House of Commons Hansard #5 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senators.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wonder why the NDP is so willing to look at the accountability of others but not of itself. We are asking about the House as much as the Senate, it seems to me.

I ask my colleague, after his wonderful speech, why it is that the NDP only provides links on its MPs' websites to the existing annual data the House of Commons' financial services office provides every year. These are aggregated totals and provide no detail on individual trips and hosting events. How do they explain that the NDP has done practically nothing to provide more accountability on the status quo?

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the question from my colleague. That is the big question. Do we want to define hypocrisy? Deal with the motion we have before us and listen to how the NDP keeps on saying “no, no, no, no” with regard to having more accountability inside the House, let alone the Senate. That was the essence of 20% of my speech.

The NDP can take it upon itself. The Liberals have already done it. The Conservatives have committed to doing it. All eyes are on the New Democrats. When are they going to do it? The NDP does not have to wait until we change the law. It can actually do it proactively. I think that is the point my good friend is making.

Do not wait for the law to change. Make some effort to be proactive on accountability. Do not just say that the Senate needs to be more accountable. We need to be more accountable here, too. Why not join the Liberals and the Conservatives? I do not like saying nice things about the Conservatives, but they did do something smart here, and they have agreed to be more accountable on the issue. Join--

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please.

We are getting narrow on time for the remaining period. We have time for one more question.

The hon. member for Alfred-Pellan.

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I found it very strange to hear Liberals and Conservatives talking just now of transparency with regard to spending in the two chambers. It set a fire under me and I was in quite a hurry to rise, it made so little sense.

The NDP is the only party whose members post their expenses online so that they are accessible to all Canadians. No other party in the House does this. Let no one speak to me about the Liberals' transparency.

I have looked in vain at what the Liberals are trying to do for the Senate: I see no plan. None. For days and days, I have been responding to reply cards from hundreds of people in my riding who are writing to me to ask if we are finally going to abolish the Senate—that is all they are waiting for.

Frankly, I am extremely disappointed. I can say that in my riding, in Laval, and everywhere in Canada that my New Democrat colleagues went this summer, people talked to us about abolishing the Senate. I consider what the Liberal member is trying to do very small-minded.

Where is the Liberals’ plan? They do not have one.

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat reluctant to be the bearer of bad news. I belive that the leader of the New Democratic Party and his team of communications people have somewhat hoodwinked the backbenchers. If they believe that they are more transparent than the Liberal Party by having a link that goes to another link that goes to a site that says that in total here is what they have spent, I would suggest that she get outside of her leader's bubble and the New Democratic line, because that is not the case.

I would suggest that she go to the Liberal Party website. There she can find out how much money I spent on hospitality when I flew to Winnipeg. She can not only do that for the Liberal MPs but for the Liberal senators.

All we are saying is to join us in sharing with Canadians. Stop laughing at Canadians and join us in sharing with Canadians. Tell Canadians how and why they are spending the kind of—

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please.

We are moving on to resuming debate.

The hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard.

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my very dear colleague from Compton—Stanstead.

I am pleased to rise for my first speech in this parliamentary session. In question period, I asked a number of questions about the expense scandal and the Wright-Duffy scandal, as well as about the accountability of the Conservatives and more specifically the Prime Minister's Office.

I asked a number of questions in order to see whether the government would deny its previous statements, which contradicted some new facts and statements that were brought to our attention just this week.

How did they answer them? They said that they had already answered those questions. Yet how can they have already answered the questions when the previous questions were asked several months ago and there are now new questions based on additional information obtained only a few days ago? It is nothing more than a diversionary tactic. They also answered that they did not want to talk about the issue and that they preferred to talk about the economy.

It is true that it is extremely important to discuss the economy. I agree with that, but how can anyone trust a government that cannot even give straight answers to questions about accountability and transparency?

When a government simply stops trying to duck questions, and says bluntly that it does not want to discuss them, it seems as though the government is admitting to lying, but saying that it does not want to talk about it and that it would rather talk about something else. Of course the government would rather talk about something else. We understand that. The fact remains, however, that the Prime Minister and the government in power are accountable to the people. The people are entitled to answers and transparency. That is something we are trying to achieve.

All of these questions about the Senate expense scandal and the involvement of the Prime Minister's Office have led us today to the NDP motion, which addresses the expense and Senate scandals.

I recently received a few emails from Caitlin, Leslie-Alan, Christine, Tom, Steve, Don, Edward, Donna, Paul, Trpimir and Shaima.

I would like to quote a few sentences from those emails. The first says, “This is now about more than a Senate spending scandal. This is about the potential cover-up of the abuse of public money for partisan political purposes”.

Another part of the email says, “In addition, the public inquiry should fully investigate all senators to determine if they are using public money to pay for partisan gain”.

