This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

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.

Topics

Notice of MotionWays and Means

11:05 a.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, since July 2009, nearly 600,000 new jobs have been created here in Canada. Our government is committed to continuing this strong record. That is why, today, I am pleased to table, pursuant to Standing Order 83(1), a notice of ways and means motion respecting An Act to implement certain provisions of the 2011 budget as updated on June 6, 2011 and other measures.

I ask that an order of the day be designated for consideration of this motion.

Notice of MotionWays and Means

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Accordingly, pursuant to an order made on Wednesday, September 28, the ways and means motion is deemed moved, the question is deemed put, and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until later this day at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

The House resumed from September 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-7, An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources has 15 minutes left to conclude her remarks.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, as I was mentioning a few days ago, the Senate reform act will also introduce term limits for senators. The act will restrict the length of time that senators can sit in the Senate to a nine year term limit. This will apply to all senators appointed after the royal assent of the bill. It will also apply to current senators appointed after October 2008 whose terms would end nine years after royal assent.

We believe that a nine-year term provides enough time to enable individual senators to gain the experience necessary to carry out their legislative functions while also ensuring regular renewal of the upper chamber. At the same time, a nine-year term does not compromise the Senate's role of sober second thought in independent legislative review and in in-depth policy investigation.

Unlike the selection provisions which do not amend the Constitution, the term limits provision would change the Constitution. However, this change is within Parliament's exclusive constitutional authority under section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

I would now like to address in more detail some of the concerns that have been raised about the constitutionality of this bill.

While some commentators would argue that this bill presents a fundamental constitutional change requiring the support of the provinces, I disagree. Our government has been careful to ensure that our approach to Senate reform falls within the federal government's constitutional jurisdiction. Let me explain.

Concerning Senate consultations, I have already noted that the process would not require constitutional amendment because it does not change the method of selecting senators. The bill does not require that the Prime Minister recommend the names of individuals selected as a result of the consultation process. Any provincial process would only be consultative in nature and not legally binding. The fact that these processes would be consultative is a key aspect of this bill, especially considering that consultation with citizens is a fundamental element of our democratic system. In many ways, these consultative processes would resemble non-binding referendums or plebiscites.

In that vein, I would note that the majority of provinces have legislation that enables them to seek the views of citizens through a referendum on any matters of public interest or concern. I would also note that the Prime Minister already consults with a number of people when making recommendations on Senate appointments and this bill would not change that. The bill simply proposes a method to enable the Prime Minister to consult with Canadians on who should be selected to hold a position in the Senate.

In 2006, the Senate convened a special committee to study the issue of Senate reform. The committee heard from a number of distinguished constitutional scholars, including Peter Hogg, Patrick Monahan and Stephen Scott. In its report, the committee noted that Professors Hogg, Monahan and Scott supported the view that if the result of a consultation process was simply to create a pool of individuals from which the Prime Minister could make a selection, then there “would not likely be any objection on constitutional grounds”. Since this is the approach presented in the Senate reform act, I am confident in the constitutionality of these provisions.

Concerning term limits, I would point out a similar amendment was passed by Parliament, acting alone, in 1965. At that time, Parliament reduced the tenure of senators from a lifetime appointment to mandatory retirement at age 75.

The Constitution provides specific authority for the Parliament of Canada to legislate with respect to the Senate. The Constitution also very clearly sets out those types of changes to the Senate that requires some level of provincial consent. Our legislation has been very carefully designed to ensure that we are acting in those areas where we have authority to legislate.

In its 2006 study, the special Senate committee concluded that the constitutionality of term limits was sufficiently clear and that a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada was not necessary. In fact, the committee further reported that most members of the committee endorsed the principle of the bill and agreed that “a defined limit to the terms of senators would be an improvement to Canada's Senate”.

As a final point, I would note that nothing in the Senate reform act would fundamentally alter the role or powers of the Senate. The House of Commons would continue to be the chamber of confidence and the Senate would continue principally as a revising chamber, offering its valuable insight in the review of legislation. While our proposed agenda focuses on achievable reforms, that does not mean that the more fundamental issues, such as Senate powers and the appropriate representation of the provinces, are insignificant.

These are important questions that must be considered and discussed; however, we will continue to concentrate on our incremental approach and how its successful implementation will possibly ignite interest in further enhancing the role of the upper chamber.

The reforms proposed by the Senate Reform Act are not radical changes but are important changes that provide an alternative to the status quo which is no longer acceptable to Canadians. Doing nothing is simply not an option.

