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House of Commons Hansard #84 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreement.

Topics

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Élaine Michaud NDP Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague. I am not at all surprised by this question regarding a clear majority, which is one of his favourite topics. If I were him, I would avoid this topic, since it has sometimes gotten him into hot water in Quebec, but let us not dwell on that.

To answer his question, I suggested that we not open a constitutional debate right away, but that we simply put the question to Canadians. So, before we pass this bill or even think about any reforms, we need to see where Canadians stand on this and hear their opinions on that institution. That is the first step I am proposing.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier on her very eloquent speech, which helped put things in perspective and gave some idea of the pitfalls that lie ahead concerning the government's bill on Senate reform.

We cannot ignore the fact that this government is a master at proposing superficial reforms and introducing detailed bills without worrying about all the consequences. My colleague very clearly illustrated the fact that this government is opening a Pandora's box that could lead to numerous problems.

What does my colleague think of the proposal to elect senators, even though the Prime Minister would have to approve all selections anyway?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Élaine Michaud NDP Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Beauport—Limoilou for the question. This problem will not really change the current undemocratic situation in the Senate. Holding provincial senatorial elections and then giving the Prime Minister the final say will not change the current situation. Quite the contrary. I touched on this in my speech. It remains an arbitrary decision. People will still be rewarded for what they have done for the government or for the Prime Minister, and they will have no loyalty toward their fellow Canadians. Furthermore, when we start electing senators, partisanship will taint the work of senators, and that will prevent them from properly representing their regions.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The member for Winnipeg North for a quick question.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, the position of the NDP is fairly clear. It wants to abolish the Senate. There is no other option. If a majority of Canadians wanted to retain the Senate in some fashion, would the NDP then change its position on the Senate?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Élaine Michaud NDP Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Madam Speaker, that is a hypothetical situation and therefore I do not think I can address it appropriately. The first step is to ask Canadians what they want. Based on the response, we can look at scenarios and establish the steps to be taken. For the time being, I remain in favour of abolishing the Senate.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity today to speak to Bill C-7 before the House.

Just before I start, I note that the most recent question was whether or not it was wise to consult Canadians. Yet the government has not even consulted the provinces when talking about making massive changes to the Senate and its functions.

The rub in this particular legislation is that it all sounds very simple. In fact, if we look at the summary to the legislation it merely says that part 1 of the enactment is to provide that the Prime Minister, in recommending Senate nominees to the Governor General for a province or territory, as if the Prime Minister did not make the nominations and put them into effect, would be required to consider names from a list of nominees submitted by the provincial or territorial government. The list of nominees would be determined by an election held in accordance with provincial or territorial laws.

Therefore, what we have here is what a famous Canadian once called “meddling with the constitution”. That man is considered one of the fathers of Confederation, none other than Sir John A. Macdonald. He talked about certain proposals coming forward prior to Confederation in the Province of Canada, between Upper and Lower Canada. Suggestions were made for some changes based on representation by population. It was really about changing the balance, in this particular case, between Upper and Lower Canada, or Quebec and Ontario. It was being proposed in some other fashion, not directly, but the idea was to change the nature of the Constitution.

Sir John A. quite rightly identified this as meddling with the constitution. That is what is happening here. What is the effect of this legislation? Is it to improve the situation in Canada? Do we have a circumstance that requires adjustment by saying that we will appoint only senators who are elected in a province? Is that what the people are crying out for? Do we want to have a Senate now that has six members from Alberta, six members from B.C., six members from Manitoba, and ten from New Brunswick and four from P.E.I.? Are we going to improve things by saying they would be chosen from those who have been elected? Therefore, in the Senate we would have B.C. with six senators and P.E.I. with four. That is the representation we are going to have in the Senate, and we would start to give them legitimacy by saying they were chosen from people who were elected in the provinces.

