House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was conservative.


Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.


Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to oppose Bill C-10, which was introduced by the government to limit to eight years the tenure of senators who are summoned after October 14, 2008.

As a number of my Bloc colleagues have already explained, Bill C-10 does not take into consideration a unanimous motion passed by the Quebec National Assembly.

We are opposed to Bill C-10. Just as it does with Bill C-12—the side legislation to Bill C-10—which seeks to reduce the political weight of the Quebec nation in the House of Commons, the Conservative government wants to reform the Canadian Constitution without the consent of the Quebec government and its National Assembly. The Conservatives have the support of the Liberals who, unfortunately, still have not learned their lesson from the sponsorship scandal and the 1982 patriation of the Constitution. The government wants to ignore the powers of the Quebec nation and of all the provinces of Canada.

This attempt by the federal government to amend the Senate without consulting the Quebec government shows that it cares very little about the recognition, by the House of Commons, of the Quebec nation.

It is increasingly clear that this recognition was just an election strategy by the Conservative Party, which proposed the motion. Since the Conservative government recognized the existence of the Quebec nation, it has systematically targeted that nation—which it claims to have recognized—and rejected any proposal to give tangible expression to this recognition. It refuses to recognize the language of the Quebec nation, which is a francophone nation. Indeed, when the Bloc Québécois introduced legislation to this effect, the government refused to recognize the French language in all federal institutions. It recognizes Quebec as a nation, but it does not give it any right.

We see this again, here in the House, with respect to securities. The government recognized the Quebec nation, but it interferes in Quebec's jurisdictions.

Instead of giving expression to this recognition, the Conservatives, often with the support of the Liberals, propose changes that only seek to weaken Quebec and to punish it for not voting for them.

Bill C-12, which, like Bill C-10, aims to diminish Quebec's political weight, completely disrespects the Quebec nation. Now they want to call into question political party funding in order to further diminish Quebec's voice, which is expressed by the Bloc Québécois, in the House of Commons. We are the only party, as we have seen again here today, that fully defends the wishes of Quebeckers. Now the Conservatives want to reform the Senate without consulting Quebec and all the provinces.

It is as though we were from another planet. I am a Quebecker; I am from Quebec. Other members come form other provinces like Manitoba, Alberta, Ontario. We are elected in our provinces and we are here to represent our constituents. Yet the Conservatives are introducing and passing bills without consulting the provincial level, the Quebec nation.

It is unbelievable. It could almost be described as collective schizophrenia, as though we are members of this House, yet in no way accountable to the people who elected us.

We believe that 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.

We are not the only ones to think so. 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. According to a ruling handed down in 1980, any decisions related to major changes affecting the essential characteristics of the Senate cannot be made unilaterally. Thus, any reform affecting the powers of the Senate can only be made in consultation with Quebec and the provinces. The Supreme Court clearly states this. But, no, the government continues to go ahead with a bill that will likely be disputed as far as the Supreme Court. Of course this will cost Quebec and all the provinces a great deal in legal fees.

It is hard to understand why the government has done this. Before making any reforms to the Senate, would it not have made more sense for the government to consult with Quebec and the provinces and work together with those on the front line and with the public? No, it is pushing ahead. Any reform affecting the Senate's powers can only be made in consultation with Quebec and the provinces.

Historically, Quebec's position on the Senate and possible Senate reform has been very clear. Since the unilateral patriation of the Constitution by the Liberals in 1982, 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. But what are the Conservatives and the Liberals doing? They are pushing ahead.

Why such contempt for this federal parliamentary institution? It is not just sovereignists from Quebec who share my position. Federalists share the same position on Senate reform as sovereignists in Quebec. For example, there is the former Quebec minister for Canadian intergovernmental affairs, Benoît Pelletier. He is a Liberal and every Quebecker and Canadian knows that he is a strong federalist. We all know it. He himself reiterated Quebec's position on this on November 7, 2007. To Mr. Pelletier, it is quite clear that for the Government of Quebec the Senate does not come solely under the federal government's jurisdiction and there cannot be any reform or abolition of the Senate without the consent of the Government of Quebec.

What is more, the very day he made that statement, the National Assembly unanimously adopted a motion. All the parties, the Liberal Party, the ADQ, the right, the sovereignist party, the Parti Québécois, adopted a motion. I want all hon. members from Quebec in the House to listen closely:

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.

Can it be any clearer? That is what was said by Quebec's democratic institution. This government, in a moment of schizophrenia, we might say, has introduced Bill C-10 in the House and unilaterally wants to reform the Senate with the help of the Liberals. What can we say? It is disappointing and distressing. It goes around and around and comes back to life. They are repeating the mistakes of the past.