I heard from a few people in my riding who are very concerned about the expenses of the Senate and the use of public money for political partisan purposes. This is exactly what the NDP motion addresses today.

Specifically, for those people who wrote me with their concerns and others who wrote me on different topics, which I will come back to later, that, yes, I heard what they had to say. The NDP is aware of the concerns we hear in the general Canadian population. That is why we brought this motion forward. It is to answer those specific concerns and ask: to prohibit senators from taxpayer-funded partisan work; and that senators no longer participate in party caucuses or do fundraising, or organizing or public advocacy on behalf of a political party using Senate resources. Members can see the link with the emails I received recently.

Another thing we ask in the motion is to end taxpayer-sponsored travel not directly related to senators' legislative work. This is what we propose regarding what we heard from Canadians.

Both the Conservatives and the Liberals seem to be telling us that we are way out in left field. I am sorry to say that they are wrong; we are not out in left field. We are trying to listen to people's concerns and quickly suggest practical solutions. That is our goal, but the Liberals' and the Conservatives' partisanship is keeping us from achieving that goal.

Why would the Liberals and the Conservatives oppose the NDP's common-sense motion? The basic reason is that we have a different view of the Senate's tasks and mission. According to the Senate administrative rules, partisan activities are an inherent and essential part of the parliamentary functions of a senator.

I receive many emails and letters from constituents who are unhappy when they see public funds being used for political and partisan purposes. However, the Senate administrative rules say that such a thing is completely normal. Partisan activities are part of the parliamentary functions of senators. That is something we cannot agree with. For the NDP, the Senate, in its very essence and foundation, is clearly not meant to serve political goals or missions. The Senate should be the wise chamber, the independent chamber that examines bills to make sure that they do not contain any major flaws. Either way, the House of Commons would have passed the Bill. In fact, the Conservatives and the Liberals often use these same arguments: let us keep the Senate in place. It serves a useful role in reviewing bills and plays a part in a healthy democracy.

That sounds like doublespeak to me. If senators really serve a partisan function, how can they truly study the bills introduced by the various parties with any integrity? There have been times when, not wanting to defeat a given bill for fear of upsetting its base or its supporters, the government, whether Liberal or Conservative, has publicly voted in favour of the bill, only to have it defeated in the Senate under orders from the Prime Minister or the party, neither of which wished to be seen opposing the bill. It seems that the Senate is not as wise a chamber as we would have hoped. It is a partisan tool to be wielded by political parties.

I would now like to move on to another point. The Senate's partisan functions give rise to more than a few inconsistencies. I would like to point out that I do not recall any protests or major complaints by citizens regarding the abolition of provincial senate chambers. It does not seem like the provinces are any less democratic, that they are less functional or in peril. Not at all. The Senate spends $90 million every year. There are probably quite a few community organizations in my riding that would have some suggestions as to how those funds could be reinvested.

Earlier, I heard a Conservative MP say that voters would never be ready to see the senators representing them resign their seats. I would like to talk about something rather amusing that happened on Montreal’s West Island. A senator decided to run for federal office. My colleague, right next to me, knows this story and I can hear him chuckling. So then, let me tell the story again. A senator resigned his seat to run in the elections. He came in third in the 2011 election. He was then reappointed to the Senate. If it is true that voters did not want to lose this valuable senator, they could have voted otherwise. But this senator did not win the seat he was contesting and he was subsequently reappointed to the Senate. That is not all. Many people have heard that apparently this very same senator is considering running again in a future election. I would be curious to see that happen. I know of several examples. I am familiar with this case because it happened in my riding. It illustrates just how frustrated people are with everything that is wrong with the Senate.

In conclusion, I just want to say that a number of reforms are needed in the Senate. Earlier, my Liberal colleague said that he was in favour of Senate reform. The Liberals have been talking about reform for quite some time, but nothing has happened so far.

The Conservatives said that they were going to reform the Senate. It was an election promise. So what are we seeing right now? I would like to see the proposed Senate reform legislation. Maybe I missed something, but I do not recall seeing any such legislation brought forward. I have not seen any legislation, because none has been forthcoming.

The promises of the Liberals and Conservatives have not amounted to anything. The NDP will move forward with its proposal to abolish the Senate. However, why wait until 2015 and the election of an NDP government? We can act now on issues that are of concern to Canadians. That is why the NDP has tabled this motion today.

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Lise St-Denis Liberal Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, there is one question I would like to ask my colleague.

Does she take a partisan stand when she is supporting a bill as a member of her party? Furthermore, would she say it is unacceptable to take a partisan stand when supporting a bill?

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question. She wants to know whether I sometimes show partisanship when defending a bill.

I ran in the last election under the NDP banner. As such, I promised constituents that if elected, I would defend the NDP's platform and values, which I proudly do today.

Is it the same for senators, you may ask? No, it is not the same. Senators are chosen by a political party, therein lies the rub. They claim to be part of the wise Chamber, when they are in fact guided by partisanship, as my colleague pointed out.

