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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

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Before I resume debate, I want to check the microphone of the minister of state. Would that be turned on? Yes, I think it is working now.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Nickel Belt.

I want to acknowledge the very good work of the member for Hamilton Centre who has been tireless in bringing forward issues around democratic reform. What we see before the House today is a result of months of work in terms of developing a very reasonable approach to democratic reform.

I know others have been speaking about the Senate but I want to focus on another aspect of this motion, which reads, in part:

...the House appoint a Special Committee for Democratic Improvement whose mandate is to (i) engage with Canadians, and make recommendations to the House, on how best to achieve a House of Commons that more accurately reflects the votes of Canadians by combining direct election by electoral district and proportional representation....

I will speak specifically to proportional representation and I will begin by quoting an elder statesperson, the hon. Ed Broadbent. I was lucky enough to sit in the House with him in 2004. During Mr. Broadbent's tenure, he was a tireless advocate for the need for ethics and democratic reform. What we have been seeing over the last couple of weeks around ethics in this place would surely have Mr. Broadbent rising in the House to vigorously protest some of the behaviour of cabinet ministers and Conservative senators.

In a speech given by Mr. Broadbent in October 2005 in Ottawa, he outlined a number of issues around ethics and democratic reform but I will talk specifically about proportional representation. In his speech, he said:

A major source of needed democratic reform is our outmoded, first-past-the-post electoral system. ... Ninety per cent of the world's democracies, including Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland and Wales have abandoned or significantly modified the pre-democratic British system that still prevails in Ottawa. As the Canadian Law Commission recommended and five provinces seem to agree, fairness means we need a mixed electoral system that combines individual constituency-based MPs with proportional representation. ...only such a system would positively redress the existing imbalance in the House of Commons in gender, ethnic, ideological and regional voting preferences.

The Pepin-Robarts Commission pointed out a quarter of a century ago--

This conversation has been going on so long that I am sure people are tired of it, and yet we do not get the change we need.

Mr. Broadbent went on to say:

--our present system does a great disservice to Canadian unity because regional representation in the House of Commons—in the caucuses and in the cabinet— does not reflect Canadian voters' intentions.

Mr. Broadbent went on to say that for fairness and the good of Canada, “Let's get on with electoral reform”.

I hear consistently from the people in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan and in other parts of British Columbia from other Canadians that it is time for us to have a system of proportional representation.

I know a recent experience with a referendum in British Columbia failed but many of us who were involved in that referendum know that it was not that British Columbians did not support some system of proportional representation. It was more about how that particular process was set up.

The Law Commission did some excellent work and released a report in 2004. I will read some of the report because it says far better than I ever could why we need to look at our electoral system. The executive summary of the report reads:

For the past decade or so, Canada has been in the grip of a democratic malaise evidenced by decreasing levels of political trust, declining voter turnout, increasing cynicism toward politicians and traditional forms of political participation, and growing disengagement of young people from politics. However, as the Commission heard throughout its consultation process, many citizens want to be involved, want to have a real voice in decision making, and would like to see more responsive, accountable, and effective political institutions.

I think that is a very important point. It is not that Canadians do not want to be engaged in their political process. It is that they want their engagement to be meaningful and to actually count for something.

Later on in the report, the Law Commission states:

Canada currently uses a plurality–majority system, which ensures that the winning candidate in a riding obtains at least a plurality of the votes cast. It is called a first-past-the-post system because, in some respects, it resembles horse races where the winner is the one who crosses the finish line first.

For many Canadians, this system is inherently unfair—more likely to frustrate or distort the wishes of the voters than to translate them fairly into representation and influence in the legislature.

It has been criticized as:

being overly generous to the party that wins a plurality of the vote, rewarding it with a legislative majority disproportionate to its share of the vote;

allowing the governing party, with its artificially swollen legislative majority, to dominate the political agenda;

promoting parties formed along regional lines, thus exacerbating Canada’s regional divisions;

leaving large areas of the country without adequate representatives in the governing party caucus;

disregarding a large number of votes in that voters who do not vote for the winning candidate have no connection to the elected representative, nor to the eventual make-up of the House of Commons;

contributing to the under-representation of women, minority groups, and Aboriginal peoples;

preventing a diversity of ideas from entering the House of Commons; and

favouring an adversarial style of politics.

