Mr. Ron Cannan (Kelowna—Lake Country, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk about something that is very near and dear to the constituents of Kelowna—Lake Country. I know that when the Prime Minister campaigned in the riding at the end of 2005, there was incredible support from my constituents as soon as anything was mentioned about reforming the Senate. It is near and dear to the folks out west.
All Canadians need to have a real awakening. They have seen the reformation that needs to take place. In fact, we have an institution that has been around since 1867, since Confederation. There has been absolutely no reform or change of the Senate other than the provision in 1965 for mandatory retirement at age 75 from the previous appointment for life.
The government is determined, and based on its promises to Canadians, that at least some first steps should take place and to date there has been no progress whatsoever. I know the members opposite, the interveners earlier, were talking about it being piecemeal, that it is just trying to circumvent the constitution.
The reality is that they had 13 years to come up with some sort of concrete democratic reform and nothing took place. Working together in a minority government, we are trying to work in a compromise manner and in increments. I think the government approach is a really achievable, positive and practical step that makes a lot of common sense.
I really find it difficult that specifically my colleagues from British Columbia could vote against this bill. This is one step in the triple E Senate that we are looking at reforming.
I had the opportunity last week to meet Mr. Brown from Alberta. Since 1989 Albertans have been voting for senators-in-waiting and he is the second such individual in Alberta. Mr. Waters was the first, but he unfortunately passed away after a short term in the Senate.
Mr. Brown is ready, willing, and able to step in when the time is appropriate. I think that speaks volumes of the government for listening to not only Albertans but all Canadians, and the hue and cry that has been coming forth, that we need to reform the Senate. Introducing this bill allows the consultation with constituents from sea to sea to sea.
The fact that senators are not elected is seen by many as contrary to the democratic values of Canadians and a major reason why the legitimacy of the Senate is often called into question.
I have the opportunity occasionally to take guests from the riding to the other house. An individual, a page, there does an excellent job. I had a chance to speak with Brad Ramsden a couple of times and he has enlightened me as to the role that the Senate plays.
I think that it does have a value in our constitutional role and our government in Canada. I value its input, but the fact is that today the 105 members, less the vacancies, who are appointed there have been appointed based on patronage, favouritism, and I think that does not speak very well for our democratic system. We live in a country that has a fundamental freedom of democracy. I do not think that there is any greater right than giving people that freedom to consult and select the individual who they want to represent their community.
The government has also introduced the bill because it reinforces, revitalizes, and modernizes long held Canadian values and most importantly the full right of Canadians to be able to choose those who will govern them.
This fundamental value has historically been enhanced and expanded by previous Conservative governments and the present Conservative government is simply continuing that tradition. I think of the statue of Robert Borden that we all walk by just outside the West Block. He led the wartime government that gave the right to women to vote. I think of Mr. Diefenbaker who gave that right to aboriginal people. These are some of the legacies of previous Conservative governments. They were excellent prime ministers and leaders such as the Prime Minister we have today.
Listening to the debate over the last few weeks there have been interveners who asked why the bill was introduced in the House of Commons rather than in Senate.
Bill C-43 authorizes the expenditure of funds related to the implementation and ongoing administration of the consultation process and pursuant to the Constitutional Act, 1867, bills that require the appropriation of funds must be initiated in the House of Commons.
At present the Governor General has the power to summon individuals to the Senate pursuant to section 24 of the Constitution Act, 1867. It states:
|| The Governor General shall from Time to Time, in the Queen's Name, by Instrument under the Great Seal of Canada, summon qualified Persons to the Senate;--
In my mind the word “qualified” is a very serious word that we need to stop and take a look at. What does qualified mean? It is up to the individual Canadians in each of the provinces and territories to decide who they feel is most qualified to represent them, not somebody who has given the Prime Minister or the leader of the government of the day the most money or helped them out the most to get them into power. We have seen this in the past, no matter which political party.
From a non-partisan perspective, we all need to take a step back and realize this is a very positive way. It is a legacy we can all be proud of in making a positive change in the Government of Canada.
The only difference today is that Canadians now have the opportunity to express their preferences for Senate nominees to the Prime Minister before he provides his advice to the Governor General. Looking at this process since 1989, Albertans have been providing that opportunity for their residents to vote and then give that name forward to the Prime Minister to make that choice.
The challenge of opening up the Constitution, as the Liberals have specifically indicated, is that it is a seven-fifty amending process formula. That means that seven provinces representing 50% of the population have to be in agreement, and we know how difficult that will be. It has been very difficult. Our Minister of Agriculture has been working with all the provinces to revitalize our CAIS program, helping our agricultural community and working tirelessly, and that is a very challenging perspective, getting all 13 voices together.
We need to take this in baby steps. It is a stepped approach. It is common sense, realistic and achievable.
Paragraph 42(1)(b) of the Constitution Act, 1982, requires a seven-fifty amending process for an amendment to the Constitution to alter the method of selecting senators, but the Senate appointment consultations process does not change the method of selecting senators provided in the Constitution. Therefore, there is no requirement for a constitutional amendment and no need for a Supreme Court reference.
The opposition members have to get it through their heads that this does not require a Supreme Court or a constitutional amendment, and I am opening the whole debate. This is an achievable approach. It is realistic and we need to hammer that home. We are standing up for Canadians and asking the 308 elected members in this House to do the will of Canadians.
The Governor General currently has the power to summon individuals to the Senate on the advice of the Prime Minister and this will continue after the passage of the bill. Basically nothing will change. The people will vote and through their local provinces or territories, the names will come to the Prime Minister. In reality, I cannot see any Prime Minister not accepting that person's name if he or she is qualified. The Prime Minister will do that. I know our Prime Minister has firmly said that he will be doing that as the opportunity presents itself.
Basically, this bill provides a mechanism for consultations to be held in one or more provinces to seek the preferences of the electorate on individuals who offer themselves as potential Senate nominees. Anyone who is 30 years of age right now can get into the Senate, except it is for 45 years. With our 66 word bill that is still floundering around there in the other place, we are trying to get a term limit through, whether it is 7, 8, 10 or 12 years instead of the 45 years. We are trying to have two accountable houses and an open, transparent government for Canadians.
The Prime Minister will still have the discretion to decide in which province or provinces the consultations will be held, how many places in the Senate are subject to the consultations, and in fact whether the consultations will be held for current vacancies only or current vacancies plus future vacancies, or just future vacancies.
The process is not triggered automatically by vacancies and there will not be Senate byelections. Consultations will normally take place at the same time as a federal general election, so there is no real additional cost to Canadians. It is included in the process. They will go to the ballot. They will choose the party member that they want to select, and check off the name of the individual, the party, or someone who is running under an independent banner for the Senate.
Consultations will be smooth. The bill provides for some flexibility though, allowing that the consultations could be held at the same time as a provincial general election if an agreement is in place with the province. We are working together with the provinces and territories. I know that is something we always have to keep in mind, that we are partners in government and we work together.
This bill provides for consultations to be carried out with the use of a preferential voting system known as the single transferrable vote. In contrast to the voting system used for the House of Commons elections, electors will be able to rank their preferred candidates on a ballot.
Candidates receiving a defined quota of votes will be included on the list of selected Senate nominees for the Prime Minister's consideration. Should a selected nominee receive votes in excess of the quota, those votes in excess of the quota would be distributed to the electors next preferences. The vote transfer process will continue until enough nominees are selected for the number of places subject to consultation.
It is a privilege and an honour as the member of Parliament for Kelowna—Lake Country to stand here in the House today and speak about a bill that is helping to bring reformation to the other place in this Parliament that is long overdue.
I thank the members opposite for their attention. I hope they will give due consideration for this incremental step that I have said is common sense, reasonable and achievable.
Mr. Pierre Paquette (Joliette, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, taking part in this debate on Bill C-43, is a little like going to the dentist. Personally, it is the last thing I want to be doing, but what can I say, sometimes we need to go to the dentist. However, we never need to go to the tooth puller.
I truly think the bill before us is of absolute no relevance. It addresses a very secondary matter to the detriment of more pressing priorities than the proposed reform, and that the Conservative government should be concerned about.
Bill C-43 provides for the consultation of electors in a province with respect to their preferences for the appointment of senators to represent the province.
Part 1 provides for the administration of a consultation, which is exercised under the general direction and supervision of the Chief Electoral Officer.
Part 2 provides for the holding of a consultation, initiated by an order of the governor in council.
Part 3 provides for a process whereby prospective nominees may confirm their nominations with the Chief Electoral Officer.
Part 4 addresses voting by electors in a consultation.
Part 5 sets out the rules for the counting of votes pursuant to a preferential system, which takes into account the first and subsequent preferences of electors as indicated on their ballots.
Parts 6 and 7 deal with communications and third party advertising in relation to consultations.
Part 8 addresses financial administration by nominees.
Part 9 provides for the enforcement of the enactment, including the establishment of offences and punishments for contraventions of certain provisions.
Part 10 contains transitional provisions, consequential amendments to the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act, coordinating amendments and commencement provisions.