Our government is doing its part to ensure that we can improve and enhance our institutions to make them better for Canadians. Our reforms are practical and achievable, and we hope they will lay the foundation for more fundamental reform. To implement these changes, however, we need the co-operation of parliamentarians. Until now our government has faced resistance to our attempts to modernize the Senate, in particular some from within the Senate itself.

It is my hope that we can count on all parliamentarians to come together to implement these important reforms for all Canadians.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I cannot help thinking that this entire piece of legislation is a bit rickety. Where I come from we might call it held together with duct tape and chicken wire. It is hardly an overwhelming reform, and I do not think it has much of a chance of success. We are going to end up with much of what we have now.

Could the member tell us to what extent she has consulted with provinces, and how many provinces have actually signed on to this legislation?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, our government has been given a strong mandate. Part of that strong mandate was for Senate reform. We have taken a flexible approach to this with incremental changes, so that we can implement those things that are important to Canadians, to improve the democracy that we hold dear to us, and to improve our Senate from the standpoint of ensuring there are limited terms as well as ensuring that we have some degree of flexibility in what we are doing moving forward.

We are consulting. We had a substantive consultation earlier this year on May 2. The Canadian public gave us a strong mandate to move forward on Senate reform.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, my colleague did not answer the question. There is one reality for the Government of Quebec and another reality for the other provinces.

Which provinces did the Conservative Party consult? Does it have the support of these provinces? Which provinces support it? Is my colleague not concerned that this will still end up before the courts?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I said, we consulted all Canadians with respect to our plan.

On May 2 Canadians brought us forward with a strong mandate for Senate reform. As the member opposite knows, there is already legislation in place for democratic selections in other provinces, whether that be in Alberta or Saskatchewan, which have enacted legislation for democratic selection processes.

There is a broad consultation that will be taking place. In the case of Alberta, it moved forward in 1989 with the senatorial selection act, and in 2009, Saskatchewan moved forward with the senate nominee election act.

This government is moving forward by creating a reformed Senate, so that we can ensure that we have democratic institutions that are modern in this country.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, on Saturday I attended a round table in Toronto with the Minister of State for Democratic Reform. We had a very diverse group of people around the table.

We talked about different things around democratic renewal generally, and we did talk a little bit about the Senate. One of the things that people around that table did say was that they wanted to see the Senate be more effective. They believe the Senate plays an important role in representing regional interests and regional differences.

Perhaps the parliamentary secretary could give a little bit more background on how these reforms are going to make the Senate more visible and more active for Canadians?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Senate Reform Act would encourage the provinces to enact the democratic process so Canadians would have a greater say in who represents them in the Senate. It would provide more of a dynamism in the Senate.

The bill provides a voluntary framework to assist the provinces in implementing a selection process to bring forward names of individuals for the Prime Minister to consider. It also introduces term limits for senators. After the bill receives royal assent, senators will be appointed for a non-renewable term of nine years. This will allow a routine and regular turnover of senators so that fresh and new ideas are brought forward. We want to move forward with this reform of the Senate in order to modernize the democratic institutions in this country.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was wondering whether the hon. member has considered the question of costs. Time and again we see Conservative proposals presented in this chamber with no costing. Could she comment on the more than $100 million the Senate costs us every year?

In addition, what about costs for holding those election campaigns? On this side we question the value of a second house. The House of Commons is elected and does a very good job doing the public's business. Do we need to spend several hundred million dollars more on a second chamber?

Could the member comment on what costs would be associated with the bill?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, this issue has come up. The bill does not provide funding for provincial and territorial consultation processes. Our government believes provincial and territorial processes should be funded by the provinces and territories.

Alberta has already had three consultative processes and the Government of Canada has not contributed funding for them. Alberta's most recent consultation process was held in 2004 in conjunction with its general provincial election. Alberta estimated that it cost approximately $1.6 million. The Government of Alberta is the one that took on that cost.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not entirely satisfied with the answer from the parliamentary secretary to the question posed by my hon. colleague from Bourassa.

The hon. parliamentary secretary and I come from a province where the government is opposed to having a Senate and would like to abolish it. I was wondering if the parliamentary secretary would like to comment on what would happen if a province decided that it did not want to participate in Senate reform because the province wants to abolish it. What if a province does not want to participate in the process as set down by the government in the bill?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, as was mentioned before, this process is voluntary. We look forward to working with the provinces and using the framework as a base for creating what the provinces believe to be the best process for consultation. The federal government is not imposing this framework; it is voluntary. Each province should be given the flexibility and ability to put forward names. However, we are not taking away the ability of the Prime Minister and the Governor General to choose those individuals. In order to increase representation, whether that be of minority groups or women, the Prime Minister would still be able to select individuals even if they are not presented on the list provided by the provinces.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the parliamentary secretary on her presentation and some of the clarification that has come over this long debate. Since 2006 when the Conservative Party formed government, it has been the mandate not only of the Prime Minister, but certainly of this caucus of moving ahead on being transparent and having accountability within the Senate.

