for what it is known to be, the chamber of sober second thought.

The standing committee indicated that a 15 year term would ensure a Senate possesses the experience and expertise to offer that second sober thought as envisioned by the Constitution. The committee also made the important recommendation that this bill and its incarnations be referred to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Liberal Senate caucus echoed this recommendation, asking the government to refer this bill to the Supreme Court to determine whether the legislation requires a constitutional amendment approved by seven of the ten provinces representing 15% of Canada's population, rather than a simple act of Parliament.

This legislation's history underscores the serious nature of the issue that is now before this House.

With this third attempt at parliamentary reform, the Prime Minister and the Conservative government once more betray their true feelings toward the Senate.

It seems that the Prime Minister either does not care or simply does not understand the character of the institutions he purports to be steward of. It is easy enough for the Prime Minister to flippantly say that he make the rules when he feels like saying that, but we rarely see evidence that indicates he is in fact committed to bringing forward the so-called rules in the form of sound public policy.

The Senate was established to protect and defend regional and provincial interests and rights. This was necessary to protect the regions against majority governments in the House of Commons. Now the Prime Minister is attempting to circumvent the provinces completely. This is another example of the Prime Minister ignoring the spirit of our federation.

Let it be known that contrary to Conservative spin and ideology, it is the provinces themselves that have expressed passionate concern about Senate reform. The Prime Minister prefers to forget that the provinces are our constitutional partners. Such arrogance and disregard for his provincial counterparts is neither logical nor fair.

Also let it be known that it is not only Liberal senators who have voiced concerns on the issue of Senate reform. Liberal senators and Liberal members of Parliament alike are committed to sensible and rational reforms that reflect the principles and spirit of our Constitution and fully include all provinces as equal partners with equal voices at the table.

No less than four provincial governments have publicly come forward to express their strong objection to the Prime Minister's unilateral interpretation of the Constitution and his unilateral attempt to reform our institutions. Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador have all made it clear that if they are not to be included in this discussion, they will have no recourse but to go to the Supreme Court.

If the Prime Minister insists on creating such discord through his unwillingness to hear opposing views, whether from Parliament, its committees or other provinces, how can he say he is engaged in democratic reform? How can the Prime Minister and the government stand in the House and claim, in good faith, to be undertaking these reforms in the name of democracy when the governments of the two largest provinces in Canada and the two smallest, representing more than 50% of the population of the country and three of the four regions described in our Constitution, have been flatly dismissed and ignored in their objections to these reforms?

The matter is clear. The Prime Minister and his government cannot constitutionally proceed unilaterally now as then. If the Conservative government is truly committed to fair and democratic parliamentary reforms, the Prime Minister must first ask the Supreme Court of Canada, in a constitutional reference, whether he can even undertake such authoritarian reforms. At the very least, the Prime Minister should engage the provinces in a meaningful consultation on Senate reform, as full and equal partners, and secure their consent under the terms of the Constitution.

Frankly, with the bill as it stands before us today, the Prime Minister is spitting in the eye of the spirit of the Constitution with this third time around legislation. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister seems to want nothing to do with either of these options. Here we find ourselves once again.

The House needs to remember that on July 28, 2006, all provincial premiers, through the Council of the Federation, said:

—the Council of the Federation must be involved in any discussion on changes to important features of key Canadian institutions such as the Senate and the Supreme Court of Canada.

Did the Prime Minister not get the memo, or does he simply have no interest in listening to anyone else?

I will reiterate the point I made earlier. What is being proposed here is nothing less than a full reform of our system of parliamentary democracy. Does the Prime Minister think that no one cares, or perhaps no one is paying attention? He made that mistake the last time he prorogued Parliament and we heard loud and clear what Canadians thought about that.

The Liberal Party cares. We care about the Senate because it speaks to the very core of our democracy and the principles of fairness, balance and common sense.

Let me draw the House's attention to section 42(1)(b) of our Constitution. It states, “Such constitutional amendments may not be made by acts of Parliament alone, but also require resolutions of the legislatures of at least two-thirds of the provinces that have an aggregate, at least 50% of the population”. As such, this proposed legislation represents nothing less than an attempt to change significantly the powers and the function of the Senate.

