Madam Speaker, what a passionate debate on Senate reform. When I was elected on May 2, if someone had told me that I would be starting a speech in this House by saying that I agree with the Right Hon. Prime Minister on something, I never would have believed them.
But I must admit that I agree with what the Prime Minister said when he described the Senate as, and I quote, “a relic of the 19th century”. I think that “relic” is an appropriate word choice, since we all dream of having a sacred relic for all the virtues it is supposed to represent. But it rarely has any benefits.
In light of this statement, I see two choices, since the status quo is no longer acceptable. The first choice is to simply abolish the institution of the Senate. I assure the Prime Minister that he would have my support and my party's support if that was what he wanted to do.
In addition, as all provincial senates have been abolished since 1968, we can draw the logical conclusions: the provinces manage very well without senates and there is no reason to believe that it would be otherwise for the Government of Canada.
More and more Canadians believe that we should be able to express our opinions on the matter in a national referendum. According to an Angus Reid poll conducted in July 2011, 71% of Canadians expect a referendum of that kind. That is what you call a strong mandate.
In more than a century, the 13 attempts at Senate reform have failed. Perhaps it is time to draw the logical conclusions. But, once again, the government is proposing a convoluted bill whose purpose is to make us think that the Senate is being reformed, whereas what we will see is something even more questionable.
The government is moving forward with fake Senate reform since holding a constitutional debate and dealing with the provinces and territories on the form, the function, the representative nature and even the legitimacy of that chamber are out of the question. So, welcome, everyone, to the world of mystery and illusion. Let me give you some examples of how comical, or how ridiculous, the situation really is.
First of all, the Senate would be made up of elected representatives. Those who want to keep the institution may find that principle appealing. But it becomes at the very least questionable when we realize that the provinces could choose to hold Senate elections—of course, at their own expense. I draw your attention to those words: once again, financial responsibility is being transferred to the provinces. The federal government is going to download that responsibility onto the provinces without consulting them beforehand.
But the best of it is that the provinces could choose to hold elections using whichever method seems best to them. Perhaps the method would be the cheapest, the most politically expedient; who knows what considerations could go into choosing a method of holding an election. They could also choose not to hold one. On that point alone, it is difficult to imagine anything more nonsensical.
The incoherence of the proposal seems clear to me already. But if that were not enough, after all is said and done, the Prime Minister of Canada would have no obligation to appoint a person who had been previously elected by a province or territory. Heaven knows that, since this session opened, we have lost count of the times when we have realized that the government is not listening to Canadians. So why should the provinces and territories invest time and money in a process that may ultimately serve no purpose?
I also smiled rather broadly when I read in Bill C-7 that candidates for election to the Senate must be nominated by a political party that is registered in the province.
It was amusing to imagine for a few moments the list of potential candidates elected by a Parti Québécois government or the list that would be drawn up by Québec solidaire. It seems to me that here as well, we have obvious proof of the impossibility of reconciling eventual senatorial election results in Quebec with appointments by a Canadian Prime Minister, whoever that might be.
Now, I need to underscore the unilateral process in this bill. Consultations with the provinces and territories are also glaringly absent from this bill. This government is making it a habit to act entirely on its own. The strong mandate pretext cannot possibly justify making such major changes without consulting the main partners, and—why not—the whole population, as I was saying earlier.
I feel as though I am watching an old episode of Father Knows Best. The cartoonists back home chose that image for their caricatures of the government and the Prime Minister, and I think they are on to something.
The Canadian public was deeply affected by the NDP message that they were going to do politics differently and wanted all of the elected members of this House to work together in a manner marked by attentiveness, openness to others and respect. It is not enough to say “Vote as we do so that we can work together”.
If the government goes forward with this bill, it already knows that there are going to be challenges, since Quebec has already said that it considers Bill C-7 unconstitutional and intends to prove that if necessary.
There is another incongruity in this bill, and it concerns accountability. After an election, elected members are generally held accountable to the electorate. Well, think again. Once again, we are dealing with smoke and mirrors. With a single nine-year, non-renewable term—by the way, nine years is equivalent to two terms in the House of Commons, and even a bit more—the pseudo-elected members of the Senate would go directly from election promises to retirement, in recognition of their good and faithful services to Her Majesty. The only way of trying to lengthen your political career would be to temporarily leave the comfort of the Senate to try to get elected to the House of Commons, knowing that if you lost, you could return and finish your term in the comfort of the red chamber. And I could also say a few words about that retirement. One term, followed by a pension. Now there is an approach that is rather difficult to support in an economy where Canadians are having trouble making ends meet.
Now, what of the potential conflicts between the two chambers? It also makes sense that a Senate that has practically the same powers as the House, filled with the false sense of legitimacy that sham elections would bring, could end up bringing us one step closer to the same kind of impasse that is seen in the United States, where the two chambers paralyze one another.
In this House, we have already seen bills passed at third reading be blocked in the Senate by a partisan onslaught. Imagine the power that a Senate could wield if it deemed itself elected and representative.
In closing, the problems with this Senate reform are so great in number that we are automatically brought back to option A—the NDP proposal that the Prime Minister has already toyed with, I might add—namely the out-and-out abolition of the Senate.
I should say in passing that all my attacks are directed against the institution and not its sitting senators. In many cases, I have tremendous respect for their service to the nation.
While some premiers openly favour abolishing the Senate and others find it pointless, why not have the political gumption to ask Canadians, who foot the bill, to decide? It could end up being an extremely positive decision. In one fell swoop, there could potentially be a rapid return to a balanced budget without the need for cuts to services for Canadians.
Madam Speaker, thank you for having given me the floor. I would like to thank my colleagues in this House for their attention.