House of Commons Hansard #25 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senators.


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12:40 p.m.


Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, there have been recent polls that strongly suggest that Canadians actually want to see the Senate abolished. I would be surprised if Canadians thought that this tinkering at the margins around Senate reform is actually reflective of any significant change to the Senate.

When we talk about a democratic process, this would be a good time to engage Canadians. In this House, we have seen declining percentages of Canadians coming out to vote. I would argue that this is actually a really good time to ask Canadians how they want their governments to behave; how they want this House to be elected; what they want to do with their Senate; and whether to abolish it or some other kind of reform. It seems to me that this would be a time when we could re-engage and re-legitimize the democratic process by engaging Canadians in that very important conversation.

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12:40 p.m.


Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, most of our discussion surrounding this particular speech that was made by my colleague has focused on the issue of the voluntary selection by provinces of a senator-in-waiting. We do know that the province that has implemented that has had a positive experience with it. However, in the last few minutes we have not had much focus on the issue of the term limits of senators.

It seems to me that most Canadians would find it surprising that currently a senator can be elected as early as age 30 and potentially serve there for 45 years. That is not a really good representation of Canadians. I would like my colleague to respond as to whether she thinks it would be a move in the right direction to limit a senator's term of service from a potential 45 years back to nine years.

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12:40 p.m.


Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely correct. Most of my focus has been on the electoral process and the consultative process.

However, when it comes to term limits, other members in this House have already pointed out that just because we have a senator serving only nine years it would not prevent partisan appointments, so it would not prevent all the partisan activities that the member for Nickel Belt, for example, outlined. It would not prevent misuse of Senate resources. It would not prevent the kinds of problems that have been identified with the Senate currently.

One of the members opposite had talked about some senator who spent a significant amount of time in Mexico. There is nothing about limiting it to nine years that would prevent any of that kind of behaviour. Whether they are at it for nine years or 40-some-odd years, that is not what the issue is. The issue is, do we want to have a Senate to begin with? If we have a Senate, how do we want the senators chosen? And then, how do we prevent the kind of partisan activities and appointments that have characterized the other place since its inception?

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12:40 p.m.


Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, since a member just asked a question about term limits and the fact that senators can now serve up to the age of 75, I would like to hear my colleague's thoughts on the fact that, at present, senators must be at least 30 years old. We are talking about better representation of the regions and of the Canadian population. How can an elected Senate represent the people if none of the elected senators is under 30 years of age?

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12:40 p.m.


Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, there were all kinds of anachronisms around the way senators used to get appointed. It used to be the place where one could only be appointed if one were a landholder, for example. Actually, I do not know if that rule is still in place.

When we hear the conversation about diversity in the Senate, young people are currently precluded from being appointed. I would argue that if we have a place of so-called sober second thought, young people have a lot to contribute toward that sober second thought because they are ones who are actually going to have to live out the impacts of any legislative agenda that is put in place.

It is young people, now, who are having to deal with the impacts of climate change for many decades to come. Some of us are at the other end of the spectrum. It is young people who are having to deal with things like child care. It is young people who are going to have look at the impact of pension reform in the long term for how it is going to affect their generation as they retire.

I agree with the member. It is a very important question.

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12:45 p.m.


Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, as this is my first speech in this Parliament since the May election, I will take this opportunity to thank all the voters of the great constituency of Wetaskiwin, Alberta, for putting their faith in me for a third consecutive term. I will commit to them that I will continue to put their interest first in all that I do as their member of Parliament and as their humble and faithful servant.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank all of the volunteers who worked so hard on the last campaign, either in the office, at the door or putting up signs in the over 15,000 square kilometres that encompasses our riding, from Rolly View to Genasee, from Buck Creek to Strachan, from Alhambra to Alix and all points in between. The job is daunting, to say the least. I am proud of each of them for exercising, not only their democratic right but for taking their responsibility so seriously that they got involved and participated more than just the act of voting.

I just returned to Ottawa last night from my home in Lacombe, Alberta, after this past weekend. I have been away for a couple of weeks. I was so glad on Thursday to step off the airplane into the fresh, crisp Alberta evening air. Right away, my senses were overcome as I could smell the wheat and barley dust in the air. The harvest is still in full swing. It took my memory back to the times when I was a child growing up on a farm in central Alberta and the salt of the earth people with whom I grew up and was surrounded by.

