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.


Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.


Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am sitting next to the member for Québec and I never heard the word “cocotte”. Because of all the commotion, some may have thought that it was meant for them

As for “carpette”, or doormat, and “Québécois de service”, or token Quebeckers, these words have already been used on several occasions, without any intervention on your part. We feel that these expressions are simply part of the political debate. There is absolutely nothing unparliamentary about these words.

Admissibility of Amendments to Bill C-3Points of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan


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

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with respect to the admissibility of two amendments made in committee to Bill C-3, An Act to promote gender equity in Indian registration by responding to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia decision in McIvor v. Canada (Registrar of Indian and Northern Affairs).

Without commenting on the merits of those amendments, I submit that they are beyond the scope of the bill and should be ruled out of order.

House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, states at page 766:

An amendment to a bill that was referred to a committee after second reading is out of order if it is beyond the scope and principle of the bill.

Citation 698(1) of the sixth edition of Beauchesne states that an amendment is out of order if it is irrelevant to the bill or beyond its scope. This issue has arisen on many occasions.

In a ruling on April 28, 1992, Speaker Fraser elaborated on the admissibility of amendments to bills referred to in committees after second reading:

When a bill is referred to a standing or legislative committee of the House, that committee is only empowered to adopt, amend or negative the clauses found in that piece of legislation and to report the bill to the House with or without amendments. The committee is restricted in its examination in a number of ways. It cannot infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown, it cannot go beyond the scope of the bill as passed at second reading, and it cannot reach back to the parent act to make further amendments not contemplated in the bill no matter how tempting this may be.

The Speaker does not get involved in committee issues except in cases where a committee has exceeded its authority, such as an amendment that is beyond the scope of a bill. In such cases, the Speaker is responsible for ruling on the admissibility of such amendments after the bill has been reported to the House. This is because the motion to refer the bill to committee after second reading establishes the principle and the scope of the bill. As a result, a committee report that is not consistent with that motion must be corrected.

On March 11, 2010, Bill C-3 was introduced. The bill's long title is an Act to promote gender equity in Indian registration by responding to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia decision in McIvor v. Canada (Registrar of Indian and Northern Affairs). The court ruled that two 1985 amendments to the Indian Act failed to eliminate gender discrimination in the second and subsequent generations. Those amendments provided a way for Indian women who had lost status through marriage to regain it and made it possible for the children of those women to be registered.

On March 29, 2010, the House of Commons unanimously adopted Bill C-3 at second reading and referred it to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

On April 23, 2010, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan gave notice of a motion of instruction to the committee, which stated that it has the power to expand the scope of Bill C-3 so that a grandchild born before 1985 with a female grandparent would receive the same entitlement to status as a grandchild of a male grandparent born in the same period. This motion clearly indicates that the opposition was aware that changing the provisions of the bill with respect to a grandchild born before 1985 would be beyond the scope of the bill.

On April 27, 2010, the member for Labrador moved the following amendment in committee, which stated:

That Bill C-3, in Clause 2, be amended by adding after line 16 on page 1 the following:

(a.1) that person was born prior to April 17, 1985 and is a direct descendant of the person referred to in paragraph (a) or of a person referred to in paragraph 11(1)(a), (b), (c), (d), (e) or (f) as they read immediately prior to April 17, 1985;

Government counsel indicated in committee that:

...this amendment would take a radically different approach than the approach that is taken in Bill C-3. [Bill C-3] would amend 6(1)(a) of the Indian Act, which basically was the provision allowing the registration after 1985 of all the individuals who were previously entitled to registration. The [proposed] amendment would allow any person born before April 17, 1985 to be registered under section 6(1)(a) of the Indian Act if that person was able to identify an ancestor that was at the time of his or her death entitled to be registered, which obviously increases significantly the number of persons entitled to registration under the Indian Act.

The chair agreed with the advice of government counsel and ruled that the amendment was beyond the scope of Bill C-3 and was therefore inadmissible. The chair asked the committee procedural clerk to provide the committee with further detail on the ruling. The procedural clerk stated that the amendment exceeded the scope of the bill as it was approved in the House.

The member for Labrador acknowledged in committee that the amendment exceeded the scope of the court's decision by adding a new entitlement to registration by stating:

[The amendment is] not as reflective, maybe, as what was in the B.C. Court of Appeal's ruling, which was much narrower...It just expands the category of eligibility--

Notwithstanding the advice of government counsel, House staff and the acknowledgement of the member for Labrador, the opposition members of the committee voted to overturn the chair's ruling and adopted the amendment. The committee also made a change to the short title of the bill. The bill as introduced had a short title which stated: “This Act may be cited as the Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act”. The opposition members of the committee voted to change the short title of the bill to read: “This act may be cited as the act amending certain definitions and registration provisions of the Indian Act”.

The chair ruled that this change was admissible because of the first amendment that I described. However, the chair emphasized that if the opposition members of the committee had not overturned his ruling that the first amendment I described was inadmissible, the amendment to clause 1 would also have been inadmissible. In this regard, page 770 and 771 of the second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice states:

The title may be amended only if the bill has been so altered as to necessitate such an amendment.

The change to the title of the bill is a further recognition that the first amendment is beyond the scope of the bill. Precedents clearly support the inadmissibility of these changes.

On February 27, 2007, in the case of Bill C-257, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers), the Speaker ruled:

Given the very narrow scope of Bill C-257, any amendment to the bill must stay within the very limited parameters set by the provisions of the Canada Labour Code that are amended by the bill...Therefore, on strictly procedural grounds, the Chair must conclude that the ruling of the chair of the committee was correct: these last two amendments do go beyond the scope of the bill as adopted at second reading and are therefore inadmissible.