It would appear that the government has not even read the Constitution. The changes that the bill proposes are far beyond the powers granted to the Parliament of Canada. The changes proposed require a coordinated constitutional amendment, which in turn must adhere to a specific formula as set out in the Constitution.

We could have had a Supreme Court ruling long ago and have advanced Senate reform in a meaningful, constitutional way. Instead the Prime Minister has elected to simply reintroduce the same bills, the same thing over and over. Instead of listening to his constitutional partners, instead of listening to the provinces or even the Supreme Court, the Prime Minister is choosing to fill the Senate with enough of his own supporters to force his preferred Senate reforms through.

The Prime Minister has tried to present his proposed reforms, such as a change to eight-year tenure terms for senators, as modest changes that would afford no trouble to anyone.

However, as numerous witnesses have testified, this change could allow a two-term prime minister to appoint every senator in the chamber, wiping out any opposition voices to any initiative, as the government of Ontario wrote. We know that this is a common event in the country. We know that we had two Liberal governments that had more than eight-year terms. We know that we had a Progressive Conservative government that had more than eight-year terms. Again, the probability exists that in fact every senator could be of that political party persuasion.

Bill C-10, on its own, would dramatically alter the real functioning of the Senate, detracting from its traditional role as an independent chamber of sober second thought. The Prime Minister's new power to appoint every member of the Senate over eight years would significantly expand his appointment power and impair the independent functioning of the upper chamber. The result would be indeed a partisan institution with nearly co-equal powers to the House of Commons and an institution that would be more likely to exercise those powers in order to freeze or obstruct a government, creating an untenable situation.

The Government of Quebec was unequivocal in its assessment of the impact of the reforms to the Senate proposed by the current federal government. Then minister Benoît Pelletier, an acknowledged constitutional law expert, wrote, “The transformation of the Senate raises some fundamental issues for Quebec and the Canadian federation in general...The federal bills on the Senate do not represent a limited change”.

The premier of my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Danny Williams, wrote to the Prime Minister to express his government's view that the proposed Senate reform bills. He said that they:

—represent attempts to alter the Constitution of Canada so as to significantly change the powers of the Senate and the method of selecting Senators within the meaning of Section 42(1)(b) of the Constitution Act, 1982. Such constitutional amendments may not be made by acts of Parliament alone, but also require resolutions of the legislatures of at least two-thirds of the provinces that have, in the aggregate, at least fifty per cent of the population

Democracy is all about that. It is involving our constitutional partners. It is making sure that we all have a say in how our country is run, so we do not just have a House of Commons with our elected representatives, but we also have the Senate where people are appointed on the basis that they are there to serve as a sober second thought to decisions that are made in the House of Commons.

The former premier of New Brunswick, Shawn Graham, wrote:

The Government of New Brunswick has carefully considered the proposed amendment...and is not able to support this amendment in its current form....Our review of jurisprudence on this issue, contained in the attached position paper, supports the view that the provinces must give consent to any change that affects representation in the Senate.

Let it be clear. The Liberal Party favours Senate reform. We have said so time and time again, but it is reform that must come through a consultation process. It is consultation with our partners in a democracy. It is reform that reflects sound public policy and respects the Constitution.

The Conservative government continues to try to change the channel from its spending scandals by cutting back on social programs, by having a deficit of $55.6 billion, by spending money unnecessarily on the G8 and G20 and by doing things that we all know is unnecessary.

I look at an organization such as KAIROS and the money it needs. The government has ignored it and in fact has said no to it. It is an organization that has worked so well on behalf of so many people, both in our country and throughout the world.

There is a problem when we have a government that does not recognize the importance of doing what is right, but instead focuses on doing away with the Senate or ensuring there are eight year terms that will serve no one's interest in terms of the democracy of the country.

Liberals will continue to demand that the government conduct meaningful conversations with the provinces on this issue. Provinces have been heard loud and clear. They have made their concerns known. What is wrong with listening to our partners? What is wrong with acknowledging that they have a part to play? What is wrong with acknowledging how important their input is into any democracy, especially if we believe they are indeed partners in this Confederation?