My memory also went back to a time when I was a little bit younger than I am now. I am still fairly young, at least I like to think so. To brought me back to a time when one of those fields was used for more than just growing a crop in Alberta. It was one of those fields that one could see clearly from the air when landing an airplane in Calgary. Etched into that field all those years ago, some 20, if not more, years ago, were three large letters, EEE for a triple-E Senate, back when the movement in Alberta to elect our senators was in full swing. I believe that field, at that time, or still does belong to now-Senator Bert Brown. I cannot think of a better use of a field, other than growing some wheat or barley.

This is the crux of my speech today. I am so proud as an Albertan and as a Canadian that this Parliament is moving forward to reform and enhance our democracy. The change is but a small step in implementation but a leap forward in making our democracy more accountable to the people it represents.

The 2011 Speech from the Throne reaffirmed the government's Senate reform priority and that our government would reintroduce this legislation, encourage provinces and territories that have yet to do so to hold elections for Senate nominees, and to limit those term lengths that they now enjoy.

In keeping with that commitment in the throne speech, on June 21, 2011, earlier this spring, our government introduced the Senate reform act that we are debating today.

There has been some criticism that the reforms do not go far enough and do not meet all the pillars of the triple-E Senate, for example, that the reforms constitute a major change in the Senate structure, that it should be referred to the Supreme Court of Canada, or that the changes may be unconstitutional or may change the Senate for the worse in the long run. I do not believe any of those are true.

These reforms are consistent with the government's incremental approach to reform and are completely within the jurisdiction of Parliament. While the bill encourages provinces and territories to hold elections for Senate nominees, it does not change the method of selection for senators. Moreover, it does not bind the Prime Minister or the Governor General when making appointments to the Senate.

Our government is approaching Senate reform in a step-by-step fashion in order to avoid the all-or-nothing confrontational approaches that have failed in the past.

One of the important initiatives in this bill, when implemented, is that our government would be very willing to consider other worthwhile proposals. If anyone has a better idea, I am all ears.

The government has encouraged the provinces and territories to implement a democratic process for the selection of Senate nominees. The Senate reform act would provide a voluntary framework for provinces to implement a democratic process that enables voters to select nominees to represent them, their province and their region in the Senate.

The act would include a voluntary schedule based on Alberta's senatorial selection act, which would set out a basis for provinces to enact these democratic processes. As we said, Alberta already has established a democratic process for the selection of senators in which we have seen most recently the appointment of Senator Bert Brown in 2007.

However, it would require the Prime Minister to consider the recommended names from a list of elected Senate nominees when making or recommending Senate appointments. In Alberta, for example, there is some criticism. The Edmonton Journal has led the way in speaking out against our reforms by printing an op-ed by the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville and a negative editorial. On the other hand, our former premier, Don Getty, says that the reforms do not go far enough to bring democracy to the Senate.

Despite those criticisms, much of which is hypothetical and speculatory, the one thing that is standard across the board is that the status quo is no longer acceptable. Everyone agrees that it has to be reformed. We just simply may disagree right now on how to go about it.

Generally speaking, our reforms have been perceived to be balanced, moderate and reasonable. We are not going so far as to suggest that it should be abolished. I do not think the Conservatives like to tear down their house before seeing if they can fix it first. However, members of the New Democratic Party and the member for Hamilton Centre specifically, have been very vocal on that point.

We are acting on what I think everyone agrees must happen but we need to change things up. We need to make it more democratic and accountable and that the status quo simply cannot continue. Our government received a strong mandate from Canadians to reform the Senate and to implement our Senate reform commitments. We were very clear, not only in this past election campaign but in every election campaign in which I have been involved as a Conservative candidate, that we would bring democratic reform to the Senate.

The effectiveness and legitimacy of the Senate suffers because senators have no democratic mandate from Canadians and can serve terms as long as 45 years. I have been here for almost six years and have served as an executive member of the NATO parliamentary assembly. I am an executive member of the interparliamentary union of 144 countries that get together to discuss how to enhance their parliaments and democratic processes and I am continuously amazed when parliamentarians from places like Mexico, Indonesia, Poland and even Australia are amazed that Canada does not have an elected Senate.