Bill C-257 and Bill C-3 both have a particularly narrow scope that responds to narrow policy circumstances. As a result, the ruling on Bill C-257 would equally apply to Bill C-3.

I also cite a January 29, 2008, ruling with respect to an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. In that case, the committee decided not to adopt an amendment that would have been beyond the scope of the bill.

In responding to a letter from a member, the Speaker agreed with the committee decision and stated that the amendment would have been beyond the scope of the bill and therefore would have been inadmissible. The Speaker stated:

The amendment was ruled inadmissible by the committee chair on the grounds that it was beyond the scope of the bill...because it simply expanded the appeal provision already contained in the my opinion, the amendment was indeed inadmissible--

The April 23, 2010 motion proposing an instruction to the committee to expand the scope of the bill as well as the testimony of government counsel, House staff, the member for Labrador, and the committee chair's ruling all indicate that the amendment to Bill C-3 is beyond the scope of the bill and therefore should be ruled out of order.

Mr. Speaker, if you find this to be so, I submit that the amendment to the short title would also need to be ruled out of order since it would no longer correspond to the provisions of the bill.

Admissibility of Amendments to Bill C-3Points of OrderOral Questions

3:15 p.m.


Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is important to note that the amendments referred to by the parliamentary secretary are amendments that have considerable support in the House, including from at least three of the four parties. The official critic for this matter, the member for Labrador, on behalf of the official opposition, is unfortunately unable to be here at this present time. I am sure he would have some remarks to address to the Chair in defence of these amendments.

I would also note that, in response to the Thursday question, the government House leader did not indicate that this matter would be on the agenda for the House either this week or next week, so there is indeed time to ensure that the critic for the official opposition has an opportunity to address the matter in the House.

Admissibility of Amendments to Bill C-3Points of OrderOral Questions

3:20 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to echo the sentiments of the member for Wascana.This is a complicated matter and given the fact that Bill C-3 is not on the House agenda for next week, I would like an opportunity for the NDP to consider the government's position on this matter of scope, and to prepare a response once we have been able to consider all of the points that the member raised.

Admissibility of Amendments to Bill C-3Points of OrderOral Questions

3:20 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary and the hon. members for Wascana and Nanaimo—Cowichan for their remarks.

Certainly, I am quite prepared to wait and hear further submissions on the point before making a decision. Much as I like to plunge into these things, I will not render a decision forthwith.

As we had to show patience during the parliamentary secretary's presentation, so we will in waiting for the reply.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate term limits), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

3:20 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Before question period, the hon. member for Québec had the floor on this bill. She has 11 minutes left.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

3:20 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are discussing Senate reform, which would see senators appointed for eight years. We have to ask ourselves the following question: should changes affecting the essential characteristics of the Senate be made unilaterally by Parliament or should they be part of the constitutional process involving Quebec and the provinces?

The Supreme Court of Canada has answered that question. In the late 1970s, the Supreme Court of Canada considered the capacity of Parliament, on its own, to amend constitutional provisions relating to the Senate. Its decision Re: Authority of Parliament in Relation to the Upper House [1980], 1 S.C.R. 54 establishes the principle that major changes, affecting the essential characteristics of the Senate, cannot be made unilaterally. As hon. members can see, the Supreme Court has ruled on this issue.

Any reform affecting the powers of the Senate, the method of selecting senators, the number of senators to which a province is entitled or the residency requirement of senators can only be made in consultation with the provinces and Quebec.

Let us see how certain political players have looked at this issue. In 2007, the former Quebec minister for Canadian intergovernmental affairs, Benoît Pelletier, not exactly a sovereignist, reiterated Quebec's traditional position as follows:

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 is what a Liberal government member said about the issue in 2007. That same day, the National Assembly—every single MNA, including members of the Parti Québécois, the ADQ and the Liberals—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 is not just about consultation. I know that Canada's Conservative Prime Minister would like to have full control over the Senate and appoint senators for eight-year terms, but for that he needs to do more than just consult with Quebec and the provinces. He needs to obtain consent from the provinces, specifically from seven provinces representing more than 50% of Canada's population.

Traditionally and historically, Quebec's position on the Senate and possible Senate reform has been very clear. Since the unilateral patriation of the Constitution, successive Quebec governments have all agreed on one basic premise: they have made it very clear that there can be no Senate reform until Quebec's status has been settled.

In 1989, Mr. Bourassa, the former Quebec premier, said that he did not want to talk about Senate reform until the Meech Lake accord was signed.

In 1992, Gil Rémillard said that Quebec would not sign an agreement on Senate reform until it was satisfied with the results of negotiations on distinct society, power sharing and federal spending power. More recently, Quebec's Liberal government—a federalist government, I should point out—participated in the Special Committee on Senate Reform in 2007. It wrote the following in its May 31, 2007, submission:

The Government of Quebec is not opposed to modernizing the Senate. But if the aim is to alter the essential features of that institution, the only avenue is the initiation of a coordinated federal-provincial constitutional process that fully associates the constitutional players, one of them being Quebec, in the exercise of constituent authority.

The Government of Quebec, with the unanimous support of the National Assembly, therefore requests the withdrawal of Bill C-43 [a bill proposing an elected Senate]. It also requests the suspension of proceedings on Bill S-4...

Bill S-4 became Bill C-19 and then Bill C-10 on Senate term limits.

This is the fourth time the government has tried to bring a Senate reform bill before the House. The Liberal government spoke out against this for constitutional reasons.