What we have today is a Prime Minister who is anti-democratic, who does not believe that the provinces and the territories have a part to play. As he said, “he makes the rules”. In making the rules, he is deciding that he wants eight year terms for the Senate. If he had a majority government, he would stock that Senate with people of the same political persuasion to the point where that sober second thought, which is so important to any legislation, any decisions that we make in the House of Commons as elected representatives, would not exist anymore.

There is a serious issue here. The government needs to listen and not just assume that it has all the answers. There are people who can make a contribution. There are people whose experience and expertise are invaluable, both in the House of Commons and in the Senate.

It is true that Canadians' views of democracy have evolved since 1867. As Liberals, we are committed to ensuring that our institutions reflect those changes where appropriate.

The Senate is an essential component of Canada's constitutional democracy and we, as members of Parliament, are here because we have a commitment to improving our country through the democratic institutions of which we are privileged to be a part.

The Senate is an institution with a very proud history, an institution in which the members have done important work over the years. In fact, some of the most important reports that have been produced through the Senate and the senators who work very hard on them have been invaluable to those of us in the House of Commons who take our work seriously.

How we can just turn a blind eye to the Senate and the work it does? How we can just decide that it is not important or that the senators should serve eight year terms, thereby creating a situation where we would lose after that term people with invaluable experience, people with expertise who have so much to contribute, and want to contribute, to our country?

However, in order to do that it is our belief that we need to look at 15 year terms, not 8 year terms, where we see a change in individuals, where we do not end up with senators of all one political stripe, where we see some second sober thought. We had that intelligent debate, which used to happen when we had a Liberal majority Senate versus a Conservative majority Senate.

The Liberal Party is committed to a Senate in which the members can make valuable contributions to public life and the public good. Legislation to alter Senate term limits must keep within the spirit of this commitment.

While we are open to the committee's response to the legislation, we will only support a revised version of Bill C-10 if it reflects sound public policy and respects the Constitution.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's comments and the Liberal Party is really remarkable. In the House, it is only the Liberal Party that supports the status quo. No matter who we talk to from other parties, we all agree that change is necessary, that the Senate in its current form does not reflect the democratic values that Canadians hold dear in the 21st century. That is the debate we are having.

The government has proposed some moderate changes that are fully within the constitutional framework and the powers of this chamber to limit the length of time that a senator can be in office. Forty-five years is too long, most people would agree. The question is where to set that number, and that is what this debate is about.

The Liberal Party seems to want to have it all ways. On January 31, 2010, the leader of the Liberal Party was asked on Question Period whether he supports Senate term limits. His response was, “Do we need term limits? Yeah”. The previous Liberal critic indicated that term limits were necessary.

Combining Senate term limits and the Prime Minister's willingness to select senators through a democratic process, why will the Liberal Party not enter the 21st century like the rest of the parties in the House?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I acknowledge the question from my colleague, but again it is a case in point of a government not listening. Liberal members have said we are open to Senate reform. We said the Liberal Party is open to Senate reform. Our issue is with what the government is proposing and the fact that it does not involve any consultation process. It is not listening to the provinces. The provinces are open to Senate reform, but it is a matter of consulting and listening.

What I just heard from my colleague across the way is that he did not listen. He said Liberals are happy with the status quo when in fact we have said pointedly that we are open to reform of the Senate. We need to have an important discussion with our partners throughout this democracy, people who have expertise and experience and can make a sound contribution to this whole debate. Unfortunately, it is those people who are being ignored by the government.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am from the east coast originally, raised in New Brunswick, and one thing I am proud of is that, in 1892, New Brunswick was the first province in this country to abolish its Senate, followed closely thereafter by P.E.I. in 1893, Nova Scotia in 1928 and Quebec in 1968. Good folks took a look at that so-called place of sober second thought and said it was just not working for Canadians.

My point beyond that is, in regard to the Senate that we have to deal with, for 13 years with a Liberal government it was okay to have a stacked Senate as long as that party got to do the stacking. We have a situation where our system is flawed. Whichever party has the majority government can stack the Senate to meet its needs going forward, and that does not meet the needs of Canadians. We should just abolish the place.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I did not hear a question. It was just a comment, I expect, from my colleague.

