Mr. Speaker, I stand in the House this morning to join in the debate on a motion put forward by the member for Toronto—Danforth.
I am always happy to discuss changes to the Senate, because the reality is that our government is the only party with a real plan to reform the Senate. We are the only ones taking legitimate action to bring greater accountability and democracy to the Senate. We are the only ones to have a clear plan in the form of a bill before the House.
The NDP talks about abolishing the Senate, yet it is just that: talk. Today those members say they want to “abolish” the Senate, yet just last month the same NDP member for Toronto—Danforth who put forward today's motion said, “...we're open to any kind of reasonable reform”.
The NDP's lead spokesperson on the Senate admitted not too long after that “I can't say exactly what [the Leader of the Opposition] will do in 2015...”. It is true that he cannot say, because the NDP leader refuses to say what he may do come 2015. Yesterday, when asked point blank whether he would appoint senators if his party formed the government, the Leader of the Opposition refused to answer. The real reason the NDP's lead spokesperson on the Senate cannot say what the Leader of the Opposition would do in 2015 is that the NDP has no intention of abolishing the Senate and has the full intention of appointing its own NDP members.
The NDP conspired to appoint its own senators once and it will do it again. When the Liberals, NDP and the Bloc conspired to form a coalition in 2008, the NDP worked out a deal to appoint its own senators. In fact, the NDP's own motion admits that it needs the support of provinces and territories, support it would not likely receive.
Abolishing the Senate requires reopening the Constitution. The NDP knows it cannot get the support of the provinces to abolish the Senate. That is why it has never put forward a legitimate plan in the form of a bill to do so. The NDP's real plan is to appoint its own senators. It will create a constitutional sideshow and appoint NDP senators while reform continues to be delayed by constitutional wrangling. Creating a constitutional sideshow not only helps the NDP hide behind the premiers so it can appoint its own senators; it also has the added benefit of distracting Canadians from its dangerous and reckless tax and spend schemes, like its $21 billion job-killing carbon tax.
If the NDP were serious about changes to the Senate, it would have put forward a real plan. Instead it resorts to an empty motion. Rather than discuss real and achievable Senate reform, like term limits and getting provinces to hold Senate elections, NDP members call for constitutional battles with the provinces, and the hypocrisy does not end there.
The Leader of the Opposition claims that he wants to abolish the Senate, yet he just recently tabled a private member's bill to increase the Senate's powers. The NDP leader's bill reads that “The Governor in Council shall...appoint a Parliamentary Budget Officer after consultation with the leader of every recognized party in both Houses of Parliament...”. If the NDP leader really supported abolition, then why did he put forward a plan to increase the Senate's powers? It is because the NDP knows that, when senators are selected by Canadians, it will no longer be able to appoint its own NDP senators, as it conspired to do in 2008.
Our government has always been clear about our commitment to bring reform to the Senate Chamber, including processes for Canadians to select their Senate representatives. We pledged to do this in our most recent election platform, and we repeated our promise in the Speech from the Throne. We even took another step toward a more democratic and accountable Senate by seeking clarification from the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Senate makes, reviews and passes laws that affect Canadians every day, and 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.
The Senate 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. Taken together, the Senate's effectiveness and legitimacy suffer from its democratic deficit.
We must then ask ourselves this simple question: Is this good enough? Our answer is no. 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.
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 the best course of action to actually achieve change to the status quo of the Senate.
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 at least 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, if not unanimous consent of all provinces and territories.
Canadians do not want drawn-out constitutional battles, battles that would detract from what Canadians want their government to focus on: jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. 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 from the economy.
Added to this is the fact that there is no consensus among provinces to pursue large wholesale reform. The NDP's own motion admits that it needs the support of the provinces and territories, support it knows it does not have.
Our government believes that Senate reform is needed now. The NDP does not want reform now. It wants to delay, to keep the status quo and to keep Canadians from electing their own senators. Getting into constitutional battles with the provinces is a good way for the NDP to delay change to the Senate, so that the NDP can appoint its own senators.
Canadians deserve better. Canadians deserve a say in who represents them in the Senate. That is why we are moving forward with the Senate reform bill. Through this bill our government is taking immediate and concrete action to increase the democracy in our upper chamber and to work co-operatively with the provinces and territories.