I want to touch briefly on the under-representation of women, minority and aboriginal peoples. Right now approximately 62 members of the House are women. Over the last couple of decades, roughly 20% of the House of Commons have been women and that number has not grown.

Women certainly understand that in order to have a balanced voice in the House of Commons, we need that kind of representation. In many systems of proportional representation, women's representation increases. That is a very good reason in itself to support a system of proportional representation.

In the Law Commission's conclusion in its executive summary, it stated:

Canada inherited its first-past-the-post electoral system from Great Britain over 200 years ago, at a time when significant sections of the Canadian population, including women, Aboriginal people, and nonproperty owners, were disenfranchised.

That is a very important point. We know that women only got the vote in the early 1900s and aboriginal peoples did not get the vote until the 1960s. We still have a system that reflects that disenfranchisement.

The Law Commission went on to state:

Canada’s political, cultural, and economic reality has vastly changed; the current electoral system no longer responds to 21st century Canadian democratic values. Many Canadians desire an electoral system that better reflects the society in which they live—one that includes a broader diversity of ideas and is more representative of Canadian society. For these reasons, the Commission recommends adding an element of proportionality to our electoral system.

Furthermore, because of its many potential benefits, electoral reform should be a priority item on the political agenda.

Again, I applaud the member for Hamilton Centre for ensuring that proportional representation was part of the conversation today. It certainly has been part of the New Democratic agenda ever since I have been involved with the NDP. It is a priority in terms of ensuring that the voices of Canadians are more adequately heard in the House of Commons.

Fair Vote Canada has put out an excellent report called “Dubious Democracy”. I will not have time to go through the entire report, but it did a very good job. One section is titled “Unrepresented Citizens: Millions of Votes Do Not Count”. Let us talk about what these numbers translate into. When talking about the winner-take-all system, it stated:

The other voters in that riding or district lose their right to representation. The latter group of voters cast “wasted” votes--they gained no more representation than those who didn’t even cast votes.

It did an analysis on elections from 1980 to 2000 and stated:

The average for wasted votes cast in federal elections during the same period was 49.1%, or more than 6.2 million votes. By comparison, in the 1999 election in New Zealand with a mixed proportional voting system, only 7% of the voters cast wasted votes.

When 6.2 million people feel they do not have a voice in their duly-elected representative body, there is a very serious problem. No wonder it has contributed to the ongoing discontent and lack of participation in voting.

In the last federal election in 2008, there was the lowest voter turnout in Canadian history. In these extremely complex times in which we live, we need to work very hard to encourage voter participation and engagement in the political process. We need the diversity of opinions and for women to be at the table.

I encourage all members of the House to support the NDP motion. Let us get on with establishing electoral reform in our country.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, this is a very important discussion on the amendment that the Bloc has brought forward.

The member is from British Columbia. I have heard from many British Columbians who feel they are under-represented in the House of Commons, that their vote, compared to votes in my province of Manitoba, is worth less because B.C. has more citizens per riding than Manitoba.

With Bill C-12, the government is trying to ensure, as much as practical, that votes are equal across the country, that every vote has the same impact from the election of an MP perspective. What the member is suggesting is far off that and moves away from the principle of representation by population.

By supporting the Bloc motion, the member is weakening the voice of British Columbia in the Parliament of Canada. How could the member expect to be re-elected because the people of B.C.—

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. I have to allow the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan time to respond.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, the Minister of State's question reflects the fact that the Conservatives simply do not understand democratic reform. If they were serious about democratic reform, they would support the motion put forward by the member for Hamilton Centre.

If the minister wants to talk about real representation, then let us talk about proportional representation. I would then have some confidence that there would be more women in the House to have their voices heard, that there would be enough visible minorities, that there would be enough aboriginal peoples. Proportional representation would give people in Nanaimo—Cowichan, in British Columbia and throughout Canada a real voice in the House of Commons and every vote would count.

