House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was poverty.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Liberal MP for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour (Nova Scotia)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 35% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply December 9th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, if my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River said something about the Constitution, I would not challenge him. It would be like playing hockey against Sidney Crosby. He knows this better than anybody in this House. He is the Sidney Crosby of this place.

I would say there are lots of things that are living, breathing documents, and I support that theory.

In terms of the third leg of the stool, I think we have rights and freedoms which allow us to assume our responsibilities. Many Canadians do not have the opportunity to assume their responsibilities.

All of us as Canadians have a responsibility. We have a responsibility to honour our past, to honour where we have come from and to honour all the work that has gone into making Canada a truly fortunate and blessed nation on earth. What makes us that is having the rights and the freedoms that allow us to assume our responsibilities as good citizens.

Business of Supply December 9th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this motion that was brought forward to the floor by the distinguished member of Parliament for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe who has served for many years.

This is an important motion for many of us, perhaps more so for the Liberals than some others because of the heritage of this party. I want to preface my comments by just putting it in context. When I saw this motion it made me think about the times I have travelled as a parliamentarian, which is a great privilege.

One of the great privileges of being a parliamentarian is the opportunity to travel abroad, as well as to travel within Canada. One of the first trips I took as a member of Parliament in 2004, I believe it was, was the opportunity to travel to Berlin with the then-minister of justice, the member for Mount Royal, surely one of Canada's most distinguished parliamentarians, one of Canada's most distinguished human rights experts and, I would suggest, one of the world's human rights experts.

I had the chance to accompany him on a visit to Berlin. The issue was human rights. Part of the topic was how to balance human rights with security. The guest list was truly impressive, except for myself. He was there with supreme court justices and ministers from other countries, talking about human rights. I learned so much at that meeting, not so much about the technicalities of constitutions and charters and things like that. I am not a lawyer, but I have certainly been accused of being one.

This is an interesting thing to experience, going to other countries and talking to people about Canada. People talk about what it means to them to be Canadian. That conference must have been in 2005, because we were going through the issue of civil marriage. Other countries were just absolutely awestruck by how Canada can be a progressive nation that understands that the majority is stronger when the minority is protected.

This is the kind of image that Canada had abroad. I would suggest it has been somewhat diminished in recent years, but Canada has this reputation.

I do not travel as much as I could. Like all members of Parliament, I could travel quite a bit. I had the opportunity recently to travel to the country of Azerbaijan, a former Russian state doing its very best to now be a democracy. It had great freedom fighters and liberators in that country who have brought Azerbaijan to a pretty good place as a democracy, a fledgling democracy but one that values the opportunity to settle its issues by the ballot and not by the bullet.

It is embracing democracy and it is embracing human rights while trying to understand the context and nuance of protecting minorities while moving the country forward. It is a country that has a fair amount of wealth. It has some Caspian oil. It is doing pretty well.

I was invited, along with Senator Percy Downe to be an election observer for its election, which was a very well run election. I was very impressed, seeing people coming in to vote for the first time and getting the ink mark on their thumb. They consider that a badge of honour. In many cases they have not voted before. They do not understand all about it, except that it is important.

When we met with the electoral commission, we saw that Canada is one of the ideals. Canada is one of the countries that people look up to, because as much as it may get acrimonious in this chamber, as it has as recently as 45 minutes ago, this is where things get decided, and that is as it should be.

Part of the thing that makes that work is that we have the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We have an overall umbrella that ensures that Canadians have a certain level of protection.

For that reason, I am particularly happy to have the opportunity to speak to this motion today. The motion, as read earlier by the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, is:

That the House recognize the vital role played by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in ensuring justice, liberty, equality and fairness for all Canadians and call on the Government to reject the views expressed by several members of the Conservative Party of Canada that belittle and criticize the Charter's impact on Canadian society.

There are some of those. There are also a large number of Conservatives, in my view, who fully and completely support it, and many who have embraced the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I think of Progressive Conservatives like Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark. I am sure there are members who sit in the House today who would share that view.

The history of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is important. We had the Bill of Rights, which was one of Mr. Diefenbaker's landmark achievements. Mr. Diefenbaker was a great believer in human rights. As a lawyer on the prairies he defended many people, many of whom were unjustly accused, and he came to believe that we needed to have a Bill of Rights.

