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House of Commons Hansard #135 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was centre.

Topics

Bill C-25—Notice of time allocation motionPooled Registered Pension Plans ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, our government remains focused on jobs, growth and the long-term economic security of Canadians. That includes planning for their retirement and ensuring that Canadians do have a secure retirement. Bill C-25, the pooled registered pension plans act, will create a new low-cost plan for these Canadians to help them save for their retirement.

In the last election, we committed to implementing this bill as soon as possible. It has been over a year since the election and Canadians expect the government to keep its commitments. Thus, it is with regret that I must advise that an agreement has not been reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78(1) or 78(2) concerning the proceedings at third reading of C-25, An Act relating to pooled registered pension plans and making related amendments to other Acts.

Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the Crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at that stage.

Bill C-24—Notice of time allocation motionCanada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, while I am on my feet, I might add that I did have the great pleasure of being Canada's international trade minister in representing Canada around the world. On May 14, 2010, in that role, I signed the Canada-Panama Free Trade Agreement. This agreement will help Canadian businesses create jobs and economic growth through expanded exports, but only if it becomes law.

It has been 754 days since I signed that agreement. Unfortunately, we have had an opposition that is ideologically opposed to free trade and unwilling to let the bill get to a vote. Thus, I regretfully again must advise that an agreement has not been reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78(1) or 78(2) with respect to the second reading stage of Bill C-24, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Panama, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Panama and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Panama.

Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the Crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at the said stage.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary NDP St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue.

The motion before this honourable House today says that the government must recognize that saving lives is the top priority for Canadian Coast Guard search and rescue services. This motion is much like the motion that was debated in the House just weeks ago. That motion called for Canada to adopt an international search and rescue readiness standard of 30 minutes at all times, around the clock, for the military's search and rescue Cormorant helicopters.

The response time for a Cormorant helicopter varies depending on the time of day. Between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday to Friday, the wheels-up response time for a Cormorant helicopter is 30 minutes. After 4 p.m., on weekends and during holidays, the wheels-up response time is up to two hours. Needless to say, that response time has cost mariners their lives. A fire department would never operate that way. People would revolt. It would make no sense because people would most surely die. People have died on the water because of the search and rescue response time policy. In fact, according to the CBC's The Fifth Estate, there have been nine cases in the last eight years alone where people died waiting for search and rescue that did not come quickly enough.

The Conservatives voted against that motion. The previous motion calling for Canada to adopt a 30-minute around-the-clock response time and the motion before the House now are about saving the lives of mariners, about how saving lives should be a top priority. That is the common theme: saving the lives of mariners.

Why did the Conservatives vote against that motion at the end of April if lives would have been saved because of it? I will tell members why. I have a quote from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, who we heard just a few minutes ago. He stated:

We also do not think it is the place of the House, this member, or other members to determine what the actual response times of the Canadian Forces, or any other body, ought to be on these matters.

I will repeat that quote:

We also do not think it is the place of the House, this member, or other members to determine what the actual response times of the Canadian Forces, or any other body, ought to be on these matters.

I could not believe it when I heard him say that it is not the place of the House to debate a search and rescue policy of the Canadian Forces that impacts the lives of Canadian mariners, that it is not the place of the House to debate an adequate search and rescue response policy that has been directly linked to the deaths of Canadian mariners, that it is not the place of the House to debate a search and rescue response policy that the Conservative government is reluctant to change because of the associated cost. How much is a life worth? Can the Conservatives give us a cost breakdown? Is that in the Conservatives' action plan?

I say it is our place to stand up for Canadians who cannot stand up for themselves or to stand up for any injustice on land or on water. It is our place to stand up when a policy falls short of protecting the Canadians it was instituted to protect. It is our place.

Here we are today debating another motion stating that the government must recognize that saving lives is the top priority for Canadian Coast Guard search and rescue services. I cannot believe we are actually debating this. How the Conservatives can argue this is beyond me. The next part of the motion before us reads, “that local service and knowledge, as well as the ability to communicate in the language of the communities served, are essential to delivering effective and timely life-saving operations...”.

Closing the maritime rescue sub-centre in my riding of St. John's South--Mount Pearl, more specifically on the south side of St. John's harbour, was the wrong move. It was the wrong move because those distress calls are now directed to Halifax, Nova Scotia, or Trenton, Ontario.