And do not forget that on November 7, 2007, the National Assembly unanimously passed its motion. I think it is clear that if Ottawa wishes to reform the Senate, it must reopen the constitutional debate, sit down with Quebec and the provinces and negotiate with them in order to come to an agreement. It cannot act unilaterally. As I said before, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled on this issue.

if it truly wants to recognize Quebec, the government must also make sure to take a second issue into account. We know only too well that the Conservative government does not want to recognize Quebec. If it recognized the Quebec nation, it would also recognize the various political figures that have spoke about this issue.

We also want Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons to be maintained. But the Conservative government wants to increase the number of seats by 30, including 20 in Ontario, which would reduce Quebec's political weight. We are told that we will always be guaranteed 75 members. But 75 out of 308 is not the same as 75 out of 338.

Furthermore, the entire population of Quebec opposes this. We are very surprised and very frustrated by the actions of this government, which finally decided to recognize the Quebec nation. That was a sham; it was nothing but empty rhetoric. It does not really mean anything at all. When this government can diminish Quebec's political weight and ignore Quebec's wishes to not reform the Senate for constitutional reasons, it will do so. This is nothing but smoke and mirrors.

If the government was serious about democratic legitimacy, it would ensure that Quebec maintained its current representation in the House of Commons, that is, 24.35% of the seats. If 30 more seats are added, Quebec's representation would drop to under 22%. It is crucial that Quebec be represented not only based on its demographic weight, but also based on its historical significance and its social, economic and cultural distinctiveness. That is why we want Quebec's political weight to be preserved, and do not want to be left with just 75 seats. It is also because of Quebec's historical significance and because the Conservative government recognized the Quebec nation. If it wants to show consistency, it must ensure that the Quebec nation's representation is proportionate to its historic, economic and cultural significance, proportionate to its weight and what it is.

Moreover, the Conservative government is contradicting itself. On the one hand, it claims that it wants to increase the legitimacy of institutions, but on the other hand, it is trying to muzzle Quebec by introducing bills that will reduce the political weight of the Quebec nation. Clearly, the supposed recognition, as I mentioned earlier, was nothing more than empty rhetoric, since the Conservatives are incapable of taking any concrete action that would suggest true recognition.

It must be said that since the creation of the Canadian confederation, Quebec’s weight has declined constantly. I would point out that Quebec had 36% of the seats in 1867; if this bill were adopted, that would fall to 22.4%.

The members of the National Assembly are also in favour of the principle of maintaining Quebec’s weight. On Thursday, April 22, all members of that body, federalist and sovereignist, voted unanimously in favour of a motion against decreasing Quebec’s weight. Similar measures were adopted when previous bills were introduced by this Conservative government, which was trying to dilute the weight of Quebec. As well, the Quebec people also reject this bill, which would diminish the weight of Quebec. In fact, an Angus Reid poll conducted on April 7 shows that 71% of the population of Quebec opposes Bill C-12, which seeks to diminish Quebec’s weight. Now, 71% is a lot of people.

So the consensus in Quebec is that it is important to maintain Quebec’s relative representation in this House. That includes all of the members of the National Assembly and the 49 members of this House, two thirds of the members for whom Quebeckers voted. We are elected representatives, and we have democratic, popular legitimacy. This government’s refusal to take Quebec’s demands into account is only the last in a long series of examples demonstrating that recognition of the Quebec nation means nothing to this government.

If it were truly serious when it talks about reforming the democratic legitimacy of institutions, the government would abolish the Senate and ensure that the weight of the Quebec nation, which has been officially recognized, is kept at 24.3%. In addition, as I said before, it would reform the democratic legitimacy of institutions by ensuring it has the support of seven provinces that together represent 50% of the Canadian population and acknowledging that a majority of Quebeckers oppose these issues.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba


Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I found the member's comments interesting but not relevant to the bill that we are talking about, which is Senate term limits. The government is advocating for eight-year, non-renewable term limits.

The member raised a couple of issues. First, I want to assure the member that the bill is completely constitutional. We did this in 1965 by reducing the term limits to age 75 for senators.

I also would like to say that the eight-year term limit is based on multiple reports about what goes on in other democracies in other countries.

The member also raised the issue of the selection of senators. I have a solution for the member. I would suggest that Quebec voluntarily participate in the bill that I introduced, the senatorial selection bill, where people in the provinces could nominate the people they want in the Senate. Presumably, the people of Quebec would want to have a democratic voice.

Why does the member not accept the eight-year term limits and support the Senate selection method that is voluntary and completely within the purview of Quebec, if it so chooses? We are trying to empower the people of Quebec. I wonder why the member is not.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

3:30 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his remarks.

We also rely on the Supreme Court which examined Parliament’s ability to amend the constitutional provisions concerning the Senate of its own accord. On that point, decisions relating to major changes altering the fundamental character of the Senate may not be made by unilateral action. This means all reforms affecting the powers of the Senate—the method of selecting senators, the number of senators to which a province is entitled and the residence qualification of a senator—may be brought about only with the agreement of the provinces. We are meddling with the concept on which the Supreme Court has already ruled.

There is a consensus in Quebec. Those who recognize the Quebec nation also have to recognize that 71% of the population also opposes this view of things. Another survey that was done shows that senators represent an archaic institution. A lot of people do not understand the role of Senators in Parliament.

That is not just my own perception. It has a much broader dimension than a member’s own perception. I am merely reporting the reading of it in Quebec and among members elected from Quebec.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

3:35 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, what does my hon. colleague suppose the motive is in this bill? We need to be clear on the government's motive in bringing forward this bill. What is the point in establishing term limits for senators who are ostensibly there to provide sober and wise oversight on a bill?

