Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate about Senate reform, albeit many of my colleagues, including the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam and the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, earlier talked about our stated policy.
On questions earlier, the member from Edmonton talked about our being all over the map today. Let me be abundantly clear, and the New Democrats have been clear since the 1930s: we think the Senate should go, just as many other Commonwealth countries that took up the Westminster model decided over the years that their senates would go.
We need not look that far afield. We do not have to look to New Zealand, as my colleague talked about. We just have to drive down the 401 from this place to Toronto. Toronto no longer has a senate for Ontario. In fact, no province in this country has a senate anymore. They are all gone. The last time I checked, Alberta was doing quite well without that senate.
When I talk with my colleagues from Alberta, they say that not only is their economy humming, but with all the things that are happening, it is a great place to be. I was in Camrose two weeks ago and I concur; indeed, Alberta is a great place to be. It is humming along with just a legislative house and no senate. It did not need one. Everything seems to work without a hitch.
It brings me to a vivid thought I have in my mind. If I could hearken back to the days of Premier Lougheed and Premier Klein, I could just imagine Premier Klein saying, “Senate, this is what I need done”, and the Senate saying to the Premier of Alberta, “Wait a minute, Premier Klein, we don't think so”. I can just imagine the constitutional flummox that would have been. I can imagine Ralph standing up in Edmonton saying, “I don't think so”.
What we are saying on this side is that we do not think we should keep the Senate, but we do not think it is up to us. We think it is up to Canadians. Let us let them decide. Let us put it to Canadians and ask them if they think the Senate is a valuable institution for us to keep. It is their institution, although when it was founded, it really was not about them as electors; as my friend from Cole Harbour said, it was the great unwashed, meaning supposedly us as members in the green chamber, and not them in the other place.
Clearly it was the landed gentry who said they needed to have sober second thought, just in case we did something absolutely ridiculous in this House and tried to send it along to Canadians.
I have great respect for all of my colleagues in the House. They do not do things that would be so ridiculous that we would need to send it to an unelected body for sober second thought, because quite clearly, that sober second thought is a myth.
Why do I say that? As my colleagues have rightly pointed out, when it came to Bill C-311 in the last Parliament, in which I had the great privilege to be a member, that legislation on climate change, regardless of what individuals thought in here, was passed democratically, as we would expect this institution to do, and duly presented to the Senate for sober second thought. I will agree with the “sober” part, but I do not think I could agree with the “second thought”, because the senators did not give it a thought at all, not one. They simply said, “Goodbye. We do not want it. We will get rid of it. Done”.
If senators were truly serious about their job, whether they liked the legislation or not, they had an obligation to look at the legislation, call witnesses about the legislation, critique the legislation, and ultimately, if they chose to, deny the legislation. That is their right.
However, to suggest that the Senate is somehow the chamber of sober second thought when the senators would not take the time to consider legislation is a slap in the face to the duly elected members. We are the duly elected members of this country, not the folks in the other place. Their actions did a disservice to their credibility, not individually, but as an institution that says it will take into consideration what the House has passed, take a look at it, investigate it, make a decision on it and, if we in the House agree, make some changes.
That has happened over the years. The Senate has indeed made some changes and sent legislation back to the House for changes. It has happened, but in this case there was no second thought, sober or otherwise.
Ultimately, why do we have such a place? Does it live up to the reputation it supposedly has?
It is interesting to note what Senator Bert Brown said in his letter to his colleagues. Of course, it was not sent to all of the senators, only to those of the Conservative persuasion. That is because the other place has taken on the mantle of a partisan place, and I will speak to what the legislation says on keeping it a partisan place.
In his letter he said, and I quote:
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 Rt. Hon. [Prime Minister].
What happened to this place of sober second thought when the loyalty is to a Conservative caucus and to the Prime Minister of that Conservative caucus? What happened to the idea of standing back and reviewing legislation to give it that sober second thought?
In my view, it is not only diminished; it is destroyed by the very words of a senator appointed to the Senate by the Prime Minister. Clearly this senator has an understanding of where the intention is to go with this issue.
Regarding politicization in the legislation, the bill says that to run for the Senate one must be a member of a political party in the registered domain of the place one runs in, meaning either a territory or province. In other words, one could not run as an independent senator. It would seem that one would have to join a party in order to run.
We can wax poetic about the folks who are there: the ex-finance bagman of a political party, campaign managers and defeated candidates both Liberal and Conservative. It was used as a reward for those who stood aside to let someone new get a seat in the House or when a change in leadership gave different perspectives under different parties. People were rewarded by being sent to the other place. Now we are going to politicize this place, as much as all of us here know it is political anyway. Maybe the bill is just an admission that it truly is political.
Ultimately, if we are going to say that one must run for a political party to run for the Senate, how do we make those folks accountable?
As members, we are accountable. Under the Canada Elections Act we have to hold an election every five years, although usually it is shorter than that. In the last number of years it has been shorter; sometimes a Parliament lasts only a couple of years. We have to go back to the folks who allowed us to come to this place and ask them if they would like to send us back again. They have the ability to judge us on the things we have done. They can look at our record to decide if they like what we did and then support us, or not, once again.
However, that would not be the case with this group. This group could promise the world during an election, and two things could happen. If the Prime Minister of the day liked the person, he or she would be appointed. If they represented the views of the Prime Minister and his caucus, they would be appointed.
However, we could also make the assumption that one could run and win an election in Alberta but not be appointed. There is no guarantee under the legislation that if elected, one would be appointed. The Prime Minister could simply refuse to make the appointment. One could wait six years and run again and still not get appointed. Therefore, even though the system down the hall in the other place is bad enough unto itself, we would make it worse.
It seems to me that if we want to reform the Senate, we should ask Canadians what they want. We should put it to them as to whether they want the other place. If they say yes, we should ask them what it should look like. We would then truly understand whether Canadians want it.
If the polls are right, more than 70% of Canadians say that the Senate's day has come. The sun has shone, and it is time to retire them all out of the chamber, roll up the proverbial red carpet and wish them all a Merry Christmas and a happy retirement.
That is exactly what we ought to do. We would be happy to help roll the first red carpet up as we let senators go on to whatever it is their lives will be, which is productive, prosperous and happy. We hope they enjoy the rest of their retirement.