I do not know if anyone has noticed, but Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have unique accents. Most Canadians know that. Myself, I am not so lucky to have a full-blown Newfoundland accent, although we all sound different on the wharf. Many mariners are not so easy to understand unless one is from the place. If a ship is going down and there are mere seconds to send off a mayday, a mainlander would have a hard time understanding a person from Outport, Newfoundland and Labrador, who is also probably over-excited, facing a life or death situation. A mainlander would have a hard time pinpointing the various locations around Newfoundland and Labrador on a map. There are countless sea coves and countless Bell Islands, so local service and knowledge and the ability to communicate in the language of the communities served are essential. They are more than essential, they are critical. They are more than critical, it is a matter of life and death.

It was bad enough the Conservatives closed the maritime rescue sub-centre in my riding, directing distress calls again to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Trenton, Ontario. How did the Conservatives next fail our mariners? I will give the House an unbelievable example.

Medical calls for help from ships off Newfoundland and Labrador, and only off Newfoundland and Labrador, were routed 5,000 miles away to Italy. That is right. The calls were being directed to a Rome-based non-profit organization that has been described as the soup kitchen of telehelp. It was bad enough the Conservatives closed the maritime rescue sub-centre in my riding, but mainlanders, let alone Italians, have a hard enough time understanding the people where I come from.

Our search and rescue response times are among the worst in the world. That is not debatable. Our mariners have died waiting for help that did not come, and so did 14-year-old Burton Winters of Makkovik, Labrador.

The Conservative government has written off our fishery and now our mariners. The resentment toward the Conservative government is growing and will continue to grow unless the Conservative government changes tack and drops its defeatist attitude toward the east coast.

The last part of today's motion calls on the Conservative government to reverse the decision to close the maritime search and rescue coordination centres in St. John's and Quebec City as well as the Coast Guard station in Kitsilano, Vancouver.

I have had conversations with former employees of the maritime search and rescue coordination centre in St. John's. I have heard these former employees say that lives will be lost. I ask members on the other side to hear me: lives will be lost because of the Conservative government's decision.

These former employees know what they are talking about. They have worked on the front lines for decades at the rescue sub-centre. These front-line employees know the coastline of Newfoundland and Labrador like the backs of their hands. These front-line employees know the dialects of Newfoundland and Labrador. We must keep in mind that accents can be different from one cove to the next cove. These front-line employees are familiar with the hundreds of communities that dot our coastline. They know many of the men and women who ply the waters. They know not just the mariners but their friends and their relatives. That on-the-ground knowledge is critical in a search and rescue situation, where seconds seem like hours, where hours seem like days, and if it is days, well, the person would probably be dead.

I implore members of the House to vote for the motion, to vote for saving lives, to vote for making the saving of lives the top priority above saving money, above petty politics.

I implore the government to reverse its decision and to do the right thing. Show the mariners of Newfoundland and Labrador, show the mariners of Atlantic Canada, show mariners all over Canada that it knows where its priorities are, so that in the words of our late leader Jack Layton, no one is left behind on land or on water, no one is left behind.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rodney Weston Conservative Saint John, NB

Madam Speaker, I have come to know the hon. member through the fisheries committee. He certainly brings a lot of sincerity and a lot of passion to any cause that he gets behind.

We know how important the funding for refitting and the new vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard is to enable the Canadian Coast Guard to continue doing its job. When the hon. member stands here tonight and says he implores people to vote for the motion, I would implore him to vote for the budget so that we can see that funding flow so that those people can have the tools to do the job that he so rightly sets as a priority.

Would the hon. member do the right thing and vote to ensure that those people in the Canadian Coast Guard have the right tools to do the job?

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary NDP St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Madam Speaker, the hon. member opposite is from the Maritimes, from New Brunswick, if I am correct, so I cannot believe I actually have to say this. He is from a maritime province that is near the water, but the quickest way to get to a ship or a person in distress on the water is not by a Coast Guard ship, it is by Cormorant helicopter. That is the quickest way. If there is a two-hour response time after 4 p.m., and on weekends and holidays, and a 30-minute response time between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., how can he say that is okay? How can he stand up and argue for it?

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I want to compliment the member on his intervention on this important issue. I wonder if he would comment on the closure of the St. John's and Quebec City rescue centres. When all three are operating, there are six rescue coordinators on duty and when the government finishes its handiwork, if it does not change its mind, there will only be three coordinators dealing with the entire area. All of the rescue missions will be coordinated through one centre. Does the member think that having half as many people will cause problems, as well as having everything handled by one place?