My experience with the Senate and the good people I know certainly in the Liberal Party who have made up the Senate is that these individuals make a significant contribution to our country. They make a significant contribution because of the work they do, which is something that here in the House of Commons we are able to make use of as well.

I know the senators from my own province of Newfoundland and Labrador who I have had experience working with have done invaluable work and given invaluable service to that province and our country. Liberals believe we need to reform the Senate, but it has to be with a good, sound public policy approach, not just saying it is eight terms and that is it. Let us have the discussion. Let us look at what is available to us in terms of individuals who have so much to offer to our country.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, one thing my colleague would know is that her province of Newfoundland and Labrador has been blessed with some very good senators over the years. I think of Senator Furey, as well as Senator Rompkey, whose recent book about the Corvettes in World War II shows the quality of people we have in the Senate. I know the hon. member was a dear friend of Senator Cook, who served with great distinction.

I want to read to the hon. member a letter from the opposition leader in the Senate, Senator Cowan, which he sent to the justice minister earlier this year when the justice minister accused the Senate of killing bills. He said in the letter:

Of the five justice bills that passed the House of Commons and came to the Senate:

- two passed the Senate without amendment;

- one...was tabled by your Government in November...but not brought forward for further action...;

- one was passed with four amendments and returned to the House of Commons which did not deal with it before Parliament was prorogued; and

- one was being studied in committee when Parliament was prorogued and all committee work [was] shut down.

I want to ask the hon. member what she thinks about the government and the sort of rhetoric it has about the Senate, but in fact it is its own fault that it has not moved its agenda through both Houses of Parliament.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is because of instances such as this that the Senate gets the bad name that it does. When we have people who deliberately hold up legislation, who deliberately avoid dealing with legislation, this is what contributes to the views that some people hold of the Senate.

However, when we have people like Senator Bill Rompkey, like Senator George Furey, like former Senator Joan Cook, like Senator Cowan and Senator Joan Fraser and the list could go on, these are people who make such a significant contribution and believe in what they are doing. To them, being appointed is the same as being elected, because they know that they are there representing the people of Canada.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, this Liberal member has just demonstrated why we need Senate reform. The member just stated that being appointed to the Senate is just like being elected. That is not the case at all. Elections require accountability. Elections--

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

I did not say that. I never said that.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

The member is heckling, saying she did not say that. We will check the record afterwards. The member certainly left the impression that being appointed to the Senate is just like being elected to the Senate.

I understand the Liberal Party's zest in protecting the Senate and the status quo, and they know very well that wholesale change to the Senate would require constitutional negotiations that would never end, hence we would end up with the status quo.

We are proposing incremental changes and the Conservative Prime Minister has said that he will select whoever the people of a province select in an election. That would be a concerned Prime Minister's selection for the Senate. If the people elect an NDP member, a Liberal member, a Conservative or a member of the Green Party, that is who the Prime Minister will select. So the stacking argument that the member presents is completely undermined.

What is really astonishing during this debate is the fact that the Liberal member does not acknowledge what her previous critics have said, that term limits are needed, yet she goes on about Senate reform.

There is only one party that--

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. We must go to the answer. The hon. member for Random—Burin—St. George's.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, the member knows that the point I made is that to those senators who work very hard, their job is as important to them as ours is to us. The point is that they have a job to do, just as we have a job to do.

The problem here is that we have a government that does not even acknowledge that the senators count, that does not even acknowledge that the work they do is important, that thwarts legislation, that holds up legislation in the Senate instead of working to make sure that legislation gets passed in the best interest of all Canadians.

We have a government that has decided on eight-year term limits. If one gets an eight-year term, one can be elected for two majority governments and it can be stacked, and that is exactly where the government is coming from. As the Prime Minister has said, he makes the rules, and he wants to make the rules on everything, including the Senate, not just the House of Commons.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is with much anticipation and relish that I enter this debate on Bill C-10, regarding Senate term limits, not so much because what we have before us is something that can actually make things better for our country and for our future but because it gives me and my party an opportunity to talk about some of the worst aspects of our parliamentary system that exist right now and that need to be fixed in order to make this place better, in order to help begin the process of restoring the faith that Canadians need to have in their democratic systems.