What is the purpose that she sees in this bill that the Conservatives have brought forward today?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

3:35 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe that Senate appointments are what is motivating this government. In an eight-year period, there may be a change of government. It would be very dangerous for the government in place to be able to control certain appointments.

We know that the Conservative Party, which is in power now, tends to want to control everything. This would also be a way to control the Senate. We know how important the Senate is. It gives royal assent to all the bills that are passed. If a government did not agree with the opposition, it could muzzle the Senate and prevent a bill from being passed, because the government decided to control the senators.

We see the issue as much broader. To the Bloc Québécois, the Senate is an antiquated institution. We should abolish it instead of trying to reform it in some way.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

3:35 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to one of my favourite subjects, our Senate.

When this bill was first brought forward, my response publicly was, “big hairy deal”, and it stands. Quite frankly, my constituents and most Canadians do not give a tinkers about how long people get to be senators once they have been appointed to the Senate. The issue is how they get into the Senate. Whether they are in there 40 years, 30 years, 8 years or 2 years, they are still free to do whatever they want and there is not one power on this planet that can hold them accountable.

We will go along with it but I want to be quite frank. One of the reasons I am pleased to support this bill is that I am hoping, if there are enough senators rotating through the door and there is publicity around each one, that ultimately the Canadian people will finally say “Enough”.

We go through these spats where there are appointments and then nothing happens for a long period of time and people forget about it, for good reason. Then all of a sudden there is another round and there is a huge increase.

If that is happening two or three times a year, that might start to get to people as they see this happening over and over again, especially when they realize that most of the people going in there are either celebrities, meant to help the government be inoculated from its appointments, or they do not know who they are but they know it sure is not them or anybody they hang around with or have a beer with or play hockey with or go to work with. They know it will be somebody well connected and, in many cases but not all, it will be for, in my opinion, partisan reasons.

Well, let us look at the news release. It says in here, right off the bat, from the minister introducing the bill, ”Our government is committed to moving ahead with reform of the upper house to--”, and get this, ”--increase the democratic legitimacy of the Senate”.

Before something can be increased, it has to be there to start with and then it can be increased. Right now there is no democratic legitimacy to be found anywhere in that other place or the appointment process that gets people in there.

Then the minister said, “This bill is a step forward and creates a solid basis for further reform”.

That is nonsense. It does no such thing.

Mr. Speaker, I will signal to the minister that we will be supporting this bill at second reading, as I have indicated to him, to get it to committee. It is just not a big deal to us. Fine, 8 years or 20 years, they should not be there by appointment anyway. Therefore, if they are there for a shorter period of time, I guess that is a little better. That is about where we are with this thing.

Now the preamble, which is the part we need to sort of swallow in order to get it to committee, reads:

WHEREAS Parliament wishes to maintain the essential characteristics of the Senate within Canada’s parliamentary democracy as a chamber of independent, sober second thought.

Now we are getting to some of my favourite parts when we talk about the Senate. I will not talk about sober second thought. I will leave that be because it is a personal matter for those who might have a problem living up to that standard. However, “independent”, give me a break. I keep hearing this over and over, “independent sober second thought”, independent this, independent that. What a lot of nonsense.

There is a government leader in the Senate. That does not sound too independent. That sounds pretty tied to the government. The person gets extra money for that job, very similar to the government House leader here. The purpose is to shepherd government bills through the chamber. It sounds partisan to me. How could it not be partisan?

On the other side of the House, and it sounds a lot like our House, there are people opposed to them. What is interesting is that every Wednesday a good number of senators do not have the morning off. I would not go so far as to say that they all work but I would go so far as to say that quite a few of them go to caucus meetings.

I do not think I am divulging any secrets on behalf of any caucus here but does everyone know what happens at caucus meetings? We talk about politics and it is partisan politics. Those members attend the Conservative and the Liberal caucuses because those are the only two caucuses they belong to.

I want to get it on the record that there are some senators who are truly independent. In fact, I respect most of them. I wish I did not. It would make it easier, but I do. I acknowledge that upfront. I am talking about the system, that house and democracy, not individuals.

However, on Wednesday morning, the senators go off to their respective caucus meetings and they participate and agree on political strategies. That is not independent by any stretch. Many of them are political operatives who use taxpayer money to go and do who knows what, because they are not accountable to anyone. We know that many of them are doing partisan work on the $131,000 a year that the Canadian taxpayers are giving them. I will not even get into their travel, their offices and everything else.

Not only that, many of them participate in our elections, which in and of itself should not be a problem except they are the ones who want to stick label on themselves and say that they are independent, that they do not have anything to do with dirty partisanship, that this is why the need to maintain that house so they can have that sober, independence, once removed from the partisan antics of the House review. That is nonsense, my fellow Canadians. It does not exist.

This is the biggest charade perpetrated on one of the most modern, mature democracies of all time. Putin only appoints governors. In Canada we appoint the whole upper house.

Then the minister rolls in with a bill, saying that it is on its way to reform, that things will change. At that moment, we would expect things would really change. Maybe we will apply proportional representation to the federal election and apply it to the House or maybe take those seats and put them here and have proportional representation as well as a mixture of first past the post, something that really addresses the issue and the deficiencies in our system

What did we get? We are going to limit the best free ride there is in the world, in my opinion, to eight years. I do not know what is so magical about eight. I know there are certain numbers in certain cultures that have great significance and I respect that, but I am not aware of what eight means to us.