As I mentioned from the outset, the bill is irrelevant. First, it is quite clear to us that the government, the House of Commons, cannot unilaterally change the Senate without the Constitution being changed. Since the Constitution is a federal constitution, all the stakeholders, in other words, all the provinces, Quebec, the federal government, the parliaments of these different jurisdictions, have to take part in the reform process.
As I said at the beginning, we do not think this bill is appropriate because what we really need is something that includes a review of the Constitution. In the late 1970s, the Supreme Court of Canada studied Parliament's ability to unilaterally amend the constitutional provisions concerning the Senate and, in a 1980 decision concerning Parliament's jurisdiction over the upper chamber, decided Parliament could not unilaterally make decisions about major changes to the essential character of the Senate.
It is likely this legislation will encounter opposition from the provinces, including Quebec. Quebec is not the only province that does not support this government's approach in tabling this bill. The government is heading down a path that leads to the reform of an institution whose relevance is in doubt. Even so, the proposed reform is a minor one.
Do they seriously think that a constitutional negotiation process—which would be necessary, as I said—makes sense right now when the government and Parliament should focus their attention on far more important issues? Just consider reintegrating Quebec into the Constitution that Pierre Elliott Trudeau unilaterally patriated.
All of Quebec's governments, regardless of whether they were Liberal or Parti Québécois, have refused to sign the Constitution as it was patriated in the early 1980s. I would note that there is a three-party consensus on this in the National Assembly among the Liberal Party of Quebec, the Parti Québécois and the Action Démocratique du Québéc.
It is clear to us that neither the powers of the Senate, nor the senator selection method, nor the number of senators for each province, nor the residency requirements for senators can be changed without going through the usual amendment procedure set out in section 38 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which requires the consent of the Senate, the House of Commons, and the legislative assemblies of at least two thirds of the provinces, that is, seven provinces, making up at least 50% of Canada's population.
This is the famous 7/50 formula.
We can see that this bill is irrelevant and could even be harmful, setting in motion a round of constitutional negotiations on a relatively minor issue, as I said. On September 21, 2006, Quebec's intergovernmental affairs minister, Benoît Pelletier—who was recently reappointed—testified before the Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform, where he stated:
|| —from the Quebec government perspective, clearly any future transformation of the Senate into an elected chamber would be an issue that should be dealt with through constitutional negotiations and not simply through unilateral federal action.
|| If the Senate becomes a chamber of elected representatives, its original purpose would be changed. Whether this is achieved directly or indirectly, it becomes an extremely important change which must be debated within the framework of constitutional discussions.
So as I mentioned, Quebec's intergovernmental affairs minister, Benoît Pelletier, simply reiterated Quebec's traditional position to the senate committee by saying two things: first, that the federal government cannot reform the Senate unilaterally, and second, that the federal government cannot achieve indirectly what it cannot achieve directly. Clearly, introducing this bill is a way of doing indirectly what the government does not want to do directly.
As I said earlier, Quebec is not alone in its opposition to electing senators. The premiers of Saskatchewan and Manitoba have called on the government to abolish the Senate instead of trying to reform it. Even the premier of Ontario has expressed serious doubts, saying that electing senators would exacerbate inequalities, under the Senate's current mandate.
Electing senators indirectly would change the relationship between the House of Commons and the Senate and create confusion. I will come back to this. These changes cannot be made unilaterally without the consent of Quebec and the provinces, as Quebec is now recognized as a nation by the House of Commons. Everyone will appreciate that such a reform would be most unwelcome and would not be in keeping with the spirit of either the Constitution or what has been passed in this House.
I said that the first reason this bill is irrelevant is that it will inevitably lead to a round of constitutional negotiations, which do not make a great deal of sense, whether they concern the Senate or just the election of senators. Therefore, once again, if the government goes ahead, it will come up against this constitutional problem.
The second thing that, to me, makes this bill irrelevant, is that, even reformed by Bill C-43, the Senate is still an useless institution. Originally, the Senate was supposed to be a chamber of sober second thought. It was also supposed to protect regional interests. But when we look at the current makeup of the Senate, we see that the appointments were clearly partisan, which has distorted the nature or mandate of the Senate.
Introducing the election of senators will not resolve the issue, because senators will sooner or later have to affiliate themselves with a political party in order to have the necessary resources for the elections. So the Senate will become more partisan and we will depart even further from its original purpose, which, in my opinion, is no longer relevant in the 21st century.
As I was saying, the indirect election of senators would not improve this situation. On the contrary, the electoral process will tend to increase the role of political parties and indirectly elected senators could become concerned with things that now fall under the authority of the House of Commons. This would create a duplication, or, at the very least, confusion, at a cost of $77 million a year. We think this is an extremely high cost for an institution that is not only useless, but that , in the case of the proposed reform, would create confusion and a significant duplication of legitimacy.
It is important to note that because of the evolution of the democratic process in Canada, in the provinces and in Quebec, no province has had an upper house since 1968.
It is interesting to note that members of several provincial upper houses—unlike the Senate of Canada—once had to earn their election, for example, Prince Edward Island. Such upper houses have disappeared over the years, however. Quebec abolished its legislative council in 1968. That was nearly 40 years ago.
Furthermore, I feel it is important to point out another factor. Bill C-43 is irrelevant. Despite the amendments proposed by the bill, the Senate would not be truly democratic. The indirect election by Canadians would give the Senate a superficial democratic credibility. In many respects, the Senate would remain a democratic aberration.
First of all, public consultation is not binding. The bill provides for public consultation, but does not talk about an election, per se, in order to select senators. The Prime Minister maintains the authority to appoint or not appoint the senators chosen by the public and could therefore decide not to appoint a candidate selected in the election process. In one of the background papers provided by the government concerning this bill, it states:
|| The Prime Minister can take into account the results of the consultation when making recommendations to the Governor General regarding future representatives of a province or territory in the Senate.
Furthermore, how can we trust this Prime Minister, who did not hesitate to appoint Michael Fortier to the Senate, even though he himself criticized the Liberals' partisan appointments? We therefore see that this new Conservative government—which is no longer new, since it has been in power for 15 or 16 months—simply copied the Liberal method of appointing senators.
Also, I recall very well that, during the election campaign, the Prime Minister promised to appoint only elected members to the cabinet. With that Senate appointment, he broke the promise he had made to voters during the campaign. During the next election, voters will be able to judge for themselves how well the Conservatives can keep their promises.
One more factor is very worrisome. Voters will not be represented equally in the Senate. For instance, in the case of Prince Edward Island, one senator will represent some 27,000 voters, while in other areas of Canada—particularly in Quebec—that proportion will be much higher.
There will be virtually no way to remove senators.
The bill provides for the consultation of the population for the appointment of senators, although it is not binding, as we have just seen. They will be appointed for one term. I realize that some say that the bill provides for a maximum term of eight years for senators, which could solve the problem. But it seems to me that presenting oneself to the electorate only once in eight years is far from a guarantee that these so-called “elected” senators will reflect the concerns of citizens of Quebec or Canada.
In addition, the Senate is an institution that was created a very long time ago, and I find it ridiculous that certain restrictions on presenting oneself as a candidate for the position of senator have been retained. At present, you must be at least 30 years old and own real property worth at least $4,000 in the province and the riding that the individual is appointed to represent. Hence, all those under 30 are excluded. I find that very discriminatory. The rule about assets penalizes a part of our population that might seek to be candidates for such elections. This additional factor demonstrates that the proposal before us does not address the root cause of the problem and that it even seeks to rehabilitate an institution that has lost credibility in the eyes of a good number of Canadians and Quebeckers.
Indirectly, the elected Senate would even undermine the parliamentary system. I will come back to that. As you know, in the British parliamentary system, the executive defends the confidence conferred on it by the House of Commons, which is also elected. Thus, the election of the Senate alone would undermine the preeminence of the House of Commons and would create confusion. The election of two Houses would complicate the issue of preponderance and consequently would weaken the parliamentary system.
The Bloc thinks that this is an ill-conceived and irrelevant bill. Moreover, there is no set spending limit for the candidates. The government says that the individual contribution limits and the transfer limits imposed on parties will be sufficient to limit spending. However, since there is an unlimited number of potential candidates and election spending is subject to partial reimbursement out of public funds, it seems unreasonable not to limit individual spending. Lastly, some seats could be vacant for four years, unless there is a reserve. If a senator left their seat for health reasons, if they died or left for some other reason, we would have to wait four years for a new senator. As I said, unless a reserve is created, the bill is ill-conceived from this perspective.
For all these reasons, we would have preferred debating another subject today. As I said earlier, I feel as though I am at the tooth puller instead of being at the dentist. I do not want to alienate my dentist or dentists in general. It is good to go to the dentist, it is even recommended. But it is not recommended to go to a tooth puller.