I use the word “democratic” very specifically because all the discussion we are having here today in this democratic institution, in this House of Commons, is about some sort of historical relic, and that is what thePrime Minister used to call the Senate, an historical relic, in which being friends with the prime minister of the day is enough to get a person a job that does not end until that person is 75, which has no accountability whatsoever, no constituency at all, and uses up to $90 million a year of taxpayer money, for what purpose?

To listen to the Liberals talk about the Senate and accuse the Conservatives of stuffing the place with cronies is a bit rich. The entire history of their party seems predicated on the idea that simply being entitled is enough to gain power, that simply being connected, who one knows, is enough to have influence in the country. It is a crying shame, because at a foundation, every political movement, if it stands for nothing else, should stand for that moment when voters walk in to a ballot box and make a decision about their future and the future of their community. That is a sacred moment in our democracy.

In terms of hearing elected members in this place defend a Senate in which none of that happens and a senator simply knows somebody, I would like to read a quote. There are a number of great quotes, but a recent appointment of the Conservative government to the Senate, Senator Gerstein, said something that I think is very important for us to put into some context. On January 27, 2009, the good Senator Gerstein said:

Every one of you knows why you are here. I would ask if you might indulge me and let me tell you why I am here....

Well, I want to tell you that I do not admit to being a bagman; I proclaim it.

He does not want to admit that he has been a bagman for the Conservatives, a fundraiser, and a good fundraiser apparently; he proclaims it. He says that is why he is there, because he helped the government of the day raise money. That is why, not because of his ability to look over legislation or to think about the affairs of state, about where our country needs to go. It is because he can shake money out of the pockets of Conservative supporters better than the next guy. The Prime Minister seems to like that a lot, so he has given him this gravy train of a job. He is accountable to nobody. He gets paid $140,000 a year for doing virtually nothing if he so pleases, showing up less than 50 days to work.

Most Canadians would find this offensive, and do.

The reason we support and ridicule this particular piece of legislation is because it is tinkering around the edges of the fundamental problem, tinkering with the idea that we can somehow write on to an unaccountable place some level of accountability. We know it cannot be done this way. We are certain that when witnesses come forward and say the Constitution dictates this and dictates that, the tinkering around this $90-million slush fund that happens down the hallway is not going to enable any sort of democratic enhancement of the country.

Here is a sober second thought. There is no sobriety test when senators go into that place. There was no sobriety test last night when they took a piece of legislation that was voted on democratically here and they decided, without any debate, without any discussion at all, without any questions about a piece of legislation passed democratically, that they were just going to simply kill it.

Some of my hon. colleagues may say, “Well, so what? That is just one bill and maybe some of the Conservatives did not particularly like the bill”. To them I say, let us follow this through and talk about the future where an unelected, appointed body is able to override the democratic will of the chamber. We all come here with the bond between ourselves and our constituents that we seek through elections. We, parties and individuals, seek a mandate to do things that we hope will improve the lives of ordinary Canadians.

There is the idea that when we grind away on a piece of legislation, make changes, have studies and send that across, these folks are not going to tinker with it or smudge out a few lines; they will just kill it, and there is no recourse to that. The government says that, if it did not get its way in the elected place, it will get its way in the unelected place, and that is fine.

I ask the Conservative members to walk through what the future looks like if one of the fundamental constitutional traditions of parliamentary democracy in Canada begins to unravel, and appointed people with no accountability, no constituencies, no one to report back to, to hold them to a higher regard, are simply able to undermine laws and are simply able to veto the will of this place. What value are we getting for $90 million?

I wish it was only an irritant. I wish, for the $90 million we pour in there, that it was just a hassle once in a while. However that is not what we get. In fact, we have created a system and have allowed the system to go on existing in which we fund the erosion of our democratic principles. How utterly obscene is it that Canadians say they are paying people to go to work and undercut the work of elected members?

This allows direct control for the prime minister of the day. We know this. There is an interesting quote from a Conservative spin doctor that came out just after the Prime Minister broke the record on appointments. Canada is a relatively young country, but of many years and many prime ministers and circumstances, this Prime Minister broke the record in appointing 27 senators in one year.