If the Conservatives are serious about democratic reform, then let us support this motion and get on with the system of proportional representation.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

March 3rd, 2011 / 12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, the question I want to ask the member is based on the premise that the Senate was established within a bicameral system going back to 1867. It was established to provide regional and provincial balance. I am not sure whether the position being taken is that first past the post representation would provide regional representation and a balance of regional interests compared to a reformed Senate.

Is it the member's position that proportional representation would be a regional counterbalance and thus a reformed Senate to reflect the changing realities would be unnecessary?

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, our position is the Senate is so fundamentally broken that it is difficult to see how reform would accomplish the kinds of representation that elected proportional representation would do. We have an appointed Senate. We have seen some egregious appointments over the last few years.

My understanding is that to be appointed to the Senate currently an individual needs to own property. There are a whole whack of people in the country who have no hope of being appointed to the Senate because they do not own property. An individual has to be at least 30 years old. Although the New Democrats would like to see the Senate abolished, members of our caucus were elected by the people in their communities, but they cannot be appointed to the Senate.

If we want to talk about true representation, then we have to get rid of the Senate, go with proportional representation and then talk about how parties can work within that system to ensure there is gender balance, to ensure aboriginal peoples are represented and to ensure there is regional representation. There are ways to achieve that with proportional representation.

I again urge members of the House to support the motion.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, first of all, I would like to clarify what I said earlier, because in the heat of the moment I may have gotten carried away.

I think that everyone in the House would agree that Chantal Hébert is one of the best writers in the country and that we all read her column attentively. My comments were obviously not a personal attack. Rather, I was commenting on a specific column with which I disagreed.

No personal slight was intended of course. Even when we disagree, we are all professionals doing our job the best we can.

I am pleased to rise and participate in today's opposition day motion, tabled by my colleague from Hamilton Centre. I commend him on his excellent motion. The timing of this motion and today's debate could not come at a more critical period.

This historic place, our Parliament and its elected members are held in low regard by Canadians, thanks largely to the track record of the Conservative government and the previous Liberal government. Whether it was the sponsorship scandal that alienated so many voters or the hyper participation of the government, many Canadians now view this chamber with distrust.

However, it does not have to be that way. Like many of my constituents I am angry. My constituents are angry and disappointed because the government would rather prorogue Parliament when it cannot get its way, protect ministers who mislead the House, the minister of “not”, violate election laws because it thinks it is above the law, appoint dozens of senators at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars, undermining democracy itself, spend billions on corporate tax cuts for its friends or even sole-source 65 fighter jets at a cost of billions more, than help Canadians with their home heating bills or access to long-term care facilities or help them protect their pensions.

I am angry because I know we can achieve these goals and deliver a helping hand to those who help build our country. However, we do not because the Conservative government is so consumed with winning a majority that every promise it breaks, decision it makes, or every bill it brings forward is based solely on a political calculation on whether it will add one or two percentage points to its popularity so it can inch ever closer to a perceived majority. The Conservative government has sunk to such new lows in its approach to governing that it often makes a mockery of this great institution.

Let me read a quote going back to election night 2006. It states:

During this campaign, we talked a lot about values. One of the oldest and enduring Canadian values is democracy...This is a freedom for which our ancestors perished and our veterans fought--for which those in our Armed Forces today still sacrifice, for which too many in our world still yearn. It is a freedom which we must always--always--cherish as Canadians.

Who said this? None other than the Prime Minister.

Since delivering this speech, he has broken his promise to bring about real democratic reform. He has broken his promise on Senate reform, appointing 36 Conservative cronies and bag men. He has given Canada a black eye on the world stage, costing us a seat on the UN Security Council, a first for Canada. He has wasted millions of dollars of taxpayer money on advertising designed to benefit the Conservative Party. Two of the Senate cronies are now charged with wilfully exceeding spending limits in the 2000 federal election, the very election in which the Prime Minister promised to clean up corruption in our country's capital.

Is it any wonder that New Democrats stand here today urging parliamentarians to do what the Conservative government has lacked the courage and leadership to do? We know what real Canadian leadership looks like. We only have to witness the tireless dedication of our leader, the member of Parliament for Toronto—Danforth. His dedication to this chamber and our political process, his commitment to giving all Canadians a voice in Parliament, is a shining example for all of us. Our caucus knows that the best way to get Canadians excited again about the political process in our great country is to change our system to better reflect their vote.