I hear a member heckling that it is better than 25. It is not nearly better enough. When the government came to power, it said that it would change the Senate. Remember when it talked about that? Remember the Reform Party? That is how it got here. It said that it had to do something about the Senate, the triple E. Now the Conservatives have power and they will limit terms to only eight years. That is eight years of participating in the law-making of Canada with no accountability.

That is probably the thing that offends me the most. I want to know what senator will to step forward and say that he or she is the senator who represents Hamiltonians, that senator will be in Hamilton at all the public meetings so the people of Hamilton can tell that senator what they think. How many public meetings do senators hold? How many times does the media go to them and hold them to account in a scrum and ask them why they voted a certain way?

I will give a very small issue, but it is meaningful to my constituents. A bill was passed in the House when I first arrived here. Forgive me if it is mundane, but it matters if it concerns some people. The bill dealt with trains that idled. Measures were put forward about protecting residents so they did not live too close to trains that would idle all night long.

As a former city councillor, and for anyone else who has served on council, we are dealing with the issues that affect people where they live. I supported the bill, having had experience with railways, trying to get fences and silly things. The Senate was lobbied by the railways and it changed the law and took it out.

More than anything, I wanted to bring those senators, or at least one of them, to Hamilton to meet with my constituents and explain to them why they voted the way they did. That did not happen, and it will not happen.

Who holds them accountable? Who puts the microphone to their mouths and asks them why they did or did not do or say something? We are rightfully asked those questions because we are held accountable.

The bill proposes nothing to change any of that. This is all just window dressing so the government can get by when it is asked about what it did about the Senate when it made such lofty promises.

We would like to start at square one. Let us go to the Canadian people with a referendum and ask them straight up if they want a Senate, yes or no. If they say they want a Senate, do they want it reformed. If they do, then we have marching orders and we go about it. If they say they want to keep it the way it is, we have our marching orders.

There is no other word for this but nonsense. The government is pretending that it is making a big change when in fact there is nothing here. We have no real ability to get our arms around it. Senators are independent. They sit in the upper house. We are in the lower house. We are merely the elected people.

We should start at the beginning and get a mandate from the Canadian people about what they want to do with their Senate. There are options. Abolishing it is our first choice. However, if the Canadian people say they like it because it provides some offset for regional differences, where rep by pop is not doing the job completely because we do not have a pure rep by pop, that is quite legitimate.

There are good reasons to have representatives who get here through other means than the one we have. A lot of people believe proportional representation would give us a much better democratic system. They believe it would be more reflective and might increase voter turnout. They believe it would tell young people that their votes do matter. New Democrats believe that too.

I am the last one any member would probably expect to say this, but there ought to be a member of the Green Party in the House. That party cannot get here because of our system. It does not win in my riding, but it does get a respectable turnout. With all the votes the Green Party received across Canada, it seems reasonable to me that it would be entitled to a seat. Under our current system members of the Green Party cannot get here, never mind get into the Senate. I do not know how they would even begin that process.

Almost $100 million a year is being spent on a body that is unelected and unaccountable. All we are going to do with this legislation is limit a senator's term to eight years instead of a maximum of 30 or 40 or some other outrageous number. That is what is before us today.

We will go along with it because it would not seem to do any great harm. I am not aware of any great increase in costs, although if we were to hear that, we could change our mind. The bill would not really change anything.

Maybe if there were enough people going in and out and the revolving door was reported in the media more often, maybe people would begin to ask why we would allow this to go on, pretending there was independent sober second thought. It does not exist.

That is what frustrates us more than anything, particularly from a government that slammed the Senate in every way possible in its election platform. If I am right, that very same Prime Minister has appointed more senators than anybody else in the history of Canada. That is an Olympic flip-flop.

To try to make up some of that ground, the poor minister has been tasked with trying to make the Prime Minister look like he is honouring the pledges and promises he made. I know the minister on a personal basis. He is doing the best he can. However, let us not kid ourselves. He can only do what he is allowed to do. It is the same in every government. I am not putting him down for that. This bill is a loser. This dog will not hunt. I could use whatever cliché I wanted, but the bill does not mean much at all.

The government does itself a great disservice when it talks about laying the cornerstone to increase the democratic legitimacy. Let us try beginning with some legitimacy before we get to increasing something that is not even there.

I would like to see the media attempt to hold the senators to account. I would like to see a big deal made out of them standing on privilege, saying that they do not have to answer to the media. I would like to see senators go public, take the platform, hold a news conference and tell the country why they do not have to answer a single question, or be accountable for their voting or go into our ridings and talk to our constituents.

On the books, and to the best of knowledge it is still there, senators get to self-declare. They can declare as a partisan or not and they can declare what they represent. Are they from a province, a part of a province, a riding? We have a senator who designated himself a representative for Yonge and Bloor, one corner. That is pretty good. He receives $131,000 a year and he represents a corner and he does not even have to go there or be with people. It is beautiful. And I will not even get into the senator who was in Mexico forever and ever and nobody noticed for the longest time.

I would like to see that happen. That would certainly change the dynamics around here. Every time there is a vote in there and it is controversial, I would like to see a scrum waiting outside the Senate, the same way there is for us. I will not tell anyone accountability is fun. No one likes to be grilled, but we get grilled. We all answer.

I am not suggesting we are perfect, but we do live by a set of rules that truly are democratic. We really are accountable. We really do have to go to public meetings and talk to people. We really do have to meet with the media and tell it what we are doing, why we are doing it, how we voted, why we did not vote differently and what we did with our time. Senators do not have to do any of that. Why do we let them get away with it? Until we can change things at the very least on a personal level let us start making them accountable. I would like to see some bills like that.

