House of Commons Hansard #45 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.


Purple Day Act
Private Members' Business

12:15 p.m.


Bev Shipley Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I also want to thank the member for Halifax West for bringing forward this bill.

It was initiated by Cassidy Megan, a young lady who was seven years old. She must have incredible self-esteem and self-confidence, and I thank her for that.

The bill seeks to raise awareness of epilepsy by establishing March 26 as purple day in Canada. On March 26 we can encourage people to wear the colour purple to show their support for people living with this terrible disease.

From the outset, I want to say to the member that we will be supporting the bill.

In the context of the bill, I would like to take a few minutes to tell the House more about epilepsy and the experience of Canadians who live with this condition.

Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder. It causes brief recurring seizures. Currently epilepsy affects 1% of Canadians. An estimated 160,000 people are living with this disease.

Every year, approximately 15,000 Canadians learn that they have epilepsy. While epilepsy occurs at all ages, about 60% of new patients are either young children or seniors. The good news is that in about half of the children diagnosed with epilepsy, the seizures will eventually disappear over time.

As the baby boom generation reaches retirement age, the number of epilepsy cases among the elderly, unfortunately, is expected to rise. Brain tumours, head trauma, substance abuse and serious infections are the most common causes of epilepsy. However, often the cause of epilepsy is unknown, leaving patients wondering about the issue.

Although many people living with epilepsy enjoy productive lives, living with this condition presents significant challenges for patients, their families and their society.

Epilepsy can affect participation in key aspects of life. Some of those, such as community, school, employment and leisure have been talked about earlier today. Because of the fear of social stigma, many people suffering with epilepsy are reluctant to admit they have it and seek treatment. As a result, the numbers of Canadians living with epilepsy are likely even greater than originally thought. This is why Cassidy Megan needs to be thanked for her initiative in bringing forward purple day.

There is no cure for epilepsy. At best, medications and other treatments can help manage seizures. Despite advances in diagnosis and treatment, epilepsy is among the least understood of all chronic conditions.

We know that greater awareness and acceptance can help. They can help address the stigma associated with this disease and they can help improve the lives of Canadians who have epilepsy.

Bill C-278 builds on significant efforts already under way to support people living with epilepsy by raising the awareness of all Canadians about this challenging disease.

This year the Minister of Health recognized March as National Epilepsy Month. This gesture was another important step in raising awareness and improving the quality of life of those living with epilepsy across Canada.

In the spirit of Bill C-278, the Government of Canada has been supporting research to improve our understanding of epilepsy. Through the national population study on neurological diseases, the Government of Canada is working with the major neurological charities, including the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance, to implement a four-year study of Canadians affected by neurological disorders, including epilepsy.

The Canadian Epilepsy Alliance is a nationwide network dedicated to the promotion of independence and quality of life for people with epilepsy and their families through support services, information, advocacy and public awareness.

The Government of Canada provided $15 million over four years to undertake the study. It is the first ever comprehensive national study on the impacts of neurological conditions on Canadians. It will help us fill gaps in what we know about neurological conditions, including epilepsy. In fact, it is a suite of studies designed to answer important questions that will help us all understand the impact of brain conditions on those living with these diseases, as well their families and caregivers. Teams of researchers across the country are working together to conduct these studies.

While neurological conditions differ in their underlying causes and effects on the brain and nervous system, they share many common features. Whether people are living with epilepsy, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease, they face similar challenges in accessing the support they need in order to improve and maintain their quality of life.

This neurological study is exploring the everyday experience of living and managing neurological conditions such as epilepsy. It will improve our knowledge about its prevalence, risk factors, use of health services, economic costs and the impact of neurological diseases, both current and projected, over the next 20 years.

As well, the government has invested in other measures to better understand epilepsy and to fill in the knowledge gaps through research by raising awareness. Raising awareness is exactly what Bill C-278 is about.

Between 2006 and 2010, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, CIHR, invested almost $40 million into epilepsy research that will deepen our knowledge of the disease. The research will ultimately help build awareness of the impact of genetics on epilepsy, how epilepsy affects brain development, as well as interventions to improve the quality of care and well-being for those living with epilepsy. Overall, research like this will improve our capacity to respond more effectively.

Bill C-278 recognizes that the value of research is key to building awareness through a better understanding of the condition.

The CIHR has two leading institutes that support epilepsy research, the Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction, and the Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health. These research institutes engage the research community in the creation of new knowledge and then translate it to inform policies and programs, all with the goal of improving the health of Canadians.

Through the CIHR, the Government of Canada continues to support researchers undertaking epilepsy research at post-secondary institutions across Canada. For example, the University of Toronto's Centre of Research and Neurodegenerative Diseases and McGill University's Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital.