The members of the Bloc Québécois will defend the following position without hesitation and without compromise: Quebec and the provinces must be consulted about any desire to reform the Senate. As our opposition leader stated in his speech, we are the Halaks of the House. We must once again block the blistering shots on Quebec by the Conservatives and the Liberals. However, as we have demonstrated, we are in great shape. This bill directly attacks the rights of the Quebec nation and its National Assembly and we cannot accept that.

Unfortunately once again, the Quebec members on the Conservative side, in particular the members for Jonquière—Alma and Mégantic—L'Érable—as good tame, token Quebeckers—support this bill. Whose interests do they represent? Certainly not those of Quebec. The unanimous motion from Quebec's National Assembly clearly states that no reform of the Senate may be carried out without the consent of Quebec. They are not defending Quebeckers' interests. They are defending the interests of the House, and have isolated themselves. It is shameful. They are defending the Conservative Party and the Liberals are defending a few of the other provinces in Canada interested in this reform, but they are not defending Quebeckers and that is shameful.

They do not respect the voters and the Quebec nation that they represent. They have voted against other bills. These Quebec members voted against French being the sole language in Quebec and having all Quebec institutions use French. They voted against that. In Quebec, people believe in the right to abortion, but these members, once again, rise and vote against the interests and values of Quebeckers. That is also what they are doing by supporting Bills C-10 and C-12.

No surprise there. Let us not forget that these are the federalists who imposed on Quebec the 1982 constitutional amendments. It is deplorable and disgraceful for this Parliament to defend this bill as it does. The federalists never learn. They do not understand Quebec. They are simply unable to stand up for Quebec and support our desire to have a Quebec nation respected for what it is, which promotes our culture and values within the global community.

As with Bill C-12, the Conservative government and the Liberals are showing how little they care about the recognition by the House of Commons of the Quebec nation, this unique francophone nation.

With bills like that, the federalist parties are clearly showing that they get along extremely well on at least one thing: they will stop at nothing to deny any significance to the recognition of the Quebec nation. To us in the Bloc Québécois, recognizing the existence of a nation is much more than a symbolic gesture or nice words spoken in the House of Commons. Nations have fundamental rights like the right to control their societies' social, economic and cultural development themselves.

However, since recognizing the existence of the Quebec nation, the Conservative government has continued to use every power and means at its disposal to try to impose bilingualism on Quebec, and refused to ensure that corporations under its jurisdiction are required to adhere to the Charter of the French Language. It will not take into account the existence of our national culture in the administration of its laws and the operation of its institutions with cultural or identity significance. It will not even consider letting Quebec have its own radio-television and telecommunications commission to make regulations based on the interests and challenges unique to Quebec.

Of course, the Conservatives and the Liberals will refuse to limit federal spending power, even though that was a promise made by the Conservative Party to buy votes in Quebec. This is shameful.

For the Conservative government, recognizing the Quebec nation does not mean anything, and its will to amend the Senate without the consent of the Quebec government is an example, among many others, of that government's disrespect for Quebeckers' wishes.

In this context, Quebeckers have a very clear view on this issue, and the government should listen to their needs. In a poll conducted in Quebec a short while ago, only 8% of the respondents believed in the Senate's role, which is quite low. According to that same poll, 22% of Quebeckers would prefer an elected Senate, but 43% would rather see that institution abolished altogether, because its annual costs to taxpayers are in excess of $50 million, and they get nothing in return.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.


Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

It is social assistance for the rich.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.


Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

The Conservatives are saying that they respect the will of the public, but that is not true. If they did, they would not go forward with this legislation. Instead of focusing on this bill, they should reform the employment insurance program by waiving the waiting period, or by increasing the number of weeks of benefits. There are some people in my riding who are battling cancer and who get only 15 weeks of EI benefits. At the end of that period, they have to turn to social assistance. These people get poorer and must sell their belongings.

In conclusion, if the House passes this bill, as it is about to do, that will be taken as an insult to the Quebec nation. Quebec abolished its legislative assembly in 1968. A number of other provinces have abolished their Senate. Has that changed anything? I personally think that the legislative and democratic institutions of the provinces and of the Quebec nation work very well.

In any case, it does not matter whether we support the Senate or not. Before introducing this legislation and moving forward on this issue, the government should have consulted Quebec and all the provinces.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1 p.m.


Roger Pomerleau Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was pleased to hear the member for Berthier—Maskinongé, who gave us a comprehensive reminder of the number of times the Quebec National Assembly has adopted unanimous positions.

I remind the House that a unanimous position at the Quebec National Assembly is the position of the four political parties represented there, which represent both federalists and sovereignists, and these four parties represent all of Quebec. That is what a unanimous position of the Quebec National Assembly means.