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary NDP St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the motion that he presented and argued before this House at the end of April and for today's motion. These motions are critical for all of Canada, for all our maritime provinces.

The answer to his question is obviously yes. If they cut the number of personnel at these rescue sub-centres in half, from six to three, and they are expected to handle the same number of cases in a given number of hours and on top of that they have to deal with things that I mentioned in my speech, such as particular dialects on the east coast and the geography of the communities that dot our coastline, it is going to be an impossible situation.

I had a conversation with a retired employee of the rescue sub-centre in St. John's a little while ago. He said that it is a matter of time before lives are lost.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue has the floor. I must inform her that I will have to interrupt her in about seven minutes at 6:30 p.m.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I am extremely pleased to speak to this opposition motion. As a former Canadian Forces member and emergency and intensive care nurse, I have a good understanding of what happens during distress situations. That is why it is so important to me to express my thoughts on this issue.

This motion is about two factors that are critical to effective service: knowledge of the local situation and services and the ability to communicate in the primary language of the community served.

In search and rescue, in life or death situations, every minute counts. Three minutes can mean the difference between saving a life and recovering a body. This is very real. This is human life.

I will be more specific about the ability to communicate in the community's language. I would like to speak more about the Quebec City search and rescue centre, the only bilingual centre in Canada, whose closure could mean that people in anglophone regions will respond to emergency calls. As a result, even if these people are bilingual, if they live in an anglophone region, it is extremely difficult for them to keep up their language skills. For example, in Halifax, only 3% of the population speaks French and only 4.7% of the population does in Trenton. So it is very difficult for a person to maintain good language skills when living in an anglophone community, even if they start out bilingual or even francophone.

Members must understand that if people do not regularly speak French, they forget some of the common and colloquial expressions that people will use. That can be a problem because during a distress call, people do not speak properly. They panic. They use unusual expressions. They will say, for example, that their boyfriend is bleeding out—pisser le sang—and that they need someone there right away—au plus sacrant. It will not be proper French. I apologize if the words I used were not very clear.

It is also important to understand that, during distress calls, there may be interference on the line and people will have accents that may be very different. They may be ill or having a heart attack. Imagine a situation where a person is already just barely getting by in French and, in addition to interference on the line, the caller is speaking with an accent and is very out of breath because he is having a heart attack. It would be very difficult to understand the caller. That is why it is essential that a francophone centre be kept in a francophone region.

I would also like to specify that, even though I am bilingual—I am able to understand all of my hon. colleagues here—if one of my colleagues were speaking to me in English and was out of breath because he was having a heart attack and there was interference on the radio, there is a good chance that I would have trouble understanding that person and that I would have to get him to spell words because I would not be sure that I understood him correctly. There would thus be a delay in acting to save that person's life.

I would like to talk more about geography and knowledge of the local area. When people call, they are in a panic. They do not give precise directions. When people call because they are in distress, they rarely provide the ten numbers corresponding to their geographic coordinates. People use regional terms that can be hard to understand. For example, if I say that I live on the “rang de la Ferme Bordeleau”—the Bordeleau Concession—in Clerval, would any of my hon. colleagues understand me? No. But people in my region, in my community, would know exactly what I am talking about. Someone two or three provinces to the west would most likely have no clue and would have to ask me to repeat myself and be more precise.

In many cases, when people call because they are in distress, they provide information based on historical information. For example, they might say that they are close to where Mr. Faucher's boat sank five years ago. That will not mean much to someone from Trenton, but someone who lives and works in the community will remember the incident and will immediately know exactly what place the caller is talking about. That is more efficient and wastes less time.

Unfortunately, in other cases, children or teenagers call to report distress situations because the parent or grandparent they are with has suffered a medical emergency and is not doing well.

To begin with, if one does not understand the language well, and then, if the person trying to explain what is happening is an eight- or nine-year-old child, it could be a very difficult situation and precious time could be lost. Several factors must be considered.

I would remind all of my hon. colleagues that any time human lives are at stake, we cannot put a price tag on that. We are talking about human lives. In my opinion, there is no price on saving a life and I think that if we were talking about my hon. colleagues' children and spouses who were in distress, they would want previous governments that enforced the legislation and regulations to ignore the numbers and do whatever it takes to save as many lives as possible.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

It being 6:30 p.m., and today being the last allotted day for the supply period ending June 23, 2012, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the opposition motion.

