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House of Commons Hansard #138 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senators.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of our motion on Senate and democratic reform. There are a number of things we need to put down in terms of the importance of this issue. One that is extremely important is to take a look around the world right now.

On January 25 something very profound happened. We saw a tired, corrupt regime being held to account by the people of Egypt. Nobody saw it coming. Many people had speculated that there might be some changes when Mr. Mubarak left office and perhaps Egypt would not have the continuation of what essentially was a form of corrupt monarchy by having his son take over.

Instead, something exciting happened, led by mostly young Egyptians. A lot of people did not appreciate that. There was a kind of paternalistic analysis of those young people with their Facebook and Twitter. Actually, it was much more profound than that. The young people said that it was time they decided who represents them, and it was others who followed them.

In the reports I have been getting from Tunis, Cairo and Yemen, it is extremely interesting that the old line parties in those countries are looking to the leadership within the under-demographic, people who say they will not take it anymore. They will not take the stale old promises and they do not believe in these institutions that are used to manipulate them. They will take their message to the streets, to their citizens, that they do not believe in these institutions any more, and the way they are being abused and maligned.

It is exciting to see and the change is significant. We do not know where it will end. We are all hopeful that it will be a regeneration of democracy and that people will have solid institutions built around what they want and need.

I travel a bit because I am the foreign affairs critic. I have gone to Jordan. I have been to Morocco and I have been to other countries to participate in election observations, and they ask me about our system. They often ask me about our Senate, our bicameral system. To a person, they are shocked when I tell them that we appoint our senators. They had no idea, and I had no explanation, other than to say it was good for the old line parties.

In 2011, down the hall, we have an unelected so-called representative body. I cannot explain it to anyone when I travel, other than to say that we have not caught up yet. It really undermines the legitimacy on democracy reform, especially when we talk to young Canadians. They say it is very difficult to vote when they do not have their voice represented in Parliament or when they see one government elected with maybe 36%, 37%, and they have all the power.

The Conservatives are cheering over there on the other side. They won the lottery so they could stuff all their friends in the Senate. That is what we are talking about. Then they have, as my friend said, a make-believe reform. Having unelected senators in that place for eight years is not reform.

The original Reformers rejected the idea of an elected Senate. They were concerned about the competing powers between the two bodies. They were also hoping that it would eventually wither away.

The original reforms, of course, are not the ones we see here that are now hiding behind the Conservative banner. We are talking about George Brown. George Brown contemplated the idea of an elected Senate and rejected it because of the way in which it would interfere with the House of Commons that was more representative, but I am sure he had no idea that more than 100 years later this thing would still be around.

Alas, we had the other Reformers who came after Mr. Brown. I do not know if you remember them, Mr. Speaker. I am not sure if you were associated with them or not. What hope there was in 1993 when they all rode into town saying they were going to clean up Ottawa and establish democratic reform. We see the corpse in front of us. It is decomposing. Il n'existe pas. Reform is gone and it did not take long.

There was an opportunity in 2004. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs passed a motion to take this to Canadians. It was my predecessor, Mr. Broadbent, who worked hard to get that motion through. It was undermined by the Liberal Party. Does everyone remember that? The Conservatives joined us on that one and we thought we would actually have a partner. The Bloc supported it as well. We cannot consult Canadians any more. Does anyone know why? It is because the Conservatives are afraid of what might happen.

It was in front of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, when I was the democratic reform critic before the last election, and there was an opportunity to have a parallel process, which would allow parliamentarians to consult Canadians on democratic reform and there would be another engagement with Canadians.

What did the government do? It did not like it, so it gave it to its friends in the Frontier group, who were paid massive amounts of money to write a report, who did not consult anyone, and who we knew were biased. On the record, the Conservatives did not support democratic reform and that is what we got. That is why we in the NDP are here today moving our motion.

It is time that Canadians are given a real choice, not some make believe reform saying we will have a popularity contest in a province and then pass it along to the Prime Minister, who may or may not, though he says he will, put those people in power for eight years. That is not reform. Institutional reform means that the people in the Senate are legitimate or they are not.

Personally, I think it is an option to have what is working in New Zealand, which is a mixed member system. Every once in a while we get to debate ideas in this place, but what if the Senate was folded into the House and was proportionally elected, so there could be people who had the time to do good committee work?

