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House of Commons Hansard #63 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elected.

Topics

Question No. 195Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

With regard to the procurement practices and policies governing the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA): (a) which set of federal laws govern procurement by CATSA; (b) have CATSA’s major screening equipment procurement processes undertaken in 2009 and 2010 been subject to a legal procedure (such as Treasury Board contracting policy); (c) which set of laws or contracting procedures will govern CATSA’s October 2011 procurement for Next-Generation Computed Tomography X-Ray equipment; (d) which government bodies provide oversight for procurement processes conducted by CATSA; (e) what is the overall annual value of procurement carried out by CATSA; (f) what portion of this procurement is tendered; (g) does CATSA maintain conflict of interest policies for its employees and procurements and, if yes, how does CATSA enforce these policies; (h) how do CATSA procurement actions foster competition to ensure best value to the Canadian taxpayer; (i) does CATSA or Transport Canada establish the regulatory requirements and approval processes for security technology; and (j) how many of the checkpoint x-ray systems acquired by CATSA through a sole-source procurement process in 2009 were deployed in British Columbia for the Olympics?

Question No. 195Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

December 8th, 2011 / 10:20 a.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Transport)

Mr. Speaker, with regard to (a), CATSA was created under and is subject to the provisions of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority Act, the CATSA act. CATSA, as a crown corporation listed in schedule III of the Financial Administration Act, the FAA, is subject to certain provisions of the FAA.

With regard to (b), such procurements were carried out in accordance with CATSA’s procurement and contracting policy and were done with the approval of CATSA’s board of directors.

With regard to (c), the procurement process in respect of next generation computed tomography X-ray equipment is being conducted in accordance with CATSA’s procurement and contracting policy.

With regard to (d), the Office of the Auditor General has authority to examine any procurement conducted by CATSA.

With regard to (e), the overall value of procurement fluctuates yearly based on CATSA’s approved corporate plan. For the current fiscal year to date, expenditures are approximately $269.5 million.

With regard to (f), for this fiscal year to date, CATSA has initiated a total of 14 new procurements. Of these procurements, one was non-competitive.

With regard to (g), all CATSA employees adhere to the Code of Ethics and Conduct for the Employees of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority. The code contains provisions in respect of conflicts of interest. Employees must provide annually a signed statement of compliance in which the employee acknowledges that he/she has recently read and understood the code and undertakes to comply with it.

With regard to (h), in accordance with the CATSA Act, CATSA has established policies and procedures for contracts for services and for procurement that ensure that operational requirements are always met and that promote transparency, openness, fairness and value for money in purchasing. Where national security considerations, operational requirements and market conditions permit, CATSA conducts open procurement processes via MERX.

With regard to (i), Transport Canada is responsible for establishing regulatory requirements related to aviation security and must approve security technology before it may be used in Canadian airports.

With regard to (j), the multi-view X-ray units procured through a sole-source process in 2009 were used to replace existing equipment in pre-board screening checkpoints that had reached the end of their useful life. The multi-view equipment procured represented the latest technology and was deployed in eight of Canada’s busiest airports that were expected to have high passenger traffic because of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. Forty multi-view X-ray machines were deployed within British Columbia at the Vancouver International Airport. No multi-view machines were deployed at temporary Olympic sites.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, if Question No. 191 could be made an order for return, this return would be tabled immediately.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed

Question No. 191Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

With regard to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada funding in the riding of Gatineau for the last five fiscal years: (a) what is the total amount of spending by (i) year, (ii) program; and (b) what is the amount of each spending item by (i) Technical Assistance and Foreign-Based Cooperative Activities (International Trade and Labour Program), (ii) Skills Link (Youth Employment Strategy), (iii) Consultation and Partnership-Building and Canadian-Based Cooperative Activities (International Trade and Labour Program), (iv) Canada Summer Jobs (Youth Employment Strategy), (v) Children and Families (Social Development Partnerships Program), (vi) Labour Market Development Agreements, (vii) Labour Market Agreements, (viii) Labour Market Agreements for Persons with Disabilities, (ix) Enabling Fund for Official Language Minority Communities, (x) Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities, (xi) Aboriginal Skills and Training Strategic Investment, (xii) Enabling Accessibility Fund, (xiii) Skills and Partnership Fund - Aboriginal, (xiv) Targeted Initiative for Older Workers, (xv) International Academic Mobility Initiative - Canada-European Union Program for Co-operation in Higher Education, Training and Youth, (xvi) International Academic Mobility Initiative - Program for North American Mobility in Higher Education, (xvii) Surplus Federal Real Property for Homelessness Initiative, (xviii) International Labour Institutions in which Canada Participates (International Trade and Labour Program), (xix) Labour Mobility, (xx) New Horizons for Seniors, (xxi) Career Focus (Youth Employment Strategy), (xxii) Fire Safety Organizations, (xxiii) Organizations that Write Occupational Health and Safety Standards, (xxiv) Social Development Partnerships Program - Disability, (xxv) Foreign Credential Recognition Program Loans (pilot project), (xxvi) Fire Prevention Canada, (xxvii) Adult Learning, Literacy and Essential Skills Program, (xxviii) Canada-European Union Program for Co-operation in Higher Education, Training and Youth (International Academic Mobility Initiative), (xxix) Labour-Management Partnerships Program, (xxx) Social Development Partnerships Program - Children and Families, (xxxi) Social Development Partnerships Program - Disability, (xxxii) Foreign Credential Recognition Program, (xxxiii) International Trade and Labour Program - Technical Assistance and Foreign-Based Cooperative Activities, (xxxiv) International Trade and Labour Program - Consultation and Partnership-Building and Canadian-Based Cooperative Activities, (xxxv) International Trade and Labour Program - International Labour Institutions in which Canada Participates, (xxxvi) Sector Council Program, (xxxvii) Federal Public Sector Youth Internship Program (Youth Employment Strategy), (xxxviii) Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership Program, (xxxix) Employment Programs - Career Development Services Research, (xl) Career Development Services Research (Employment Programs), (xli) Occupational Health and Safety, (xlii) Youth Awareness, (xliii) Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy, (xliv) Homelessness Partnering Strategy, (xlv) Youth Employment Strategy - Skills Link, (xlvi) Youth Employment Strategy - Canada Summer Jobs, (xlvii) Youth Employment Strategy - Career Focus, (xlviii) Youth Employment Strategy - Federal Public Sector Youth Internship Program, (xlix) Apprenticeship Completion Grant, (l) Apprenticeship Incentive Grant, (li) Work-Sharing, (lii) Small Project Component (Enabling Accessibility Fund)?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from December 7, consideration of the motion that Bill C-7, An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

When this matter was last before the House, the member for Bonavista--Gander--Grand Falls--Windsor had the floor.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

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.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the Liberal Party for his views on Bill C-7, the act respecting the selection of senators.

Earlier today, during routine proceedings, there were no fewer than three pieces of legislation introduced in the House of Commons that had their origins in the other place, the unelected, undemocratic Senate. I would like to ask him if he shares my view that it is completely inappropriate for the democratically elected House of Commons to be guided by and, in fact, have its business interrupted and interfered with by bills originating in the Senate, which take primacy and bump the business of the House of Commons.

Regardless of the fact whether he shares the NDP's view that the Senate should be abolished, does he at least concede that it is inappropriate and wrong for the Senate to be dictating the course of action and the debate in the elected chamber, the House of Commons?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, that is a good point. I would point out one thing. Despite their origins, they still have to get through this House, which is a good thing. The origin of which in many cases was introduced by a member of Parliament.

With regard to the abolition of the Senate, one of the things being talked about is a referendum to choose whether it should be abolished or not. It is a pretty sincere motive, but the problem with that is the provinces also have to get involved, which in many cases could become a cumbersome event. Nonetheless, if that is the way New Democrats feel, the only thing I can suggest they do is win a majority government and give it the boot.

Nonetheless, in the meantime, this bill is probably the wrong way to go about doing this as the provinces are not involved. That is the fundamental flaw of this legislation because, according to the legislation, as I pointed out earlier, the reference to the Supreme Court said that we cannot change the spirit of the Senate without going to the provinces for consultation and their approval.

This does because there are elections in the provinces. Not only that, clause 3 states that the Prime Minister must consider it, which binds him to the will of provincial legislation, which, in turn, has to enact that formula, which is seven provinces and 50% of the population.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will not talk about hypocrisy, but I will pose a question. Just prior to starting the debate, New Democrats gave unanimous support for a motion that came from the Senate dealing with a world issue. I believe they gave unanimous support because they recognized what the Senate had done was of value.

The province of Manitoba had a public consultation to deal with what we could do to add value to the Senate and people of all political parties in the province of Manitoba at least recognized that. Does he not think that other jurisdictions like Manitoba would benefit if, in fact, the public was consulted as to what sort of future role the Senate would play, and whether the Senate would be elected or appointed?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, the member brings up a valid point when it comes to the Senate, how there are many facets of it and how it should be reformed. The vernacular bandied about here is that it is the House of sober second thought. Certainly, it is. Many of my colleagues, I know when it comes to defence issues, such as Roméo Dallaire and others, bring some great input into the debate in Parliament.