The vote is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

All those opposed will please say nay.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 81(18), the division stands deferred until later this day.

Concurrence in Vote 1—The SenateMain Estimates 2012-13Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Vote 1, in the amount of $57,933,343, under PARLIAMENT — The Senate — Program expenditures, in the Main Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013, be concurred in.

Madam Speaker, I stand in the House this evening to join debate on the main estimates' allocation of funding to the Senate of Canada.

While I am always happy to discuss the ways in which our government is taking action to bring greater effectiveness and democracy to the Senate, it is disappointing to be discussing such issues as a result of partisan manoeuvring by the NDP. Rather than discuss real and achievable Senate reform measures such as term limits and getting provinces to hold a Senate nominee selection process, the NDP would rather pull procedural stunts in order to call for constitutional battles with the provinces. We know what calls for Senate abolition really are: they are calls for long-drawn-out constitutional clashes with the provinces.

At a time when the global economy is still fragile and Canadians are rightly worried about their savings, their retirement and their financial future, long-drawn-out constitutional clashes with the provinces would be a recipe for sideshows, distracting the government's attention away from the economy.

It is not surprising that the NDP would be advocating for bombastic constitutional sideshows, because it would need a sideshow in order to distract from the misinformed economic statements of a leader who shows such little regard for critical components of Canada's economy. In fact, we could say the NDP is doing that right now. Instead of talking about ways in which we can ensure jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for Canadians, the NDP is forcing a debate tonight to create a sideshow in order to distract from the leader's gaffes in calling key sectors of the economy a disease.

Frankly, if the NDP was so concerned about the state of the Senate, it would not stall the Senate reform act, yet it resorts to procedural tactics, including filibustering the Senate reform bill and creating this sideshow tonight, because it is afraid that our reforms will work. Once senators are selected by Canadians, the case for creating long-drawn-out constitutional sideshows diminishes greatly.

Our government has always been clear about our commitment to bring reform to the Senate chamber. We pledged to do this in our most recent election platform and we repeated our promise in the Speech from the Throne. While our government's top priority remains the economy, we have to do something about the status quo in the Senate. The Senate makes, reviews and passes laws that affect Canadians every day. It is not right that senators have no democratic mandate from the people they represent, nor that they can sit in the other place for decades at a time.

I believe that the Senate can play an important role in our parliamentary system. It reviews statutes and legislation, often from different perspectives than those found here on this side. It serves to represent regional and minority interests in a way different from the way they are represented in the House. Many of its members and committees have demonstrated and provided appreciable research and investigative skills and thoughtful recommendations. It can be a place where a broader range of experience and expertise can be brought to bear on the issues facing our country.

Unfortunately, I believe that the contributions of the Senate are overshadowed by the fact that senators are selected and appointed through a process that is neither formal nor transparent, with no democratic mandate whatsoever from Canadians. Moreover, there are no strict limits on the number of years an individual can sit in the Senate. Under the Constitution, an individual can be appointed at the age of 30 and serve until the age of 75. That means that senators can serve for as long as 45 years. Taken together, the Senate lacks any essential democratic characteristics. Its effectiveness and legitimacy suffer from its democratic deficit.

We must then ask ourselves this simple question: is this good enough? Our answer on this side of the House is no. Our government does not believe that the current situation is acceptable in a modern, representative democracy, and neither do Canadians. Our government has long believed that the Senate status quo is unacceptable, and therefore it must change in order to reach its full potential as an effective and democratic institution.

One, we can have a long-drawn-out constitutional Senate reform showdown with the provinces, which the NDP advocates; two, we can keep the status quo in the Senate; or three, we can have reasonable reform that can be done through Parliament.

In July of last year, public opinion research found that seven out of 10 Canadians reject the status quo in the Senate. Although striking, this is not shocking. The Senate and its reform have been the subject of numerous reports, proposals and studies over the past several decades.

While recommendations on how to reform the Senate have differed and differ still, there is one consistent theme that runs throughout. Nearly all reports and studies agree that the Senate is an important democratic institution and that reform is needed to increase legitimacy in the context of a modern democratic country.

It is clear that while there may be different approaches to solving the problem, reform is necessary. Senate reform of any kind has proven to be a complicated process. Under our Constitution, reforming fundamental aspects of the Senate, such as its powers or the representation of the provinces, requires the support of seven provinces, representing 50% of the population of the provinces.