What if my friend from Alberta had constituents who wanted to vote NDP or Liberal and have him or her as an MP? What if someone in my riding who does not believe there is a chance of electing someone from the Conservative Party was able to have his or her voice heard?

That is what we are talking about and that is why Senator Segal supports democratic reform. However, we will never have it as long as we have two parties who think it is in their best interests to rag the puck, to come up with half-baked measures and, frankly, basically want to keep the old system going. I am not going to read through the list my colleague has.

What do Conservative members say when they go to people's doors and someone asks what happened and why bagmen are being appointed to the Senate? They could have at least appointed people who were not tied to the Conservative Party, perhaps school trustees or people on the PTA. They had the audacity to insult Canadians, their own party, and the roots of the Reform Party. What did they do? Sadly, they appointed their friends, just like the previous government. That is why we in the NDP believe this is important to pass in order to engage Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I have about three questions for the member.

The member began by talking about Egypt and the challenges that it faced in even creating its democracy, laying the seeds of democracy, and drawing an allusion to Canada.

I would like to inform the member that Canada is the greatest country in the world and one of the greatest democracies the world has ever seen. For the member to somehow equate Canadian democracy to the challenges that people are facing in North Africa is a disrespect to the sacrifices Canadians have made for our democracy, and it is disrespectful to the sacrifices the Egyptians and other North Africans are undergoing now.

It is just absurd to make that kind of comparison. I would like the member to apologize and to recognize that Canada is the best country in the world.

Second, the motion calls for a referendum at the next general election. Can the member please confirm or deny that the Liberal Party is going to vote for an election, that the Bloc is going to vote for an election, and that the NDP is going to vote for an election in two or three weeks when the budget comes down?

Finally, can the member please support representation by population, so that faster growing provinces can be represented properly in this place?

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, on the first point I am not entirely sure if the minister was listening to my speech.

I said that there are exciting things happening in Egypt and that is great. Young people are getting involved in politics. I am saying that here in Canada, when it comes to democracy, we have to be vigilant. We have to make sure that we do not take anything for granted. When we have institutions that are not representative of the people, then we need to take a look at that. That is actually a nice segue.

I have no idea. The minister wants me to tell him how the Liberals and the Bloc are going to vote. I am not sure if he wants to rephrase the question or not. I am a member of the New Democratic Party. We are clear on what we have asked for. Let the other parties speak for themselves.

The third point, though, is quite interesting. He knows that as a democratic reform minister, this minister and the government broke the Speech from the Throne promise to have an institute for democratic promotion. I ask him as a minister, what happened? He obviously got shot down at cabinet. I am sad to see that. We supported it; all parties supported it.

We have a government that broke its promise again. Senate reform gone. Democratic promotion gone. We cannot even help in places like Egypt. We have totally undermined rights and democracies. The minister could not even get his cabinet to support the whole idea of democratic promotion.

I have a question for the minister, what happened?

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was not going to partake in this debate until the member who just spoke pointed me out.

I would just like to assure the member that the NDP voters and the Liberal voters in the constituency of Wetaskiwin, which may make for a combined total of 13% of those who vote, do not particularly share his point of view. However, that does not make up for the fact that the 77% or some who vote Conservative still do.

I want to assure my colleague that many of those voters at one time voted Reform and they would still very much like to see a triple-E Senate which is not an abolished Senate.

I have a question for the member. One always has to question one's motive for putting a motion forward. This motion is to abolish. The only two things I can remember the NDP doing are a parasitic attachment to previous Prime Minister Paul Martin on a napkin budget for $4 billion and an attempted coalition overthrow.

I am just wondering if the member could explain to Canadians what removing the Senate could do should they ever form that kind of coalition again.

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will avoid ever making comments like “parasitic” about any of our former prime ministers. I will never do that. I think that is unfortunate. I have never ever used that kind of language with respect to a former prime minister.

I am a New Democrat. I believe that we should respect all our former prime ministers. I had asked for former Prime Minister Joe Clark to come before the foreign affairs committee. I did not call him “parasitic”.

Sadly, this member has decided to use that kind of language in association with a former prime minister and it is unfortunate.

