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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.

Topics

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP 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.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP 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 ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP 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 ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP 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 ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP 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.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a fairly straightforward question.

If a majority of Canadians wanted to see the Senate retained, but changed so that there would be more value to it, what would the position of the New Democratic Party then be? Would it still oppose and want to abolish it, even if a majority of Canadians wanted to retain it?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, the question is of a hypothetical nature, but it is the position of the New Democrats that the fate of the Senate should be put by way of referendum to the Canadian people. As we respect the views of Canadians and the principles of democracy, we would obviously abide by the perspective of all Canadians in a referendum on this matter.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, my question is surprisingly similar to that just put by the hon. member for Winnipeg North.

This is a complicated matter. It is not as simple as saying that we do not like the Senate, so we should end it.

We have constitutional issues embedded in how it is structured, and I share the view of the member for Beaches—East York and his caucus that there are significant problems with Bill C-7 as put forward by the government.

Having worked with the Senate over the years, I have seen the Senate take its own initiative and do some very good work, and we have seen examples here this morning. For instance, I point to the decision to not put bovine growth hormone into our milk. That was a done deal until the Senate committee, under Senators Mira Spivak and Eugene Whelan, subpoenaed scientists from Health Canada who were being muzzled and in that way made it possible for the information to get out.

Would the best way forward not be to have a real public consultation on the fundamental problems within our democracy, including the extreme power of the Prime Minister's Office, the lack of sufficient role for individual members of Parliament, the proper balance between the House of Commons and the Senate and the question of whether the Senate should survive or not?

How does the hon. member feel about taking this to the people before we make it legislation?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, as it is a multipartite question, I will approach it this way.

It is clear that good work has come out of the Senate in the past. A recent report about poverty in Canada comes to mind; many worthy recommendations came out of that report.

As my colleague for Vancouver Kingsway said in answering a very similar question previously, this is not an issue of whether the Senate ever does good work or whether senators have worthy opinions on matters of great importance to Canadians.

Like so many issues, this issue is reducible to simple issues. At the beginning of my speech, I spoke to some fundamental principles. That is what we are wrestling with. The fundamental principles are that we have a chamber here in our parliamentary institutions that is undemocratic. It has the power to block legislation. We have seen that happen with some very worthy representation that this elected House passed on to the Senate.

In response, I would say that at times the appropriate approach is to reduce matters to fundamental principles. If we look at an issue in those terms, it often becomes starkly simple. The starkly simple fact is that the upper chamber, the Senate, is not a democratic institution and should therefore be abolished.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, correct me if I am wrong. The government introduced legislation stating that the provinces have to pay for Senate elections and that the provinces have to hold Senate elections. By the way, if only 40% of people vote for MPs, imagine how few people would vote for a senator. Then the Prime Minister can say that the elected senator is not wanted. Only a Conservative can come up with a plan like that. The government is putting forward federal legislation stating that the provinces have to pay for an elected Senate, but when they do elect a senator, the Prime Minister can then refuse their choice.

I would like my hon. colleague to elaborate a bit more on that.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure what elaboration can follow. It is that simple. I spoke about this fundamental skepticism of democracy that is betrayed in the bill: it talks about an elected Senate, but as I said, the government seems to be hanging onto the reins of power with white knuckles; it is not letting go of this. While the provinces and territories may go through the process at their expense and take this issue and democracy seriously, the government is not surrendering authority to the people and to the provinces to elect members of the upper chamber. Under this bill, it is still an appointed Senate.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, on a point that I started to develop, I want to raise the question of who is going to be representative of the provinces.

Currently we elect premiers, cabinets and governments in every province and territory, but the Senate was set up originally as a body to supposedly represent regional concerns. If we were to elect senators from a province such as Prince Edward Island, does the member think this situation could create an unacceptable conflict in terms of who would have the democratic mandate to speak for the people of that province? Would it be the elected senators from that province, or would it be the elected provincial government of that province?

