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House of Commons Hansard #36 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

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for bringing the bill forward and for his good question on it today. The true answer is that it is a series of Senate reforms. If we take it in isolation, I suppose we could always poke little holes in it.

We are here today talking about the change to Senate term limits. I recognize that the minister has also put forward another piece of legislation that gives the provinces the ability, if they choose, to hold provincial-wide elections for Senate candidates. So that certainly would address the previous question of would they all be appointed.

Yes, I would expect that the Prime Minister would need to appoint the people who are successful in those provincial elections by putting people into the upper chamber. We have very few examples of it now. There is a senator from Alberta who was chosen by the people, but we need senators who really want to come here for altruistic reasons and for really good fresh reasons to try to help Canada be a better country.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly a pleasure to participate in this debate on Bill C-10, the Senate term limits bill.

Bill C-10 proposes a non-renewable term limit of eight years for senators. This proposal will be familiar to members as it is not the first time it has been considered by this House.

Bill C-10 would amend the Constitution using the amending procedures set out in section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which authorizes Parliament to “--make laws amending the Constitution of Canada in relation to the executive government of Canada or the Senate and House of Commons”.

Opponents of this bill have argued that section 44 is not the appropriate amending formula to affect change of this kind. They have suggested that term limits would affect an “essential characteristic of the Senate and its ability to give independent sober second thought in the parliamentary process”. I wish to refute those objections today as there can be little doubt that this bill is constitutional.

During the last Parliament the constitutionality of term limits was studied by two separate Senate committees. The Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform concluded that Parliament could change the tenure of senators to an eight year term. In reaching the conclusion the special committee heard from some of Canada's most respected constitutional scholars, including Peter Hogg, Patrick Monahan and Stephen Scott. The opinion of these eminent legal experts was unanimous: the eight year term limit proposal is within Parliament's jurisdiction.

The bill was then approved by the Senate at second reading and referred to the legal and constitutional affairs committee. That committee ignored the aforementioned scholars and did not come to any definitive conclusion regarding the bill's constitutionality. Let us be clear. The committee did not conclude that the bill was unconstitutional. It simply said it was not sure.

To resolve the question the committee proposed to have the Supreme Court of Canada decide the matter. I believe that it is the responsibility of parliamentarians to use our best judgment on the constitutionality of proposed legislation and not hide behind the Supreme Court. That is why I wish to outline my rationale for concluding that the bill now before us is constitutional.

What is the relevant test for evaluating the constitutionality of the proposed term limits bill? On one hand, opponents argue that any change affecting the essential characteristics of the Senate cannot be enacted by Parliament acting alone. On the other hand, supporters maintain that only essential characteristics requiring more than Parliament's unilateral authority are those explicitly referred to in the 1982 Constitution Act namely, the powers of the Senate, the method of selecting senators, the residence qualification of senators, and the number of senators by which a province is represented in the Senate.

This debate essentially turns on a single question. Does the Supreme Court of Canada opinion in the upper house reference remain relevant today? Members may be familiar with that opinion.

In 1978 the Government of Canada referred a number of questions to the Supreme Court relating to the authority of Parliament to abolish or reform the Senate. A year later the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that it would be beyond the legislative authority of Parliament to abolish the Senate or to otherwise alter its fundamental features or essential characteristics. However, the court noted that by limiting tenure from life to 75 years of age, as Parliament had done in 1965, it “did not change the essential character of the Senate”.

I reference the Constitution Act, 1982. It provides for various formulae to amend the Constitution, including specific references to the Senate. While opponents of reform argue that these formulae override the Supreme Court's opinion, the court's opinion remains relevant for interpreting the various amending formulae.

Some maintain that the upper house reference remains a guide to understanding the scope of Parliament's power to make constitutional amendments with respect to the Senate. Others, including Canada's best constitutional lawyers, contend that the upper house reference was a guide for amending our Constitution only before patriation in 1982. Since 1982, the Constitution itself, not the Supreme Court, outlines the procedures for amendment.

For example, when Peter Hogg testified before the special Senate committee, he said:

It seems to me that the best interpretation of what happened in 1982 was that it overtook the ruling in the Upper House Reference. In other words, the 1982 amending procedures now say explicitly which changes to the Senate cannot be accomplished unilaterally by the Parliament of Canada;

This leaves other aspects, including tenure, within Parliament's jurisdiction.

In turn, when Patrick Monahan was before the same committee, he expressed the same view, that maintaining that patriation in 1982 “has superseded the Senate reference or indeed attempted to codify, to identify those matters that were found to be fundamental or essential...”. As for other matters, he went on to say, “The Parliament of Canada...may enact changes to the Senate, including the tenure of senators”.

Although this debate is of crucial importance to understanding our constitutional amendment procedures, it is not one that needs to be resolved in the context of our present debate. Not only does the bill before us today comply with the constitutional amending procedure authorizing Parliament to make certain amendments to the Senate, but it also proposes term limits of sufficient length to maintain the Senate's essential characteristics.

In other words, Bill C-10 passes both the Supreme Court test of 1979 by not affecting the Senate's essential characteristics and the Constitution Act of 1982 by not tackling any of the senatorial changes in section 42.

