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House of Commons Hansard #24 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senators.

Topics

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Madam Speaker, it is absolutely important that the Senate continue to have its independence to freely do its studies and not be reliant upon the government for renewal or reappointment at any time. That is why we have proposed a non-renewable nine-year term. Senators would have the opportunity to be independent from the government.

We have changed the term from eight years to nine years so that a two-term prime minister could not appoint the entire Senate. A nine-year term is long enough for senators to learn the job and gain the necessary experience. It is also a reasonable amount of time to have new thoughts and new people who could add their perspectives as well.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Madam Speaker, I have the dubious distinction of being the author of the first bill in the history of Canada to be killed in the Senate without debate or consideration or being sent to committee. It was a very distressing and difficult day when that bill which was passed after due diligence in the House was killed in the Senate.

Why do we not get serious about Senate reform and simply do away with this useless appendage to a dysfunctional government?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Madam Speaker, I am surprised that the member is not completely jumping for joy regarding Senate reform. He said that he has concerns about the Senate. That is why we are bringing forward these reforms. Senators elected in their provinces by Canadians who are being represented by them in the Senate would be more accountable to Canadians and voters in their provinces. That is why we prefer to reform the Senate. It is an important institution of Parliament. It is important that we try to make it better, make it more legitimate and democratic so it can serve the purpose that we believe it should.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to address this bill. Let me say at the outset that my first reaction to the notion of electing a Senate was probably not unlike that of many Canadians. We have an unelected appointed Senate, we have abolition and then there is election. The Canadian character being what it is, of not wanting the status quo and looking at abolition as maybe too radical, the comfort zone is that election, the bowl of porridge in the middle, is the way to go.

The reality is that the most radical thing we could do in this country is elect the Senate, give it a mandate and create the kind of gridlock we see in the U.S. That is radical. Long before we go down that road, we should be asking Canadians whether they even want a Senate, yes or no. That will tell us what the mandate of the country is rather than just our deciding that we know best in terms of constructing our Parliament.

I also want to indicate that I have some criticisms of the Senate as an institution, but none of my remarks are meant to reflect on individual senators. In fact, I have the greatest regard and respect for most of the senators that I work with. An example of a great Canadian currently in the Senate is a woman from Saskatchewan. I have spoken about her before. She is a fantastic Canadian who does an excellent job. The only problem is there is no mandate or right in that place to pass judgment on laws. We should be using people like them for the betterment of Canada but we ought to be using them in way where we ask them to do specific work and not necessarily be a part of the law-making process. My comments are not about individual senators, and I say again that I have the greatest and utmost respect for most of them.

Let us recall the history of the Senate and how we got here. This originated back in the British Parliament. It was the House of Lords. The whole purpose was to control all the commoners who were starting to get some rights. As the Magna Carta started to take hold, ordinary commoners like us suddenly had a say in the governing of their country. Therefore, the House of Lords was created to make sure that the unwashed masses did not run amok and screw things up for people who were doing quite well in that country and got more than their share of the cream that the country produced. Even the current Prime Minister has said the Senate is a relic of the 19th century.

I will use my words to describe this bill and I am going to comment on each aspect as I go along. It is radical, dangerous, undemocratic, misleading, and not at all what Canadians need.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Tell us where you stand.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I am so glad the Minister of Foreign Affairs has joined us. It means we are going to have a very entertaining afternoon. It reminds me of the good old days back in the Ontario legislature. I am glad the minister is here and I am looking forward to the next half hour or so.

I said that it is radical. To me, this is arguably the most important aspect of what we are debating. If we elect the Senate, we would radically change Parliament. I said that just now, but who else said that? The Supreme Court in 1980 said, “The substitution of a system of election for a system of appointment would involve a radical change in the nature of one of the component parts of Parliament”.

The Supreme Court said that this is radical. It is not usually known for knee-jerk reactions and going over the top. It is certainly not known as being hard right or hard left. It just looks at the facts. It sees that this is radical, and it is, because if we abolished the Senate and brought proportional representation to this House, we would be more than adequately equipped to govern the 35 million people in this country. The provinces proved this when they abolished their senates.

One of the reasons it is radical is that the Senate killed my colleague's Bill C-311, a bill which passed this House at least twice, and the Senate had no right. Every member of the House, right, wrong or indifferent, has a mandate to be here and to vote and pass judgment on laws. Senators do not. They do not have a moral, ethical mandate; a constitutional one, yes; a moral and ethical one, no. Is that democratic? Certainly not.