I had significant admiration for Mr. Diefenbaker. He was strongly opposed to things like capital punishment, which went against a lot of the view at his point in time. He believed overall in the fact that there has to be some protection.

The charter that we are talking about today was preceded by the Canadian Bill of Rights back in 1960. However, the Bill of Rights was only a federal statute, not a constitutional document. It was an important document, an important measure for Canadians to have, but it became clear that we needed more. As a federal statute it was limited in scope, was easily amendable and was difficult to apply to provincial laws. The Supreme Court of Canada also narrowly interpreted the Bill of Rights. The court was reluctant to declare laws inoperative. It was a good document but we needed more.

Our great former prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, was somebody I looked up to as a younger man. He understood this. He understood it was difficult. It is never easy to make major changes in Canada. It is never easy to get things through Parliament, and it should not be easy. This is not a place where things should be rubber-stamped. This is not a place where things should be easy to move along. Part of the test of how important something is, is how much work goes into making it happen.

The fundamental freedoms of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms include “freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of association”.

It speaks about the democratic rights of citizens. It even refers to the maximum duration of legislative bodies. It speaks of mobility rights,“Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada”. It speaks about rights on life, liberty, security of person, search and seizure, a whole number of issues. This is a very significant achievement in Canada.

We all have different touchstones that to us really mark turning points for Canada. For some people, it might be some of the great battles that took place in World War I when, as some people say, Canada became a leader of nations. For some people, it might be World War II. For others, it might be getting our own flag in the 1960s or the bilingualism and bicultural commission. Women's rights is a significant one.

For many Canadians, 1982 was a seminal moment in Canada, a moment when we said we were going to make this happen through the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The charter spoke to official languages. English and French are the official languages of Canada. They have equality of status and equal rights.

The rights that I would say symbolize Canada are minority language educational rights, aboriginal rights and freedoms not affected by the charter, and a whole host of other things that were included in the national discussion. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms' coming in 1982 made that a very significant time for Canada.

As a case study, I want to speak about myself when I was first elected to this place in June 2004. One of the big issues in my first time in this Parliament was that of civil marriage. In Canada it was a contentious time. I can recall very clearly following the 2003 Ontario Court of Appeal ruling on the constitutionality of same sex marriage. The court referenced section 15 of the charter, the equality section. Let me quote directly from the ruling:

The ability to marry, and to thereby participate in this fundamental societal institution, is something that most Canadians take for granted. Same-sex couples do not; they are denied access to this institution simply on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Sexual orientation is an analogous ground that comes under the umbrella of protection in s. 15(1) of the charter.

In addition, a majority of this Court explicitly recognized that gays, lesbians and bisexuals, “whether as individuals or couples, form an identifiable minority who have suffered and continue to suffer serious social, political and economic disadvantage”.

This was thrust into debate in the House of Commons. I was very pleased former prime minister Paul Martin made this an issue. It was not an easy one. I can recall discussions with prime minister Paul Martin, one of the Canadians I respect more than anybody else. He would tell anybody that it was an issue he struggled with. It is not an issue that was natural to him growing up. I know many people who struggled seriously with this issue. In my view the Charter of Rights and Freedoms became the seminal touchstone in that battle for civil rights and for civil marriage.

I know it was not easy. I spoke to many of my constituents who disagreed with me very strongly, people I grew up with and went to church with, people who I know are good people, who believe in equality, who believe in the fact that all people are created equal, who honestly and sincerely believe that people who are gay, lesbian or transgender are as good as they are, but they had an issue with civil marriage. I understood that.

I recall meeting with a Baptist preacher from my constituency. He came to see me over Christmas 2004. He wanted to pray with me about this issue. I was delighted and honoured to do that. I never felt at that time that I was giving up my religion to support civil marriage. I believed that I was embracing my religion, that I was doing what, in my view, my God would want me to do, but I understood that other people had a different interpretation.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms became so important in that discussion, so important to Canadians who had different points of view. People have often said in this place that there can be two principled positions that do not agree with each other. Because an individual feels so strongly that he or she has the principle does not mean he or she has all of it. There has to be some third party, some clear and undiluted third party that makes it clear for people.

Many people would say to me that they had issues with this and they were not sure what to do, but because of the charter they supported it. Other people did not feel that way. To this day we have discussions, and I respect the point of view that they brought forward. For me, it certainly made it a lot clearer.