The Senate reform act would change that. It also would change how long senators can sit in the upper chamber. We have specifically chosen terms that are long enough to maintain the essential characteristics of the Senate as a chamber of sober second thought while still providing regular renewal in Senate membership. Limiting Senate tenure is within Parliament's exclusive constitutional authority under section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982 and is similar to an amendment passed by the Pearson government in 1965, which also reduced the tenure of senators.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that our government is prepared to be flexible in the consideration of amendments to Senate term lengths so long as any amendment does not undermine the principle of the bill. By proposing a nine year term, our government has already demonstrated that it can be flexible in the details of the bill. However, we would not accept a length of term that was so long that it would defeat the purpose of the bill, which is to ensure that the Senate is refreshed with new ideas and perspectives on a regular and ongoing basis.

As the Prime Minister stated when he appeared before the Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform, the fact that senators can be and occasionally are appointed for terms of 15, 30 or even 45 years is just not acceptable today to the broad mainstream of the Canadian community.

Our position has been supported by many of Canada's leading constitutional authorities, as well as the Senate Special Committee on Senate Reform, but that is not what the opposition would like Canadians to believe.

Our minister has met with opposition critics in the House and discussed Senate reform broadly. The NDP's former leader and the member for Hamilton Centre always maintained a strict Senate abolitionist position as their preferred and ultimate goal. While they have stated publicly that some reform is better than no reform, I fully expect that the NDP will oppose the bill.

The Liberal critic, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, is highly knowledgeable on the file and has expressed specific concerns, all of which have been publicly dealt with. The Liberals are concerned that a dispute resolution mechanism between the two chambers does not exist. They claim that other conventional and constitutional tools necessary to deal with changed circumstances with Senate reform would cause numerous problems. They oppose incremental reform and argue that the provinces must be consulted and that this legislation should be referred to the Supreme Court of Canada before proceeding. They have argued and prefer longer term limits than those proposed by the government, if and when they support term limits at all.

We expect Liberal senators to oppose and obstruct the legislation and to encourage Conservative senators with reservations about the bill to speak publicly and to oppose it. Furthermore, we expect the Liberals to profess support for wholesale Senate reform in general, but opposition to incremental reform through legislation such as this bill.

We have heard the opposition ask questions about these reforms affecting people representation within the Senate chamber. However, under the current appointment system, there is no guarantee that minority groups will be properly represented in the Senate. Our government is hopeful that women and minority candidates will participate fully in any selection process by putting their names forward as candidates.

Provincial political parties could play a role in the nomination of potential Senate nominees, as they do in the nomination process for members of the legislative assembly. The government hopes that parties will encourage the participation of groups that have been traditionally under-represented in our political institutions.

The Prime Minister's prerogative to recommend qualified individuals for appointment to the Senate would not be affected by any consultation process that may be implemented. Should the Prime Minister feel that it is necessary to take steps to address an imbalance in the representation of women or minority groups in the Senate, he or she would retain the power to do so.

I will now discuss what Senate reform has done in my home province of Alberta, but I will first talk about a very interesting thing that happened in my province this past weekend.

I congratulate Alison Redford, the premier-elect and now the new leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. She will be one of three women leading various provinces across our country in the very near future. I convey to her my congratulations and offer her goodwill as she takes on the task of taking over the helm of our province.

I also thank outgoing premier, Ed Stelmach, and his wife, Marie, for the decades of service they have given to Albertans. I wish them well as they move on to the next phase of their lives after the next provincial election.

Alberta has been ahead of the game for quite some time. We passed the senatorial selection act in 1989, an act that allows voters to select nominees through a democratic process. Under that act, the Government of Alberta submits the names of elected nominees to the federal government. The act does not require the prime minister or the governor general to appoint the individuals selected as nominees through the process.

We have had Senate selections in 1989, 1998 and 2004. Two senators have been appointed as a result of these processes: Stan Waters in 1990 by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and Bert Brown in 2007 by our current Prime Minister.

In Alberta, candidates for Senate nominees can run as independents or as candidates of a registered provincial political party. Recently, the Alberta Progressive Conservatives have nominated candidates in each of these selection processes. The Liberal Party of Alberta has not had and did not have any candidates in either the 1998 or the 2004 process. The New Democratic Party of Alberta, which has stated its preference for Senate abolition, has yet to endorse a candidate for a selection process.

In past processes, candidates have also been nominated under provincial parties formed specifically to contest Senate elections. For example, the Reform Party of Alberta supported candidates in the 1989 and 1998 selections but did not run in the 2004 selection process. Stan Waters was a Reform Party of Alberta candidate in 1989 and sat as a Reform Senator when he was appointed in 1990.