That is going to be a muddle if ever there were one. If John A. Macdonald were here today that is what he would call it. He would say this is “meddling with the constitution”. If the bill passes, we do not know what the real effect is going to be, but it will give some legitimacy to senators, or at least the senators will think they have legitimacy. They will say they were elected by the people of Prince Edward Island or British Columbia, or at least that they “won” an election, because they are not allowed to be elected. A senator will say, “I am one of six senators and should therefore be able to flex my constitutional muscle in the Senate”.

That person will be up against someone from Prince Edward Island who will say: “I was elected. I won an election in Prince Edward Island. I am one of four. I have a vote in the Senate and my vote is just as important as yours. We collectively are going to have legitimacy because we were elected”.

What is that going to do to our constitution? It would muddle it at the very least and delegitimize this place, the House of Commons, the elected representatives of the people making the law. We have a Senate down the hall, “the other place” I think we are supposed to refer to it politely. We are not allowed to utter its name because it is the other place. That is the tradition here.

The tradition also is that the other place is supposed to defer to the House of Commons. That is the convention. If we look at the Constitution, it says they have equal powers, but the constitutional convention is that they are not supposed to be exercising those powers.

What have we had in the last couple of years? We have had a government that has been using the Senate as a tool to defeat the majority in the House of Commons. We saw that in the last Parliament. The climate change action bill was passed by the House, and what did the government do? It used its majority in the Senate to kill the bill. The will of the House of Commons, the elected people of Canada, was defeated by appointed people in the other place.

Who are they? They are appointed at the whim of the Prime Minister. Never mind the language about the Prime Minister “recommending” nominees to the Governor General. We know what that means: anyone who is recommended by the Prime Minister to the Governor General is appointed to the Senate. I do not even think they are called appointments. Instead, they are called to the Senate. I do not mean to mock this, but that is the way the system is set up. Senators are clearly appointed by the Prime Minister based on whatever whim he has. This legislation says he would have to consider nominees who have won an election in a province. Some of them are recognizable people, such as defeated Conservative candidates, for example.

The former member for Avalon in my province was defeated in an election and appointed to the Senate. Then he resigned and ran in the last election. He was defeated again and re-appointed to the Senate. In my province that is not regarded very highly. It is not regarded as democratic that someone can become a senator because he is a defeated Conservative candidate who is rewarded for his loyalty by being put in the Senate, where he can serve for as long as the Constitution allows.

That is the body the government wants to give legitimacy to by saying that the persons chosen could potentially or possibly be from among those who have been elected. This is meddling with the Constitution, because senators and others have talked about how we will have differential senators as a result, some appointed until age 75 because they were appointed 20, 10 or 5 years ago, and then those who are appointed from a list of elected candidates. Not all provinces are happy with this. British Columbia does not seem to be happy about this. Quebec is not happy with it. In fact, it is saying it is going to take it to court to challenge the constitutionality of it.

There was a time when the Reform Party talked about a triple-E Senate: equal, effective and elected. That was the model and I think it has been rejected. What are we trying to salvage? Is it the notion that we can reform a body that ought to be abolished, like every other senate in Canada has been abolished? Every other province had the equivalent to the Senate. Most of them were called legislative councils and some were called other things, but the provinces got rid of them and we now have what are called unicameral legislatures across the country.

Democracy has not suffered; democracy has been enhanced. In fact, these senates or legislative councils were initially aimed in part to be a brake on democracy, to the effect that “We cannot let commoners pass laws unless the aristocracy and the establishment have an opportunity to veto them”. That was part of the original idea. There is talk about regional balance, yes, but it was also about this other notion.

It is a fundamentally undemocratic institution and ought to be abolished. Our first step, as was mentioned, would be to ask Canadians to reflect on this issue in a referendum. It would be a first step, and not a constitutional step, by the way. Do not mistake that. It would say that New Democrats wanted to develop a national consensus on abolishing the Senate. That is our policy. This alleged reform is in fact meddling with the Constitution and ought not take place.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, again I agree with my colleague on almost everything he said. However, I am trying to get an answer from him on the following, since his colleague did not answer.