In June of this year, the CIHR funded the brain connectivity workshop in Montreal to bring together leading experts on brain development, epilepsy and neuroscience. This work will help strengthen the collaboration between Canadian scientists and experts around the world. By working in partnership, we will increase our understanding of epilepsy.

Those are all steps in the right direction. By learning more about the impacts of epilepsy, we will gain reliable information on its effects on us as Canadians. Through knowledge, we can build awareness of this important disease.

Bill C-278 would be another step forward for Canada toward raising awareness of epilepsy. It would be a clear sign of our support for those living with this challenging condition.

Purple Day Act
Private Members' Business

12:25 p.m.


Djaouida Sellah Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, here on this side of the House, we support the principle of the bill introduced by the hon. member for Halifax West. Given that Canadians with epilepsy still face a great deal of prejudice, parliamentary recognition of a day dedicated to epilepsy awareness represents an excellent initiative. I thank the hon. member for Halifax West and Cassidy Megan, who first suggested declaring such a day back in 2008.

Thus, I support this bill in principle. Unfortunately, as it stands, the bill contains a few translation errors. The most significant error in the bill is the use of the expression “Journée pourpre” in French, when the term recognized by epilepsy advocacy groups in Quebec and the official term used by the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance is “Journée lavande”. I will be very happy to propose this amendment once the bill is referred to committee. I would also like to draw the House's attention to the French word “condition” instead of “maladie”, as suggested by France Picard, the executive director of the Association québécoise de l'épilepsie.

As I mentioned earlier, I support this bill in principle. We need to raise awareness among Canadians about a condition that affects more than 300,000 people in Canada, including 45,000 in Quebec, along with their families, relatives and friends. Those affected face many myths and prejudices every day. Some of these prejudices are minor but others have more serious consequences. In Montreal, a young woman was fired by her employer after indicating on insurance forms that she has epilepsy. Her employer was unaware that, like two-thirds of those affected by epilepsy, this young woman uses medication to manage her seizures and the likelihood that she will miss work because of seizures is low. This is an example of the type of prejudice that people with epilepsy still have to deal with today. These prejudices have a serious impact on their lives. It would be easy to say that this example is only an anecdote and an isolated incident, but organizations working in this field regularly see such cases.

Prejudices against people with epilepsy and the fear of epilepsy create additional obstacles for those living with the condition. As I just mentioned, employment can be affected, although not everyone with epilepsy has been fired or is unemployed. Organizations working in this area have clearly stated that people with epilepsy are more likely to be underemployed or unemployed. Access to education is also an obstacle for some people.

Prejudices cause mental health problems. Rejection by school friends or colleagues due to ignorance about epilepsy affects one's social life, love life and self-confidence. The resulting isolation translates into higher rates of depression and, unfortunately, higher rates of suicide than the Canadian average.

Raising public awareness will definitely have a positive effect on the lives of all Canadians affected by epilepsy. Knowledge can dispel prejudices arising from ignorance. Furthermore, educating health professionals is also desirable and a day of awareness will help.

For certain people with this illness, surgery is the only possible treatment. But there are currently too few specialists who realize that surgery is no longer a last resort for treating epilepsy—far from it, in fact. There is now a tool available to health care professionals that allows them to evaluate whether a patient should be referred for surgery or not. It was created by a team led by Dr. Nathalie Jetté from the University of Calgary. It is available online to all health care professionals. I would like to congratulate them publicly for this tool.

An epilepsy awareness day would educate the public and health care professionals about epilepsy, its consequences and treatments.

For the majority of people with epilepsy, treatment is simple: medication. Medication allows them to live their lives without the perpetual fear of a seizure. Medication also allows them to get a driver's licence and hold down a job.

Right now, a lack of certain medications is threatening to leave many cases of epilepsy untreated. The Canadian Epilepsy Alliance sounded the alarm in October and it was unequivocal: lack of medication can endanger the lives of those with this condition. Lack of medication means that the seizures will start again. Changing medication can also have the same effect.

How can the government see this situation and sit idly by? We need to put words into action. If the House supports this bill—which I hope will be the case—it also has the moral obligation to ensure that those living with epilepsy do not have to deal with additional obstacles due to factors such as the quest for profit or the fact that certain companies are no longer producing less profitable drugs.

The minister and this government must take immediate action to solve the shortage of anti-epileptic drugs and many other drugs. This government must not allow itself to be fooled by the pharmaceutical industry. It must take action to ensure that all Canadians have access to the drugs prescribed by their health professionals. Furthermore, Canadians have the right to know what measures this government is taking to ensure our drug supply and, if that is not the case, to know why this government feels justified in endangering the lives of thousands of Canadians because of its inaction.

