Hon. Tim Uppal (for the President of the Treasury Board)
|| That Vote 1, in the amount of $58,169,816, under PARLIAMENT — The Senate — Program expenditures, in the Main Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2014, be concurred in.
He said: Mr. Speaker, reform of the Senate has been debated in the House of Commons and around kitchen tables in homes across the country since shortly after the Fathers of Confederation met to decide how Canada would be governed. All of us here today who have the privilege to take our seats in Canada's House of Commons, representing our constituents and voting on decisions that will make our country stronger, should think about them and give them our thanks. I know there were those who said it could not be done, or many said it should not be done, but there were enough who could see past the challenges and were willing to stake out bold policy challenges to create Canada.
We are still a young country, but if the Fathers of Confederation could see us now they would be proud. They would see that their bold efforts against the status quo have led to a strong stable nation, which is the envy of the world, and a beacon of peace, security and economic prosperity. However, what they would also see is a country that has changed since the soot-filled candlelit debates that the first MPs would have had in the House of Commons. Things have changed. Canada has changed. However, our Senate has not changed.
Throughout our history, there have been those on the side of reforming the Senate and those who have wanted to protect the status quo. It disappoints me to say that the protectors of the Senate have most often won that day. I do not know why, and I am not sure if Canadians know why either. When the only Senate reform measure we can point to throughout our nation's history is a reduction from lifetime appointments to a maximum term of 45 years, members can appreciate the difficulties that Senate reformers have faced. For me, it only gives me more resolve to take the first steps to reform the Senate. It is the right thing to do, and it is what Canadians want us to do.
The status quo in the Senate is not acceptable. We have heard from Canadians that they want the Senate to change. Our government recognizes that the Senate as it stands today must either change or, like the upper Houses of our provinces, vanish. Canadians know that the Conservative Party is the only one that has a real plan to make the changes that are so desperately needed. Senate reform is fundamental to our party. It is at our core. Our government has long believed that the Senate's status quo is unacceptable and therefore it must change in order to reach its full potential as an accountable and democratic institution.
The alternative is the continuation of a situation where senators are appointed for long terms without any democratic mandate. We have said “enough”, and Canadians are with us in saying no to the status quo in the Senate. It is our government that has put forward proposals to elect senators and to limit their term to nine years, as well as measures to ensure tough spending oversight. These measures would immediately increase the effectiveness and legitimacy of our upper chamber. They would drag the Senate into the 21st century. Our proposals would deliver meaningful change within Parliament's authority to act now. Our new measures would make the upper chamber more accountable, more legitimate and more democratic.
Term limits in the Senate would also work hand in hand with our efforts to make government more representative. When senators have to be replaced every nine years, we would not have a representative body that looks like Canada did fifty years ago. These are the most recent of the practical changes that we propose in order to make our democratic institutions serve Canadians better.
However, change cannot come slowly enough for the Liberals and the New Democrats. Through nearly 20 hours of debate, over 7 days, we have heard opposition member after opposition member tell us why reforming the Senate was not possible. This is despite the fact that our government has received a strong mandate from Canadians to reform the Senate and, in fact, already have hard-working elected senators representing their provinces in the Senate.
All we learned from those seven days of debate was that the NDP and the Liberals would use any tactic to maintain the status quo and to block the reform that Canadians have been demanding.
We believe that encouraging provinces to elect senators and setting nine-year term limits are both reasonable measures that can be enacted within Parliament's authority. We have a plan. We have meaningful legislation. We have the support of Canadians.
What we did not have was an opposition who shared our urgent belief that Senate reform is critically necessary and immediately possible. Let us be clear. Our reforms are reasonable and achievable, and they lead us on the path to further reforms. The Prime Minister has been clear. The Senate must be reformed or it must be abolished.
While we are committed to debating the merits of Senate reform and specific proposals in actual legislation, the NDP and the Liberals are committed to telling us why they think our actions are unconstitutional. It is not that they have a plan themselves. They did not have a plan and they still do not have a plan. We are the only party with a plan.
To prove our commitment to either fixing or ridding ourselves of the Senate, we decided to ask the Supreme Court of Canada for an opinion on Parliament's authority to make these meaningful changes. For the first time in a generation, we asked the Supreme Court's opinion on what is required to reform the Senate and what is required to abolish the Senate. The aim in seeking a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada is to accelerate the pace of Senate reform and to lay the foundation for further reform to the Senate. It sends a strong signal to Canadians that we are ready to move forward, confident in the legitimacy and strength of our reforms.
The questions referred to the Supreme Court reflect the government's position that meaningful change to the Senate can be achieved within Parliament's authority. As I have said before, the Senate must reform or vanish. The questions asked of the Supreme Court seek legal certainty on the constitutional amending procedure for term limits for senators, democratic selection of senate nominees, net worth and property qualifications for senators, and abolition of the Senate. We are eagerly waiting the Supreme Court's opinion on these important issues. We said we would reform the Senate, and we will deliver.
Until the Supreme Court returns its opinion, we will continue to bring forward measures to strengthen the accountability of senators to taxpayers, including when the Senate adopted eleven tough new accountability rules governing travel and expenses that were put forward last week by Conservative senators. These strong new measures will improve accountability and prevent abuse.
We said we would fix the Senate's rules governing travel and expenses, and we delivered. Yesterday the Leader of the Government in the Senate introduced a motion asking the Auditor General of Canada to conduct a comprehensive audit of Senate expenses. These are strong measures that will protect taxpayers, and I outlined these improvements earlier today.
I spoke earlier about the protectors of the Senate, those who want the status quo; those who say it should not be done or it cannot be done. While we have been moving Senate reform forward with meaningful proposals, a reference to seek clarity from the Supreme Court and a tough new accountability rules, the Liberal leader and his party have once again staked the claim as the champion of the status quo in the Senate.
The Liberals go so far as to demand that the Senate remain unelected and unaccountable because it is an advantage for Quebec. This has come after 13 years of inaction, where the Liberal Party took every opportunity to protect the Senate from any and all reform. Actually, it is probably closer to a hundred years. The Liberals have abused the Senate in its current form for the past three generations.
I can see why the Liberals are attracted to the status quo, but they certainly had an option. In all their years in office, they could have taken the initiative to correct the Senate. They could have admitted that it was wrong for Canada and Canadians, and tackled this democratic deficit. They had an option to stand up, but they chose to say yes to the old attitudes and the entrenched entitlements of the Liberal Party. It is time for the Liberal Party to stop protecting the status quo and to support our efforts for a more accountable, democratic, and representative upper house.
The Conservative plan to reform the Senate is clear and real. Our government wants to see changes in the Senate. The Liberals only seem to want it to remain the same. While the Liberals continue to stake out and vigorously defend the position of the status quo, the opportunistic NDP has shown, once more, that there is no plan too risky for it.
While Conservative members have been squarely focused on what matters to Canadians, jobs, growth and long-term prosperity, the NDP has decided to advance a gimmicky proposal to unilaterally defund the Senate.
To really appreciate the NDP's logic, I think it is worth reviewing the statements made by the NDP's senior treasury board critic, the member for Pontiac, just yesterday. When asked about the constitutional requirement to have the Senate pass legislation, he said:
|| There's no reason why the Senate can't do its job without funds. It's not an issue of constitutionality.
Listening to the NDP say that the Constitution is no big deal is also concerning. Canadians are learning every day how risky the NDP and its ideas really are. To him the upper chamber is rotten to the core, as the member has stated, casting a very wide net. The member for Pontiac is even willing to strip the jobs of some 400 Senate employees, who have absolutely nothing to do with recent events in the Senate.
To the NDP, it seems that the end always justifies the means. Better yet, when the member opposite was called out by his interviewer for being heavy-handed, he said that employees and senators could do some volunteer work. He expects our Senate employees to come to work but not get paid. Ask the member for Toronto Centre how that went for them.
The NDP knows that its motion is a gimmick and it will not work. Canadians are more than smart enough to see through the NDP's opportunism. It should trouble Canadians that the NDP has chosen to debate this gimmick that it knows will not work instead of important issues like job creation and economic growth. However, we should perhaps not be surprised that the NDP does not want to talk about the risky tax plan.
