Madam Speaker, that is a tough act to follow, as always.
I would like to congratulate my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst as well as my colleague from Newton—North Delta. Both of them are very passionate, and they are models in both their bearing and their ethics. I really admire their work.
On this day, December 8, I only have one thought in mind: “Give peace a chance”. Why is it so important to give peace a chance? It is important because peace is synonymous with discussions, with communication among peoples, among people and among parties, whether they agree or not. Dialogue should always be at the forefront of a democracy. It is extremely important.
The message of my idol, John Lennon, who was assassinated on December 8, was about communication and the way in which we can together discuss topics that are extremely important to society and to the population in general. Today, we are debating a bill that affects more people than we realize and may cause a chill among some provincial elected members. First and foremost, we have to respect democracy, which is a sincere and cordial dialogue. Exchanges between the members of the opposition and the members of the government should be courteous.
It appears to me that Bill C-7, An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits, reflects a somewhat cavalier attitude and shows indifference to the real issues that are of concern to the population.
The role of this institution is no longer required and this has been the case for decades, as was very well explained by my colleague, the member for Acadie—Bathurst. Historically, the role of that institution has always been that of a watchdog. Personally, I think this role has evolved into a ghost's role, and I am being polite in saying that. One wonders what could have led the Conservatives to table a bill on this topic for the third time. Basically, this legislative effort contains absolutely nothing that would truly legitimize the existence and relevance of the Senate chamber, especially given the fact that at no time since the beginning of this 41st Parliament have the Prime Minister and his merry band given us any opportunity for real debate in a sound democracy. Never have they done so. And believe me, this government does not seem anywhere near doing that in the course of this exercise.
In the first paragraph of the preamble to Bill C-7, we can see the ambiguity and paradox of the Conservatives' position, especially when they claim that the Senate must continue to evolve in keeping with the principles of modern democracy and the expectations of Canadians. I would be curious to know the opinion of Canadians on that topic.
In the second paragraph of that preamble, we read:
Whereas the Government of Canada has undertaken to explore means to enable the Senate better to reflect the democratic values of Canadians and respond to the needs of Canada's regions;
As for the regions, we will get to that in due course.
How can that be called democratic if the provinces' choice is not even respected by the Prime Minister?
Part 1, clause 3, on senatorial selection, states that “the Prime Minister...must consider”. There is no obligation. The Prime Minister does not even respect the choice of senators elected democratically by the provinces. Welcome to the Conservatives’ world where even evolution runs backwards. The upshot is that we will again and again be faced with partisan appointments of the kind the Liberals had us accustomed to; now it is the Conservatives' turn.
Why reform the Senate if the provinces’ decisions are not going to be taken into account and if the Canadian government is under no obligation whatsoever?
Moreover, there is a schedule in Bill C-7 that contains a whole slew of clauses that impose a legislative framework for the selection of senators. Did I not just say that the Prime Minister has no obligation whatsoever to respect the selection process? Once again, he shows no interest in listening to voters, 61% of whom, I should point out, voted against the government.
It makes no sense and it is a waste of public money: over $100 million a year is spent on the Senate.
Once again, they have found a way to spend a fortune on an exercise in which all Canadians will have participated without their decision being respected.
In the end, Canadians will not have participated. Basically, whether it is 100% of Canadians who speak out or vote, or the 61% who voted against this government on May 2, the Conservatives do not give a damn.
The NDP's position is certainly clearer and more precise than the government's. From the early days of this 41st Parliament, the Conservatives have been very vague regarding the number of subjects up for discussion, which has left us with a great deal of doubt and uncertainty.
For many year, the NDP has called for the complete abolition of this outdated institution, which in no way serves the interests of a modern country and instead caters to the cronies of whichever party is in power. I challenge the government to hold a Canada-wide consultation on the future of the Senate or even a vote on its abolition. I would respect the outcome of such exercises because I am a democrat and I care about Canadians' opinions and what they have to say regarding the issues affecting their country, my country: Canada.
Democracy is at the very core of the British parliamentary system and yet the Conservatives show day in and day out just how much a doctrine based on the private and individual interests of a party’s leaders has a negative impact on ethics and the civic-mindedness of a people.
The premiers of Ontario and Nova Scotia have publicly expressed their support for abolishing the Senate. The premier of British Columbia said that the Senate no longer has its place in our Confederation. Manitoba remains in favour of abolishing the Senate. As for Quebec, it has said repeatedly that this bill is unconstitutional. Does the government really want to alienate these provinces? Is this a voluntary move by the Conservatives, or else a strategy aimed at dividing the country to better control it? To ask these questions is to answer them, as someone famous once said. To divide Canadians on an issue on which we should seek a consensus is really perverse. What will the next step be? Withdrawing from the Kyoto protocol, so as not to respect our targets? I almost forgot that it is already done, if I am not mistaken.
I am speaking like many citizens have done to vent their frustration in recent weeks, either in our offices, or through public forums and social media in Quebec and Canada. This way of doing things without taking into consideration the real needs of Canadians does not make sense. Instead of being concerned about the health of seniors, veterans and aboriginals, the government shocks the conscience of the public to shine light on the inefficiency of public services. I am sorry, but since the Senate does not provide a service to Canadians, let us get rid of it! During the past century, 13 attempts were made to reform the Senate and they all failed. Let us get it over with!
Let us get back to the legitimacy of the appointments made under this bill. There is no legitimacy at all. The Prime Minister does not even have to accept the decision made by voters in the provinces. As I said, he is only bound by clause 3 of the first part of the bill. Does this mean he could wait until the list includes the names of people he really wants to see in the Senate?
Section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982 does allow the Canadian Parliament to amend the Senate without complying with the normal but very elaborate amending procedures in the Canadian Constitution. Is this a reason good enough to not consult the provinces? After all, we are talking about what is a sensitive issue for several Canadian provinces, given the number of representatives in the Senate which, in itself, imposes a minimum number of members in the House for some provinces.
We are getting into a more concrete area, namely the democratic representation in the House of Commons. Since the government refuses to debate any issue in the House, what will happen to the provinces that do not agree with this reform? What means will they have to put an end to this unbelievable travesty by the Conservatives, who are afraid of any public debate?
It is unacceptable to try to divide a population that needs its elected representatives to work instead to create jobs and improve economic security in the country. As we all know, the gap between the rich and the poor in Canada is growing exponentially. Statistics released in recent days confirm it. Can we deal with the real issues and show leadership by simply abolishing this outdated institution in the 21st century?