Mr. Speaker, I thank the House and the Speaker for allowing me this time, as well as for allowing the debate regarding the House of sober second thought to move ahead.
Over many years, certainly since the inception of this country, this debate has raged on as to its content, how it proceeds, how it is selected and how it goes about its daily business. It has been debated across the country in many forums, sometimes high profile and other times not so high profile. Nonetheless, there have been several repeated attempts to make it better reflect the opinions and the diversity of this country, not just of persons but also the regions that many of us represent. Therefore, I will go through a brief analysis.
I do not think we thank the people who work in the Library of Parliament enough. However, I am thankful to them and, in particular, Sebastian Spano, who did some background information on this. He brought forward some great points. He also brought forward an historical context with respect to the Senate and, in particular, this bill, the thrust of which proposes two things: that we should limit the duration of time that senators can sit, in this case nine years; as well as allow the participation of the provinces in the selection of senators and, more to the point, in the election of senators, which is a practice that has been done circuitously at best when it comes to the situation.
For instance, we remember the particular appointments of the late Stan Waters, as well as Bert Brown, but they were not direct elections per se. This particular bill hopes to bring a direct election within the confines of the Senate, along with term limits.
The bill is divided into two parts. The authors of the bill, in this case the government and the minister in question, have expressed a desire to initiate a process for constitutional reform leading to an elected Senate “in the near future”, which begs the question whether this opens the door to something else. I assume that it does, given that the origins of the party in power always talk about the triple E Senate, equal, elected and effective, which, in my opinion, refers to two things, being equal and elected. Whether it is effective remains to be seen.
The legislative model would allow voters to select candidates wishing to be considered for appointment to the Senate. It does that on two levels. It does that at provincial elections and municipal elections, which is something I will discuss a little later.
It should be noted that the bill would impose no obligation on the provinces or the territories to establish a selection process. However, the nominees model and framework is set out in the schedule, a lot of which the entire framework is set out in the province of Alberta legislation, which is what the schedule is modelled on.
Bill C-20, An Act to provide for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate, was a past attempt to do this. There were past recent attempts in both the Senate and here. We had Bill S-7 and Bill C-20, which were two ways of doing that, both of which died on the order paper in 2008.
I will trace back to when it all started. Basically six major changes were proposed with respect to how the Senate should react through committees, through the House of Commons, as well as through the Senate. First, in 1887, they proposed a Senate in which half would be appointed by the federal government and the other half would be appointed by the provincial governments. Again, we go back to the appointment process. There was no election involved.
The second time this happened was at the end of the 1960s. In the constitutional conference of 1969, the federal government of the day proposed that senators be selected in part by the federal government and in part by the provincial governments, which is the same sort of situation we had in 1887. As well, the provinces could choose the method of selection of senators, whether by nomination by the provincial governments or with the approval of their legislatures. The difference here is that in the past they wanted to infuse provincial input into this by allowing them to appoint but it never set out the way it was to be done, whether by election or appointment. I am assuming they wanted to do it by appointment of the legislatures so they would choose their own, but we can get the idea.
What they wanted to do, for the most part, for the past 144 years, was bring the provinces into a direct consultation process and a process to directly appoint senators to Parliament.
Third, in 1978, the Government of Canada's proposal for a time for action, as the document was called, a renewed Constitution, which would include a house of the federation that would replace the Senate. How interesting is that? It was probably something similar to what the Council of Europe has in Strasbourg.
Basically, the legislators in their home provinces would come to Ottawa and use the Senate, the upper chamber, as a house of the federation, as it was called. Now that proposal did not last very long. It is did not cause a lot of excitement around here and it did not get a lot of media attention. Nonetheless, it was something that was brave and bold for its time.
Bill C-60 was tabled and received first reading in the House of Commons in 1978. In 1979, the Pépin-Robarts task force on Canadian unity recommended the abolition of the Senate and the establishment of the council of the federation. It moved one step further. The council of the federation was to be composed of provincial delegations led by a person of ministerial rank or by the premier of a province. I suggest that members in this House may want to look at that as a proposal, as an alternative, as in the case of the NDP who want to abolish the Senate. There is something there the NDP may want to consider.
In 1984, the Molgat-Cosgrove Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons recommended that senators be directly elected. The Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada recommended that senators be elected in elections held simultaneously with elections to the House of Commons. Therein lies the rub. That is where the direct participation of the provinces is needed, depending on the formula, in particular, seven provinces representing 50% of the population.
That brings us to 1987. I have three words, Meech Lake accord. We all remember that. That was one of the more high-profile attempts at reforming the Senate, a constitutional reform that would have had implications for the method of selecting senators.
With the Meech Lake accord, once a vacancy occurred in the Senate, the provincial government of the province in which the vacancy existed could submit a list of nominees for potential appointments to the Senate. It was somewhat circuitous in the way it went about its business. The provinces would provide a list of people for the prime minister through the governor general to select. That is a little different but, nonetheless, I do not think it would have put it into the context of allowing the provinces to be directly involved simply because it was more of an advisory role. That brings me to this bill, but I will get to that in a little bit.
In 1992, the Beaudoin-Dobbie Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons on a renewed Canada recommended the direct election of senators under a proportional representational system. Therein again lies the participation of the provinces.
Several provinces have enacted their own legislation to make way for this type of procedure where they would be involved in electing senators to the Senate. We know about Alberta. It enacted a senatorial selection act in 1989 which set out the guidelines by which they could do that.
In 1990, British Columbia enacted a senatorial selection act as well, which mirrors the counterpart in Alberta, and it did lapse by the way, but it has been reported in recent media accounts that British Columbia may revive this type of legislation.
In 2009, Saskatchewan passed the Senate nominee election act, which received royal assent but has not been proclaimed into force yet.
In Manitoba, there is the special committee on Senate reform. Manitoba took a different track. In November 2009, it proposed an election process for selecting Senate nominees to be administered by Elections Canada and to be paid for by the federal government. Manitoba went in a different way, which tied it a little more directly into the federal system, certainly with Elections Canada, and proposed that the federal government would look after it. As my hon. colleague from Manitoba points out, it was put forward by Gary Doer of the former NDP government.
Proposals for reforming Senate tenure, again from 1867 to 1985, I mentioned the Molgat-McGuigan committee and others. There were several guiding principles involved, which brings me to the point I am trying to make here when it comes to Senate reform. This is why this particular bill could find itself in trouble.
A few years back a former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Danny Williams, made a representation by saying that this cannot be done without the provinces. I think he was right and here is why.
In a judgment delivered in 1980, the court articulated a number of guiding principles in the British North America Act and the Senate. It said, basically, that in many ways we cannot change the spirit of the legislation because of the effect of direct election to the Senate. It said that what we would end up doing is changing the very thrust of the way the Senate operates. However, in this particular case, the Conservatives will convince themselves that it is not direct, but it is, thanks to clause 3, which states that the Prime Minister must consider this.