Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by reminding the House that the Bloc Québécois vehemently opposes Bill C-10, which would create a single eight-year term for senators appointed by the government. In fact, all the currently serving senators were appointed by the government. We will also support the NDP amendment.
This bill needs to be considered in connection with another proposal by the Conservative Party and the Prime Minister to hold a sort of public consultation to create lists of candidates from which the Prime Minister could choose future senators. We need to look at these two things together to see what the government is trying to do, which is to carry out a substantial reform of the Senate.
I agree completely with some of the NDP's comments that the Senate is an undemocratic institution and a remnant of Canada's colonial past. We are also in favour of abolishing the Senate.
Until recently, there was a tacit solution. The Senate as a political institution is the result of partisan appointments. We need to acknowledge that the Liberals made partisan appointments, just as the Conservative Party is doing now. Because the Senate is unelected and undemocratic, the senators were at least smart enough to respect the will of the only elected house of Parliament, the House of Commons.
We share the same disappointment. I would even say we are shocked that the Senate refused to endorse Bill C-311, which this House had passed. To my way of thinking, something that had existed for 80 years has been broken, and that is a serious problem. We should solve that major problem by abolishing the Senate, but we cannot do that unilaterally. Neither the House of Commons nor the government can decide to abolish or change the Senate, even though it does not have much public credibility.
Recently, in March 2010, Leger Marketing conducted a poll in Quebec and Canada. Overall, the results were the same, although the figures in Quebec were higher. Only 8% of Quebeckers believe that the upper chamber plays an important role and that the system for appointing senators works well; 22% of Quebeckers would rather have senators elected, but 43% supported abolishing the Senate. I should point out that 20% of Quebeckers opted not to answer the question, which shows just how irrelevant they think this institution is.
I said that we would be in favour of abolishing the Senate but that constitutional negotiations were necessary. The same goes for the threat the Prime Minister has been making for a number of months now that if these two reforms are not approved by the Senate, he will abolish it.
Unfortunately for him, he does not have the right to unilaterally abolish the Senate. Neither the Prime Minister nor the House of Commons can do that because the Senate is part of a parliamentary system agreed upon a very long time ago by the provinces and the federal government. I will read a quote from Benoît Pelletier on that topic later on. Mr. Pelletier is a constitutional expert at the University of Ottawa who was once minister of intergovernmental affairs for Quebec's Liberal government.
The same goes for Bill C-10. The Prime Minister and the Conservative Party want to create a so-called list of candidates for the Senate based on consultations with the public. All of these reforms require constitutional negotiations with the provinces.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court of Canada was very clear about this in a ruling from the early 1980s entitled Re: Authority of Parliament in relation to the Upper House. It very clearly says that when seeking to change the essential character of the Senate, constitutional negotiations are required.
All of the constitutional experts who appeared before the committee that was struck prior to the election, except for maybe one who was very close to the Prime Minister's Office, told us that this entails amendments to essential characteristics of the Senate, whether we are talking about Bill C-10 or the desire to create some sort of pseudo-democratic consultation to come up with a list of senators. They also told us that, taken together, the two reforms would further alter essential characteristics of the Senate.
The Supreme Court was very clear: there would have to be constitutional negotiations. The main problem with this bill is that the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party are trying to do indirectly what they have been unable to do directly. As I mentioned, we will vehemently oppose it.
I would like to come back to a quotation from Quebec's former intergovernmental affairs minister, Benoît Pelletier, who is also a professor at the University of Ottawa. He reiterated Quebec's traditional position when he said:
The Government of Quebec does not believe that this falls exclusively under federal jurisdiction. Given that the Senate is a crucial part of the Canadian federal compromise, it is clear to us that under the Constitution Act, 1982, and the Regional Veto Act, the Senate can be neither reformed nor abolished without Quebec's consent.
At the time, Mr. Pelletier gave an excellent summary of Quebec's traditional position, which is shared by both the Government of Quebec and the National Assembly. I would also remind the House that in 2007, when we were debating a similar bill, the 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 Supreme Court, the Government of Quebec, the National Assembly and the constitutional experts who appeared before the legislative committee that was studying the bill before the 2008 election have all been clear regarding the fact that the amendments proposed in Bill C-10 and in the previous bill are changes affecting the Senate's essential characteristics and therefore require constitutional negotiations.
Furthermore, it is quite clear to us that, taken together, the bills introduced by the Conservative government clearly illustrate, for the first time, its desire to reduce Quebec's political weight within federal institutions. While that desire has always been a reality, the Conservatives are now being very open about it. This is obvious not only in their attempts to unilaterally impose these two bills, which is unconstitutional, but also in their desire to increase the representation of the Canadian nation by adding another 30 seats to the House, to the detriment of the Quebec nation's representation.
If ever this bill introduced by the Minister of State for Democratic Reform—how is that for an oxymoron?—were to pass, Quebec's political weight in the House would be less than its demographic weight. Rest assured that we will do everything in our power to make sure that never happens. For example, Prince Edward Island has four MPs and that is just fine. The Magdalen Islands have only one MNA, and we have no problem with that either. Mathematically, it cannot be proportionate. Other factors have to be taken into account, as was done for Prince Edward Island. In Quebec's case, we have to recognize, as the House has, that it is a nation within the Canadian nation and that this nation has to have at least 25% of the seats in the House in order to express the voice of Quebec.
In light of these circumstances, not only are we going to vote against Bill C-10 if it ends up in committee, at report stage or third reading, but for now, we are also unequivocally going to support the NDP amendment.