I would also like to ask what my colleague thinks about the judgment of the Prime Minister. Under the bill he would still get to appoint senators; we know the Prime Minister has appointed a number of failed Conservative candidates, so we have some clear examples of the kind of judgment that the Prime Minister exhibits when considering who is appointed to the Senate.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I spoke earlier about reducing things to fundamental principles and about simplifying matters, but that question and the previous question make it clear that in trying to amend our Constitution and in trying to change the makeup of the Senate and the process of becoming a senator, one runs into some very complex issues.

One of them is raised by my colleague in his question, which is that we could end up with senators elected from a province who might take positions in conflict with provincial representatives of that province. As well, how elected members of the Senate would resolve differences with elected members of this chamber from that province is certainly unclear. We would be creating a very complicated system, potentially with duelling elected members, so the issue is to abolish the Senate and do away with those complexities entirely.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Winnipeg North.

While Senate reform has been a golden calf of the Reform movement for years, I do not believe any real Reformers would recognize the bill before us today. This bill is wasteful and a clear attempt on the part of Conservatives to distract from the real issues, like jobs and the economy.

What is more unfortunate is that the government will not even approach the issue of democratic reform in an appropriate manner. The Prime Minister and his minister for democratic reform are no doubt aware of the quagmire that is constitutional negotiation, so they are progressing in a haphazard manner, attempting to reform an institution of Parliament by the back door and making change that is not really change. It is like most of what emanates from the government benches: sound and fury.

Regardless of their once ferocious opposition to what they saw as centralizing power in Ottawa, the Prime Minister has changed his spots and is currently acting unilaterally and without proper consultation with the provinces. The changes presented in this bill will foist Senate elections on the provinces, forcing the provinces during a time of economic hardship to fund and administer an additional series of elections without their consent.

This is not surprising, given the single-minded desire of the government to download the costs of an ill-considered and ill-advised justice omnibus bill. It is unfortunate that the government will again increase the financial burden on the provinces. Let us keep in mind that one Ontario provincial election costs taxpayers approximately $135 million; in this time of financial restraint and instability, the government seems all too keen to saddle the province with yet more costs.

Moreover, this bill is not about real reform. Regardless of its efforts, the government cannot change the appointment process without seven provinces representing 50% of the population agreeing. Ultimately the process of recommending senators for appointment to the Governor General still rests with him.

While the bill provides that a province or territory that enacts electoral legislation that is substantially in accordance with the framework may select its senatorial nominees and submit those nominees to the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister is not even obligated to submit those names to the Governor General, but only to consider them. A prime minister who does not bear the same political stripes as an elected senator is under no compulsion to select that person. This is clearly more waste.

Furthermore, if a province or territory opts out of this expensive and ineffective process, the Prime Minister will nevertheless select his or her own nominee. In essence, this political window dressing will allow the provinces and territories to feel involved, for a price, while in fact it is the status quo that will really be maintained.

More offensively, the bill is another assault on western Canadian provinces. Since deciding to ignore the democratic will of western grain farmers expressed through a plebiscite supporting, by a majority, the single desk marketing and sales arm of the Canadian Wheat Board, the government signalled it was not interested in the voices of western Canadians. It shut down debate and refused to allow enough time in committee to hear from western Canadian farmers, as it was required to do under section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act.

This bill, in its present incarnation, places Alberta and British Columbia at a notable disadvantage as well. My esteemed colleague, the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, is doing a marvellous job explaining the unbalanced distribution of Senate seats. Currently there exists an anomalous gap between the representation of the western provinces in the House of Commons and the Senate. An elected senator will now have an entirely new and very specific constituency to satisfy; it will be difficult for the six elected Alberta senators, for example, to square against the 24 Ontario senators, the 24 Quebec senators, or even the 10 senators from New Brunswick.

Through these measures that dilute the influence of western Canadian provinces, the Prime Minister and his minister appear to have forgotten, likely once getting into government, that the west wanted in when they were young Reformers. Once again, the west is ignored.

The most egregious about-face in this bill is that the horse the government rode in on, the old horse called accountability, seems to have died and the government is dragging it through the streets. Buried in the bill are the surreptitious financial implications found in clause 27 for campaign funding during senatorial elections. In April 2006, the government introduced the Federal Accountability Act to bring forward “specific measures to help strengthen accountability and increase transparency and oversight in government operations”. The Prime Minister heralded these measures as an end to the influence of big money in federal political parties by banning union and corporate contributions, as well as limiting individual donations.