According to the Constitution, abolishing the Senate would require unanimity among all of the provinces. Would that mean that winning a referendum on abolishing the Senate would require a majority in every province of our great country? Yes or no?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, everyone in the country knows that the member is a constitutional scholar. However, I urge him not to get caught up in constitutionality.

When we are talking about holding a referendum, we are talking about political will. We first need a consensus in this country that that other place is undemocratic and ought to be abolished. Once we get that, then we will ask the hon. member to tell us exactly how he thinks it relates to the Constitution. We could have a debate about that. We might even refer it to the Supreme Court of Canada.

However, before we get involved in all of the constitutional issues and open up a can of worms, a Pandora's box, as some people call it, we should ask the question whether the people of Canada want to maintain this relic of the 19th century, as the Prime Minister has called it in the past. Do we want to get rid of this or do we want to keep it? That is the fundamental question.

We know where we stand and we would like to have an opportunity to convince the people of Canada that it should be abolished.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his excellent speech.

I would like to know whether he agrees with me on something. Is the government not just creating a smokescreen with this bill—as it has with other bills—in claiming to want to reform the Senate? This is not the first time, because the government has been saying it wants to reform the Senate for years now. However, it presents us with false reforms every time. This bill still leaves the Prime Minister with the power to decide who he will appoint to the Senate, creating a situation whereby the elected candidates will not necessarily be appointed. Is it not ridiculous, today, to ask people to run in an election to become senators, knowing that after they win there is still no guarantee that they will become senators?

I wonder whether this bill is just a smokescreen and whether the best solution here, as my colleague has said a number of times, is to ask Canadians what they think of the Senate and what they think we should do before we launch into any reform. I would like to hear what my colleague has to say about that.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

February 27th, 2012 / 12:40 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I do not know if “smokescreen” is the proper word. It certainly is a subterfuge of some sort because I think it is part of a continued attempt to legitimize the work of the other place. We have seen the government use it in the past.

It is using it now in having introduced Bill S-7 in the Senate, a justice bill aimed at amending the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act and other legislation to provide extraordinary powers to the Federal Court. That is legislation that died because of a sunset clause five years ago, but the government now wants to bring it back, not here but in the Senate. I think the whole idea here is to make the Senate more legitimate and maybe that will extend the government's power beyond when it is defeated.

Maybe that is part of the scheme. I am not a conspiracy theorist but I do see elements of that in this current legislation, with its nine-year terms and more and more appointments to be made by the Prime Minister, who received less than 40% in the last election and who is seeing if he can extend his power by making the Senate more powerful. That is very dangerous.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, if provinces like Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, provinces with small population bases, want to retain a Senate in the form of a referendum but because the overall numbers across Canada show that 51% want it to be abolished, what would the NDP's position be then? Would it deny the opportunity of a Senate for the smaller provinces that might want stronger regional representation?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, we are looking at a particular institution that has failed, frankly. It is a relic of the 19th century. It does not provide for democratic representation. We are talking about a referendum that would test the will of the people.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I am happy to rise today to speak about Bill C-7, the Senate reform act. I have two major concerns about this bill. One concerns the process by which the bill was derived, and the second is the substance of the bill. Once I have gone through those two points, I will also bring up a proposition of how we can move forward on this topic.

In terms of process, I find the way in which this bill was developed is cynical. I think it was really developed in the backroom by the Conservatives with very little consultation with the public, the academic communities or the provinces. In fact, I do not think there was a single robocall made through this whole process. Perhaps the Conservatives might want to change not only their position on how they develop bills or their approach to developing bills, but also how they consult the public in general.

The Senate is an outdated but important institution. It requires serious debate and public input. I think we learned from the Meech Lake accord that Canadians are no longer willing to develop important positions on the Constitution, institutions of Parliament or democracy by having a bunch of guys in the backroom make a decision and then kind of foist it on the public.