A Conservative spin doctor said that we need Conservatives in the Senate who are loyal to the party, to the cause and to the Prime Minister. Notice in that list of loyalties that country was not mentioned. That is in fact what these folks are there for. That is why they got there, as Senator Gerstein has so eloquently pointed out. He says he is a bagman and proud of it, and that is how he got there. He was not just talking about himself; there are others, of course, who are there for their fundraising abilities not for their intellectual capacities or their devotion to this country.

I think we as Canadians are quite a forgiving people. We allow our politicians to make mistakes from time to time. There can be redemption. We can do something that we later regret and then correct the error.

What Canadians do not tolerate is outright hypocrisy. I will read a couple more important quotes into the record, because they are important. They are not that old, which I think is also significant.

From January 15, 2004:

Despite the fine work of many individual senators, the upper house remains a dumping ground for the favoured cronies of the Prime Minister.

Who said that? The current Prime Minister. We can only take him at his word, that in breaking the record of dumping-ground cronies he is ensuring that the system continues.

Here is another quote from a little later on, 2006:

A Conservative government will not appoint to the Senate anyone who does not have a mandate from the people.

It was “we will not”. It was not “we may not” or “we will consider”. That is as broken a promise as there can be. I think the thing that frustrates people who voted Conservative in the previous elections is that they believed these quotes, because they were so clear. They were not nuanced or subtle.

I know my Conservative colleagues sitting in the House today said similar things when the topic came up for them when they were in elections, when they were at all-candidates debates and the issue of the Senate came up. They had seen the Liberal Senate up close. They remembered the Mulroney years of stacking the Senate year after year, and they thought it was an abuse of power. I believed them. I think their constituents believed them. Certainly people who voted for them believed them, but how can they believe them now? How can they believe them now after this many years in power, having broken the record of cronyism?

Here is a last quote, which is a little older. It is from Hansard:

They are ashamed the Prime Minister continues the disgraceful, undemocratic appointment of undemocratic Liberals to the undemocratic Senate to pass all too often undemocratic legislation.

That was said by the current Prime Minister on March 7, 1996.

An appointed Senate is a relic of the 19th century. Why would the government come forward with a bill that seems to put a fresh coat of paint on an old relic and say this is brand new, this is something special?

New Democrats, because it is in our name, believe that democracy is something so fundamental that we have to fight each and every day for its survival and renewal, because democracy is not something we are entitled to. It was fought over. It was bled over for generations. Its maintenance requires us to sustain it.

There was a most egregious example just last night as we were all shocked to hear that the Senate called a snap vote. I am surprised the senators even bothered to vote. The vote was on a bill named, ironically enough, the climate change accountability act. What does the bill propose to do? The bill says we must set targets for our greenhouse gas emissions to reduce those emissions over the years and that the government must report on its plans and then report back on how those plans worked out. How offensive is that? The government would be accountable. Whether it was Liberal governments or the present Conservative government, there has been no accountability when it comes to climate change.

I can remember my Conservative colleagues railing about this when they were in opposition. They asked: Where is the accountability? Promises were made and promises were broken. This is what the act enshrined into law. It is the only climate change legislation in this place. It was, until the Senate called a vote last night and killed the entire bill.

One must think that the senators must have studied it. They had 191 days with it. They must have studied it. They must have found some fatal flaw, in their debate and discussions and hearing of expert testimony. But there was no testimony. There was no debate. There was no discussion. The senators just simply killed the bill outright with no reason given. A bunch of Liberals stayed away. A bunch of Conservatives voted to kill it, undemocratically. The Conservatives feel fine with this. It undermines all of our work. It undermines our principle of being here. It undermines the last election, the one before that and the next one. The Senate needs to be abolished.

Some will say this cannot be done, yet we know there are no senates at any of the provincial and territorial levels. But there were. In fact there were many. In 1892 New Brunswick said no more senate. Nova Scotia said it in 1928 and Quebec in 1968, in recent living memory. These provinces decided that the so-called sober second thought place was not worth the money or the time. They realized that they could actually be sober and have thoughts. They could do this. They do it all the time.