The proposal before us is for an eight-year term. Some have asked if this term is long enough to maintain the essential characteristics of the Senate. The simple answer is, yes. An eight-year term is within the range of terms for Senate chambers internationally and well within the range of terms contemplated by previous Senate reform proposals. Eight years is enough time to allow a new senator to acquire the necessary skills to maintain the Senate's role in providing an independent second sober thought in legislative review.

Hon. members may be familiar with the tenure of senators in the United States, which is six years. This is the same as the tenure for senators in Australia. Other upper houses have term limits as short as four years. France recently reduced its term from nine to six years. An eight-year term, which is what is being proposed in Bill C-10, would be among the longest worldwide.

Unless one is willing to suggest that the upper chambers of the United States, Australia and Europe are all ineffective due to limited terms, members must agree that eight years is long enough to maintain the essential characteristics of the Senate.

Another aspect of this bill that addresses concerns with maintaining the independence of the Senate is that the terms are non-renewable. Non-renewable terms assure Canadians that the senators will not have to curry favour with the government in order to preserve their seat.

The bill contains transitional provisions that will apply the eight-year term limit to all senators appointed after October 14, 2008. As with the rest of the bill, this transitional provision is on solid constitutional ground and can be enacted by Parliament alone pursuant to section 44 of the Constitution Act.

The bill before us today is a good one simply due to the fact that it would allow future Parliaments the opportunity to appoint, if necessary, senators for a limited term of eight years, which would certainly go far beyond the current status quo of 75 years of age. It would ensure, in my opinion, that senators being appointed in the future will bring a fresh set of eyes to all of the legislation coming through this chamber to the upper chamber.

I would also point out that, by the provisions contained in this bill of a non-renewable term limit, we would not have to worry about senators being reappointed time and time again. It would ensure that if Parliament changes, the Senate will change. I think that is in the best interest of all Canadians.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speech by the Conservative member. A survey conducted in Quebec a few months ago indicated that only 8% of Quebeckers believe in the role of the Senate, that 22% would prefer an elected Senate, and that 43% would simply abolish the Senate.

During the election campaign, the Conservatives proposed real reform of the Senate. However, with this bill, it is evident that they have not consulted Quebec and the provinces about this reform, and have not questioned the very basis for the Senate.

I would like the Conservative member to explain to us how the will of Canadians is respected when the provinces and Quebec—where 43% of Quebeckers want the Senate to be abolished—have not been consulted.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, one of the reasons that Canadians in various regions of this country would like to see the Senate abolished is because of the abysmal record of senators in the past.

As we all know, senators have been appointed, in effect, almost for life. At one point in time, senators were appointed until they were 100 years of age. It was only recently changed to 75 years of age. However, because of the partisan nature of many of these appointments, we saw that many Canadians became disillusioned with the Senate as an institution, which is why we are taking steps to reform the Senate

I believe eight-year terms would ensure not only integrity, but it would ensure that senators not become complacent, and the non-renewable provision would ensure that the senators who are appointed to the Senate are there for a limited amount of time, ensuring they will absolutely be working in the best interests of Canadians.

With respect to the member's question about consultations, we are planning, through future democratic reform initiatives, that provinces will be consulted on the nature of the senators they elect. They will be providing their wish to the Government of Canada and the Prime Minister will then take their wishes into consideration when appointing senators in the future.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, on the question of the nature of the Senate and how it affects the decisions that we are making here today, I think the examples that have been used are a bit inappropriate. The U.S. Senate, of course, is an elected body. Perhaps the model that we should look to by which to judge the bill is the House of Lords, where appointed gentry for hundreds of years have held those positions for a very long time.

I come from a party that does not believe in the institution of the Senate. It does not believe that it has usefulness left in Canada. Certainly, to try to compare this institution today to an elected body like the U.S. Senate where senators hold very important positions in the democratic process there, is completely wrong. There is no comparison between those two bodies in their function and, ultimately, even if this Senate was elected, in its purpose to Canadians.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am actually very heartened to see members of the NDP engaging in this debate since, as the member opposite stated, they do not believe in the Senate to begin with. I also find it passing strange that they would actually try to make suggestions on how to improve the upper chamber when they do not want to see an upper chamber in existence.

With respect to the member's comments about unfair comparisons to the U.S. because the U.S. has a system of electing senators, I am not sure if the member heard me but I will repeat what I said for his benefit. One of our further initiatives on democratic reform is on the method by which senators are appointed to the upper chamber.

We plan to introduce legislation that would allow people in individual provinces to cast their opinion on who they would like to see provincially appointed to the Senate. In effect, there is a way that we could say that senators will be elected by the members of the regions that will ensure integrity from the members' perspective to the Senate itself.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl, Government Advertising; the hon. member for St. John's East, Hibernia Project.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Charlottetown.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and participate in this debate.

This is an issue that is complicated. The whole issue of Senate reform has been discussed on many occasions since Confederation in 1867, but it is an issue that I am glad to see brought before the House and it is an issue that should be debated by Canadians. I congratulate the minister for introducing it.

I want to say at the outset that when the bill comes to a vote, I will be supporting it so that it will go to committee even though I have some very serious concerns with the whole issue of tenure, which I will get into.