Now the government appears to be performing an end run on its financing rules by squeaking in clause 27 of this bill, which would allow campaign funding for senatorial elections to be governed by a provincial legislature. Of course, the rules that govern political contributions vary greatly depending on the province or territory. There is no continuity.

In this blatant contradiction of the Federal Accountability Act, allowing these laws to govern senatorial campaign funding would in fact perpetuate big money in political parties. Until this bill, senators have been governed by a federal body. Should this bill pass, senators would be governed by 13 different sets of rules and regulations, depending on their province or territory, placing some at a major financial advantage and most in contravention of the Federal Accountability Act.

Take, for instance, a senator from Yukon Territory. Should this bill pass, when the Yukon seat is vacated in 2023, political contributions for the subsequent senatorial election would be governed by the political financing rules of the Yukon territorial legislation. Currently, in Yukon Territory there are no restrictions on how much an individual, corporation, union or entity, whether inside or outside Canada, can donate to a political party.

During the 2006 territorial election, Premier Dennis Fentie and the Yukon Party, formerly the Yukon Progressive Conservative Party, raked in a cool $114,044 in political contributions during the election, donations like $7,500 from Seattle's Holland America, or $5,000 from Trans-Canada Pipelines. The Conservative government had seemingly eliminated contributions from anyone outside Canada, only to now open up the back door through the Senate.

The legislation continues with a vague mention of necessary modifications on campaign funding, but why not be specific right off the bat instead of these cosmetics? These legislative discrepancies create an unequal playing field and are certainly not more effective for both the senators and their provinces. The original intent of the Senate is to achieve a balance of regional interests and to provide a house of sober second thought. That is why we as Canadians have seen doctors, scholars, artists, politicians, community activists, generals and athletes serve our society for the good of the nation through our Senate. We simply cannot maintain a sober second thought in the upper chamber with such unequal and partisan-based governance.

Members opposite may throw around the term “mandate” in response to these allegations, but remember that 39% certainly does not constitute a mandate or majority. Stifling public opinion and this clandestine attempt to circumvent their own political funding rules cannot stand, and the constant attacks on western Canadian provinces and the Canadian Constitution must stop. The Liberal Party will not stand for it. I am sure if members opposite listen very carefully, they will hear the sound of their Reform forebears throwing up their hands in disgust.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member was quite right when he said that jobs and the economy are what are important to Canadians today. There is no doubt about that.

The bill before us tries to provide a bit of hope in terms of democratic reform but in reality that is not the case.

I was living on the Prairies back in the 1990s during the time of the Reform Party. There was a sense of the need to reform the Senate back then. New Democrats were saying that the Senate had to be abolished. The Reform Party wanted an equal, elected and effective Senate. There was an expectation that the Reformers, now known as the Conservatives, were going to make huge gains in terms of achieving a triple-E Senate. Truth be known, the government has failed in its delivery of a triple-E Senate.

There is a great deal of merit in looking at the most effective way for the Senate to operate. There is a great deal of value to the Senate.

I participated in an all-party task force in the province of Manitoba. We toured the entire province, from Flin Flon to Russell to Winnipeg. We listened to many presenters talk about Senate reform. There was no unanimous opinion that it had to be an elected Senate or that it had to be abolished. Many believed there was merit in having an appointed Senate.

It would be wonderful for us to deal with the issue of the Senate in a more open fashion as to what value a reformed Senate could have.

Some New Democratic colleagues have no problem bashing the Senate. They would abolish it, even though the majority of Canadians see the value of the Senate. To say that it is useless and does absolutely nothing is just not fair.

The Senate has done many studies and reports of great value. There was reference to a couple of them in the last hour of debate. There have been reports regarding poverty in Canada, mental health, palliative care. The Senate has taken upon itself to investigate these issues and to provide information and input in terms of government policy, policy which could save millions of dollars.

One concern that was mentioned earlier by a New Democratic member of Parliament was the cost of $100 million. The NDP has no problem increasing the number of members of Parliament from 308 to 338 which has a substantial cost. Those members thought there should be even more members of Parliament. The cost of the Senate is not necessarily the issue. The bigger issue is the value. There are a great many Canadians who, if provided the opportunity to be representatives in the Senate, could serve our country well.