I see some members here who were elected with me in 2004. The member for Leeds—Grenville and others will remember those debates. I was asked by our leader to be on the special legislative committee that looked at that issue. It was not all that easy. We heard lots of points of view. We heard all kinds of witnesses in a hurry in order to meet certain deadlines. It was a very special time.

When people ask me about some of my proudest moments, among my proudest moments was voting for and seeing civil marriage brought to Canada. I believe that Canadians are proud of that. The world has not changed traumatically in Canada. When I visit other countries, people look at that and say that Canada was right to lead on that issue. It was a fascinating time. It was tense. People were in disagreement, but we can look back on that period and be proud that after a free and open debate where so many views were aired, and after hearing hundreds and hundreds of witnesses, we passed the bill, and Canada became the fourth country in the world to allow civil marriage for gays and lesbians. It was fascinating. That was an important time, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was seminal in that in moment.

The other issue I want to touch on is the court challenges program. I am certainly disappointed that program was cancelled. That program was introduced in the late 1970s. It was meant to provide support to minority organizations, in many cases, linguistic minorities, organizations that felt they could not achieve the full equality of Canada, but did not have the money to launch all kinds of big legal battles on their own. The court challenges program assisted with that. It was introduced in 1978. Prime Minister Mulroney expanded it, but then it was dropped. It came back under Prime Minister Chrétien in 1994 and then it was de-funded in 2006.

The court challenges program helped a lot of groups. When we think about some of these organizations or groups, we should think about whether we believe they should be proud of the national dialogue and whether we believe these organizations or groups of people should have rights in this country.

The program helped with a lot of issues. How about some disabled groups, amending employment insurance benefits that discriminate against parents of children with disabilities, expanding the common law definition of “marriage” for same-sex marriage, testing criminal law provisions, ameliorating systematic discrimination against African Canadians in the criminal justice system, addressing the discriminatory impact of immigration security certificates on racialized communities, supporting first nations status entitlements, voting rights for inmates.

Carmela Hutchison, who was the president of the DisAbled Women's Network of Canada, said:

Without the funding provided by the Program, many of the organizations and individuals that have invoked the guarantee of equality under the Charter would have been otherwise unable to do so. With the government's decision to de-fund, Canadians who most need the Charter are now effectively denied access to that protection

Victor Wong of the Chinese Canadian National Council said:

We hope that the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada are successful in their challenge. We urge all Canadians to highlight the importance of this program....

That is what was said about the court challenges program. It went hand in hand with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We have had the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms since 1982. We celebrated a significant milestone back in 2007, the second year that the current government was the Government of Canada. At the time, I can recall former prime minister Jean Chrétien saying how shocked he was that the federal Conservative government had no plans to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I was shocked, as well. I thought it was really sad that we did not do more on the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to say that this is important to us, let us celebrate it and look at the achievements that we have had.

Instead, there was a conference on April 17, 2007. One of the conference organizers told Canwest News that the Prime Minister, the then justice minister, the then heritage minister and the former justice minister had all been invited to address the event but had declined.

Former Conservative prime minister John Diefenbaker was such a proponent of the Charter of Rights. Mr. Chrétien said, “I hope they will not put the flag at half-mast Tuesday because it will be an anniversary”.

It kind of bothered me at the time that we did not do more to celebrate what I think was a very significant moment in the history of Canada. I was disappointed, as were other members of this House not too long ago when the new citizenship guide came out from Citizenship and Immigration Canada and there was no mention of the important step that was taken when Canada became a truly equal society in terms of marriage for gay and lesbian Canadians.

I am not going to throw all kinds of quotes at people. I am sure that they have been brought forward already today.

We have seen a number of members stand and indicate that they will support this motion. I hope that the government will support this motion.

We have heard the former police chief and the new member of Parliament for Vaughan, Mr. Fantino, indicate that he has some issues around the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

If we asked Canadians if they think the Charter of Rights and Freedoms matters, even those Canadians who may not know all the details, even all those Canadians who may not have reams of information about the detail of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I think it means something to Canadians. It is almost a rainbow of equality that goes across this country. It is part of the fabric of Canada that we should be proud of, and many Canadians are proud of. It makes a difference. It makes us better. It allows us to stand out. New countries that are doing their very best to be democratic, such as Azerbaijan, can look to Canada and say, “That is what we want to be, a country that knows we are stronger when we protect the weak, when we actually help them to protect themselves”.