If we elected the Senate and Bill C-311 passed this House again, what would happen over there? The Senate would kill it again, only now the senators would be all puffed up and would say, “We have an electoral mandate to do this. Yes, the House of Commons passed it, and yes they are elected members, and they have the mandate and the trust of the people who elected them, but so do we. We are not with the party in the House; we are with a different party and therefore we will do things differently. One of the things we will do is stop any kind of progressive legislation that actually protects the environment in this country.”

If we want to see where we are heading in terms of a radical proposal that is also dangerous for us as Canadians, we only need look at what happened recently in the U.S. Congress. There was a piece of legislation on the debt limit that members had to pass in order to borrow money to keep the economy going. Normally it is a routine thing. It passed under President Reagan umpteen times, no big deal. Because of the partisan split where the House of Representatives is Republican controlled and the Senate is democratically controlled, all the interests of the American people seemed to be set aside as the two parties fought each other to the brink of a crisis. It put the world on alert for a financial crisis because the two houses have their own independent mandate.

Is that what we want? Do we really need to complicate the process of governing more? Do we need to spend more money? That place already costs almost $100 million a year. Think of what we could do with that $100 million promoting our own democracy.

The other reason it is dangerous is that the house that would be created would be like the house of Frankenstein, and no one should take that personally. There would be people who would serve until age 75. Under this legislation there would be some people who would serve for nine years and some people who promised to serve only eight years who would get a free bonus year. Then there would be some provinces that elect people and some that would not. There are some provinces that believe, like us in the official opposition, that we ought to abolish the Senate, so they would not elect anyone. We must think about it. It would be like the bar scene from Star Wars over there. Never mind the gridlock between us, they would be gridlocked over there. Trying to get anything out of that house would be a serious challenge.

The last reason it is dangerous is that it gives the impression we are making things better. I mentioned that the former premier of Ontario, Mike Harris, used the same technique as we are seeing here. The minister in one of his opening remarks said, “I'm bringing reform”. By virtue of that we are all supposed to say it is wonderful and thank him for the reform, but as we saw with Mike Harris, just because it is reform does not make it good reform.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Don't yell.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, my friend, the foreign affairs minister woke up again and realizes we may be getting into some interesting areas.

The change that was brought in Ontario was a nightmare for our education system. We are still trying to get out of the mess that the change brought us. This reform is the same thing. Yes, it is reform, but it is not good reform; in fact it is very bad reform. One of the reasons it is bad is that it is so undemocratic.

I asked the minister what I thought was a reasonable question about accountability, one of the major tenets of democracy. I said that, when we run for office, we all make promises. At the end of our term, we go back to our constituents and we ask them how we did. We ask if they were satisfied with the representation we gave them or if they want to fire us and hire someone else. We put ourselves out there publicly and the people pass their judgment. That is accountability. Just the fact that someone is elected does not make it a democratic process unless they are held accountable.

The senators will run on promises, get elected, serve nine years and then leave. There is no accountability. By law, they cannot run again, so how can they be held accountable. They will be elected on promises and the other half of a promise in a democracy is to be held to account for it. I am held to account for every word I speak, every vote I cast and every action I take. I am held accountable. I have a constituency office where people can reach me.

Elected senators will not be accountable. They cannot be by law. It is crazy to call this democratic when they will not be held to account because the law prevents it. That is what we are heading into.

It is also undemocratic because of what the Prime Minister said. It is a cute little technique. I am not a lawyer so I do not know if it will pass constitutional muster. However, what he is doing is maintaining the Constitution that says that the Prime Minister appoints senators. He is leaving that in place and all this sort of rests below it. It is the process that leads to a list of names that are put in front of the Prime Minister.

I think there is at least a constitutional argument that they are okay but it does not deal with the democratic deficit that is in this bill. The Prime Minister does not need to appoint those people.

Some would ask how a prime minister of the day could ever say no to an elected Senator from any province. That is a good question, a fair question. Might I also pose: Who would ever think that a prime minister in the same Parliament that he passed a fixed election date law would violate his own law in the same Parliament?

