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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was report.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Liberal MP for Charlottetown (P.E.I.)

Won his last election, in 2008, with 50% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits) April 29th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, the member made one statement that I will agree with 100%. The Senate is at the heart of the Canadian federalism. I pointed that out in my speech.

When we go back to the original debates, the chip on the table was that 24 senators would be allocated to the region of Quebec, which we can call the Quebec nation quite appropriately. Again, if there is any change to that formula, any change to the way they are appointed, to their capacities, to where they have to live, I think it would be tremendously difficult to do that without the consent of Quebec.

However, we are dealing with a tenure issue. I do not have the final legal say in that. There are opinions going both ways. It is unfortunate that we do not have a Supreme Court ruling. There is no question in my mind that one of the aggrieved provinces will probably take this to the Supreme Court at some time. However, again, that is a situation that has to be. All I say is let us get it to committee and have a debate. There is no question that eventually it will arrive at the Supreme Court of Canada for a legal opinion at some point in time.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits) April 29th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, that is not a simple question. That is a question that has been debated for 143 years. I do not have the answer. I have read many of the articles.

Parliament cannot amend a lot of the more fundamental issues regarding the Senate without amending the Constitution, which would require consent of at least seven provinces, representing at least 50% of the people. But then when we boil it down to the issue of tenure, there are opinions on both sides of the issue. It is unfortunate that it has not gone to the Supreme Court first. It will probably end up in the Supreme Court at some point in time for a definitive opinion. It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court did not opine on it when it had the opportunity several years ago, but again, I cannot answer that question. It appears that the preponderance of the legal scholars are of the view that we can.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits) April 29th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, to repeat, I indicated when I first rose that I will be supporting the bill. I see the bill going to committee. I believe it will be a healthy debate. I am hoping members will come up with a better solution than the eight-year non-renewable tenure. I do not have the solution in front of me, but I am sure it can be worked out if we put enough good people in a room.

The minister asked me to issue some control over the senators in the other House. I want to remind him that I have absolutely no control over anyone in the other House. It is my understanding that the Conservatives have a majority there now. We will see how the debate goes in the other House, but I will not be participating. I have no control over how that debate goes.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits) April 29th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, it would depend on how we solve that issue. I really feel strongly that this concept of a non-renewable eight-year term would not work. I gave the example that after eight years the Prime Minister would have appointed all 104 members. There would be no opposition. They would go to a committee and it would be all one party.

Not only that, but there is another very important point I want to raise. I have noticed over the years that the members of the same party who were appointed by a previous leader are less compliant. I believe that the Conservative members who were appointed by Mr. Mulroney are less compliant than the ones appointed by the present Prime Minister, and I have seen that in both political parties.

We would have a situation where a democratic institution, a House, comprised 104 members from one party, all appointed by one individual. I am troubled with that. I do not think it would work. We have to work on other solutions. I am sure there are experts out there who would give us all kinds of ideas, but that particular solution would not work for democracy and it would not work for Canadians.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits) April 29th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and participate in this debate.

This is an issue that is complicated. The whole issue of Senate reform has been discussed on many occasions since Confederation in 1867, but it is an issue that I am glad to see brought before the House and it is an issue that should be debated by Canadians. I congratulate the minister for introducing it.

I want to say at the outset that when the bill comes to a vote, I will be supporting it so that it will go to committee even though I have some very serious concerns with the whole issue of tenure, which I will get into.

I understand the gist of the legislation. We have a situation now, and it has happened, where technically a person can be appointed at the young age of 35 and can serve 40 years in the Senate. It does raise certain concerns of accountability and legitimacy. It is an issue that we should debate and perhaps correct, if it is possible constitutionally, which I believe it is. However, there is a need for discussion and, of course, it will then need to go to the Senate.

It is a good issue to have before the House but, as I indicated, I do not think there is any institution as complicated, complex and perhaps misunderstood as the Senate of Canada. The debate about the Senate cannot start today. It has to start back in 1864, at the time of the meetings when the discussion started to form this country. The original meeting was held in Charlottetown when the British colonies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island came together to discuss the possibility of forming a Maritime union because of their small size and other concerns, such as defence, et cetera.

Upper Canada and Lower Canada, now Ontario and Quebec, more or less invited themselves to this meeting to discuss the whole concept of a larger union and they were included to form the Dominion of Canada.

According to the historical annals, there was a lot of partying and drinking at this meeting. They did not form an agreement but they very much agreed to continue the discussions. The discussions did continue in a meeting in Quebec City and as are result of those two meetings, the country was formed in 1867. I should point out that Prince Edward Island, at that time, opted not to join the Federation.