Unlike members of Parliament, senators never had to campaign under a party's banner to be elected. That is the whole problem. We should not confuse the issue.

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Independent

Bruce Hyer Independent Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will vote for the opposition motion, but I am disappointed that it is a little vague and does not cover all the bases and specifics that it might have.

One thing I would have liked to have seen in the motion is a specific reference to senators campaigning during elections. A Liberal senator came into my riding and held public meetings holding the hand of the Liberal candidate, whom I will acknowledge only took third anyway. Is this an appropriate use of members of the chamber of second thought?

Why did the NDP not mention some of these specifics rather than these broad generalities?

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

I thank my colleague for his question, Mr. Speaker.

Perhaps he believes the motion is not vague enough. I did not hear any specific suggestion about what should be added.

I can say, however, that travel for partisan purposes is a problem. I agree with him on that point.

I think the NDP motion adequately addresses that issue as it seeks to limit travel expenses paid for by the taxpayer to activities that are directly related to senators' legislative functions. When senators travel during an election, is that related to their legislative work?

In my opinion, the motion give us the means and the tools to deal with a senator who spends taxpayer money for partisan purposes.

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I asked the question earlier, but I would like to hear what the hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard has to say on the issue of credibility and alternatives for the Senate.

Originally, the Senate was the place where populist excesses that might have occurred in the House of Commons could be discussed and, in a sense, possibly eliminated.

Today, however, the Senate does not play that role. The Senate is an extension of the House of Commons for political parties. One instance of this is the participation of senators in caucuses and in the whole issue of fundraising and partisan appearances at various political events for the parties.

In that sense, the Senate has lost a great deal of its credibility and its legitimacy in the eyes of Canadians.

However, there are still some alternative solutions that would serve to strengthen various mechanisms, such as officers of Parliament, including the auditor general, or other oversight and watchdog functions, including the parliamentary budget officer, so that the Senate does in fact fulfill its role of overseeing House of Commons activities.

I would like to hear what my colleague has to say on these possible alternatives to the status quo of a dysfunctional Senate that has lost all credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, a brief answer will not be easy, but I will try.

I would like to thank my colleague for reminding us about the bills and motions that the NDP has tabled to ensure that there is an independent review and some transparency in the House of Commons, which goes well beyond what the senators can currently do when they are tied to political parties.

I would like to wrap up by showing you the 200 or so notes I received from my constituents supporting Senate abolition. For example, one of them said that in 2004, the Prime Minister committed to Senate reform and said that he would never appoint a senator. However, he has appointed 59 since. That is inconsistent. The only ones defending the Senate are the Conservatives and the Liberals, the two parties currently benefiting the most from the Senate.

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau NDP Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take advantage of my party's first opposition day to ask the government to put immediate measures in place to put an end to partisanship in the Senate. In this spirit, I will unreservedly support the motion of my colleague from Toronto—Danforth because it is particularly meaningful when one considers the many scandals brought to light last spring.

Need I elaborate at greater length on the subject of those senators who are under investigation and those who will soon have to answer for their actions before the law?

Moreover, the first part of the motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, urgent steps [hence their urgent nature] must be taken to improve accountability in the Senate, and, therefore, this House call for the introduction of immediate measures to end Senators' partisan activities…

This is unacceptable. We in the NDP firmly believe we do not need to wait until the Senate is abolished to take adequate corrective measures in this matter. That will be done starting in 2015, when an NDP government is elected for Canada as a whole. In the meantime, concrete measures can be taken immediately to make the Senate more accountable and more transparent. We want measures requiring no constitutional amendment to be taken.

First of all, we would like to abolish the partisan work being done at taxpayers' expense. Senators should no longer be allowed to attend caucus meetings, take part in fund-raising or engage in political organization or the promotion of a political party using the Senate's resources. That is unacceptable. It is a virtual betrayal of Canadians.

The original mission of the Senate of Canada was much more to protect citizens and abandoned regions. Quite frankly, virtually all of Canada and rural Quebec feel abandoned by this government, which is indecent and unfair to the population of Canada.

One thing is clear: too much public money is being spent on partisan activities. Once again, this is not normal in a democracy, particularly in these times of fiscal restraint.

I am going to say what the vast majority of Quebeckers think about the Senate of Canada. First of all, it is referred to in one popular expression as "the senile chamber". I will not go that far because I know some senators in this chamber who have very good intentions. That is not the problem. However, Quebeckers and Canadians from sea to sea have had enough of a Senate that is unelected, unaccountable and, above all, under investigation. That makes no sense when you think of the middle class, which struggles every day to make ends meet. This is an insult to the middle class, both in Quebec and in Canada as a whole. That is one of the reasons why the NDP is proposing the only real solution: that the Senate simply be abolished.