Achieving the necessary level of provincial support for particular fundamental reforms is a complex and lengthy process, with no guarantee of success. Abolishing the Senate, for example, at the very minimum requires the consent of at least seven out of ten provinces.

Canadians do not want drawn-out constitutional battles that would detract from our government's focus on Canada's top priority, the economy. Added to this is the fact that there is not consensus among provinces to pursue large wholesale reform.

It must be said, though, that the lack of agreement on large fundamental reform does not leave us with a lack of options, if only we have sufficient will to act. If we are to begin the journey towards reform, we must do what we can within the scope of Parliament's authority.

Our government believes that Senate reform is needed now, and we are committed to pursuing a practical, reasonable approach to reform that we believe will restore effectiveness and legitimacy in the Senate. That is why we are moving forward with the Senate reform act.

Through this bill, our government is taking immediate and concrete action to fulfill our commitment to Canadians to increase the effectiveness and legitimacy of our upper House, and to work cooperatively with the provinces and territories.

The Senate reform act includes two initiatives that will help bring the Senate into the 21st century.

First, the act provides a suggested framework to provinces and territories that wish to establish democratic consultation processes to give Canadians a say in who represents them in the Senate.

Second, it introduces term limits for senators appointed after October 2008, which will ensure the Senate is refreshed with new ideas on a more frequent basis and allow Canadians to select their Senate representatives at regular intervals.

While each of these initiatives can stand on their own merits, combining these measures allows our government to act quickly to implement our promise to Canadians to bring about Senate reform.

As I have already noted, our government has long been committed to Senate reform. Our commitment to reform remains as strong as ever, and we are now in a position to act on our commitment.

We have consistently encouraged provinces and territories to implement a democratic process for the selection of Senate nominees. The Senate reform act would give clarity to our flexible approach.

The act would require the Prime Minister to consider the names of individuals selected from the holding of democratic processes with Canadians when making recommendations on appointments to the Governor General.

The act would not bind the Prime Minister or the Governor General when making Senate appointments, nor would it change the method of selection for senators. Therefore, Parliament is able to enact this provision through its authority under section 44 of our Constitution.

Under section 44 of the Constitution Act 1982, Parliament has the legislative authority to amend the Constitution in relation to the Senate. The act also contains a voluntary framework, attached as a schedule to the act, for provinces and territories to use as a basis for developing a democratic selection process to consult voters on their preferences for Senate nominees. The framework is based on Alberta's Senatorial Selection Act.

The framework is meant to provide enough details to facilitate the development of provincial or territorial legislation, without limiting provinces and territories in the establishment of a consultation process or the precise details of such a process, which may differ between jurisdictions as local needs may demand. This is, after all, a cooperative venture. Provinces and territories would not be required to implement the framework precisely as written. Rather, they would be encouraged to adapt the framework to best suit the needs of their unique circumstances, as we have seen recently with the legislation introduced in New Brunswick. It is our hope that this built-in flexibility would further encourage provinces to provide a democratic process to give greater voice to their citizens and their province in the Senate.

Before moving on to explain other aspects of the bill, I would like to note that the approach proposed in the Senate reform act has already been successful. This type of reform has already gained a toehold in the Senate.

In 2007, the Prime Minister recommended the appointment of Bert Brown to the Senate. Senator Brown was chosen as a senator-in-waiting by Alberta voters in 2004. A selection process was held under the authority of Alberta's Senatorial Selection Act, which was introduced in 1989. Senator Brown's tireless work for reform, both inside and outside the Senate, is greatly appreciated, not only by me and our government, but also by the many Canadians who want Senate reform and who have campaigned for it for many years.

Alberta may have been the first province to pass this type of legislation and to see its nominees appointed, but it is not the only province that has taken steps to facilitate reform. In 2009, Saskatchewan passed the Senate Nominee Election Act, which enables the provincial government to hold a consultation process on Senate nominees. Saskatchewan has not yet held a consultation process, but I encourage it to do so at the earliest opportunity. Our government continues to be welcoming toward discussion and cooperation, wherever possible.

In British Columbia, the premier's parliamentary secretary has introduced a bill that would provide the provincial government with the authority to hold consultation processes. Last week, a bill was introduced in the New Brunswick legislature to hold a Senate nominee process by 2016.