I think we should be addressing real problems and real issues, such as the fiscal imbalance. In the budget—we continue to support Bill C-52, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 19, 2007—there is a partial financial correction to the fiscal imbalance, but the crux of it is not corrected. The federal government has too much revenue in relation to its responsibilities. Its transfers related to matters under provincial jurisdiction continue to keep Quebec and the other provinces at the mercy of unilateral decisions made here in Ottawa, even though those jurisdictions belong to the provinces. The Bloc feels that the tax base corresponding to the transfers for health, social programs and post-secondary education should, quite simply, be transferred to the provinces as tax points, whether through the GST or income tax.
Still with the fiscal imbalance, the ability to control or even limit the federal government's spending power should be a priority. The Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister have repeatedly promised legislation to limit federal spending power. We are still waiting for this legislation. Such legislation would allow a province, such as Quebec for example, to withdraw from a program implemented, in a shared or unilateral manner, by the federal government in the jurisdictions of the provinces and Quebec. Quebec could opt out with full compensation and without condition. This is important for the people of Quebec and people who need a good health care system, a good education system and social programs that provide an adequate social safety net. For those people, the Senate is of little or no concern in their daily lives.
I would now like to talk about the environment. It seems to me that, ever since the plan was introduced by the Minister of the Environment, criticism has not stopped flooding in from all sides, including from scientists, environmentalists and industrialists alike. We just learned this morning about a poll conducted in Alberta that reveals that 92% of Albertans believe that the oil companies should make a greater effort to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Even more interesting, 70%—I am not sure about this percentage—of Albertans said that these reductions should be in absolute targets, and not intensity targets. What people want in the next few years is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to what we have seen in recent years. They do not want to see merely a slower increase, which would still mean more in the end, even if we produce less per tonne. It is not only Quebeckers and the general population of Canada that are concerned about this. These are also the concerns of Albertans, who, as we all know, are closely tied to the oil and gas industry.
I would like to talk about foreign policy. This should have been a concern. We do not have a foreign policy statement. The Liberal government, before the election that brought its defeat, had introduced a foreign policy statement dealing with defence and international trade.
No one seems to know where we are headed with this, but we are still spending. The government has just announced the purchase of more tanks, but they were purchased on the sly. International cooperation, however, has not seen much development.
Lastly, employment insurance, assistance programs for festivals and exhibitions, the Saint-Hubert airport, these all deserved greater attention, but that attention has been diverted to Bill C-43.
Mr. Deepak Obhrai (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure for me to rise and speak on this very important bill.
I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission.
When we talk about the Senate, it brings out a lot of emotions in Canadians. That is because the Senate is becoming a dinosaur of an institution on the Canadian democratic scene. That is not because of the individuals who are in the Senate. They are very fine individuals and are dedicated and committed to public life for the betterment of Canada.
We are talking about an institution that shackles these individuals and stops them from using their full potential to contribute to public life in Canada. That is because over a period of time the way the institution has been managed has been manipulated and has slowly come to the point where today Canadians do not wish to have this institution.
Right across the country we are seeing debate about abolishing the Senate. Right across the country we are seeing that Canadians either do not want the Senate or they want to reform it.
When I was campaigning in 1997 in Calgary and I talked about the Senate, there was an immediate anger from Canadians. This institution did not represent their point of view. It did not represent what people normally would feel, which is that they have an elected representative in the Parliament of Canada. What they had was not an elected representative. What they had in the Senate was somebody who was in the Parliament of Canada but who was not speaking for them.
That is something that Canadians and anyone in a democratic institution understands, and they say that it is not acceptable. As a matter of fact, even today Tony Blair is trying to bring reform to the House of Lords because he knows that these institutions have outlived their usefulness. That is the way it is. For our institution here in Canada it is the same, but I want to make sure we understand that we are not talking of putting down the senators now.
Both the Liberal Party and our colleague from the Bloc, as I just heard, are saying that the bill does not bring about proper reform. The Liberals are saying that we should do a full reform, that this is what they want to do. Yes, we all agree that there is a need for reform, but that, as we know and as they know, is not going to happen because of the way our Constitution is set up. We need to take incremental steps toward achieving that goal.
Canadians want this. They are demanding that something be done about this institution. Regretfully, I would say that this institution is a blight on democracy in Canada because of the way it is set up. Again I want to say this: it has nothing to do with individuals there.
Around the world, Canada has a very stellar reputation for democracy. We go out preaching democracy, just as I have done many times myself. The foreign affairs committee is doing a major study on democratic reform and how Canada should go ahead and promote democracy around the world. This is one of our very strong values when we go out into the world. CIDA does it. Everyone else does it. It is a strength that Canada has. People around the world respect Canada for this institution and for what we do in the promotion of democracy.
On many occasions I have had the opportunity to speak members of opposition parties who have come to Canada to see how Canadian democracy works. What has been amazing during many of the times that I have gone overseas and have talked to parliamentarians in other parts of the world is that they really do not know how our Senate works. They think our Senate is an elected Senate. They think our Senate is something very powerful, like the American senate.
I have gone on visits with senators. I have seen red carpet laid outside for the senators. Some think that the Senate is the most important institution in Canada. When I tell them that there is something wrong in our democracy and that the Senate is an institution that is not elected by Canadians, that is the first shock. The second shock is that it is a job for life. Where would anyone get a job for life? The senators have nothing to fear. They have nothing to worry about. That is another shock for people. People ask me if I am telling them that senators are there for life and do not have to be re-elected. I tell them yes, they do not have to be re-elected and they are there for life.
They ask, “Who appoints them?” The Prime Minister, I say. What criteria are there to be in the Senate, they wonder. They ask, “Is it to be a buddy of the Prime Minister or what?” There are no criteria for who will be in the Senate, I tell them.
When they first hear about this, they actually start shaking their heads and say that we must be kidding or joking and I tell them no, we are not. It is a shock to them that in Canada, a land that promotes democracy out there in the world, we have an institution that is absolutely undemocratic. It is totally undemocratic. It has become undemocratic over a period of time because of the way it has been manipulated, the way that has been done.
Canadians today have absolutely no confidence in that institution. What do we do? Do we close our eyes? Do we say that we have an institution but there is nothing we can do because we want it to have complete reform? That is a cop-out. The Liberal Party would like to leave the Senate as it is because it is an institution that has benefited them the most, so now they say that we must have complete reform.
I just heard my colleague from British Columbia say that British Columbia is unrepresented in the Senate. They are all angry with the Senate. We just heard the member from Quebec talk about why the Senate is irrelevant as far as he is concerned. But we have to do something. We cannot just carry on. We cannot just carry on with our eyes closed and say that here we have an institution that is non-responsive and we cannot do anything about it, because it will never happen. We know how the Canadian political scene is. It will never happen. There are differences between provinces demanding all these things. Where will we get this unanimity between provinces? How many provinces will get what seats? Who will do what? Will it be an elected Senate?
However, do we close our eyes and let that institution carry on and be a burden on the taxpayers, who are getting nothing out of it? No.
Even better, in regard to the individuals who are serving as senators and are excellent people, we need their expertise. We need to give them legitimacy. We need to understand that. We need to know that when they are saying something people are listening to them. Right now nobody listens to them because of the way it is set up. They themselves are shackled. They are very fine individuals who have served Canada very well. They need to be heard. If they cannot be heard with this kind of institution, then they are muzzled, they are silenced, because nobody will listen to them.
Do we want an institution like that? No. We need to do an incremental step. Yes, this bill may not address many of the concerns that everybody has, those I have just outlined about the amount of representation and from where, and all of these other things that are a big flaw in this institution. We will not be able to do all of it. This may not go all the way, but it is a step in the direction of what Canadians want, which is that they will have voice in who will be sitting in the chamber. The bill provides them that voice. We have to be cognizant of the fact and provide them with that without changing the Constitution. As for any move to change the Constitution, believe me, it is not going to happen. We have seen this happening in the past. We have seen these things going on out there, with too much diversity of opinion to have unanimity on what to do.
I know that everybody in the House knows we need to make a change. I am urging all members to let us go on with this small, incremental step.
Mr. Randy Kamp (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-43, the Senate appointments consultations act.
If people are from western Canada, they will know that there are lot of strong opinions about the Senate. I grew up there and I was influenced by many of those opinions. Like every member of Parliament, I try to keep in touch with my constituents and when I do, from to time I hear some pretty strong sentiments about the Senate of Canada.
I was at a home show this past weekend for 20 hours or so and talked to hundreds of people on a lot of different topics, but the they had opinions about the Senate as well. It is pretty clear, at least in western Canada, it has lost some credibility among Canadians.
There are a number of opinions in the House as well. We heard Bloc members speak, but I am not sure if they have a coherent opinion or view on what the Senate of Canada should do or whether it should exist or not.
The NDP's position is pretty clear, that it should be abolished. It seems to me that misses the point. I believe the Senate does do some good work. As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, I follow the work of the Senate committee as well and appreciate what it contributes to our work in the House.
I am starting to read through a human rights committee report from the Senate called “Children: The Silenced Citizens”. I appreciate some of the insights it is bringing to this. I do not think abolishing it is answer.