The Quebec National Assembly has taken unanimous positions a number of times for or against bills. I will mention some examples that were brought up by my colleague. It took a unanimous position against Bill C-12, which would reduce Quebec's political weight; a unanimous position against the creation of a single securities commission—this came up during question period today—; a unanimous position calling on the government to hand over the $2.2 billion we are owed for harmonizing the GST, which the government refuses to pay. Federalists and sovereignists alike have called for that. We often hear that sovereignists talk about how they never get anything, but federalists are not getting what they are asking for either. The National Assembly also took a unanimous position against Senate reform without consultation with the provinces.

Every time they took a unanimous position, all of the federalist members from Quebec, whether they are Conservative or Liberal, good little Quebec members, elected by Quebeckers and paid by Quebeckers to defend the interests of Quebec in Ottawa, always took Canada's side over Quebec's.

Does my colleague, who is well aware of this, not think that this explains why the Bloc Québécois has been winning elections, the majority of the votes in the House, since 1993?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.


Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for that excellent question.

The real question is why these Conservative and Liberal members from Quebec act this way.

I will try to explain. They are in the minority in these political parties, so they take a certain attitude in order to rise through the party ranks and achieve greater prominence or even become ministers in some cases. We can see this in the Conservative Party with the member for Beauce, who is travelling across Canada denigrating Quebeckers to try to get more votes and please Canadians.

This is how these Quebeckers, who are in a minority situation in these federal parties, choose to take their place within these parties and get more respect from their colleagues from the other provinces. They become what we call token Quebeckers. It is the only way they can survive in these federalist parties.

What makes the Bloc Québécois strong is that we are all members from Quebec. We can take a stand in favour of Quebeckers, defend unanimous positions of the National Assembly and defend Quebeckers' identity, values and language.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Royal Galipeau

Especially demagogy.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia


Steven Fletcher Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's comments. We live in the greatest country in the world. Quebec is an important part of this great country. Bill C-10 is trying to make our democratic institutions better. The fact that the member and the rest of us are here in the House of Commons demonstrates what a great democracy Canada is.

Parliament includes the Senate. Bill C-10 would allow for eight-year, non-renewable terms. This would strengthen the representation of Quebec in Parliament by allowing fresh and new ideas from Quebec to come into Parliament. We have the senatorial selection act. If Quebec chose, it could implement this, and the people of Quebec could decide who comes and sits in the Senate.

Let us be honest. The real reason the member does not want us to improve Quebec representation in the House is that the member's party does not want Quebec to have any senators in Parliament and zero members in the House of Commons. The reason for that party is not to increase or improve representation of Quebec in Parliament. It is to ensure that Quebec has no representation in Parliament.

That is not good for the people of Quebec and it is not good for the people of Canada. That is why we work together in this democratic institution to move forward in the interests of Quebecers and all Canadians. Will the member just admit that we live in the greatest country in the world at the best time in human history to be alive? Will the member just acknowledge that Canada is the best country in the world, with Quebec?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.


Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell my colleague something. He wrote an article in Le Devoir this week on euthanasia. I took the time to read the article, and I congratulate him on the ideas he put forward. He has added to the debate on this issue, and I have heard good comments from some of my colleagues.

Never mind whether or not we want to abolish the Senate. He talked about a democratic institution. The government did not act very democratically when it introduced Bills C-10 and C-12, because the members of Quebec's National Assembly unanimously opposed reforming the Senate without first consulting Quebec.

Before introducing the bill in the House for debate, the government should have consulted Quebec and the provinces, as Supreme Court rulings require. If this bill goes ahead, it will be challenged, which will mean legal costs for the provinces and Quebec.

What will be gained by this? Absolutely nothing.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.


Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the things my colleague talked about was consultation. It is interesting to look at the current government and its consultation on this file. I recall well that, when I was on the procedure and House affairs committee and we were dealing with democratic reform, and I know that the minister responsible will remember this, we had a motion in place to have a consultation process in this country.

Do members know what the government did? It contracted the consultation out to the Frontier Centre, for instance, a centre that claims not to believe in things like proportional representation. That report was useless. I do not see it anywhere in these bills. The government paid a lot of money, did not consult Canadians and claimed it had done its consultation. It said democratic reform was taken care off and checked it off the list.

Does the member think that consultation for the current government is simply a matter of contracting out? Or does he think it actually has it somewhere in its plans to consult Canadians when it comes to democratic reform?

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.


Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have been sitting as a member since 2004. It happens quite often that people are consulted and a report is written. That report then sits on a shelf. We spend a lot of money doing that. That is what happens in the various House committees. There is money here. We can hold committee meetings and have people testify. We can undertake large-scale consultations and research and then ignore it. It is incredible.

I agree with the member who is wondering what consultation means. We have to listen to the citizens. It goes to the very heart of the Constitution. If they had done consultations, I know that they would not have introduced Bill C-10, which will surely be contested by Quebec and other provinces anyway.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.


Meili Faille Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak about Bill C-10, which was introduced by the Conservative government. This bill would amend the Constitution Act, 1867 by limiting Senate terms.

Earlier, I spoke about Bill C-12, which would reduce Quebec's political weight. The Bloc Québécois is in Ottawa to defend Quebec's interests, and issues related to its political weight here in Ottawa are important. We are fighting for the rights of francophones. As we will see, the people of Quebec and the National Assembly believe that Quebec should be consulted before any constitutional changes take place, especially because Bill C-10 would change the structure of the Senate and shift the political weight for strictly ideological purposes.

The minister's comments about Bloc Québécois members is another example of the Conservatives' preconceived notions. The consultations were sloppy and the introduction of this rushed legislation is not justified. Throughout history, many governments and legislatures have tried to change the Senate.

The public is beginning to seriously question the legitimacy of senators. Newspaper headlines demonstrate this every time there is a new appointment to the Senate. Senators are chosen by the Prime Minister. These are partisan appointments. Each province has a certain number of seats and many people have criticized how they are distributed. Could that chamber be much more effective? Could the measures proposed by the government improve how the Senate operates? I doubt it.

The Bloc Québécois opposes Bill C-10. We wonder about the real intentions of the Conservative government, which for the past few weeks has been introducing one bill after another that aim to change fundamental aspects of our democracy, without the provinces' consent and under false pretexts.

We believe that the Conservatives want to reform the Constitution on the sly by going over the heads of the provinces and Quebec. We have become accustomed to these ploys. Considering the number of times they have hidden obscure and discriminatory provisions in bills, no one can blame us for asking for clarification about their real objectives. Furthermore, why do they bother creating laws and regulations when they are the first to disobey laws and regulations in order to satisfy their partisan appetite?

Limiting Senate tenure is merely the beginning. In order to make any changes regarding the Senate, the Conservative government must consult Quebec and the other provinces.

The changes proposed by the Conservatives serve only to undermine Quebec and the Quebec nation. Our analysis of the concept of open federalism has been extremely disappointing for Quebeckers. There has been no concrete recognition of the Quebec nation and its attributes, and the Conservatives have missed a number of opportunities to restore the balance between the two nations, which only increases the level of scepticism among the people of Quebec.

The open federalism vaunted by the federal government has instead been restrictive for Quebec.

We simply have to look at the bills recently introduced by this government, such as Bill C-12, which reduces Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons, the various proposals for Senate reform or the fact that they have called political party financing into question.

Who is this government really targeting? In order to better understand the Bloc Québécois' position, one must analyze what the Conservative government is proposing, while keeping mind that this government is always trying to diminish Quebec's influence.

I must mention that 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 Quebec, the provinces and the territories. Why did the government not think it necessary to seek consent from the key players on an issue that affects the Constitution Act, 1867?

Let us look at this together. What is the impetus to the bill and what does it offer to Quebec? Currently, a senator is appointed by the government, by the Prime Minister, and that appointment is effective until the maximum age of 75, at which point the senator must retire. A person appointed at age 30 would receive a term of over 45 years. The Conservative government is proposing to uphold the retirement age of 75 and, in addition, would impose an eight year term on senators. Despite being appointed for an eight year term, if the senator reaches age 75 during that term, he or she must retire from the Senate. There is another provision whereby no senator can request that their eight year term be renewed.

Although this seems like a good idea, what impact could an eight year term have on democratic life?

If this bill is passed in its current form, it would mean greater turnover of senators. And since senators would still be unelected, there would be an increase in partisan appointments.

It is not a stretch to think that a government could change the composition of the Senate by making partisan appointments, thereby taking control of the Senate and having every government bill passed or defeated according to the whim of that very same government.

It could change the parliamentary agenda of the House of Commons by systematically obstructing bills it did not like or that came from opposition party members.

When they are elected to power, Canada's old parties try to make changes that favour their base. They even contradict what they may have said when they were in opposition. I have an example. The Prime Minister, who questioned the Senate's partiality when he was first elected, is now introducing a bill that will boost partisan appointments. Obviously he has changed his tune, but why? In order to impose a regressive Conservative program and satisfy the Reform Party members of the Conservative Party.