I understand the gist of the legislation. We have a situation now, and it has happened, where technically a person can be appointed at the young age of 35 and can serve 40 years in the Senate. It does raise certain concerns of accountability and legitimacy. It is an issue that we should debate and perhaps correct, if it is possible constitutionally, which I believe it is. However, there is a need for discussion and, of course, it will then need to go to the Senate.

It is a good issue to have before the House but, as I indicated, I do not think there is any institution as complicated, complex and perhaps misunderstood as the Senate of Canada. The debate about the Senate cannot start today. It has to start back in 1864, at the time of the meetings when the discussion started to form this country. The original meeting was held in Charlottetown when the British colonies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island came together to discuss the possibility of forming a Maritime union because of their small size and other concerns, such as defence, et cetera.

Upper Canada and Lower Canada, now Ontario and Quebec, more or less invited themselves to this meeting to discuss the whole concept of a larger union and they were included to form the Dominion of Canada.

According to the historical annals, there was a lot of partying and drinking at this meeting. They did not form an agreement but they very much agreed to continue the discussions. The discussions did continue in a meeting in Quebec City and as are result of those two meetings, the country was formed in 1867. I should point out that Prince Edward Island, at that time, opted not to join the Federation.

Again, if we look at the debates, the Atlantic provinces, although they were smaller, were probably more mature because they had been settled earlier. To a certain extent, they did have a legislature. Responsible government came first to the colony of Nova Scotia. It had its own governors and its own legislature. There was a considerable degree of reluctance to get into this new union. They also had their own political issues back in their colonies because lot of time certain factions were against any kind of a larger union with Upper Canada and Lower Canada. A lot of times people did not appreciate what was going on or what the political climate was in that far off land.

Again, as we all know, the agreement was culminated and the country was formed, to its great credit, for which we are forever grateful. In the early 1900s the country expanded and in 1949 in the province of Newfoundland joined Confederation.

The point I am making is that during those discussions chips were put on the table, there were a lot of negotiations and discussions, if we read the debates of the delegates from the colonies, and one of the concerns of the smaller colonies was to be swallowed up by the larger colony of Ontario.

One of the concerns, of course, was the protection of minorities. We are not talking about the minorities as we view the concept in the House today. There was only one minority and that was French Catholic males. At that time the females and the aboriginals did not have a franchise and were not considered, or I did not see them considered too much in the debates.

The point I am making is that one of the significant chips that was put on the table, and the chip that got the country, was the Senate. The way they constructed the Senate was that each region would have 24. The Atlantic region would have 24. Quebec would have 24; that was what brought them on board. Ontario would have 24, and of course that expanded as the west was brought into the federation in subsequent years. That balanced the regions and it was also there to protect the minorities.

These are considerations we all should bear in mind. We should all bear in mind the chips that were put on the table during these very important discussions back in 1864, 1865 and 1866, concluding in 1867. In other words, the bottom line was that if we did not have the Senate, we would not have got the country.

I point to that for contextual purposes. I do not think there is any reason why this House should not discuss the possible reform of the Senate, but as the minister would know, it is a very difficult process because of the constitutional framework that was adopted then and that was changed subsequently but not a lot, not in any major amendment to the Senate. The way the senators are appointed, their capacities and the regions they represent require the consent of at least seven provinces, representing in excess of 50% of the population of Canada.

As every politician who has ever been elected in Canada knows, that is a very difficult and murky process. We got into that in Meech Lake. We got into that in Charlottetown. We all know how difficult that process is and I believe most politicians, if questioned, would say they really do not want to go there.

However the point I do want to make is that it is unfortunate that there was not a larger consultative process. The provinces, in this case and in this discussion, are the successors to the colonies. The Senate was put there for a purpose, with certain specific capacities to protect and enhance the interests of the colonies, especially the smaller colonies, and of course the minorities, which have expanded beyond that concept of the French Catholic male.

It is unfortunate that we did not have a more consultative process. We are having situations where certain larger provinces have publicly stated that this bill should not go forward. That is unfortunate, but I still think the debate should continue. There is a larger constitutional issue and many constitutional scholars have given opinions. By my reading, certainly the preponderance of the opinion seems to be that this legislation can proceed without the consent of the provinces. However, the previous member who spoke was talking about appointments made at the request of the provinces. We are into some constitutional problems there. It is a slippery slope, and there have really been very few substantial amendments made to the Senate since Confederation.

One issue I do have, which has been talked about by the previous two speakers and which can continue before the committee, is the whole issue of tenure. The previous two speakers compared it to other countries where they have a bicameral system with two political institutions, a lower house and a Senate. One speaker said the average tenure was 5.2 years and talked about the American and Australian experiences, but again these are all elected bodies.

Even if this legislation were passed tomorrow, we are going to continue with an appointed body. I am very troubled with the possibility that after eight years, we have a legislative and deliberative body that comprises 104 members, each and every one of whom are appointed by one individual. I would think they would be very compliant. I am not so sure they would be an institution of sober second thought and I am not so sure what purpose they would really serve.

If we go back to the previous Liberal government that was elected in 1993, by the year 2001 all 104 senators would have been appointed by one individual, resulting in no opposition in committees. I am not clear how that would serve the interests of democracy in the long run.