Our government's priorities are unchanged. The economy remains our top priority. Our Conservative government is focused on what matters to Canadians: jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity. We are proud of our record. Thanks to Canada's economic action plan, under our watch Canada has created over 900,000 net new jobs since the depths of the global recession. That is the best job creation record in the G7.
However, we can see where the NDP's priorities are. It could have chosen to use its debate time today on the important economic issues that Canadians continue to care about, such as, indexing tax fund payments to better support job-creating infrastructure in municipalities right across the country, reforming the temporary foreign worker program to ensure Canadians are given the first crack at available jobs, expanding tax relief for home care services to better meet the health care needs of Canadians, and removing tariffs on important imports of baby clothing and certain sports and athletic equipment.
While we are focused on growing the Canadian economy and jobs in the face of ongoing global economic challenges, the NDP keeps pushing job-killing carbon taxes and picking constitutional fights.
Canadians know full well that the NDP's claim that it wants to abolish the Senate is nothing more than a gimmick. The NDP has never brought forward a serious proposal, and Canadians know that it has no intention of ever doing so. They know its position is unrealistic and that the NDP is making it up as it goes along.
I am surprised that the NDP chose to debate its real record on the Senate today. Here are the facts.
In 2008, the NDP worked out a deal to appoint its own senators when it conspired with the Liberals and the Bloc to form a coalition.
The Leader of the Opposition has claimed to support abolition, yet introduced a bill to give the Senate more powers.
The NDP democratic reform critic, the member for Toronto—Danforth, provided further proof of the NDP's lack of sincerity when he said that the NDP is open to any kind of reasonable Senate reform.
On March 4, 2013, the NDP brought forward a motion calling on the government to consult with the provinces and territories on the steps necessary to abolish the Senate.
Two weeks ago, the NDP launched a website and said it would start a discussion with the provinces on whether there was support, as required by the Constitution, for abolition.
In January of this last year, the leader of the NDP said that abolition of the Senate would be a profound constitutional change and that his party and country had other priorities before opening up a constitutional debate.
The NDP record on Senate reform can be summed up in four points.
First, it claims it will abolish the place.
Second, the NDP repeatedly acknowledges that it does not have the constitutionally required support to actually abolish the Senate.
Third, it obstructs every government effort to bring accountability and transparency to a reformed Senate.
Fourth, it proposes gimmicky motions that it knows will not work.
The NDP has frequently admitted that it needs the support of the provinces and territories to abolish the Senate, support that it knows it does not have.
The NDP's grand consultation with Canadians and the provinces was announced just two weeks ago. Is that grand consultation finished already? Did it take just two weeks? Did the NDP members even talk to anyone? Perhaps they have abandoned that consultation because they did not hear what they wanted to hear. We can only guess, as it took so little time.
Whatever the reason, it shows that the NDP is just not serious when it talks about the Senate. It does not matter whether it is talking about consultations or funding or anything else; it is just not serious. That is why it has never put forward a legitimate plan to reform the Senate.
We must then ask ourselves this simple question: is the status quo good enough?
It is clear that while there may be different approaches to solving the problem, we know that the status quo is not in the interests of Canadians. Our government believes that Senate reform is needed now. Canadians deserve better.
In closing, we are the only party with a real plan to reform the Senate. My constituents tell me that they want change. Canadians want change.
Mr. Pat Martin:
Mr. Speaker, thank you for that consideration. I would just remind my colleague of the doctrine of estoppel, but he can look that up later.
The monkey business around misbehaviour by senators is the least of the problems with the Senate. There is nothing new about senators misbehaving.
I remember a time when the Reform Party and the Canadian Alliance guys brought a Mexican mariachi band and a bunch of straw hats in front of the Senate and were doing a Mexican hat dance to protest the behaviour of one senator who had established himself on a beach in Mexico and was pulling down a Senate salary. That was Randy White, Monte Solberg, the current Minister of Immigration, Rahim Jaffer. Those guys were a lot of fun, and they were right at that time.
I remember when Deborah Grey bought 50 plastic pigs and placed them on the lawn in front of the Senate. The imagery I think she was trying to invoke, and correct me if I am wrong, was probably pigs at the trough. It is an unkind comparison perhaps, but it was her way of graphically illustrating what the Canadian public was feeling. That goes back 15 years. There is nothing new about that kind of misbehaviour.
However, the expense scandals pale in comparison to what is really wrong with the Senate and that is why the NDP, the CCF before it and the Independent Labour Party before that when J.S. Woodsworth was elected in 1921, were consistent in that they wanted the Senate abolished. It was a party of the people. It is natural that the party of the people would oppose the Senate.
As I said in earlier comments, one of the main reasons for establishing the Senate in 1867 was that the ruling class realized that they needed an equivalent of the House of Lords. We had no established aristocracy so one would have to be created to ensure that the great unwashed, that the working people of Canada, did not pass any legislation that might interfere with their ability to line their pockets with the resources of this great nation and they used their veto extensively.
In those early days, fully 10% of all legislation passed by the House of Commons was vetoed. Fully, 25% of it was amended significantly by the other chamber before it was allowed to succeed. It managed to gut and veto anything that might have been of benefit to the ordinary, freely-elected representatives of the people in the House of Commons. That was why it was created. It is no wonder we were opposed to it and objected to it. Believe me, that attitude and atmosphere continues to this day.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of the few New Democrats who was in favour of Senate reform instead of Senate abolition as a young parliamentarian. I took part in something called the Charlottetown accord constituent assemblies in 1992. I answered a letter to The Globe and Mail as a working carpenter, as an ordinary Canadian, to see if I would be interested in this. There were 160 Canadians chosen from all walks of life. We visited six different cities over six months and studied the Constitution and the Senate in great deal with the leading constitutional experts of the day. For six months, we were fully immersed in all the complexities and nuances of intergovernmental affairs, the jurisdictional powers of the Senate and the House, the configuration of the Senate and whether the Senate should succeed.
At that time, I believed the Senate could be reformed and it had merit, not because of the merit or the virtues of it but for one simple reason, and that being that in 1993 my party lost official party status, the party to which that I actively belonged. We were reduced to nine seats.
The Conservative Party of Canada suffered its worst defeat in Canadian history. It was reduced to two seats. Its caucus—
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Mr. Pat Martin: Mr. Speaker, I do not know who is bad-mouthing me over there, but whomever it is has a lot of lip and a lot of nerve too. The member might get a fat lip by the time it is finished. No, I would not say that.
The Conservative Party of Canada was reduced to two seats, but its caucus was 50 people because it had 48 senators and all their staff, resources and travel abilities. That is like 100 people fully salaried and fully staffed able to rebuild—
Mr. Pat Martin:
Mr. Speaker, it was the Progressive Conservative Party that was defeated, from 202 seats down to 2. It was the worst defeat in Canadian history.
However, their caucus remained at roughly 50 people, because they had all these senators. I said to myself, “Self, it would not have hurt if we had a dozen or so senators in the other chamber to help us live through those dark years when we were reduced to nine seats”.
Hon. Jim Karygiannis: I'll give you some.
Mr. Pat Martin: Mr. Speaker, again, we are getting some cheeky lip from behind me. You might want to call them to order at some point during my remarks. If you do not, I will.
I had an open mind when in 2006, the Prime Minister introduced their first Senate reform amendments. I actually attended the Senate with him. We were wearing the same tie that day, and I remember it quite well.
I was interested to see if Senate reform was possible. We had done our research. We knew that 28 times since 1972, significant attempts had been made to constitutionally amend the Senate, all of which failed.
For me, that same Prime Minister, who I actually had some confidence might take a shot at the Senate, let us down so profoundly that he was responsible for my joining the prevailing attitude of the party to which I belong.
The turning point for me was twofold.
First, the Prime Minister, in a petulant huff, decided that if he could not beat them, he would join them. As I said earlier, he became the most profligate serial offender in Canadian history in terms of stacking the Senate with his party hacks and flaks and bagmen and failed candidates. He appointed the president of the Conservative Party. He appointed the chief campaign manager of the Conservative Party. He appointed the communications director of the Conservative Party. He appointed the senior bagman of the Conservative Party. The whole Conservative war room was now fully staffed and funded by the Canadian taxpayer with not only their salary, but with their four employees and with their travel privileges, doing full-time partisan work out of the Senate.