When I read the wording of Bill C-10, I get a better grasp of the government's intentions and, more importantly, a better idea of how it wants to get its legislation passed.

The first paragraph in Bill C-10 provides that the Senate must evolve in accordance with the principles of democracy. That paragraph includes examples of institutions which, over time, have had their structure amended. The second paragraph seeks to explain how the Senate can better reflect the democratic values of Canadians. Finally, it is in the third paragraph that mention is made of the change to Senate terms.

What I find disturbing is that the government mentions too often that Parliament can amend the Constitution. It uses as an example what the government did in 1965, when it set the retirement age for senators.

It is in the fifth paragraph that the Conservative government confirms its intention to ignore Quebec and the other provinces to make changes to the Senate. The fifth paragraph of Bill C-10 reads, “Whereas Parliament, by virtue of section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982, may make laws to amend the Constitution of Canada in relation to the Senate;”.

May I remind hon. members that Quebec did not sign the 1982 Constitution? I also remind them that the patriation of the Constitution was done unilaterally, without Quebec's agreement. Lastly, let us not forget that the minimum condition set by successive governments in Quebec on Senate reform has always been clear: there will be no Senate reform without first settling the issue of Quebec's status.

That is why the Bloc Québécois is opposed to Bill C-10. It is very clear that the Conservative government wants to ignore Quebec and the other provinces. Need I remind the House of the reasons why the Bloc Québécois was founded?

It was because of the record of failure in constitutional negotiations that the Bloc Québécois was established. In order to avoid discussing the Constitution with Quebec, the Conservative government claims to have the power, under section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982, to unilaterally change the provisions dealing with the Senate.

This is yet another attempt by Ottawa to work against the interests of Quebec, and even those of the other Canadian provinces and territories.

In November 2006, the Conservative government tabled a motion recognizing the Quebec nation. Since then, no action has been taken by the government to follow up on that recognition. It looks as though the Conservative government does not want to accept that Quebec is a society that developed by itself and that applies its laws based on its specificity and its own attributes.

I invite parliamentarians to read certain documents to better understand Quebec's claims. I also invite my colleagues to be prudent and vigilant, because by changing the length of senators' terms of office through this bill, the Conservative government is opening the door to various changes to the Senate without obtaining the consent of Quebec, the provinces and the territories.

In the brief submitted by the Government of Quebec in 2007 on federal Senate bills, the Government of Quebec stated that:

...the Senate is an institution whose basic composition forms the very basis of the compromise that created the federation. The Senate is not simply a federal institution in the strictest sense. It is an integral part of the Canadian federal system. The Senate is an institution whose future is of interest to all constitutional players within the federation.

In a press release dated November 7, 2007, the former Quebec minister of Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs, Mr. Benoît Pelletier, a Liberal Quebec minister, reiterated the position of the Quebec government:

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, ... the Senate can be neither reformed nor abolished without Quebec's consent.

The Government of Quebec is not opposed to modernizing the Senate. However, if an attempt is made to alter the basic characteristics of this institution, the only avenue is engaging in a coordinated federal-provincial constitutional process that will fully engage all constitutional players, including Quebec, the provinces and the territories.

Senate Bill S-8 proposes the appointment of senators by the Prime Minister after elections held by the provinces. This bill is called An Act respecting the selection of senators.

The government claims that it could fundamentally alter the process for appointing senators without necessarily requiring a round of constitutional negotiations.

Although this type of appointment was carried out once in 1990 and there was no challenge, does it justify not consulting Quebec and the provinces?

As I mentioned earlier, the people of Quebec are questioning the usefulness and effectiveness of the Senate in particular. There are certainly many ways to reform the Senate. In March 2010, Quebeckers were polled about the Senate. The results are very interesting and indicative of how they feel about the Senate in its current form.

In looking at the data, we can see that the majority of Quebeckers do not see a value in the Senate as it is currently configured, and 43% of Quebeckers agree with abolishing it. I should point out that only 8% of respondents believe that the Senate plays an important role and that the system for appointing senators works. Only 8%.

Let us talk about the place of francophones in the Senate. Considering the number of francophone senators, the government could consider making changes that would ensure francophones are fairly represented in the Senate. Elections could end up decreasing their representation in the Senate and could create an imbalance for francophone rights in the Senate. This is something that concerns us as well, which is why it is important not to ignore Quebec and the provinces. The bill before us does not take that into account.

If we are going to change the fundamental role of the Senate, why not abolish it altogether? The Bloc Québécois believes that any Senate reforms must be the result of constitutional negotiations.

I have many reasons for believing that the Senate should be abolished. Historically, many upper chambers have been abolished and the operations of these institutions were not affected. The main motivation for provinces to abolish their upper chamber was financial. Second chambers were extremely expensive for the provinces.