That is what the charter gave us. That is what we should be celebrating all the time. That is certainly what we are doing today with this motion from the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe. I am proud to stand in support of that motion.

Seniors December 9th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, come on. Poverty in this country is a national disgrace. Governments make choices. They can find billions of dollars for untendered planes but nothing for seniors. Seniors poverty is up 25%. Poverty is up 2.5%. We have more people living in the streets, kids going without food, skyrocketing debt, and people with increased debt loads. Those are facts, but those are the choices that the Conservatives make. The government does not seem to give a damn. What does it say to the poor, “Let them eat planes”?

Seniors December 9th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, this Christmas, there are many more Canadians living in poverty than there were when the government took office. Seniors poverty is up 25%, but while the government can find $1 billion for its bloated G8 meeting, seniors suffer. While the Conservatives were making merry at their Christmas party last night, their senators danced out long enough to kill a bill that would have made Christmas a little bit brighter for disabled Nortel employees.

Merry Christmas from their government. This on top of shafting our poor seniors by cutting their GIS. Our seniors have stood up for this country for years. Why does their government not stand up for them now?

Work from Home Day November 24th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to lend my voice to over 50,000 Canadians who have joined a Facebook campaign calling for a national work from home day.

Studies indicate that working from home increases overall employee productivity by 10% to 20%, improves employee morale and opens up opportunities for underemployed Canadians, such as those with disabilities.

If one million Canadians worked at home just one day a week, we would save 250 million kilograms of CO2 emissions, 100 million litres of fuel and 800 million fewer kilometres of mileage on our highways every year.

Our changing economy needs to embrace the new ways of working which also appreciate the social responsibility we have to our environment.

I congratulate Workopolis, its president, Gabriel Bouchard, and the many thousands of Canadians who are asking the government and the House to join the campaign for better productivity, better work-life balance, more inclusion and a better environment.

I say, way to go. Let us work from home. It works for all of us.

Retirement Income Bill of Rights November 23rd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-574. I want to congratulate my colleague. I do not think anybody in Parliament has done more work going around the country and understanding the need to strengthen and make our pension more robust than the member for York West.

One of the biggest issues facing Canadians today is the security of senior citizens. If they have gone past working age, what are they going to live on? It is an increasing problem. Among the saddest meetings we have as members of Parliament, certainly in my case, are with people who tell me they are retired or were planning to retire very soon but it has all gone up in smoke. What they thought was there is not. These are people who do not have the option of going back into the workforce, or if they do, their options are very significantly limited.

So I really want to congratulate my colleague from York West. She has worked hard. She has travelled extensively in a non-political, non-partisan way and has brought forward this very important bill.

We know that a significant number of seniors live in poverty. Canada as a country has done a pretty good job over the last 20 to 30 years of reducing poverty rates among seniors. Going back to the 1970s, we have reduced poverty rates among seniors pretty significantly. It has been on the rise again over the past few years, but the poverty rate among seniors has gone down very significantly.

The problem is that there are still groups of seniors, and it tends to be single women, who have very high rates of poverty. We need to take that into account. However, it is not just the lowest income Canadians. Many middle-income Canadians are having a really difficult time now dealing with retirement.

I can recall somebody in a private company where I used to work who told me the story of having come out of technical school years ago with a friend of his. While my friend went to work for a private company, a big, reputable company, his friend went to work for the City of Dartmouth. Thirty-five years later when they went to retire, the person who had the good pension plan and worked for the City of Dartmouth was very well situated, while my friend did not have very much because the pension plan simply was not as robust.

In many cases, back in those days, people did not look at a pension plan when they started working at the age of 18, 19 or 20. They looked at the salary and never really understood the implications down the road for themselves and for their families if they did not have a strong pension plan.

Then there is the case of Canadians who believe, for valid reasons, that they have a robust pension plan. They work for large, reputable, seemingly solid companies, in many cases world-leading companies such as Nortel. Ten years ago, who would have imagined that people who worked for a company such as Nortel would have trouble? Then when things go bad for the company, they are left holding the bag, and the bag happens to be almost completely empty.

So what do we do? What is the role of parliamentarians in this House? What role does the federal government have? First, the regulation of private retirement savings is in fact a shared responsibility, federally and provincially. Federally, we have the Income Tax Act. We can take some of the instruments that we have control of and make them better.