That offended the sensibilities of anybody who considered themselves a democrat. It should rattle the very foundations of confidence in our democratic institutions. There has been no more profligate abuse of the Senate. The whole war room was now chocked full.
He was not finished there. The Prime Minister has appointed some 50 senators. He was thumbing his nose. We now have full-time party fundraisers criss-crossing the country on the taxpayers' dime, engaged in purely partisan political activity. If there was any justification for a Senate, that was forgotten long ago.
The Liberals are no better. Both the chair and the co-chair of their national campaign happen to be senators. I will not name them. The Conservative that ran the entire Manitoba provincial election was a sitting senator. His salary should go against the spending limits of those other members of Parliament running.
Let us face it, the Duffy affair was only the tip of the iceberg. That is what really drew the public's attention. That was the catalyst that helped us focus down on what was really wrong here. This $90,000 soft landing was not really about making him whole, because of the money he had to shell out. It was to keep his mouth shut for the extent of the political interference by senators in election campaigns, which was widespread throughout the country.
While I am on that point, if people here really believe that Nigel Wright dug into his own pocket and gave $90,000 of his after-tax earnings to Mike Duffy, they are nuttier than a porta-potty at a peanut farm. Anybody with any common sense would know that that money will come from the Conservative fund of which Nigel Wright was a director for seven years and Senator Irv Gerstein is the other director.
That was it for me. I was absolutely fed up with this notion. I believe it is fitting and appropriate and maybe even poetic justice that the Prime Minister's monumental hypocrisy associated with the Senate is the one thing that has finally come to bite him in the what rhymes with gas.
This is the first thing that turned me off the Senate forever.
The second thing, though, was the direct political interference by the unelected, undemocratic Senate with the work and activity of the elected chamber where we as an elected House of Commons and representative of people passed the only piece of climate change legislation in the 39th, 40th or the 41st Parliament.
It was two years of negotiating and pushing by the former leader of the NDP, Jack Layton, that finally got this bill through, that finally got the approval of all the parties in the House of Commons. It wound up in the Senate, and without a single hour of debate or a single witness heard at committee, senators vetoed it and killed that bill. Now Canada, to its great shame, has no national climate change policy whatsoever.
Even worse, just to add insult to injury, and what compounds the offence, in my view, is that the other bill the senators unilaterally and arbitrarily vetoed was the HIV-AIDS drugs for Africa bill. That was a real classy choice. They had no right to unilaterally and arbitrarily block and interfere with the will of the democratically elected members of the House of Commons. No one elected them to make legislation. No one gave them a mandate or the legitimacy to undermine democracy and act as stooges for the PMO. The Senate is not a chamber of any kind of thought, never mind sober thought.
In the same vein, more and more pieces of legislation are originating in the Senate. As I say, I this is my sixth term. I have seen a lot of legislation come and go. It used to be a very rare thing when a bill would come to the House of Commons labelled S-10, S-11, S-12, S-13. Now the Senate is cranking them out like there is no tomorrow. Half the legislation we deal with originates in the other chamber. The stuff we get to deal with is lumped together in an omnibus bill, 60 or 70 pieces of legislation all packed into one, on which we get a few hours of debate and a few witnesses at committee. The substantive material is all being generated in the Senate. Again, no one elected senators to make legislation. No one gave them the authority or mandate to make legislation. It offends the sensibilities of any person who considers him or herself a democrat.
When senators are not cranking out bills, they are gadding about the world like a bunch of globe-trotting quasi-diplomats. They have never seen a junket they did not like. They are always chock full of senators. We cannot afford that. We are broke. In case people forget, this is $58 million we have to borrow to shovel over there another wheelbarrow full of money. The Black Rod is going to knock on the door and ask for his dough pretty soon, and these guys will dutifully trudge down there and deliver to keep their political machine bankrolled and funded, like an unfair competitive advantage, by the Canadian taxpayer. Can people not see what is wrong with that? It is enough to drive a person crazy.
One thing that really bugs me about the senators is that they are allowed to sit on boards of directors. The Senate of Canada is one big institutionalized conflict of interest. Let us look at one example. Senator Trevor Eyton, a Conservative senator, is CEO and president of one of the largest corporations in Canada, Brascan, which has been renamed Brookfield Asset Management. It happens to own Royal LePage. By some happy coincidence, it keeps winning the relocation contract for the military and the RCMP. It is a multi-billion dollar contract.
The Auditor General looked at it and said that the bid had been rigged to give the contract to Royal LePage. It was offensive to everyone's sensibilities. Then the court looked at and said that the bid had been rigged and awarded $40 million in damages to the low bidder that should have won it, Envoy. Then, by some happy coincidence again, for a third time, in 2009, the cabinet got directly involved and made sure that Royal LePage, the very company this guy was CEO of and for which he continued to be the chairman of the board of directors into his Senate tenure, made sure that his company—let us face it; he has stock options in that company—got the same contract again. That should offend one's sensibilities.
If there were no other reason to deny it any money, it is that inherent conflict of interest that comes from what I call an institutionalized conflict that is the Senate of Canada.
Hon. John McCallum (Markham—Unionville, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak again on this motion, which is similar to the motion on which I spoke earlier today.
I have several points. My main point is that it does not make any sense, because it would close down the Government of Canada and many provincial governments. In Canada's Constitution, there is a provision that laws of Canada have to be passed by both Houses of Parliament. That means that we could not vote on supply bills, on which we will be voting later tonight, that provide the money for the coming year if the Senate did not approve them.
If all of the Senate's money were taken away, the Senate would not be able to approve this legislation. As of April 1 next year, the Government of Canada would be deprived of money. It would not be deprived of statutory programs, but money for the entire public service. We would have no CRA, for example, because nobody could be employed there. What does the CRA do? It collects the taxes not only at the federal level, but for all of the provinces as well, except for Quebec. It collects income tax, corporate income tax and HST for those provinces that have it. Not only would the federal government run out of money as of April 1, nine provinces would have a huge chunk of their revenues taken away by this action.
As a result, the whole Government of Canada would grind to a halt. We must think of that. Do we want to find out what is going on through CBC? CBC gets huge subsidies, so it would not be able to continue. We would not have food inspection. We would not have all of the things that Canadians rely on. We would not even have employment insurance, OAS or things of that nature. While those monies would be protected, because they are statutory, the people to administer them would all be gone because there would be no civil service left.
If foreigners wanted to help Canada in this government-less state, they could not go to our embassies abroad because we would not have any embassies. All of the lights would be turned out in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
I am not sure the NDP has thought through how government really works. The NDP is not a party that favours zero government. If anything, the NDP is the party of big government, yet the effect of its proposal would be to eliminate government.
For these reasons, I think this is not a good message. It is not a good idea to do something that would eliminate the federal government and many of the provincial governments.
For those reasons alone, we are certainly not going to support this crazy idea.
There are other things that I would like to mention as well. I think that this is disrespectful to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is in the process of considering a long overdue reference by the federal government. We have been recommending such a reference for a year or more and the government did it just recently, thereby wasting a lot of time. Had it done it a year ago, the Supreme Court probably would have decided by now and we could proceed. It is highly disrespectful of the Supreme Court.
We have to obey our Constitution. The law says that the Senate and the House of Commons have to approve. It is not just a federal law, it is a constitutional law. It would require at least seven provinces and the federal government to change it. We have to wait before we proceed in a meaningful way to hear what the Supreme Court of Canada says.
This is also highly disrespectful towards the provinces. At least seven of the provinces, ten in certain cases, have to give approval for constitutional changes in the Senate. For the NDP to simply present a motion to starve the Senate of its funds and think that will do it does not respect provincial rights. The Senate is supposed to be a body that represents provincial interests and the provinces are central to the determination of the makeup and rules governing the Senate.
It really does not make sense to have a motion that disrespects the Supreme Court and the provinces.
The third problem is that this motion benefits the government because it is a debate about the Senate and the government does not mind that. The government quite likes that. The government has no problems with that. What the government does not want to do is to debate the role of the Prime Minister and the role of the Prime Minister's Office in the transfer of the $90,000 by Nigel Wright to Senator Duffy. A motion that dealt with that, like calling for documents on this transfer of funds, would have been much more interesting from an opposition party's point of view than a harmless debate about the Senate. A debate about the Senate right now is not really useful before we hear from the Supreme Court as to what we are allowed to do. We will not hear from the Supreme Court for some time.