I will be following the progress of this legislation closely, and I would encourage my provincial colleagues in their legislative assemblies to support the passage of both bills. More broadly, I would encourage all colleagues, in all provincial and territorial legislatures and assemblies, to consider supporting and moving with similar initiatives.

I will move on to the other major initiative of our Bill C-7. In addition to encouraging the implementation of a democratic selection process for Senate nominees, the act would also limit Senate terms, which can span several decades under the current rules. Public opinion research has consistently shown that over 70% of Canadians support limiting the terms of senators. When we begin to talk about specific reforms, that amount of support for one particular provision is impressive and encouraging.

Under the Senate reform act, Senators appointed after the bill receives royal assent would be subject to a single nine-year, non-renewable term. The nine-year term would also apply to all senators appointed after October 2008. The nine-year clock for those senators would start upon royal assent.

As with the earlier provision, limiting the terms of senators would amend the Constitution, but again it is a reform that can be accomplished by Parliament through section 44 of the Constitution Act 1982. Similarly, in 1965, Parliament, acting alone, introduced a mandatory retirement age of 75 for senators. Prior to that, senators were appointed for life.

I believe it is far to say that while many in this House agree that changes to the Senate are necessary, we sometimes disagree on the way forward. Our goal is to begin the reform process, and we want to be as constructive as we can while ensuring we are moving forward.

In contrast to the position of the other parties, it is clear that our government's approach is a practical and reasonable way forward. It is the approach that can truly achieve results. In fact, the stated positions of the opposition parties are essentially arguments in favour of the status quo in the Senate. Their proposals have such a low chance of success that they might as well not even propose them at all.

For example, the official opposition would try to abolish the Senate. Aside from the very obvious sideshow that the NDP is attempting to create using procedural tactics this evening, the position on abolishment is unattainable, for a number of reasons. First, there is no consensus among the provinces to abolish the Senate. Second, to take away the Senate without significant other reforms would be to seriously damage the effective representation of large sections of our country and our Parliament.

Our upper chamber, though flawed in some ways, can serve valuable democratic functions if we can reform it to make it more effective and legitimate. We should have enough respect for our institutions and our democracy to work towards the improvement of an institution in need of repair. We should not throw our hands up in the air in defeat without first attempting reform.

The position of the Liberal Party, on the other hand, has been to advocate for a process, not a result. Liberals do not support reform of the Senate, and their 13-year record of inaction demonstrates their opposition. They have been clear about this. Yet, their suggestion is to open the Constitution and begin a process we know will end in bitter drawn-out national conflict without Senate reform being achieved. Their approach is a recipe for accomplishing nothing.

I reject the opposition's obstructionism and encourage them to join us in implementing constructive reforms that are reasonable and achievable. Let us be clear. Our reforms are reasonable and achievable. They are absolutely within Parliament's authority to enact.

Our government is dedicated to reforming the Senate so that it better reflects the values of hard-working Canadians across the country. My constituents tell me they want change. I believe it is time for change in the Senate, and that time has come.

With the Senate reform act, our government is presenting modest but important and attainable changes that will improve the Senate by providing it with greater legitimacy in the eyes of Canadians.

I consider the enhancement of our democratic institutions to be a significant responsibility, and I am privileged to be working with my hon. colleagues to meet this common objective. I encourage all of my colleagues to work toward achieving these reforms and giving Canadians a stronger voice in determining who represents them in the Senate.

Concurrence in Vote 1—The SenateMain Estimates 2012-13Government Orders

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, my colleague must feel that he is the parliamentary secretary to the Titanic or something. The portfolio he has been given to oversee and supervise has been long abandoned by his party and by his Prime Minister.

Surely my colleague will recognize that people have to be judged by what they do, not by what they say. The Conservatives have been flogging this dead horse for six years now, since they have been in government. More and more prominent people from across the country have pretty much declared this notion of Senate reform as dead on arrival.

I was here when the member's colleagues used to put on sombreros and do the Mexican hat dance in front of the Senate, mocking them with derision, saying it was the most useless institution in God's creation, that it should be abolished and that it was no good for anything. Even the myth of the triple e very rapidly turned into a triple u. Nobody wanted the unelected, undemocratic and effectively useless Senate.

I challenge the member to show the Canadian people that there is any sincerity whatsoever on the part of the government on Senate reform, because I believe his party and his leader, the Prime Minister, have put this on the too-hard-to-do pile.