The Liberal position is a bit fuzzier. In my opinion they favour the status quo. They talk about favouring some kind of comprehensive overhaul of the Senate, whatever that might look like. We realize that is a very difficult thing to do. I think they conclude that it is better to do nothing than to do something, which is what we are going to do. They prefer the system we have now where senators are chosen based on either the party's support or the prime minister of the day. I do not think Canadians prefer that approach, as my colleague, the member for Calgary East, has said so eloquently, and we need to change that.
Our position as a government is clear. We want to work toward an effective, independent and democratically elected body that equitably represents all regions. Bill C-43 is not the only part of our agenda in this regard. Bill S-4, a bill that is in the Senate, would put term limits on senators of eight years. The Senate has had the bill for almost a month, as has been said already in the debate, a bill that is a couple of paragraphs long, 66 words. We are having a hard time getting that out of there. However, it is an important part of the reform of the Senate.
The question before us as parliamentarians is how does Bill C-43 contribute to this goal of the government of an effective, independent and democratically elected body that equitably represents all regions?
Because I anticipate this question coming, let me say that we could achieve this goal through a major overhaul of the Senate. As we all know, subsection 42(1) of the Constitution Act makes it very difficult to amend the Senate. Seven provinces representing 50% of the population is needed to approve any amendment. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible to get there, at least in a very expeditious way. It requires a level of consensus that is very difficult to achieve.
What are our options? I suppose the options are to do what the Liberals propose, which is to do nothing. Our option is to take a practical, achievable step that will provide a solid basis for further reform so we can get all the way there.
We want to generate momentum. As the people who live in the provinces see how this works, that we allow a democratic process to be involved in who represents them in the Senate, they will recognize that we now need to take further steps to get where we need to go.
The bill gives Canadians a voice in choosing who represents them. The way that it works now, according to section 24 of our Constitution, is the Governor General from time to time summons qualified persons to the Senate, traditionally on the advice of the prime minister. In fact, it happens no other way.
As the member for Calgary East has said, it goes against the grain of what Canadians think should happen in a democratic system. In fact, it is unlike most other democratic countries that have a higher chamber. Most countries have gone to an elected body. Canadians want to have a say in who represents them.
This is just another in a list of Conservative democratic reforms. Under the government's leadership of Robert Borden, women received the right to vote. Under the government of John Diefenbaker, aboriginals obtained the right to vote. This is another step forward in having a more democratic Parliament.
The bill would provide mechanisms for consultations to be held in one or more provinces to seek the preferences of the electorate on individuals who offer themselves as potential Senate nominees. It is envisioned that this will happen usually at the same time as a general election, although there is a bit of flexibility built into the act so it could happen at the time of a provincial election as well.
The bill would provide for a single transferrable vote to give a certain element of proportionality. It is an important improvement to make it different from the House of Commons, which continues to operate with the first past the post system.
In my view, and I think in the view of constitutional experts, this does not require any constitutional change. It does not affect the Governor General's power to appoint or the prime minister's power to recommend. It is not a direct election of senators. It does not change the constitutional requirements of who can serve as a senator. Bill C-43 would simply provide a mechanism for the prime minister to hold a consultation with the citizens of Canada.
I have heard a number of objections already. One is that the Senate is a place where the representation of women and minorities can be more accurately reflected. If people were to take the House of Commons tour, as I have with constituents from time to time, and go to the other place, they will be told that the appointment of senators allows for more women and minorities. In fact, numbers have increased both in this place and in that chamber, but I acknowledge that there is more to be done in that regard.
The government is hopeful, as it starts down this road, that women and minority candidates will participate fully in this consultation process. I see no reason why that would not and could not happen. In fact, there still is a role for political parties to play in the nomination of potential Senate nominees, as here in the House of Commons, although a more limited role, which is as it should be in the Senate. Therefore, parties can take the initiative to work toward this as well.
In this bill the prime minister's prerogative to recommend qualified individuals remains. Should the prime minister felt it was necessary to take steps to address a particular imbalance, perhaps in one of these areas, he or she could continue to appoint a selected candidate to address the imbalance.
I am pleased to support this bill. Bill C-43 takes an important step toward improving and vitalizing the Senate as a national democratic institution. That is what Canadians want. They want an effective, independent, democratically elected body that equitably represents all regions. Bill C-43 takes an important step toward that goal.
Hon. Wayne Easter (Malpeque, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-43, the Senate appointment consultations act.
As members will note throughout my remarks, the intent of the bill and the way in which it was done is typical of the new government's approach to doing things. It has a nice sounding name with kind of an empty slogan. It has good optics but it is just a smokescreen because, at the end of the day, it is the usual charade from the Prime Minister as he tries to leave the impression that he is doing something progressive but, in essence, he is following his undemocratic ways of making government policy.
It is great in perception but it is poor in reality. I maintain that this approach is dangerous in reality. What the Prime Minister is attempting to do is to change the Constitution by non-constitutional means.
Constitutions are important and they are there for a reason. They are the foundation on which we do things as a country. What the Prime Minister is trying to do in this instance is to go around the Constitution by one, two and three small steps. However, at the end of the day we could have a country that we do not quite recognize.
We all know the Prime Minister's love for the presidential style. We see how he operates with his podium. He kind of likes the U.S. Republican kind of system but we have a representative democracy in this country. We are based on the British system. We know where the Prime Minister really wants to go.
We just heard a shout from the other side. It is rather interesting how government members tend to fall in line and try to build on the lack of understanding of the Senate to make their point.
I listened as the parliamentary secretary to the House leader spend a lot of his time this morning attacking the Senate. He did not give much information on Bill C-43 but he spent most of his time attacking the Senate and using examples such as the Senate is not passing Bill S-4. One the lines he used was that the bill was only 66 words but that it had taken them 12 months. I believe the point he made was that it was five words a month. What does that have to do with the issue?
Mr. Gerald Keddy: That has a lot to do with it, Wayne.
Hon. Wayne Easter: No, it does not. The member opposite says that it has a lot to do with it but it does not. The fact is that those 66 words are important in terms of what they may mean in the future. It is not the number of words that matter, it is what the words mean. It is the consequences of those words and those decisions that may be made in the future as a result of changing the constitutionality of this country in a certain way.
One of the reasons the Senate is in place is to give legislation sober second thought in a much less partisan way than is done in this chamber. The Senate's job is to protect against a government that abuses its power and tries to undercut the safeguards that are placed in the Constitution, which is exactly what the Senate is doing.
Yes, I know the country and the people in this House have a certain negative perception of the Senate but how many of those people who always talk negatively about the Senate have actually watched what it does? How many of them have read Senate reports? None or very few. I see one member and I know he is an avid reader who has no doubt read the reports.
However, it is very evident that protection is needed right now from the Prime Minister in terms of where the country may or may not go. When we have a Prime Minister who is operating more like a dictator than a prime minister and a representative of democracy, then we need that sober second thought.
What makes it more serious is that party talked about coming to this place and having free votes and it has not had one free vote. We do not hear government backbenchers speaking out and, in fact, we hardly even hear a cabinet minister speaking out.
Hon. Joe McGuire: A one man government.
Hon. Wayne Easter: As my colleague said, this is strictly a one-man show.
This bill is designed to manoeuvre, manipulate and move toward constitutional change without doing it properly under the Constitution that was passed several decades ago.
We all know the Prime Minister likes to operate, as I said earlier, in a presidential style. We know he likes the system south of the border much better than this system. However, the system south of the border, in terms of its congress and senate, has checks and balances that our chambers do not have. If we are going to make those kind of changes and go in that direction, then we should do it all inclusively.
If the Prime Minister wants to go down that road and make the kind of changes that we know he is thinking about, then he should have the courage to put forward an all encompassing package that proposes the changes and sets in place the processes necessary to do it in a well-debated and well-balanced way.
I am very concerned about the process that the Prime Minister follows on a number of fronts but I will get to those a bit later.
I must point out that instead of saying what this bill would or would not do for democracy and in getting a more effective Senate, government members just attack the integrity of the Senate and follow the negative perceptions that are out there. I believe they do so in order to build and expand on those negative perceptions.
In a former life I was a farm leader and I had the opportunity to make quite a number of presentations before both the Senate and the House of Commons. From my perspective, the Senate usually did a more thorough job because partisanship was not at play. No political games were being played. The Senate does in fact do good work.
The parliamentary secretary who just spoke mentioned a Senate study that he is currently reading. I have a number of studies here that the Senate has done but one that is well worth reading, entitled, “Understanding Freefall: The Challenge of the Rural Poor”, was done by the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.
We all know the work the defence committee has done in terms of security at our borders. It is unlikely that same kind of report would have been done in the Commons because the Prime Minister would not allow his members to speak negatively about some of the things that could be happening at the border. However, the Senate is not afraid of doing that and it takes those kinds of positions.
In his remarks on April 20th, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform said:
|| This bill follows through on the promise made to the people of Canada in the Speech from the Throne to “explore means to ensure that the Senate better reflects both the democratic values of Canadians and the needs of Canada's regions”. More importantly, this bill strengthens the pillars of our proud Canadian democracy.