I do not have any specific suggestions, although I think it should be a longer term and there should be staggering. However, I believe there certainly has to be some debate on creating a viable opposition because I have seen with my own eyes what happens when a democracy is overtaken by one party. We have seen it more in provincial legislatures than in the federal ones and it is my opinion that democracy suffers in the long run. It may be a happy day when a government wins all the seats, but in the long run it is the people who suffer and democracy suffers too.

The legislative bodies that operate in the House of Commons, the Senate and the provincial legislatures work best with an effective, informed and hard-working opposition. That is a real question, but again it should not in any way stop the debate from continuing.

This matter has been before the House previously and there have been some slight changes based upon the debates. It is good that the matter is being brought before the House again, but there are a lot of other issues, which I will raise briefly.

There are democratic reforms that are extremely troubling and probably more important than this issue, one of which is the issue that has been before the House over the last six months about documents. There seems to be a movement to create a new concept in Canada that I would classify as executive or prime minister or government immunity. Instead of the traditional role that Parliament, the House of Commons and committees have delegated to them, the powers to send for persons, papers and records, if we accept the logic that is being put forward, the persons, papers and records that would be sent to the committees would be determined by the executive. Whatever is in the public interest would be determined by the opinion of the executive or cabinet.

That is a very unholy trend. I am pleased the Chair ruled that is not the case in this country. I agree with that ruling and hopefully we will move on with that. I am dealing with the very same thing in the public accounts committee, which did not raise a national security issue. It was dealing with another issue that had the very same response from the government. That particular case dealt with some tapes that are not that important to anything. We met with a lot of resistance but we finally got them.

First of all, members are probably not going to believe this, but the government would not provide them because the committee did not follow the Access to Information Act. When that was explained, the government said it would not give them to the committee because that violated the Privacy Act. We finally got them, but we can see the trend that is developing. I wish the Minister of State for Democratic Reform would get engaged in that issue because it is so important to democracy in this country.

It is good that this debate is taking place. I will be supporting this legislation. I have some concerns. The two biggest concerns deal with the consultation process and tenure, which is a major concern. We have to work on some mechanism to allow the institution to operate efficiently, effectively and in the best interests of all Canadians.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, a lot of the hon. member's comments were thoughtful and in a historical context. Of course, what we are here to talk about today is the eight-year non-renewable term.

My question to the member is quite simple. We know the constraints of the Constitution. We know that Canadians are demanding a more accountable institution. Will the member agree that a term limit that is non-renewable is critical? Is it the perfect solution? There are probably no perfect solutions, but is it better than what we have now? The answer is yes. I think that is what most Canadians would say.

Would the hon. member agree that non-renewable term limits are better than what we have at present?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, it would depend on how we solve that issue. I really feel strongly that this concept of a non-renewable eight-year term would not work. I gave the example that after eight years the Prime Minister would have appointed all 104 members. There would be no opposition. They would go to a committee and it would be all one party.

Not only that, but there is another very important point I want to raise. I have noticed over the years that the members of the same party who were appointed by a previous leader are less compliant. I believe that the Conservative members who were appointed by Mr. Mulroney are less compliant than the ones appointed by the present Prime Minister, and I have seen that in both political parties.

We would have a situation where a democratic institution, a House, comprised 104 members from one party, all appointed by one individual. I am troubled with that. I do not think it would work. We have to work on other solutions. I am sure there are experts out there who would give us all kinds of ideas, but that particular solution would not work for democracy and it would not work for Canadians.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, regarding the issue the member spoke about, perhaps I can strongly recommend that he encourage senators in the other place to support our Senate selection act, by which the people in the provinces would be able to select the nominees to the Senate. That would address the member's concern.

Can the member confirm that he will be supportive of the Senate selection act and encourage a more democratic process in the selection of the appointments to the Senate?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, to repeat, I indicated when I first rose that I will be supporting the bill. I see the bill going to committee. I believe it will be a healthy debate. I am hoping members will come up with a better solution than the eight-year non-renewable tenure. I do not have the solution in front of me, but I am sure it can be worked out if we put enough good people in a room.

The minister asked me to issue some control over the senators in the other House. I want to remind him that I have absolutely no control over anyone in the other House. It is my understanding that the Conservatives have a majority there now. We will see how the debate goes in the other House, but I will not be participating. I have no control over how that debate goes.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question for the Liberal member is simple: does he believe that Parliament can change at will anything to do with the Senate without consulting the provinces?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, that is not a simple question. That is a question that has been debated for 143 years. I do not have the answer. I have read many of the articles.

Parliament cannot amend a lot of the more fundamental issues regarding the Senate without amending the Constitution, which would require consent of at least seven provinces, representing at least 50% of the people. But then when we boil it down to the issue of tenure, there are opinions on both sides of the issue. It is unfortunate that it has not gone to the Supreme Court first. It will probably end up in the Supreme Court at some point in time for a definitive opinion. It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court did not opine on it when it had the opportunity several years ago, but again, I cannot answer that question. It appears that the preponderance of the legal scholars are of the view that we can.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Jean Dorion Bloc Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the member who just spoke.

This bill does not take the Quebec nation into account at all. The Conservative government claims to have recognized the Quebec nation, but in reality, is it not disregarding the constitutional aspect of this national issue?

As other speakers have already said, in a federal system, this Senate reform cannot be passed without going through the constitutional amendment procedures.

