Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address Bill C-10, which amends the Constitution Act of 1867 and limits Senate terms.
It is not the first time that the Conservatives introduce such legislation. This is the fourth time in four years that they are proposing a bill to reform the Senate by limiting to eight years the term for which senators would serve.
This is a new attempt by the Conservative government to somehow reform the Senate. That is totally ridiculous. It shows once again the Conservatives' bad faith when the time comes to obtain the consent of the provinces—in this case Quebec—regarding the Constitution Act of 1867.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of abolishing the Senate. However, the path followed by the Conservative government ignores the negotiating process that must take place with the provinces and which requires the consent of seven provinces representing 50% of the Canadian population.
The government presents a number of arguments. It claims to want to strengthen the institutions' democratic legitimacy. At the same time, it has no scruples about continuing on a path of democratic illegitimacy for the Senate, by speeding up the appointment process with this new bill. We can therefore say that this legislation is useless, since the Conservatives are contradicting themselves. They claim that they want to increase the democratic legitimacy of this institution—which is said to be archaic—but appointed senators do not have any public legitimacy. Later on, I will refer to some polls that clearly show this to be the case.
Second, any reform of this archaic institution—and I emphasize the word “archaic”—cannot be achieved unilaterally, without the consent of Quebec and of the provinces that represent over 50% of the population, provided there are seven of them. Third, if this Conservative government were really serious about wanting to increase the institutions' democratic legitimacy, it would ensure that Quebec's weight in the House of Commons is maintained.
If I have time later on, I will explain how this government is going to change Quebec's democratic weight by adding 30 new ridings, including 20 or so in Ontario. But let us look at today's issue, namely Bill C-10, which would provide an eight year, non-renewable term for senators. That is why we are saying the Senate is archaic and, more importantly, why it lacks democratic legitimacy.
If this bill is passed, it will speed up senators' turnover and the appointment process, as current senators would retire and be replaced by others whose term would last eight years. Such a change would allow a recently elected prime minister to quickly harmonize the parties' representation in the Senate and in the House of Commons after a change of government, and thus take control of the Senate more rapidly.
We know the Conservative Prime Minister's propensity for getting his hands on information and controlling the various leaders in various key positions within the government, as well as within his own political party and in the media. We know how the Prime Minister likes to have control over everything. It is easy to imagine the current Conservative Prime Minister making his selection. This week, we saw the control he has in the House, not to mention the Senate, at least with respect to the Afghanistan documents.
Similarly, this bill would allow the Prime Minister to increase the cyclical domination of the Senate by one party. With the introduction of this bill, the Prime Minister is saying one thing—he said he would not reform the Senate—but is doing the opposite. This is not the first time this has been mentioned in the House.
The Prime Minister once promised transparency. What transparency do we have today? You might think that the Liberal Party was still in power. We are forced to track their every move, to ferret out the truth in dribs and drabs in order to get the information to the people and to see how the Prime Minister manages his own government.
Not bad coming from a Prime Minister who said, during his campaign, that he would not appoint any senators. That is what the current Conservative Prime Minister promised in his election campaign.
I believe that the Bloc Québécois' traditional position on the Senate is well known.
Given that I have just shown how archaic this institution is, its lack of legitimacy in the eyes of the people and the partisan way in which senators are appointed, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of abolishing this institution after holding negotiations. There must be constitutional negotiations with the provinces and Quebec in particular. If the government is planning on moving forward with this bill, it cannot continue to do so unilaterally, as it is preparing to do and as it wants to do.
Major reform or abolition of the Senate would require negotiated amendments to the Constitution as well as agreement from Quebec and the provinces. It would have to be decided if the general amending formula—agreement from seven provinces representing at least 50% of the population, the so-called 7/50 formula—or the formula requiring unanimous consent would be required. That remains to be seen.
I do not think that the Prime Minister has thought about that. He said that there would be consultations. It will take more than consultations; it requires agreement from seven provinces with at least 50% of Canada's population.
That said, it is most probable that unanimity from the provinces would be necessary in order to effect such a major change because it would affect matters, such as the office of the Governor General, specified in the unanimity procedure.
The Bloc's position in favour of abolishing the Senate following negotiations with Quebec and the provinces seems to be shared by the people of Quebec, as a March 2010 poll clearly shows:
The majority of Quebeckers do not see a value in the Senate as it is currently configured and a large percentage of them agree with abolishing it, according to an exclusive Canada-wide poll by Léger Marketing for QMI Agency.
The Minister of Canadian Heritage loves polls. A random national online poll of 1,510 adults showed that 35% of Canadians believe that the Senate can only be effective if senators are elected and not appointed. Furthermore, 25% of respondents believe that the Senate should be abolished and 12% are in favour of appointments based on gender and regional balance. As for Quebec respondents, 8% believe that the red chamber plays an important role and that the system for appointing senators does not work very well. Twenty-two per cent of Quebeckers would prefer to see senators elected and 43% want the Senate abolished. It is very clear. That is why we are saying that the Senate is not popular with the public.
Many participants, 20% in Quebec and 23% in the rest of Canada, chose not to respond because they did not understand the role of the Senate. This percentage increases to 31% for Canadians under 45. I think that these numbers speak for themselves. We can see there is no emotionally charged great debate on this bill. We see that here today. It just goes to show how archaic and irrelevant this institution is.
Senate reform can only be done with the agreement of Quebec and the provinces, and the Canadian Constitution is a federal constitution. I think that comes as no surprise to anyone.
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.
I will conclude my speech after question period.