The House leader never went on to prove his point. He never elaborated in terms of how this would strengthen democratic values and meet the needs of the regions. In fact, it does nothing of the sort.
He went on at great lengths to talk about the importance of the vote, and I agree with him, but a vote must also mean something. However, in the way that Bill C-43 is written, a vote does not necessarily mean much at all. It is non-binding on the Prime Minister. It is piecemeal in terms of its approach. It does nothing to reflect democratic values or to enhance Canada's regions any more than is already the case with appointments.
I want to go back to the member's second point because I want to make a last line in the quote by the House leader. He said:
|| More importantly, this bill strengthens the pillars of our proud Canadian democracy.
Absolutely nothing is further from the truth. This bill does not strengthen the pillars of our democracy. In fact, it is a manipulation by the Prime Minister in trying to get around the Constitution. That is not strengthening our democracy. That is undermining our democratic values.
If anything, the Prime Minister should absolutely follow the Constitution and do the process in the proper form and in the proper way. The Prime Minister is attempting to get around the Constitution without really going through that necessary process to make constitutional change. In other words, the very process that the Prime Minister has chosen is against the foundation of our democracy, our Constitution.
I want to quote what the Library of Parliament had to say on the proper process. It says:
|| In 1982, the Constitution of Canada was patriated. It is now expressly provided by section 42(1)(b) of the Constitution Act, 1982 that an amendment to the method of selecting senators must be agreed on by the Senate, the House of Commons and at least two-thirds of the provinces that have at least 50% of the population of all provinces.
That is the proper process.
The Library of Parliament goes on to say:
|| At present, members of the Senate are appointed by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.
It then talks about the premise of Bill C-43 and states:
|| The premise of Bill C-43 is that it does not, as such, amend the method of selecting senators and therefore does not require a constitutional amendment.
I will admit that is what the Library said. The Library goes on to say:
|| Instead, it establishes a list of selected nominees that reflects electors’ preferences.
What that really means is that the Prime Minister is making the change in a kind of a sneaky way. He is manipulating people, which is what he typically does. I will get to a better example later.
I want to mention one other thing because quite a number of people talked about the day of the vote, polling day. Many have said that it will not cost more because it will be done the same day as a general election, federally or provincially.
Let us think about that for a minute and look back throughout history. When Mr. Mulroney was prime minister there were quite a number of Liberals in the Senate. It balanced the power of this place. When Prime Minister Chrétien was first elected there were more Conservatives in the Senate and it balanced the power of this place again.
However, if there is an election and there is a sweep politically then we do not have that safeguard in the Senate. We no longer have that sober second thought because everybody will be taken. We all know that sometimes happens in elections. We are politicians. We saw it in 1993. If that sweep would have happened in 1993 with a Senate election, we would not have a Senate to give that sober second thought that is direly needed when some legislation is passed in this place.
Let me sum up a few more points on the bill as they relate to what I would call our constitutional avoidance Prime Minister. We believe in the Liberal Party on this side of the House in democratic reform, but the bill is not democratic reform. It allows Senate nominees to be elected but does not make the elections binding. This could lead to potentially wasteful elections that the Prime Minister could ignore at will.
I see some members looking surprised that the Prime Minister might ignore it. I do not think there was a prime minister ever in Canadian history who has broken as many promises at this one did, everything in terms of no appointments to the Senate, a senator sitting over there in the Senate not able to answer questions, his position on income trusts, his promise on the Canadian Wheat Board but not really having the authority to make that promise but still manipulated it to get his way, and the list goes on too long for me to elaborate.
The bill also ignores provincial and regional equity, weakening the voices of the provinces such as British Columbia and Alberta that currently have fewer senators than their population warrants.
The initiative will increase partisanship in the Senate and aggravate the problem of potential deadlock between the two houses of Parliament. As so often the case with this government no meaningful consultations were held with the provinces or Canadians. In fact, Ontario and Quebec are among those who have already spoken out against the idea of piecemeal Senate reform.
Senate reform should not be piecemeal. It must considered as a package: the critical issues of selection, process and term, mandate and fair distribution. Simply put, the Senate election bill tries to skirt around the Constitution and haphazardly elect senators while still doing nothing to improve the representation of British Columbia and Alberta in Canada's Senate. It also fails to provide any kind of dispute mechanism should there be a deadlock between the House of Commons and the Senate.
I want to come back to process. At the end of the day, the tactic of the Prime Minister is a process that implies democracy but really is anything but. No better example is the undemocratic process that the Prime Minister managed to follow on the Canadian Wheat Board file.
Let me make a point in terms of what the Prime Minister considers democratic. He initiated his constitutional process by organizing a secret meeting in Saskatoon on July 25, 2006, to which only declared anti-Wheat Board individuals--
Mr. Bruce Stanton (Simcoe North, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Fleetwood—Port Kells.
I am pleased to rise in the House in support of Bill C-43, a new bill to implement and improve the way in which worthy citizens can be considered for appointment to the other place in this Parliament. This has been a subject of great interest to the citizens of Simcoe North. Each chance I get I speak with them and from time to time they make it clear to me that the government needs to move in a direction away from the notions of governance around elitists and the privileged.
This bill is the second installation of our new government's sensible and incremental approach to making the Senate more accountable and democratic. It follows Bill S-4, a bill to limit Senate tenure which was referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs back in February.
The Prime Minister best expressed this initial two part process to improve our institutions in a speech he delivered in Ottawa on February 6. He spoke of Canadians' commitment to democracy being the wellspring of our success as a country. He reminded us that the scandals of the previous government had shaken Canadians' faith in our democracy. He expressed the hope that public apathy and cynicism should diminish as the memory of those scandals do also.
The Federal Accountability Act has already gone a long way to restoring public trust in Canada's government, but we know there is much more to be done. For our government that means modernizing the upper house by setting fixed terms for senators and by finally giving Canadians a say in who represents them in the red chamber.
It turns out that Bill C-43 on Senate appointment consultations, while separate and distinct, actually complements the aims of Bill S-4 in bringing practical and important steps in achieving Senate reform.
This sentiment was best expressed by the several witnesses to the Senate Special Committee on Senate Reform. In its first report in October 2006 the committee echoed the need for additional legislation on advisory elections to smooth and improve the effect of fixed terms for senators. This is a natural fit for the direction we are heading in to make the Senate more reflective of the will of Canadians, by allowing citizens to express their opinion for Senate appointments and by limiting the term for which senators would serve.
One of the witnesses to the special committee, Mr. Gordon Gibson, summed it up well when he stated that the Senate “would be unacceptable without term limits”, but that it was equally clear to him that term limits are “unacceptable without an electoral system”.
In the last 139 years there have been no less than seven different resolutions and proposed reforms to improve the process of selecting senators, the first as early as in 1874, only seven years after Confederation. Of course with the exception of the 75 year age limit that came in in 1965, all of those measures failed. The essence of these improvements was to recognize that modern democratic institutions must be products of the people they represent. In fact the notion of having important offices in our democratic systems remain appointed as opposed to elected is completely at odds with the contemporary understanding of governance and the democratic values of Canadians.
Witnesses at the Senate Special Committee on Senate Reform argued broadly that to be effective within a democratic process the Senate requires the legitimacy that would be provided by elections. One of the other witnesses, John Whyte, senior fellow at the Saskatchewan Institute of Public Policy, noted, “The case for Senate reform is overwhelming. Political power in legal democracies is accountable power”. He went on to argue that having unelected senators undermines the Senate in four ways. First, it does not reflect democratic choice. Second, it receives minimal public attention. Third, it exacerbates the confusion about who senators really represent. Fourth, it leaves senators unaccountable to Canadians for the work that they do.
We are proceeding prudently and sensibly without opening up an exhaustive and intractable constitutional negotiation. This is an achievable approach to meaningful Senate reform that can become the foundation for broader discussions on constitutional reforms to the Senate in the future.
On that note, I would like to remind hon. members that this bill does not require a constitutional amendment. It retains the powers of the Governor General to appoint, and the powers of the Prime Minister to recommend senators. However, the Prime Minister is allowed to consult in making Senate appointments, and who better to consult on this issue than Canadians themselves? The bill creates an objective and modern mechanism for the Prime Minister to do just that, to engage Canadians in consultation.
I would like to take a moment to point out some of the features that I think make this bill so relevant, flexible and practical. First, as I mentioned before, there is no constitutional amendment required.
Second, the voting procedure recommends that Canadians vote for senator nominees, likely during a federal general election, but the flexibility is there for a provincial election as well. This makes the process efficient and less costly.
Third, the voting for senator nominees is proposed to employ a single transferable ballot, also known as a preferential ballot, so the voters can express their first, second and so on preferences for Senate nominees.
This voting system has the added benefit of playing down the partisanship component of Senate nominees, leaving Canadians to consider not just the party affiliation of the nominee, but also his or her personal qualifications to fill that role.