This motion today could begin to reverse the drop in confidence in and respect for our political institutions that Canadians have. Our motion calls for the appointment of a special committee for democratic improvement whose mandate would be to engage with Canadians and make recommendations to the House on how best to achieve a House of Commons that would more accurately reflect the votes of Canadians by combining direct elections by electoral district and proportional representation.

There is no better way for Canadians to feel that their vote counts than by ensuring that the House of Commons actually reflects the will of the people. That is what part of this motion achieves. That is why we need to support the motion. We need to send a clear message to Canadians that their voice and concerns matter, and that we intend to take action to address their concerns.

There is no higher calling than serving the great people of this great country. There is no greater honour for me to be standing here today in this hallowed chamber to speak on behalf of the people of Nickel Belt. We owe this to Canadians. We actually owe them a lot more, but this motion is a good start.

The second part of the motion addresses the upper chamber, the home of political relics and bagmen and cronies, of undemocratic, unelected, unnecessary, unaccountable and unrepresentative members. I would go so far as to say that the Conservative government is taking a page from its corporate buddies. The Conservatives are engaging in a form of hostile takeover of the Senate as a democratic institution. They are even using the Senate to circumvent this democratic chamber of elected representatives.

Together, senators collect millions in salaries and they travel on taxpayers' dollars to attend their parties' fundraisers. Some are even ungrateful for their perks and privileges. Let me provide just one example. Last December, the Prime Minister appointed a Conservative senator who referred to his senator's salary as a “catastrophic” pay cut. It seems this senator will have to get by on only $132,300 a year, plus the pittance of $187,000 on average for staff and travel and office expenses. However, this senator is willing to make the sacrifice. After all, the Senate only sits for 90 days a year for the paltry wage of $1,470 per day. Seeing that the Senate only begins sitting at 1:30 p.m. each day of its three day work week, one can only wonder when this senator will ever find the time to campaign for his upcoming election. I almost forgot: there is no election for senators.

I wonder if the senator would ever risk asking Canadians, who earn an average of $172 a day, how they would feel about the senator's great sacrifice of earning only $1,470 a day.

The Prime Minister has appointed 37 of them, including 18 new senators, the largest number ever, in a single day. Not even Brian Mulroney appointed that many in one day when he was forcing the free trade deal on us. We will do our best to ensure that the Prime Minister does not get to make these appointments any more. What a legacy.

In conclusion, we know that many Canadians feel that something is broken. Our plan, outlined in today's motion, will make elections more democratic and Parliament more representative. That is the key to making Canadians feel their vote counts. We are asking all parties to work with us on a pragmatic, step-by-step plan to improve Canadian democracy. It is just a start. We need to redouble our efforts to regain the trust of Canadians. We have our work cut out for us.

In the 1867 election, voter turnout was 73.1%. Over 100 years later, in 1968, voter turnout was even better at 75.7%. Yet in 2008, voter turnout dropped to 58.8%. Let there be no doubt that we have a serious problem in Canada. We cannot afford to continue down this road.

I see that you are giving me the one minute sign, Madam Speaker--

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please.

I regret that the hon. member's time has elapsed. We will move to questions and comments and perhaps he can add some comments at that point.

The Minister of State for Democratic Reform.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, I want to ask about the main motion. I wonder if the member fully understands that by calling for the abolition of the Senate, what the NDP is actually advocating are wholesale constitutional negotiations that would bring us back to the memories of Meech Lake and the Charlottetown accord.

Quite frankly, the priorities of Canadians deal with the economy and priority social programs. Why does the NDP want to raise this issue, especially as the motion says this should be done by the next election? The NDP may be causing an election in the next two weeks. Is that realistic?

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, I would just like to remind the hon. minister that this is only a starting point. That is all it is, a starting point for democratic reform. We want to put the question to Canadians. Do they want it or not?