Yes, the NDP genuinely wants to abolish the Senate because that institution is expensive, costing nearly $100 million that could be allocated to people living in Conservative misery. In the meantime, Canadians should not have to wait for more transparency, genuine accountability and the end of partisanship when solutions can be introduced immediately.

Both Liberals and Conservatives speak in favour of the Senate, claiming that the upper chamber offers an opportunity to take a second look at proposed legislation. How can the Senate play that role when the Liberals and Conservatives have filled it with their friends, party organizers and backers and former candidates? Do they really think people are that stupid?

It is unacceptable for senators to travel all across the country at election time on the public dime. It is unacceptable because, as we well know, senators typically serve only the interests of the party that nominated them.

That is why the motion suggests another valuable change: putting an end to taxpayer-funded trips not directly related to senators' legislative roles. The current practice is an aberration, an insult to our intelligence!

Senators may have to travel for their work, of course, and that is perfectly all right. However, Canadians should not have to pay for any personal trip a senator makes for partisan purposes or because of a supposed second home.

More and more Canadians tell us that there is no place in our democracy for an unelected, unaccountable Senate. As a modern society, we need to adapt to a modern democracy and a modern economy. Our democracy no longer needs a useless Senate whose very rare interventions have always been partisan. Clearly, the use of public funds for partisan work must stop.

At the end of the day, appointed senators, and particularly those who abuse their privileges, do not at all represent the interests or values of Canadians who work hard to make ends meet. We think of the budget cuts affecting employment insurance, the protection of family farms and the rural economy. The middle class accounts for over 90% of the Canadian population and the government let it down. I said before that senators' initial mission was to protect these people but they no longer do so.

Consequently, the Senate is fundamentally an undemocratic institution and it should no longer be part of the Parliament of Canada. It dates back to the time of Confederation. The Fathers of Confederation gave that chamber the mission of reviewing and improving legislation passed by the House of Commons. At the time, senators had to be less partisan and, historically, they rarely got involved in this debate.

The Fathers of Confederation had also imagined a Senate that would ensure adequate representation of the minorities, the provinces and the regions in our federal legislative process. However, the Senate never really fulfilled that role. Senators have always voted based on their parties' interests instead of the interests of the regions that they should represent.

What we on this side really want—except for a few stubborn members who still have friends in the other place—is to abolish the Senate. That is all. We know that this objective will be hard to achieve in the short term. That is why today we are proposing with this motion that the other parties join us to begin a process that will lead to a reform and that will also satisfy Canadians, who are clearly demanding that the Senate be modernized.

The Senate must not be elected. It must be non-partisan. Senators are entitled to their political opinions, like many other observers. However, we think that the Senate was not created to be a partisan institution and that tax dollars should not be used to fund partisan activities.

As I said, we want senators to stop attending caucus meetings. It is an aberration. In Ottawa, senators should make good use of their time and of the Senate resources. They should not attend partisan activities such as caucus meetings. Rather, they should review the legislation objectively, in the true sense of the word, as was originally intended.

In closing, I congratulate my colleagues for their speeches today. I will let the next speakers provide a more detailed explanation of the second part of the excellent motion presented by the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth. In that part, we are asking that the administrative rules of the Senate be updated so that the definition of “parliamentary functions”, for example, excludes partisan work and work not related to the Senate. Subsequently, senators will no longer be allowed to use tax dollars for activities other than those related to their functions. The legislation should also be reviewed so that the regions of Canada are better represented.

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I ask my NDP colleague whether he believes that the constituents he represents are entitled to a little more accountability and transparency in terms of MPs and senators bringing forward to the public their travel and hospitality expenses, two things that cabinet ministers currently do. Does he believe, for example, that his constituents have the right to know when and where he has flown at taxpayers' expense and where he is spending money in terms of hospitality? Does he believe his constituents have a right to see how he has spent money?

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

October 22nd, 2013 / 5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I am not sure the question is completely relevant to the question before the House.

Does the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead wish to answer the question?

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau NDP Compton—Stanstead, QC

I will answer the question, Mr. Speaker. When people inquire about my expenses and ask to see my expense account, they can easily consult our website, where they can follow a link to get that information. However, if they need more information, we can go over it together. I am extremely transparent about the activities and expenses in my riding, including those of my staff and my travel expenses.

Geographically speaking, my riding is vast. Consequently, my travel expenses are high. However, I always try to make ends meet in the most efficient way possible, as our expenses have been limited, or should I say frozen, in the last few years. The size of my riding makes that aspect of my work very challenging.

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to be back in the House. I am pleased to be able to ask a question.

To answer the hon. member for Winnipeg North, New Democrats are not followers, they are innovators. That is why we want no part of the Liberal Party's marketing campaign. Instead, they are welcome to our ideas.