Lastly, it has been erroneously stated that Liberals are for the status quo in the Senate. That is not at all true. I would like to describe what our democratic critic, the former leader of the Liberal Party, the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, thinks about Senate reform.
First of all, we have to recognize that the distribution of Senate seats is highly unbalanced. Alberta and British Columbia have six seats each. New Brunswick has 10, so the original provinces, the Maritimes, and Quebec and Ontario hugely benefit in the distribution of seats compared with Alberta and British Columbia. If we move to an elected Senate, that means that the Senate would become more powerful. It might become as powerful as the House of Commons. If that were to happen, it would be hugely unfair to British Columbia and Alberta, so I do not know what the Prime Minister is trying to do with his proposed elected senators, without any return to the Constitution and without talking about the distribution of Senate seats. The Prime Minister comes from Alberta. He would be disadvantaging his own province whose proportion in the Senate is far less than its proportion of the population of Canada.
My colleague said that the first thing one would have to do to move toward an elected Senate would be to have a negotiation involving the distribution of Senate seats to make it fairer and more in line with today's population. If one could achieve that, then one could move constitutionally toward an elected Senate. He also said we would have to have some division of interests, so that the Senate and the House of Commons would be complementary in their activities rather than being a recipe for deadlock between the two. We see in the United States and perhaps in Italy that the House of Representatives and the Senate cannot agree and there is a deadlock. We want to avoid that.
It is a complicated business. That is one approach that could be taken, which my colleague thinks is a good idea and which I think might be a good idea, but we should not underestimate the difficulty of that approach as we know from our own history. It is at least a principled approach to Senate reform, as opposed to this proposal that we have today of starving it of funds, which is a recipe not only for shutting down the Senate, but for shutting down the whole Government of Canada and the governments of many provinces as well.
In closing, my main argument is that this approach by the NDP does not make sense because the NDP is a party that favours government. It does not make sense to eliminate the government if you are in favour of government, but their proposal would do exactly that: eliminate the federal government and many of the provincial governments.
This does not jibe with the Constitution or the Supreme Court. It is absolutely not the right approach.
What it does show is that the NDP is certainly not ready for government. I would think the most principled action by the more sensible members of Parliament for the NDP would be to vote against their own crazy motion.
Mr. Joe Preston (Elgin—Middlesex—London, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to have the chance to speak tonight. As you may remember, I enjoy speaking about the Senate, and I am glad to have this opportunity to share more of my thoughts tonight.
I am going to discuss a number of things on the motion that has been brought forward by the NDP. The first issue I want to cover is something I have heard a lot about in the House today and it is whether this is truly the best use of our time. When we talk to people in St. Thomas or Aylmer, or other places around the riding in southern Ontario, they do not think it is. They ask me why we spend hours debating motions like this rather than budgets and things that will help create and maintain jobs. They think we should be using our time more effectively, working for them. I agree. My constituents are very wise and very good at selecting members. I am very thankful for the wise people in the riding who keep sending me back here to do their work.
We should be here talking about jobs and the economy. I certainly have that conversation a lot in the riding. My constituents ask me what are we doing in Ottawa to help create jobs and prosperity. They do not ask me about the Senate much because it does not affect their lives. If a discussion of the Senate ever comes up, it is probably because I bring it up. I might do that because the Senate sometimes affects my work as the chair of the procedure and house affairs committee, which is where we talk about the Senate. That is usually the only reason it ever comes up back home. The real questions are about jobs and the economy.
Our government and our Prime Minister have proven that we can multi-task, that we can do a number of things at once. Here we are sharing in that multi-tasking, covering off a topic that does not seem to be of much use to us today. What matters to Canadians and the Canadians in my riding are the economy, creating jobs and maintaining jobs, and building a growing prosperity for the people we represent.
Since we are debating a motion on the main estimates, the fundamental appropriations for our government, we have an obligation to talk about financial matters and how they relate to the performance of our government and the economy in general. I say this in order to contrast our economic plan, something that is of paramount importance, and the NDP gimmick today, which my constituents do not think should be high on our priority list.
Let us talk about what matters back home. We have the lowest tax rate in new business investment in the G7. That is something we set out to do and we have accomplished that. That helps create and sustain jobs back home in the riding. We are saving the average family of four more than $3,100 a year in taxes. That includes reducing the GST twice, and many other tax reductions. That helps families back home in the riding.
We have also provided tax relief in other ways, such as, the registered disability savings plan, the working income tax benefit, pension income splitting for seniors, and tax-free savings accounts, which eight million Canadians already have. All of these things help families in my riding. These things matter to them.
We have signed free trade agreements with nine countries since 2006, and negotiations are ongoing with 60 other countries, including the European Union and Asia-Pacific countries. Other areas that are important for jobs and growth are innovation, research and development, and capital formation, which are fundamental to stimulating business investment, including new high-quality jobs. They equip our country for success in the future. We have taken numerous actions on this file, and the positive results are there to see.
On infrastructure, post-secondary education and jobs training, we have taken positive steps to help Canadians and our economy. Just last week, Statistics Canada announced that Canada's economy grew 2.5% in the first quarter of 2013. This represents the strongest quarterly growth in nearly two years. Additionally, Statistics Canada positively revised its economic growth for the fourth quarter of 2012, up from 0.6% to 0.9%. This is the seventh straight quarter of positive growth, and that is another sign that Canada's economy and our government remain on the right track.
Those are good results. They are good indicators that our focus on jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity is bearing fruit for Canadians.
We have seen over 900,000 net new jobs created in Canada since the depths of the global recession. Over 90% of them are full-time and nearly 75% of them are in the private sector. It represents the best job growth record in the entire G7. Constituents back home appreciate that kind of good economic news. It shows them that we have a good plan for the economy, and it contrasts with the lack of plan on the part of our opposition parties.
Speaking of a lack of a plan, we will come back to the NDP and the Senate. Since this motion on estimates does deal with the Senate, I will relent and spend some time talking about it. It is only polite. We are here at 8 o'clock at night, after all.
However, when we get to Senate reform, we cannot talk about the NDP because it has no plan. Luckily, our government does have a plan. We have been clear for many years that we favour reform first. We are willing to consider a number of options, but we want to work at reforming the Senate first and foremost.
For many years, our party and our government has supported the idea of term limits for Senators. The Prime Minister himself even appeared at a special Senate committee to speak about the bill on Senate reform, something that has never happened before. We have also been consistent in our support of provinces, undertaking democratic processes to suggest nominees for appointment to the Senate. One province has made these recommendations, and this Prime Minister has appointed those people who were recommended by the Province of Alberta. That is something we can be proud of. I hope that other provinces will follow Alberta's lead and let their people make the recommendations, after a democratic process.
That has been our plan. We have been clear and we have been consistent. The Prime Minister has been equally as clear that we support the reform of the Senate, but that if it cannot be reformed, it should be abolished. However, our side of the House has the proper respect for our Constitution, our institutions, regardless of their failings or the failings of their members, and respect for our provincial partners.
Our government recognizes that abolishing the Senate would be tough work. It would require co-operation across the country. With our Constitution, as venerable as it is, it is not entirely clear how Canadians might go about abolishing the Senate. Therefore, our government has done the reasonable thing, something that I think my constituents would endorse. Our government has asked the Supreme Court for its opinion on how we might go about abolishing the Senate.
Let us talk about what has been referred to the Supreme Court. The first thing we have asked the Supreme Court about is simple; we have asked about term limits. What term would be appropriate for senators, if indeed they had term limits? Can Parliament alone limit the terms of senators? How much could we limit them? Is there a point at which Parliament could act alone? We have suggested nine years in one piece of legislation, but we have asked the Supreme Court to give us an opinion on a number of different terms. Those are reasonable questions and I hope the court will provide some clarity, something that I recall the NDP opposes.
I might be mixing up my issues, though. I know that in the past the retirement date was changed, from appointment for life down to age 75. In that respect, we are more likely to get some clarity, which I support. I believe that in the last study I read at committee, the average length of time served by a senator in the House was between nine and ten years. This is how we got the number for a nine-year term. It is the average that a senator currently sits, so we are on the right track.