We need to involve the public and all the expertise that we have across the country in order to come forward with a position that all Canadians can accept.

The Senate is a key institution of government. Its origins date back to the 11th century in England. Yet, despite the long-standing presence of this institution, both in other countries and in Canada, no public input has been sought on these changes. There is little consultation with the provinces. There is little academic input. This is unfortunate. For example, Tom Flanagan, a chief advisor to the Conservatives, said this legislation “scares me”. He opposes this legislation because he thinks it would further entrench all that is wrong with the Senate.

As I mentioned, this cynical approach to democratic reform really died with Meech Lake. Members of this House will remember that the Charlottetown accord, although it did not go forward, set a new way for major reforms in this country. This way is to bring the public in and to make sure that they are consulted. If the public does not want the change, then it is not made.

I am going to return to the idea of process at the end of my speech, but I am going to move on with substance. I have to say I agree with Professor Flanagan that this legislation is scary, not only in the way it was developed but also the substance of it. At best, this bill is frivolous and at worst it is damaging to Canadian democracy.

For example, the Prime Minister would only be required to consider these elections. A province could go through all the trouble of electing and selecting a new senator, to bring his or her name forward to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister could reject it.

We are already in a democratic crisis here in Canada. We have voter turnouts at the lowest levels in history. Citizens do not participate between elections. I am sure we will get into that debate later today with a perhaps purposeful, fraudulent attempt on the other side to suppress public input which was brought to light over the weekend.

Again, this could only deepen the cynicism about our democratic institutions. The effect of this bill could also be no effect at all. Provinces have already indicated that they are going to take this to court if this goes ahead.

I would like to draw attention to clauses 38 to 50, which link Senate reform not only to the provinces conducting these elections for senators but municipalities. This part of the bill says that if the provinces do not want to conduct these elections, they could devolve them to municipal institutions. I think this would be very dangerous.

Three colleagues and I have just finished a book on the topic of local government institutions across Canada. I have to report that I think clauses 38 to 50 would be a very dangerous precedent to set. As we report in our book, municipal election processes in many provinces are in really dire shape.

The provincial government in British Columbia found it could not conduct referendums during municipal elections because the administration of these municipal elections is unreliable. There is improper record keeping and there are irregularities. There is not sufficient oversight to guarantee that these elections are fit for anything other than local issues.

Worse still is the influence of foreign money in municipal elections. This has come to light in the province of British Columbia. It would be important to consider if we were to move ahead with Senate elections conducted on the back of these municipal elections.

For example, the head of CSIS reported last year that foreign funds were coming to the municipal elections in British Columbia and they were having a negative influence on municipal politicians. Premier Gordon Campbell was so concerned about the charges made by the head of CSIS that he convened a task force on this very topic. I am pleased to say that Premier Campbell invited me to testify at the task force. I was able to report on an investigation that I had conducted about the amount of foreign money coming into B.C. local elections. This would be especially worrying if Senate elections were to be conducted during these same municipal elections.

One councillor in the city of Vancouver received a lump sum donation of $75,000 from a Taiwanese businessperson. This money was routed through various companies in Canada in order to land in his municipal election fund. This is one example of a large amount of money that came to one single councillor that could have the effect of influencing decisions made by councillors. If Senate elections were connected to municipal elections that in turn could influence who sits in our Senate. That is very worrying.

We reported to the provincial task force that donations from U.S. sources are common. Thousands of dollars are coming into B.C. municipal elections. This could have an influence on senatorial elections if this legislation were passed.

As additional information, there is currently no spending limit in B.C. municipal elections. In the last Vancouver municipal election over $5 million was spent by candidates of different political parties. Some of this money has already been traced to foreign sources. The task force has investigated this and continues to investigate. Both the former premier and the current premier have expressed deep concerns and are moving forward with legislation to change this. This is an investigation only in one province. Before we move ahead with anything like clauses 38 to 50 we definitely have to make sure that this is not the case in other municipal elections across Canada.