That logic should lead us to consider studying this aspect of the Senate. Is the $50 million we spend on Senate operations essential and justified? As with any major reform, abolishing the Senate also requires amendments to the Constitution.

To have a constitutional change approved, the government needs to obtain consent from seven provinces representing at least 50% of Canada's population or the unanimous consent of all the provinces.

Until proven otherwise, Canada is a confederation. Provinces have to be consulted before any amendment to the Constitution, which means that in order to pass Bill C-10, an act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 by limiting Senate terms, the federal government would have to enter into constitutional negotiations. It is obvious from reading the bill that the Conservative government wants to ignore Quebec. It ignores francophones.

The sixth paragraph in the bill tries to legitimize the Conservative government's position that senators' terms can be amended by regulation.

In the late 1970s, the Supreme Court of Canada examined parliament's ability to unilaterally amend constitutional provisions relating to the Senate.

According to its ruling, decisions pertaining to major changes to the essential characteristics of the Senate cannot be made unilaterally. In view of the fact that senators would not be able to renew their terms, we assume that there would be even more partisan appointments and, more importantly, that this change would alter an essential characteristic of the Senate. For that reason, the Bloc Québécois is not in favour of Bill C-10.

It is sad to see that this government is governing according to a Conservative ideology that does not correspond to the values of Quebeckers. I have now been sitting in this House for six years and have seen that the Conservative government is using every means to diminish the influence of Quebec. We need not look too far to find examples. Bill C-12 will reduce Quebec's political weight.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits)
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges has five minutes left to finish her speech the next time the bill is before the House.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from March 25 consideration of the motion that Bill C-288, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for new graduates working in designated regions), be read the third time and passed.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have the chance to implore the opposition members to reconsider their support for this costly, misguided and bad proposal by the Bloc Québécois.

We need to be clear on what this proposal would do and how much it would cost. Bill C-288 would grant a temporary special tax subsidy for a chosen few graduates being employed in any of the ill-defined designated regions. Moreover, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, this poorly thought out proposal could cost over half a billion dollars a year.

For anyone who has actually studied this proposal, they would quickly realize the two biggest problems with it, besides the fact that it is counterproductive economic policy. First, the conditions surrounding qualifying employment are vague, and second, the list of designated regions that would be eligible is antiquated.

With respect to qualifying employment, Bill C-288 would, in essence, provide a temporary tax subsidy to almost any recent post-secondary graduate employed in the designated regions under Bill C-288.

According to the legislation itself, the subsidy could be claimed by any graduate if, “the knowledge and skills obtained during the individual's training or educational program are related to the duties performed”. That weak and overly broad definition clearly targets no particular skill or occupation and does not even specify on what basis this would be or could be determined, the ultimate result being that any graduate would easily qualify as any job would make use of general problem solving skills naturally obtained during the course of one's education.

Likewise. they would qualify for this tax subsidy irrespective of there being an actual surplus or a shortage of workers with that particular skill. This, obviously, makes little or no sense.

With respect to designated regions, Bill C-288 selects areas where graduates would be eligible for the subsidy. Specifically, the credit would be available to any graduate taking up work in a region defined in another piece of legislation called the Regional Development Incentives Act, only excluding metropolitan areas with populations over 200,000.

Under that specific act, there is a list of designated regions that have been classified as economically challenged because “existing opportunities for productive employment in the region are exceptionally inadequate”. However, there is the catch. That list of designated regions is an actual list that has not been updated since 1981, in other words, in nearly three decades.

Obviously such an outdated list based on the Canadian economy of the early eighties has little to no bearing on the economic realities of today.

Under Bill C-288, therefore, both the entire province of Manitoba and the entire province of Saskatchewan would be designated regions declared economically challenged, save cities within the provinces with populations exceeding 200,000.

Is Manitoba, with an unemployment rate 3% lower than the national average and whose economy a Laurentian Bank economist deemed as weathering the “recession with an ease that must surely make other provinces envious”, economically challenged?

Is Saskatchewan, with an unemployment rate also 3% lower than the national average and whose provincial economy has been recently pegged by CIBC economists as the one that will “lead other Canadian provinces in economic growth this year”, economically challenged?

Plainly, no reasonable individual would call either Manitoba or Saskatchewan economically challenged or in desperate need for tax subsidies to spur job creation, promote growth or attract workers. However, that is exactly what this poorly thought out Bloc Québécois proposal would do.

Even more interesting is that under Bill C-288 another set of designated regions would include large parts of rural and northern Alberta, Fort McMurray included.