We know the other place is supposed to be, as the preamble of the bill suggests, a chamber of independent, sober second thought, so Canadians expect the role of the parties to be less apparent in Senate deliberations. We also know that Canadians have expressed more than a little disdain at the Senate when senators take the partisanship arguments too far and ignore the will of the elected House of Commons. Regrettably we have seen too many examples of that, even recently, with Bill S-4, a two page bill which was adjourned and postponed day after day after day by the Liberal majority before it went to committee, I think some 260 days after it was first introduced in May last year.
This proposed consultation process speaks right to the heart of independent expression in the Senate. It will be a level playing field between independent and party sponsored senator nominees.
The fourth feature of the bill is the fact that this process adheres to the Canada Elections Act on the important tenets of financial administration, limits on advertising and the transparent reporting and auditing of financial records.
Of note is the upholding of an important standard that we adopted in the Federal Accountability Act to limit donations on election campaigns to $1,000 annually per individual and the banning of donations from corporations and unions. That said, and in respect to the expected costs of running a province-wide campaign, senator nominees will not be faced with an expense limit. This no expense limit feature, it should be pointed out, is still confined by the donation limit of $1,000 per individual.
This bill, an act to establish Senate consultations, call them advisory elections if you will, encompasses all of the right components to modernize our democratic systems in a practical and durable way.
The bill is separate but complementary to the aims of Bill S-4 to limit Senate tenure. It will strengthen our federation by making the upper house more accountable to the people and by enhancing the Senate's legitimacy and credibility as one of our cornerstone democratic institutions.
This bill delivers what is contemplated in its opening paragraph. It speaks to the importance of our representative institutions evolving in accordance with the principles of our modern democracy and the expectations of Canadians.
I want to close with just a few thoughtful words of one of our founding fathers, Sir John A. Macdonald, who, during the debates on Confederation, remarked on the Senate:
|| It must be an independent House, having a free action of its own...but it will never set itself in opposition against the deliberate and understood wishes of the people.
Bill C-43 delivers on the wishes of the people in a genuine and sensible way. Canadians finally will have a say on who sits in the Senate. I encourage all hon. members to support the bill.
Mrs. Nina Grewal (Fleetwood—Port Kells, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I wish to express my thanks to the member for Simcoe North for sharing his time.
I am pleased to rise today, on behalf of the constituents of Fleetwood—Port Kells, to participate in the debate on Bill C-43, An Act to provide for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate.
The bill establishes a mechanism for consulting voters with respect to their preferences for the appointment of senators to represent their province or territory. The bill sets out the guidelines for electing Senate nominees. While it is not the full-fledged reform that many Canadians demand, Bill C-43 represents a practical and achievable step that provides significant and meaningful democratic reform. It may only be a small step, but it represents real change.
For too long, Canadians have been forced to settle for the status quo. Senators appointed largely on partisan grounds lack legitimacy and fail to act as regional spokespersons. It should therefore come as no surprise that Canadians want changes to the Senate. In fact, in poll after poll Canadians across the country have confirmed their support for Senate reform, including the election of senators.
In spring 2005, the Alberta Senate Reform Task Force found near unanimous support for the election of all future members of the Senate. A 2004 CTV poll asked Canadians “Do you want to elect your future Senators, yes or no?” Over 80% said yes. After the last federal election, an Environics poll done by the CBC found 71% of Canadians wanted to elect senators. Nearly one year ago, in June 2006, Ipsos Reid conducted a poll on Senate reform. Among reform alternatives given a plurality of Canadians, 44%, backed an elected Senate. Among British Columbians polled, more than 50% backed an elected Senate over other alternatives.
Despite lengthy debates and various attempts at reform, the Senate has remained essentially unchanged since its first sitting in November 1867.
In the late 1970s there were a number of proposals to turn the Senate into a house of the provinces. Drawing on the model of the German second chamber, it was argued that senators should be appointed by provincial governments.
In its 1984 report the Special Joint Committee on Senate Reform concluded that direct election would best achieve its primary objective of strengthening the Senate's capacity to fill its role of regional representation.
Prime Minister Mulroney tried to introduce changes to the Senate through the 1987 Meech Lake constitutional accord, which would have required Ottawa to fill Senate vacancies from a list submitted by the affected provinces, and through the 1992 Charlottetown accord, which proposed to give all provinces equal seats in the upper chamber and introduce elected senators, either by the province's electorate or legislative assembly. Both attempts to amend the Constitution failed, and since then Senate reform has largely been ignored.
The Prime Minister has observed that the all or nothing approach of previous governments to Senate reform has resulted in nothing. This is precisely the reason that Canada's new government has taken a fundamentally different route. We are pursuing a staged approach that will provide practical, sensible reforms which will build a foundation for more fundamental future reform.
As a first step, the government introduced legislation to limit the tenure of Senate appointments to eight years, rather than the current provisions whereby appointees can retain office until age 75. Changing the tenure of senators to eight years would enhance the legitimacy of the Senate and accordingly, enhance its role in providing sober second thought. Eight year terms would also provide a renewal of ideas and perspectives on a more regular basis.
Taken together with Bill C-43, the government is proposing real reform to the Senate. These changes may not meet all expectations, but they are achievable. If implemented, the bill will provide concrete results.
We cannot adopt sweeping Senate reform without constitutional amendments. More comprehensive change that will make the Senate an effective, independent and democratically elected body that equally represents all regions will require the consent of at least seven provinces representing 50% of the population. That is because comprehensive changes would alter essential characteristics of the Senate. This will obviously take more time.
Critics of this proposed legislation, notably Liberal senators, contend it is unconstitutional. However, the experts have spoken. Pre-eminent constitutional scholars agree with the government. Provided changes do not legally affect the role of the Governor General in making appointments, or the role of the prime minister in recommending them. There is nothing unconstitutional about this endeavour.
Bill C-43 does not affect either of these roles. It does not create a process for the direct election of senators. It does not change the constitutional qualifications of senators. In short, it does not affect any of the matters identified in subsection 42(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982 as requiring the so-called 7/50 amending procedure.
The prime minister is allowed to consult anyone in making Senate appointments. Bill C-43 simply provides a mechanism for him to hold a consultation with the citizens of Canada.
I applaud the government for taking this very important step to reform the way senators are chosen. It is an improvement that has the wholehearted support of my constituents. For far too long, Liberal politicians have told Canadians there was nothing that could be done to cure the democratic deficit in the Senate short of a constitutional amendment.
Canadians were not buying that excuse and neither are we. The government has taken a significant first step toward ensuring that this important democratic institution evolves in step with the expectations of Canadians.
The bill represents a significant improvement to the status quo and will provide a solid foundation for further reforms. I hope all members will support the initiative.
Hon. Andrew Telegdi (Kitchener—Waterloo, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to engage in this debate.
Members of the opposition have referred to former Prime Minister Diefenbaker. I cannot help but shake my head and think of former Prime Minister Diefenbaker, who believed in things like the Bill of Rights. He was a Progressive Conservative. To quote Danny Williams, he was not a “regressive Conservative” like the Reform-Alliance Conservatives are. I think that is important to point out to the House. I dare say that they should not be invoking the name of John Diefenbaker, who had an appreciation for rights.
A debate about the Senate was greatly advanced and put forward by the Reform Party. I remember how Preston Manning and the Reform Party were advocating for it, but the reality is that when they were talking about Senate elections, they talked about the three Es: elected, effective and equal.
But before I even get there, let me say that if we want to change the Constitution of Canada, this bill is trying to do it through the back door. The Senate is part of our Constitution. It is the chamber of sober second thought.
I must say that I have had occasion to plead my case with the Senate to defeat a government bill. I was a member of the government in the House of Commons and I went there with a colleague of mine from the Liberal Party as well as a colleague of mine from the Reform Party. Even though there was a majority of Liberal senators, they saw the wisdom of our appeal and held up a bad piece of legislation. I will be forever thankful for that. It certainly brought home to me the importance of having a Senate that is depoliticized as much as possible and indeed the importance of having a chamber of sober second thought.
We talk about going through the back door or doing it properly according to the Constitution. To amend the Constitution, which the bill essentially would require if it were to be meaningful, we need to have, according to section 38 of the Constitution, a resolution of the Senate and of the House of Commons and two-thirds of the provinces, seven having at least 50% of the population.
We know that Quebec and Ontario are opposed. Combined, they make up much more than 50% of the population. Further, I point out on the question of being equal that Alberta has 10.3% of the population of Canada, yet only 5.7% of the seats. British Columbia has 13.2% of the population of Canada but only 5.7% of the seats. In the case of the province of Ontario, it has 22.9% of the senators and over one-third of the population. How does it make sense to do an unconstitutional runaround on electing senators when a vote in British Columbia or Ontario or Alberta would be a very small fraction of the vote in other provinces?
I thought we generally agreed that there is agreement to having representation by population. This certainly does not address that. It is done very much in a piecemeal fashion.
I listened to the debate. I noted that the member for Cambridge said this was a great plan. Back during the time of the Meech Lake accord, the then premier of Ontario, Liberal David Peterson, made some comments about giving up some Senate seats from the province of Ontario. That suggestion did not go over well during the election campaign that followed shortly. The reason was that the people in Ontario did not want to see under-representation in the Senate made worse. The people of Ontario believe, as I dare say the people of Cambridge do, in representation by population.