The whole point of democratic reform is that every vote counts. That is not what we have here, when we have governments, both Liberal and Conservative, that can win majorities with 36%, 38%, and 39% of the vote. Does the member call that democratic? I do not.

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand here today and join in this very important debate coming from my colleague and friend from Hamilton Centre, talking about two elements of democratic reform.

The first obviously is the one we have been discussing for many months and, actually, for many years, and that is democratic reform of the Senate. The NDP's position is to abolish the Senate.

I will be concentrating all of my remarks on the first part of the opposition day motion that deals with Senate reform, as opposed to the latter part of the opposition day motion on proportional representation. Due to the limited time that I have before me, I will try to concentrate my remarks only on the Senate.

I should also say at the outset that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Calgary East.

Let me first assure my colleagues, particularly on the NDP side, that I share with them a lot of the frustrations that they seem to be expressing today about Canada's Senate. In fact, I can assure my colleagues that several years ago, before I was elected to Parliament, I completely shared their view that the Senate should be abolished. At that point in time in my view, the Senate was irrelevant, useless and served no useful purpose for Canadians.

However, since I have been elected and have been in this House since 2004, I have changed my mind 100%. I have seen the good work that the Senate can perform. I would also point out that throughout the western world and the democratic nations of the world, bicameralism, which is to say federal institutions having two legislative bodies, is quite common. The U.S., Germany, Australia, and many others have a similar situation to ours. It is there for a reason. It is there to observe and give sober second thought to the legislative process. In other words, it is a legislative review body. It is also a review body that gives careful consideration to policy.

Even though I had great and grave doubts about the Senate in years past, since I have been in Parliament I have seen on many occasions the work that the Senate has done, both in terms of legislative review and on proactive policy considerations, presenting papers for not only this House and our consideration but also for Canadians as a whole. Without getting into an ideological debate about whether the Senate should be a part of our constitution and our legislative process, I would suggest that we will always agree to disagree on that very point.

However, there are two elements to democratic reform within the Senate that I believe should be discussed. I welcome the debate we have before us today. The first is term limits. One of the most unsavoury aspects of the Senate is the fact that senators can be appointed and then serve for up to 45 years. These would be unelected and, some would suggest, unaccountable senators remaining in their positions for 45 years. I do not think by anyone's definition that is palpable. Canadians would not agree with the notion that someone can be appointed to a body and remain in that position for up to 45 years with literally no oversight.

Yes, there are times when senators can be removed with cause, whether they are charged and convicted of a criminal offence, whether their attendance is such that they have not proven their worth in the Senate, but generally speaking, senators can stay in their unelected positions for up to 45 years.

That is why we brought forward Bill C-10 on Senate term limits. Our position is that there should be a finite number of years that senators serve in the upper chamber. Forty-five years is clearly too long a period of time. We believe that eight years is the proper period of time.

Why eight years? Obviously it would take new senators a bit of time to become acclimatized to their new position, their new job, to learn the ropes so to speak. However, after a year or two, senators can properly function in the upper chamber. The most important part of a Senate term limit of eight years is that after eight years, senators have probably served their purpose to the maximum of their abilities. If not, at the very least we can look at renewal within the Senate.

What angers and offends Canadians more than anything else is to see senators who have served in the same position for 10, 20, 30, 40 years and beyond, paying little recognition to Canadians' true feelings. I believe that if senators were confined to a term limit of eight years, they would know that they had a job to do and that they had to get it done in a relatively short period of time.

I do not think there would be any argument that there should be a term limit put on senators. Whether it is eight years, twelve years or more, is open for debate. That debate would be extremely worthwhile.

I note that the former Liberal leader at one time said that he was in favour of term limits for senators. He was not sure whether eight years was the proper term. He suggested at one time 15 years and then 12 years. Nonetheless, he was a strong supporter of term limits. I am pleased to see that at least some in the Liberal Party agree with us that there should be term limits.

I would ask my friends in the NDP and the Bloc Québécois to also engage in this debate and hopefully come to the realization that if the Senate is here to stay, and I suggest it will be, then we should take a look at meaningful reform from within.