I have had the opportunity to sit down with Senator Carstairs. I have had the opportunity to listen to other senators present at an all-party committee. What sort of feedback was provided and some of the things that came from the committee can be found in the Manitoba Hansard. A Senate page and several senators and lay people participated at the committee. What members of all political parties found was interesting was that there was a sense that the Senate has some value.

Time is a very scarce commodity for parliamentarians. In fact, time management is a very important issue for each and every one of us in the House. The Senate on occasion represents Canada outside Canada and has done notable work on the democracy front. I am aware of some of the efforts Senator Carstairs has been involved in personally as a senator representing Canada. She has gone abroad to countries like the Philippines on a democracy watch, to look at why some individuals are incarcerated. I have heard many touching stories of how our senators have gone abroad to represent Parliament and Canadians.

Let us look at the types of appointments to the Senate that we have seen in the past. Who would question the appointment of Senator Dallaire? He is an incredible individual who has a great deal to offer in the Senate chamber and in committees. His position as a senator affords better opportunities to travel across Canada and talk about the issues that are important to all Canadians.

There is a great deal of value to the Senate. Some members have said there are premiers and MLAs to ensure that regional interests are being represented. I will use the Canadian Wheat Board as a great example. There are three prairie premiers and I would challenge each and every one of them to come to the House of Commons committees. Where were they on the whole issue of saving the Canadian Wheat Board? There was representation from at least a couple of senators who wanted to deal with this issue. They see it as a regional issue.

I do not have any problem with Senate reform; in fact, I encourage it. Let us recognize that in order to achieve Senate reform we have to look at it in terms of changes to the Constitution. Today, the vast majority of Canadians do not want us to be debating the Constitution and the need for constitutional reform. They want us to be talking about jobs, the economy, health care, and seniors' pensions. Those are the issues they want us to be talking about today.

The government has brought forward a bill. It says it is about democratic reform and that in order to achieve this the provinces are going to have to pay for the election of senators inside each province. In my province and from the task force that I was on, I can tell the government, and it can do its own consultation with the New Democrats and the Conservatives there, the feeling is that Ottawa should be paying for the election of senators.

The government needs to refocus on the whole idea of Senate reform. Today, I think we need to focus on the issues that matter most to Canadians, the issues which I just mentioned.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the comments by the member for Winnipeg North.

He spoke a lot about the Senate and about senators. The NDP agrees that some senators do good work; however, we would like to see the institution itself abolished.

In terms of the value of the Senate, does the member think that the Senate is democratic as it is right now, in light of the fact that in November 2010, the Senate simply overturned the climate change bill that was passed by the majority of the House of Commons?

I would like to hear what the member thinks about that.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the problem with the New Democrats is they have an issue of consistency and an issue with regard to hypocrisy. At the end of the day, the New Democrats, because they believe they can capture more votes by slamming the Senate, says who cares about the real value of the Senate, that it does not matter. They believe they can score a political votes.

The reality of the situation is, and even one of the member's colleagues earlier today said this, that 35% or 36% of Canadians support abolishing the Senate. However, a majority of Canadians see the value of the Senate, unlike the New Democrats.

We recognize the importance in the role that the Senate can play into the future. We in the Liberal Party are not prepared to write off the future of the Senate because the New Democrats feel that they can score a few political votes as a result of the position they have taken.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, when I gave my remarks, my friend heard me reference section 27, which would allow contributions to the Senate campaign to be made in accordance with the laws of the territory or the province. There would be no continuity. Money could come, in many cases, from anyone, any corporation, any organization, even from outside of Canada. I see this as an end run around current campaign contribution law.

Does the member have the same concern as I, that with these kinds of irregularities in the law and no continuity whatsoever, we will be in a perpetual state now of fundraising and spending pre-writ and post-writ throughout the next years following the passage of the legislation, should it pass?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, one of the things that would have to be taken into consideration is this. If we move toward any form of elected Senate and we dissolve the power or the authority to see those senators getting elected to the provinces, there will be a very important aspect in terms of spending limits and the degree to which a senator will be able to receive corporate or union donations. There will be a whole new realm of responsibilities regarding the finances.

