Madam Speaker, I am not necessarily pleased to take part in the debate on this legislation, because the government is trying to force it down our throat. We, on this side, simply want a real indepth debate on this issue, but the other side wants to very quietly pass a bill dealing with the future of our country and of our parliamentary system. Our parliamentary system exists to discuss bills that will change our country, settle issues and bring solutions. Today, and in recent weeks, we have been presented with what seem primarily to be partisan tools for the party in office, while we on this side want to deal with issues.
Bill C-7 is about the Senate, the chamber of sober second thought. This makes me laugh because, historically, the Senate has never played that role. It has never done its job. Right now, they are trying to trade four quarters for a dollar. They want to change a Senate that does not do its job and whose members are appointed on a partisan basis. Under the new process, senators will still be appointed in a partisan fashion. An election will take place, but the candidates will have been selected in a partisan fashion.
Today's debate on the Senate gets me thinking more seriously about our democracy, our division of powers, our parliamentary system, our form of representation, our electoral practices, our media—which are part of our democracy—and about the Conservative government's attitude towards democracy.
I agree that we can choose the type of democracy that we want in Canada. Everyone agrees. This is a healthy debate and it is about our future. However, whose decision is it to make? Getting back to democracy, about one person in three voted for the current government. Do they all agree with the whole agenda proposed by the Conservative Party? For example, do they all support abolishing the firearms registry? Do they all support Senate reform? Do they all support the justice bill and all the other bills that were introduced recently with very short debates and closure?
What we are asking for regarding our democracy is that people be able to take part in this debate and express their concerns. This must be done through a referendum. Other countries have held referendums on important national issues. We should do the same.
As I was saying earlier, our Senate is there essentially to ensure there is some sort of division of powers, to ensure some representation of the regions and minorities in Parliament. Nonetheless, this has never been the case and now the government does not want to do anything about it.
I want to come back to the division of powers. As far as our electoral practices are concerned, in addition to the related costs, if we ask our provinces to choose candidates for the Senate elections, we are simply transferring the partisan decision to the provinces instead of to the federal government, but it remains a partisan decision nonetheless. What is more, the Prime Minister in power when the elections are held and the nominees are chosen has the last word. In the end, nothing changes.
If we look at what happens in other countries where there are two chambers, we see that in the United States, it is a source of division that borders on chaos.
In the event that the two chambers do not agree, there will be constant obstruction and a host of strategies to defeat what the government is proposing in the other chamber, and even sometimes, for partisan reasons, to oppose certain bills, despite how much they matter to the entire country, simply because it was the other institution that introduced them.
In my opinion, this could happen here if the government goes ahead with this reform. We have to avoid that situation, especially considering there is going to be an election in the House of Commons every four or five years and in the Senate every nine years. The elections will therefore not be held at the same time and people will not necessarily vote for governments that are able to work together.
I have some examples. A constituent in my riding told me he voted for the Conservative Party in 2011 for one reason only and that was because he wanted to get rid of the firearms registry. The New Democratic Party wants to keep the registry. He then said that once that was done, since he is not in favour of any of the Conservative Party's other plans, he would vote for an intelligent government. He did not come right out and say it was our party, but he was not referring to the Conservative Party he voted for in 2011.
There are always going to be attitudes like that and we must not judge people for it. But if people vote for a party for one reason only and that creates situations where the parties cannot agree, it will always be a source of conflict and chaos in our parliamentary system.
On the question of the costs associated with this reform, we see that the plan is to transfer the costs of selecting nominees to the provinces. It talks about our democracy, our federal parliamentary system, but the plan is to transfer the costs to the provinces. To me, that is illogical and almost absurd. If we are not prepared to make changes to our parliamentary system and at the same time assume responsibility for the repercussions in terms of the cost, then let us find other solutions or let us not do it.
As well, a second chamber, which I think is pointless for the reasons I have stated, would also cost even more, because over a long period of time, more senators will have spent time in that chamber and more senators will be entitled to retire with a pension paid for by that chamber. Those are all costs associated with this reform.
The problem right now is that we have a government that is proposing something that it wants to slip past us. As I have often said, we are talking about the future. I would like the government to consider that we are talking about something quite important right now and that we have to do more than this; we have to ask the public whether they support it. There may be other methods, but there is one obvious one: a referendum. Every citizen could say what they think. Every citizen could say whether it is a good idea or not and there would be a thorough debate before the referendum on Senate reform was held.
In Canada, a majority of provinces have stated a position and agree with the NDP that this bill is absurd. For example, Dalton McGuinty, Premier of Ontario, and Darrell Dexter, Premier of Nova Scotia, have publicly called for the Senate to be abolished. The premier of British Columbia has said that the Senate plays no useful role in our Confederation. Manitoba has also maintained its position on abolishing the Senate, stating that it had a plan if it happened, but obviously, if it happens, there will be no choice but to live with that decision. So decisions about this have to be made.
Quebec has already called this bill unconstitutional. All Quebec actually wants is separation of powers. That is a debate we should have by holding a referendum.