The NDP's suggestion that the Senate be abolished will probably be something that we will never see. It would never happen because to do that we would have to open up constitutional talks and there is no appetite in Canada, from the Canadians I have spoken with from coast to coast, to reopen the Constitution. We have seen the problems of the Meech Lake accord and the problems of other constitutional talks. There is simply no appetite for constitutional reform at that level.

I suggest that Bill C-10 would allow change and reform to the Senate without having to open up the constitutional talks again. The way we have drafted the legislation would allow reforms to be enacted with the approval of this House.

If the NDP members are truly sincere in their belief that there needs to be reform in Parliament, knowing that the constitutional talks would probably never occur, at least not in my lifetime, on Senate reform they should welcome the opportunity to try and enact positive change. In other words, rather than strictly abolishing the Senate, let us grasp the opportunity to make change for an institution that will be with us for the foreseeable future. I would suggest the same thing happen with senatorial appointments.

Right now we have a system where all Senate appointments are strictly that; appointments rather than elections. If we want to have a truly elected Senate, that would require opening up the Constitution. That will not happen. We do not want that to happen at this point in time. Canadians do not want that to happen.

What we have done, through the Senate, is introduce Bill S-8, Senatorial Selection Act. That, in a nutshell, would allow provinces to have elections for Senate nominees. Those nominees would then be presented to the prime minister of the day and that prime minister would be required to give consideration to those Senate nominees. I would also suggest that no prime minister, regardless of political affiliation, would take those suggestions from the provinces lightly. If a sitting prime minister decided not to appoint a senator who had been recommended and elected from a province, he would do so at his political peril.

These are two real changes that can be made to the Senate, as we speak. They can be made internally in Parliament, without having to reopen constitutional discussions and talks. They would enact real reform within the Senate. It is a set of concerns that all members should take very seriously.

I would encourage all of my colleagues to join with us as we move forward with our democratic reform package in the Senate and ask them to support both Bill C-10 and Bill S-8.

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I heard my colleague in his great speech say how we look at the Senate for the future and that our country does not want to open the Constitution to deal with that. We are saying we should have a referendum and let Canadians make that decision.

If Canadians tell us they want to have the Constitution opened to deal with the Senate, let Canadians get involved in it. That is what the motion talks about. Is there anything wrong or undemocratic to ask the people what they want? Or do we have to wait to have people on the streets, telling us what they want, as they are doing in other countries?

To us it is a shame what is happening right now in the Senate. The Conservative Party nominates senators who are going around the country getting money for the Conservative Party for its next election. That does not make sense. I would like to have my colleague comment on that. Is that what they are supposed to do?

I have always heard senators say, when they want to defend their place, that they are there to review decisions of the Parliament and that they have more time and are able to study the issues.

However, that is not what they are doing. They are listening to the Prime Minister of this country, and that is undemocratic.

Will the member accept that?

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I must say at the outset I am absolutely shocked and dismayed that my friend from Acadie—Bathurst asked that question because, normally, he listens intently to every word I speak in this House. In fact, I would suggest that from time to time, he actually leans forward to listen more closely to what I have to say, and I appreciate that. I appreciate that he takes my words of advice so seriously that he would be confused, and so totally confused as he is today.

He asks why do we not allow Canadians to participate in this. That is exactly what these bills are about. Bill C-10 would put in term limits. We have heard from Canadians. They do not want to see anyone have a 45 year term. And Bill S-8 would allow for elections for Senate nominees at the provincial level. What more of a form of democracy can we have than allowing full participation from members in individual provinces?

I think the member for Acadie—Bathurst is far off the mark. Once again, I would ask that he sit back and listen to me intently. He might learn something.

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to follow up on that, because I am listening intently to the hon. colleague, as well.

The motion, among other things, calls for a referendum to put a simple question to Canadians, asking them if they want to vote to abolish the Senate.

I have two questions for my hon. colleague. First, what is wrong with that? Second, if my hon. colleague is confident that the majority of Canadians do want his party's proposals, which are term limits and electing senators as opposed to abolishing the Senate, then what does he have to worry about?

He can make that argument and bring that to the Canadian people and I suppose he will have confidence that the Canadian people will agree with him. What is wrong with the Canadian people having a referendum where they can directly give us their input on these very issues?