P.E.I. in 1893 and Manitoba in 1876 said no more senate. They tried senates. They had them. They were constituted. I am sure they thought they were valuable. Those with a vested interest in sitting in those senates thought they were valuable.

Is democracy any less in any of our provinces and territories? Do we concern ourselves in Ontario, P.E.I. or Quebec that democracy is somehow not being done, that sober second thought is missing and bills are going through that ought not to? Of course not.

The next question for Canadians is: If senators can do this with environmental climate change legislation, what else will they do it with? What is the next bill that the Prime Minister happens not to like but cannot win a vote here in the elected place and simply says never mind the election, because he will have the legislation killed down the hallway by his cronies, as he calls them?

The Senate seems to be the place for him to dump his cronies, his bagmen, spin doctors, past presidents of the party and failed candidates. The list is quite specific. One has to have some deep and profound and loyal connection not to country, God nor Queen, but to the Conservative Party. That is the qualification that is needed.

The government is tinkering around the edges and saying it will put limits on Senate terms. It seems to feel that if it puts an 8-year limit, the bagmen, spin doctors, past presidents and failed candidates will only get in for 8 years of patronage as opposed to the 20, 30 or 40 years of patronage. Any patronage is bad.

I remember Conservative-Reform-Alliance members all talking about the patronage gravy train that was the Liberal Party of Canada. The formation of the Reform Party was in response to the Progressive Conservative Brian Mulroney patronage. As he was leaving office, Mulroney could not sign those patronage appointments fast enough. The Reform Party was born. It had had enough. The west wanted in. It wanted some kind of accountability.

The first bill in 70 years that the Senate killed was a bill called the climate change accountability act. These are mere words now. The promises that the Prime Minister can make in the next election mean so much less.

The concern, the sadness that I have over this entire issue, is that it erodes what little faith remains in the Canadian public over what this place is meant to do. Why do they bother to vote? We all lament the low voter turnout. We all lament that young people are not getting involved enough. How can we expect any different if we allow this fundamentally hypocritical action of a government to go untested and unchallenged?

For the people who formed the Conservative Party to say that breaking the all-time record of patronage appointments is a good thing for this Prime Minister to do, spinning in their graves does not quite account for it. The Liberals lament because they could not do it first, that they were not at the trough first. That is the Liberal complaint about this whole process. The people on the list to whom the Liberals promised the Senate now have to wait supposedly until they form office, whenever that tragic day will come again.

Senators have to be loyal to the party, to the cause and to the Prime Minister, those three things.

The conflicts of interest that reign supreme in the Senate are also quite staggering. A senator can maintain his or her position on a private corporation board while also being in the Senate. I see no accountability change within this bill for that. Senators can have private interest in a bill that comes before them and not remove themselves from the discussion or from the vote. They can simply vote on it and improve their own lot in life. That is fine. As far as this government is concerned, that is okay too.

This is what we mean by putting a fresh coat of paint on an old broken-down car. It is still broken down. To put a splash of paint on it, say it is new, that the grievances have been fixed, is one thing, but to allow the inherent conflicts of interest to exist within the body and not change those, it seems to me, and to everybody else, is mere tokenism.

Again, Canadians can suffer much and have been asked to suffer much from their elected governments, with the switches, flip-flops and changes of mind. The current government will not allow a free and fair debate on extending a dangerous mission in Afghanistan for another three years. Canadians have been asked to suffer a lot.

When a party campaigns explicitly on accountability, transparency and reform of the place, and then comes in and does this, and says “trust us for another mandate”, then Canadians can be forgiven for doubting. They will doubt and they must doubt because the evidence is before us.

Many of us believe in climate change, although I am sure there are some Conservative members who still think it is a socialist conspiracy, as the Prime Minister used to call it. However, there are those who believe that climate change is a real issue and needs to be addressed, and I think some of my colleagues within the Conservatives do.

When we take an issue like this and simply shred the only bill and offer nothing else, then Canada is going to show up at the next UN meeting in Mexico in a couple of weeks with nothing again. Right now we are spending on green energy at a rate of $1 to $22 versus the Americans. The Americans spend $22 per capita and we spend $1.

