Madam Speaker, I rise 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.
If only we could be so fortunate as to have the government amend the bill so that the Senate would be abolished, then this could be our last time to rise and speak about Senate reform. My NDP colleagues and I believe that the Senate needs to be abolished. Any attempt to reform the Senate would simply be window dressing to this very seriously undemocratic institution. As things currently stand, Bill C-7 introduces ineffective measures that will do nothing to fix the Senate.
What is currently wrong with the Senate? We often describe the Senate as a romantic place of sober second thought. However, we know the Senate is no such a place. Last year, rather than respecting the will of this House, as my colleagues have pointed out, the Senate killed Bill C-311, the climate change accountability act. The bill was passed in the House of Commons and voted for by elected members of this House. The Senate killed it and the government called a snap election.
In the words of our former leader, the hon. Jack Layton:
This was one of the most undemocratic acts that we have ever seen in the Parliament of Canada. To take power that doesn't rightfully belong to them to kill a bill that has been adopted by a majority of the House of Commons representing a majority of Canadians is as wrong as it gets when it comes to democracy in this country.
This spring the Senate killed another bill which was very important. Bill C-393 would have made it easier for people in developing countries to obtain more affordable life-saving medicines. It was a bill that would have saved lives. It was voted for by members of this House and killed by an unelected Senate.
To suggest amendments and return a bill to the House is one thing, but to kill a bill in this way, using sneaky tactics, is just plain wrong. It is disrespectful to the decision-making power of this democratically elected House.
Right now the Senate is basically full of political appointments, friends and failed candidates. That is what the Senate is right now. For instance, our Prime Minister appointed to the Senate three failed Conservative candidates from the last federal election. All three failed to win a seat in the election. Canadians decided on May 2 that they did not want to have these people representing them. Yet, here they are; they are in the Senate.
There are a number of things in the bill that do not fix anything at all. For example, the Conservatives make excuses for their appointments saying that they will use them to reform the Senate. This is clearly laughable.
Every day in this House the Conservatives trample on democracy. They ram bills through the House and committees without debate or examination, sometimes without even costing these bills. Then the Conservatives want members to believe that they actually want a more democratic Senate. They do not.
The reforms the Conservatives are proposing in this bill are completely inadequate.
First, under the proposed legislation, the Senate would become a two-tiered system with some elected senators and some unelected senators.
Second, the limit of one nine-year term means that senators, even elected ones, would not be held accountable for their actions in a subsequent democratic race.
Third, because the actual appointment process would not change at all, despite talk of increased democratic accountability, the bill does not actually introduce any check on the Prime Minister in the appointment process. Basically, it could be business as usual.
Fourth, because the bill would do nothing to address the distribution of seats in the Senate, the increase in power of an elected Senate would mean an unbalanced increase in the power in Quebec and Ontario. I come from British Columbia and that is not fair.
Fifth, perhaps the most important intended role of the Senate is its ability to represent women and minority interests. By making it an elected Senate and forcing any candidate that runs to do so under a party banner would only tighten the partisan stranglehold on the legislative process. Parties will drown out minority representation, like we have seen in Australia. There are examples in Australia where this has happened.
Sixth, the introduction of increased democratic legitimacy would give the Senate even more leeway to assert its own decision-making power, which could result in gridlock. We have seen that in the United States. This is counter to the productivity Canadians expect from their government.
There are solutions, and New Democrats and others have proposed them. The best solution to this democratic black hole, that is the Senate, is to basically abolish it. The Conservatives have been wishy-washy in the past and unable to decide what they want when it comes to the Senate. For instance, previous Conservative bills have called for a federally regulated electoral process while another bill called for eight year term limits. We can see clearly that what the Conservatives want is the appearance of reforming the Senate when, in reality, they stack it with their cronies and use it to kill legislation passed by democratically elected members of the House.
Unlike the Conservatives, New Democrats have unwaveringly supported the abolition of the Senate since the 1930s, and many Canadians agree that we need to abolish it and move on from this undemocratically elected institution. At the provincial level, both Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty in Ontario and NDP provincial Premier Darrell Dexter have called for the abolition of the Senate. In my province, Premier Christy Clark has said that the Senate no longer plays a role in Confederation.
We have seen from history that all provincial legislatures have abolished their provincial senates. The last one was done in 1968. Even the Prime Minister himself once said that the unelected Senate is a relic of the 19th century.
Unlike the Conservatives who have not consulted the provinces, New Democrats believe it is the responsibility of the government to consult all Canadians. To that end, New Democrats believe that the issue of Senate reform cannot be solved by this piecemeal bill. The issue of Senate reform needs to be put in a referendum, so Canadians themselves can decide how they want to deal with it.
The majority of Canadians support New Democrats in this proposal as well. There have been a number of polls done and I will mention one that was done in July 2001 by Angus Reid, which said that 71% of Canadians supported having a referendum on this issue.
In closing, I would therefore urge my Conservative colleagues to heed their small c conservative roots. We know how the House of Commons works, but we have no idea what would happen with an elected Senate. It would no doubt completely change the Canadian political system, but to what end we cannot be sure. The best solution to Senate reform is abolition.