The legislation before us does not really touch on that. This is just a thought that the Prime Minister had so he could go back to western Canada and say that the government wanted more democracy and this bill would do that.

The bill falls short by a long shot. If the Prime Minister were legitimately concerned and wanted to make a difference, he would first deal with the most important issues, such as jobs, health care and so forth. However, this will really involve constitutional reform.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, we know that the Conservatives did not consult the provinces to see whether they agreed with the provisions of this bill. In addition, Quebec has called this bill unconstitutional. The provincial government said that it would appeal the matter in court if this bill were passed without prior consultation of the provinces. According to an Angus Reid poll conducted in July 2011, 71% of Canadians are in favour of holding a referendum to decide the future of the Senate. The NDP thinks that the government should hold a referendum to ask the Canadian public whether it wants to abolish the Senate. Why does the hon. member not agree with that?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good point. In a nutshell, we would have figured the government would have conducted consultations.

With regard to the provinces conducting elections, under the bill that cost would be passed on to the provinces. The provinces would have to come up with the funding.

I was on the task force for the province Manitoba. In the dialogue we had with the Conservatives and the NDP, they insisted that Ottawa should pay for it, not the provinces. We can tell the government really has not done the consultation that one would have expected prior to introducing the bill to the chamber.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask my colleague from Winnipeg to do one thing. He should go to a local tavern, legion or Lions Club in his riding, and without the assistance of Google, a BlackBerry or anything, sit down and ask the first person he sees if he or she can name the senators from Manitoba. I will guarantee, if not set up, the person may get one, if any at all. It shows us that most Canadians have no idea who is in the Senate.

It is not a question of Canadians wanting a Senate like this, they do not understand the Senate. They do not give a second thought to the Senate. For the hon. member to say that the majority of Canadians really want a reformed Senate, I think he has his facts all wrong. I challenge him to do what I have asked him to do and report back his findings to the House.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I invite the member to come to Winnipeg North and we will host a public meeting so he can hear first hand.

I suggest that if he goes into a local legion or a local hall, he will find a good number of people cannot even list their school trustees, their local city councillors or their members of Parliament, which might be a little difficult on our egos.

Generally speaking, we have to cut a little slack, provide a few more facts on the table, approach it with an open mind and see the value that the Senate could contribute in the future. That is the challenge, and I know it is a big challenge for the New Democratic Party.

Mining IndustryStatements by Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, last week I was able to visit the great community of Merritt in my riding of Okanagan—Coquihalla. One of my stops was at a construction site for a new silver mine.

I know there are some members of the House who continue to oppose the mining industry at every opportunity. This is a small silver mine that is still required to undergo all the environmental assessment processes required of a large mine. The owners are still required to obtain discharge permits, despite having invested $3 million in technology to ensure there is no water discharge.

What is exciting is that there are roughly 15 workers, working to assemble $6 million of new mining equipment. Once this mine is up and running, that workforce will quadruple to over 60 jobs. These jobs pay on average twice as much as the local forestry sector and 30% of those jobs will be filled by first nations. This new mine will inject $15 million annually into the local Merritt economy.

I ask that all members of the House be mindful that mines create jobs and help to support our rural economies.

Brossard LegionStatements by Members

November 14th, 2011 / 2 p.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, last week, we honoured Canadians who have served our country. In my riding of Brossard—La Prairie, I had the honour of attending the activities organized by the Brossard Legion, which celebrated its 60th anniversary on October 22.

Thanks to volunteers like the legion's president, Jean-Guy Lavallière, himself a veteran, the Brossard Legion provides support to the veterans in my riding. I had the privilege of meeting Walter Amos, who served for six years, Roger Robidoux, a Vietnam war veteran, and Raymond Lecours, a veteran of the second world war. Unfortunately, last week, we lost Jacques St-James, a Korean war veteran. We will remember the sacrifices of the families in mourning.

We will speak up for those who do return, so often scarred by war's traumas. They deserve home care benefits that were promised and to have their pensions paid without unfair clawbacks. Let us salute the fallen by standing up for the living.

Lest we forget.