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House of Commons Hansard #51 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senators.

Topics

Auditor GeneralRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I have the honour to lay upon the table the fall 2011 report of the Auditor General of Canada.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)((g) this document is deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Niagara Falls Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons).

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

November 22nd, 2011 / 10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1) I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian delegation of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association respecting three reports: first, the bilateral visit to the Caribbean, the Americas and the Atlantic Region Republic of Trinidad and Tobago; second, its participation at the parliamentary seminar for the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago; and third, its participation at the 35th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Regional Conference of the Caribbean and the Americas and the Atlantic.

HealthCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Committee on Health entitled, “Supplementary Estimates (B), 2011-12”.

Child CarePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present to the House today.

The first petition is with respect to child care. It indicates that child care is often not accessible or affordable for Canadian families and is often of an uncertain quality for young children.

The petitioners call upon the government to legislate the right to universal access to child care and provide multi-year funding to provincial and territorial governments to build a national system of affordable, high quality public and not-for-profit early childhood education and care accessible to all children.

The petitioners point out that the federal government must establish spending criteria and reporting mechanisms that ensure accountability for how the provinces and territories use federal funding to ensure quality, accessibility, universality and accountability, and that acknowledges Quebec's right to develop social programs with adequate compensation from the federal government.

Aboriginal AffairsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition deals with the Sisters in Spirit.

The petitioners call upon the government to ensure that finances are available for the Sisters in Spirit and the Evidence for Action campaign that is involved with the Native Women's Association of Canada.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from November 14 consideration of the motion that Bill C-7, An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

NDP

François Pilon NDP Laval—Les Îles, QC

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

This bill would limit the terms of senators appointed after October 14, 2008, to a maximum of nine years. Furthermore, under this bill, the provinces and territories would have the opportunity to hold elections, at their own expense, to determine the names that would be given to the Prime Minister for consideration. The problem is that the Prime Minister would not be required to choose senators from this list. This is yet another wonderful example of a waste of public money by our friends on the other side of the House.

What is more, if a nominee is not appointed to the Senate by the sixth anniversary of that person's election, a new election would be necessary, resulting in even more public money being wasted. It is fun to spend someone else's money, is it not?

What we are proposing on this side of the House is clear. Our party wants to abolish the Senate, which is a position we have always held. We are calling on the government to hold a referendum asking the Canadian public whether they are in favour of abolishing the Senate.

In addition, when this bill was introduced for the first time in June 2011, the Conservative senators clearly said that they would oppose all attempts by the federal government to limit their terms. And they are the ones who have the last word, as always.

The Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, and the Premier of Nova Scotia have publicly expressed their support for abolishing the Senate. The Premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark, has said that the Senate, as an institution, no longer serves any useful purpose within our Confederation. The Government of Quebec has deemed this bill to be unconstitutional. In fact, it has stated that it will go to court if the provinces are not consulted before Bill C-7 is passed. Clearly, passing this bill without consulting the provinces would once again demonstrate the federal government's willingness to impose its views on the provinces, as it has so often done in the past few months.

Now, why are we in favour of abolishing the Senate rather than reforming it? First, there has not been an upper chamber in any of the provinces since 1968 and their legislative systems have not crumbled as a result. On the contrary, all the provinces are operating very well without a senate.

Second, the idea to reform the Senate is not a new one. Since 1900, there have been no fewer than 13 attempts to reform the Canadian Senate, with a brilliant success rate of 0 out of 13. And no wonder, since the Senate always has the last word.

Third, Canadians' interest in this issue is growing. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Angus Reid in July 2011, 71% of Canadians were in favour of holding a referendum about the future of the Senate. The same survey found that 36% of Canadians are in favour of completely abolishing the Senate, which is a sharp jump of 25% as compared to 2010. We therefore feel that Canadians must be consulted on this issue since the Senate is their democratic institution and, as a result, they are the ones who have the right to decide what will happen to the upper chamber.

This bill has some serious shortcomings in terms of legitimacy. First, according to the provisions of the bill, senators will still not be accountable to Canadians.

The fact that senators will only be granted one nine-year term means that they will never have to answer to the public for decisions made during their term. In addition, they will have the right to a pension when they leave the Senate, paid for, of course, by the taxpayers.

Second, passing this bill would create a strange situation in the upper chamber. Certain senators would be elected and others not, so how would the unelected senators justify their legitimacy and actions to their elected colleagues?

Third, as I mentioned earlier in my speech, the government has not consulted the provincial governments about the provisions in this bill. Neither has it consulted the public, and only 39% of people voted for the Conservatives on May 2. Despite all this, those on the other side of the House are once again dumping the cost and responsibility on the provincial governments and taking all the credit.

Finally, since the Senate would have roughly the same powers as the House of Commons, an elected Senate would have more legitimacy in terms of tabling bills or opposing House bills. That could paralyze the political system, as is the case in the United States, where the House of Representatives and the Senate are often locked in a power struggle that completely paralyzes the American government.