In other cases, candidates have run under provincial party banners that have no federal equivalent. In 2004, three candidates ran under the Alberta Alliance Party. The Alberta Alliance Party changed its name to the Wildrose Alliance when it merged with the Wildrose Party in 2008. Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith has indicated the party's plan to run full slate of candidates in the next senatorial selection process and has noted that the selections are one of the ways our regional issues can be most fairly represented.

The Canada West Foundation estimates that voter turnout for the 1998 process was about 30% overall. On average, voter turnout for the Senate vote was about 10% lower than ballots cast in municipal races.

In 2004 Alberta held its senatorial selection process in conjunction with the provincial general election. Previously, in 1998 and in 1989, these processes were held at the same time as general municipal elections.

Voter turnout for the 2004 senatorial selection process was nearly 44.2%. However, once rejected and spoiled ballots were considered, voter turnout for the senatorial process was closer to 35%. In comparison, voter turnout for the 2004 provincial general election was just over 44%.

I know what some rural Canadians are thinking. If Senate nominees are selected from provincial-wide constituencies, would candidates from urban centres not have an advantage over Canadians from rural areas?

I want to be very clear here. Our legislation improves the current consultation process in terms of Senate selections. Under the current method of selection, there is no guarantee that all regions in a province can be represented at the same time. However, the proposed bill empowers the provinces to implement a consultation process that will best meet the needs of its citizens. It will be up to each province to decide upon a process to ensure that all citizens in the provinces are properly represented.

The role of the Senate and the individual senators would not change as a result of this legislation. Senators will continue to play an important function in legislative review and their status will not be affected by whether they have been appointed directly or selected on the basis of popular consultation.

Similarly, the status of senators will not be affected by the type of electoral system that is used to select them. Over time, as more senators are appointed on the basis of a consultation process, it is our hope that the democratic legitimacy of the Senate as a whole will improve and that this would lay the basis for longer term future reform.

The bill does not provide funding for provincial or territorial consultation processes. Our government believes that provincial or territorial processes should be funded by provincial or territorial governments. For example, Alberta has held three consultation processes and the Government of Canada has never contributed funding. Alberta estimated that the cost of the most recent consultation process held in 2004 was approximately $1.6 million.

Our preference is Senate reform, not Senate abolition, like some of the opposition would suggest. That is why we acted quickly in reintroducing Senate reform legislation so the Senate would better reflect the values of Canada and Canadians in the 21st century.

On the equal part of the triple-E, we need more seats for the west. Across the country, there may be varying viewpoints, opinions and ideas on what to do with the Senate. These are all things for legitimate debate, but most important is the status quo. What we are doing today is simply no longer palatable to the Canadian public.

That is why we are proceeding with Senate reform that is reasonable and within the constitutional authority of Parliament. The federal government has to take a look at the processes that have worked for our provincial colleagues.

Alberta is firmly committed to an elected Senate and to Senate reform. Not only that, but Alberta has proven that democratic processes are feasible and possible, holding its first selections more than 20 years ago.

We in this party encourage all provinces to follow Alberta's lead and start electing their Senate representatives.

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1 p.m.


Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his presentation on a variety issues surrounding Senate reform, including the decoration on his wheat fields, which I thought was quite entertaining.

He spoke about public support for this. In fact, the public support for a referendum on the Senate is growing. An Angus Reid survey from 2011 shows that 71% of Canadians are in favour of holding a referendum to decide the future of the Senate and 36% of Canadians support the abolition of the Senate, up from 25% one year earlier.

In the spirit of democracy, would it not be incumbent upon the government to determine what Canadians think is a good plan of attack for dealing with the Senate? Would it not be a good idea to open it up for a much wider ranging discussion that would come with a referendum? Would that not make more sense than putting forward a bill that is likely to fail anyhow?

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1:05 p.m.


Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure where the hon. colleague was when we had referenda on these mixed in with other issues back when we had the Charlottetown accord and the Meech Lake accord. Those were failed processes. Also I do not share his view that the bill will not pass this chamber. I do not know why he wants to muddy this issue. It is very clear, and we agree, that Canadians want change. The status quo is no longer acceptable.

Conservatives believe we should fix the house before we tear it down. There is something here we are salvaging. Regional interests need to be taken into consideration. The Senate is there to do just that. This House, if we get future bills passed, will more accurately reflect representation by population. Our country is too large and vast, both in its ethnicity and culture and in its space. We have five easily discernible regions: the Arctic; the West; Ontario; Quebec; and the Atlantic provinces. They all need to have some say and oversight and someone here in Ottawa looking out for the broader interests of those regions and those provinces. It is folly to throw that institution away on a whim from the NDP.