I want to cite an Ipsos Reid poll between the days of January 24 and 27, 2011, indicating that 33% of Canadians want to abolish the Senate and 49% want Senate reform.

That is a total of 82% of Canadians who want to reform the Senate.

This motion, today, brought forward by the hon. member for Hamilton Centre is just a starting point. We can start there and then we can go on.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the member would like to comment on the fact that after prorogation in December 2008, when the Prime Minister did not want to face Parliament and the music, he then appointed 17 senators on January 2, 2009, one of whom was the individual who lost the election in Avalon in my province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

That person, Senator Fabian Manning, voted very recently to kill Bill C-311, the very bill the person who defeated him, who is sitting in the Liberal caucus, voted to support in the democratically elected House.

What does the member think of that, and what should Canadians think of a system that allows a Prime Minister to appoint a defeated candidate to an unelected Senate, who then votes down something that the person who defeated him voted for in the House of Commons?

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, that is a very good question.

The fact that the Senate defeated Bill C-311 is a fact. That is why we need to reform the Senate.

I want to add to what the hon. member from the province of Newfoundland and Labrador said about defeated candidates being appointed to the Senate. In that group of senators that was appointed, there are eight formerly defeated candidates, some of whom were defeated more than once.

Do we know why they were defeated? It is because the people in their ridings did not want these candidates to represent them, but the government, in its wisdom, appointed them to the Senate.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Madam Speaker, it was interesting to listen to some of the facts that were just mentioned.

I have a very simple question for the hon. member. He cited an Ipsos Reid poll and said that poll showed that 33% of Canadians wanted to abolish the Senate. Then I believe he said that somewhere in the vicinity of 49% wanted to reform the Senate. Is that not exactly what the Conservative Party wants to do?

We want to reform the Senate to elect senators.

I doubt it, but people might even elect an NDP senator, and then the NDP members would not have to bark so loud about it.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, he is right: if they want good representation, they will probably elect NDP members. That is a given.

The member quoted the proper numbers, that 82% of Canadians want democratic reform.

I just want to quote one senator, and I will not name him. He is the chief fundraiser for the Conservative Party. This is what he said:

I want to tell you that I do not admit to being a bagman; I proclaim it.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, I have already spoken to this motion today. Therefore, I will speak to the amendment that has been brought forward. Also, I would like to split my time with the President of the Treasury Board.

The amendment by the Bloc Québécois to the motion would reduce the representation Quebec has in Parliament. In fact, it would get rid of 24 senators, 24 parliamentarians. There would be zero senators from Quebec. That is the position of the Bloc Québécois and the NDP. They want zero.

I can understand a little of what the Bloc wants because they do not want to be part of Canada. Not only do they want zero senators, but also zero MPs in this place. That is really what the Bloc's role is. Yet in the same breath, the Bloc Québécois is calling for 25% of the seats in this place. On the one hand they want zero, and on the other hand they want 25%. That is not reasonable.

The fact is the Bloc Québécois do not want to have a strong united Canada. They want their own nation. We all know that. The NDP, by cozying up to the Bloc on this very fundamental issue, is not being helpful to federalism.

I would also point out that the Bloc members have been here for over 20 years. One Conservative government MP does more for Quebec in one hour than 50 Bloc MPs have done in 20 years. Electing a government MP or even a federalist MP is better than electing a Bloc MP, because at least the federalists believe in Canada. The Bloc does everything it can to destroy what is probably the greatest country the world has ever known. That is the Bloc's agenda. Thus the hypocrisy of the Bloc to call for 25% of the seats in this place and the abolition of Quebec as part of Canada is very disturbing.

I would also point out that the Bloc's criticisms included that of the legitimacy of the senators. The government has brought forward a bill that would limit terms to eight years. We have also brought forward a bill that would allow for the election of senators. That eliminates the Bloc's argument right off the bat. All they have to do is to support this government's reform legislation, but they are not going to do that because they do not want a strong Canada. They do not want a strong united Canada but to break up our country. Therefore, the Bloc has no credibility when it comes to Canadian democratic institutions.