The next thing is about the democratic selection of the Senate and nominees to the Senate.
Our government has proposed a few different ways to hold democratic processes to recommend Senate nominees, so we have put those questions to the Supreme Court. We have asked whether we can ask provinces to determine themselves who they would like their senators to be. If that happens, they would then be appointed to the Senate by the Prime Minister, as we have already shown in the case of Alberta.
As I have mentioned, Alberta has already chosen to do this. There are senators now who have been elected by the people of Alberta to represent the province of Alberta in the Senate, and they have been appointed by the Prime Minister. That process is in our latest bill, so we are asking the Supreme Court about that. We have also asked about a national process that we proposed previously.
We have also asked the Supreme Court for a couple of opinions. One of them has to do with the net worth of senators.
The requirements in the Constitution on this question are from another age. The Fathers of Confederation in Canada drew up a Constitution in 1867. That was a long time ago. That document has lasted this long, but there are many questions about it.
Very late last Wednesday night there was talk about a time in the 1800s, around the time the Constitution was written. A story was told about an elephant in St. Thomas getting hit by a train. I have had some requests to bring it back, so there it is. I have talked about the elephant in the 1800s in St. Thomas again.
We should consider visiting these rules from another age, from a long time ago. My constituents would agree with doing that.
The last set of questions has to do with what we are talking about today: the abolition of the Senate.
We are asking the opinion of the Supreme Court on this very topic, and our approach reflects well on the government. It shows just how out of its depth the opposition is on this question. We have put a number of specific questions to the Supreme Court because the Constitution is specific.
Amending our Constitution is a weighty matter, so we need take care to ensure that we get the answers we need, but care is not something I detect in today's motion from the NDP. The party opposite knows the Supreme Court has been asked for its opinions on these topics, yet what is its motion today? Let us spend a whole day talking about a backdoor way to vandalize our institutions, bypass our Constitution and use a gimmick to maybe get a few media hits.
That frustrates our constituents. We could respect the Supreme Court of Canada and Canadians, but instead of spending our time talking about important matters like jobs and the economy, we are talking about a topic that New Democrats believe will add some political oomph. It is just a gimmick to allow them to crow about their complete lack of a plan, which I find strange and wasteful of our time and energy.
That is what New Democrats really care about when it comes to taking the Senate out of this place. They just want to hear themselves talk. They have spoken at length on our most recent Senate reform bill. They put up about 40 speakers on that bill, and they all said the same things over and over again.
As the chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which has seen its own fair share of filibustering on Senate reform, I can tell the House that this is filibustering. I know it when I see it. New Democrats are not debating anything; they are just hijacking the House to ensure that Senate reform cannot move forward. They are clogging the zone, as we say in hockey.
Back when I could, I was a stay-at-home defenceman when I played hockey. I see the member for Cape Breton—Canso—
Mr. Rodger Cuzner: Now you just stay at home.
Mr. Joe Preston: Many of the fans yelled the same thing, sir.
People may not be able to tell by my appearance, but in hockey I seldom got past centre ice. My coach thought I was a far better defenceman than I was a goal scorer. Therefore, I know when players are delaying the game. I know what it looks like when players are not rushing the puck. I would suggest that the party opposite has gone even further than just not rushing the puck.
We have debated Senate reform legislation for over 18 hours in this House, and the NDP just keeps talking and talking. We could be spending that time examining the bill in committee or talking about other important things in the House, such as the economy and jobs.
It is a filibuster, despite their protests. We broke that logjam by referring the bill's subject matter, along with other important questions, to the Supreme Court of Canada. We await their opinion. I know I am interested to hear what they have to say.
As I mentioned before, the Prime Minister has made it clear that the Senate must be reformed or be abolished. We will await the opinion of the Supreme Court. We will examine that opinion when it arrives, and we will take action based on it, as we have promised to do. We will pursue reform, and if that cannot be accomplished, we will pursue abolition.
The aim in seeking the reference to the Supreme Court of Canada was to accelerate the pace of Senate reform and to lay the foundation for further reform to the Senate. That is exactly what it will do. We will receive clarity on the steps that we must take to move forward, and then we will move forward.
In the meantime, we will continue to bring forward measures to strengthen the accountability of senators to taxpayers. We will do what can be done.
Last week the Senate adopted 11 tough new accountability rules governing travel and expenses that were put forward by Conservative senators. I think Canadians would think the rules are reasonable.
They removed the principle from the senate administrative rules that stated that a senator is presumed to act honourably with respect to expenses.
They clarify and make consistent the terminology surrounding residency for the purposes of expense claims.
They require a senator to provide a specific purpose for travel when claiming expenses. They require senators to maintain mileage logs for the purpose of claiming mileage.
They require that taxi receipts be provided when claiming taxi expenses, and they restrict per diems in Ottawa to days the Senate sits, days the senators attend committee meetings and up to 20 additional days while on approved Senate business.
They amend the 64-point travel system to limit senators to 12 trips that are not between Ottawa and the senator's provincial residence, restrict a senator's designated traveller to a spouse or partner and require administration to provide internal economy with monthly reports on travel patterns.
Mr. Jamie Nicholls (Vaudreuil—Soulanges, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, all across our great country, Canadians are struggling and going through financial hardships. Living pay cheque to pay cheque and relying on credit cards to make ends meet has become the reality for thousands of Canadians under the current government.
I would also like to say that I am splitting my time with the amazing member for Trinity—Spadina.
Yet here we are debating whether the Conservative government should give $58 million of taxpayer money to the unelected, unaccountable and undemocratic Senate. This does not represent the best interests of Canadians, which we are here to do.
The Fathers of Confederation envisioned the Senate to be an academic, non-partisan body of sober second thought. Instead, it has been turned into a tool of patronage for Liberals and Conservatives alike.
I would like to share with the House that my political awakening as a teenager, when I was 13, was the 1984 federal election. For those members of the House who remember that, it was Brian Mulroney versus John Turner. It was Brian Mulroney of the Progressive Conservatives, which no longer exist, they are now, I would say, the regressive Conservatives. In the televised debate of that federal election, Brian Mulroney, who was a Conservative, lambasted John Turner for doing a raft of patronage appointments that were asked of him by the former Prime Minister Trudeau. Conservatives at that time said that the Liberals had the option of not doing it.
However, in the past 30 years we have seen that Conservatives and Liberals alike have used the Senate as their patronage dumping ground, at the expense of the taxpayer. All we are asking tonight is to take pause and reflect. Does that chamber deserve the money that the taxpayers are paying for it? We just want to pause and reflect, and see if the money is being well spent over there. As Canadians have seen over the past couple of weeks, I think they would agree with most of the members of the NDP that it is not being spent well, that taxpayer funds are being misused.
That election in 1984 started off with Brian Mulroney riding into Ottawa on a white horse to clean up Ottawa, to get rid of the patronage appointments and it ended in 1993 with two members of the Progressive Conservatives remaining in the House, with division in the country. The same thing is going to happen in 2015. After nine years of power, the current government is going to end up a small rump, if anything, in the House, with a New Democratic government in power.
The Senate is an institution full of scandal and lies and it is a stain on Canadian democracy. I am proud to say that I am a New Democrat and I am proud to say that I am part of a party that does now and has always called for even when—
Mr. Jamie Nicholls:
Mr. Speaker, I should have referred to the other place as sometimes misleading and sometimes deviating from proper oversight.
Our party has always called for abolition of the Senate, even when we were the CCF and the ILA even before that. We have been calling for the abolition of this unelected and accountable body known as the Senate.
Just last week in my riding I was talking to a Ms. Martin, a single mother who lives in my riding who is working two jobs and still struggling to make ends meet. Her difficulties are hard but sadly not unique to Canadians. From coast to coast to coast, Canadians are struggling in this economic climate. What is the government doing to help Canadians? What is it doing to help lower unemployment rates? What is the government doing to help Ms. Martin spend less time worrying about how she will pay her bills and spend more time at home with her children?
Instead of fixing these problems, the Prime Minister and the Conservative government are writing a cheque for $58 million to the unelected, unaccountable senators who work just 71 days a year on average. It does not make sense. It is not giving enough for hard-working Canadians to collect EI when they need it. However, it does have enough to give to the Senate to give senators a nice salary and pension.