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1:05 p.m.


Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague and join him in congratulating the new Premier of Alberta.

Since she is bilingual, I am pleased to congratulate her in French.

I thank him for taking the time to list the criticisms of this bill that have been addressed, including by the former premier of his province, Don Getty.

Although my colleague said that Mr. Getty's criticism is speculative, it is not. It is arithmetic. Today Alberta has only six senators. We have provinces four to five times less populated that have 10 senators. It is a problem but it is not so huge because the Senate is playing its role with reservation.

Since 1945, the Senate has only blocked seven bills. If everyone in the Senate is elected, then it would be a part of daily life for the Senate to stop the House and the House to stop the Senate and six Albertans would have a voice on that. It would be grossly under-represented for Alberta. I question why he is hurting his province this way.

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1:05 p.m.


Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am not hurting my province at all. Albertans have always done their fair part in this confederation and they always will continue to do so. Six Alberta senators is what we constitutionally agreed to as part of this confederation.

They may want to go back and open up the Constitution. They have argued that is the case. However, everybody knows it is simply not possible. There is no current support across our country to have seven of ten provinces holding at least 50% of the population to have a one-off constitutional amendment. Unless the member knows something which I do not know, which I doubt on this case, if he has names and agreements of premiers and so on to go forward with this, then by all means bring it before the House and let us have a look at it. I said in my speech that we would take a look at the options that are available to us.

However, I am glad he is sticking up for Alberta. When the future legislation comes to increase the number of seats in the House so we have democratic representation by population, I know my colleague will stand with me in supporting Alberta's increase in seats in the House of Commons.

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1:05 p.m.


James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, my friend from Wetaskiwin's position on the Senate reform was very well thought out and well articulated.

I want to add my voice to the support for Bill C-7. This is an important bill and I cannot believe the suggestions coming from New Democrats that this is not fixing democracy. They do not want to have new democracy within the Senate. They talk about having proportional representation. Do members know how proportional representation works?

I know my friend from Wetaskiwin will be able to tell us how proportional representation works because of his experience with other parliaments around the world that have proportional representation. The list is developed through a partisan manner and the people who come into the chamber come off a partisan list. The New Democrats think there is too much patronage and partisanship happening in the Senate, which we want to fix, but they want to bring that type of patronage into the House of Commons through proportional representation.

It is the worst thing that could happen to democracy and I want my friend from Wetaskiwin to talk about that.

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1:10 p.m.


Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I might be a little partisan in my remarks here. It has happened from time to time.

Any time we have discussions about democracy, there are certain forces in this world that are always claiming they are acting in the best interest of the people, for the people, but the reality is it is just a smokescreen. We only have to ask the Hugo Chavezs of the world. What happens when totalitarian leftists or extremists on either side get into power? They circumvent all the processes that they have to in order to seize and hold power indefinitely.

Our first-past-the-post system is a tried and tested method of democracy. We have inherited this from our parent countries when we became our own country. This is something that works and it works in the House. It will work in the upper chamber as well.

We can elected people who belong to provincial parties, or people with affiliations to federal parties, or people with no affiliation to any political party at all. What a novel concept. How many members of Parliament have heard complaints from their constituents in that they do not really like the party but they vote for the person?

Now we have an opportunity through this legislation to elect an individual with no party affiliation at all to represent the interest of a province in the upper chamber. However, the New Democrats say that this is not good enough for them.

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1:10 p.m.


Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, does the hon. member seriously think his constituents would like the idea of adding 105 politicians to our system if we did not already have a Senate now? Would they really think it would solve their problems? Would they think that spending $109 million or $107 million a year would actually do anything to solve the problems they are worried about in their daily lives? I do not think so.

The second part of my question in on accountability. In a nine-year term where people are not re-elected, how is there any accountability for that person at all in the system being proposed?

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1:10 p.m.


Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do not have to doubt too much what the constituents in the riding of Wetaskiwin are thinking. They sent me here with a fairly solid mandate to represent their interests. In respect to the member's question though, yes, I hear some folks say that abolition is certainly an option, but that is only if we cannot get the democratic reform that they are seeking.

