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.