Green energy and technology companies are coming to us saying that we must have certainty when it comes to the pricing of carbon and that we must do something about cap and trade. The government's response is just, “Well, wait for Washington”. Imagine the abrogation of sovereignty at such a fundamental level as our environment and economy.

Finally, I wish to move the following amendment:

That the motion be amended by striking out all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:

“the House declines to give second reading to Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate term limits) because the term limits do not go far enough in addressing the problems with the Senate of Canada, and do not lead quickly enough to the abolition of the upper chamber, as recent events have shown to be necessary.”

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The amendment is in order.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, what we are proposing as a government is something that is within the purview of this chamber.

I am concerned that the amendment that was just proposed would go beyond what would normally be expected of this chamber.

Having said that, I would also like to reflect on some of the comments that were suggested before. The Prime Minister has said that he will appoint whomever the people of a said province would elect. He is willing to give up that power to ensure that people of the province are represented in the Senate through elections. In this way, we are moving the yardsticks forward.

The member talked a great deal about how the Senate has benefited one party, particularly the Liberal Party, in the past. I wonder if the member could speak to how the Senate as an unelected body has benefited the Liberal Party. What other methods, outside of abolishment, which is simply too difficult, does the member suggest that we adopt for Senate reform? We have the elections going with Bill S-8, and we have term limits.

This is a democracy, and I am open to hearing the member's suggestions.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the minister said that it is going beyond what is expected of us. I think we need to go much further beyond what is expected of us and challenge the very notion that the existence of this place is a good thing.

It is to be noted, and the minister can correct me later, that by doing it this way the Prime Minister remains under no legal obligation. The reason I point this out is this: let us say a province holds an election for a Senate seat that is apparently valid. As we can see in the provinces that have tried this so far, to call them elections is a bit of stretch, and the minister knows it.

However, the Prime Minister is not legally obligated to do any of these things. The reason I raise this is that the Prime Minister has chosen to break promises before.

The last election we had was not meant to be. He made a promise in law, which he broke. He said we would have fixed election dates, which we supported. The New Democrats supported this initiative. As soon as the Prime Minister saw the ink drying on that law, he broke it.

It is not good enough to say we have this new bill and we will make appointments only after an election. The credibility of the Prime Minister, after having just broken the record by appointing 27 of his cronies and pals, does not carry water.

How has it benefited the Liberals to have this situation for so many decades? It has benefited them a lot and now it is benefiting the Conservatives. That is the problem. Crony after crony is sitting there. To whom are they loyal? Not to this place, not to this country, but to the party. That is what is wrong. That is why it needs to be abolished.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, we in this party are at a point with the Senate that we cannot envision how we can continue with a body that can pull off an action like it did today

If the House accepts this action that occurred within the Senate, then we are accepting that the powers of duly elected members of Parliament are diminished enormously.

How can we move forward from this point? Is that not the reason why we must have an amendment to the bill at this time, to challenge the affront to our democracy that occurred last night?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the idea that an unelected place can simply undo what an elected body has chosen to do should be an offence to all of us. I remind my Conservative colleagues that, while they may think they have won on this issue and got a bill killed that they did not like, the other shoe drops in politics. What works for us on one day, if it is fundamentally flawed, may not work on another day. That should cause deep concern, because we are all diminished by this.

This is not simply about one bill or one party's ambitions or one idea. This is about the fundamental idea under which we operate. If there is anything we can agree on, it should be that. We come here with the powers we have, as legislators, because people voted for us. That is where we draw our power from, not from the party, not from the prime minister, not from the leaders of the parties, but from the people who sent us here. That is our authority to guide and craft laws, to spend taxpayer money.

That is not the case in the Senate. It is the opposite. Their loyalties, as was quoted, come directly from one source: the prime minister who appointed them. We are all diminished by this.

Today the Conservatives might celebrate because there is still no action on climate change. This is a shame in and of itself, but the other shoe drops. That is the nature and work of politics. We must all be concerned by this, and this House must respond.

The Conservatives initiated and orchestrated this. They more than tolerated it. They enabled it, and they must stop.