However, bear in mind, the thrust of my speech is about the provincial consultation method that is there. The provinces have the right to be involved in Senate reform as well as if we had a referendum to abolish the Senate. They have a right to be involved in that, as well. That is the gist of what I am saying. Whether we believe in the abolishment of the Senate or not, we have to engage the provinces because they are part of the process.

This legislation points out a fundamental flaw. We need to bring these provinces into this discussion, for their agreement, and for the constitutional amendment, because it states quite clearly that we should. That is something that I have not seen from the government; namely, the language saying that the provinces will be involved. That is just not there.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, the bill the Conservative government has introduced is a travesty of democratic reform and an affront to Canadians’ intelligence.

If the bill is passed, our Senate will no longer be representative either of Canadians’ choice or of the cultural reality of Canada, and we will inherit a hybrid Senate devoid of the independence it needs if it is to be more credible in the public’s eyes.

If I may, I would like to explain why this reform is sloppy, incomplete and scandalous. I would then like to add a few thoughts about genuinely democratic reform of our parliamentary system.

Let us see. This reform would allow the provinces to hold elections in order to participate in the process of selecting senators. The bill proposes a framework for holding these “elections”, which could be held at the same time as municipal or provincial elections, for example. The public would be invited to go and vote for one of the candidates in the running. Citizens would do their civic duty and put their ballot in the box. And then what would happen? The province would submit the list of candidates selected to the prime minister of Canada, who would decide whether to take the recommendations into account. But the prime minister would retain the privilege of choosing the candidates. He would therefore not be at all obliged to take the voters’ choice into account.

Are we really going to ask Canadians to go and vote, and not be able to assure them that their choice will be honoured? And the government calls this a democratic reform? We already have a declining voter turnout for federal, provincial and municipal elections. Canadians are completely disillusioned about our political system, and they are being asked, with a straight face, to take part in a travesty of democracy. Is this a joke?

That is not all. These senators will be appointed or elected, as the case may be, for a maximum term of nine years, and will be allowed to serve only one term. These new senators will be sitting alongside colleagues who are senators appointed for life and will be telling them that since they were elected, they have more legitimacy than they do. This will create a two-tier Senate.

As well, once the senators are elected, they will never again have to account to Canadians. Because they will be unable to stand again, they will not have to face the public and keep their campaign promises. The provinces will be able to decide to hold elections without even knowing whether the voters' choice will be honoured. And who is going to foot the bill for those elections? The provinces, of course.

We might say that this has become a bad habit with Conservatives. This looks like the omnibus bill, Bill C-10, which provides for more prison terms and more prisons. Who will pay for that? The provinces will, again. It is easy to make reforms when you can pass the buck and the consequences on to someone else, but it is hard for the provinces to swallow, given, moreover, that they are not the ones who are making the decisions. This really looks like an ad hoc, sloppy bill. The fact is that this is the third time the Conservatives have proposed a bill relating to Senate elections, and my Liberal colleague has explained that very well. And yet they still have not managed to do any better than this. To me, this looks a lot like a manoeuvre to get us to swallow an ad hoc reform at top speed, in order to circumvent the constitutional rules of this country.

If the government truly wanted to respect democracy, it would follow the rules laid down in the supreme law of this country, our Constitution, which states that any reform relating to the selection and qualification of senators requires an amendment to the Constitution of Canada.

It is true that section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982, authorizes Parliament to amend the Constitution without the agreement of the provinces in certain circumstances, however paragraphs 42(1)(b) and 42(1)(c) of the Constitution Act, 1982, set out four exceptions to this rule, and in these cases the agreement of the provinces is required. The exceptions are as follows: amending the powers of the Senate; the method of selecting senators; the number of members by which a province is entitled to be represented; and the residence qualifications of senators.

So what is the government doing in order to avoid consulting the provinces? It is trying to make people believe that senators will be elected while continuing to appoint them. It is trying to reform the Senate without asking the opinion of the provinces.

This trick, however, is perhaps not even constitutional. In fact, in a very important decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 1980, the justices of the highest court in the land stated that Parliament alone cannot make substantive amendments to the “essential characteristics or fundamental features of the Senate”. Moreover, Quebec intends to challenge the constitutionality of this bill, if passed.