It is our position that the Senate should be abolished. However, we do not think we should rush forward with this without talking to Canadians. We should learn from the mistakes of the other side. We should engage Canadians in the discussion of what is an important democratic institution in this country.

We have a four step proposal. Most of it has already been covered in my colleagues' speeches to the House, but it is good to remind the House of our proposal.

First, we are proposing to convene a number of experts who could give us a non-partisan overview of what is possible in terms of Senate reform, that is, the constitutionality in relation to the overall Constitution and how it affects the provinces. We have brilliant academic minds in this country who could come together and bring us this information.

Second, we would need to publicize this information through a mechanism to spur debate on this issue.

Third, we would have to move to a referendum on this topic. I was an academic advisor to the B.C. citizens' assembly. With a few tweaks we could have something like a citizens' assembly that could help set the question to be asked of Canadians at large and perhaps answer some of my colleague's questions about what threshold would be appropriate. I would think 50% plus one would be fine. Again, this is a personal opinion.

Fourth, a referendum is binding. After this referendum, we would abide by the will of the people and move ahead with whatever is acceptable.

If the majority government moves ahead with the bill against our advice, I suggest that the government consult with the Province of British Columbia on foreign funding in municipal elections and take a very good look at clauses 38 to 50.

I am happy to provide the government with the briefing I gave to the Campbell task force. I am also working on a private member's motion on this matter, which I will raise at a later time.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate that the hon. member was very straightforward. He gave a proposal in which, to be very clear, he said that the NDP would abolish the Senate based on a referendum, if 50% plus one of the voters across Canada said yes to abolishing the Senate.

The question I have for the hon. member is this. There are provinces like Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland which have smaller populations. Some of those provinces want to see better regional representation in Ottawa and look to the Senate as a possible solution to that issue.

If you were to get a majority of people in the province of Manitoba who said they would like to see that regionally based Senate, would you then abandon the position in terms of the 50% plus one in order to abolish the Senate?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I am sure the hon. member is not speaking about my position. I would encourage all members to direct their questions through the Speaker.

The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I welcome the question from the hon. member, although he is putting words in my mouth. The proposal I clearly outlined is to get expert advice on what would be not only constitutionally acceptable but also on the process.

The second thing would be to take this information to Canadians, to consult with them, to see what they would find acceptable. I propose getting advice from the public, perhaps through a citizens' assembly, about not only what question would be acceptable but what thresholds would be acceptable as well. Then have a referendum and abide by the will of that referendum.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his great speech and the work he has done in British Columbia on certain files.

I find interesting that Liberal members keep asking: what is the status? What is the number? What is it going to be? What is the majority? They do not even want to take this question to the Canadian people. I think that is what we really need to do. We need to ask Canadians this question: do we really need the other place? It boggles the mind as to why they continue talking about this one subject when they do not even want to talk to the Canadian people. Maybe that is why they are sitting way down at that end now.

I would like to hear comments from the hon. member on that.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, for me, the Liberal position is very consistent: it is to defend the status quo because that is what has benefited that party. It is also a cynical approach to politics.

I think that all parties in this House have to learn from past mistakes. All parties have to make sure that the public is included in a much deeper way, not only in the reform of democratic institutions but also in actual participation in our current democratic processes.

We do not have enough of that. In fact, if anything, the government and the Liberal Party have worked to exclude Canadians from these processes. However, members on this side of the House are going to make sure we bring forward proposals to include citizens, to increase voter turnout and public participation in between elections. We will continue to do so.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville for one last, very quick question.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague said he would like to have a panel of experts to determine the process to abolish the Senate. The hon. member knows the Constitution. He is a professor himself. He knows that it requires the unanimity of provinces. Why would one need a panel for that?