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I mentioned earlier that one of the biggest problems with the NDP motion of abolishing the Senate is that it would require reopening of the Constitution. That is simply not going to happen. Canadians do not want that. History is a great teacher. We have seen the problems in the last two attempts to open up the Constitution and there is no appetite for that right now.

With respect to the question of what is wrong with asking Canadians, nothing is. We have done that continuously. That is why we are in government and they are continually in opposition. If they would listen to Canadians more, they might be more than a fringe, irrelevant party in this place. If they would listen to the opinions of Canadians, they might actually have a chance to elect more members that they do.

I would point out that they did not listen to Canadians, many of them at least, when it came time to talking about abolishment of the long gun registry.

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to a subject that has consumed political debate in this country for a long time.

As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I have had the opportunity to travel around the world. In 1999, I went on a state visit with former Governor General Roméo LeBlanc to a few African countries, including the country in which I was born, Tanzania. I asked the governor general what the purpose of the trip was and what the purpose was of taking members of Parliament, including senators with us. He told me that we were going there to promote democracy, one of the cornerstone policies of our foreign affairs. I then asked him if I had his permission to tell all the other parliaments that we had senators sitting next to us who were not elected but appointed. He was at first reluctant to give me his permission so I told him that there would be no point in me going, and he finally agreed.

The people in the other place are excellent individuals who are doing a good job but the fact still remains that they are not elected and they do not represent the people of Canada. This was quite shocking to people because they all thought that our Senate was like the senate in the U.S.

There is a flaw in our Canadian democracy. The Minister of State for Democratic Reform has said that we have a great democracy in the House of Commons. All of us are very privileged to represent our people. We are also the voice of the people of Canada. They elect us to speak on their behalf. They do not want us to run the country based on referendums. We are also the people--

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

We are elected.

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Yes, the member was elected but he is in favour of this motion. I do not understand why those members want to use a referendum when they have been elected to make a choice and provide their views.

I will tell the House why that party wants to abolish the Senate. It wants to abolish the Senate because tit is a fringe party. It never listens to Canadians. It will never form a government and, because of that, it will never have an opportunity to put anybody in the Senate. Henceforth, it comes up with this far-fetched idea to abolish the Senate. If those members would talk to their constituents they would tell them.

Our government recognized that there was a democratic deficit in this country so the minister introduced the democratic representative bill. The House of Commons bill is based on representation by the people. We find that certain provinces are under-represented in the House and that is not fair. As a result, the minister brought in a new bill to balance the number of representatives in the House of Commons who speak for the people of Canada based on population. That is the right thing to do.

This government introduced that bill. We did not hear anything from those members, nor did we hear anything from the Liberals. Both parties want this unbalanced representation to continue. The Bloc, which is just a fringe party from Quebec, has put forward an amendment indicating that it wants its 25%, or whatever percentage it has. It does not recognize the fact that this is representation based on population, not based on a quota like that party wants. It is natural for this House to reflect on all of Canada, not what the Bloc wants. The Bloc, unfortunately, is in the same position as the NDP. It will never form government and, therefore, will never put anybody in the Senate.

I want to be realistic about this. We have done two things that are critically important to reforming the Senate. We must go step by step to reform the Senate. We all know that opening up the Constitution will never work. A referendum to abolish the Senate will never work for the simple reason that it is a constitutional issue and the provinces will not agree.

The members seem to have forgotten one thing. A change in the Constitution requires the approval of the provinces. The members sitting there have no power over these things. The provinces will not agree to whatever they are talking about for abolishing the Senate. Therefore, what is the whole purpose of going through an exercise that we know will be a total failure? It will fail because the provinces will not agree to what has been discussed.

We all know what happens once we open the Constitution, so we first need to look for practical solutions. The first practical solution requires elections to be held in the provinces compelling the premiers to listen to the voices of their citizens on who should represent them in the Senate, not who is to be appointed by the Prime Minister. It was our Prime Minister who came up with the idea of an election.

I will give an example. I was in Alberta when the first senators who were elected were from Alberta. I was part and parcel of the election campaign that took place. Senator Waters was the first one elected. The Conservative prime minister at the time, Brian Mulroney, accepted the will of the people of Alberta and put him into the Senate. The triple-E Senate was promoted by Senator Brown.