That said, I have a comment for the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead. We want the Senate abolished because it is fundamentally flawed and has been since birth. One hundred and fifty years ago, one of the criteria for being appointed a senator was to hold property worth $4,000. At the time, that was a huge sum. It made for a very elite institution.

Would the hon. member like to talk about that aspect of elitism and about the birth defect that is impossible to correct without killing the baby?

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau NDP Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, the question from the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou is an excellent one because it really does highlight the elitist nature of the chamber that, at the time, was conceived as such. Today, it does not apply at all to our current situation.

I really want to believe in the good intentions surrounding some appointments. We see people from many different walks of life in our upper chamber, including economics, politics and even sport.

However, if, at one time, we thought in terms of an elite, today, we would do better to think in terms of our population. What does our population look like; how is it made up? That is what should be better represented now. In the Senate, we should see not only people like those I have just named, but also people from every social class, people who have done community work, people who have worked in economic activities of all kinds, but also people from all kinds of ethnic groups. In fact, we have to fully accept that Canada is so different from one end of the country to the other that it would be unthinkable for an upper chamber not to reflect those differences.

What does elitism mean today? How can we quantify or qualify it? We should have an elected upper chamber and we should take a very close look at the applicants. We have to think about Canada's demographics, from coast to coast. First Nations should be represented, as should people of all kinds.

However, what the NDP wants is quite simply the abolition of the Senate, because $100 million is being spent for nothing.

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before I recognize the member for Hamilton Centre under resuming debate, he will probably know this, of course, but I will remind him that there are about six minutes remaining in the time allocated for the business of supply this afternoon. He may want to guard his comments around that timeframe.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Hamilton Centre.

Opposition Motion—Senate AccountabilityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do appreciate your caution on the time. You are probably fully aware that it takes me almost six minutes just to clear my throat. I will do my best to keep it as tight as I can, but I am so glad to have this chance.

This is one of my favourite subjects, the senate, and the fantasyland that exists between what people think is happening over there and what is really happening there. That is why I am very proud that my caucus, the official opposition, has put this motion forward, and I will read it.

That, in the opinion of this House, urgent steps must be taken to improve accountability in the Senate, and, therefore, this House calls for the introduction of immediate measures to end Senators' partisan activities, including participation in Caucus meetings....

There is more after that, but for the sake of time I am going to focus on the caucus meetings.

It is interesting that the fallacy, the fantasy that exists right now, is that this House is there for sober second thought. I am not going to play on the obvious, but the whole idea, and why Canadians have been willing to accept and live with this, is because of the belief that high-calibre Canadians, people respected across the country, would sit in a chamber and use their love and passion for this country to look at things from a distance in a non-partisan way after we have dealt with something in a very partisan way. It sounds good, which is why I think Canadians have been willing to live with this albatross over there.

The fact is that there is nothing independent about the Senate. There are some independent senators, I will give them that, but most of them overwhelmingly are partisan. If there is any doubt, we can look at the way the House is structured. There are positions called “leader of the government in the Senate” and “leader of the opposition”. They have whips, the same as we have.

Why do we have caucus whips? It is an awful job. Their job is to go around to every member of their caucus and, whether they like the matter or not, they are to make sure that the platform the party ran on and stands behind is maintained, that the caucus works in unity and that they get in there. That is why there are all these jokes about whips and we see whips given to whips as a bit of joke. However, the reality is that it is a crucial part of our system meant to make sure that those who belong to a certain partisan caucus get in the House and vote the way that caucus is voting.

If one has independence in a House, why would one need whips? It is because it is not non-partisan. It is fully partisan. That is why we are saying that, at the very least, if they are going to continue this facade, stop the embarrassment of all those senators, Liberal and Conservative mostly, marching nicely in order into the caucus meetings where they meet with partisan MPs, are part of policy development and are part of caucus unity. When they walk out the door, they are in lockstep with their MP partisan colleagues. Where is the independence in that? There is not any independence. Therefore, at the very least, we are asking if we can at least not have them participate obviously in the weekly caucus meetings. Is that so much to ask?

I realize there are some questions about constitutionality and how we would do all that, but it is a motion. It is an expression of intent. It is an expression of the opinion of this House.

In our opinion, this House should reflect the fact—not that we do not want the Senate, nor that we do not want any partisanship. However can we at least get rid of some of the blatant evidence that points to the contrary? At the very least, let them get their marching orders by email rather than walking into the caucus meetings when they are supposed to wearing a label that says “independent; nobody tells me what to do, except the Prime Minister, and the caucus, and my whip and the leader in Senate”.

There is no independence in that, yet Conservatives and Liberals will continue to play this fantasy that there is some kind of independent thought going on. There is, in the hands of a few senators, some excellent ones and I want to give them their due, but the vast majority are entitled to wear the title of “partisan hack”. Let us call it what it is.