The minister has a number of bills in the House and we will be on our feet. I will have great fun with the Senate because I will get to say all these things over and over again because it makes me crazy.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

3:55 p.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Think of something new.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

3:55 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Start heckling me and that will give me some new material.

I do not want to be too flip about it, although I guess I am borderline, but you will tell me when I reach the line, Mr. Speaker. I am sure there are certain senators who are not too happy about what I have said, but it is such an affront.

I have been very active. I have done six international election monitoring missions. I go as a Canadian, presumably from a mature, advanced, modern democracy. It is downright embarrassing when they look up at us as a role model of some of the ways they would like to be and then they find out about our Senate. That is when we remind them that democracy is not perfect. We all have a long way to go. However, it is embarrassing, especially when I am there, to be a monitor for an election where they are trying to build democracy. In many cases, most of the countries I have been to are in the former Soviet Union empire and they are emerging democracies so they are really looking to learn. What do we have to teach them about democracy when we look at our Senate?

We will support this going to committee. However, no one in Canada ought to think for one moment that we think this makes a hill of beans of difference. We need to completely abolish the Senate or reform it so it is reflective of the needs of Canadians.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba


Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his very monotone and subtle presentation.

I want to assure the member that the constraints on the legislation I put forward are not from the Prime Minister but from a document called the Constitution. The Constitution allows for certain things to occur, and everything the government is suggesting is within the Constitution. To go beyond that would require major constitutional reform. I am disappointed the member is advocating for that when Canadians are worried about jobs, the economy and making Canada better, defending Canada, and getting tough on crime.

Let us move on to where we have common ground. I think it is safe to say that the member would agree with the government that the Senate is an imperfect institution and that there needs to be some reform. Part of that reform is the eight-year term limit. I appreciate the member's support for that.

We have also introduced a senator selection act, where provinces would voluntarily elect nominees for the Senate. This would also allow for other forms of elections, including perhaps PR.

I wonder if the member could reflect on why there is so much resistance from the opposition party to Senate reform. The Liberal Party seems to advocate for the status quo. I wonder if the member could explain from his perspective why the Liberal Party just wants the status quo in the Senate.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

3:55 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for staying in the House, listening and commenting. I appreciate that and I respect it.

With regard to jobs and the economy being more important, I just say to the minister that it is not my bill that we are debating. I did not get up this morning and say that I wanted to go to the House of Commons and speak about Senate reform today. I am here because the bill is here and the government thought the minister should put it forward, So, if the minister has problems with the fact that we are dealing with this instead of jobs and the economy, the minister should ask his House leader, he should not ask me. I can only address the issues that are put in front of me.

It was interesting to listen to the minister go on about why he could not do certain things, that there are certain limitations and this and that. Funnily enough, the minister and his colleagues were not interested in listening to anybody else defend the Senate. They said they were all just apologists for the Senate. That is what I heard.

Then the minister tried the cute trick of throwing in the Liberals to see if we would take part in bashing the Liberals. I will always do that. I like doing that too, just like they like bashing us. That is fine. At the end of the day the status quo is that the Conservatives have more members' votes they can count on than the Liberals. Whatever happened to independent members doing sober second thinking?

The Prime Minister's own actions put the lie to that when he appointed all those senators for the sole purpose of getting majority control of committees. That sounds like the dynamics we have. What happened to the non-partisan aspect of what is supposed to go on over there?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for the spirited discussion he had on a bill that he does not like, but it will move forward to committee.

I have been here for four and a half years and I really cannot say that I have found that the Senate accomplishes anything. It is a body that should be exposed for its uselessness to the Canadian public.

In provinces right across the country where they had senates, it is quite clear to them. Probably they have better money managers than we do. They were closer to the people and they said, “Look, we cannot afford to have these things. These things are not working. It is not worthwhile to have a bunch of people sitting in these chambers doing nothing on the public dole”. So, they got rid of them. I agree completely.

The member mentioned something about international affairs. We send all these senators out on these parliamentary tours to all these countries. Do other countries do the same thing? I have not noticed that. When I visit with other parliamentarians I have not noticed any people there who were not elected.

What do we do in Canada? We ship out the appointed senators all over the world to show what? That we are still half-colonial in our nature? That we have not really discovered the true nature of democracy, which means that a person is elected as a representative of the country?

What does my colleague think about sending senators out on the road when they do not really represent the people of this country?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, most senators have the time to do it because nobody is asking them what they are doing with their time, quite frankly. I have overheard some of them talking to other people. We are always on the brink of an election and when asked if they were worried about an election, the response was, “Oh, no, we don't worry about that”.

What happens when there is an election? Most of the international trips are backfilled by them because they are not in an election and the argument is that there have to be Canadians present and off they go.

We do it. I do not begrudge them going off and representing Canada. We all do it. What I begrudge is that they come back and nobody holds them accountable. Nobody asks why they were there, whom they talked to, what they did, what they did not do, what they did not say, why they did something. Nobody asks them. That is the part that I do not understand.

My colleague also asked what good they have done. I am going to assume we cannot use senators' names, the same as we cannot use members' names. I do not want to risk it or give offence. I will check the rules later. There is a certain senator from Newfoundland who likes to use the argument that we need the Senate because the House makes mistakes and it catches them. Quelle surprise, we make mistakes. We have 10 provinces and 3 territories and they make mistakes, too. They fix them.

I can remember one time during the Mike Harris years in Ontario when he rushed a bill through and it took six follow-up amendment bills to correct the original mistakes. The amendments were done so quickly that other amendments had to be introduced to fix the amendments that were brought in to fix the original bill. There were six amendments. It sounds funny and silly, but my point is that is what the Harris government did. It worked. It did not need a Senate. It had the rules and could fix its own problems.