That summarizes a few of the arguments proving that Senate reform, as proposed by the Conservatives, is problematic and that the solution is to abolish the Senate.

To conclude, we have seen over the course of the past few minutes how passing Bill C-7 would create a significant number of problems in our political system, and these problems could easily be eliminated by abolishing Canada's Senate.

I invite the hon. members to join with me and the members of the official opposition and vote against Bill C-7.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, I wish to congratulate my hon. colleague from Laval—Les Îles on his speech on the bill. I have a simple question for him.

The Prime Minister is under no obligation to appoint someone who has been elected by a province or territory. This bill therefore does not change how senators are appointed, since the Prime Minister is still free to choose whomever he wants to appoint to the position of senator.

In the member's opinion, if the Prime Minister can do whatever he likes when it comes to appointing senators, does this bill change anything?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

François Pilon NDP Laval—Les Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Nickel Belt for the question.

Clearly, reforming the Senate was likely one of the Conservatives' election promises. For months now, they have been harping on about how they want to keep their promises. However, as it stands, this Senate reform allows the government to change nothing. Tomorrow morning, it could choose not to appoint someone who was elected and give all the Senate appointments to its buddies, as it does now. This changes absolutely nothing, if that is what the Prime Minister wants to do.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Madam Speaker, I am having some difficulty understanding what the official position is of the NDP with respect to the Senate. I believe that its position is that it wants to abolish the Senate.

Does the NDP believe that we should reopen the Constitution and that the Prime Minister and the premier should sit down and find out if there is enough will within the country to abolish the Senate? I do not believe it is the position of the Government of Quebec that the Senate be abolished.

Is that the position of the NDP, that we should reopen the Constitution and have a national debate over whether we should kill the Senate?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

François Pilon NDP Laval—Les Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, as I said in my speech, the first thing we need to do is hold a referendum to see what Canadians think.

If we do not want to reopen the Constitution, we can simply stop appointing senators. That way, the Senate would gradually disappear on its own, without our having to reopen the Constitution.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

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

Madam Speaker, we are talking about the future of and major plans for our democracy, such as the number of seats in this House, for instance.

Altogether, we will have debated this bill for a few weeks. I would like to know what my colleague thinks of the practice of reducing the number of people giving their opinions, both within Parliament and outside these walls. I wonder if my colleague could elaborate on this.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

François Pilon NDP Laval—Les Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question.

It has been clear since our return in September that the government wants to limit our interventions in order to make the public less and less aware of what goes on here. That is truly its intention.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, my question is about the difference between provincial legislatures and Parliament.

Within provinces, there is much less diversity than across the country. It seems to me that the country needs a chamber that can balance the interests and the powers of different regions. The Senate, to me, is the place where there can be a little bit more balance.

I think that is why Quebec is not necessarily in favour of abolishing the Senate, and I wonder if my hon. colleague would comment on that.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

François Pilon NDP Laval—Les Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question.

Indeed, under normal circumstances that is how it should be, but we know that during the last Parliament, the Conservatives used that to pass bills here and then once the bills got to the Senate, they just lingered there until the election.

There are so many things in limbo in the Senate right now that it has really become ineffective.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette NDP Louis-Hébert, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-7.

When we speak to a bill, we often have to look at where we are coming from to see where we want to go. To begin, I would like to look at where the government is coming from in introducing this bill. It seems to be gambling on the fact that it can change the way the lists are organized without touching the Constitution. There is nothing to say that things will work out that way or that the provinces will accept this. There could very well be a significant legal deficit from the get-go.

What is more, the government wants to perpetuate partisanship in the Senate. It is already not fulfilling its role, and now the government wants to make partisan electoral lists. I am not convinced that the Senate could provide a counterbalance to the House of Commons for the regions in that case.

It is important to underscore that this bill is very mechanical, in that the vast majority of the clauses tell the provinces how to hold an election to create a list of people who could potentially be appointed to the Senate. The government is shifting the rather high cost of all this to the provinces. What is more, the Prime Minister might suggest names to be included on the list.

In this regard, I would like to point out something that is unique to Quebec. There are electoral divisions for senators, of which there is no mention. In other words, in a province such as Quebec, there would have to be elections in 24 districts in order to comply with the current Constitution, whereas elsewhere elections would be held at the provincial level. This would be more expensive for Quebec and evidently no one is footing the bill. That is also an important point.

We should note that Senate elections could take place at the same time as municipal or provincial elections. I am not sure that this is necessarily a good thing. For example, in 2008, when I was campaigning federally, a provincial byelection was also being held in one part of my riding. Quite simply, in this part of the riding, people did not know if they were dealing with a candidate for a provincial or a federal election. I am not sure that democracy will be well served by adding a Senate election.

These are just some of my thoughts, but I would like to take a step back.