I want to refer to the issue raised by my colleague from the New Democrats who would say that this bill does not really do anything and that we have a $700 million poverty gap for seniors. This is a private member's bill. I look at the work that members such as my colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood did on his private member's bill, Bill C-293, the development assistance act. Those of us in the House know that many Canadians may not know what a royal recommendation is. Very simply it means that, with a private member's bill, we cannot call upon the government to spend money. We can bring it forward, and we have seen many bills from the New Democrats and the Bloc, well intended bills, that required the spending of money, but they do not go anywhere.

Serious parliamentarians who actually want to make things better will craft a bill that is a road map to a better place but does not call on the government to spend money. In other words, some members in the House bring forward bills that can never be enacted, or they can be serious about it and provide a road map. Members can come to the House to make a point or to make a difference, and my colleague from York West is trying to make a difference.

The summary of the bill we are debating today, Bill C-574, is very simple. It says:

This enactment creates a Bill of Rights for a retirement income system that promotes the goals of adequacy, transparency, affordability, equity, flexibility, security and accessibility for all Canadians.

I think in many ways that says it all.

My colleague from York West, in a media release sent out about a month ago, indicated that as she presented the bill in the House of Commons, she noted that the legislation proposes:

to enshrine in law the notion that all Canadians have the right to contribute to a decent retirement plan and to be provided with up-to-date, unbiased and conflict-free information on their retirement savings.

There are 308 members of the House. Many of us have been in business, many of us have been employed, and there are entrepreneurs in this House.

There are a lot of people, and they are not foolish people, who think they are covered, as was the case with the Nortel workers and other people, who simply do not understand that if a company goes under, their retirement goes under as well.

They assume that this is all done above board and it is done with a third-party insurer. They do not understand the concept of self-insurance. I think the government has a role in this case to translate to Canadians what actually is the case so they are not fooled when things go bad.

Our Canada pension plan, established in 1966 under Prime Minister Pearson, was a good and noble goal. It is working. We have had problems. In the early 1990s, there was a severe underfunding of it. Jean Chrétien as prime minister, and Paul Martin as the finance minister, put it on sound financial footing. At the time, I do not think people fully understood how important that was. I do not think the credit was given, but that was a very important piece of both economics and social policy that made it possible for many people to have secure pensions.

Today, once again, we have significant barriers. The bill that we are debating today, Bill C-574, proposes to address that. To some, it may not do enough; to others, maybe it does too much. Maybe that is why it is a good bill, because it sets a road map for Canadians who are having issues with their pensions. It does as much as it possibly can within the restrictions of being a private member's bill. Many people are supporting it.

What does it do? The bill would do five things: create substantive, justiciable rights; give every person a chance to accumulate retirement income in a plan that will be there in the long term, because many Canadians simply cannot join a group pension plan right now; promote good administration of retirement income plans; ensure that members of retirement income plans regularly receive good, plain language information that they need about their plans; and set out in law the goals to which we aspire legislatively as they relate to retirement income.

We all know that Canada is heading into a demographic crunch. We heard from the member for York West her statistic that by 2036 there will be 10.9 million Canadians over the age of 65. It is my sure and fervent hope that I will be among them, because the alternative does not turn me on very much.

The other statistic that I will give people, just to give a sense of where we are going as a country, is from the Association of Canadian Community Colleges. They were in to visit MPs recently and they shared a statistic with us that really says it all. Today in Canada, 44% of all Canadians are not in the workforce. That includes senior citizens, children, the unemployed and those who are unable to work. By 2031, in 20 years, 61% of Canadians will not be in the workforce.

The challenges that presents to us are clear. If Canadians are not in the workforce, they are not producing as much tax revenue for the country that we are going to need; and clearly, at the same time, there is going to be more of a demand for things such as health care and social services.

Many of that 61% will have earned a retirement. I am not suggesting for a second that they should be forced to work. In fact, some of them may choose to work and we probably should make it as easy as possible for them to work if that is what they choose to do.

This is the demographic crunch that Canada is facing. If we do not do more to address the needs of that growing segment of the population, including myself, who are going to be over age 65 by 2031, and from the member for York West's statistics, 10.9 million over age 65 by 2036, then we will have a significant problem.

The time to address that is now, both for those who have a specific and urgent need, those who are hurting right now because there has not been sufficient legislation, but also for the many other Canadians who do not even realize that they are going to have a problem, who do not understand that their retirement is in severe jeopardy.