My last point is this. There are individual senators who do a phenomenal job for Canada and for the issues that Canadians care about. My only gripe is that I wish they would enter into the public arena so they would have legitimacy behind their actions. It would give a voice to those actions so when they stood up, it actually meant something. First of all, they would be standing up, which would be new, and second, it would mean something, which would also be new.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:05 p.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, like my colleague from Western Arctic, I would like to thank the member for his spirited contribution to the debate today.

I find it interesting that he called for a referendum on the Senate. He is starting to sound like a Reformer. I am glad to see the NDP adopting some former Reform policies.

Speaking of senators, he mentioned senators having a town hall meeting. I want to tell him about one senator, now retired, who did make a huge difference, Senator Pat Carney from British Columbia. Talk about town hall meetings. Senator Carney helped organize a coastal community network with coastal parliamentarians. She got people from all three levels of government together, municipal and first nations, to discuss coastal concerns. They were able to deal with some very practical problems that fell between jurisdictions. She connected people and did work that the offices of members of Parliament were too busy to do.

The member knows that the Senate exists as a creation of the Constitution of Canada. As the Minister of State for Democratic Reform correctly pointed out, getting constitutional change is very difficult in our country and very divisive. Some senators last as long as 25 years. This bill would limit terms to eight years. We want senators to be elected by their provinces so they can be appointed to this place. What is wrong with doing what we can to bring reform to the Senate?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:05 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member mentioned a referendum. Let me start at the top. We do not have a problem with a referendum for certain things. We supported it for the Charlottetown accord. The difference is that the Reform Party wanted to have referendums on pretty much everything. It pretty much wanted to replace this place and do everything by referendum. We do not agree with that. We do not believe that is the best way to run a mature democracy.

I asked for an example and the member gave me one. I accept that. I would point out two things. One, there is always two sides to every argument. I do not know whether there was another senator leading another group that was arguing the point or was this all just motherhood? I do not want to put it down, but I would raise the question, did they enter into the full political fray and take on both pro and con, or was it just facilitating an argument?

The last thing I want to say is that I asked if there were any public meetings. I have been in public life for almost 25 years in all three orders of government. It took all that time before I heard about even one senatorial meeting. What about the rest of them and what about the rest of the time?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:05 p.m.


Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre.

I am pleased to stand and debate Bill C-10, the Senate term limits bill. I will attempt to be a little less angry than the last member who spoke.

Bill C-10 proposes to amend the Constitution to establish term limits for senators. Specifically, the bill proposes that senators serve a single term of eight years.

Parliamentarians already had the opportunity to study the bill in some detail since it was first introduced in the last Parliament. In fact, two separate committees undertook studies of Bill S-4 which was similar to the bill before us today.

The call for change is certainly not new. Over the years there have been numerous proposals for term limits for senators and I believe there is now a general consensus that term limits are a good idea.

There remain a few skeptics. For example, concerns have been raised that term limits will somehow undermine the fundamental nature of the Senate, in particular, its capacity to provide sober second thought in the review of legislation. It is argued that an eight-year term is not long enough to allow senators to gain the experience to effectively carry out their functions in reviewing legislation. I would like to use my time today to address this concern.

I believe that if we look at previous proposals for term limits in the Senate and we examine the term limits in other jurisdictions, we can be confident that an eight-year term is more than sufficient for senators to exercise their constitutional responsibility.

Bill C-10 is far from being the first proposal to limit the tenure of senators. In fact, the only significant constitutional amendment relating to the Senate in our history was when Parliament amended the Constitution in 1965 to reduce the tenure of senators from that of life to a mandatory retirement age of 75.

However, the 1965 amendment still allows senators to serve as long as 45 years. That is why there have been so many proposals to implement additional limits on Senate tenure since 1965.

In 1980, the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee proposed that senators serve fixed terms of 10 years which would be renewable for a further term of five years. In 1981, the Canada West Foundation recommended senators serve limited terms that would coincide with the life of two parliamentary terms. Similarly, the Alberta Select Special Committee on Upper House Reform recommended in 1985 that senators should serve the life of two provincial legislatures. In 1984, the Special Joint Committee on Senate Reform recommended that senators would serve non-renewable nine-year terms. In 1992, the Special Joint Committee on a Renewed Canada recommended that senators should serve terms of no more than six years.

The recommendations for Senate term limits over the past 30 years have ranged from six-year terms to ten-year terms. The authors of these reports, including some former and distinguished parliamentarians of different partisan persuasions believe a term ranging from six to ten years would be sufficient to maintain the Senate's ability to effectively scrutinize legislation.

An eight-year term limit proposed in Bill C-10 squarely falls within the range of the term limits that previously have been proposed for the Senate. Bill C-10 is not a radical or revolutionary proposition. It is consistent with other proposals for Senate reform that have been made over the years.

Let us contrast the eight-year term limit in Bill C-10 with the term limits of the upper houses in other jurisdictions.

Based on data compiled by the French Senate on 66 second chambers, the average term limit for members is 5.2 years.

In Australia, a country with similar characteristics to Canada, senators serve six-year terms.

Similarly, senators in the United States also serve six-year terms. I doubt anyone would consider an American senator in his or her fifth or sixth year of office to be unable to perform his or her legislative capacities effectively. As we all know, Barak Obama was elected President of the United States after less than four years in the United States Senate.

The proposal in Bill C-10 for an eight-year term limit for senators is well within the norm internationally. In fact, it is above the average term limit for upper houses in foreign jurisdictions.