I made it very clear in my speech. Albertans like Bert Brown in the Senate. They liked Stan Waters before him. Like all of those who have ran and let their names stand for Senate elections in Alberta three different times, and they are going to do it again, it is very clear what Alberta's position is. We want democracy in the Senate. We do not want to wipe out democracy. We love democracy in Alberta. We love electing people based on their merits, which is why we elect the Alison Redfords to be our premier, the Naheed Nenshis and Stephen Mandels to be our mayors. We like having those democratic choices.

In Alberta we believe that people with merit should be representing Alberta's provincial and regional interests in Ottawa, which is why they send virtually a full slate of Conservatives to Ottawa. They know those interests will be best represented that way.

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1:10 p.m.



Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, what a rare honour it is to follow the very astute comments by the member for Wetaskiwin. Did he not speak well? He spoke well in defending democracy, pushing toward updates and reasonable changes to our democracy.

Our party has been very clear that the economy and job creation are top priorities. Those are the priorities of the Conservative government. That is why we have taken Canada's economic action plan to the next step. That is why we unveiled advantage Canada way back in 2007 and started working on a framework and foundation that would guide Canada not just through good times but through tough times. Has that plan not worked well? That does not mean we do not continue to work toward improving this place. It does not mean we do not continue to work at making our streets and communities safer and that we do not try in every way possible to make Canada an even greater nation than it is today.

I am honoured to represent the electric city of Peterborough, Ontario and the great hard-working people of Peterborough. In fact, you, Mr. Speaker, represent the riding adjacent to mine. We share one of the most beautiful regions in the country. The Kawartha Lakes region is in the name of your riding, Mr. Speaker, but I have most of it in my back yard. However, we are not going to fight over that. The bottom line is we are very privileged to represent one of the truly great regions within Canada.

When I talk to people in my riding, they understand that the Senate needs to be changed, that it needs to be reformed and that we should constantly work to improve democracy in this country. One thing is clear. If we go back to 1867 and the foundation of this country, the Senate was prescribed in a given fashion. However, the country has matured. It has become a more mature democracy. We have seen reforms in many ways. In fact, we have seen Canada grow up. I would argue it is an experiment that continues to evolve, to become stronger and even more united. In fact, I would argue patriotism in this country and the identity behind the Canadian flag has never been more clear, passionate or stronger than it is today.

In May our government received a mandate; a strong, stable, national Conservative government was elected on May 2. It is a majority government, as the member for Kitchener—Conestoga correctly pointed out. One of the things we made very clear in the election campaign was that we would continue to fight for reform of the Senate.

New Democrats had a very confusing policy on the Senate. They said that they would come to Ottawa and fight for Senate abolition, but they cannot do that in isolation. They know that requires the agreement of the provinces. One of the key provinces that has voiced concerns over that is the province of Quebec. When the New Democrats take their Senate abolition message back to Quebec, I wonder what they are hearing from the provincial government and constituents in Quebec. I wonder what they are hearing because that is not what we are hearing. In fact, we are hearing that the Senate should be reformed, not abolished.

Our government has been clear about our commitment to bring reform to the Senate chamber. We pledged to do this and we are following through.

We believe the Senate can play an important role in our parliamentary system. It reviews statutes and legislation. It serves to represent regional and minority interests. It provides research and thoughtful recommendations to the members of the House. It can be a place where a broader range of experience and expertise can be brought to bear on the issues facing our country.

I heard a member point out that one cannot assume a position in the Senate until the age of 30 and felt that was discriminatory. I do not believe that is discriminatory when we look at the role the Senate plays. I was elected, I thought as quite a young person, at the age of 35, but I brought a considerable amount of experience, small business experience, charitable experience and experience on the farm growing up. I had a resumé of life experience that I could bring to bear.

I think the younger that members are, regardless of how intelligent or well intentioned they are, it is the life experiences they bring with them to Parliament, whether it is here in the House of Commons or in the Senate chamber, that allows them to be truly representative of a broader scope of people, but also to fully understand and comprehend the impact of the decisions that are made here in Parliament.

Unfortunately, the contributions of our Senate are overshadowed by the fact that senators are selected and appointed without a democratic mandate from Canadians. Their effectiveness and legitimacy suffer because they have no democratic mandate and they can serve as long as 45 years.

As I said, the Senate does good work. One of the most transformative and important reports to come out of the Senate in a very long time is the “Out of the Shadows at Last” report by Senator Keon and Senator Kirby, two very outstanding Canadians who worked very hard to bring forward their study on mental health and mental illness. From that our government acted. We put together a Canadian mental health strategy that is now working to organize and build capacity in that regard here in Canada. That is the kind of good work and the kind of solid report we see come out of the Senate. That is why there is value in what the Senate does.

