Mr. Speaker, normally I am happy to have the opportunity to participate in a debate, but not today. Today, in this case, I will be rising to oppose a motion denying the allocation of resources for the Senate. In other words, I will not be supporting the motion that opposes funding for the Senate.
I expect that was the point by the member opposite in creating this motion, because the member knows the role of the Senate in our Constitution. Once a bill leaves this place, it must pass through the other place before it ultimately can receive royal assent. In essence, the member opposite is suggesting to shut down the ability to pass laws, to amend laws and to change legislation, because without the Senate, the way our Constitution is structured, that would be the final result.
I suppose that a do nothing approach is favourable to the NDP. After all, if nothing were to change, the New Democratic Party would not have to oppose everything. I have problems with that, and I would like to provide an example for the chamber as to why that is.
Recently, in this place, we debated Bill C-17, otherwise known as Vanessa's law, a long overdue, much needed bill that would better protect Canadians from dangerous drugs by ensuring that our democratically elected Minister of Health and Health Canada could have the power to recall dangerous drugs and not just the huge pharmaceutical corporations, as is the current case.
One of my weekly member of Parliament reports was focused on Vanessa's law. I am pleased to share with the House that the response from my constituents was overwhelmingly in support of the bill. Even my local NDP and Liberal friends were strongly supportive of the bill. Yet, as we know, the NDP in the House supported Vanessa's law as well, even if they filibustered the debate in debating how they agreed with it. I suspect when the New Democrats heard from their constituents back home, they heard much the same message that I heard. That is likely why they did an about-face in sending that bill forward late last week.
Imagine if bills like Vanessa's law could not ultimately become law because they could not pass through the other place. This is the kind of nonsense the NDP is proposing in this motion today.
I am not naive to the fact that there are many Canadians who are strongly opposed to the Senate. The problem is that the NDP likes to pretend that it has a magic wand and can simply wish the Senate away. Our own Supreme Court has confirmed that simply is not the case. The NDP knows this and yet it continues to play a political game that we can simply make the Senate disappear when, in fact, we cannot.
If the NDP truly wants a constitutional debate on the Senate, it should simply say so. Let us be clear that there are many non-partisan support staff that make that Senate run, no different than the assistance we here receive and benefit from in this place. The NDP members, with this motion, in effect, is suggesting that none of them get paid, or perhaps they are suggesting that they possibly work for free. Is the member for Winnipeg Centre also proposing to hand out pink slips to all the support staff in the Senate?
If there were lawsuits from de-funding the Senate, would the member for Winnipeg Centre ask his friends in the union movement to cover the costs of those lawsuits, as he did his own? I suspect not. This is the same NDP that has no problem using tax dollars in NDP satellite offices, the same NDP that is happy to use taxpayer-funded staff in these satellite offices, but apparently does not think there should be taxpayer-funded staff in the Senate. This just does not reconcile.
The Canadian Senate, rightly or wrongly, was conceived as an institution to provide sober second thought in legislative scrutiny. It was also conceived as an institution to provide regional representation, as evidenced by the regional divisions of the Senate.
Disagreement with the Senate is nothing new to Canadians and, I would suggest, has been occurring since July 1, 1867, and has continued ever since.
As I am sure all members are well aware, a plethora of Senate reform proposals have been put forward over a number of decades. In most cases, proposals have called for an injection of democratic legitimacy into the appointment process, as well as the changes to the distribution of senators among the provinces, and also changes to the power of the Senate itself.
One of these reform initiatives was the triple-E Senate proposal that came out of Alberta during the 1980s. Triple-E stands for elected, equal and effective. This should not be confused with the Liberal leader's vision of a triple-E Senate, which is a Senate of the elites, by the elites and for the elites.
The original triple-E proposal laid the basis for many of the proposals that ensued in the years that followed and found its way into constitutional discussions that took place during the 1980s and 1990s, the most notable being the Meech Lake constitutional accord and the Charlottetown constitutional accord.