The Senate reform bill includes two initiatives that would help bring real reform to the Senate. First, the bill 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 would ensure that the Senate is refreshed with new ideas on a more frequent basis and would allow Canadians to select their Senate representatives at regular intervals.
On Senate elections, we have consistently encouraged provinces and territories to implement a democratic process for the selection of Senate nominees.
The framework in the Senate reform act 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 detail of such a process, which may differ between jurisdictions as local needs may demand. This is, after all, a co-operative venture. Provinces and territories would not be required to implement the framework precisely as written; rather, they would be encouraged to adapt the framework that best suits the needs of their unique circumstances. As we have seen with legislation introduced in New Brunswick, they have adapted the legislation to fit the realities of that province.
The approach proposed in the Senate reform act has already been successful, and this type of reform has already gained a toehold in our Senate. In 2007, the Prime Minister recommended the appointment of Bert Brown to the Senate. In 2012, he appointed the first female elected senator, Betty Unger, and in 2013, he appointed Doug Black to the Senate. Senators Brown, Unger and Black were elected as senators-in-waiting by Alberta voters in selection processes held under the authority of Alberta's Senatorial Selection Act, which was introduced in 1989.
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 a provincial government to hold a constitutional process on Senate nominees. In British Columbia, a bill has been introduced that would provide the provincial government with the authority to hold consultation processes. In New Brunswick, a bill has been introduced in the legislature to hold Senate nominee processes by 2016. More broadly, I would encourage all our colleagues in all provincial and territorial legislatures and assemblies to consider supporting and moving forward with similar initiatives.
In addition to encouraging the implementation of democratic selection processes for Senate nominees, the Senate reform act would also limit Senate terms, which can span several decades under the current rules. Under the act, senators would be subject to a single nine-year non-renewable term. Limiting the terms of senators can be accomplished by Parliament through section 44 of the Constitution Act of 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 fair to say that while many in this House agree that changes to the Senate are necessary, we sometimes disagree on the way forward. In order to underline our commitment to Senate reform, our government has taken another step toward a more democratic and accountable Senate by seeking clarification from the Supreme Court of Canada.
In contrast to the position of other parties, it is clear that our government's approach is the 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. 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 claims to be for abolishing the Senate. Aside from the very obvious sideshow that the NDP is attempting to create, abolition is not possible for one major reason: there is no consensus among the provinces to abolish the Senate. Since the NDP members are unwilling or unable to put forward a real plan to abolish the Senate, we have done it for them by seeking clarity from the Supreme Court of Canada.
Then there is the Liberal Party, who in its 13 years in power did nothing to make the Senate more democratic or accountable. Even when it was given the chance to put senators elected by Canadians into the Senate, the Liberal Party refused—not once, but three times. The Liberals do not support Senate reform, and their 13-year record of inaction demonstrates their opposition. They have been clear about this.
In closing, we are the only party with a real plan to reform the Senate. Our government is dedicated to reforming the Senate so that hard-working Canadians across our great country can select their Senate representatives.
My constituents tell me that they want change. Canadians want change. I believe that the time for change in the Senate has come. Frankly, if the NDP wants to change the Senate, it would not be blocking the Senate reform act at every opportunity. In an attempt to filibuster our Senate reform bill, the NDP put up 40 speakers. Since 2006, the Senate reform act has been blocked 18 times by the NDP, including last week, when the NDP blocked a motion to pass the Senate reform act.
The NDP member who put forward the motion we are debating today stated that, “With any motion on an important subject, you have to get to the point where parties’ positions are clear”.
If the member for Toronto—Danforth is struggling with his party's position, as he seems to be, then he should look no further than the words of his own leader, who stated yesterday that “laws should only be made by people who are elected”.
The NDP members say that they want laws made by people who are elected. The NDP should stop dodging the issue and support our real Senate reform plan, which will provide for Senate elections. The NDP has blocked our attempts for an elected Senate 18 times. However, I am willing to give the NDP yet another chance to support our reasonable and achievable reform.
I would like unanimous consent to propose that notwithstanding any standing order or usual practice of the House, Bill C-7, An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits, be deemed to have been read the whole second time and referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read the third time and passed.