Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Constitution Act of 1867.
The purpose of this bill, as we all know, is to limit the tenure of the Senate appointments to one, non-renewable eight-year term. I have to say that I support the bill going to committee for possible amendments and to allow all stakeholders, including the provinces as well as constitutional experts, to testify on the changes that the Conservative government wants to make to the Senate of Canada.
I believe strongly in reform, but this type of reform must be in the best interests of Canadians, reflect sound public policy and respect the Constitution.
While the Constitution Act of 1867 does not say anything specific to exclude the authority of Parliament to make amendments to Senate term limits, the Supreme Court commented, in a reference case on the upper house, that alterations that would affect the fundamental features or essential characteristics given to the Senate, as a means of ensuring regional and provincial representation in the federal legislation process, would require provincial consultation. The role and tenure of a senator was determined by the provinces initially, in order to meet the requirement of a federal system.
For there to be meaningful reform, there must be meaningful consultation. Few Senate reform proposals throughout the years have looked at the role and function of the Senate, they were always on the political image. The Supreme Court reference concluded that the constitutionality test for reform would be best fit if it met the requirements for independence; the ability to provide sober second thought; and the means to ensure provincial and regional representation.
Former senator Michael Pitfield said:
The Senate should not be a duplicate of the House of Commons, but a complement: a somewhat less partisan, more technical forum with a longer-term perspective. Appropriately designed Senate reform could provide greater countervalence against the executive, more useful national debate and sharper administrative supervision - not only within the Senate itself, but in Parliament as a whole.
The role of the Canadian Senate is often undervalued. It is an integral part of the Canadian system of checks and balances.
Canada's founders were well educated and read The Federalist Papers. They wanted to avoid as many of the mistakes that were made in the United States as possible, but also could see what worked. They knew well that a counterbalance to a tyranny of the majority was vital.
Sir John A. Macdonald said, “We will enjoy here that which is the great test of constitutional freedom — we will have the rights of the minority respected.”
Political pressures, partisanship and overall workload can cause bills to be passed through the House of Commons without proper consideration. The sober second thought provided by the Senate allows for careful legislative review in the best interests of Canadians and public policy.
The Senate has a wealth of institutional knowledge and has issued some of the most comprehensive reports on issues that are important to Canadians. The Senate committee on national security has engaged in several in-depth examinations of Canadian security, especially in the wake of 9/11, including a recent report on airport security.
Senator Carstairs issued an important report on Canadian seniors and our aging population. As we determine now how we will go forward with jobs and health care, and the economy as a whole, as the largest portion of our population begins their golden years, no issue is timelier.
The Senate subcommittee on cities recently issued a very important report on poverty, homelessness and affordable housing in Canada.
The Senate is able, in its current form, to engage in long-term, in-depth studies of these vital issues. Our current Senate is a vital element of liberal democracy, which values the necessity of opposition. Absolute democracy turns into majoritarianism. The Senate of Canada is an important institution and deserves proper consideration and adequate consultation.
There are dozens of experts to be heard from as well as provinces that are equally affected by any changes we make to this austere chamber.
It is imperative that we ensure this bill is constitutional and that reforms that are suggested are in the best interests of Canadians and Canadian institutions.
The Senate is not one of many political tools in a legislative arsenal. It is an independent, important legislative body in its own right. The government must respect the Constitution and Canadian institutions.