I want to end on this note. If anybody doubts the partisanship, I do not normally name individuals, but Senator Duffy really did take it to a whole new level. The ink was hardly dry on his order in council, and he was attacking the opposition and praising the government. Where is the independence in that?

Let me leave the House with this. The idea that electing senators is going to solve our problem is equally a fallacy, because even the Supreme Court of Canada has said that an elected Senate would be a radical change to our parliamentary system. The court does not use the word “radical” lightly.

The current system does not work. Electing senators just creates the kind of nightmare gridlock that exists down in the United States. The only thing that makes any sense is abolishing the Senate.

Statements by Prime Minister Regarding Repayment of Senator's ExpensesPRIVILEGEGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I rise at this time to respond to the question of privilege raised by the member for Timmins—James Bay, regarding the Prime Minister's remarks in question period on June 5, 2013. These comments are supplemental to my initial comments last Thursday. I assured the House that I would return, and that is what I am doing right now.

The assertions of the member for Timmins—James Bay for the NDP are absurd. They are more a political stunt than a question of privilege. From the outset, I would like to point to the ruling of Mr. Speaker Fraser of May 5, 1987, on pages 5765 and 5766 of the Debates. He said:

I would remind the House, however, that a direct charge or accusation against a Member may be made only by way of a substantive motion of which the usual notice is required. This is another long-standing practice designed to avoid judgment by innuendo and to prevent the overextended use of our absolute privilege of freedom of speech. One of my distinguished predecessors, Mr. Speaker Michener, in a ruling on June 19, 1959, which has frequently been quoted in this House stated that this is a practice demanded by simple justice.

As I told the House last week, the Prime Minister has been very clear on this matter. He had no knowledge of Mr. Wright's personal payment until May 15, after it was reported. The file was handled by Nigel Wright, and he has taken sole responsibility.

As the Prime Minister said during the summer adjournment, after this new information came to light, “when I answered questions about this in the House of Commons, I answered questions to the best of my knowledge”.

We also heard this Monday, from the right hon. member in question period. Let me refer to the blues:

I answered based on the information I had at that time.

What is more is that the Prime Minister told us this and made this record clear during the first question period he attended after the subsequent news became public over the summer. The case presented by the opposition centres on a ruling of Mr. Speaker Jerome in relation to evidence heard at a royal commission. The unique nature of that case was later explained in a ruling of Mr. Speaker Francis on January 24, 1984 at page 701 of the Debates. He said:

In every case, except one, that I have studied that is relevant to the issue involved, the Speaker has ruled that there was no prima facie case of privilege. The question I have to answer is whether the facts in this instance require that this one decision by Mr. Speaker Jerome in 1978 should be the relevant precedent. In the 1978 case, there was evidence before the McDonald Commission that the then Solicitor General had been deliberately misled by officials under his jurisdiction. That evidence was the specific element which led Mr. Speaker Jerome to find a prima facie case of privilege and to allow the usual motion to be put to the House. In the present case before the Chair there is no such admission of wrongdoing or of wilful omission by officials or by the Minister.

The admission in question was described by Madam Speaker Sauvé on May 27, 1981 at page 9979 of the Debates in another ruling that distinguished the 1978 case. She said:

That precedent has to do with a letter which had been improperly drafted by the RCMP and which they admitted had been improperly drafted....

As pointed out by the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay, Mr. Speaker, your ruling of May 7, 2012 at page 7649 of the Debates articulated a three-part test for establishing a contempt in relation to misleading the House. Referring back to the words I just quoted from my right hon. friend, the claim by the hon. member opposite fails in no fewer than two respects of that test you articulated. First, no answers given in the House were known to be incorrect. On Thursday, I quoted from the Prime Minister's July comments. On Monday, we heard from him here in the House.

Citation 494 of Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms, sixth edition, states:

It has been formally ruled by Speakers that statements by Members respecting themselves and particularly within their own knowledge must be accepted.

This is echoed by Mr. Speaker Fraser on November 1, 1990 at page 14970 of the Debates. He said:

...it is a fundamental principle and long-established convention of the House to accept as true the word of an hon. member.

On the second branch of that three-part test, there was no intention whatsoever to mislead the House in any way, shape or form. The necessity of intent is a consistent thread through countless Speakers' rulings over the years. For example, Mr. Speaker Parent, on October 19, 2000 at page 9247 of the Debates, said:

Only on the strongest and clearest evidence can the House or the Speaker take steps to deal with cases of attempts to mislead members.

Madam Speaker Sauvé addressed situations like this on May 27, 1982 at page 17824 of the Debates. She said:

The Chair cannot give precedence to a motion offered under the head of privilege unless it can be determined, prima facie, that a contempt has been committed.... Assertions have been made to that effect, but they remain assertions, and as such do not provide grounds for the Chair to find a prima facie breach of privilege.