It is quite possible that we could see a political situation where a party that is in government in a province is a real thorn in the side of the government of the day. I will use the present government as an example. It elects some people and one person it elects is somebody who is very loud, very opinionated and who will not shut up when people want him to. The prime minister looks at that and asks himself or herself if he or she really wants to bring this problem into his or her back yard.

There is no guarantee that the democratic choice of the people will be honoured. Therefore, how can one call it democratic?

I would also mention that, under what is being proposed, all the costs get pushed to the provinces. In some situations it might get pushed to the municipalities, believe it or not. In these economic times, does anyone really think the provinces look at the federal government with any kind of affection when it is handing them more things to pay for that the provinces already cannot afford?

The federal government should at least have the decency to pay for its own bill. These people will be federal parliamentarians, so why are they not paid at the federal level? It is misleading. Everything about the Senate is misleading.

One of the things the minister talked about, and I am not quoting so I stand to be corrected, was the important regional representation and interest that the Senate does and can provide. I do not think I am too far off there.

We need to remember that the cover story when the Senate was created was not to keep an eye on the unwashed masses who were suddenly being thrown into the House of Commons. No. The cover story was that these would be regional representatives. They would represent the regions and the provinces of this vast country. We are the second biggest land mass country in the world with a relatively small population.

The cover story for the Senate was that we needed them there, that we would deal with the riding issues and local issues and the Senate would deal with the regional issues and protect the provinces' interests.

It did not turn out that way, not for one second. First, any thought of sober second thought is a joke. The Senate has House leaders and whips, and opposition leaders and whips. Why does it need whips if it has independence? Many senators attend caucus meetings. The whip of the official opposition is a very good fellow but that does not change my argument one bit. That good fellow should get elected and come here, not stay over there. That is a good idea.

The premiers have some strong opinions about these things. It is interesting to note that Premier Wall from Saskatchewan fears that he knows the answer. Earlier this year. when he was asked about the elected Senate, he said:

I think we could get a little bit more enthused even about the whole thing if it became clear that this was not about just an expanded parliamentary caucus for existing parties.

Is that not an interesting quote?

I have a letter from a certain elected senator, whose name I shall not mention, dated June 15 of this year, addressed to members of the CPC Senate caucus. Where do the sober second thought caucus people meet? He said:

Dear Senators,

Yesterday, in Senate caucus Minister...[for Democratic Reform] was showered with complaints about Senate elections and a nine year term.

The last paragraph is the key, and this is the issue about whether the Senate represents the regions or whether it represents caucus interests. It reads:

Every senator in this caucus needs to decide where their loyalty should be and must be. The answer is simple; our loyalty is with the man who brought us here, the man who has wanted Senate reform since he entered politics, the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper.

That senator's priority was to be loyal to the Prime Minister, not his region and not his province. Abolish the Senate. This is a bad idea.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I would just remind all members, as this debate heats up, that it is the custom in the House not to mention the name of sitting members. I trust all members will continue to direct their comments through the Chair.

The hon. Minister of State for Democratic Reform.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, I e listened to the hon. member's speech with great interest and I picked up on two things from it.

First, he agrees with us that there needs to be some type of Senate reform, that we need to make some changes to the Senate. He does not agree with the way it is today, the status quo. Canadians agree with us, so that is what this government is doing.

The other thing that I picked up on is the fact that he has no ideas. NDP members do not have any ideas. They have nothing constructive to provide to us. The only idea they really have is to abolish the Senate. I am sure my colleague knows that would require a constitutional battle. It would open up the Constitution.

Does the member really believe that drawn out constitutional battles is the way to go, is what the government should spend its time on, or should we move forward with Senate reforms that are reasonable, measured and within Parliament's authority to do?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, the minister said that we support some changes. No, not really. We just want to get rid of the darn thing.

The minister also said that Canadians agree with his government and then went on to talk about the bill.

The minister also said that we were not proposing anything. We proposed two things. We did it in the last Parliament, we will do it in this Parliament and we will keep doing it until we are government and can make these changes. We proposed a referendum asking the Canadian people if they want a Senate, yes or no. We also proposed bringing proportional representation to that place and making it truly democratic.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, would my colleague agree that because Canada is a federation, if there is a provision in the Constitution that says that if a fundamental change is made to the Senate that means it would affect not only Parliament but the legislative assemblies of the provinces and the country as a whole? A bill like this will surely be considered unconstitutional if it is supported by Parliament.