The drug shortage is not a new phenomenon, and this government needs to be accountable and explain why it has not taken any action or any effective measures to resolve this problem.

I truly hope that this bill passes and that March 26 is declared Purple Day. It is important that this House recognize the initiative put forward by a young Canadian, especially since it is already recognized in over 45 countries. I can only hope that this bill will ensure that the Minister of Health pays special attention to this issue and tries to solve the drug shortage. Now would also be a good time to implement some of the measures we suggested during the last election campaign, such as a family caregiver tax benefit, which would certainly help the families of those with more severe cases of epilepsy.

Purple Day Act
Private Members' Business

12:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The House resumed from October 3 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 Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.


Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to rise today to speak on behalf of the official opposition and the good people of Vancouver Kingsway regarding C-7, An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits.

Before I proceed, for Canadians watching, I am one of the men that has a moustache in honour of movember, which is a time when we remember the very real effects of prostate cancer and encourage men across the country to not only get checked but to raise funds to help defeat this disease that has not only taken the lives of many men, but is something that afflicted the past leader of the NDP, the Hon. Jack Layton.

When we talk about the Senate, it conjures up a number of concepts in the minds of most Canadians. Unelected, undemocratic, unaccountable, political patronage and elitist are words that have been cemented in the minds of Canadians whenever they think of the Senate of Canada.

Modern democratic nations do not have representative chambers that are unelected. Modern democratic nations do not have representational chambers that are regionally imbalanced and unequal, with the principle of representation by population being completely ignored and frozen in a time two centuries past. Modern democratic nations do not have representative chambers where a ruling head of state hand-picks legislators who are the head's fundraisers, failed candidates and partisan supporters.

Modern democratic nations do not have representative chambers where people are appointed for life or until they are 75 years old, while the people who senators supposedly represent have no means to remove them. Modern democratic nations do not have representative chambers where the members spend their time campaigning for the ruling party on the public dime on the taxpayer-funded purse. They do not have chambers where unelected, patronage appointed members block legislation passed by a democratically elected chamber.

Modern democracies do not have chambers that restrict membership to those who own property, in the case of Canada $4,000 in land, and are closed to Canadians who do not. In fact, that is why Canada stands almost alone in the world among modern democratic nations with an anachronism from the past, a sordid past, a shameful history and a dubious future. That is why every province in Canada that had such a body abolished it in 1968.

I want to mention a few facts about the issue of abolishing the Senate.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter have openly called for the abolition of the Senate. The premier of my province, British Columbia, Premier Christy Clark, has said that the Senate no longer plays a useful role in Confederation. Manitoba maintains its position of Senate abolition, although it has plans in place for the contingency that Senate elections are required should this bill be passed. Quebec has called this legislation unconstitutional and has said that it will launch a provincial court appeal if the bill proceeds without the consultation of provinces, which have not occurred to date. So far the bill is opposed by premiers of provinces representing the vast majority of Canadians.

In terms of what Canadians think, public support for a referendum on the Senate is growing. An Angus Reid survey from July, just some months ago, showed 71% of Canadians were in favour of holding a referendum to decide the future of the Senate. Members of the Conservative government stand in the House virtually every day and say that they have received a strong mandate from the Canadian public. They received 39% of the vote in the last election and 61% of Canadians did not support them. They consider 39% of the Canadian public to be a strong mandate. I hope members of the Conservative government recognize that when 71% of Canadians support a referendum on the Senate that is an even stronger mandate.

Thirty-six per cent of Canadians support the abolition of the Senate right now and that is without any kind of public education campaign or national discourse or dialogue, which I am sure would elevate that number to well over 50% very quickly. There have been 13 attempts to reform the Senate since 1900 and all of them have failed.

I want to outline what the bill would do.

The bill would restrict all senators appointed to the Senate after October 14, 2008, to a single nine-year term. It purports to give provinces and territories the opportunity to choose to hold elections at their cost and to determine which names will be submitted to the Prime Minister for his consideration. The bill clearly states that the Prime Minister is not required to appoint anyone so-called elected by the provinces. The bill would not make it mandatory that the Prime Minister would appoint a person so elected. In other words, it does not actually change the way senators are currently appointed, which is that the Prime Minister is free to appoint whomever he or she chooses.

Bill C-7 appears from the outset to be a rather vague and once again confused legislation, which is clumsily attempting to pursue a number of objectives without any clear focus. The reforms outlined in the bill continue the undemocratic nature of the Senate and do not provide, in any way, what Canada needs as a modern democratic nation.