Again, if we look at the debates, the Atlantic provinces, although they were smaller, were probably more mature because they had been settled earlier. To a certain extent, they did have a legislature. Responsible government came first to the colony of Nova Scotia. It had its own governors and its own legislature. There was a considerable degree of reluctance to get into this new union. They also had their own political issues back in their colonies because lot of time certain factions were against any kind of a larger union with Upper Canada and Lower Canada. A lot of times people did not appreciate what was going on or what the political climate was in that far off land.

Again, as we all know, the agreement was culminated and the country was formed, to its great credit, for which we are forever grateful. In the early 1900s the country expanded and in 1949 in the province of Newfoundland joined Confederation.

The point I am making is that during those discussions chips were put on the table, there were a lot of negotiations and discussions, if we read the debates of the delegates from the colonies, and one of the concerns of the smaller colonies was to be swallowed up by the larger colony of Ontario.

One of the concerns, of course, was the protection of minorities. We are not talking about the minorities as we view the concept in the House today. There was only one minority and that was French Catholic males. At that time the females and the aboriginals did not have a franchise and were not considered, or I did not see them considered too much in the debates.

The point I am making is that one of the significant chips that was put on the table, and the chip that got the country, was the Senate. The way they constructed the Senate was that each region would have 24. The Atlantic region would have 24. Quebec would have 24; that was what brought them on board. Ontario would have 24, and of course that expanded as the west was brought into the federation in subsequent years. That balanced the regions and it was also there to protect the minorities.

These are considerations we all should bear in mind. We should all bear in mind the chips that were put on the table during these very important discussions back in 1864, 1865 and 1866, concluding in 1867. In other words, the bottom line was that if we did not have the Senate, we would not have got the country.

I point to that for contextual purposes. I do not think there is any reason why this House should not discuss the possible reform of the Senate, but as the minister would know, it is a very difficult process because of the constitutional framework that was adopted then and that was changed subsequently but not a lot, not in any major amendment to the Senate. The way the senators are appointed, their capacities and the regions they represent require the consent of at least seven provinces, representing in excess of 50% of the population of Canada.

As every politician who has ever been elected in Canada knows, that is a very difficult and murky process. We got into that in Meech Lake. We got into that in Charlottetown. We all know how difficult that process is and I believe most politicians, if questioned, would say they really do not want to go there.

However the point I do want to make is that it is unfortunate that there was not a larger consultative process. The provinces, in this case and in this discussion, are the successors to the colonies. The Senate was put there for a purpose, with certain specific capacities to protect and enhance the interests of the colonies, especially the smaller colonies, and of course the minorities, which have expanded beyond that concept of the French Catholic male.

It is unfortunate that we did not have a more consultative process. We are having situations where certain larger provinces have publicly stated that this bill should not go forward. That is unfortunate, but I still think the debate should continue. There is a larger constitutional issue and many constitutional scholars have given opinions. By my reading, certainly the preponderance of the opinion seems to be that this legislation can proceed without the consent of the provinces. However, the previous member who spoke was talking about appointments made at the request of the provinces. We are into some constitutional problems there. It is a slippery slope, and there have really been very few substantial amendments made to the Senate since Confederation.

One issue I do have, which has been talked about by the previous two speakers and which can continue before the committee, is the whole issue of tenure. The previous two speakers compared it to other countries where they have a bicameral system with two political institutions, a lower house and a Senate. One speaker said the average tenure was 5.2 years and talked about the American and Australian experiences, but again these are all elected bodies.

Even if this legislation were passed tomorrow, we are going to continue with an appointed body. I am very troubled with the possibility that after eight years, we have a legislative and deliberative body that comprises 104 members, each and every one of whom are appointed by one individual. I would think they would be very compliant. I am not so sure they would be an institution of sober second thought and I am not so sure what purpose they would really serve.

If we go back to the previous Liberal government that was elected in 1993, by the year 2001 all 104 senators would have been appointed by one individual, resulting in no opposition in committees. I am not clear how that would serve the interests of democracy in the long run.

I do not have any specific suggestions, although I think it should be a longer term and there should be staggering. However, I believe there certainly has to be some debate on creating a viable opposition because I have seen with my own eyes what happens when a democracy is overtaken by one party. We have seen it more in provincial legislatures than in the federal ones and it is my opinion that democracy suffers in the long run. It may be a happy day when a government wins all the seats, but in the long run it is the people who suffer and democracy suffers too.

The legislative bodies that operate in the House of Commons, the Senate and the provincial legislatures work best with an effective, informed and hard-working opposition. That is a real question, but again it should not in any way stop the debate from continuing.

This matter has been before the House previously and there have been some slight changes based upon the debates. It is good that the matter is being brought before the House again, but there are a lot of other issues, which I will raise briefly.