What can be made of a bill that is nothing but a parody of democracy and does not respect the Constitution of our country? What can be made of a government that says it supports democratic reforms in Libya and in other Arab nations, touts democracy in China, Burma and Vietnam, and is not even capable of following its own democracy’s rules? What can be made of a government that negotiates free trade agreements and security perimeters behind closed doors and Conservative members who shut down standing committees by systematically directing committees to go in camera and cut short debates in the House? This government is very poorly placed to talk about democracy.

Moreover, the purpose of the Senate must be kept in mind. The Senate was created by the Fathers of Confederation to ensure the independence of our democratic system, a long-term perspective, continuity and equality between the regions, all in keeping with the principle of federalism of our nation. If the government wanted true reform of the Senate—democratic reform—it would modify the upper house to reserve a special place for the first nations, women, francophones—especially francophones outside Quebec, who presently have no national voice in our system—a place to better respect the contemporary nature of our Canadian societies with seats for the cultural communities.

I am convinced that Canadians also have their thoughts on the matter. Why not give them a voice? A referendum on the reform or abolition of the Senate would provide us with a real democratic verdict. We should let Canadians have their opinion on such an important subject. We should give Canadians a real voice instead of having them participate in a mere semblance of democracy. Canadians deserve much better than this botched reform.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate many of the member's comments. She has described what she does not like about the Senate and the reasons to get rid of it. However, I do not think undermining the role of democracy is the way to go.

If we go ahead and abolish the Senate and it is no longer, what do we do then?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, if we abolished the Senate, we could reinvest thousands of dollars in communities. Last July, 36% of Canadians said they were in favour of abolishing the Senate. It is up to Canadians to decide. We need to have a referendum, to consult the provinces, as the Constitution demands. That would be a much more democratic approach and would allow people to have a say, share their opinion.

We are elected by the public and are accountable to them. The three reforms the Conservatives are proposing in the current bill do not even allow senators to be accountable to the public, since a senator's term would end after nine years. They would be replaced before they could even serve a second term, precluding the need to take responsibility for their decisions or to justify the choices they force on the public. For all those reasons, this cannot stand and we must abolish the Senate.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's thoughtful comments get to the heart of the problems that we have with the unelected Senate.

It seems to me that one of the key questions when we are looking at electoral change and democratic reform is the need to move on proportional representation. If we are going to do something, let us make it meaningful. We need to get to the heart of the matter and deal with the way we vote as Canadians. Let us forget about the Senate and deal with proportional representation.

I wonder if the member might comment on the need to move to a system where the way people are voting is actually reflected in the makeup in the House.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Vancouver East.

Indeed, proportional representation would better represent the realities of all regions of the country and the different peoples who live in Canada. As a result, things would be much more democratic. This would be politics at its best. More people would be inclined to get involved and become interested in Canadian politics.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member referred to ways to add value to an appointed or an elected Senate to better protect minorities and regional interests.

We saw what happened with the Canadian Wheat Board and the disadvantage many westerners felt. A regionally based Senate that had more strength to it, whether appointed or elected, would have protected the interests of western Canada. Many westerners truly believe that adding that kind of value to the Senate would be of great benefit. Would the member not agree that, in that sense, a valued Senate is better than no Senate?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. Liberal member.

In fact, when it comes to the Canadian Wheat Board, if we had better representation in Parliament, representation that was more proportional and democratic, the people in the regions and the prairie provinces would be better represented. The current government represents just 40% of Canadians.

If there were better representation, we would have more people from the Prairies or from each region and local issues would be better represented. Canadians would have better representation within our Parliament.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for their very relevant remarks on today's issue, the Senate reform bill, as introduced by the Conservative government. I am also pleased to support the position of the official opposition, which proposes to simply abolish this archaic institution, which should no longer be part of a modern democracy like Canada.

As my colleagues have done, I will try to present clearly and accurately the arguments supporting the NDP's position. I will also explain why this government should immediately put a stop to its Bill C-7, An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits.

First, I want to commend the work done by members opposite, who recognize that we need to reflect on the democratic system in which we live. As Canadians, we should all ask ourselves whether that system adequately meets the changing needs of a modern democratic society like ours.

Since 1900, 13 attempts have been made to reform the Senate, but they all failed. Considering that so many attempts have been made to deal with a serious issue that affects the very foundation of our Constitution, I think there is as much a need to debate the issue and reflect on it as to engage in a reform. It is on the content of the proposed reform that our opinion differs from that of the government. Indeed, a thorough analysis of the issue leads us to the conclusion that the Senate simply no longer serves the interests of Canadians.