I will go through some of the major flaws in the bill.

When I said that the government had been a little bit confused, previous Conservative bills called for federally-regulated electoral processes. This one calls for provincially-regulated electoral processes. Another bill the Conservatives tabled called for eight-year term limits. This one has nine-year term limits.

The Conservatives have not properly consulted with the provinces about whether they agree with the content of the bill. When the bill was first introduced in June, Conservative senators, even those appointed by the current Prime Minister, pushed back against any plans for Senate term limits, even those who were supposedly appointed after giving their word that they would respect term limits.

The bill would retain the fundamental flaw that senators would remain unaccountable to the Canadian people. By only being allowed to serve one term, senators would never have to face the public to account for the promises they made to get elected or the decisions that they took in the previous nine years. Then they would get a pension for life after they left office. So much for fiscal accountability from the Conservatives.

Having an elected Senate would fundamentally change the nature of politics in Canada. It would create a two-tier Senate where those who were elected likely would feel that they would have more legitimacy. Later in my speech I will talk more about where we run into conflicts with the role and authority of the provinces to speak on behalf of the people in those provinces versus the senators.

Since the Senate has virtually the same powers as the House, an elected Senate would give greater legitimacy for the Senate to introduce legislation or oppose bills sent from the House of Commons. We very well could end up with the same kind of gridlock that we see in the United States, and I will talk about that in a few minutes as well.

The safest, the most conservative approach to the Senate is to abolish it. We know how the House of Commons works, but we have no idea what would happen with an elected Senate.

Let us reflect on the history and role of the Senate which originated in the British parliamentary system as the House of Lords. For hundreds of years the so-called upper chamber has been a symbol of nobility and power in place to prevent the commoners in the lower house from affecting the privileged lives of those who enjoy more than their fair share of the product of the nation. Indeed, our own Prime Minister has described the Senate as “a relic of the 19th century”, echoing my view that its presence continues to give merit to an outdated concept.

During the last election, Jack Layton said that something had changed with the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister used to talk about being democratically accountable. He used to talk about things like the Senate being something that had no business opposing or blocking legislation from the House of Commons, where senators who were appointed had no business being patronage appointments.

The Prime Minister has stuffed the Senate with his political friends and with failed candidates. He either allowed or required the unelected senators to block environmental legislation passed democratically in the House of Commons after three readings. It is funny how things change when someone is in power.

The bill would do nothing to address the wider issues around the Senate, that its relevance and role comes from a shameful past of elitism and distrust of the ability of the common people to govern themselves. How else do we explain a requirement that to hold a Senate seat, one must own land? What does that say in 2011, in modern Canada, to all the millions of Canadians who rent or who do not own land? Is it that they are not fit to pass legislation in the Senate of our country? The government does nothing to change that rule.

I said that these reforms were not what Canada needs. This is an important message which must be conveyed to Canadians across the country. We have a tendency in this modern era to hear the word “reform” and automatically assume that this must be a good thing, something that we should greet with open arms. However, just because something represents reform does not necessarily make it good reform. Bill C-7 is not good reform. It represents reform that will make Canada's democracy far less efficient, much less predictable and is much more radical than the government will admit.

By describing the bill as radical, the government has presented it as an evolution of our democratic principles. However, the truth is these reforms would dramatically change the way in which our Parliament operates.

Bill C-7 is being discussed as simply a method of increasing democratic legitimacy in our system, but in reality it would not do that. In fact, it risks imperilling the very democratic premise it purports to improve. It would result in a complete change in the way our Parliament operates, with a significantly stronger and more active upper chamber. This will undoubtedly create challenges, some of which will undermine the efficiency and effectiveness of government.

By electing the Senate as well as the House of Commons, we will create two parliamentary bodies that both may claim to have a mandate to govern. This is a very dangerous situation for Canada to be in. Parliament would lose the clarity that it currently has regarding where ultimate authority lies, in the democratically elected representatives in the House of Commons.

The importance of clarity in this area is illustrated by events from the last Parliament when my NDP colleague tabled Bill C-311, which was a climate change accountability act. The bill went through all three readings in debate in the House of Commons, went through democratic votes and passed. The bill was then referred to the Senate where the Conservative majority in the Senate, who are not elected by anybody, who are not accountable to anybody, who sit in that chamber for $135,000 a year until they are 75 years of age, voted to kill that legislation. That is not democratic; it is autocratic.