There are democratic reforms that are extremely troubling and probably more important than this issue, one of which is the issue that has been before the House over the last six months about documents. There seems to be a movement to create a new concept in Canada that I would classify as executive or prime minister or government immunity. Instead of the traditional role that Parliament, the House of Commons and committees have delegated to them, the powers to send for persons, papers and records, if we accept the logic that is being put forward, the persons, papers and records that would be sent to the committees would be determined by the executive. Whatever is in the public interest would be determined by the opinion of the executive or cabinet.

That is a very unholy trend. I am pleased the Chair ruled that is not the case in this country. I agree with that ruling and hopefully we will move on with that. I am dealing with the very same thing in the public accounts committee, which did not raise a national security issue. It was dealing with another issue that had the very same response from the government. That particular case dealt with some tapes that are not that important to anything. We met with a lot of resistance but we finally got them.

First of all, members are probably not going to believe this, but the government would not provide them because the committee did not follow the Access to Information Act. When that was explained, the government said it would not give them to the committee because that violated the Privacy Act. We finally got them, but we can see the trend that is developing. I wish the Minister of State for Democratic Reform would get engaged in that issue because it is so important to democracy in this country.

It is good that this debate is taking place. I will be supporting this legislation. I have some concerns. The two biggest concerns deal with the consultation process and tenure, which is a major concern. We have to work on some mechanism to allow the institution to operate efficiently, effectively and in the best interests of all Canadians.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits) April 29th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member across for his comments. The last part of his speech dealt with a term, and I just want to get his opinion on this point. This is a point that has been raised before. The concept is to have two legislative bodies. A bicameral system is one that we certainly will continue in Canada, regardless of whether we invoke term limits.

However, with an eight year term, does the member not think that we could get into a very unpleasant situation where 100% of the senators would be appointed by one prime minister? I will give an example to the member. The last Liberal government came into power in 1993. By the year 2001, following the draft legislation, 100% of those senators would have been not only from that party but appointed by that one individual. I do not think it would create a deliberative body, so I would look for, and again this will be discussed at committee, perhaps a better mechanism.

I would appreciate member's comments.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate Term Limits) April 29th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, it is good that we are having this debate. It is an issue that should be debated, but I would suggest that we have an obligation to look at the debates that were held by the delegates in conjunction with the establishment of the Senate and when the colonies came together. Basically the Senate was a chip that was put on the table that made the country work. Its formation was to protect minorities. The minority they were speaking of at the time, since females and aboriginals did not have the franchise, was French Catholic males.

The concern I have is that this matter is before Parliament without the consultation that I would have thought should have taken place. Does the member have any real concerns regarding this lack of consultation with the provinces, which are of course the successors to the colonies?

Committees of the House April 28th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour today to present, in both official languages, the following reports of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts: the 10th report on the Public Accounts of Canada for the fiscal period ending March 31, 2009; the 11th report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, Chapter 7, Emergency Management, Public Safety Canada, of the 2009 Fall Report of the Auditor General of Canada; and finally, the 12th report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, Chapter 3, Income Tax Legislation, of the 2009 Fall Report of the Auditor General of Canada.

Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee requests the government table a comprehensive response to all three reports.

Friends of Mohamed April 27th, 2010

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to acknowledge the work, dedication, and energy of a small group of individuals from the Charlottetown area known as the Friends of Mohamed.

Mohamed Mara is a young man who came to Prince Edward Island in 2005 as a refugee from Sierra Leone. In the midst of the civil war, rebel forces killed his family. Mohamed escaped but was caught later by the rebels, who cut off both his hands.

Friends of Mohamed organized and engaged the community, and raised $65,000 necessary to fit and install state-of-the-art myo-electric hands.

I would like to publicly thank all businesses, groups and individuals who generously donated to this cause. I also want to thank all members of that very special group, Friends of Mohamed, especially Catherine Ronahan, who gave so much of her time and very much played a leadership role.

Mohamed's new hands have been fitted and are operating. He has received the necessary training and he is back in the community. He is doing very well.

On behalf of the House, we wish him all the best.

April 26th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, he said I misread it, so I am going to read it again for Canada to listen to. It says, “Upgrades to infrastructure at the University of Prince Edward Island will create over 300 jobs and inject about $30 million into the economy”. It could not be any clearer.

The parliamentary secretary did exactly what I predicted. It was spin. We continue this culture of deceit. He did not talk about the budget. He talked about some other document called a fifth report. I am not sure exactly what he is talking about. The only thing he talked about, which I suspected, was this $2 million committed to the University of Prince Edward Island. He went on about projects in other provinces and other projects in Charlottetown. He went on to spin the thing and he never mentioned how the 300 jobs was computed and added into the budget.

I will give the parliamentary secretary one last chance to answer the question. Is the $30 million commitment to the University of Prince Edward Island and the creation of 300 jobs accurate? The wording is very clear and we know right now from the words of the parliamentary secretary that it is not accurate. If it is not accurate, why was it included in the budget?