Mr. Speaker, on this fine morning I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this bill regarding the selection of senators and amendment of the Constitution Act,1867.
For a long time this Parliament has been made up of two chambers, one elected and one unelected. When the provinces were first set up they had the two chamber concept but all of them got rid of the second chamber. History has shown us that the legislatures of Canada can function very well without a second chamber. The legislatures representing the provinces across this country do not have senates now and they are doing a fine job.
What has been my experience with the Senate here in Parliament over the last five years? I have a very difficult time identifying the positive work of the hundred or so members in the other chamber. It is not that they are not good Canadians or that they have poor work habits or that they are not intellectually capable people; it is that they are simply not listened to when they make reports. In the last while, there has been a change in the Senate. It has become much more political. The senators who are there very much play a role in determining government policy. Now that the government has a majority, the Senate acts in accordance with the government's wishes in moving forward government legislation or in blocking legislation that comes forward from other members of this House.
I would say that the climate change bill is at the root of the change that has taken place. That bill was voted on and approved by elected members in the House of Commons but was summarily rejected by the Senate. This represents for me a clear delineation of the problem with the Senate. Ignoring the Senate and allowing it to remain a basket of good intentions where reports are written and nothing is done with them is the old model. The new model is one in which the Senate acts as a policeman over the House of Commons for any of the private members who might not agree with the prevailing view within that Senate, whether there is a Liberal majority or a Conservative majority in the Senate. That is what has been happening.
Of course the New Democrats have supported the abolition of that institution for a long time. We are very concerned that the Senate does not add to the democratic process. In reality, it is taking away from the democratic process. It is taking away from the rights of elected members and from the directions that are given clearly by the majority of the elected members in this House of Commons. The situation is not good and it is getting worse.
I am glad to have the opportunity to debate Senate reform. I want to assist in improving the democratic process that we use to run this country, to provide protection for the rights of Canadians and to give good direction to the future for our country. I am positive we are all here for that. However, what we have here does not strike me as a likely addition to the good work of this body.
I cannot help but continue to support our position to abolish the Senate and look for ways to find approbation among the people of Canada for that position, because that is the democratic process.
A referendum on the future of the Senate and opening the debate to Canadians is a great idea. We support that idea. When this bill fails, as it is likely to do, perhaps the government will consider that to be a better way to go about this exercise. This is a better way to determine which direction we should take. My colleagues can rest assured the people actually can make choices. They have the capacity to look at what is going on and make good choices.
Having spoken to the general direction of the Senate, this bill purports to make changes to the Senate to give us exactly what I am not sure. I am not sure what the government's vision of the Senate would be after the bill passed, which is very unlikely, or what its vision of the Senate should be.
The Prime Minister uses the Senate as an instrument of control over the democratic process in this House. Would the changes made in the bill increase the Prime Minister's use of the Senate? Would it become even more of a tool for parties to use when they are in government? Or when a party is thrown out of government, would that party use the Senate as a tool to subvert the democratic will of the House of Commons?
Four years from now after the next election when the people have turfed out the present government but it has a very large majority in the Senate, I can see a situation where things could be made very difficult for a new direction for Canada. I do not want that.
I am not here to create a situation where those who are not in power have their hands around the throats of those who have been democratically elected to represent the people of Canada. I am not interested in that. I hope the other side is not interested in that either. I appeal to hon. members as Canadians to think about that. When Canadians make a choice, that choice should be represented in the House of Commons and not in the Senate.
What do we see in the proposed changes to the Senate? All senators would be restricted to a single nine-year term. They would need to be registered with a political party in order for people to vote for them in the elections that would be held in the provinces. People would have to register, for example, as a Conservative, a Liberal, a New Democrat or a Green Party. However, once they were elected, it would be for one electoral term and that is it.
Where is the recourse of the voter to senators? They would be in there for nine years. They would be under the direction of the government or the opposition, whichever party they were registered with. How would that work for sober second thought, for careful delineation of what is going on in the House, for advice given to the House, for supporting the democratic process in the House? How would that actually help? Where is the vision?
The Prime Minister would not be required to appoint any of the people elected by the provinces through registered parties. The Prime Minister could make his choice.
We really have changed nothing. If the Prime Minister did not like a particular candidate, he could ignore the person throughout his time in office. If it does not extend to six years and the Prime Minister is thrown out after the next election, perhaps that person who was elected by the people in the region would have a chance to be appointed by the new prime minister. As long as that happened within the next few years, they would have that opportunity. If not, good-bye to the voters' intent to put somebody in to represent them.
If the Senate is to represent the regions and the only way people can get elected to the Senate is to be part of a registered political party, and once they are in there, they still must be appointed by a prime minister, I just do not see how that would push forward the regional issues that someone who is actually elected by the region to represent the region would be in a position to do so. I think it would leave that senator much indebted to the political party and very little indebted to the region that will never get vote for him or her again anyhow.
Those are some of the provisions that the Conservatives have put forward to change the Senate.
What do we see? Not much of this will make a difference to what is happening now. It will not make a difference to the fact that the Senate is now being used to subvert the will of the majority in this House of Commons, which happened in the last two years. Nothing will stop that. If the government does not succeed in being re-elected four years from now, it will have a stranglehold over in the Senate. We will fight our way through that, as a new government, with extreme difficulty. That will become a vehicle for non-change and a vehicle for continuing the will of a government past its time, which is unfortunate to a Canadian democracy. That will not work.
The Conservatives railed at the Liberal senators for three years, until they got a majority. They hated them. They said that they were always standing in their way and always making it more difficult for them. What were they going to do? They were going to perpetuate, through this legislation, the continuation of that problem that the Conservatives saw very clearly when they started their time as government.
Where is their vision? What is their vision for the Senate of Canada? They should tell us.
However, like most legislation that the Conservatives put forward, they do not put a vision forward with it. They are scared to do that. They are scared to tell us what they are really thinking and what they really want for this country, which is unfortunate because this country needs leadership and direction right now. They need to work to make things better.
However, the only way we will do that is with disclosure, with understanding. When we do not have it, this will not work.