Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for sharing his time with me and, of course, for very ably laying out the reason we are having this debate tonight.
It is all about accountability, and as I listened to the various comments, questions, and speeches, I have found it interesting that by and large members other than the NDP have not wanted to talk about the issues of accountability.
I was fortunate to be elected back in 2004, so I have been in this august place for 10 years now, but we so rarely get an opportunity in this House to discuss the issues around accountability in the Senate. There is simply very little mechanism for us to do this.
I want to applaud the member for Winnipeg Centre for consistently raising this issue year after year. He has been tireless in attempting to get this place to talk about accountability issues with the Senate. It is tonight that we get this very brief period of time to shine the light on the lack of accountability in the Senate.
I was interested to hear the member opposite ask the question about the very strict accountability that was put in place in December. We eagerly await, at least on this side of the House, the Auditor General's report on expenditures in the Senate. We eagerly await that detail and the recommendations for the kinds of measures that need to be put in place to ensure accountability in the Senate.
The other issue that has come up consistently this evening is the fact that people are talking about the Supreme Court decision and the fact that the government proposal in its piece of legislation was not deemed as meeting the requirements under the Constitution.
Certainly, I do not think any of us here is questioning the wisdom of the Supreme Court position with regard to reform of the Senate. However, there are still other mechanisms that we could put forward to talk about making the Senate more accountable. The NDP has certainly made some recommendations about the reformation of the Senate that do not require constitutional change.
The member for Timmins—James Bay mentioned that one of the things we could do is prohibit the senators from taxpayer-funded partisan work. The senators would no longer participate in party caucuses or do fundraising, organizing, or public advocacy on behalf of a political party, using Senate resources. That seems like a really good plan. We do not require the provinces' consent to make that particular reform. In fact, the leaders of the Conservative and Liberal parties, who are the only parties here who have Senate appointments, could actually work with their senators right now to institute that policy this very minute.
Second, we could end taxpayer-sponsored travel that is not directly related to senators' legislative work. This sounds like a reasonable accountability measure. Certainly here in the House we have rigorous reporting requirements in terms of how we report our expenses with regard to flights: what we were doing, where we were going. There is no reason why the Senate cannot have that same kind of rigorous approach.
Third, we could establish a single ethics code and a single ethics commissioner for all parliamentarians. Again, that would make absolutely perfect sense. I mean, there are standards that parliamentarians in the House of Commons have. We have to fill out detailed forms with regard to other activities we may be engaged in. The Ethics Commissioner reviews the forms to ensure we are fulfilling our requirements and responsibilities.
We have seen very rare occasions, fortunately, in this House where members of the government have had to stand up and apologize because their conflict of interest form perhaps did not reveal the details that were required. However, again, we have a rigorous process here, and members by and large abide by that process. It would seem a good process to put in place with regard to the Senate.
I have heard talk about the sober second thought. If only that were true. Since 2011, there have been very few bills that have been amended in the Senate. Where bills have been amended in the Senate, it was because the government gave it marching orders. It was because the government blew something on a bill and then told the Senate what amendments it had to do because they were required. However, in terms of independent review of legislation, that sober second thought that people keep talking about simply has not happened. We have a Senate that is heavily stacked on a partisan basis, and that is the kind of review that is brought to those pieces of legislation.
We have had unprecedented numbers of bills originating in the Senate. One would think, if the government thought they were that important, it would actually draft the bills and have them tabled in the House of Commons and then referred to the Senate. However, we are not seeing that kind of approach to a legislative agenda.
Others have pointed this out, but I was fortunate enough to be a member of the House when the climate change accountability legislation was passed in the House of Commons and then referred to the Senate. With some trickery and chicanery in the Senate, it was defeated. It makes no sense to me that we have the duly elected representatives debating and determining a piece of legislation that we feel is in the best of interest of Canadians, we send it off to the Senate, and it is summarily defeated. That does not seem a reasonable approach for an unaccountable, unelected Senate.
I want to turn to the scandals that have been plaguing the Senate over the last several months.
Again, the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour pointed this out. I know from talking to my constituents and other Canadians that people are raising concerns about the Senate, about how money is spent in the Senate, how accountable it is, why it is that the Senate continues to operate in this fashion, and why somebody is not doing something about it.
New Democrats are. We are trying to actually highlight the fact that there is a significant amount of money—in fact, the total amount is $91.5 million, but the amount we are talking about tonight is $57.5 million—which is the part that requires approval of Parliament.
Canadians are asking why. Why are we continuing to spend this money when there are so many other pressing issues facing Canadians? Why does the Senate continue to be funded for a job that it clearly does not do? It rubber-stamps legislation for the government, so why is it continuing to be funded for that?
I want to turn to consultation for a moment. I have been lucky enough to sit here and listen to a number of comments and questions, so I heard the government and the third party ask us a number of times what we did to consult. I have to remind members of this House that the responsibility around consultation rests with the government. It is the one that develops legislation. It is the one that develops policy. It rests with the government.
The Supreme Court decision said that, in order to do that constitutional reform, we need to have the consent of provinces. We do have a long history of Reformers and now Conservatives talking about the need for Senate reform. If they acknowledge that there is that need for Senate reform and they saw what the Supreme Court said, what exactly have they done to move this conversation along?
Again, I want to remind people that it is the government's responsibility to take part in consultation.
I would argue that members in this House, whenever they put forward a private member's bill or a motion, do not engage in the extensive kind of consultation that is required with regard to government legislation. I am the aboriginal affairs critic and we do not even see the government doing appropriate consultation with respect to aboriginal issues. It hardly seems likely that it is going to conduct the kind of consultation required around constitutional change with respect to the Senate.
In the brief time I have left, I want to briefly touch upon a couple of matters with regard to expenditure.
Again, I think the member for Timmins—James Bay mentioned the $57 billion that some of us have argued was theft from the employment insurance fund. That is just one example of where similar kinds of money that should have gone to support the workers and their families in this country have just been removed from government coffers by arbitrary decisions, because of governments that could not balance their budgets any other way except on the backs of workers.
I certainly would like to talk about what $57 million would do for schools on reserve, what $57 million would do for clean drinking water on reserve, what $57 million would do for housing, what it would do for child welfare, and what it would do to implement Jordan's principle. There are many ways that this $57.5 million could be used to actually make lives better for all Canadians instead of for a few senators who are party hacks.
I would urge all members of this House to support this very important motion that the NDP has put forward.