The 2006 Conservative Party platform stated that, “An unelected Senate should not be able to block the will of the elected House in the 21st century”. What kind of hypocrisy is that? The Conservative Party went to the people of the country five years ago and said that its position was the Senate, which is unelected, should not block any parliamentary legislation that had been passed by the House of Commons. Five years later the government caused its Conservative senators to do exactly that. That is not undemocratic. That is hypocritical and unethical. It was a lie and that is wrong.

On these grounds, the actions of the Senate, on those two occasions, were unwarranted and unacceptable. It is our current system that allows us to draw this conclusion. It is clear that in a parliamentary democracy, ultimate authority must lie with the elected chamber and not with the appointed one.

Again, the fact is this bill would muddy those waters. If these reforms were implemented, then the Senate would have every right to throw out a bill that had already passed through the House of Commons as the senators, at least those who had been elected, would have an equal democratic mandate to the members in this place, or may very well claim so.

No clearer indication can be given about the dangers of this kind of system than what we have seen recently in the United States. With the house of representatives and the senate there having equal democratic mandates and being controlled by two separate parties, the world financial markets were almost brought to their knees. Once again, a piece of legislation concerning the debt limit in the United States was raised and the bill to borrow more money to keep the economy going had to be passed. The U.S. Congress had passed similar legislation many times before without a hitch, but on that occasion, the well-being of the American people was firmly put to one side as the two parties battled it out to achieve their own partisan goals.

This is what the bill risks here. Had one of those two political institutions had the clear authority over the other any chance of this kind of situation developing would be non-existent.

That has been the history of the House of Commons and Senate up to now. The Senate, being unelected, has always by convention refused to exercise its de jure powers and instead restricted itself only to holding up legislation, but never to blocking it, until the Conservative government of this Prime Minister came into being.

I would like to raise the issue of the makeup of the Senate going forward if the reform outlined in the bill were implemented. These changes would result in a completely incoherent upper chamber with two tiers of senators. Some would be subject to term limits for nine years and be elected, others would be appointed and could serve until age 75. What kind of message does this send to Canadians, or people all over the world about the reputation of our democratic processes? How can a parliamentary institution operate when one member has a fresh mandate from the electorate, while the person sitting next that member has been there for 25 years with no input from those who his or her decisions affect?

The divisive nature of the reforms also mean that there is a conflict set up between the provinces and the Senate. Which body would truly speak on behalf of the people of that province? I would argue that it is the provincial governments of the country set up by our Constitution that have a legitimate democratic mandate to speak for the people of those provinces, not the Senate, or senators from those provinces, many of whom do not even live in those provinces and have only a very tangential relationship with those provinces.

I know I am running out of time so I want to talk about a couple of quick facts that I think are important; one is money. The Conservative government that has given us a massive $610 billion debt and the largest deficits in Canadian history still wants to maintain a chamber that costs Canadian taxpayers over $100 million per year and is undemocratic.

We could abolish the Senate, as the New Democrats have suggested, and save the taxpayers $100 million a year with absolutely not one iota of deleterious affect on the democratic health of our nation. We could make our government more efficient and more effective. We could be quicker. I have heard members opposite talk about the slow rate with which it passes legislation. They are frustrated by how long it takes to get legislation passed.

By abolishing the Senate we could dispense with three readings and committee study, and speed up legislation, which is what Canadians want in this country, according to the Conservatives.

Why do the Conservatives not abolish the Senate? Why do they tinker around the edges? Why do they continue to take a fundamentally flawed and undemocratic chamber and continue to make it a flawed and undemocratic chamber? It makes no sense.

I want to talk briefly about the people of Vancouver Kingsway. I come from a riding where David Emerson was elected as a Liberal and two weeks later crossed the floor to sit as a Conservative. The people of Vancouver Kingsway rose up like few citizens, or few ridings, in this country have ever done. They loudly expressed their commitment to democracy in this country because what Mr. Emerson did was a betrayal of democracy.

Here, we are talking about a chamber that is stuffed with failed Conservative candidates, like Yonah Martin, Josée Verner, Fabian Manning, people who ran in elections, placed themselves before the people of the country for their democratic mandate and were rejected, then find themselves appointed by the Prime Minister to the Senate and serve as legislators, even though the people of this country said they did not want to give them their trust or a mandate to do so. That is outrageous. That is an outrage in a democracy, when former fundraisers and failed Conservative candidates end up in the Senate. The Liberals were no better. They did the exact same thing when they were in power.

It is time that people in this country follow the New Democratic lead and abolish the Senate. That is the only responsible, reasonable, democratic measure that can be taken in this country, and I urge all members of the House to do so.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.


Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Vancouver Kingsway for his eloquence in discussing what we believe are the concerns with the Senate.