Those Canadians are going to be going to their members of Parliament in 20 years and saying, “I did not know. I was not aware. Nobody told me that we had this problem.”

We could say in the bill that we should increase the guaranteed income supplement, but then it cannot be enacted. It would require the royal recommendation that so many Canadians go to bed thinking about every night. It simply cannot make a difference.

We either come to this place to make a point or we come here to make a difference. Bill C-574 makes a difference and I want to commend the member for York West for her hard and diligent work on behalf of Canadians.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits) November 17th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, it is hard to keep track. This bill has come back more often than Mohammed Ali or Brett Favre. Every time we turn around the government is reintroducing this bill. However, our position as a party and my own personal inclination would be to send it to committee and see if we can fix it.

From my own point of view, doubly, triply or quadruply, I expect that will be the view I will have, subject to change, but that is where I sits now. Let us have a more serious look at it.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits) November 17th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, there are good MPs and bad MPs. I would remind my colleague that not all the bad ones have been defeated. Many of the bad ones do not get defeated.

Many of the senators are good but there may be some who are bad. We appoint a lot of people in the process. One thing that happens is that the Senate, run properly, does not have the kind of excessive and foolish partisanship that my colleague from Hamilton exhibits. He seems to believe that by elevating his voice, he elevates his argument. That clearly is not the case.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits) November 17th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, our position has been that we will send it to committee to have a look at it.

The government has framed this as simply a discussion on whether it should be an eight year term. What we are saying is that many other things are involved, both in terms of potential reforms to the Senate and the process as well. Yes, I would like to see it at committee where some of the provinces can come in and give their point of view and where some constitutional experts can come in and talk about some of the other options.

Because the government has determined that this bill specifically deals with the length of term, does not mean that is the only thing people in Canada want to look at in terms of how we might consider the Senate and the work that it does within Parliament.

Yes, I want the committee to have a look at this and let us hear from people who have and interest and an expertise and we can go forward from there.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits) November 17th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to debate this bill today, this bill that addresses a certain type of reform of the Senate, the second chamber of Parliament.

I have always thought that the Senate should be reformed. The Senate has served a useful purpose over time since Confederation. There are ways that it should be reformed, and I still believe that it needs to be reformed. But I do not think this bill would solve that or would affect it in a significant way. We need sensible reform of the Senate. I have always felt that way, and I continue to do so now.

As an elected member of Parliament, one thing that surprised me a little was just how important I found the work of the Senate to be. I do not have to go through chapter and verse on that. People in the chamber know the work that was done by Senator Mike Kirby on health, as well as his significant work on mental health in his report titled, “Out of the Shadows at Last” , which led to the Mental Health Commission and his appointment there.

There has been some significant work done by senators individually and collectively. In some ways, the Senate has traditionally taken a bit of the bite out of the partisanship of the House of Commons. It has become more partisan in recent days and months, but that work was important. More recently, we have seen some fabulous work done by a Senate committee on poverty co-chaired by Liberal and Conservative senators, Senators Art Eggleton and Hugh Segal. It shows the kind of quality, bipartisan work that can exist in the Senate.

Today I am delighted that in the chamber the chair of the human resources standing committee tabled a report by the committee on poverty and developing an anti-poverty plan for Canada. Some of the recommendations will be similar to those in the Senate report, but some are not. Both studies are well worth looking at. Some significant work has been done in the Senate that I think has added to public discourse and led to better policy in this country, such as the work by Senator Segal, Senator Eggleton, and Senator Kirby.

I come from a province that has a rich tradition of senators providing valuable input. A good friend of mine, Senator Cowan, is the leader of the opposition in the Senate. Senators Mercer and Moore do fabulous work on many issues, one of which is post-secondary education. My co-parliamentarian from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, Senator Jane Cordy, and one of my all-time favourites, Senator Al Graham, who retired some six years ago, have done a tremendous amount of work on behalf of Canadians as well as all citizens of the world. It shows that significant work is done in the Senate, and Canadians can be proud of that.

I think we need to take a serious look at Senate reform. Clearly, when the Senate was devised, it was in large part meant to balance regional input in Canada. In 1867, we had the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. There were 24 senators from Quebec, 24 from Ontario, and 24 divided equally between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. As other provinces came into Confederation, senators were added. The most recent was the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, which entered in 1949 with six senators. The tradition of the Senate there has been very strong as well.

