Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today on behalf of the New Democratic Party to oppose vote 1 in the main estimates, the appropriation of $57 million for the Senate of Canada, and to urge my colleagues in the House of Commons from all parties to do the same.
We simply cannot keep giving them money. It only encourages them. I put it to members that while we may not have the authority to unilaterally abolish the Senate, we can cut off its blood supply, curb its activities, and limit the ability associated with this wholesale waste of money and abuse of power.
Let us face it, Canadians have just about had it with the upper chamber. The Auditor General's forensic audit, to be released tomorrow, is not going to improve the public's opinion of this outdated, undemocratic vestigial appendix of colonialism. In short, the jig is up for the Senate of Canada. No amount of tinkering is going to convince Canadians that it is worth preserving. No amount of bafflegab from the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister is going to take the stink off recent developments in the Senate of Canada.
I want to know the answer to the question I did not get a chance to ask. Why did the parliamentary secretary end up making this speech instead of the person who moved the motion to adopt and fund this appropriation, which is the President of the Treasury Board? It may be revealed later in the day.
This latest round of expense account shenanigans may be the catalyst for the public's latest outrage. Stories of wretched excess and gluttony never fail to offend the sensibilities of hard-working Canadian taxpayers, but the pure patronage pork of the Senate appointments process since its inception has been unworthy of any western democracy, and it is a disgrace.
Greg Thomas, of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, calls it a “wretched bordello of back-scratching”.
However, there are more serious reasons why the jig is up for the Senate and why we should not only cut off its funding but find a way to abolish it altogether, and I will address those reasons as we go forward in tonight's debate.
I want to say at the outset that there is a great history and tradition of the member of my riding opposing the vote in the main estimates funding the Senate. The former member for Winnipeg Centre, J.S. Woodsworth, began efforts to abolish the Senate and oppose its funding when he was first elected as the member for the Independent Labour Party in 1921.
Woodsworth opposed funding for the Senate, because he knew what the Senate stood for and why it was really created. It was created to keep the democratically elected House of Commons from passing laws that may have a deleterious effect on the interests of capital and the wealthy. Sober second thought meant curbing the misguided ambitions of the great unwashed, like members in the lower chamber, who may seek to legislate in the best interests of ordinary Canadians not just in the best interests of capital. He knew that the Senate was not just an expensive nuisance. He knew that it was an obstacle and an impediment to democracy
Apologists will say that the Senate is there to protect the rights of minorities. What they do not say is that the minority they are talking about is the rich and powerful elite. In the words of Sir John A. Macdonald himself when debating the creation of the Senate:
We must protect the rights of minorities, and the rich are always fewer in number than the poor.
It was created as a check on the democratically elected chamber in case they got too uppity. In the first decades of our history as a nation, the Senate vetoed almost half the legislation the lower chamber sent up to it. J.S. Woodsworth and the Independent Labour Party got burned themselves by the Senate. I want to share this example with the House.
In 1925, the Independent Labour Party offered to support the minority Liberal government of William Lyon Mackenzie King in exchange for one simple thing: a promise to create an old age security pension. Mackenzie King agreed, and a famous letter sealing the deal is on file at the NDP headquarters on Laurier Street as we speak. The legislation was passed at all stages through the House of Commons, only to be rejected in 1926, vetoed by the Liberal-dominated Senate.
The will of the people as expressed by the democratically elected members of the House of Commons was thwarted and undermined by the unelected Senate. As a result, Canadians went into the Great Depression with no old age security.
It should offend the sensibilities of anyone professing to be a Democrat if the will of the people, as expressed by their democratically elected representatives in Parliament, can be vetoed on a whim by unelected, self-serving partisans appointed by the ruling party.
That is what rubbed the Reverend J.S. Woodsworth the wrong way. As early as 1926, there is record of him calling for the Senate's abolition.
J.S. Woodsworth, as many here will know, went on to become the founder and the first leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the predecessor to the NDP. It should surprise no one, then, that at its founding convention in Regina, 1933, the party called upon an amendment to the British North America Act to abolish the Senate. The Regina Manifesto is worth remembering today. It says:
In its peculiar composition of a fixed number of members appointed for life...It is a standing obstacle to all progressive legislation, and the only...satisfactory method of dealing with the constitutional difficulties it creates is to abolish it.
When J.S. Woodsworth passed away in 1942, the good people of my riding elected another United Church minister and long-standing advocate of the social gospel movement, the Reverend Stanley Knowles. He remained the MP for Winnipeg North Centre for 42 years. During that time, he faithfully continued the tradition established by Woodsworth of trying to defund the Senate as an interim step toward its ultimate abolition. He put forward motions and bills to abolish the Senate at least 18 times that my research can find. I am proud of the history and the tradition of the Independent Labour Party, the CCF and the NDP in my riding of Winnipeg Centre.
I can say with all humility that every day I take my seat in the House of Commons, I am very aware of the honour that is mine to stand in the footsteps of these two great men, two of the greatest champions of social economic justice and democracy that this country has ever known. It is a great honour for me to uphold the Winnipeg Centre tradition of opposing any further funding for the Senate in the main estimates of this year or any other, and to work toward the day that the institution is abolished and excised from the Parliament of Canada once and for all.
I am not going to indulge today in any bashing of individual senators because, notwithstanding some ethical lapses by some, the real problem lies with the institution, not with the individuals. As Stanley Knowles said in 1964, after the Senate killed a bill to fund the unemployment insurance system, many members of the Senate are decent and even “outstanding Canadians. Many of them have rendered great service to this country. That is not the issue. The issue is the power they possess.”
He went on to say:
The Senate of Canada, whose members are appointed for life, has powers greater than those of any such body in any democratic state. The British House of Lords can delay the passing of a bill for only one year. Our Senate could veto a Commons measure year after year to the end of time.... The House of Lords cannot reject or even delay a bill providing money. Our Senate can...
It just did, with the unemployment insurance bill of 1964.
Should non-elected people be in a position to veto or delay the will of those elected by the people?
I believe it should not. That is why my party and I have long favoured the abolition of the Senate.
I was reminded today of Mikhail Gorbachev's reaction when he was touring our Parliament with Eugene Whelan and how stunned he was that Canadian senators were not only appointed, but appointed for life. He was shocked, according to The Toronto Star. A member of the politburo in a communist dictatorship was aghast at what an affront that is, just as we all should be shocked. It is unworthy of any western democracy. It is an embarrassment and it is a national disgrace.
The appointment process has offended Canadians perhaps even more than the bogus expense claims. No prime minister in the history of Canada has abused the appointment process as much as the current Prime Minister. It is ironic and, perhaps, even poetic justice that his first broken promise to Canadians, “I will not appoint unelected senators”, has now come to be perhaps his greatest headache, his greatest liability and hangs like a great stinking albatross around his neck. He has appointed 59 senators and counting. It seems that it did not take him long to learn, like other prime ministers before him, that patronage is the K-Y Jelly of politics.
Members will remember the notorious day when, in an absolute orgy of political patronage, the Prime Minister appointed ten failed Conservative candidates, the campaign manager of the Conservative Party's election campaign, the president of the Conservative Party, the communications director of the Conservative Party and the chief fundraiser of the Conservative Party.
Pretty much the whole war room of the Conservative Party's election campaign was appointed to the Senate as one big fat “eff you” to the Canadian public and there they could continue their purely—