This does not address that issue. As I said, it is piecemeal and it is through the back door. The fact of the matter is that because we cannot make these elections binding we depend on the Prime Minister to keep his word. I am sure all members of the House would agree, and all people involved in income trusts would agree, that this Prime Minister does not necessarily keep his word. He might keep it some of the time, but he surely does not keep it all of the time.
I think this whole issue of Senate reform, the issue that is masqueraded as Senate reform, is really dishonest, because it does not address the question as it goes to the very foundation of this country and our institutions. There is a way of properly doing constitutional reform. That is why we repatriated our Constitution. It was so we could do that here and not have to go to Westminster cap in hand. That was done on April 17, 1982.
That constitutional reform was done under the leadership of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Let me say that there was a great deal of consultation around the country. It was comprehensive. It got tested by the courts. It had the provinces onside. This bill does none of that.
I mentioned that the Prime Minister does not always keep his word. We all remember the election. As soon as the election was held, his word was broken when he appointed to the Senate the Minister of Public Works, who was not a member of the House of Commons and who was not elected to anything. Here we have one of our most sensitive portfolios in the Senate, and we in the House of Commons cannot ask questions of that minister. This is so very much a typically Conservative smokescreen and piecemeal optics.
May I say that when the member for Calgary East talked about the Liberals appointing their buddies to the Senate, Brian Mulroney, in his nine short years, appointed 57 senators. I really hope that the member for Calgary East gets the message.
I think I am hitting a nerve on the other side. Notwithstanding that the Reformers came up here and said they were going to engage in civil debate, those folks over there have forgotten all that, just as they have forgotten coming to the Parliament of Canada to represent their constituents.
I remember a time when I looked across the aisle and listened to the Reform Party members and the leader did not even sit in the first row. He sat in the third row. Eventually he moved up to the first row. I remember how for every vote before this chamber the whip for the Reform Party said, “Reform Party members are going to be voting this way”, except those members who had been instructed by their constituents to do the other.
We have come 180 degrees to the party that is now on that side. I note the member for Wild Rose. He remembers those days as well. I appreciated those days because it helped bring some reform into this chamber. The only problem was that as soon as those members got into government the heavy hand of dictatorial power from the Prime Minister came down, the likes of which Parliament has not seen in 50 years. It is just unbelievable. We have situations--
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Hon. Andrew Telegdi: Mr. Speaker, can you call for order?
Hon. Andrew Telegdi:
Mr. Speaker, I look back with fondness to the days when the Reform members were actually civil in this House and not using a mob-like mentality.
I want to get back to the Senate. If we were to have elected senators with votes that mean a lot more in one province than say in Alberta, British Columbia or Ontario, that would undercut representation by population. However, beyond that, it would give the Senate the kind of power that it does not have now.
One can just imagine what would happen to this chamber of democratically elected members from roughly equal constituencies, and I say roughly because we have some changes to make, and all of a sudden we have these bogus re-elected senators, who would not truly be recognized in the Constitution, holding up a bill of the House of Commons and not backing off when the House of Commons sends the bill back for the second time. The institution of the House of Commons then must prevail.
I mentioned that because this bill does absolutely nothing to deal with that issue.
I want to talk about a possible elected Senate that is amended by the Constitution and what I could support. I could support an elected Senate that is dealt with by the Constitution but that the powers of the Senate and the House of Commons must be very well defined. The ultimate authority of the House of Commons must prevail.
We also need to find a way of reflecting minorities in our country who might not be represented in the House. We must ensure that the Senate has the kind of knowledge base that is not necessarily reflected in this House. We need people from the arts and people with great expertise from social services, social sciences and the hard sciences. We also need to ensure we have people like Senator Roméo Dallaire who has expertise in the military. Those types of people are very important.
However, when we put that package together we must do it within the confines of the Constitution. Otherwise, as the premier of the province of Ontario said, to do otherwise would have the province of Ontario calling for the abolition of the Senate which, in the end, would be a mistake.
I would challenge members opposite to go back to Alberta, to go back to their constituencies in Ontario or to go back to their constituencies in British Columbia and ask their constituents if they think it is fair that their province is under-represented. I do not think the members will be surprised by the reactions they get. I believe the people will say that they think it is unfair and that if we are to have elections, we need to have a Senate based on representation by population.
The Senate has worked well for the most part because it has tried to be non-partisan as much as possible given the fact that Brian Mulroney appointed 57 senators and given the fact that most senators are political appointments.
However, I can say that the decorum in the House of Commons could do well to look to the decorum in the Senate. The displays and discourtesies that we have in the House, such as those afforded by the member for Cambridge, do not represent the kind of behaviour they have in the Senate.
If we want a Senate that is partisan and a Senate that does not work as effectively and efficiently as it does now, then we would want to pass this bill. However, I think most Canadians, on a sober second thought, not a knee-jerk reaction to a particular poll that might be done in the same fraudulent way as the consultation on the Wheat Board was done, would want us to leave well enough alone.
I know former Premier Peterson of the province of Ontario quickly learned that Senate seats are not given away for the province of Ontario, particularly when it is under-represented.
We should not be having this debate because what we are debating is a way to go around the Constitution. The reason we have a Constitution is because we consulted widely with all the stakeholders. Constitutional change is not easy but if we are going to amend the Constitution of this country, we need due diligence and a comprehensive approach where the problems are thought out and term limits are actually looked at.
I know there is debate on having term limits of 8 years, 12 years or 15 years. If, at the end of the day, our aim is to make the Senate as non-partisan as possible, a Senate that manages from time to time to do great work, then we would not want a senator having to run in an election every eight years. We might want the appointment to be for a longer term of maybe 12 to 15 years. If we were to do that, then we would ensure that the people have the background, the expertise and the experience in the Senate to make it happen.
It should come as no surprise to the government that Bill C-43 will be defeated because it does not have the support of the House. I will be looking forward to voting against the bill when the time comes.
Mr. Kevin Sorenson (Crowfoot, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is a real pleasure to stand in the House again and support Bill C-43, the Senate appointment consultations act. It is also a pleasure to split my time today with the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound.
Our government is proposing to make a series of reforms to make the Senate more democratic and accountable. This bill details to Canadians how they would be able to play a role in selecting the senators who will represent them and their region. Senate appointment consultations would give Canadians a voice in representation and Canadians are asking for it.
We believe, and the people I represent in Crowfoot, Alberta, believe that this is a practical and achievable step. It provides significant and meaningful democratic reform. The type of reform, to be quite honest, that is supported by most Canadians and the type of reform that looking across is very much needed.
We promised in the last election and in the Speech from the Throne that we would take a step by step approach to reforming the Senate. We can take real action in improving the credibility and legitimacy of the Senate without embroiling this government and Canadians in constitutional negotiations.
Our approach includes the practical and meaningful steps of introducing term limits for senators, which is Bill S-4, and consulting Canadians about their preferences for who would represent them in the Senate, which is Bill C-43, the bill we are debating today.
As an Alberta member of Parliament, I can assure the House that we do know something about senatorial elections and something about the Senate of Canada. In 1989 Alberta first used an election to decide a Senate nomination. The prime minister of the day then appointed the winner of that election, Stan Waters, to the upper house in 1990. I was involved at that time and I can tell the House that Alberta was excited about Senator Waters coming to this place and representing Albertans. He represented all Canadians very well.
People in the province of Alberta, British Columbia, and in fact throughout all of western Canada, were very pleased by the way Senator Waters represented them. He toured all of Canada and told Canadians about the need for senatorial reform.
When the Liberal government returned to power in 1993, there was no more progress in terms of bringing democracy and accountability to the upper chamber. It came to a grinding halt with that Liberal regime.
Since 1993 the federal Liberal Party has named none of those Canadians who put their name forward for Senate elections or those who have been duly elected. This is a shame because provinces for the most part are willing to do the work to get better representation in the Senate. Average Canadians who are engaged in this discussion want to be involved in the process of who will represent them in the Senate.
In 2006 the Conservative Party of Canada came to power. This government has taken the first opportunity to appoint a senator endorsed by Canadian voters. Our Prime Minister announced that Bert Brown, a constituent of mine, would take a seat in the Senate when a seat becomes vacant this summer and become known as senator Brown. Albertans are pleased with that announcement. I had the pleasure of having dinner on Saturday evening with Bert and Alice, Betty Unger, and a number of others.
No Canadian has done as much to advance the cause of senatorial reform as Bert Brown. He has been a tireless advocate for the democratization of the upper house over two decades. He ran in three Alberta Senate elections and is the only Canadian to be elected twice as a senator-in-waiting.
In short, he is a very patient individual when it comes to becoming a Senator, but he is also a perfect role model for elected senators. Mr. Brown, 69, is a farmer from Balzac, Alberta. He is currently a Calgary area zoning and property development consultant. He is also a constituent of mine. That is why again I commend him and I speak about him with great fondness.
