Madam Speaker, I thank my colleagues for allowing me to speak. When they have the opportunity to ask questions, even repetitive ones, I will be happy to answer as best I can, as all the members who spoke before me have done.
I believe that Bill C-7 is a bogus reform of the Senate. The Prime Minister promised Senate reform. He obviously had no choice, because the legitimacy of the Senate is constantly being questioned by all sides.
Thus, we have before us a bill that attempts to save face and to support the legitimacy of a Senate by proposing measures that make no real changes and provide no pertinent solutions to the concerns that people have expressed about the Senate.
This is not the first time that we have seen bills that herald bogus and ineffective changes. For example, I would like to talk about last spring's proposal regarding income enhancement for seniors living in poverty. After the enhancement was announced, some major associations representing thousands of seniors in Quebec and Canada said they were more or less satisfied and pleased with the measure. They were expecting that it would really benefit seniors who needed additional income to leave poverty behind. However, after a more careful analysis of the eligibility criteria for such income, they came to the realization that very few seniors living in poverty would qualify. Thus, they felt betrayed by an announcement that said millions of dollars would be paid to seniors in need, but that did not disclose a number of criteria and sub-criteria and gave almost nothing—just two dollars a day more—to the poorest of poor seniors. It did not provide any real support.
That is just one example that illustrates how it is now commonplace to introduce bills that announce change, but are really just smokescreens.
For example, there is no mention in Bill C-7 of the unequal distribution of the seats in the Senate. That is a concern that has already been raised and it is not being addressed here in Bill C-7. We are trying to tackle the legitimacy of the Senate. Why do unelected members have the right to interfere in decisions by the House of elected members? What we have here is pure hypocrisy: the government says it is in favour of electing senators, but in fact the bill provides for holding an election to create a list that the Prime Minister could use to then appoint senators. Does that truly enhance the legitimacy of the senators? I do not see how, because at the end of the day, the Prime Minister still appoints his senators. What are the criteria? That remains to be seen.
There are other frustrations that might stem from Bill C-7, other things that can be refuted. For example, the provinces are not being consulted. A bill is introduced that says that the provinces could, if and as they wish, hold elections at their expense to allow the citizens of the province to elect potential senators and to establish a list. The provinces are being affected by a decision on which they are not being consulted at all.
Again, I am not really surprised. The government is constantly trying to send the bill to the provinces without consulting them or to pit one province against another. When the government was talking about minimum sentences, it forgot to mention that the bill would be sent to the provinces, whether they wanted the legislation or not. When the government was talking about abolishing the firearms registry, did it listen when Quebec said it wanted to recover the data? No, not at all. The government totally ignored Quebec.
Old age security is another good example. Lowering the age of eligibility for old age security would certainly mean additional costs for the provinces, which would have to provide social assistance to people with no income for an extra two years.
There are many examples. It is becoming common practice for the Conservatives to send the bill to the provinces and then turn a deaf ear to what they want. This is yet another case in which the provinces have not been consulted about measures that will affect them. This is rather unfortunate.
What tangible impact will a bill such as Bill C-7 have? Unresolved issues are still a cause for concern, and with good reason. For example, if senators are elected, will their mandate have to be redefined? Will senators who win an election be entitled to request more duties or to have their duties changed because they are now elected officials just like members of the House? This is a question to consider.
In fact, we have a complex system that has been around for a number of years. Are changes needed? Yes, without a doubt. However, we must also take the time to determine what the impact of such changes would be. In my opinion, the Conservatives have not done enough in this regard. They talk about measures and tangible results without telling us the basis for or the expected outcomes of these changes. Since the provinces will be able to choose whether or not to hold elections, some senators will be elected and others will not. Will this create a hierarchy among the senators? That is another question to consider. Unfortunately, the Conservatives have not had much to say on the subject. These are real concerns that deserve our attention.
We also have other concerns. What criteria will the Prime Minister use to appoint a senator from a list of elected candidates? Will more women and aboriginal people be appointed to the Senate? Or will selection be based on partisan considerations that will allow the government to have a new senator who is loyal to the government or the party? We have to consider these questions.
Once again, the authority will be left in the hands of a single individual with discretionary power, namely the Prime Minister. These are legitimate questions. Voters who will have chosen a list of Senate candidates may be upset to see the Prime Minister not appointing their first choice but, instead, their second one. So, this whole process all very vague and there are many questions about the criteria that will guide the Prime Minister's choice and the impact that choice will have.
There are other questions about this legislation. Ultimately, will senators still be appointed by the Prime Minister? Will they be less loyal to the Prime Minister who appoints them?
As I said at the beginning of my speech, there is a lot of dissatisfaction with the fact that senators are not elected. Now, the government is proposing a bill which includes an election process. Is this really going to change the legitimacy of senators? One has to wonder.
If I may, I would remind the House that the Senate, as an institution, was meant to be a chamber of wise people representing the territorial diversity of the country and acting as a counterbalance to the decisions made in the House of Commons. Wisdom is an important aspect. I do not want to question the wisdom of current senators, but what good is wisdom if, in the end, one must obey the Prime Minister and be faithful to one's party? What good is senators' wisdom and judgment? Can this aspect be questioned? Perhaps. After all, senators are not accountable to the people they represent for the decisions they make. Therefore, what is the impact of a decision? We really wonder about that.
Currently, one may even get the impression that the Prime Minister is doing through the back door what he does not want to do publicly.
These are my concerns about Bill C-7. All hon. members know that the NDP's position on the Senate is clear, so I will not repeat it in detail.
The solution is not Bill C-7 but, rather, the abolition of the Senate.