Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for their very relevant remarks on today's issue, the Senate reform bill, as introduced by the Conservative government. I am also pleased to support the position of the official opposition, which proposes to simply abolish this archaic institution, which should no longer be part of a modern democracy like Canada.
As my colleagues have done, I will try to present clearly and accurately the arguments supporting the NDP's position. I will also explain why this government should immediately put a stop to its Bill C-7, An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits.
First, I want to commend the work done by members opposite, who recognize that we need to reflect on the democratic system in which we live. As Canadians, we should all ask ourselves whether that system adequately meets the changing needs of a modern democratic society like ours.
Since 1900, 13 attempts have been made to reform the Senate, but they all failed. Considering that so many attempts have been made to deal with a serious issue that affects the very foundation of our Constitution, I think there is as much a need to debate the issue and reflect on it as to engage in a reform. It is on the content of the proposed reform that our opinion differs from that of the government. Indeed, a thorough analysis of the issue leads us to the conclusion that the Senate simply no longer serves the interests of Canadians.
The first amendment proposed in the bill by the government deals with the appointment process. The government is proposing a process that, in theory, allows voters to have a say in the selection of Senate nominees. However, in fact, there is not much change in this regard.
The government is saying that a province or territory would have the option of holding an election, at its own cost, to select the names to be submitted to the Prime Minister for consideration. However, the Prime Minister would be under no obligation to appoint a person previously elected in a province or territory. Therefore, this bill does not change the way senators are appointed, since the Prime Minister would still be free to appoint whomever he chooses from a pool of elected nominees.
In short, this means that the government is proposing to keep all the power regarding Senate appointments, under cover of a supposedly more democratic selection process, and with the provinces footing the bill.
What is the point of letting voters believe that they can have a say if, ultimately, senators will continue to be appointed by the Governor General upon the sole recommendation of the Prime Minister? And why make the provinces again pay for a federal measure?
Furthermore the bill states that if an elected person is not appointed within six years of their election, a new election must be held. This means that a candidate may have spent time, energy and money on an election campaign. He or she may be elected by the people, but if this person is not appointed to the Senate within six years, he or she will have to start all over again. Voters would have elected candidates for the Senate who will wait to be appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, but who may not be appointed and will have to start all over again six years later. This measure makes no sense at all and, to my mind, even seems anti-democratic in that it still leaves a great deal of room for favouritism and cronyism while discriminating against others.
The second amendment being proposed by the government has to do with term limits. Before 1965, senators were appointed for life. Under the British North America Act, 1965, the maximum duration of a term is nine years and the retirement age is 75 years. Reducing terms to a maximum of nine years is definitely a step in the right direction. However, in my humble opinion, it is not enough. This proposal does not do enough to make senators accountable to Canadians.
Once their terms are over, senators will never have to stand before the people of Canada and be accountable for the election promises that they failed to keep or for the decisions that they made while serving. Another thing that does not make sense is that senators will be entitled to receive a Senate retirement pension without ever having had to account for their performance to those who elected them to be their representatives and stand up for their interests.
Another issue of major concern to me is that the provinces were not consulted when the bill was drafted, despite the fact that it deals with the foundations of our Constitution. This government cannot take the initiative for any more new bills devoid of logic on the redundant and unjustified pretext that Canadians gave them a mandate on May 2.
I believe that the provinces have something to say about this bill and that it is imperative that they all be consulted on the subject. Right now, we have proof that the government did not consult the provinces. Ontario and Nova Scotia have publicly called for the Senate to be abolished. Manitoba has maintained its position in favour of abolishing the Senate. The Premier of British Columbia has said that the Senate no longer serves any useful purpose within our Confederation. Even Quebec, the nation that I very proudly represent here today, has stated that it will appeal the matter in court if this bill is passed without first consulting the provinces.
As far as I know, the provinces are the parts that make up Canada. Can the government tell us, here in this House, who it listened to when drafting this bill? Did it develop its approach and these proposals based on actual needs?
Unfortunately, I think I need to remind the House that this government is supposed to listen to and serve Canadians. Such an amendment to our Constitution cannot be made without consulting the provinces and the general public. So why not hold a referendum on the issue? Some 71% of Canadians have already said they want a referendum on the issue, before the question has even been asked unofficially. Some 36% of Canadians are already in favour of abolishing the Senate. Personally, I think a responsible government is one that allows the people to have their say on issues as fundamental as this one.
As a final point on this bill, one that illustrates my negative feelings about it, has to do with a potential conflict of legitimacy between elected senators and appointed senators. How does the government plan to deal with the fact that some senators will have been elected and others appointed, and that some can remain in their positions until they are 75, while others will have a nine-year term? It will be impossible to ensure equal treatment for them all because, right from the start, those who were elected by the public will insidiously be given greater legitimacy.
In the NDP, our reflections on the possibility of abolishing the Senate date back to the 1930s. The relevance of an unelected Senate was already in question, to say nothing of the costs involved, which of course Canadian taxpayers are forced to bear. The Senate costs up to $100 million a year and that money should be invested elsewhere—in infrastructure, for instance, and in job creation.
As we know, historically, the Senate was created based on the Anglo-Saxon model in order to represent Canada's economic and social elite, but that role is outdated and the institution has become archaic.
These days, great modern democracies have come to the same conclusion as the NDP and realized that the Senate is no longer fulfilling its duty in the current political framework. Its role simply no longer corresponds to our current social reality.