Would he also not agree that all the provinces would be affected, but that the minister's province of Alberta and the province of British Columbia would be terribly affected since they are so under-represented in the Senate?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I would need to look carefully, but I pretty much agree with everything the member had to say. Whether or not it ends up being unconstitutional, my colleague should make no mistake that Quebec will send this to the Supreme Court of Canada, as will some of the other provinces.

The government knows that this bill will never see the light of day in terms of being law. This is a big political charade meant to look like the government is doing something while knowing that nothing will happen. What really hurts is that if it ever actually did, it would hurt our Parliament and our ability to govern ourselves in the most democratic way.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Hamilton Centre for his fiery speech and the way he stood up for so many Canadians who supported the New Democratic Party. Many of them refer to our position on the abolishment of the Senate, the way we speak out for them and the position we bring forward to the House of Commons as the key reasons for supporting us.

The member talked about the nature and history of the Senate. The actual structure of the Senate is a relic of our past. For example, I could not be in the Senate because I am under the age of 30. Almost 20 NDP members of Parliament are under the age of 30 and they could not be in the Senate.

If the Senate is supposed to be an institution that represents the Canadian people, is it not inherently discriminatory? Is it not against the democratic right of Canadians to elect whomever they want to represent them, including young people whose voices need to be heard in this Parliament?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, it is amazing that in this day and age it is quite all right for that highly competent MP to represent her constituents here in the House of Commons but, by law, cannot go to that other place. This is one more example of how dumb the whole thing is.

If we were to bring in proportional representation, we would have the ability to ensure that more segments of our population are represented here. As much as each party tries, the House is still not representative of the Canadian people demographically. We have a lot of work to do in this House but the first step is getting rid of that House.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to address the colourful reference the hon. member made to Frankenstein's monster. He said that we would have a variety of different kinds of mandates, and that when members of the House are elected with different kinds of mandates, we would have different kinds of responsibilities, which would lead to a dog's breakfast of Frankenstein's monster.

I could tell that he felt strongly about it because his voice went up an octave when he did it and I heard a wine glass shattering somewhere.

He favours proportional representation, the multi-member proportional system for the House of Commons. Under that system, some members came from a party list and some were elected from individual ridings.

Given that he feels so strongly that different kinds of mandates lead to this kind of Frankenstein's monster, why is he advocating turning this House into a Frankenstein's monster and removing all checks and balances and giving it complete control over the affairs of the country? That seems inherently incompatible with his statements about mixed mandates in the Senate.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I knew when the hon. member got up it would be a thoughtful, intelligent question and probably a little tough. It was all of those things.

I stand by what I said. I am disappointed that it was wine glasses I shattered; I would rather it would be busted beer bottles, but that is just because I am from Hamilton.

I understand the question. I would just say that the Frankenstein, to use that reference, was because of the cherry-picking, all these different ideas and different pieces that do not fit together.

The notion of proportional representation does contain the element that the member says, but let us understand that this is only one model of proportional representation. We have not said anything about a particular model being cast in stone; we just think we ought to start a dialogue with Canadians about what kind of proportional representation model we should adopt to bring into the House.

The second thing is that most of the models are well established. In reality, we are very far behind in terms of democracy. We think of ourselves as a mature modern democracy, and we are in so many ways, but with that Senate over there, we are not.

Proportional representation is about as mainstream as it can get in Europe and many other countries. The fundamental aspect that some people have a direct election and some are on a list is an issue, but it is a systemic issue that is built into a model that has been tested and used in many countries around the world, whereas this hybrid monster really is not anything.

We will have senators over there fighting among themselves over all kinds of issues. As I said, that is a gridlock in and of itself, and that is before we even get to the point of the gridlock that happens here.

My friend from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville raised this point, and I want to give him credit for it: if we do get into the gridlock that the Americans have, the Americans at least have a mechanism, the conference committee, to deal with it in some way. We do not have one. We have no ability to deal with the gridlock that exists between two elected houses.

Not only is this a bad idea, it is not even well thought out.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague is completely right to raise the issue of the danger of a gridlock and blockages and so on.

At a time when the economy is doing so badly and the United States situation is so awful, how can the government claim that they care so much about the economy, and that it is a priority, when it is planning to create a stalemate here in the Parliament of Canada?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I suspect, based on the question he is asking, that the government thinks it is a fine idea because it controls the Senate right now. If it did not control the House under the current system, it would still control the Senate, so it probably does not give much of a darn.

