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.