Unlike the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay, let me offer a fact. The Prime Minister's actual conduct is entirely consistent with the answers he provided. On May 28, the Right Hon. Prime Minister said:

On Wednesday, May 15, I was told about it. At that very moment, I demanded that my office ensure that the public was informed....

That is the expectation he set for his own office and for his own staff. His immediate direction to staff to issue a public statement indicating that such a payment from Mr. Wright occurred is the action of someone being open and candid with the public. It is not the conduct of someone seeking to hide anything. That is also entirely consistent with his answers here in the House.

If the Prime Minister set such a clear expectation for his staff, how can the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay reconcile his allegations with the words of the Prime Minister? As I mentioned earlier, it is long established that members are taken at their word. The Prime Minister has been forthright, he has been public about this matter and he has been clear about this in both word and in deed.

In conclusion, I respectfully submit that there is no prima facie case of privilege. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, you should be able to dismiss the question based on the ample arguments here presented without the need for further interventions on the point.

Statements by Prime Minister Regarding Repayment of Senator's ExpensesPRIVILEGEGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague across the way for his intervention. We were looking forward to it. I would ask the indulgence when the Speaker returns to the chair, I know he will be looking at the blues of this intervention by my friend across the way, as there may be a small supplemental that we will seek to further enhance and perhaps counter some of the arguments that the government House leader has made.

I have just a few very brief ones right now with respect to a couple of the points that were raised. The gravity of the situation is obviously serious and significant. What we are talking about is an ongoing police investigation into the Prime Minister's Office, involving all of his hand-chosen staff, and having implicated and led to the resignation of Nigel Wright in the involvement of the Mike Duffy scandal, and the payoff of $90,000 which, according to Mr. Duffy's lawyer, was done under some considerations.

What was specifically raised earlier this week, when I rose on this point of privilege just yesterday, was that Mr. Duffy contends, and has evidence to this effect that is now before the courts and in the hands of the police, that the Prime Minister's own contestation in this place, when we took his word last spring, was that Mr. Wright acted alone and there was no one else involved.

Yet we now find out that the correspondence between the Prime Minister's chief of staff and Mr. Duffy on many occasions involved the terms “we” and “we will coordinate”. Lawyers were involved, the Prime Minister's own lawyer, as well as the lawyer representing Mr. Duffy, at various points.

The Prime Minister is now seeking somehow to be believed that he has plausible deniability. His chief of staff, his lawyer, several of his senior aides within the Prime Minister's Office were all working on this file for many weeks and months. It was dominating the national news. However, the Prime Minister never at any point asked any questions of them, and was never at any point briefed about the most serious scandal affecting his government of the day.

Maybe for some of the prime ministers in our past that might somehow be possible, if they were the more laissez-faire and casual kind. I would never suggest that this Prime Minister has ever been accused of being casual about his control of the agenda and his own staff, as my colleague just said.

Allow me to quote from something that arose in question period. My friend has said that the Prime Minister has always been forthright in these conversations, yet just today when given very specific questions by the Leader of the Opposition about a specific element of this case and this scandal, the Prime Minister stood and the first thing he said was that he had already answered that question.

It would be laughable if it were not tragic, because the specific question was clearly not answered because then the Prime Minister would go on about something else. He is continuing to lose credibility.

I want to quote this, because I think it is important in terms of accountability, what we are seeking here as a government principle, and also the prima facie case that we are seeking with you, through your office, Mr. Speaker. The Prime Minister's message to his ministers, the context around ministerial accountability and being accountable for a ministership, was called “Accountable Government”, a guide for ministers and parliamentary secretaries, 2011. It reads:

As a Minister, you are individually accountable to Parliament for the discharge of all responsibilities vested in you. You must answer all questions pertaining to your areas of responsibility, correcting any inadvertent errors at the earliest [possible] opportunity.

These are the definitions we also use about telling the truth in this place, which is the case that is before the Speaker's table now, as to whether the Prime Minister lied or not, whether he knowingly misled the House or was misled by his staff, and as minister is still accountable for that misinformation which he continued to say: that Mr. Wright acted alone in the Duffy affair, that there was no conversation had within the PMO, that there was only one actor. Those things have now proven to be untrue. It is the Prime Minister's duty and obligation to follow his own words and his own direction to his ministers. The government is seeking distinction but with no difference.

I would allow that even today in the House leader's submission to this place in defence of his Prime Minister, just three hours ago we saw the Prime Minister on his feet using the exact same tactics that have gotten him into trouble to this point. When we ask for accountability or any level of regret from this Prime Minister, we see none.

In terms of answering questions, we could literally count on one hand the number of questions the Prime Minister has actually taken from the media on any of these things. The audacity of any member of the media to ask a question inadvertently gets them barred off the prime ministerial plane, it seems. That decision was thankfully reversed.