Much of that work is overshadowed because the Senate is still stuck in 1867. Our government does not believe the current situation is acceptable in a modern representative democracy and neither do Canadians, certainly not the people of Peterborough.

Our government has long believed the Senate status quo is unacceptable and that it must change in order to reach its full potential as a democratic institution and a more legitimate chamber of this Parliament. The alternative is status quo. Canadians are with us in saying no to the status quo.

With the introduction of the Senate reform bill, our government is responding to the concerns of Canadians who made it clear that the status quo is simply not acceptable. If we are to begin the journey toward reform, we must do what we can within the scope of Parliament's authority.

Our government believes that Senate reform is needed now. We are committed to pursuing a practical and reasonable approach to reform that we believe will help restore effectiveness and legitimacy in the Senate. Canadians do not want a long drawn-out constitutional battle, as we have been down that road, especially when, as I said at the start of this speech, Parliament needs to focus on the well-being of the Canadian economy and on job creation. It does not mean that Parliament should not act, but a long drawn-out constitutional battle is not in our interest, nor in the provinces' interest, nor in the interest of any Canadians. These battles would detract from the government's focus in all areas.

Achieving the necessary level of provincial support for particular fundamental reforms is complex and lengthy with no particular guarantee of success. That is why we are moving forward with the Senate reform bill.

Through this bill, our government is taking immediate and concrete action to fulfill our commitment to Canadians to increase the effectiveness and legitimacy of the upper chamber and to work co-operatively with the provinces and territories.

The bill provides a suggested framework for the provinces and territories that wish to establish democratic consultation processes to give Canadians a say in who represents them.

I have often said it is a real shame that many Canadians can name their member of Parliament, they can name other members of Parliament, they can name ministers and opposition critics, but many Canadians cannot name the senators who represent their province or any province. That points to a fundamental flaw in the current system. They are the people who are supposed to represent the regions, including Nickel Belt, for example.

The member who is arguing for abolition as I am speaking should know that the people from Nickel Belt can have representation in the Senate; they can have a say in who represents them in the Senate. It is important regional representation for northern Ontario. I hear from people in the north all the time that they feel they are under-represented in this place, that they are under-represented at the provincial level. The regional representation in the Senate can give them a voice, and they should have a say in who represents them there.

We have consistently encouraged provinces and territories to implement a democratic process for the selection of Senate nominees. The Senate reform bill gives clarity to our flexible approach.

The bill requires the Prime Minister to consider the names selected from democratic processes when making recommendations on appointments. It does not bind the Prime Minister or the Governor General when making Senate appointments, nor does it change the method of selection for senators.

The bill also contains a voluntary framework for provinces and territories to use as a basis for developing a democratic selection process to consult voters on the preferences for Senate nominees based on Alberta's senatorial selection act.

The framework is meant to facilitate development of provincial or territorial legislation. This is a co-operative venture. The provinces and territories can adapt the framework that best suits the needs of their unique circumstances. Built-in flexibility will further encourage provinces to provide a democratic consultation process to give greater voice to their citizens and the provinces in the Senate.

Our proposed approach has already been successful. In 2007 the Prime Minister recommended the appointment of Bert Brown to the Senate. He was chosen by Alberta voters in 2004, and I might add, ignored by the Liberal government that oversaw the selection process here in Ottawa. We thank Senator Brown for his tireless work for reform both inside and outside the Senate.

Alberta is not the only province, however, that has taken steps to facilitate this reform. In 2009 Saskatchewan passed its Senate nominee election act. In British Columbia the premier's parliamentary secretary has introduced a similar bill. Just on Saturday, October 1, Premier Alward of New Brunswick announced his government's support for our approach. We look forward to seeing New Brunswick take the steps toward Senate reform.

It is building. Provinces are taking up the challenge of improving our democracy. It is exciting. We encourage our colleagues in all provincial and territorial legislatures and assemblies to consider supporting and moving forward with similar initiatives.

In addition to encouraging the implementation of the democratic selection process for Senate nominees, the act would also limit Senate terms which can span several decades under the current rules. In fact, a term could be up to 45 years under the current rules. Polls have consistently shown that over 70% of Canadians support limiting senators' terms. This is quite different from some of the speeches we have heard in the Senate. I listened when senators who have served for decades reach the age of 75 and point out there is no legitimate reason for them to have to bow out from the job.