Quebec was not consulted on this issue. The former Quebec minister for Canadian intergovernmental affairs, Benoît Pelletier, stated Quebec's position in 2007. 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.

That same day, the Quebec National Assembly 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.

Is the Canadian government not being quite arrogant by completely ignoring the will of Quebec and avoiding any consultations with it on this issue?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, the member made one statement that I will agree with 100%. The Senate is at the heart of the Canadian federalism. I pointed that out in my speech.

When we go back to the original debates, the chip on the table was that 24 senators would be allocated to the region of Quebec, which we can call the Quebec nation quite appropriately. Again, if there is any change to that formula, any change to the way they are appointed, to their capacities, to where they have to live, I think it would be tremendously difficult to do that without the consent of Quebec.

However, we are dealing with a tenure issue. I do not have the final legal say in that. There are opinions going both ways. It is unfortunate that we do not have a Supreme Court ruling. There is no question in my mind that one of the aggrieved provinces will probably take this to the Supreme Court at some time. However, again, that is a situation that has to be. All I say is let us get it to committee and have a debate. There is no question that eventually it will arrive at the Supreme Court of Canada for a legal opinion at some point in time.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

5 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-10, which would limit senators' terms to eight years.

The Bloc Québécois will oppose this bill.

As my colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher commented, the Conservative government has once again chosen to tamper with institutions and make changes that could offend Quebec, without consulting it. The big news today is that it has found allies. The NDP and the Liberals are prepared to go along with the Conservative proposal.

It is clear that the Conservative government is trying to be divisive. It is trying to change the Senate by introducing bills in the House of Commons and the Senate, to avoid having to abide by the 1982 Constitution.

The position of the Government of Quebec has always been clear. It was stated in 2007 by Benoît Pelletier, a minister in the Liberal Government of Quebec who was a constitutional expert and a federalist. He was not a sovereignist, far from it. Once again, the National Assembly of Quebec, through the premier, who is a federalist Liberal and the former leader of the Conservative Party, is asking that the government make no changes without consulting Quebec and the provinces.

This is very surprising. The government is trying to do everything in its power to alter the very foundation of the Canadian Constitution without Quebec's consent. I am shocked at that. We are sovereignists, and we dream of having our own country. But when we have our own country, I hope we will never make the mistakes the Conservatives are making in trying to do everything they can to prevent the country's constituent parts from having a say, because they do not want to touch the Constitution or something else.

It is amazing to see the Conservatives in action. It helps us sovereignists see why we have to leave this country, but they are not setting a very good example for everyone else.

I can understand them to a certain extent. The Senate is a problem. I say that in all kindness. I have been in federal politics since 2000. Before 2000, I never ran into any senators. In Quebec, the upper chamber was abolished in 1968. I was born in 1957. I was 11 years old when it disappeared. This is not a problem in Quebec. I took a tour of the National Assembly of Quebec and was told there was a red room and a blue room where people used to sit. It disappeared a long time ago because it simply was not needed.

What I am saying as a federal parliamentarian is that I have never run into a senator in my riding. I know that there are some and I have to be careful not to name them. As I do not want to be in a position where I have to apologize, especially to a senator, because I named him or her here, I will refrain from doing so. I would not want to lower myself to apologizing to a senator. Personally, I have only seem them during election campaigns.

In 2004 and 2006, a Liberal senator attended a few events. I have a beautiful riding that includes Mirabel and part of the aerospace industry. Accordingly, senators like to be seen there during election campaigns. I knew there was a senator there. I saw her in every election because she would drop by to support the Liberal candidate. To me the Senate has always been a partisan stronghold. It is all about politicking, as far as I can tell.

I have a new Liberal opponent who is the son of a senator. Now, his father, the senator, has begun coming around. I can honestly say that, up until 2009, I had never seen him. However, he came and attended some events and told us that he had been a Liberal member in part of my riding, in Deux-Montagnes. He discovered matters of interest there because he does not live in the riding.

That amounts to political partisanship; they are partisan appointments. Bill C-10 proposes appointing senators for eight years rather than life, to age 75. The bill proposes nothing more than partisan appointments. It is an aberration and we cannot support it.

I know that the Minister of State for Democratic Reform explained that another bill before the Senate will ensure, one day, that they are no longer appointed. However, we still cannot support this bill.

The Conservative government combed the Constitution, together with experts, to determine what it could do. Lawyers said that if the government changed the length of the term, it might be able to do through the back door what it could not through the front door. They have forgotten an obvious principle of law: you cannot do indirectly what cannot be done directly. I am a notary and not a lawyer, but all lawyers understand this principle.

When I asked him the question, the Liberal member answered that the Supreme Court should have examined this issue. When the issue was before the Supreme Court, we should have asked if we could split up. We know already that the Government of Quebec will be opposed and that the issue will go to the Supreme Court.

So why is the government doing this? To keep a partisan stronghold. That is terrible. If the government had the courage to follow through on abolishing the Senate, it could work. The deficit is going to hit close to $50 billion. We could at least cut part of this spending that serves no purpose, other than partisanship. But instead they have decided to reinvest in this part of Canada's political evolution.

Ontario got rid of its upper chamber in 1867, and Quebec did the same. I do not understand. A number of my fellow politicians have a backwards attitude, and that will not change. I see that Parliament will be living in the past for a long time.