Over 300,000 Albertans voted for him in the province's 2004 Senate election. That is 300,000. More Albertans voted for Bert Brown than all Liberal candidates put together in my province in the last general election. Yet, the party opposite asks: which Albertans actually voted for him? Well, 300,000, which is many more than those who voted for all the Liberals combined.
The Senate of Canada was to be an upper chamber for regional representation. It used to be that the senators met in groups in the regions they represented. They would come together based on their region and they would have what we could call a mini-caucus meeting. There was no real special attention paid to a senator being Independent, Liberal or Conservative. Senators were more concerned about the region that they represented. They were concerned about working together to help their region.
Nowadays, the upper chamber is fraught with partisanship. Senators meet in political party caucuses each week. The Senate chamber is to a great deal about party politics. The Senate needs to be reformed.
The House of Commons is supposed to be political. Canadians hope that the Senate would become more independent, more perhaps intellectual, checking the work of the House and helping the House pass good legislation. Senators would actually ask how is this going to affect my region, not necessarily how is this going to play out in my political party.
For a long time, decades, the Senate has posed problems that the average Canadian voters wished that we would address and that we would fix. Canadians have been told that we cannot fix this problem. Canadians have been told by the Liberals and others that we do not want to touch it because we would have to change the Constitution and that we do not want to get into constitutional wrangling again.
Bill C-43 does not require constitutional change. It does not affect the Governor General's power to appoint. It does not affect the Prime Minister's responsibility or power to recommend senators. It does not create a process for the direct election of senators. It does not change the constitutional qualifications of senators.
In short, it does not affect any of the matters that are identified in the Constitution and so this is a process that is achievable. It is a small step. It is a first step and one that we should be grabbing onto.
Constitutional scholars agree that the government's approach is constitutional because we do not legally affect the role of the Governor General in making those appointments or the role of the Prime Minister.
Canadians may not know that our Prime Minister is allowed to consult anyone in making Senate appointments. Bill C-43 provides a mechanism for him to hold a consultation with the citizens of Canada and generally speaking in each province when a vacancy comes he can consult. The governor in council can make an order for a consultation which will be carried out under the direction of the Chief Electoral Officer. The order may specify the provinces and territories in which the consultation is to be held. The Prime Minister has the opportunity then to do this.
I see that you are telling me that my time is up, Mr. Speaker, so I will bring my comments to a close. Sometimes when we are elected to the House, we believe that we can come in and make major changes immediately. I think as time goes on we realize that we must become satisfied with small incremental steps.
I think this step will enhance the legitimacy, the credibility of the Senate. We have one party that wants the abolition of that. I think if the Senate became more involved in regional representation, it would help. I believe we need this process. I will always support Canadians making the decision as to who best represents them.
Mr. Larry Miller (Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me today to stand in the House to speak to Bill C-43, the Senate appointment consultations act.
The most important thing about the bill is that it is about democracy, democratic reform, something of which we can all agree. I know the Canadian public agree that we could use a lot more in this great building. It is long overdue.
When we talk about democratic reform, I will give some examples. It baffles me why the opposition across the way have these cold feet and great fear of democratic reform. In an example that did not happen too many years ago, there were some changes made where senators were limited to the age of 75. Some other democratic reform was that they had to attend some meetings, instead of being in Florida or Mexico.
Rome was not built in a day and neither will some of the reforms we need in the country. This is just another one in a list of keeping that reform going.
The bill is also about accountability. It is about giving people a voice in selecting their senators. It is also something the government believes is a practical and very achievable step toward significant democratic reform.
In my riding of Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, 86% of people who responded to a question in one of my householders said that they wanted to see an elected Senate. There was also a number in there who wanted to see it totally abolished, but I do not support that. However, some people do because of some of the things that went on over the years. I figure if we get the right kind of reforms in this place and in the other house, we will go a long way to appeasing some of those people.
Although Bill C-43 is not totally about the election of senators, if passed, the bill will provide the type of democratic reform that is supported, as I said, by my constituents, and I believe most Canadians. Canadians will have a say in who will represent them in the Senate.
Bill C-43 is one of the reforms that can generate momentum on comprehensive change to the Senate. The bill does not require any constitutional change and political parties would have more of a limited in relation to the political financing of Senate nominees. Parties would not control the order of the candidates on the ballot, which is a good thing, and voting would also be for individual candidates.
Furthermore, the bill recognizes that citizens, not political friends or big donors to the prime minister are in the best position to advise the prime minister about the people who should speak on their behalf in this great institutions.
We know Canadians think it is time to act on this idea. Canadian voters would be able to indicate their preferences regarding which potential Senate nominees they would like to see represent their provinces or territories.
I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Crowfoot, for sharing his time with me. He spoke about the great Senator from Alberta. Albertans are away ahead of the rest of the country in electing senators and pinpointing who they would like to represent them. Every province and territory should have that same kind of process.
The single transferable vote allowed for in the bill would allow Canadians to rank their preferred Senate nominees in order of preference. They can rank them one, two, three or as many as they see fit. The system is very adaptable in that where there are many vacancies in a province, it provides proportionality in the results.
If there is only one vacancy, the system requires a successful nominee to receive a majority on the vote. How can we argue with that process? What is wrong with it? I cannot think of a valid reason why anyone in the House could argue that point.
Bill C-43 is about consultations and information gathering. The prime minister can consult anyone in making Senate appointments and the bill would provide him or her a mechanism to hold a consultation with Canadians.
Bill C-43 follows through on the promise made to the people of Canada by the government in the recent Speech from the Throne where it said,
||—explore means to ensure that the Senate better reflects both the democratic values of Canadians and the needs of Canada's regions.
The bill would provide the country with a revised Senate, with a truly national democratic institution. There is no reason for this bill not to pass. In fact, it should pass unanimously.
I call on all members of the House to clear their minds of all partisan cobwebs and to support the bill.
Hon. Charles Hubbard (Miramichi, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is certainly interesting to hear what is projected for the House with this bill. I know Conservative Party members have problems because when they established themselves as the new Conservative Party, even within the Senate, some Progressive Conservative senators did not want to join the new establishment. So even within the Senate itself I know they perceive some problems with who they think supports them in the Senate.
I am a member from New Brunswick, a region of Canada which has 10 senators. We have to look back at the Constitution of this country whereby Atlantic Canada, the maritime provinces were provided with 24 senators, in other words at that time one-quarter of the Canadian Senate. Over the last 140 years numerous changes have occurred within Canada. We hear people speak about the need to make some changes to the Senate, but I have always been proud of the Senate. In fact when I went home this past weekend I heard as many people criticize this House as I went around the streets of my constituency as I did those who might want to criticize the Senate.
When we look at bills like this and the accountability bill that is tied in with this one, we have to wonder how accountable we are to the people of Canada when we spend the whole day talking about Bill C-43. It is 51 pages long and my impression is that I am disappointed if our justice department wrote this piece of legislation. If the justice department did write it, there certainly must have been a lot of instructions from somebody who had some very different ideas on how the future of our Senate should be determined.
The House of Lords in Britain at the present time is undergoing some changes. Certain restrictions are being placed upon the future of that house. Who should be members of the House of Lords in the future is a matter of great debate within the British parliament .
Two houses are part of our federal system. Each house reflects different ideas, different backgrounds, different concerns. When I heard today about setting up a consultation process, it is simply an attempt by the Prime Minister and the Conservative government to get around what really should be the Constitution of our country. They want to rely on a complicated system of people in an election giving preferences and a long list of who might be a senator in that particular province or region.
I have not heard, for example, a comparison to the United States Senate where each state has two senators. We should look at the costs of running for the U.S. Senate and what the people of Canada might spend on getting a consultation process that might be used for the Prime Minister to appoint somebody to the Senate.
We had a recent debate on justice and the appointments to the judicial system. Will the next step be to have elections of judges as they have in some countries, in fact in parts of the United States? Maybe that is the next step the government is considering.
In my own province recently, talking about the concept of offering party followers some of these appointments, we have had three judicial appointments recently. One was a former leader of the Conservative Party in New Brunswick. Another was the chief organizer for the government and that party in the last federal election. The third one has very close ties to a former member of Parliament.
Hon. Jim Flaherty: These are qualified people.
Hon. Charles Hubbard: I wonder where we are coming from in terms of openness, in terms of providing a better government for this country.
Mr. Speaker, I see I have roused a little bit of concern on the other side when I bring those points forward. I think I may have to stop because someone's jacket is on the floor, who is going to step on it? Back home when people talk tough talk like that, they throw their coat on the floor and someone jumps on it.
Hon. Jim Flaherty: That is so low. These are qualified people. You should be ashamed of yourself.
Hon. Charles Hubbard: But these Irish. I have Irish friends and they always attempt to show their real strength.
I am sorry if the hon. member wants to interrupt me on something different.
Hon. Jim Flaherty: Shame.
Hon. Charles Hubbard: Mr. Speaker, it is a shame when the Minister of Finance wants to interrupt somebody on a different issue from what I was talking about. It is a shame. He should apologize to the hon. member from Nova Scotia and not try to disrupt this House.