It is not just Liberal senators. We have Senators Oliver and Comeau from Nova Scotia, and this strong tradition has existed across Canada. We have had some good senators and some bad ones. We have had some good members of Parliament in the House of Commons, and we have had some bad ones as well.

When we look at Senate reform, we need to look at it sensibly. The government of the day has turned the Senate into a bad guy on everything, and it has done this in a way that is very disingenuous.

I want to quote the leader of the opposition in the Senate, Senator Cowan, when he spoke about the idea of Senate reform being introduced by the Conservative government. I am going to quote directly from his speech in the Senate. He stated, “I begin by stating the obvious—that real democratic reform cannot be imposed, not even by a prime minister. The result of a unilateral action can never be enhanced democracy. A healthy democracy requires a leader to listen to the views of others and, in some circumstances, to accept those views even if the leader disagrees with them”.

He goes on to state:

A constitution, by its nature, is the antithesis of unilateral action. Constitutions are the product of discussion and compromise. The Canadian Constitution contains a detailed amending formula meticulously negotiated over many years. [...] The government refuses to discuss the proposals with the provinces. It insists, notwithstanding the views of numerous experts, that the Parliament of Canada possesses the authority to pass the proposed constitutional amendments on its own.

People come here with their own points of view. We have heard some very strong positions from members of the New Democratic Party who believe that there is no place at all for the Senate. I do not believe that. We have heard from others who believe that perhaps there should not be any change at all to the formulation of the Senate. I do not believe that either. I think we need to look at this sensibly and reasonably.

A colleague from Manitoba speaks about some discussions that happened in Manitoba, but other provinces have very clearly stated that they do not intend to just go along willy-nilly with a change in the Constitution. That is a very important thing that affects their interests and their region and they do not want to see it imposed upon them by the Prime Minister.

What we have often heard from the Prime Minister and the government was that the Senate was holding things up. In fact, while the House was prorogued earlier this year, the Minister of Justice suggested that the Senate was holding up the crime bills.

There is a very good letter, which I commend to everybody's attention, from Senator Cowan to the Minister of Justice dated February 4. The letter reads:

Your Government introduced 19 justice-related bills in the House of Commons. Of these, 14 were still in the House of Commons at prorogation. Of the five justice bills that passed the House of Commons and came to the Senate:

two passed the Senate without amendment;

one (the so-called Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime bill) was tabled by your Government in November in the Senate but not brought forward for further action after that;

one was passed with four amendments and returned to the House of Commons which did not deal with it before Parliament was prorogued; and

one was being studied in committee when Parliament was prorogued and all committee work shut down.

There were a further two justice bills that your Government chose to initiate in the Senate. One was passed by the Senate after 14 days, sent to the House of Commons, passed and given Royal Assent. The other was tabled in the Senate on April 1, but has not been brought forward by your Government for any further action since then.

Very clearly, the Senate has been set up incorrectly as the entity that has been slowing down the government agenda. We all know that what slowed down the government agenda was its proclivity to prorogue Parliament, not just twice in the last couple of years but in fact three times if we go back to 2007. Therefore, It is not fair to say that the Senate has held up the agenda of the government.

What we saw last night was a bill that had been passed by the House of Commons in Parliament and sent to the Senate. For the first time in the history of our country, the first time since Confederation, a bill that was passed by the House of Commons was killed by the Senate without even going to committee.

I believe what we have is an abuse of the democratic process, consistent with a government that has chosen to prorogue Parliament, that has chosen to ignore the will of Parliament on a number of occasions and that is now using the Senate as the set-up bad guy when the government has to take responsibility for not being able to get its own agenda through.

That is just simply how it is. We do have a bicameral legislative body. We have had a system in Canada over many generations, going back to Confederation, that has two bodies. It has the House of Commons where members are elected. The Senate has members who are appointed. Should the senators be elected and how long should their terms be, are things that are open to debate.

What is not open to debate, though, is that the government has set up the Senate in an incorrect way, politicizing the Senate, beyond what it ever has been before, to suggest that the Senate is slowing down the will of Parliament. On top of all of that, last night we clearly had the Conservative-dominated Senate killing the will of Parliament on a piece of legislation for the first time in our history.

I say that we need to reform the Senate. We need to look at it seriously but we must not forget the good work that can be done by the Senate. We need to en sure that we enhance democracy as we go through this process and not further damage it.