The Conservative government, like its Liberal predecessors, would rather protect its party bagmen, party hacks and failed candidates in the Senate than protect the thousands of Canadians who are struggling every day.
At its purest form, the Senate is a place for senators to come together and represent and fight for their constituents. As we can see, this noble cause is lost in the upper chamber. Could this be because they are not elected and held accountable by their constituents? Could this be because they are not appointed based on their community work, but rather because of their backroom partisan work?
Enough is enough. The Canadian people need to be the first priority of the government and it has to stop funnelling money to the unaccountable, unelected Senate.
In a recent Ipsos poll it was found that 43% of Canadians agreed with the NDP that the Senate should be abolished, 45% of Canadians believed that at the very least the Senate needed to be reformed and a small 13% of Canadians, including the Liberal leader, agreed with the Liberal leader's and Conservatives' record, that the status quo worked and nothing needed to be changed.
Nevertheless, it is not just Canadians and the NDP who want the Senate abolished. The premiers of British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan all believe that the Senate is an archaic, wasteful, undemocratic institution that has no place in Canada's government. Every province in Canada has done away with their upper chamber and have all thrived after doing so.
Canadians want and deserve better from their government. It is time to end the gravy train, stop the funding and start using taxpayer dollars to make their lives better and more affordable.
It is not just Canadians who know that something is not right in the Senate. During the 2005 election campaign, the Prime Minister promised to reform the Senate so that it would be equal, elected and effective. If he had to do it all over, he would probably add “ethical” to his list. He forgot the fourth e.
During their seven years in power, the Conservatives have introduced various bills that have never amounted to anything or been high on the list of priorities. Even worse, although the Prime Minister himself had promised that he would not appoint senators, he has appointed 59 since coming to power. This is a new record in Canada's history.
Not only did they break their promise, but the Prime Minister and the Conservatives perpetuated the Liberal tradition of using the Senate to reward the party faithful.
There is the appointment of failed candidates such as Josée Verner and Larry Smith and the appointment of Conservative cronies such as Irving Gerstein, Judith Seidman, Donald Plett and David Braley. Before he was appointed to the Senate, David Braley donated a total of $86,000 to the Conservative Party and the Prime Minister.
The NDP has always spoken out about these practices. We were against this archaic, undemocratic institution at the time of the Liberals, who behaved the same way the Conservatives are behaving now.
It is not surprising that the leader of the Liberal Party is against abolishing the Senate. Just think of all the Liberal senators who are benefiting from this institution. They include David Smith, James Cowan, Fernand Robichaud and Grant Mitchell, who are all friends of the party. All of them have used Canadians' money, public funds, to quietly campaign, when they are supposed to be working to ensure that taxpayers' money is spent more wisely.
When it comes to using taxpayers' money more wisely, 23 mayors in my riding are paid very little for all the hard work they do. I am talking about Géraldine Quesnel, Marc Roy, Marie-Claude Nichols, Guy Pilon, Robert Grimaudo, Yvan Cardinal, Michael Elliott, Manon Trudel, Robert Sauvé, Maryse Sauvé, Marc-André Léger, Réal Boisvert, Jean-Pierre Daoust, Réal Brazeau, Patrick Bousez, Nicole Loiselle, Jean-Yves Poirier, Yvon Bériault, Gaëtane Legault, Patricia Domingos, Aline Guillotte, Jean Lalonde and Claude Pilon.
Personally, I would rather see these millions of dollars given to elected officials who do their job properly and work tirelessly to represent my region than to senators who do nothing.
Ms. Olivia Chow (Trinity—Spadina, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, this debate tonight is not about a few bad apples in a barrel; it is about the fact that the entire barrel is a pork barrel. The entire barrel is rotten, and it needs to be fixed.
The people of Canada have lost confidence in the Senate, which is neither democratic nor accountable. The people of Canada are looking to this House to show leadership.
This motion seeks to force reform and to get the barrel fixed, which is much more important than just going after a few bad apples. Of course, they are not all bad apples. There is no question that there are some senators who are outstanding citizens and who have contributed a great deal to our country in their careers. There is also no question that there are many individual senators who work hard in the red chamber and who seek to serve the country well. They have done nothing wrong.
However, even if all the senators were in that league and none of their colleagues were a Conservative or a Liberal crony, helping themselves to public funds while doing the bidding of their patrons is unacceptable. Even if they are all working hard, we should still fight to stop funding the Senate and force reform.
This motion is not about those cronies who are abusing their appointed positions. It is about the institution that has become degraded and corrupted by its political masters. The prime ministers, whether they were Liberal or Conservative, have loaded it up with cronies for their own ends. Through patronage appointments and supporting the Senate, they have undermined democracy. The only way we can stop this degradation and abuse of public funds and trust is to cut off the funds.
As hon. members on the Conservative benches and the Liberal benches have pointed out, abolishing the Senate will require constitutional change. However, cleaning up the act in the meantime can be done. That is what this motion is about.
Cutting the funding is something we can do in this House to stop the abuse and force reform. We, the democratically elected members of this House, have an opportunity to force the issue by stopping funding. We have an opportunity to force the issue so that this House can debate, and the country can contemplate, democratic institutions.
We have an opportunity. More than that, all those here who believe in democracy have a responsibility to uphold democratic principles and principles of good governance. This is about democracy. This is about transparency. This is about accountability. This is about good governance.
All members of this House must agree that the Senate is not democratic. It has not been transparent. It is clearly not accountable. That is not the fault of individual senators. The problem is the institution itself, which has become nothing but a creature of the government in power.
The current Prime Minister spent his earlier career in politics railing against this institution of patronage. He spent his career crying out for reform and for a triple-E Senate: equal, effective, elected. Remember that, Mr. Speaker? He campaigned on that when leading the Reform Party.
Now is the chance. Where is the Prime Minister on this? The current Prime Minister cried out when former prime ministers Mulroney and Chrétien and Martin loaded the Senate with patronage appointments. He cried out for reform. He cried out and campaigned for reform for years, until he finally got in the position to do something about it. What did he do? He started larding the pork barrel with patronage appointments, blatantly and cynically, so that he could overwhelm the Liberal majority in the Senate.
As a result, excellent legislation for sending affordable drugs to African kids was killed. A bill dealing with climate change was waived out of hand.
While he was larding it up, he claimed, in the most cynical way, that he was making appointments to facilitate Senate reform; this while he was bloating the institution with more senators than ever, all getting public funds, which was a clear abuse of public funds.
Rather than reforming the senate, he has undermined democracy. He did not appoint just cronies and media personalities and celebrities. He appointed failed Conservative candidates, failed candidates for this House. He appointed candidates for Parliament who had been defeated in their own ridings. They had been rejected by voters. They could not get elected. The current Prime Minister, the long-time spokesperson for democratic reform, whose former party was called Reform, made these cynical and undemocratic patronage appointments.
In one of those cynical, undemocratic—in fact, anti-democratic—appointments, he appointed a defeated candidate to cabinet. It was someone who had been rejected by the electorate, someone who could not get elected. That undemocratically appointed senator became a cabinet minister. That was not democratic. That was a slap in the face of democracy. In fact, it was a slap in the face of this House.
With that appointment, the Prime Minister was not just further degrading the Senate; he was further degrading this House of Commons and he was further degrading democracy.
Who has been served by these patronage appointments? It is clearly not the people of Canada, who have no say in the matter. The Conservative Party has been served and the Prime Minister has been served.
The two senators now under scrutiny for abuse of public funds and public trust worked very hard to get their appointments, not for the people of Canada but for the Conservative Party.
What we have here is an institution that is an extension of the Conservative and Liberal parties' election machines. That cannot be fair. That cannot be just.
Why was the $92 million spent on the Senate not shown in the election spending reports? We know for sure that they were fundraising. They were campaigning.
I have no doubt that if the Prime Minister were still in opposition and the bad apples of the day were all Liberals, he would be crying out for reform. He would have been leading the charge with this motion. He would have been looking to stop this waste.
Instead, the Prime Minister has been making the pork barrel even worse. He has even put more pork into the barrel. He has not been accountable. He abandoned his principled pursuit of a triple-E Senate as soon as he had the chance to mould that Senate to his own ends.