The history of the Senate is rather special. The Senate as we know it in Canada is a hybrid of the British House of Lords, with its unelected senators appointed by the Governor General upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister, and the U.S. Senate, with its equitable representation of all regions. This means that our Senate is unique and that there are not many like it.

The groundwork for the Senate as we know it was laid at the Charlottetown Conference and especially at the Quebec Conference held in October 1864. Six of the 14 days of the Quebec Conference were spent on the concept of the Senate. There were debates. Even back then there were discussions about an elected Senate versus an unelected Senate. There is nothing new today; we are rehashing past arguments. The Fathers of Confederation chose an unelected Senate. They had their reasons.

All that we can say about that is that our current Senate was not created with much enthusiasm. I would like to read a description of senators and the Senate.

Senators are appointed by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. [Everyone knows that.] Senators represent regions and provinces in order to balance the representation in the House of Commons. Less populated regions have a stronger voice in the Senate so as to ensure representation for regional and minority interests.

That is the goal. But in reality, we have never seen that. What we have seen is partisan appointment after partisan appointment, to the point where we have never seen the Senate play the role it was meant to have, which is to defend the interests of the regions. Instead, it is a chamber that may or may not support a government, depending on what party holds the majority in the Senate. The upper chamber has become nothing but a partisan stronghold. The Conservatives did indirectly what they could not do directly when, in past parliaments, they defeated certain bills that were passed here but did not pass in the Senate for partisan reasons. The Senate should be thought of as the upper chamber, a chamber of sober second thought, but instead it is a purely partisan chamber. And so we are left to wonder what we are doing with an institution that does not fulfill its role and that, in fact, has rarely fulfilled it.

I would like to address an important point. Suppose this bill is passed. We would then have two chambers made up of elected members. Would we then have a competition? Since everyone would be legitimately elected, would there be competition between the two chambers, something like what we see in the United States where the system becomes paralyzed when the majorities are not the same in both chambers? Is that what we are heading for? Are we headed for an American-style Senate that could, in some cases, paralyze the work of the House of Commons and the running of the country as we see south of the border? This is a very important question to consider.

The other thing that concerns me about this issue is that the talk always focuses on the people who would be elected. There is never any mention of how many positions or who or when. Might this result in a power struggle between the government and various provinces? For example, suppose a given province decided to hold an election and presented fewer people than the number of positions to be filled or just enough people. What happens in that situation? There might then be a power struggle between the Prime Minister—or the Governor General, obviously—and the provinces. We would once again be back to a model that creates tension between the various levels of government. I do not think our objective here in this House is to create new kinds of tension between the various levels of government. I do not think we want to go in that direction.

I would like to discuss the historic position of the Government of Quebec in a bit more detail, and I would like to begin by quoting one of the Fathers of Confederation, George Brown. He said:

Our Lower Canadian friends [he is talking here about Quebec] have agreed to give us representation by population in the Lower House, on the express condition that they would have equality in the Upper House. On no other condition could we have advanced a step.

Even before 1867, there was tension between what was then Lower Canada and the other groups in the federation. Quebec insists on the assurance that any changes are constitutional and not partisan.

I would like to continue, but I see that my time is up.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, if we were to reform the Senate, if the Senate were less partisan, if senators were appointed by provincial premiers, if the seats were attributed by region and political party, would by colleague still be in favour of abolishing the Senate?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette NDP Louis-Hébert, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his very interesting question. History has shown us that when appointments are made by small groups, when we give the party in power the choice to make appointments, all successive governments—both Liberal and Conservative—have made strictly partisan appointments. If we give governments permission to make partisan appointments, the Senate can certainly not fulfill its role. So I do not have much faith in this hypothesis.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Louis-Hébert on his speech on this bill. We must not forget that the Liberals and the Conservatives have always appointed Liberal or Conservative senators to raise money for their parties. They have appointed candidates who were defeated in elections: candidates whom Canadians did not want as representatives. The government then appointed them to the Senate to raise money for its own party. Their expenses are paid by Canadians. I would like my colleague to comment on the fact that senators are appointed to raise money for the Conservative and Liberal parties.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette NDP Louis-Hébert, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague has raised a very important problem. It shows that we have hit rock bottom. “Rock bottom” is my polite way of sharing how I feel about partisan appointments. The fathers of Confederation wanted a chamber of sober second thought, a chamber of people who could reflect and serve as a sort of counterbalance. Those were great principles. However, in reality, as time passes we get further and further away from these principles and it all becomes shamelessly partisan. It is completely unacceptable.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. NDP member a question about equity within Parliament. Former Liberal prime ministers have had to appoint senators in order to have a more equitable Parliament, that is, one with more women in the Senate. Unfortunately, the current Prime Minister's senate appointments have reduced the proportion of female senators.

Does my colleague not see having more women representing Canadians as one of the values of the Senate?