I know the Bloc Québécois members tend to ignore the rest of Canada but I am truly stunned that they would bring forward a bizarre proposal that would suggest that Fort McMurray, the heart of Canada's oil sands, is economically challenged and that its workers need tax subsidies.

For the benefit of the apparently isolated Bloc Québécois members, let me familiarize them with the situation by reading a portion of a recent article from the Fort McMurray Today newspaper, which dealt with the local economy. I will quote at length:

There's less unemployed people in Fort McMurray than anywhere else in the province....

Craig Mattern, a market information manager with the Alberta government, said....employment numbers...remained through the economic downturn of the past year....

“There's been very little movement throughout most of the year. Unemployment continues to sit at the lowest rate throughout the province at 4%...”....

...job growth in the region has been substantially helped by developing local oilsands projects but other sectors have also been contributing....

“We continue to see employment gains in the accommodations, food service industries, wholesale retail trade and shops continue to show growth. Same with actually the healthcare and social assistance fields," Mattern said.

That Fort McMurray would be classified as economically challenged should alone be enough to cause any reasonable individual to stop and question Bill C-288.

What is more, Bill C-288 is also blatantly unfair to new graduates not in the designated regions. It would create very serious inequities between new graduates who work in different regions of Canada. Under Bill C-288, two similar recent graduates at similar jobs with the same pay but working only a few kilometres apart, perhaps, would face completely different tax bills. While one new graduate would receive a tax subsidy, another one would be paying $3,000 in federal taxes to help pay for that subsidy.

Canadians expect tax fairness. For those new graduates, Bill C-288 would not meet that test.

This Bloc Québécois proposal is so flawed that it is almost comical, almost, until we realize it carries a potential price tag of over $0.5 billion. The Parliamentary Budget Officer himself reviewed the proposal for the finance committee and concluded:

Overall, assuming no behavioural change on the part of graduates and based on the foregoing assumptions, these ranges suggest that at full phase-in the program could have a cost estimate of between over one hundred million to approximately six hundred million per annum.

We know that the Bloc Québécois really does not care about adding to the national debt and that fiscal responsibility is foreign to them, but they alone cannot pass Bill C-288. They need and are getting the support of the NDP and the Liberals.

We know the NDP is notorious for being fiscally irresponsible, so its support is a given. However,, the Liberals claim they are different. They claim they are not the NDP. The Liberal leader told Canadians recently, before endorsing any new proposal that, “One of the issues we have to confront is: How do we pay for this? We can't be a credible party until we have an answer for that question.... We have to be courageous and we have to be clear on the subject. We will not identify any new spending unless we can clearly identify a source of funds without increasing the deficit.”

I ask the Liberals how they expect to account for the cost of this proposal they support so forcefully now. What taxes would they raise to offset the cost? What spending would they cut?

Unfortunately, we do not have answers to those questions. I doubt the Liberals have thought about that or even closely reviewed this proposal and the many problems with it. I say this to the Liberals: That is not credible; that is not responsible.

Without question, the government will not support this costly and poorly constructed Bloc proposal. We hope the official opposition will come to its senses and reconsider its support.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-288, a private member's bill that would provide a tax credit for new graduates working in designated regions.

I will begin by commenting on the speech of my colleague from the Conservative Party. It is a little hard to imagine that a Conservative MP would want to talk about the issue of fiscal responsibility considering the record of the government.

When the Conservatives left power in 1993, they left a deficit of $42 billion and it took time and a lot of sacrifice by Canadians to overcome that problem. However, when the Liberal Party left government in February 2006, it left a surplus of $13 billion, which the present government, in less than three years, managed to turn into deficits, deficits that it started by its decisions even before the recession began.

The Conservatives want to say that the deficit exists because of the recession. The fact is that it started before that. They created, what has been called by economists, “a structural deficit” because of their decisions in the years leading up to the recession not jut because of the recession. That is a very important point when they talk about this question of fiscal responsibility, when they have no fiscal responsibility to show. They do not have a leg to stand on when it comes to that.

They react strongly to that. Obviously it stings when I say this because they know it is true and it must bother them. If they call themselves Conservatives, one would think they would be fiscally conservative, and yet we have not seen that from the government. It must be for backbenchers who may believe in that idea of fiscal responsibility. The fact that they need to defend their own government's abysmal record when it comes to the nation's finances must be discouraging. It must be frustrating for my hon. friends across the way to go from a $13 billion surplus to a deficit in such a short time is truly remarkable.

However, I will now get to the bill that we are discussing today. The idea of a tax credit for new graduates working in rural areas across this country, particularly depressed areas, is a worthy objective and it is one worth support.