When Premier Ralph Klein held the Senate elections, there were three or four candidates for two seats. It was one of the best campaigns we have seen with people right across the province giving their views on what the Senate should be. The people of Alberta made a choice as to who would represent them in the Senate and they gave two names. Who was the prime minister at the time? It was Prime Minister Chrétien, who, of course, totally ignored the wishes of the people. This is why this bill is very important so that we have elections for senators that are based in the provinces, not according to the Constitution.

We can ask any Albertan who went through that Senate election and we will hear how exciting it was for them to have people who want to be senators actually stand and tell them what they will do. We are very proud that Senator Brown was chosen by the people of Alberta. When our Prime Minister became the Prime Minister he listened to Albertans and put Senator Bert Brown into the Senate. We are very proud to have his contribution in the Senate.

I want to talk about a term limit of eight years. We have all heard stories of people who are not elected and, if they are not elected it is quite natural that they have a term limit.

Our bill on term limits would give the people of Canada a chance after eight years to choose who will represent them in the Senate. Do the members not think that is the right approach and the right way to do it?

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague said that it was done the right way in Alberta and that one senator was elected. From my information, he was put there by acclamation because there was only one party running. At the same time, if we want to follow the theory that it was very democratic because he was elected, following the Conservatives' bill that the member was talking about, a senator should only stay there for eight years. He does not need the Constitution to resign from his position.

Will the senator who was supposedly elected democratically resign from his position because I believe he has been there now for eight years?

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, first and foremost, I will set the record straight for my hon. friend. If he had looked at the Senate elections, he would know that there was not one candidate. There were four candidates running and two were chosen according to the Senatorial Selection Act. None of the candidates represented any party. Senators do not represent a party. They were representing--

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Those members can keep laughing. At least the NDP would have somebody credible in Alberta who could run and get into the Senate. That is the way to go. You can see the way to do it. You guys would at least get an NDP senator by choosing the Alberta way.

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I would like to remind all hon. members to direct their comments to the Chair rather than to their colleagues. I appreciate that this is a passionate debate.

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot.

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Prime Minister promised that no unelected senators would be appointed to the upper chamber until that institution had been reformed. Yet since coming to power, the Conservatives and the Prime Minister have not hesitated to make appointments, so many that the Conservatives now have a majority in the upper chamber. In his defence, the Prime Minister said that the senators he has appointed all agreed with the Senate reforms he wants to make.

What about the senators who were appointed previously and still sit as Conservatives? How does the member interpret the comments of Senator Andrée Champagne? In an open letter published on December 23, 2010, in Le Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe, she stated:

Clearly, there will be times when it will be difficult for me to vote in favour of certain bills that our Prime Minister believes in, including, for instance, any bills to reform the Senate. In my opinion, an elected Senate would not be the panacea for all the ills that some people claim are eroding the credibility of those who sit in the Senate.

Since we now know that some previously appointed Conservative senators, including Senator Champagne, do not agree with the Conservatives' proposed reforms, is it not time to support a motion like this NDP motion and abolish the Senate?

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, as I have stated, both of those parties do not have a hope in hell of putting senators out there so they are looking to abolishing the Senate.

However, the Prime Minister said that all the senators he has appointed have signed that they will be there for eight years. It is a first step. That is the way it will go.

We need to have the Senate changed under these two bills, which would make it elected with a term limit so that Canadians can make a choice on who will be sitting in the Senate. Does the hon. member not think that is the right way to go, instead of doing something that is practically impossible and has no value? Each of those parties will never be part of it anyway.

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Laval—Les Îles, Government Priorities; the hon. member for Bramalea—Gore—Malton, Citizenship and Immigration; the hon. member for Don Valley East, Small Business.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona.

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Acadie—Bathurst.

Canadians are telling us that the time has come to change the way we select our government representatives, including those currently appointed and elected. They believe that the current system is patently undemocratic and unfair.

A number of proposals have been made in the past to resolve concerns with the appointed Senate and the electoral process for the House of Commons. As the representative for Vancouver Kingsway pointed out today, the Reform Party once called for referenda on electoral reform and other policy matters of concern to Canadians.

In 2004, the Prime Minister was quoted as saying:

Despite the fine work of many individual senators, the upper house remains a dumping ground for the favoured cronies of the Prime Minister.