I have always believed that the Senate has two roles in life. One is to peer review executive legislation from the House of Commons and, because senators do not have a constituency per se, to carry out in-depth studies facing the challenges of our society. For example, the Michael Kirby report on mental health was very good. I thought it was well done.

However, that is not what the Senate has been doing for the longest time. It rubber stamps legislation from the government. Bill C-311 the environmental bill, was passed by this House of Commons and the appointed, unelected Senate, without one witness, killed the bill without a word of debate. After all the work that the elected members of Parliament did to get it through this House and the years it took, for a bunch of unelected, unaccountable people to kill it is not democracy.

I would like my hon. colleague to elaborate on the fact that this is what unelected, unaccountable people can do to override the wishes of the majority of the members of Parliament representing the majority of Canadians.

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12:55 p.m.


Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, part of the preamble to Bill C-7 states:

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

I am going to focus on the word “independent” for a minute. Everybody knows that the Senate is anything but independent. Both the Liberal and Conservative parties have House leaders and whips in that House and many senators attend party caucus meetings. To many Canadians, the Senate appears simply to be a extension of this House, an extension of the government controlled by the parties, and largely there to ensure that controversial bills get lost in the system. Partisanship clearly works against this objective of the Senate to be a chamber of sober second thought and these reforms would only serve to make this situation worse.

My hon. colleague brings up a classic example. We do not have to reach back in history 40 or 50 years. We can reach back to the last 24 months to see an example where the Senate was not acting independently but acted on the behest of the government of the day to kill a piece of legislation that it did not like but could not command the majority support of the democratically elected members of Parliament. What we saw on that day, with regard to climate change, was the death of democracy in Canada. That is regrettable and undemocratic.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Questions and comments. My apologies to the hon. member for Winnipeg North. I did not see him the first time.

The hon. member for Winnipeg North.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have had the opportunity to tour the province of Manitoba on a Senate reform committee. It was a committee that was dominated by the New Democratic Party and what we heard time and again was that there is great potential value to a reformed Senate, that we do not have to abolish the Senate, and that there is great value in terms of reforming it.

My NDP colleague in the front row made reference to Michael Kirby's mental health report. I could talk about Sharon Carstairs' palliative care. There are a number of examples that are there where the Senate has provided fine work which has been accepted by provincial jurisdictions and been acknowledged outside of the House, outside of Parliament Hill.

Does the member not recognize that adding value to the Senate is achievable if the political will were there? To abolish it is to wipe out the opportunity to get some gains that we would not be able to achieve, that only an appointed Senate can, such as looking for senators with an expertise to contribute to the many works that could still be done. Yes to reform, but does it have to be abolished?

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1 p.m.


Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a conceptual response for my hon. colleague and a practical one.

The practical one is that, of course, we do not need a Senate. If we were to abolish it, there would be absolutely zero effect on the quality of legislation or study of social issues in this country. The practical evidence is that every single province in the country that had a Senate has abolished it.

For my hon. colleague's question to have logic would be to suggest that every single province in Canada is no longer capable of producing intelligent policy in different areas because they do not have a Senate. I think that is wrong. I think every province in this country is producing policy in all sorts of areas and they do that through democratically elected people.

Second, on the conceptual front, there is no question that sometimes despots can do good work. There is no question that sometimes autocrats can provide a good study. However, the question here is whether or not the people in the Senate have a democratic mandate to engage in the work that they are doing.

The New Democratic Party believes in democracy. Government legislation and comment on public policy should be made by people who are elected by and accountable to the Canadian public. The fact that an unelected person can sit in the chamber for 35 years and once in a while produce a good report is beside the point.

Of course, my hon. colleague comes from the Liberal Party, which spent decades filling the Senate with its party faithful, bag people and failed candidates, and so I do not expect him to agree with the New Democratic position on that score.

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1 p.m.


Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, rather ironically this is a government piece of legislation, yet I do not see too many Conservative members rising to ask questions or comment on what they call an important piece of legislation.

I do not think anyone in this room has anything against the individuals in the Senate. However, although it would never happen in my lifetime, if the Senate were truly independent of government, with no party caucuses, no party labels, and if we were to have experts in various fields with various backgrounds, we might have had a different reaction from the NDP.

The reality is that the bill would not make the Senate independent of the government, it would make it more dependent. Basically the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party could lose their government tomorrow, but if they stack the Senate with all of their people for x number of years, they would still have control over legislation, and that is simply wrong.

I would like my hon. colleague to elaborate on that, please.

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1:05 p.m.


Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is one of the prime dangers of the bill. Up until now the senators in the other chamber have at least acknowledged that they do not have any democratic legitimacy. Therefore, they do committee work, study bills they hold up, but they would never, up until the current Conservative government of course, actually defeat a bill passed by the House of Commons. However, one of the dangers of the bill is that if they were elected, would they feel they then have the legitimacy to strike down legislation passed in this chamber?

We have not even begun to speak about the regional inequities in the Senate. The composition of the Senate is frozen, in many cases, from 1867. We have tiny provinces that have more seats than provinces 20 times their population; for example, Prince Edward Island compared to British Columbia. It is fundamentally undemocratic to have a handful of people with the same weight as provinces that have many times the population. This is another problem we face. To give democratic legitimacy to a chamber that is horrifically imbalanced from a regional and population point of view is a democratic time bomb. That has not been thought through.

One of the reasons we are not seeing members of the government stand up on the bill is because I think they know this. Many of them were Reform members and I give them credit when, in the 1980s, they stood up against the Senate. They were appalled at the misuse of the Senate by the previous Liberal governments and wanted it to be reformed in a sincere and democratic manner. If that were to happen, it might be a different story, but that is not what the bill does.

There is only one answer: save $100 million, make our government more efficient, leaner, more democratic, and get rid of an anachronism that made sense in the 1800s, but makes no sense in a modern democratic nation in the 21st century.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.


Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-7, an act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits.

Before I continue, I will take a moment to speak to the issue of movember. Members probably see this sorry scruff on my face. It is an effort to encourage all men to take good care of their health and get their prostate checked out. My father died just over 18 years ago from prostate cancer. He did not live to see his son become an MP. He did not live to see his grandchildren. I am sure all members would agree that these are things that are worth living to see. I would urge, in the most strenuous terms possible, all men to suffer the indignities and get themselves checked out.

I will get back to Bill C-7. It strikes me as strange to have to speak in this chamber to issues so fundamental to our political life in this country that we cherish as a democracy. These issues I am talking about are democracy itself and accountability.

I had the pleasure of studying political theory In university. I had no idea at that time that it would be so relevant to the job of being a member of Parliament. Many people did ask me what the heck I was studying that stuff for, but here we are and I have the opportunity now to speak in this chamber about matters so fundamental that they are matters of political theory.

The government talks so much about Canadian values inside and outside this chamber that one would think there was almost violent agreement on what these things actually are. However, here we are in the House talking about the issue of democracy and a bill that is, frankly, fundamentally undemocratic.

As recently as 2006, our Prime Minister described the Senate as a relic of the 19th century. I would suggest that the Senate, in some important sense, takes us back much farther than the 19th century. It takes us back to a time when democracy in any form and however limited was much distrusted. It takes us back to a time when a ruling class was concerned about losing its social and economic status by way of decisions made by representatives of the people. It takes us back to a time when certain parts of our society were considered to be incapable of and unsuited for making the important decisions of a nation.

What is clear is that this skepticism of democracy is not just an historical tradition. It does not just find expression in our Senate of the 19th century. It is alive today and finds expression in the Conservative government in this 21st century in the form of the bill before us today, Bill C-7. The ancient tradition of distrusting the people survives in the Conservatives.

Bill C-7 clings to the security of a second unelected chamber where progressive legislation, such as the climate change accountability bill and the drugs to Africa bill, legislation that may have moved this country forward in the interests of all its citizens, as well as citizens around the world, can be defeated by the supposed superior wisdom of the present government's, and previous governments, hand-picked, unelected, self-selected watchdogs, not of, but watchdogs against, democracy.

The only thing the bill confirms is the Conservative government's determination to hang onto the reins of power by way of patronage. I would point to the fairly recent, widely-distributed and very instructive letter from a Conservative senator in which he wrote, in part:

Every Senator in this caucus needs to decide where their loyalty should be and must be. The answer is simple; our loyalty is to the man who brought us here, the man who has wanted Senate reform since he entered politics, the [Prime Minister].

With this, we are a long way from the justifications most frequently offered for the existence of this anti-democratic institution. One of those justifications is independence. However, as we have seen, by virtue of that quote, and by virtue of the conduct of this chamber and those in it for well over a century, that it is hardly an independent chamber.

Other justifications have been equally persistent. I refer, in part, to the notion that the Senate is to provide our parliamentary institutions with regional representation. Yet, none of us have ever seen regional interests coalesce and operate to trump partisanship born of patronage in the Senate chamber. In fact, the bill would do nothing to advance or facilitate the emergence of regional interests or expressions in the Senate.

The government is unwilling to surrender its control over Senate appointments, as evidenced by the provision that permits the Prime Minister to reject the outcomes of Senate elections held at the provincial or territorial level; that is to say, the bill would allow the Prime Minister the ability to overrule the democratic will of the regions of this country.