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I will respond with an extension of the last question. Why do the Liberals not believe in public participation? Why do they not believe in getting advice from citizens and experts?

I think the process I outlined showed that we are committed to a different type of Canada, where Canadians actually have a voice and get fair information about processes so they can make properly informed decisions about what should happen in Canada. Then we would move ahead with the consent of and advice from the Canadian people.

Senate Reform ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to add my voice to the debate on Senate reform. As has been made clear in the House, the position of the NDP is to abolish the Senate. I am comfortable with that position, I support it and I advocate for it.

However, at the same time, I am all right talking about other ideas. I love hearing from my constituents about this issue. We have different perspectives on the issue, but, unlike the Conservatives, I am not afraid of different perspectives. I am not afraid of people sharing their ideas with me even if we might not agree at the end of the day on how to solve the problem.

People often talk to me about this, whether at events where they pull me off to the side and say that they have thought about Senate reform and want to talk about it. People write me letters. People stop me on the street. This is something people think about in their day-to-day lives and they try to figure out a solution. They are trying to work through what can be done.

Why are all these constituents preoccupied with Senate reform? Parliamentary procedure is not exactly something that people think about while having dinner. However, they care about this because they see our system is not working. They see that the Senate is not serving the purpose it was intended to serve. Therefore, people do legitimately talk to me about their ideas and I listen to them.

Before I came into the chamber today, I looked through some letters I received about Senate reform. I want to share a couple of them with the House. Again, they are proposing a solution that is not my solution, but it is encouraging to hear from people and know they are so engaged on this issue. I want to share just a couple of letters with you.

One letter is from Andre MacNeil, who is from Halifax. He wrote to me last year on International Women's Day. I will not even paraphrase. He said:

Hello Megan,

while listening to a news item on women's representation in the Senate (or its equivalent) in India (on the radio) this evening, I thought that we, in Canada, should consider something similar.

On the occasion of International Women's Day, I suggest that all Senate appointments be gender balanced, commencing today. From this point forward, every other appointment to the Senate should be a woman. To someone like myself—outside of politics—this seems like a reasonable possibility, since all Senate positions are appointed. As well, it should provide a much broader—and improved—representation for Canadians than the current approach.

Is this concept too “simplistic” ... or is this a viable alternative for public representation?

Thank you for your time and tireless efforts.

Andre and I have a different solution, but the point is he worries about the fact that the Senate is not working the way it should and he is trying to come up with a solution.

Mark Hoffberg wrote to me and summarized a proposal that he had. He said:

My proposal....changes the Senate from a regional representation body to one that represents the actual popular vote in the country, composed of a 100 seat chamber (with room for a rounding bump of a seat if needed). I would also allocate 5 additional seats for what the census would call Aboriginal Canadians (First Nations, Métis, Inuit).

The 5 Aboriginal seats I feel are important because of the nature of representation of Aboriginal people in the country. Making up 5% of the population but operating on wholly different governing systems, there's a lack of a voice in the direction of the country as a whole. The members would not be members of an existing party list but would be determined by other means and certainly not limited to those on or off reserves.

After a Federal Election, the number of Senate seats for each party would be determined based on the popular vote. The parties would then select members to represent them in the Senate. The parties would have a list of potential candidates available within 10 days of the writ of election being dropped....

I know the Senate is a topic of conversation so I wished to add my thoughts on it, thoughts I think would work well for all the parties in the House of Commons.

Have a good day.

He is right that the Senate is a topic of conversation.

These are two examples of Canadians writing to their MP saying that the system is broken and suggesting some ideas on how to fix it. I welcome those kinds of letters and I welcome a discussion on Senate reform.

I have a proposal. Why do we not abolish it? The reason we need to abolish the Senate is because it is “a relic of the 19th century”. Who said that? It was the right hon. Prime Minister.

The 2006 Conservative platform said that the Conservatives and the Prime Minister believed that the current Senate must either be reformed or abolished, that an unelected Senate should not be able to block the will of an elected House in the 21st century.

