Madam Speaker, I am pleased to enter into this debate on what is surely a relic of centuries gone by that has long since outlived its usefulness in this country.
I must also comment that the silence from the other side of this House is deafening. This is a government bill, yet only the official opposition seems to have anything to say about it. What does that tell us about where democracy is in this country?
Our comments are valuable and, in my opinion, are closer to the feelings of the Canadian public than is the bill. We believe the public generally does not wish the Senate to continue. Canadians do not believe, in our opinion, that the Senate serves a useful purpose. They believe it is merely a place for a government, as we have discovered in recent times, to undo the will of the elected people of Canada, meaning the members here in this Parliament. We believe that if it were put to a vote, the result would be that the Senate should be abolished.
What should the government do? It should not propose this kind of legislation.
The Prime Minister has talked on a number of occasions about the uselessness of the Senate. However, if we want the true opinion of Canadians, we should take the true opinion of Canadians, and if we want to take the true opinion of Canadians, we should hold a referendum to determine exactly what Canadians feel belongs in the government. We believe that Canadians feel the Senate should be abolished.
If it is in fact not the will of the people that the Senate should be abolished, then reform is needed, but we do not do this kind of reform without consulting with the provinces. The provinces, Quebec in particular, have stated quite clearly that they need to be consulted on any kind of constitutional reform. Quebec, in fact, is threatening to take the government to court over the fact that it was not consulted. Other provinces have stated quite clearly that the Senate should be abolished.
In any event, no consultation took place. There was no consultation about the expense of elections, no consultation about the methods of electing senators, no consultation about the term limits. No consultation about any of this was taken with the provinces prior to the bill's coming before the House.
The law itself, as proposed by the government, states:
And whereas Parliament wishes to maintain the essential characteristics of the Senate within Canada's parliamentary democracy as a chamber of independent, sober second thought;
What does that mean?
First there is the word “independent”. It flies in the face of those very words to read the rest of the government's bill, which demands that if political parties exist, they nominate candidates; that is, candidates must be nominated by political parties.
“Independent” also would imply that the government already believes that an essential characteristic of the Senate is that it be independent. However, as we have experienced most recently, in a non-independent and very partisan way, the Senate has killed legislation that was passed by this House, so that is clearly not what is happening. It is very clear that the government does not propose that the Senate remain independent. Indeed, it is not independent today.
It has also killed climate change bills twice, again in a very partisan way, with the Conservatives voting against the rest. As well, it killed a bill to provide generic drugs to Africa, again in a very partisan way, so to say that it is independent flies in the face of what is actually happening.
Next is “sober second thought”. It implies that this House is not sober. I am offended by that suggestion, because we are not a House of drunkards or laggards. I think the Conservatives would be just as offended it that were the implication. We are, in fact, giving sober thought to everything we do. To suggest that we need somebody else to look over our shoulders and give it sober thought is an affront.
Finally, in terms of independence, we have one of the senators appointed by the government from the elected version of the Alberta government, Bert Brown, suggesting that:
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].
That clearly shows what the government intends with regard to independence: loyalty is to the Prime Minister, not to some sense of independence nor to the people who, if this bill were to pass, would elect those senators.
In the bill we also discover the creation of a real dog's breakfast of senators. There would be three levels of senators as a result of the bill. There will be senators appointed for life before the 40th Parliament elections; those senators will continue to be appointed for life, and for some of them life will be quite long. It could be 14, 15 or 16 years in some cases. Those senators will continue well beyond any elections and well beyond the term limits of elected senators.
Then there are the senators who were appointed since the last election. Those senators will serve an additional nine years. Some of them will leave before nine years because they will reach age 75, but others will continue for their full nine years. They would have their terms shortened as a result of this bill by an average of about 13 years. There are a whole lot of senators who thought they were there for a long time; as a result of this bill, they would be there for a much shorter period of time.
Then there are the senators who would be elected in the future. Those individuals would have terms of exactly nine years.
That is an incredible dog's breakfast. In Ontario, where I am from, the Ontario government could have an election for 20 senators. Because of the bill, unless those 20 senators were actually appointed by the government, some of them would expire before they were ever appointed. Then there would have to be another election, because their elections only last six years. Unless there were enough appointments to fill those elections, the dog's breakfast would continue.
Finally, I noticed that there is nothing in this bill concerning election financing. The government has made a few statements in the House about its wish to get the government out of financing elections; it feels that parties themselves should look after the financing of their members of Parliament and senators. However, this bill says nothing about it. Apparently the rules of the province or the municipality in which the election was to be held would determine whether election financing would be limited or whether unions or corporations would be allowed to donate to the campaigns of these senators. Depending on the province and the municipality, that could be large sums of money. Again, it flies in the face of what the government thinks is a reform of democracy.
On the accountability portion, there would no accountability. They would be elected for nine years, and they could not come back; therefore, no matter what they did in those nine years, they would have no accountability whatsoever to the electorate who put them there. That is not a democratic principle that we adhere to.
Finally, the Prime Minister would not be obliged to appoint any individual. Should Ontario or any other province elect a bunch of senators, the Prime Minister would retain the power to say, “No thanks. I have friends I want to appoint.”