A truer point has never been made.

That same year, the NDP sought all-party support for a process to consult Canadians on a reformed electoral process. Sadly the initiative was rejected by the other parties. In 2005, the NDP accountability package crafted by Ed Broadbent included reforming the electoral process to include proportional representation.

Remarkably, the Prime Minister again said in this place on September 7, 2006:

As everyone in this room knows, it has become a right of passage for aspiring leaders and prime ministers to promise Senate reform—on their way to the top....

But once they are elected, Senate reform quickly falls to the bottom of the Government's agenda. Nothing ever gets done.

Again, truer words were never said.

Well, today the New Democrats have tabled in this House a path forward. In tabling this motion, the representative for Hamilton Centre has presented to the members of this House a real opportunity to take concrete action to engage all parties and the public in reforming our democratic process to genuinely reflect the will of Canadians.

Let us consider the current Canadian federal election process. In the 2008 election, the NDP garnered 1.1 million votes more than the Bloc, but elected 37 MPs compared with 49 for the Bloc.

In the prairie provinces, Conservatives took seven times as many seats as the NDP and Liberals combined, while garnering only roughly twice the votes of the other two.

While 940,000 voters supported the Green Party, that party earned no seat, and fewer Conservative votes in Alberta delivered 27 Conservatives MPs.

The majority of democratic nations use a proportional system to elect their governments. Party-list PR is the most widely used voting system. It is used in Sweden, Spain, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Finland, Austria, Norway and Denmark. All of them are stable and effective democracies. That is hardly radical.

The mixed member proportional system is one that is frequently suggested for Canada. It combines the list system with first past the post. It is used in Germany, New Zealand and in regional parliaments in Scotland and Wales. Again, it is hardly radical.

It should also be kept in mind that proportional voting systems are not a new concept for Canada. From 1926 to 1959, the then-ruling party of Alberta, the United Farmers of Alberta, implemented a system of proportional representation, the single transferable vote system, to elect MLAs in the cities of Edmonton, Calgary and Medicine Hat. The remainder were elected by a system of a majority voting called alternative vote.

In 1959, the Social Credit Government abolished the mixed system of proportional and majority voting and returned the province to single-member districts with plurality voting, commonly known as first past the post. The government was widely criticized by the Alberta public for taking this step without public consultation, and the step was considered to have been taken for reasons of self-interest.

The single transferable vote, the system that was used in Alberta, is currently used in Ireland, Malta and for the Australian senate, and was used in many western Canadian municipalities in the early 20th century.

It is frankly wrong to suggest that Canadian voters are less interested than the citizens of other nations in pursuing improved ways of ensuring democratic representation, or that they are less able to adapt to different voting systems than the citizens of, for example, New Zealand, Spain, Germany or Belgium.

Our first past the post system has already lost its alleged advantage of electing majority governments. Is it not time that we stopped dithering and instituted improved systems to ensure that everyone's vote counted?

Surely we all agree that we need to remedy the declining voter turnout, as my colleague from Ottawa stated. We have a serious problem in this country where youth are simply not showing up to vote. They are not participating in the democratic process.

How many more times must we hear the complaint from Canadians that their vote does not count? How can we sit back and let the cynicism grow and voter turnout continue to decline?

Increasing interest in electoral reform is being expressed by Canadians. It is an issue that is constantly raised by my constituents and across Alberta. Many have become active in Fair Vote Canada. The longtime member of Fair Vote Canada's Edmonton group, Professor Jennie Dailey-O'Cain, advises that proportional representation would put a stop to the exaggeration of regional and rural-urban differences, bring more diversity and stability to Parliament, force different parties to learn to work together long term and make every vote count. Is that not what we all want?

New chapters of Fair Vote Canada continue to be started. Canadians are looking for opportunities to discuss change. Just this week a new chapter of Fair Vote Canada held its inaugural meeting in Lethbridge, Alberta.

There are many myths about proportional representation. They mostly revolve around the lack of stability of governments and their ability to effectively manage the economy.

In fact, what are often called consensus democracies are not less but possibly more stable and more effective economic managers. They are also better managers of the environment and more energy efficient than the majoritarian, winner-takes-all democracies.