But there is a legitimate reason. I would hope that every member in the House would understand that it is not enough simply to be elected; it is not enough simply to be here. People have to contribute. They have to bring fresh ideas to the table. New people have to be given a chance to bring in new ideas. More people have to be given an opportunity to contribute toward this great country. That is one of the reasons term limits are so important.

The nine-year term would also apply to all senators appointed after October 2008, up to royal assent. The nine-year clock for those senators would start when this bill receives royal assent. The Senate reform act would keep the mandatory retirement age for senators in place. In 1965, Parliament introduced mandatory retirement at age 75 for senators. Prior to that, senators were appointed for life. This clearly demonstrates Parliament's authority to put these laws in place. In 2007 the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs recommended that the mandatory retirement age of 75 be maintained while examining a previous Senate term limits bill.

Some opposition members argue that the bill presents a fundamental constitutional change requiring the support of the provinces. Personally I think they are entirely wrong, as do many others, including the provinces that are signing onto the bill and putting in place mechanisms to elect senators.

The Constitution also very clearly sets out those types of changes to the Senate that require some level of provincial consent. Our government has been careful to ensure that our approach to Senate reform falls within Parliament's constitutional jurisdiction.

I have listened to the speeches and questions from the opposition members and I have to say that they are missing the point. Our goal is to begin the reform process. We want to be as constructive as we can while ensuring that we move this place forward.

In contrast to the position of other parties, it is clear that our government's approach is the practical and reasonable way forward. It is the approach that can truly achieve results on behalf of every single Canadian in this country.

In fact, the stated positions of the opposition parties are essentially arguments in favour of the status quo. This is what is so dishonest about their approach. They understand full well that standing in this place and arguing anything other than this bill is in fact an argument for the status quo. It is an argument for the Senate to stay stuck in 1867. Their proposals would not achieve anything, and we would have no reform at all. That is not acceptable to Canadians.

The NDP, as I have said previously, would try to abolish the Senate. Canadians just do not support that kind of radical and fundamental change. There is no wide agreement among the provinces for that proposal. As I said earlier, I encourage the Quebec members to go to the National Assembly in Quebec City and see how much support they get for that position.

The position of the Liberal Party, on the other hand, has been to advocate for a process, not a result. How Liberal.

Perhaps we could have a summit. After the summit, we could have round tables. After the round tables, we could go to telephone consultation. After that, maybe we could do a mail-in campaign, and maybe sometime, a decade or two down the road, the Liberal Party might be prepared to act; we are not sure.

The Liberals do not support the reform of the Senate. That is the bottom line. The Liberals' 13-year record of inaction demonstrates their opposition. They have been clear about this, yet their suggestion is to open up the Constitution and begin a process that we know would end in bitter, drawn-out national conflict without Senate reforms being achieved.

We have seen how the Liberal Party responds whenever the Constitution is opened. It is simply to be contrarian. When we were seeking to bring Quebec into the Constitution, for example, when former Prime Minister Mulroney entered into constitutional reform, we know it was the Liberal Party that fought against it. We know it was the Liberal Party that was trying to tear down that House that would have, in my mind and in the minds of many others, put an end to the question of Canada being a country that spans from sea to sea to sea.

The Liberal approach is a recipe for accomplishing absolutely nothing while dragging us into a constitutional quagmire at a time when the government, the Liberal party, the New Democratic Party and all their members should be focused on the economy and jobs.

In conclusion, our government is dedicated to reforming the Senate so that it better reflects the values of hard-working Canadians across the country.

My constituents tell me that they want change. I believe that the time for change in the Senate has come. With the Senate reform act, our government is presenting modest but important and attainable changes that would improve the Senate by providing it with greater legitimacy in the eyes of Canadians.

Every member in this House has the opportunity to do something truly historic, something fundamental to our democratic process. They have the opportunity to bring the Senate, even if just marginally, into the 21st century to begin the process of reform.

We see what happens when we introduce democracy into the parliamentary system or into the governing systems of countries. It becomes infectious. People demand more democracy. They want even greater participation in their political process.

Every member in this House has the opportunity to do something historic, to give something to their constituents that they have never had before: a say in who represents them.

Can members imagine that in the 21st century in Canada we have a political body structured such that the people we all represent have no say in who represents them?

Let us do something historic. Let us support this bill. Let us move forward. Let us reform the Senate. Let us make Canada an even stronger and better country than it is today.

That is the charge I put to every member of this House.