The member said that electing Bloc MPs is fine. On my part, I believe we live in a great country and I cannot think of a better country than Canada, and so I think that electing Bloc MPs is self-alienating. Electing a Bloc MP will essentially result in an empty seat, because the Bloc does not want to be and will never be part of government. It is conceivable that federalist party members would be part of government. Therefore, it is a productive thing to elect a federalist MP. I am not just talking of Conservatives but also of the NDP or Liberals. This is a nation-building exercise. The Bloc, of course, is against any nation-building exercise.

The Bloc has demonstrated time and time again its pretense in advocating for Quebec. For example, because Alberta is growing fast, the Bloc does not want Alberta to have more seats in this place, or Ontario, or B.C., which is representation by population, the standard in the House of Commons. The Senate standard is to have regional representation. Limiting the Senate is just part of the Bloc's overall agenda. I cannot believe the NDP members are falling into this. By eliminating senators, that is one less federalist voice in this place, one less voice for Quebec in building this great nation.

The NDP members have fallen into this and it is disappointing. The Bloc of course has its own agenda. The fact is that when the Bloc members stand and call for additional seats for Quebec, we all know that they are being disingenuous because it is the Bloc's goal to have zero seats in the House of Commons for Quebec. It is the Bloc's goal to have zero seats in the Senate for Quebec. It is the Bloc's goal to have no members of Parliament in this place. The NDP is falling in bed with the separatists on this issue. That is a fact.

However, I believe that we need to work together. I am quite willing to work with the NDP on some issues that have been raised today, such as the minimum age of 30 for appointment to the Senate. If the NDP were willing to support our Senate term limits, perhaps we would be open to reducing the age requirement to 18 for appointing senators. However, we need the term limits first, otherwise we are leaving open the possibility that someone could be appointed to the Senate for 57 years. I do not believe anybody wants that. If the Senate term limits come into effect, I am quite happy to talk about what we need to do to bring the eligibility of senators down to the age of majority as it is here in the House of Commons. That is reasonable.

If there are proportional representation problems and under-representation for visible minorities, including people with physical disabilities, as there are in this place, that is something that each of our parties needs to address. We can do that through the nomination process by ensuring that winnable seats are populated by people who reflect those constituencies and our country. That can be dealt with largely through the party process.

The fact is that the Charlottetown Accord caused a lot of divisiveness in our nation. That is what the NDP is advocating.

As I mentioned earlier, I am splitting my time with the President of the Treasury Board. Due to the fact there is important government business that the president is undertaking, I will speak until he has the opportunity to enter the chamber.

Canadians do not want constitutional wrangling. They want the government to focus on the economy. They want Canadians to work toward coming together. Canadians want the government to work toward bringing Quebeckers, Manitobans, British Columbians, Newfoundlanders, everyone together.

This motion, especially with the Bloc amendments, would make our federal institutions weaker. The federal government's agenda is to make Canada stronger through ensuring that the Senate has legitimacy through elections and that senators do not end up being in the Senate for up to 45 years but stay for only 8 years. That allows for renewal and elections, possibly including, by the way, proportional representation for the election of senators.

It is up to the province how it wants to do it. Manitoba wants to do it by senatorial districts, and that is fine, but why does the NDP not want to work with us to make this a reality? It is doable, it is constitutional and it can be done in reasonably short order, but the NDP does not seem to be based in the reality of practical politics.

Practical politics would be to support term limits and the senatorial election regime and ensure that the Senate becomes more democratic and stronger. In fact, there could even end up being some New Democrats the Senate. The people would decide. The Bloc amendment is not in the interests of Canada or democracy. I am disappointed that the NDP has fallen in with the Bloc.

The President of the Treasury Board having returned from his important government responsibilities, I would like to yield the rest of my time to the great member from British Columbia, the President of the Treasury Board.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Before I proceed, I would ask if there is unanimous consent to proceed as the hon. Minister of State for Democratic Reform has asked. He was in the 13th minute of a 20-minute speech and to respect the procedures, he would have had to stop after 10 minutes.

I am going to ask the House whether there is unanimous consent to proceed to a five-minute period of questions and comments with the Minister of State for Democratic Reform and to allow the President of the Treasury Board the remaining eight minutes.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Hamilton Centre.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I must say that I am disappointed in the direction the minister has taken. Respect between the two of us has been mentioned and respect is nowhere in those remarks.