If we were to take the plunge and adopt a voting system that more accurately reflected the voting choices of Canadians, we might actually find that a more representative democracy delivers good government. Was that not, after all, the goal of our Confederation fathers? I am proud to be a descendant of one. I believe strongly that my ancestor would support and encourage our continued efforts to pursue better means of delivering responsible government, a government of and elected by and truly representative of the will of the Canadian people. I believe that our proposed legislative reforms and dialogue with Canadians can deliver this long-awaited opportunity for electoral reform.

In 2004, the Law Commission of Canada issued a report entitled, “Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada”. It said:

The first-past-the-post system is overly generous to the party that wins a plurality of the vote in a general election, rewarding it with a legislative majority that is disproportionate to its share of the vote....

It allows the governing party, with its artificially swollen legislative majority, to dominate the political agenda almost completely for a period of four or five years, thereby contributing to the weakening of Parliament....

It promotes parties formed along regional lines, thus exacerbating Canada’s regional divisions, and conversely penalizes parties with diffuse national support....

This system disregards a large number of votes: unless a voter supports the winning candidate in a given riding, there is no connection between the voter’s choice and the eventual makeup of the House of Commons....

It contributes to the under-representation of women, minority groups, and Aboriginal peoples....

It prevents diversity within the House of Commons. As a result of regional concentration, disproportionate votes to seats, and an under-representation of women and minority candidates, legislatures within this system lack a diversity of voices in political decision-making processes.

The Law Commission of Canada recommended adding an element of proportionality to Canada's electoral system, more specifically that Canada should adopt a mixed member proportional electoral system.

Canadians have been calling for reform. They desire a more democratic system.

Last year the government used the unelected Senate to kill Bill C-311. An NDP bill, the climate change accountability act, was passed by the majority of the duly elected representatives of the Canadian electorate. What is the government afraid of?

I call on government members and all members of this place to support this motion to allow the voice of Canadians to be heard.

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, my colleague brought up some very sage points about proportional representation. I would like to give a quick little monologue on my own behalf.

I am not so sure, for the reason she stated, that proportional representation actually works in all situations. Here is why: it is a double-edged sword. She mentioned that the fault of our current system is that we divide ourselves along regional lines. To a great extent, I appreciate that, but on the flip side of that, I have spoken several times in the House on behalf of people who, I feel, need services in Terra Nova National Park. It is one park of many and yet, the concerns of the people involved were raised in the House because of me, as I represent that one area.

In essence, what I worry about is that if we had strict proportional representation, the people who slip through the cracks of national government policy will not be heard. I fear it dramatically. However, the mixed member proportional representation that the member talks about has some merit.

Would she like to illustrate that and could she alleviate the concern that people who have local issues will not be ignored?

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

I would like to thank the hon. member for his question. I often enjoy hearing his questions.

I am not going to get into debate here, nor will I pretend to present what the actual proportional representation system will be. However, the member's questions and issues are very valid. They are precisely why our party is calling for the parties to get together and set in place a dialogue among Canadians so that we can bring in information about the pros and cons of the various systems and can learn from other nations on what has and has not worked in their countries.

From my standpoint, I want to make sure that we have a system that represents both the broader national interests and the interests of my own local community.

Opposition Motion—Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for her presentation.

Even though I do not agree with the motion today, I am glad that we are having this debate, because fixing democracy and making sure that we are modernizing democracy are important. This gives us an opportunity to have that discussion.

The discussion on proportional representation is something that I have a lot of apprehension about. As our friend from Newfoundland just asked, how do we deal with the issue of people elected off a party list who have no ties at all to the local community?

We are elected as members from electoral districts and ridings across this country. We have a constituency that we are responsible for, including helping our constituents deal with the different issues and problems they may have with the Government of Canada, whether farm programs, fisheries, employment insurance, the Canada pension plan, or income taxes. They come to us and we can help them solve some of their problems. That is what direct representation is about, as well as bringing their ideas forward to Parliament.

If we want to move to proportional representation, we should look at some of the proportional representation systems around the world. When I talk to my colleagues in the Ukraine, they do not know whom they represent, and the people in the countryside do not know whom they should be talking to, because they do not have anyone to talk to, as most of the people come off the list from the major urban centres and not from the rural side at all.

I would like the member to comment on how to address that issue.