Allow this, Mr. Speaker, that in the question we are looking at, the seriousness of this case will require your office to do somewhat of an investigation itself. It will have to compare the answers that the Prime Minister gave, particularly in the springtime under questions from the Leader of the Opposition, the answers the Prime Minister offered up, looking straight into the camera and suggesting that something is proven to be not true that was under his watch, in his ministership as Prime Minister, and the fact that leads to the conclusion that a prima facie case of misleading the House is of the most serious nature.

This cannot be casually dismissed by the government or some attempt to change the channel and all of the rest, because of an RCMP investigation into the Prime Minister's office, into the very heart of his inner sanctum. The only very clear comparison we have is the John A. Macdonald affair. Massive corruption existed when the great line was built across Canada. However, where the police had to investigate a sitting Prime Minister through his chief of staff and all the way down, we have not seen that before.

In the worst years of the Liberal scandals in Quebec, in the worst years of the Brian Mulroney regime and the years going back, we never saw the depth of concern that Canadians now have over a Prime Minister who seems to have, in the initial case, such profoundly restricted judgment and a sense of right versus wrong and then a Prime Minister who is so unwilling at any point in this entire conversation to come forward and say, “The facts as I knew them in the spring of this year were then proven to be wrong. I regret that”. That would actually take care of the case we have before us and I would also offer would go a long way to restoring some faith that Canadians have lost in the government for being accountable and even showing a modicum of honesty in the way it deals with something so important as paying off a sitting senator to stay quiet because he had illegally taken money and his reimbursement. That is the debate going on in the Senate right now.

It is incredible to me that these words are so difficult for the Prime Minister. Many of us in politics have a challenge with the “I am sorry” or “I was wrong” statements, but it always seems that as grave as the initial infraction was, it is only compounded when leaders, as the Prime Minister has done, refuse to admit what is obvious to everybody who is watching, that mistruths were spoken and people were misled. People expect more from the Prime Minister. This is beneath the office of the Prime Minister to conduct himself in this way and to stand day after day in the House of Commons and suggest things that are simply not true.

While it might seem to the cynics on that side that this is just business as usual, we actually believe that we can hope for something better and that when things go so badly wrong, when illegal acts are taking place with the Prime Minister's own chief of staff, under his watch with the people he appointed to the Senate against his promise not to do so, it reminds me again that shortcuts in democracy might make sense in the very short, expedient term, but in the long term do not pay off.

The government is now reaping the rewards of all of these decisions. All of these values that the Conservatives used to hold that they have now broken are now allowing them to reap those rewards and those rewards must not feel all that good. Certainly, for a government that staked its credit and acclaim on cleaning up the mess in Ottawa, it seems government members did not come and change Ottawa, but Ottawa ended up changing them. That is too bad, but that is for them to account for.

However, the sense of entitlement and arrogance that I see consistently displayed by the government when it comes to basic matters of accountability puts a lie to the very first act it moved, which was meant to be the Accountability Act. It is not me saying that. It is the Information Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, the Auditor General, the Parliamentary Budget Officer and everybody who tries to get basic simple answers from the government.

Time and time again it seems there is a certain allergy of the government with declaring the truth as it is known to be. In this case, the Prime Minister seems to have got himself into a corner that he finds himself unable to get out of.

It is all of his own making. From Nigel Wright to Mike Duffy, there is nobody involved in the scandal who was not particularly and individually chosen by the Prime Minister. He cannot look to pass the blame. The victim in this case is not himself. I would like him to stand up for victims once in a while, and that is the Canadian taxpayers, who had to foot the bill for all of the Prime Minister's very bad decisions and the damage it has done to our country's reputation and to our stature in the world of a free and democratic country.

Statements by Prime Minister Regarding Repayment of Senator's ExpensesPRIVILEGEGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, very little of what was just said by the opposition House leader was relevant to the actual question of privilege in question.

I was disappointed to hear him put into the Prime Minister's mouth words that the Prime Minister never spoke in an effort to support the question of privilege he is seeking to have you rule on, Mr. Speaker.

The Prime Minister's comments have been clear. What he had said is clear. It is not what the opposition House leader said he had said. He had said that Nigel Wright, in the matter in question, took full responsibility. He had said that Nigel Wright took sole responsibility. Those are the words he has spoken in the House, not the words that the opposition House leader said he spoke.

Statements by Prime Minister Regarding Repayment of Senator's ExpensesPRIVILEGEGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Order, please. I thank both the government House leader and the official opposition House leader for their submissions. I assure you the Speaker will take them into account.

I would ask the House leader of the official opposition that if he in fact will not be making any further presentations, to advise the table as soon as possible so the Speaker can make his ruling as soon as possible.

Pursuant to the order made earlier today, every question necessary to dispose of the opposition motion is deemed to have been put, and the recorded division is deemed to have been demanded and deferred until Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at the expiry of the time provided for oral questions.

The House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' as listed on today's order paper.