Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate. But first, allow me to congratulate you on your election to your position. I know that it was arduous but, nevertheless, I think the majority of the members of the House have recognized your qualifications, and I am happy to join with my colleagues in wishing you every success in your new duties.
That being said, I repeat that I am pleased to take part in this debate. I know this issue is of great interest to you, Mr. Speaker, since, together with some of my colleagues, I have already had the opportunity to debate with you in this House the appropriateness of maintaining the institution we call the other place, the Senate.
I listened very carefully to the remarks made by some colleagues from the Liberal Party, the hon. member for Pontiac-Gatineau-Labelle, whose remarks I will get back to later, and the hon. member for Fredericton-York-Sunbury. Incidentally, in the case of my hon. colleague for Fredericton-York-Sunbury, with all due respect I have for him in certain circumstances, if a rule of relevance applied in these debates, I think you would have interrupted him very early in his speech to call him to order because, from what I understood of his remarks, except for blaming the Bloc for putting forward the motion that is before the House, he confined himself to masking the facts with regard to the reform of our institutions, the reform of federalism.
He set out a series of measures that, according to him, would have the advantage of improving the efficectiveness of our federation. The reality is altogether different.
However, I want to get back to the issue we are debating now, the motion put forward by my hon. colleague for Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup that, in essence, asks for the abolition, the end of the Senate. First I want to congratulate my colleague on this initiative, since, contrary to what our Liberal friends may suggest, it answers an often repeated wish by all our fellow citizens in Quebec, for sure, but also in the whole country.
When we talk to people back in our ridings, there are tens and hundreds who ask us to demand that the Senate simply be abolished. Why? For several reasons.
First, the Senate's provincial counterparts-everybody remembers the legislative councils that existed in each and every province with basically the same role as the Senate-the legislative councils were abolished one after the other in all the Canadian provinces. The legislative council was abolished in Quebec in the late 1960s.
What happened after the legislative councils were abolished in the provinces? There was no revolution, at least not in Quebec. Nobody started fights on buses or got in a state because the legislative council had been abolished. On the contrary, nobody, maybe with the exception of the members of these legislative councils and their entourage, realized in the end that these institutions had disappeared. We can also question the usefulness of that institution of the Senate.
If we were to go back to the time when the Liberal members were in opposition and read their speeches, we would certainly find that some of them shared our point of view on the usefulness or lack thereof of the Senate.
In the last years, the auditor general criticized repeatedly the workings of the Senate. He criticized the fact that some funds go to the maintenance of this institution.
Last May, I rose to speak on a motion by one of my colleagues who criticized the use of tens of millions of dollars to this end. Year in and year out, the institution of the Senate has a budget of over $40 million.
There are now in our society people who cannot afford to feed their children or clothe them for school or other activities. Every-
day in Montreal, in all of Quebec's and Canada's major cities and even in the smallest ones, we see people having to go to food banks, to organizations which will feed them at least a minimum. Everyone acknowledges that the economic situation we are living in at the present time is a difficult one.
This very morning in Quebec, as we speak, yesterday rather, marked the opening of a summit bringing together all those involved in the socio-economic sector in Quebec. They will be spending three days discussing how to improve the situation of all of our fellow citizens, particularly those who are the least well off, in order to find ways of getting them jobs, in order to provide them with quality government services. During this exercise, which is being held in Quebec right now, but could be held anywhere in Canada, efforts will also be made to find ways of doing less harm to the disadvantaged during the process of putting our public finances on a better footing.
Meanwhile, the unemployed and people on welfare are being asked to tighten their belts even more so that we can have a zero deficit, but when these good people come home at night and watch television, when they watch the newscast, they will realize that, at the federal level, we are maintaining an institution that although there are some senators who are competent and have experienced, and are trying to do a good job for our country, nevertheless, the most vulnerable in our society who watch this debate will realize that we are maintaining an institution which the vast majority of the population feels is completely useless.
So the hon. member's motion is a very important one. And when we in the Bloc Quebecois ask for the abolition of the Senate, we do not want to renew federalism, we do not want to get involved in a process to renew the federation, we are simply making the point that money are spent on this institution could be better spent elsewhere.
That is what we are saying to the federal government. Instead of cutting payments to the most vulnerable in our society, as we have seen in the last three budgets of the Minister of Finance who, year after year, has cut unemployment insurance and transfer payments to the provinces for welfare, post-secondary education and health care, we say again to this government: clean up your act and do something about your own institutions.
So the motion moved by the hon. member for Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup is a piece of advice to the government on how to save money, and they can do that by abolishing the Senate. Take this money and let it be used to help the people who need it most in our society. That is how we should understand my colleague's motion.
If hon. members would set aside partisan considerations and go to their ridings and listen to their constituents, they would hear from them, day after day and week after week, that this motion makes sense. I sincerely hope that the government will take this into consideration before the next election.