The first amendment proposed in the bill by the government deals with the appointment process. The government is proposing a process that, in theory, allows voters to have a say in the selection of Senate nominees. However, in fact, there is not much change in this regard.

The government is saying that a province or territory would have the option of holding an election, at its own cost, to select the names to be submitted to the Prime Minister for consideration. However, the Prime Minister would be under no obligation to appoint a person previously elected in a province or territory. Therefore, this bill does not change the way senators are appointed, since the Prime Minister would still be free to appoint whomever he chooses from a pool of elected nominees.

In short, this means that the government is proposing to keep all the power regarding Senate appointments, under cover of a supposedly more democratic selection process, and with the provinces footing the bill.

What is the point of letting voters believe that they can have a say if, ultimately, senators will continue to be appointed by the Governor General upon the sole recommendation of the Prime Minister? And why make the provinces again pay for a federal measure?

Furthermore the bill states that if an elected person is not appointed within six years of their election, a new election must be held. This means that a candidate may have spent time, energy and money on an election campaign. He or she may be elected by the people, but if this person is not appointed to the Senate within six years, he or she will have to start all over again. Voters would have elected candidates for the Senate who will wait to be appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, but who may not be appointed and will have to start all over again six years later. This measure makes no sense at all and, to my mind, even seems anti-democratic in that it still leaves a great deal of room for favouritism and cronyism while discriminating against others.

The second amendment being proposed by the government has to do with term limits. Before 1965, senators were appointed for life. Under the British North America Act, 1965, the maximum duration of a term is nine years and the retirement age is 75 years. Reducing terms to a maximum of nine years is definitely a step in the right direction. However, in my humble opinion, it is not enough. This proposal does not do enough to make senators accountable to Canadians.

Once their terms are over, senators will never have to stand before the people of Canada and be accountable for the election promises that they failed to keep or for the decisions that they made while serving. Another thing that does not make sense is that senators will be entitled to receive a Senate retirement pension without ever having had to account for their performance to those who elected them to be their representatives and stand up for their interests.

Another issue of major concern to me is that the provinces were not consulted when the bill was drafted, despite the fact that it deals with the foundations of our Constitution. This government cannot take the initiative for any more new bills devoid of logic on the redundant and unjustified pretext that Canadians gave them a mandate on May 2.

I believe that the provinces have something to say about this bill and that it is imperative that they all be consulted on the subject. Right now, we have proof that the government did not consult the provinces. Ontario and Nova Scotia have publicly called for the Senate to be abolished. Manitoba has maintained its position in favour of abolishing the Senate. The Premier of British Columbia has said that the Senate no longer serves any useful purpose within our Confederation. Even Quebec, the nation that I very proudly represent here today, has stated that it will appeal the matter in court if this bill is passed without first consulting the provinces.

As far as I know, the provinces are the parts that make up Canada. Can the government tell us, here in this House, who it listened to when drafting this bill? Did it develop its approach and these proposals based on actual needs?

Unfortunately, I think I need to remind the House that this government is supposed to listen to and serve Canadians. Such an amendment to our Constitution cannot be made without consulting the provinces and the general public. So why not hold a referendum on the issue? Some 71% of Canadians have already said they want a referendum on the issue, before the question has even been asked unofficially. Some 36% of Canadians are already in favour of abolishing the Senate. Personally, I think a responsible government is one that allows the people to have their say on issues as fundamental as this one.

As a final point on this bill, one that illustrates my negative feelings about it, has to do with a potential conflict of legitimacy between elected senators and appointed senators. How does the government plan to deal with the fact that some senators will have been elected and others appointed, and that some can remain in their positions until they are 75, while others will have a nine-year term? It will be impossible to ensure equal treatment for them all because, right from the start, those who were elected by the public will insidiously be given greater legitimacy.

In the NDP, our reflections on the possibility of abolishing the Senate date back to the 1930s. The relevance of an unelected Senate was already in question, to say nothing of the costs involved, which of course Canadian taxpayers are forced to bear. The Senate costs up to $100 million a year and that money should be invested elsewhere—in infrastructure, for instance, and in job creation.

As we know, historically, the Senate was created based on the Anglo-Saxon model in order to represent Canada's economic and social elite, but that role is outdated and the institution has become archaic.

These days, great modern democracies have come to the same conclusion as the NDP and realized that the Senate is no longer fulfilling its duty in the current political framework. Its role simply no longer corresponds to our current social reality.