It is deplorable, because it is not as though this is something new. Other colleagues have already mentioned this, but I think it is worth repeating what minister Benoît Pelletier said in 2007 regarding Quebec's traditional position:

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.

This press release was issued by the minister on November 7, 2007. That is a great date, since it is also my birthday. But I am sure that is not why he issued the press release; it was not just to make me happy.

That same day, Quebec's National Assembly unanimously passed 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.

This stance has been known since 2007. Once again, the Conservative government probably wants to please its electors. Why else would it do this if not to show off its backwards ideology? I do not know who the government is making these amendments for. The polls are clear. In March, an exclusive Canada-wide poll of 1,510 adults by Léger Marketing for QMI Agency showed that 35% of Canadians believe that the Senate can only be effective if senators are elected and not appointed.

The bill before us today is not about electing senators, but about appointing them for eight years. Meanwhile, 25% of people, one quarter, believe that the Senate should be abolished; 12% are in favour of appointments based on gender and regional balance. In Quebec, only 8% believe that the Senate plays an important role and that the system for appointing senators works well; 22% want an elected Senate and 43% want the Senate abolished. I am part of that last statistic, but I was not polled. That does not include the 31% of people who have no opinion because they do not know what the Senate does. Approximately one third of the population does not know what the Senate does.

In my experience, senators create partisan politics. The Senate is a stronghold of partisanship and political organizers. They have a nice salary, an office and staff to do that work. My senator gets around, taking his son by the hand, and participates in every event at government expense. He will be my next opponent. That has always been the Liberal way of doing things. They always find a way to take taxpayers’ money to pay for their election campaigns. It happens to me, but it does not cause me any problems. It makes me laugh, but today, I am trying to understand why we would be trying to save this partisan stronghold at the expense of the actual constituent members of the federation.

In 2007 the government of Quebec said that there would be no amendments without constitutional negotiations. That is simple. The request was made by a federalist premier of Quebec who said not to change anything without consulting the provinces. Today, the Liberal Party, the NDP and the Conservative Party are hand in glove to try to amend it piecemeal, bit by bit. We can change this but not that; there is the Supreme Court judgment, and so on. This issue is going to end up in the Supreme Court. That is what will happen.

Quebec has not agreed from the outset. I will explain again that you cannot do by the back door what you may not do by the front door. In law, you cannot do indirectly what you may not do directly. But that is how the Conservatives do things. What surprises me is that the Liberal Party and the NDP are playing the game and trying to work behind the backs of Quebec and the provinces. Some provinces may agree. In that case, we should immediately initiate constitutional negotiations on the Senate. The provinces that are for this reform will say so and those that are against it will also say so. There will be debate and negotiation.

But they want to do it all by getting confirmation that everything is fine from lawyers who are probably being paid fat fees. The Conservatives pay their constitutional lawyers. The lawyers give them reports explaining that this or that will be allowed and that you can divide it up into several bills scattered around the Senate and the House of Commons. They will try to get it all passed without having to amend the Canadian constitution, because they do not want to do that. The way the Conservatives do things is intolerable.

In Quebec, the Conservatives are at about the same level as Quebeckers’ interest in the Senate. If that is what they want, they should keep on doing this kind of thing. Only 8% of Quebeckers think the Senate is good for anything. I will refrain from mentioning the percentage of Conservatives from Quebec. I know what it is and they do too. The harder they work on it, the closer they get to the 8% of Quebeckers who are satisfied with the Senate.

The Liberals and NDP want to go in the same direction. It is a thing of beauty to see them at work, defying the wishes of Quebeckers. I know it has been tough for Quebec in the House of Commons over the last few weeks. The other parties are trying to crush it by reducing its political weight in the House. Another bill is attempting to add an additional 30 members. They are trying to crush Quebec because, with the reforms in the bill the minister has introduced, it will have fewer members than it deserves given its population, although it had more until 1976. But the Conservatives have decided otherwise. That is their way, but it cannot go on forever. Things cannot continue like this forever without provoking a strong reaction in Quebec.

In regard to the Senate, Quebec’s reaction has been known since 2007 and it is strong. There was the unanimous resolution adopted in the National Assembly, and it is clear that Quebec will go to the Supreme Court to defend its interests.

The Conservatives might like to wait for the Supreme Court decisions. That way they can please somebody or other. I am trying to understand whom they want to please. More than a third of Canadians would like to see the Senate abolished, so they are certainly not the ones the Conservatives are trying to please. Maybe there are people they are trying to please, senators whom they promised a chance to get elected, but I do not know how that will work. I really do not want want to discuss the other bill to change the law so that senators are not appointed but elected. There is even a list that could be provided by the provinces, although the Prime Minister would not be required to abide by it.

In the end, they wish to retain control of this political instrument, even though the real politics should take place here, in the House of Commons. That is understood by the people. If one third of the population does not even know what the Senate does, it is because they realize that the real politics take place in the House of Commons. We should get rid of this instrument, which is expensive and a stronghold of partisan players and political organizers.