He has forgotten that we were elected to serve the public trust, not to abuse it. He has undermined democracy. It is the responsibility of every democratically elected member of Parliament to stop the abuse, force reform, fix the barrel and stop feeding pork into it. Empty it, get rid of the rot, and vote for this NDP motion to stop funding the Senate.
Hon. Michael Chong (Wellington—Halton Hills, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on vote 1 before us, which concerns the funding for Senate operations. We should take a look at how much it actually costs to run the Senate. It costs about $90 million a year to run the Senate of Canada, but let us take a step back and actually put that into perspective. Let us see how much it costs to run the House of Commons in a year. The House of Commons costs more than three times that amount. In fact, it costs almost four times that amount to run the House each and every year. It costs some $350 million a year. Using the logic that many have used in the House during this debate that it costs too much money to run the Senate of Canada, perhaps we should abolish the House of Commons.
Clearly, that is a trite argument that is nonsensical and something that most Canadians would see as absurd.
There has been a lot of controversy and debate about the Senate. That is why we are talking about vote 1 and why we previously had a debate on the motion to abolish the Senate. There are certainly a number of parliamentarians who are under investigation right now. We should allow those processes to unfold. We, as all people in this country, should believe in due process and the rule of law.
If members of Parliament, whether here or in the other place, are found to have expensed items that are inappropriate, then those parliamentarians should be held to account and the expenses repaid. However, let us not take four ongoing investigations of four senators and paint the rest of the 101 senators with the same brush. That is unfair to the people involved. It is unfair, in particular, because they are not able to attend this place and speak in their own defence, so I am speaking today in defence of the work they do.
I want to highlight the four reasons I believe we should fund the Senate and why I believe the Senate should exist.
The Senate serves as a counterweight, a check and balance, to the majoritarianism of this place. This place is representative of the Canadian population. In fact, we are increasing the number of ridings in Canada, because Canada's population is growing. This place reflects majority rule, and that is why we have elections, where members of Parliament represent their constituents. This place has a tendency toward majoritarianism. That is why we need an upper chamber. The upper chamber serves as a counterweight and counterbalance to the majoritarianism of this place.
Let us take a look at whether the Senate is truly an archaic place that is not reflective of the Canadian population. In fact, if we look at the statistics, the Senate is more reflective of the new Canada than is the House of Commons. According to recent Statistics Canada census data, 20% of Canada's population is visible minority. Only half of that number is in the House of Commons. Less than 10% of the House of Commons is visible minority. There are a greater number of visible minorities in the Senate of Canada than there are in the House of Commons. The Senate better reflects the makeup of this country when it comes to visible minority representation.
Let us look at the number of women. Clearly, in Canada, 50% of the population is female, but in this place, only 25% of parliamentarians are female. In the Senate, 38% of senators are female. There, again, the Senate is more reflective of the makeup of this country.
The Senate and its makeup is not the archaic institution many members in this place would have people believe. It actually better reflects what this country is and what it is turning into in the coming decades as we become more diverse and more pluralistic. That is why the Senate serves a useful function. It serves to counterbalance the majoritarianism of this place, which under-represents minorities and ensures that the minority voices of women and visible minorities are heard in Parliament and here in Ottawa.
There is a second reason the Senate serves an important function. It serves as a chamber of sober second thought. It serves as a useful—
Hon. Michael Chong:
Mr. Speaker, the Senate serves as a chamber of sober second thought to review legislation. I just want to highlight three pieces of legislation that have gone through this House over the years that the Senate has defeated, amended or reviewed.
For example, setting aside one's views on the difficult issue of abortion, let us look at what happened to Bill C-43 during the time of Mr. Mulroney's government. It was defeated in the Senate. It was the bill that would have restricted abortion in this country. The Senate defeated Bill C-43. Otherwise, today in Canada we would have had restrictions on abortion. Therefore, I would ask members opposite who have strongly held convictions on this whether that was a role that they would have seen as useful as played by the Senate.
More recently, after the last election, the government introduced, as part of its electoral commitment, Bill C-10, the safe streets and communities act. It sailed through this House of Commons, and it got to the Senate. Suddenly the members of government and the senators realized that there were problems with respect to national security in the bill. Therefore, the Senate introduced an amendment which then forced the bill back to this House. The amendment was adopted by this House, the legislation received royal assent. That gap, that shortfall in the bill, was addressed by the Senate of Canada.
More recently, as I mentioned before, Bill C-290, that did not receive a standing vote in this House of Commons and received only one witness at committee, the very proponent of the bill, did not receive sufficient scrutiny and oversight. The Senate is currently doing its work in that regard.
Those are just three examples of the important work that the Senate has done over the years in its role as a chamber of sober second thought to review legislation.
There is a another reason why the Senate serves a useful function. That is, its role as an investigative and research and deliberative body. In the history of the Senate back to the 1960s and 1970s, the investigative work of the Senate into social policy became integral to the development of Canada's modern social safety welfare net. The development of the Canada pension plan and the Canada Health Act and the development of policies involving social transfers to the provinces for health care, education, post-secondary research and development were all influenced by the work that the Senate did over the years. More recently, the work that the Senate did on mental health influenced government and House of Commons decisions on legislation, policy and funding for mental health concerns. The Senate does the same thing as royal commissions, public inquiries and external task forces, but it does so at a lesser cost than those royal commissions and in a much quicker and more timely manner.
There is yet another reason why the Senate serves a useful function. It is the same reason why in over 50 states around the world there are bicameral legislatures: the Senate serves to provide a check and balance, not just on the majoritarianism of the lower chamber in this House of Commons, but also on the executive branch of government.
I would like to quote Sir Clifford Sifton. He was a Canadian minister at the turn of the 20th century who helped open up western Canada for the waves of immigration that settled the great Prairies and produced the powerhouse of energy and agriculture that we see today. Here is what Clifford Sifton said in the book The New Era in Canada in 1917:
|| No nation should be under unchecked, single-chamber government.... It must also be remembered that, under our system, the power of the Cabinet tends to grow at the expense of the House of Commons.... The Senate is not so much a check on the House of Commons as it is upon the Cabinet, and there can be no doubt that its influence in this respect is salutary.
The check that the upper chamber provides on the executive branch of government, something that many Canadians have been increasingly concerned about over the last 30 or 40 years, is a useful function. In fact, modern North American institutions are based on Montesquieu's doctrine of the division of powers as a way to best achieve outcomes in society, and the way to best achieve justness and fairness in society.
His division of powers principle is quite simple. We needed to move away from the error of the absolute rights of kings and dictators, where they held all the power, to a system of government where power was diffused. We needed a system where power was not concentrated in a single place, in the Prime Minister's Office, the cabinet or the executive branch of government, but diffused among the legislative, executive and judicial branches.
The Senate, in a bicameral system of government, serves that end of the division of power. It serves that end of diffusion of power. It serves that end to provide a check and balance on the concentration of power in one place. That is why, as I said earlier, there are 50 countries around the world with bicameral legislatures.
In addition to these reasons why the Senate serves a useful function, let us talk about the practical, political realities of abolishing the Senate. The reality is that Canada exists today in part because of the Senate. It was the deal that brought the provinces and colonies before Confederation into the federation.
In fact, when we read the Debates on Confederation, it is clear that colonies like Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec would never had joined this federation had it not been for the Senate. They made it clear they were worried about the rapidly growing populations in Canada West, now Ontario. They were worried about being subsumed by the majoritarianism of a rising Ontario. That is why they wanted the upper chamber to serve as a protector of their interests, whether they were regional in nature, reflecting smaller populations, or linguistic, reflecting the francophone realities in many parts of the country.
Many of those provinces, legislatures and national assemblies would not agree to the abolition of the Senate. They would see it as a diminution of their voice here in our nation's capital.
The political and practical reality is that abolition of the Senate is not something that is going to happen. It is not something that we could easily reopen without addressing the other demands that were made during the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords, those divisive debates of the late 1980s and early 1990s. There are many more things on the table. If we went to a Dominion-provincial conference on first ministers to talk about the abolition of the Senate and whether or not we believe that would require the 7/50 amending formula or unanimity amongst Canada's 11 legislatures, the point is this: it would be opening a can of worms that no one in the House would want to open.