One of the things that continually comes up is the question around tenure, and the member has talked about it already. Not only is there a question about the length of tenure, but about whether we can actually do it. We realize that in 1965 that was changed and it was constitutionally allowable. Now we are looking at a term of nine years. I wonder if there has been a discussion with the provinces about tenure and how they feel about the term of nine years.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Senate reform bill is an incremental approach to reform and reaffirms our government's commitment to make the upper chamber more democratic, effective and accountable. The bill is consistent with the government's efforts to encourage the provinces to implement a democratic process for this election but also to implement term limits for senators so that there is continued renewal. That continued renewal would be brought about through the nine-year non-renewable terms. In that way new and fresh ideas could be brought into the Senate for debate and sober second thought.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

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.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay NDP Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague.

We know that, fundamentally, the Senate should be there to ensure a separation of powers. How does my colleague think that a senator elected under the banner of a party will allow us to have a true separation of powers?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I actually do not see that as the trend that has developed in the Senate. I see the trend developing in the Senate much more in a direction of political parties being the primary driver of the Senate, which is unfortunate because, quite clearly, the good work that Senators have done in the past, and there has been good work, has been when they have spoken impartially on legislation, when they have made their way forward with reports that do not speak to any particular political direction but speak to the realities of Canadian life and the way legislation could be written that would better suit Canadians. Those are things that are useful. I do not say that they are useful to $100 million a year. I have trouble with that because there is simply not enough work being done there to make that $100 million viable.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my friend and I found a fair number of contradictions in what he was saying to the House. One is either for democracy or not but the member is both for and against democracy. I found that very contradicting.

Our goal here is to make the Senate more transparent and ensure that it plays an effective role in Parliament. I do not think I heard the member talking about a constitutional war with the provinces to kill the Senate. , I think our role as parliamentarians is to make the Senate as democratic and transparent as possible and to ensure that the senators over there are doing good work for Canadians.

Perhaps the member could take a moment to better explain whether he believes senators should be elected or whether senators should continue to be appointed in the way they have been for 143 years.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I do not see any contradiction in what I said. If the prime minister would have the right to overrule any election, how could that possibly be part of a democratic process? That would be like asking a U.S. senator running for the Republicans to get permission from President Obama before he is elected. If we are going to have an elected Senate, then let it be elected. People make the choice and that is the choice they are stuck with.

Another point in the bill is that senators would need to be members of registered political parties. How is that democratic? How is it democratic for somebody who wants to represent his region to have to indicate his support for a particular party when he would be going into a body that is supposed to represent the region and speak for the region?

When those elements are put into the bill, the democratic process is taken away.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague, whose speech I very much enjoyed.

I would like to know what he thinks about more substantive and fundamental reform of our parliamentary institutions. The former Bill C-20 on Senate reform very clearly set out a transition towards a means of direct election for the Senate, which would completely change the system. This bill was simply a transition. That was completely cut out of the bill before us today. There is no more talk of a transition or of more substantive changes. This seems to be all that the Conservatives have to offer us by way of reform. I would like to hear what my colleague has to say about that.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I will speak to why I favour the abolition of the Senate.

We do not have a 200-year history like the United States. However, there are many other countries that have two elected Houses where they have an arrangement between the two elected bodies to work together to create legislation and make government work.

A directly elected body of senators could be a terrible imposition on the smooth running of the Government of Canada. There could be very different points of view about how the government should be run, what direction it should take, and that would be coming from two groups of elected members. The senators, who are not now elected, do not have much jam when it comes to speaking for the people. If they were elected, I agree that they would have a lot more influence and confidence in their ability to stand up to the government.

I would say that it would be an extreme problem for our democracy right now. We do not have the underlying principles or the direction for two elected bodies in this House.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I want to correct the record. The member opposite commented on having to be a member of a registered party in order to have one's name brought forward. I would like him to look at section 19.2(b) in Bill C-7 where it states that the name of each candidate must be printed on a ballot together with:

the word “independent”, if the candidate is not a candidate for a registered provincial or territorial political party.

Just to be clear, one would not need to be a member of a political party in order have one's name brought forward.

The member and his party talked about the abolishment of the Senate altogether. This would require significant constitutional change but really end up at the status quo. Would this help modernize Canadian society by just maintaining the status quo as opposed to moving forward with incremental democratic reform, as the Canadian public wishes?