I realize that the Conservatives and the Liberals who appointed senators over the years do not wish to deprive themselves of this political arm that they can use. However, it would be a good way to show the people, who are growing increasingly cynical about elected politicians, that they have listened and that the senators have not managed to prove their usefulness over the years. We should be talking about abolishing the Senate, and discussing it with the provinces once again. The Bloc Québécois does not intend to participate in any debate about the Senate if the Constitution is not respected. When we have our own country, we will want everyone to respect our constitution and, as long as we are part of Canada, we will respect the Canadian Constitution.

We believe that any debate on the Senate should involve constitutional negotiations and must include Canada's partners, the provinces. If they have decided that the provinces are no longer partners, they should say so. The Conservatives should have the courage to say that they do not want to hear anything more from the provinces and that they will go it alone. This might be an intelligent way of setting out their strategy but they will not do it. For that reason, it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to win the approval of Canadians. In Quebec, as I was saying earlier, the Conservatives's polling numbers will soon match the 8% of Quebeckers who think the Senate is important.

Therefore, it is obvious that we will be voting against Bill C-10 because, although the bill limits senators' terms of office to eight years, they will still be appointed. As long as senators are appointed and as long as the Senate remains a partisan stronghold, the Bloc will never support it. This bill does not mention another means of Senate reform. It states that senators will be appointed for eight years. Therefore, we will be voting against this bill, especially because the Quebec National Assembly has been telling the federal government since 2007 that no changes should be made to the Senate.

I will not reread the government position drafted by Benoît Pelletier, a renowned Liberal constitutional expert who was a federalist Quebec government minister. This position was backed by a unanimous National Assembly resolution against negotiations about the Senate unless Quebec was an active participant in such negotiations. We will always stand for that because we are the only party in the House that stands up every day to defend Quebeckers' interests even when the party advocating those interests is a federalist party. We are always logical. We stand up for Quebec. That is what we have always done and will always do. That is why, no matter what happens, there will be more and more of us here in the House of Commons.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, the member comes from a great part of the world. We all live in the greatest country in the world at the best time in human history to be alive. I think everyone in this chamber understands that.

We are trying to improve our Parliament, a federal institution. That is why all federalist parties support the bill. There may be differences, but everyone in this chamber, on the federalist side, wants to make our country better, and that includes improving the Senate. We have heard today that some sort of term limit, non-renewable, will make our country better.

Will the member be straight up with us and say what is really happening here, and that is Bloc members will, for ideological reasons, oppose anything that will make Canada a better place?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, hearing that kind of thing always makes me smile. The Bloc Québécois did support two Conservative budgets in 2006 and 2007 because the government said that it wanted to correct the fiscal imbalance. The National Assembly passed a unanimous motion in support of that approach. We have always been consistent. The National Assembly passed a unanimous motion against reforming the Senate without consulting the provinces.

All federalist parties have the right to join forces against Quebec. That helps me because I am the Bloc Québécois' chief organizer in Quebec. The more they do that kind of thing, the better off I am. In fact, I should just let them do their thing and keep my mouth shut. They are all working for me. I have no problem with that. What I have a hard time understanding is why they would attempt an indirect approach to changing something that cannot even be changed directly without negotiating with the provinces. If the federalists think of the provinces as a kind of ball and chain, they should say so and see what kind of reaction they get.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his excellent speech concerning the Senate and all the issues in the bill that affect Quebec.

When I was first elected to the House of Commons, I saw there was a chamber next door called the Senate. I wondered what those people did in there. I soon realized it was a little like Groundhog Day, a movie I am sure we have all seen many times. The Senate carries out the same activities as the House of Commons. The same committees are duplicated there. It only slows the process of introducing and passing bills.

There is one aspect my hon. colleague did not address. The costs associated with the Senate are enormous. The cost to run the House of Commons is already considerable. Many witnesses come to testify before House committees. The same thing is repeated in the Senate, which is very costly in terms of time and money.

This money could be used to reform the employment insurance system and to help people in need, instead of being wasted. According to surveys, 43% of Quebeckers oppose the Senate. Quebec is being trampled on; the Quebec nation is not being respected. I am convinced that all the other provinces oppose this Senate reform.

I would like to hear my colleague's thoughts on this.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé for his excellent question. He is right. At a time when money is tight and deficits are enormous, we could be taking this opportunity to save a great deal of money. The Conservatives have gone from a $17 billion surplus, which they inherited from the Liberals, to a $50 billion deficit. Of course they will tell us there is a global crisis and so forth.

My colleague is doubly right when we see how the parliamentary system works. A bill is passed and sent to the Senate where senators can make amendments to it. However, if we are not happy with those amendments, we can bring the bill back to the House of Commons and reverse the Senate's decision. That is what happens. In theory, there should not even be a Senate. We should pass legislation and that is where it should end.

The Senate did a study on safety, noise, nuisances and so on in the railway system. When it looked at the bill passed by the House of Commons, the Senate only called in the railway companies because it did not want to hear from those who were reporting the problems with the railway in the first place. The Senate ended up changing our bill because the Conservatives convinced the Liberals to do so. They were already lobbying then.

When we saw the senators engaging in such partisanship and listening only to those they were interested in, we should have stood up to them and passed the bill as it was. The House of Commons has priority. In the legislative system, the Senate serves no purpose.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, the member said that he will respect the Canadian Constitution. Therefore, he knows that this measure falls within the purview of Parliament.