The minister accused the NDP of cozying up to the Bloc. It is not a matter of cozying up to another political party. It is a matter of showing respect to the people of Quebec and for the amendment passed unanimously that recognizes the Québécois forming a nation within a united Canada. This is about nation building.

Why did the minister not show the same kind of respect that we in the NDP are showing to the people of Quebec and my province of Ontario when their government brought forward a bill before this one to increase the seats in the House that gave Ontario fewer seats than it was entitled to through representation by population? The reason was the government was worried about this very issue, that Quebec would be upset that the relative weight of its seats would go down and it wanted to diminish the seats in Ontario. New Democrats took a position that said Ontario is entitled to every one of its seats and we are going to respect the spirit of the unanimous motion passed in the House.

Why did the minister and the government not show that same kind of respect to my province and bring in a bill right from the get-go that represented the number of seats Ontario is entitled to based on its population?

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Madam Speaker, when I assumed the office of Minister of State for Democratic Reform I reviewed the critiques and comments from the people of Ontario, Alberta and B.C., and that is why we introduced Bill C-12, which would increase the number of seats for Ontario to 18, 5 for Alberta and 7 for B.C., respecting the principle of representation by population.

The fact is the NDP, by bringing forward this motion, does not respect the principle of representation by population because it supports 25% of the seats for Quebec, which is completely against what the member just said. I respect the member, but the logic of his argument does not carry through and the numbers do not lie.

We are bringing forward a straightforward piece of legislation for representation by population. We respect Quebec as a nation. That is why we do not want it to lose 24 seats in the Senate, and that is what the NDP is advocating. The NDP is advocating for the loss of 24 seats in the Senate, bringing down Quebec's representation in Parliament. We want to ensure that Quebec's seat total in the entire Parliament of Canada, the House of Commons and the Senate, is not reduced. The Bloc and the NDP are reducing those numbers.

We want to ensure fair representation throughout Canada and NDP members should be ashamed of themselves.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, my question has to do with the statement the minister made about leaving up to the political parties in their nomination process the issue of representation by minorities, et cetera. That is a wonderful dream, but it has not happened and it will not happen.

I would like the minister to have an opportunity to suggest another way that may be successful so that we have proper representation by those who may not be able to secure nominations because of their personal circumstances but who would make excellent members of Parliament to represent Canadians.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Madam Speaker, I obviously empathize with the challenge of bringing forward minorities into Parliament. However, everyone needs to demonstrate an ability to be elected. I went through two nomination challenges to have the opportunity to run for the Conservative Party of Canada and ran against some very impressive Liberal candidates in a safe Liberal seat. An individual needs to demonstrate the ability to be in this place and the party process helps do that but it can also be open to allowing everyone to run. It is up to the parties. The Conservative Party of Canada has demonstrated an ability to do this. Our caucus is the most diverse caucus in this place.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day ConservativePresident of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. members for unanimously agreeing to my colleague's request to share his time today.

This is a very important topic, and I hope that the NDP will help us move forward on discussions concerning Senate reform. I do not believe that this is the most important issue to Canadians across the country, but it is still important.

Given the importance of it, there are a number of implications here. First, there is the whole aspect of a referendum itself. Being that I would like to think of myself as a true democrat, I cannot oppose the notion of a referendum. Certainly, I think there is a time and a place for a referendum. Whether it should be on this particular topic, at this time, is still worthy of question. If there is going to be a referendum on a topic, I believe people need to be properly informed of all the dimensions of the issue and the implications. It is apparently a non-binding referendum, so the cost would have to be taken into account. We should ask ourselves the question: What price democracy? Cost should not be a prohibiting factor when there is a bona fide reason for a referendum question.

On the question of the Senate itself, because a particular institution may not be functioning to the democratic expectations of “the people” in my view should not be a reason for its elimination. A lot of people think the House of Commons does not function properly and I do not hear anybody here advocating for its elimination. However, can it be improved? I profoundly believe, as does the government and our Prime Minister, that the Senate can be improved and we have taken some legislative steps in that regard.