The Charlottetown accord would have resulted in a fundamentally changed Senate. The Senate would have been elected with an equal number of senators per province, with some limitations on the power of the Senate to avoid deadlock. The rejection of the Charlottetown accord in the 1992 referendum significantly reduced the prospects for fundamental constitutional reform for many years, and serious discussion of the Senate largely disappeared from the national debate.
As members will know, not long after the 2006 election, when our government first introduced Bill S-4 in the Senate, the bill would have limited senators' tenure to a renewable term of eight years. Bill S-4 gathered a great deal of support and was endorsed by the Senate Special Committee on Senate Reform, as well as by a number of constitutional experts.
Let us not forget that it was the opposition parties that united in their refusal to support meaningful Senate reform, as was proposed in Bill S-4. This led to the introduction of Bill C-7, the Senate reform act, in 2011. Bill C-7 would have implemented a nine year, non-renewable term for senators, as well as a voluntary framework for provinces to implement Senate appointment consultation processes of their own. However, that was not to be, and now we must all live with and respect the decision of the Supreme Court in this matter.
The court said that Senate abolition would require the support of Parliament and the legislative assemblies of each province. In doing so, it has given the Senate the highest level of protection that can be achieved under our amending procedures. I would point out for the member for Winnipeg Centre that his proposal to effectively abolish the Senate by withdrawing its funding would not conform to the court's decision in its Senate reform reference.
I would also like to point out that it is unlikely that all of the provinces agree with the position of the member for Winnipeg Centre. I would further submit that one thing most of the provinces do appear to agree on is that the Senate is not the top priority of provincial concern.
I would like to make this clear. I am not looking to defend the institution that we call the other place. That is not the role of members of the House. However, we now have a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada on Senate reform and the release of the court's opinion this spring. It remains to be seen what the ultimate impact of the court's opinion will be on the future for reform.
However, the subject of this potential constitutional debate is not one that any member of this place should take lightly. The reality is that the member for Winnipeg Centre is trying to do an end run around with his motion.
I understand the NDP's frustration, and at times I am certain we all wish we had a magic wand to make our challenges magically go away. However, what the member for Winnipeg Centre has proposed, as we know, is not how this issue will be resolved.
Before I close, I would like to share a few personal thoughts on this issue. Since I have come to this place, I have worked with senators. I have worked with senators on the Senate-House of Commons Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations. I worked with the Senate on the passage of my private member's bill on the interprovincial movement of wine. This work seldom is covered by the media. However, I can state first-hand that it is important work and that the Senate takes a different perspective on these issues. I mention this because we all know that there are a handful of members from the other place who have become household names for a variety of different but not flattering reasons. However, there are also many good people who do good work on behalf of Canadians in the other place.
Many of us may not like the historic structure of the other place and the role it plays in our governance. However, dislike of an institution we disagree with does not alleviate our constitutional obligations to work with that institution. Regardless of what the NDP thinks, the Senate is part of the process of how we pass laws.
I need not remind the NDP that we are legislators. To deny or otherwise disable part of the very process involved with changing legislation would in effect compromise the work we do on behalf of Canadians. If the NDP seeks to disable our ability to pass, amend, or change laws as legislators, then perhaps it is time it ceased to be the opposition. I frequently hear the NDP members propose private member's bills, suggest amendments, and even propose to change laws, should they ever form the government. None of that can happen without bills passing through the Senate. It is in our constitution.
Either the New Democratic Party is kidding Canadians, or perhaps it is just kidding itself. Either way, like the Senate or not, those who came long before us did a very good job of ensuring that the other place is very much part of how we pass bills into law. To undermine this process undermines the work we do as legislators, and I cannot and will not support this motion presented by the NDP tonight. I certainly will be happy to vote in favour of the estimates put forward.
I support the motion put forward by the government so that it can have supply, but I stand opposed to the notion by the NDP.
I would like to thank all members of the House for taking the time to hear my comments this evening. I appreciate and look forward to their questions.