Like many other colleagues here, on a nearly daily basis I try to check the obituaries in my home paper, The ChronicleHerald in Halifax, to be aware of who may have passed away or what sad news there may be that day. One of the things I also look at is the places they have come from because The ChronicleHerald is the main newspaper for my province of Nova Scotia, as my hon. friend from West Nova will attest. He will know that it shows obituaries from across the entire province.

When I look at it, I look to see what communities people are from. It is remarkable most days how many of the people whose names are there are from small rural communities around Nova Scotia. When I see that it troubles me in terms of what I know is happening in those communities as they are aging. The demographic problems in those communities are real problems and we need to find ways to encourage young people to go there. Among other things, with our aging population like those in smaller communities, people need a variety of supports. One of the most obvious ones is in relation to health care, whether it be doctors, nurses, medical technicians or physiotherapists, a whole range of health care support systems and expertise are needed in those areas.

This bill is the kind of thing that would help to encourage young people coming out of post-secondary education training with particular skills to go into those kinds of communities and provide that kind of help and service to people who need it. This is very important in terms of keeping communities alive because if they do not have those kinds of supports, then what happens? More and more people leave those areas and that is a grave concern for many hon. colleagues when they think about those kinds of communities across the country.

The other thing this brings to mind is the issue of regional development. This relates to regional development, particularly in rural areas, smaller communities, which is a real challenge. It is certainly a challenge in my region of Atlantic Canada where the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, ACOA, plays an important role.

One of the very important programs that was started back in 2000 by the previous government was the Atlantic innovation fund. The estimates just released not too long ago for 2009-10 showed that, when the Atlantic innovation fund is combined with the innovative communities fund, a total of $113 million was spent in the fiscal year that just ended.

What do we see in the budget? The government says it is going to spend a total of $19 million for both those programs next year. It has gone from $113 million for this very important area of regional development, particularly important for research and development or supporting small communities, to $19 million. That is from $113 million to $19 million. Talk about slash and burn. Talk about a lack of interest, a lack of resolve to help small communities, to help a region that needs assistance, especially during this period. That has to be frustrating for members on that side. How do they defend that?

Let us talk also about student debt. This bill really is designed, as well, to help those students coming out of university or other post-secondary institutions, like community colleges, who are shouldering debt in the range of $50,000, $80,000 or $100,000, as many are.

This is not a huge amount. It would obviously not pay off that debt in a hurry, but it would help. It is a modest incentive of between $250 and $750 per person, per year. It is not enormous for individuals but it may be enough, we hope, to help encourage young people to go to particular areas where they are needed. That makes sense to me.

The government's record in relation to students is deplorable. Think about the fact that, in the height of the recession, the government's answer in terms of students and their need for summer jobs was to cut the summer jobs program. One would think the government would have done as we suggested last year, as part of its stimulus program to get the economy going, and that is to put money into helping students get summer jobs. The government showed no interest whatsoever in doing that. To me that was unimaginable.

I find it very difficult to comprehend why the government would not choose to invest in assisting students find summer employment, when it was going to be much harder to find that in the private sector during the recession. That was a natural spot for the Government of Canada to intervene. I guess it is just that the government does not believe government should play that kind of role. But that is not the kind of thing most Canadians believe. Once again they see the government out of line with where Canadians really are.

Another important element of this bill is that it proposes a maximum community size of 200,000. One might argue about what size that should be and how we would define the regions that would apply. That is something we could certainly look at.

This legislation is going off to the Senate after this, and with the Conservatives now controlling the Senate, it probably will not end up becoming law, even though it has come to this House many times already. Perhaps it will become law in the future. Perhaps in the future there will be opportunities to make other changes.

My community is in the Halifax Regional Municipality, which has a huge geographic area and a population of 370,000, give or take a few. My community would not apply. However, that geographic area of HRM, as we call it, includes tiny areas like Ecum Secum, Middle Musquodoboit or Upper Musquodoboit that are a long way from the urban area and unfortunately would not qualify. The good news is that they are within a somewhat reasonable distance of the metropolitan area of Halifax where there is a stronger economy and the opportunity for jobs.

The opportunity is better for them than it is, obviously, for someone farther away from the major area. Generally speaking, within an hour or so of Halifax the opportunities for jobs are pretty good. There is a need for this kind of program in the farther outlying areas where it is much tougher, which is what this program is designed for. I think it makes good sense.

I know I am near the end of my time. I have lots more notes here. It is always a good sign when you have more to say, I suppose. My colleagues on the other side would probably say I said too much. I do think this bill is worthy of our support. It has a worthy objective. I hope the government itself would bring forward measures like this to make a difference in the depressed regions of rural communities of our country.