Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak in support of Bill C-7, Senate Reform Act.
In our platform and in the Speech from the Throne, we outlined our commitment to Senate reform, promising Canadians that we would take action. With the introduction of the Senate reform act, we are taking the first steps toward meeting this objective.
Calls for Senate reform are not new. Senate reform has been a part of the political discussion for nearly as long as there has been a Senate. In fact, within two years of the founding of Canada in 1867, arguments for reform began to surface.
In all the studies and reports on Senate reform that have been completed, a common theme has emerged. The studies concluded that while the Senate is a valuable part of our democratic institutions, the status quo is no longer acceptable. Reform is required.
Canadians have overwhelmingly indicated that they feel the same way. They want to see action on Senate reform. In a recent poll released in July this year, 70% of respondents indicated support for Senate reform. Despite the countless calls for reform and citizen dissatisfaction with the Senate, it has survived virtually unchanged in its fundamental features since Confederation. In part, this situation exists because fundamental reform of the Senate requires the support of the provinces, which has been difficult to achieve.
In order to build support for fundamental reform, our government has been pursuing an incremental approach to reform that falls within the federal government's legislative jurisdiction. One of the most pressing concerns about the Senate is that it has no democratic mandate from the citizens it serves, and the current rules allow individuals to stay in their positions for as long as 45 years.
The fact that Senators are not accountable to Canadians contributes to a perception that the Senate lacks legitimacy. That is why we introduced the Senate reform act. The act proposes measures that will give Canadians the opportunity to have a say in who represents them in the Senate. It will also limit the terms of senators to nine years.
The changes proposed in the Senate reform act do not purport to completely resolve the debate over Senate reform. It is our hope that these reforms, once implemented, will be the first step down a path toward more fundamental changes.
Before continuing, it is important to outline, briefly, the elements of the bill. Let me first present the issue of the selection of Senate nominees. The Senate reform act encourages but does not compel provinces and territories to establish democratic consultative processes to give citizens a say in who represents them in the Senate.
The bill then requires the Prime Minister to consider the names of these individuals selected as a result of these processes when making recommendations to the Governor General on Senate appointments.
The Prime Minister has always been clear that his preference is to appoint senators chosen by the voters, and he is committed to respecting results of any democratic consultation with voters. However, the act does not bind the Prime Minister nor the Governor General when making appointments to the Senate. It does not change the method of selecting senators, and therefore does not require a constitutional amendment.
To assist provinces and territories in establishing their consultations, a voluntary framework is attached as a schedule to the act which provides guidance and direction on consultations. Again, I stress the framework is voluntary. Provinces and territories would not be required to adopt the framework word for word. In fact, they are expected to adapt the framework to suit their unique circumstances and culture.
The framework is simply meant to be a tool to facilitate the implementation of the consultative process. At the end of the day there is only one requirement related to any consultative process that is established. Senate nominees must be selected as a result of a democratic consultation with citizens.
The act illustrates our government's support for the development of consultative processes with the provinces and territories. It is our hope that all provinces and territories will take advantage of this support and help to create a more democratic Senate with enhanced legitimacy.
The Senate reform act will also introduce term limits for senators. The act will restrict the length of time that senators can sit in the Senate to nine years. This would apply to all senators appointed after the royal assent of the bill. It would also apply to current senators appointed after October 2008 whose terms would end nine years after royal assent.
We believe that nine-year terms provide enough time to enable individual senators to gain the experience necessary to carry out their legislative functions while also ensuring regular renewal of the upper chamber.