Most Canadians quite rightly balk at the notion of receiving a job that gives legislative power, in fact the power to slow down or speed up legislation coming out of this duly elected body here, and to have that position virtually for life, up to 45 years for a senator appointed at the age of 30. We have proposed ways of dealing with that with an eight-year term. The fact that the federal government, that is the prime minister, would be the sole means by which people could be appointed to the Senate, most people balk at that as do we.

That is why we and the Prime Minister have been clear, through the senatorial election act and through the statements of the Prime Minister, that if the provinces would come up with a way of electing, in a democratic way, their choice for the Senate, then the government would be pleased to make that appointment.

In fact, the proof is in the pudding in Alberta, where at the time of the municipal election, the Senate choice of the people of that particular province was also on the ballot. There are Senate selections in the Senate today who have actually received more votes than anybody here, more votes than the Prime Minister. They are solely from Alberta, but they sit there truly as elected Senators, and they are going to be there for a term that has been defined.

The other question that needs to be highlighted here: What is the reason for a Senate? As constituted back in Canada's formation, and in our genesis, probably the main underlying reason was to protect property owners. They had to own property, and still do today, to be in the Senate.

There is another very significant reason to have a Senate. First, we recognize that no electoral system is perfect. However, as Churchill said, “It is better than the alternative”.

How can we make a more perfect electoral system here in Canada? I am a firm supporter of first past the post and representation by population. I believe in that strongly. We should not be totally fixed to the one-thousandth per cent that every constituency would be right down to one or two people, the exact same amount, as is the U.S. experience.

Our present chief justice, Justice McLachlin, before she was head of the Supreme Court, wrote a very good overview on this question, that the Canadian experience shows it does not have to be as tight and minute as, let us say, in the United States. There is some reason to have some flexibility there. However, we are still committed to representation by population.

Here is the question that countries around the world have faced. What do we do when one of our provinces or states is highly populated and another province is not? Then we will always have more elected representatives from the highly populated province than we will from the less populated province.

That province or state will always be able to out-vote the other less populated one. We made some provisions for that, constitutionally, so that P.E.I., for instance, has some protection from, let us say, Ontario. It could be argued that it is minimal.

What could be put in place so there is not a situation where a province or, as in Canada, a city of MPs, a city full of MPs in this House right now, can vote or cancel out the votes of MPs from an entire less populated province?

The way to put that balance, even though it will never be perfect, in place is to have senators elected. Unlike the United States and some other places that have a bicameral system, we do not have the same number of senators for each province. Some people would say we should not have the system at all because it is not the same number in each province.

What I am saying is that it is not perfect, but if we have senators who are democratically elected, it would give a bit of a buffer to the less populated provinces, by having a bicameral house, a two-bodied house as it were, to have a number of senators there, using the U.S. model or similar ones around the world.

It would have to first be passed by the people who are elected, representation by population, but then the bill would have to be passed in the Senate as well. So a small state like Rhode Island could stand up to a more populated state like California, or a small province like P.E.I. could stand up to a more populated one, like Ontario or British Columbia.

That notion of protecting the citizens of less populated areas has to be full understood. It has to be contemplated that if we wipe out the Senate, it will forever remove the protective capability of less populated provinces from more populated provinces.

Opposition Motion--Representation in ParliamentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, I was listening carefully, as members have been, to the debate and in particular to the comments that the minister has just given.

We firmly believe that the bicameral relationship could be improved. The Senate, in its origins, was designed to represent regional interests, protect provincial rights, and within the present demographic milieu, and Canada being a strongly federalist entity, we are always searching for that balance between regional interests and provincial interests, and the higher common interests of the national state.

The thrust of the motion and the comments that have been made thus far appear to be challenging the manner in which reform takes place, in particular how senators are chosen. There is a veiled characterization that crass politics are playing too strong of a role.

The minister has emphasized his belief in democracy and electing senators. As an intermediate step, would the minister have any other suggestions in terms of how the public's confidence, given the objectives that he has very well outlined, could be instilled and reinforced in the Senate, that the Senate would in fact be that sober second thought and would be representing—