It works for the Conservatives the way it is now. These plans will work for them. Everything works for them. The problem is that the bill does not work for Canadians.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

September 30th, 2011 / 1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, the Liberal Party does not oppose Senate reform, but it must be done right and in accordance with the Constitution.

There are three reasons the Liberal opposition cannot support the bill.

First, it is the conviction of the Liberal opposition that such an act would be unconstitutional. The fundamental changes it proposes cannot be implemented by Parliament alone. These changes would require the support of at least seven provinces, representing 50% of the Canadian population, notably because appointing senators through a patchwork of voluntary provincial senatorial elections is clearly a fundamental change; limiting the senators' tenure to nine years is a significant change; and giving the Prime Minister the power to name the totality of senators at the end of two mandates of four and a half years would strengthen his power considerably, another significant change.

Second, such an act would be against the interests of two of our provinces, Alberta and British Columbia. Here is why: practically speaking, an elected upper chamber would carry more weight in its dealings with the House of Commons than it does in its present form. The problem is that both western provinces are better represented in the House than they are in the Senate, and both provinces have only six senators, while some provinces have 10 with a population four or six times smaller.

Third, such an act could provoke frequent blockages in Parliament in the absence of a constitutional mechanism to resolve any conflicts that might arise between an elected House of Commons and an elected Senate.

For those three reasons, we propose that the government abandon this bill, or at least refer it to the Supreme Court to verify its constitutionality.

I would like to elaborate on each of these three objections, which have led the Liberal opposition to determine that this bill is not in the interest of Canadians. One issue is that if this bill becomes law, we will have to expect arguments that would pit one elected chamber against the other elected chamber, creating delays and roadblocks in Parliament. Just think of the frequent intercameral paralysis experienced by our neighbours to the south.

In fact, the situation could be even worse here than in the United States, because Canada does not have a constitutional mechanism to bridge the gaps between two elected chambers. Both could claim the same legitimacy and claim to speak for the people.

What is the government thinking? What does the minister have in mind? Does he really want to bring the same paralysis we see in the United States or in Mexico here to Canada? Do we not have enough challenges here in Canada without thoughtlessly burdening our decision-making process?

This seems like a very bad idea, especially when we consider that Canada is a decentralized federation with 11 governments—14 including the territories—that have important powers and responsibilities. In such a decentralized federation, it is important that federal institutions, common to all citizens, work well and quickly, before drafting legislation or making decisions that may or may not be popular, but that at least are not constrained by the ritual opposition of two elected chambers, an opposition that would be exacerbated by the absence of a constitutional dispute resolution mechanism.

It is important to realize that the government's muddled plan would have senators appointed through a patchwork system of optional provincial elections. Funding for these federal elections would come from the provinces, and even though they would be federal elections, the federal parties would be excluded from the electoral process. The provincial parties would control these federal elections. What a mess.

It is not surprising that a number of provincial governments have said they are not planning to put up funds for these federal elections. This bill is the antithesis of common sense and it is unconstitutional to boot. If this bill passes, the resulting legislation would be declared unconstitutional because the fundamental changes it would cause could not be implemented by Parliament alone. These changes could only be made with the support of at least seven provinces representing 50% of the Canadian population. This unilateral initiative is another manifestation of the Prime Minister's style of government: controlling and centralizing. This attitude shows disrespect for the provinces and a lack of understanding of what Canadian federalism is.

Indeed, many of the provinces have said that they believe this proposal is not something that can be done unilaterally. They believe they should be involved, and they want to be involved in these proposed Senate reforms. In other words, it is not just we who are saying the federal government cannot do this alone: the provinces say that, and they want a voice.

Wrong for the whole of Canada, this bill is especially ill-conceived for the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. We are far from being alone in saying that. Both British Columbia Premier Christy Clark and former Alberta Premier Don Getty rightly point out that this version of Senate reform would be bad for their respective provinces. As the Edmonton Journal wrote, “second thoughts” must be given to this plan.

Let us look at the numbers. Alberta has 9.1% of the total number of members of Parliament, but only 5.7% of the senators. The gap is even larger for British Columbia, with 11.7% of the members in the House of Commons and only 5.7% of the members of the Senate. Let us compare these provinces with New Brunswick, which counts 10 senators for a population 4.8 times smaller than Alberta's and 6.1 times smaller than British Columbia's.