The Conservatives accuse us of some kind of mission associated with generating a legitimate debate on the future of the Senate when they are using it as a fundraising tool. They are trying to mislead their base that they are still sincere about this, when in fact they have given up on Senate reform. The Conservatives have come to like the Senate the way it is. No government has ever stacked the Senate more egregiously with their hacks and flacks and bagmen than that particular Prime Minister and government, in the history of the unelected and undemocratic Senate.

Concurrence in Vote 1—The SenateMain Estimates 2012-13Government Orders

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Madam Speaker, the hon. member is absolutely wrong.

First, he is correct in that we have long been committed to Senate reform. That is why we introduced the senate reform act last year. It is currently before the House at second reading. I would ask the member to talk to his colleagues and allow the senate reform act to move from the House, bring it to a vote and get it to committee where we can further work on it.

On this side of the House, we are committed to the senate reform act. We are committed to reforming the Senate to make it a better and more democratic institution.

On that side of the House, the NDP members are committed to talking about it. They essentially want to continue to talk about the bill, but not vote on it. I would ask that they allow the bill to come to a vote. Let us vote on it and let it take the next step that it deserves in the House.

Concurrence in Vote 1—The SenateMain Estimates 2012-13Government Orders

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for his speech, except for when he is imputing motives to other parties. We can rationally discuss his speech.

Could the member explain to the House precisely what the difference is between the method of selecting senators, something that this Parliament cannot change alone, and which he agrees with, and the framework for the selection of senators that the bill would change? How can we change the framework without affecting the method? The member would have a tough time explaining that to the Court of Appeal in Quebec.

The member said that we should not start constitutional disputes, but that is exactly what the bill would do. When it goes to court, he will have to explain the difference between the method and the framework. I wish him good luck.

Concurrence in Vote 1—The SenateMain Estimates 2012-13Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Madam Speaker, it is always good to discuss these issues with him inside and outside of the House.

The method brought forward in the senate reform act is a voluntary framework for provinces to hold a consultation process with their citizens. I will give the example of Alberta.

Alberta has, for a number of years, held consultation processes, essentially an election, where the citizens of Alberta vote for their choice of senator. That list is then provided to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister recommends to the Governor General from that democratic process.

This has already resulted in senators who are currently in the House of Commons, including Betty Unger, a senator from Alberta. She is the first woman elected to the Senate. We are very proud of her achievements and very proud of this process.

This process has already been working in this place. It is a very strong precedent and a process that I would ask other provinces to look at. I encourage them to look at Alberta's process and model their voluntary frameworks after it because it works very well.

Concurrence in Vote 1—The SenateMain Estimates 2012-13Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Conservative Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Madam Speaker, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform gave a fine speech on the estimates related to the Senate and also about the results that come about from an effective Senate.

Not too long ago, we debated in the House some important legislation that emanated from the Senate, such as the statutory review of the Financial Institutions Act.

Could the minister of state give us other examples of some of the good work that the Senate, with its unique structure and composition, could provide to Parliament?

Concurrence in Vote 1—The SenateMain Estimates 2012-13Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his commitment to Senate reform, like other members on this side of the House.

The member is quite right. Senators do introduce legislation, review legislation, provide feedback and make changes to legislation. The work that senators do affect Canadians every day. That is why it is so important.

Senators work on the legislation that we pass in the House or legislation that they bring forward and we work on here. Therefore, it is very important that Canadians should have a say in who represents them in the Senate.

I believe we need to give Canadians a say because senators work on and introduce legislation in the House that affects Canadians every day. Canadians deserve to have a say in who represents them.

Concurrence in Vote 1—The SenateMain Estimates 2012-13Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Winnipeg Centre for bringing forward the suggestion that we withdraw this aspect of funding in the estimates, which has triggered this debate. It is an important debate to have about the role of the Senate and its redundancy because it raises the question of democratic reform overall.

I listened to the Minister of State for Democratic Reform speak about democratic reform, but it seems to me the Conservative Party has gone so far from its original propositions around democratic reform that it is now just a pale echo of what it once stood for.

In speaking about democratic reform, we in the NDP have always called for democratic reform of our electoral system, for example, proportional representation, which is a much stronger and more credible position to ensure there is fair and democratic representation in Canada and that the way people vote actually counts in terms of the reflection of the House.

Why does the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, who is supposedly responsible for democratic reform, have nothing to say about the question of something like proportional representation and how important that has been in many different legislatures and parliaments in the world? In fact, we are now one of the very few places that does not have some form of proportional representation.