This anti-democratic institution has also survived, cloaked in the justification of a second sober thought and yet all of us in this chamber were sent to this place on the basis of, at least in part, our sobriety of thought.

Therefore, on precisely what democratic principle does one confer in one person elected to this so-called lower chamber the power to overrule the democratic will of Canadians as expressed, at least potentially, in the Senate election and to decide who is wise enough to evaluate and overrule decisions made in this House of Commons?

Further, how grossly exaggerated must one's sense of one's self be to overthrow the results of an election in favour of one's own opinion and judgment, or to believe that he or she is so much wiser than the collective in this chamber so that he or she must appoint a senator to watch over us? Or, is it not that kind of hubris but simply a blatant disregard and disrespect for democracy that underlies the bill?

Whatever it is, it is clear that this bill would, both in practice and in theory, not only continue the unfortunate tradition of relocating power away from the elected representatives of Canadians and, therefore, the Canadian citizenry itself to an unelected body, but would locate that power in the single person of the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister, like the rest of us in this chamber, submitted himself directly to the judgment of the electorate in but one of 308 ridings. Beyond that, the Prime Minister can claim to have won directly only the confidence of the membership of his own political party as expressed through that party's internal leadership processes. However, that is a far cry from winning the confidence of all Canadians to exercise the kind of power over the rest of us directly elected members of this chamber that the bill would continue to provide to that position.

It has been argued that the bill would move us away from the undemocratic tradition by permitting provincial and territorial elections of a senator. Notably, however, such elections to a federal institution are to be financed by the province or territory. Notably, too, this would not provide the right of the citizens of that province or territory to elect a person to the Senate.

Senators would, under the bill, remain appointed, as the government clings, white knuckles on the reins of power, to its fear of losing control to the will of the people.

This skepticism of democracy is also evident in the very curious nine year term limit imposed on senators. The bill itself provides no rationale for such a length of terms. However, what this seemingly random term does do is effectively frustrate the ability of Canadians to hold senators accountable for their decisions and actions. What is more, with a one year term limit, a senator would never have to answer to voters for decisions he or she made or did not make.

Accountability is a key principle, a foundation of democratic institutions. This chamber is a democratic institution not just because we were elected to this House but because we, should we wish to continue in this position, are held, through the electoral process, to account for our decisions and actions while in this position.

This term, as lengthy as it is, also serves to frustrate the will of this chamber and, in doing so, the will of Canadians. It would provide the government of the day the opportunity to reach into the legislative bodies of this country long after it has lost its own mandate.

Finally, there are a number of questions of critical constitutional importance that are raised but not answered by Bill C-7. What kind of institution is being created in the Senate when some are elected while others will be appointed? Do some of these senators have more authority by virtue of being representatives of the electorate or are all considered to be equal? If the Senate gets filled with elected representatives, what is their relationship and relative authority to those of us in this chamber? Do they retain the same roles that justify those appointed directly, i.e. regional representation, independent sober second thought, et cetera, or is this a new role that they assume as elected representatives? Where there are differences between chambers, how are these resolved in favour of which chamber, or do we anticipate gridlock?

It is long past time for this country to shed the undemocratic traditions of another age, another time. It is time for the parties that have ruled this country to let go of the illogic and, frankly, hypocrisy that the people are good enough to elect us but that only one of us is good enough to appoint someone to watch over us.

It is time to let go of its skepticism of the wisdom of Canadians. It is time for Canada to embrace democracy by abolishing the Senate and allowing those of us sent to this place by the people of Canada to do what they have asked of us and to be turfed out of this place should we fail to do so or should we fail to do so to their standards.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.


Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague very much. He is very hard-working and, as we saw from his speech, very intelligent as well. He understands the issues at stake here quite well.

The government boasts that with this bill reforming the Senate the public would be represented more democratically and more accurately. But, according to the existing Senate rules, no one under the age of 30 can become a senator.

Does my colleague think that this kind of limit and the fact that no one under the age of 30 can sit in the other chamber are signs of better democratic legitimacy? There is something I do not understand there, and I would like to hear what my colleague has to say.

Senate Reform Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.


Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will answer that question from my colleague right next door to me in English, if I might. I am trying to learn French from my colleague but we are not quite there yet.

I appreciate the question about youth and those of us in the New Democratic caucus. Some of us at least feel very old relative to some of our colleagues. However, the wonderful thing about democracy is that the will of the people sends to this chamber those who they believe are best able to represent their views in the House.

The bill, should it be amended, should certainly provide the opportunity for all Canadians to send whoever they feel best fit to represent them in the upper chamber.