We can talk about these ideas on how to reform, but it is not serving us. We should abolish the Senate. At the very least, we should do what I have just done in the House, and that is welcome opinions, talk about ideas, hear from people who may even think something different than we think and put it to the test. Let us have a referendum. Why are we afraid of the Canadian people? Why are we afraid of hearing from them and getting a clear message from them, 50% plus one? Why would we not welcome that kind of participatory democracy? It is brilliant. Once we have done that, let them have a say and then follow the will of the people. Never mind party or regional posturing.

On the regional issue, I am from Nova Scotia, and the Senate is a big issue back home. People tell me that the Senate is about regional representation, that if we lose the Senate, then Nova Scotia will lose out and that this is an opportunity for Nova Scotia to have more of a say in parliamentary affairs.

When I first heard that argument, I thought it was a good point, but let us apply that to what happens in the House and the other chamber. When have we ever seen a senator stand up for Nova Scotia? When have we ever seen a senator stand up for Atlantic Canada? How are senators representing my interests as a maritimer and Atlantic Canadian? They are not because they cannot put their party allegiance aside. They are doing what the centre is telling them to do and they are not standing up for Nova Scotia.

Because I am here during the parliamentary calendar, I work and meet with constituents during the summer. Summertime is a great time to be with people in the community, whether it is at festivals or meetings. I met a senator in the airport on my way back to Ottawa and asked him how his summer was. He said that he was not busy and was so glad to go back to Ottawa. He said that he had been bored stiff. I tried to swallow the bile, because we work during the summer. We meet with our constituents and have outreach events. This man told me he was bored all summer. Well, cry me a river. Seriously, what the heck are senators doing?

I want to talk about the climate change accountability act, which was introduced in 2006 by Jack Layton. Parliament dissolved for the 2008 election so it did not get to the Senate. However, my colleague from Thunder Bay—Superior North brought it back and it passed on May 5, 2010, by a vote of 149 to 136. It went to the Senate and the Senate killed it on November 16, 2010. So much for sober second thought. Senators are activists. This is not what they are supposed to do.

I will never forget that day because I was with Jack Layton and I had never seen him that angry. He was so angry at how undemocratic this was. At a press conference, he said that this was one of the most undemocratic acts we had ever seen in the Parliament of Canada. To take power that does not rightfully belong to senators, to kill a bill that has been adopted by a majority of Canadians is as wrong as it gets when it comes to democracy in our country.

As my time has expired, it is appropriate to end on those words from my former leader, Jack Layton.

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Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member, being from Nova Scotia, raised the issue about whether senators from Nova Scotia were representing their province. I wonder if she would take issue with the former premier of Nova Scotia, the now retired senator, John Buchanan. Did he not represent Nova Scotia? I wonder if she would take issue with Senator Don Oliver, a well-known lawyer, entrepreneur, educator, a member of the black minority in Nova Scotia, nephew of a Canadian opera singer, politician Bill White and labour union activist Jack White. He is a distinguished Nova Scotian. Is the member suggesting that Senator Don Oliver does not represent the citizens of Nova Scotia?

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NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, Senator Oliver is an interesting fellow. He is one of the few senators who I actually see trying to engage with the community. I get a newsletter from him. I do not agree with his position on policies, but he is someone who tries to engage with community. He is out there doing what he can as a senator and I admire him for that.

However, that does not change my position on the Senate, especially when I am hard pressed to name the senators from Nova Scotia. I am a member of Parliament for the province of Nova Scotia and I do not know their names because they are non-existent in our province. They are not out meeting with people and talking about issues. I do not know what they do and I am here in this place. It is incredible to me.

There are some exceptions to the rule. I think Senator Jim Cowan and Senator Jane Cordy are working hard, but beyond that, it comes down to the fact that the Senate is not working. It does not matter to me that these are nice people who I happen to like, it does not work.