Many members may point to the previous proposals by the British government for the members of the House of Lords to serve for the equivalent of three parliamentary terms, or 12 to 15 years. However, there are three considerations that should lessen the significance of the British proposal on Senate reform in Canada.

First, Britain is looking at lords reform at a different departure point than is the case in Canada. Currently, lords are appointed for life. In contrast, life appointments to the Senate were replaced here in 1965, with a mandatory retirement age of 75. Therefore, a move to 12 year to 15 year terms would be a much more significant change in the United Kingdom than it would be in the Canadian setting.

Second, while proposing 12 year to 15 year terms, the British government recognized that terms of this length would raise accountability concerns. To address this, the British government suggested that a recall mechanism may be appropriate for the House of Lords. In the 2008 white paper on lords reform, the British government stated:

Further consideration would need to be given to the accountability arrangements for members of a reformed second chamber, particularly in light of proposals that they serve long, single, fixed terms.The Cross-Party Group discussed the possibility of introducing recall ballots for elected members of a reformed second chamber, along the lines of those that exist in some states of the USA.

Unlike the 12 year to 15 year term, the eight-year term proposed by Bill C-10 does not create the same accountability concerns raised in the British white paper. Even if Britain were to create a 12 year to 15 year term limit, a term of that length would be the exception, not the rule. In short, I do not believe the British example to be a comparable model when evaluating the appropriate term limits for our Canadian Senate.

The proposed eight year term was studied extensively by two Senate committees during the last Parliament. The report of the Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform supported term limits, in principle, and validated the government's position that an eight year term limit would not undermine the essential characteristics of the Senate.

For example, the committee's report concluded:

While a variety of views were expressed about the desirable length of a senatorial term, virtually none of our witnesses dismissed the creation of a term limit per se and, indeed, most strongly supported it. These witnesses pointed out that limited terms would dispel the image, so harmful to the Senate, of “jobs for life”, and re-invigorate the Senate with a constant influx of fresh ideas. Most members of the Committee found these assertions to be persuasive.

The Committee also notes that, in previous deliberations on the Constitution of Canada, various committees of the Senate have unanimously favoured the creation of limited terms for service in the upper house of Canada’s Parliament. In the view of most Committee members, the arguments made in these reports remain sound.

Accordingly, following careful deliberation on the subject-matter of Bill S-4 and finding no reasonable grounds to withhold approval in principle, most Committee members endorse the underlying principle of the bill: that a defined limit to the terms of senators would be an improvement to Canada’s Senate

Previous recommendations for term limits ranged from 6 to 10 years. None have proposed term limits greater than 10 years. Yet, the Liberals have proposed a 15 year term limit.

Term limits for second chambers in other jurisdictions are, on average, 5.2 years, which is well below the 15 years proposed by the legal and constitutional affairs committee. Let us be clear. By proposing a 15 year term limit in committee, Liberal senators killed the term limits bill on a party line vote.

Furthermore, we should compare the 15 year term limit proposed by the committee with the actual tenure of senators. Since Confederation, the average term of a senator has been about 14 years. Since 1965, the average tenure of senators has been 9.25 years.

The 15 year term limit proposed by Liberal senators at the legal and constitutional affairs committee would not effect any meaningful change to the Canadian Senate. Rather, it would simply reinforce the status quo.

Before concluding, I would like to note that while the Canadian government believes that a 15 year term limit is too long, the government has expressed willingness to consider other points of view, within reason. For example, when he made the unprecedented appearance before the Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform, the Prime Minister stated:

A government can be flexible on accepting amendment to the details of Bill S-4 to adopt a six-year term or an eight- year term or a nine-year term. The key point is this: We are seeking limited, fixed terms of office, not decades based on antiquated criteria of age.

Nevertheless, I believe the eight year term limit proposed in Bill C-10 is reasonable. Eight years is sufficient time for senators to build up the necessary experience and expertise to perform their duties effectively. It is also consistent with previous Senate reform proposals and the term limits of second chambers internationally.

Bill C-10 would not alter the essential characteristics of our Senate. I encourage all members of this House to please support this initiative.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

April 29th, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.


Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member across for his comments. The last part of his speech dealt with a term, and I just want to get his opinion on this point. This is a point that has been raised before. The concept is to have two legislative bodies. A bicameral system is one that we certainly will continue in Canada, regardless of whether we invoke term limits.

However, with an eight year term, does the member not think that we could get into a very unpleasant situation where 100% of the senators would be appointed by one prime minister? I will give an example to the member. The last Liberal government came into power in 1993. By the year 2001, following the draft legislation, 100% of those senators would have been not only from that party but appointed by that one individual. I do not think it would create a deliberative body, so I would look for, and again this will be discussed at committee, perhaps a better mechanism.

I would appreciate member's comments.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:15 p.m.


Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's remarks are very relevant. We are talking about term limits for senators. We have talked, through other debate here today, about how much experience a senator can gain over an eight year period of time.

In my speech I talked about the President of the United States who spent less than his six year term in the U.S. Senate before he became President. So we can certainly remove the thoughts of experience building. People come here with altruistic reasons and life experiences will help them become senators.

To the member's point of appointing new senators after an eight year term and the government of the day perhaps even over time making a full turnover in the Senate, I certainly find it refreshing that our Senate would turn over that often and bring in individuals with new, fresh ideas. That would be very refreshing to Canadians.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba


Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his kind reflections on how to improve our democratic institutions. The eight year term in context with our Senatorial Selection Act will empower people to select the nominees for the Senate. I wonder if that would address the previous member's concerns. I also wonder if the member could reflect on the integrity of newly appointed senators as they are putting their country's interests ahead of their own self-interest by agreeing to the term limits upon royal assent.