This unbalanced distribution of Senate seats, an historical artifact, is a problem for the two western provinces and an anomaly for our federation. The government's reform would make the situation much worse.

In the existing unelected Senate, this problem is mitigated by the fact that our senators play the constitutional role with moderation, letting the elected House of Commons have the final word most of the time. However, in an elected Senate, with members able to invoke as much democratic legitimacy as their House counterparts--if not more, since they would represent provinces rather than ridings--the under-representation of British Columbia and Alberta would take on its full scope and significance.

Of course, elected senators from the other provinces would not be hostile to the interests of Alberta and British Columbia, their duty being to address the interests of the whole country, but these senators would be more familiar with, and closer to, the interests of the voters of the province where they were elected.

Premier Charest has already announced that his government will challenge the constitutionality of this unilateral Senate reform in the courts. Premiers Stelmach and Clark will serve the interests of their provinces well if they join their Quebec colleague in this court action.

Do Canadians need and want the waste of time, effort, money and goodwill that the government's initiative would cause? I think not. It is time for the Prime Minister, a Calgarian, and the Minister of Democratic Reform, an Edmontonian, to give this issue a second sober thought and abandon this ill-advised and ill-conceived Senate reform plan, an ill-advised and problem-fraught plan for Alberta, British Columbia and the whole of Canada in English et en français.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague has indicated that regional unfairness is an issue. I am notorious in my own party as a supporter of greater equality between members in selecting our leaders, so I have natural sympathy with that.

However, I wonder if he really supports what he is saying. He is quite right that there are 10 senators each for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick--actually, there are 12 each. There are four senators for Prince Edward Island, which results from the fact that because of another provision of our Constitution, Prince Edward Island has a minimum number of MPs, causing the average riding in P.E.I. to be about one-third the size of a riding in Ontario, and so on.

Is he in favour of eliminating all these things? Would he be willing to start, for example, by doing something that I personally do not support, which is cutting the number of senators for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia down to six, or perhaps fewer, in order to have some kind of population balance with British Columbia and Alberta?

If he is not, or if he is not willing to suggest an amendment that would lead to the opposite conclusion, then I suggest he is just coming up with these objections as a way of trying to prevent any progress from being made and is repeating the old Liberal line that until we have perfect reform, which is unachievable, we should have no reform at all and stick to an appointed Senate, which in due course would be appointed by Liberal governments based on Liberal partisans as it was in the past.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, it is true that in Canada there is no agreement about the number of senators each province should have and it is a problem for two provinces that are very underrepresented. But why make this problem worse and significantly worse by the reform my colleague and his party are proposing today?

Between 1945 and today the Senate rejected only seven bills from the House. So the Senate has been quite prudent and reserved about its own role. Imagine if they were elected? Do members think there would only be seven bills during half a century that would be stuck by an elected Senate? No, it would be daily life, it would do it all the time. Only six Albertans would be there to make their mind known. It would be terribly unfair. I care about each province in my country and it is why I am clearly against the bill.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for an excellent speech and an excellent analysis. I particularly enjoyed the analysis because it comes from a respected academic perspective which is about the antithesis of everything that I bring to it with a grade nine education, but I do have an experiential viewpoint from 26 years of being elected at all three orders of government. That is why my question is about accountability.

From my limited academic point of view, it looks to me like there is no room for accountability. I asked the minister as my first question, where is the accountability given the importance of that in a democracy and the minister either could not, or would not articulate an answer.

I would ask my colleague, have I missed something? Is there an element of accountability that I am not seeing, or is it clearly missing from this reform bill?

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1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, this gives me an opportunity to say that I understand the appetite for having members of Parliament and senators elected in a democracy. I understand that and it is popular in Canada. The second step is how can we do it in a way that will help the country and every region of the country. The way the minister wants to do this will be awful. It would create stalemates. It will paralyze us. It will not create better policy-making, to the contrary, and it will accentuate this proportion of unfairness for some regions of our country, especially Alberta and British Columbia.

By definition, I am not saying it is wrong to have elected senators. I am saying it is wrong to do it this way for everyone.

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1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I enjoyed my colleague's knowledgeable speech on this. I am from one of the most affected provinces, British Columbia, so I would like to pose to my colleague this question. Could he give us a greater idea and more details about the kind of inequities that would be placed on the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta by this Conservative government proposal?