The member talked about the representation of Quebec in the Senate. This bill would improve Quebec's representation in Parliament because it would help to renew the senators from Quebec in this great institution.

Again, I come back to my previous point with the member. The reason the Bloc is opposing this bill is that the Bloc opposes anything that would make Parliament better, including improving the representation of Quebec in Parliament through the Senate. The Bloc is just being negative because it is against the Bloc's philosophy to improve federalism and improve Quebec's representation in Parliament. It just goes against the Bloc's reason to be. It is very disappointing.

I wish the member would just be honest. The reason he is opposing this is that he does not want to strengthen Quebec's role in Parliament. He just wants his own disappointing end.

We live in the greatest country in the world. I wish the member would support that and help make Parliament better.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, Canada will make an excellent neighbour. I have no problem with that.

For the rest, I will try to explain why we are opposed to this bill. I will re-read, nice and slowly, the unanimous motion passed by the Quebec National Assembly on November 7, 2007:

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.

We will rise every single day to defend the interests of Quebec. That motion was adopted in 2007 by a federalist government. Its Liberal Party leader was the former leader of the Conservative Party.

The Government of Quebec adopted this motion because the Supreme Court rendered a decision in 1970 after examining Parliament's ability to unilaterally amend the constitutional provisions concerning the Senate. The Supreme Court found that Parliament could not unilaterally make any changes to the essential characteristics of the Senate. This is why the National Assembly adopted that unanimous motion, and this is why we are once again defending the interests of Quebec in this House.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

April 29th, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

moved that Bill C-241, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (removal of waiting period), be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, it goes without saying that this bill must be accepted by the current Conservative government. I begin my remarks with that comment because we have been talking about this for a long time. The two-week waiting period is a critical issue. This is not a minor bill designed to keep senators in the red chamber for a longer or shorter period of time. It is an act that can help all workers who lose their job.

That injustice has been around for too long. I am going to give some numbers. In 1989, 83% of Canadians and Quebeckers were eligible for employment insurance. Now, it is less than 50%.

What did the government do? It passed a law to add five additional weeks at the end of the benefit period. And how many people benefit from this initiative? Currently, it applies to 28% of those who are eligible for EI benefits. However, 28% of 50% does not make for a large number of people. The fact is that few workers are entitled to these five additional weeks.

If the two-week waiting period was waived, all workers who lose their job would benefit. I am not talking about workers who resign or who lose their job because they failed to perform, but about workers who are laid off because their plant shut down, because there are fewer orders in the books, because the plant is relocated, or because of a bankruptcy. These people are laid off through no fault of their own. They are the most affected by these two weeks without benefits.

Waiving the two-week waiting period would have a much greater impact on financial security than the five additional weeks at the end of the benefit period. Indeed, this situation affects the most vulnerable workers in our society. The two-week waiting period is a glaring injustice: these people lose their job through no fault of their own, yet they are penalized. It seems as if the Conservative government likes to punish workers who get laid off. I just cannot understand that.

In Quebec, this situation puts pressure on the Quebec government when these people turn to social assistance. Social costs increase, even though the federal government is responsible for looking after those people who lose their job through no fault of their own.

There is an urgent need for action, but the government does not seem to understand that, and it would appear that the Conservatives are not going to let us get this bill passed. Abolishing the two-week waiting period would not mean extending the employment insurance benefit period. All it would do is allow people to receive their EI benefits two weeks earlier, so that they would not have to go without money for two weeks.

Often, people do not even know they are going to lose their jobs. They get a warning and lose their jobs the same week, because the employer did not want anyone to know in advance. What is more, most of the time, these people do not have any money set aside. They even have debts. Liberalism encouraged people to go into debt in an excess of consumerism.

These people are just like everyone else. Workers also have a culture of borrowing. Then, suddenly, they have no money coming in for two weeks, so they go deeper into debt and they cannot afford to pay the mortgage or rent or feed their families. It is that serious.

If the waiting period were eliminated and the five weeks at the end left intact, the cost to the EI system would not be much more. In any case, only 28% of people receive the five weeks of benefits at the end of the period. Presumably, everyone would receive the two weeks at the start.

These two weeks are a question of dignity for our workers. It is scandalous that people who lose their jobs cannot get help from employment insurance right away.

Does the government want to punish workers for losing their jobs? We have to wonder. We could even say that that is what the government is trying to do. It is trying to punish workers for losing their jobs through no fault of their own. They will have to spend two weeks without benefits.

Generally speaking, the government is not criticized very much. It thinks that, as with every type of insurance, a premium must be paid. However, employment insurance is not a public or private insurance. It is a social measure that should apply to everyone, and people should not be punished unfairly.

Unfortunately, this unfair punishment has been around since 1971, and it is high time to abolish it. The current government should realize that it will not be defeated tomorrow if it eliminates this injustice. On the contrary, we will appreciate it more.

This measure is supported by all Quebeckers and Canadians. Unions, community groups, women's groups, anti-poverty groups, food banks, retailers, all support this measure, except the people that the government consulted. These people include business leaders, economists, banks and probably some hand-picked professors, who are at the source of this neo-liberal ideology.

The Bloc Québécois believes that this bill is necessary. It should be looked on favourably by the government, and I am asking it to reconsider its position.