In particular, I ask members from Quebec on both sides of the House what they would expect the Province of Quebec to demand, with respect to the recognition of Quebec as a distinct society or the recognition of Quebec's nationhood. What would they expect in terms of the demand for a veto on the part of provinces for any future changes to the Constitution? What would they expect when terms of the original Meech Lake demand completely devolve immigration to the provinces and relinquish federal control about who comes into our country and who is accepted to be a citizen?
It would reopen the debate about who gets the power of appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada. There are all the sorts of issues that certainly would be reopened for those who advocate the abolition of the Senate. Therefore, for a practical reason, abolition is not really something that we can pursue, nor is it something that I support. It is also something that we cannot do through the back door.
The Constitution of this country, with its written and unwritten aspects as they have been interpreted by rulings of the Supreme Court, is the basic law of this country and we must respect that Constitution. We must respect the way it needs to be amended. We should wait until the Supreme Court renders its judgment in the reference case that the government has asked it to consider.
Mr. Speaker, while I believe in a bicameral Parliament, while I believe that we need a lower and upper chamber for the reasons I have just outlined, I also believe that the Senate needs to be reformed. We need to have term limits. My suggestion to my fellow parliamentarians is that we should have term limits based on the life of a Parliament. Therefore, instead of setting a fixed term limit of eight or nine years, we should base it on a Parliament. When a Parliament is dissolved for the purposes of a general election, that is when senators should seek re-election. We might want to go to a system where a senator serves for the life of two or three Parliaments before seeking re-election, but I strongly believe that we need to have a system where there a limit on the length of time a senator can serve. I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will give us some guidance in that respect.
I also believe that we need to have popular consultations or elections of senators. That is incredibly important. That way we can provide Canadian citizens the accountability they are seeking for the upper chamber.
We need to do this thoughtfully. We cannot do it willy-nilly. There are unintended consequences if we proceed too rapidly and too rashly. If we are to proceed with term limits and an election of senators based on the court's ruling, then we also need to strengthen this very House of Commons.
In Ontario, the province from which I come, we have 24 senators. In Ontario, unlike Quebec where senators serve at large, if 24 senators run in province-wide elections we could see up to six million or more voters voting for a senatorial candidate. In that situation it is not inconceivable that a single Senate candidate could win an election with four million, five million or more votes, dwarfing the number of voters and constituents that members of this chamber represent. Accordingly, when those senators who have the legitimacy of being elected with some three million to four million votes confront the House about what should be done with certain pieces of legislation, we need to think about strengthening this House of Commons to ensure that the increase in the power of the Senate, because of term limits and elections, is reflected also in an increase in power of this part of the legislature, the House of Commons. This would ensure that the people's place that is represented by 308 members here today has an effective and continued voice as the primary centre of power in our nation's capital.
For all those reasons I believe the Senate serves a useful role. I believe members should vote to ensure its continued operation. While the institution is not perfect, and while those who have made mistakes should be held to account, let us ensure that our institutions remain strong to respond to the future challenges that Canada faces.
Mr. Denis Blanchette (Louis-Hébert, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I should say that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River.
This evening we are discussing a motion, a notice of opposition to a specific budget item. In fact, it is the role of the House to decide what sort of money to give out here and there. As everyone can see, there is one question and three answers. Do we need an upper chamber? Some will want to stick to the status quo, some will say that reform is in order and others will say that the Senate must be abolished.
The Senate as we know it today is an historic compromise that was made when this country was born. It is a hybrid of the British House of Lords and the U.S. Senate when it comes to its values and what its founders really wanted it to achieve. In fact, this was a matter of great debate during the Charlottetown Conference and the Quebec Conference in 1864. This is what was said at the time:
|| Senators are appointed by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. Senators represent regions and provinces in order to balance the representation in the House of Commons. Less populated regions have a stronger voice in the Senate so as to ensure representation for regional and minority interests.
Is that really so? Has that ever been the case on any given day? I doubt it.
At the time, only the elite could be members of the Senate. There were two main conditions. We have to go back to the 19th century. To be a senator, a person had to be over 30 and own property worth at least $4,000, which was a lot of money at the time.
Governments of all stripes immediately saw a partisan advantage to appointing senators, and the problems began. It was supposed to be a chamber of people who could make wise decisions, a chamber of sober second thought. Has it ever been that? Not often enough for our liking, because if it were truly working well, then we would not be against it. Unfortunately, history tells us that year after year, decade after decade, there have been problems with that chamber.
Allow me to quote George Brown, who said at the time that the Senate was the key to federation,
||...the very essence of our compact. Our Lower Canadian friends have agreed to give us representation by population in the Lower House, on the express condition that they would have equality in the Upper House. On no other condition could we have advanced a step.
At the time, it was a founding element of Canada and the intentions were noble. However, reality soon caught up. Do I really need to talk about Senators Harb, Brazeau, Wallin and Duffy? I do not have to talk about them any more in this place, because everyone knows all about it.
At the beginning of my speech, I said that there were three options. One of them is to maintain the status quo. That is obviously unacceptable, although some still believe in it. For all sorts of reasons, they try to instill fear in us, but all they really want is to go back to the way things were and appoint people who will do their bidding. The second option is reform. Do you believe it, Mr. Speaker? Do you know in what year the first attempt to reform the Senate took place? It was in 1874. We have been talking about Senate reform for almost 140 years. Has anything happened during that time? Not really.
More recently, attempts were made in 1980 and 1990. There was the Molgat-Cosgrove committee in 1984, the Macdonald commission in 1985, and even the Beaudoin-Dobbie committee in 1992. Did anything happen? On this side of the House, we believe that the only possible solution, in light of the Senate's history, is to abolish it.
However, that is not what we are talking about this evening. I would like to remind hon. members that the Senate has two types of budgets. Even if our motion is adopted tonight, the Senate will still have a $32 million budget under laws enacted by Parliament. We tend to forget that.
Do we need a bicameral system? The provinces decided a long time ago that such a system was unnecessary, and it did not bring about an apocalypse as some people claim.
British constitutional expert Walter Bagehot once commented about the British parliamentary system that, if we had an ideal House of Commons, we would not need a higher chamber. I believe that we need to look at how we work together for the good of this country.
Is the motion unconstitutional? Some have suggested that that is the case. I would like to point out to my colleagues that one of the privileges of this House is passing a budget. Part of the Senate's budget is granted by the House of Commons. It is therefore our prerogative to move this type of motion.
As I was saying earlier, part of the upper chamber's budget is statutory. I would like to once again remind hon. members that the Senate has a statutory budget of $32 million, which is not exactly peanuts.
The problem right now is that the Prime Minister appoints people and then he washes his hands of them. There is a serious problem with accountability. The Prime Minister cannot appoint people left and right or appoint just anyone and then, when they do something wrong, say that he is not responsible and that those people will pay back the money. That is not how it works.
The Conservative government has managed to do even worse than its Liberal predecessors when it comes to political partisanship in the upper chamber. That is why we are having this debate tonight. The situation is going from bad to worse. The more time passes, the less people see the relevance of this institution. What is its purpose?
I certainly do not want to paint all senators with the same brush. It is not my intention or the intention of the members on this side of the House to say that everyone is cheating. That is not our objective. The point is that the system is not working. We have been trying to change things for a long time. There are always problems, but they never get solved. In the end, we are always left with the status quo, which everyone in the House finds unacceptable, I hope. I hope that no one in the House still believes in the status quo, otherwise we have a problem.
To conclude, I would like to quote someone people here know, Michael Fortier, a former Conservative senator. On March 2, 2013, he said:
|| I was very naive...I thought it would be a different place than the one I found. [In fact, he shared the idyllic view of the Senate at the time.] I found it to be extremely partisan...on both sides, including my own. And it was very annoying because these people were trying to be members of parliament and they weren't.
|| If I had to choose today, I would say that I'm probably closer to closing the place down. I just don't see the usefulness.
More and more Canadians feel that the Senate has no place in our system, not because it does not have a defined role, but because it does not fulfill its role the way it should. Throughout history, the Senate has been manipulated for strictly partisan purposes.
Ms. Rathika Sitsabaiesan (Scarborough—Rouge River, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this evening to participate in the debate on this important concurrence motion.
It is a belief of mine, as it is of the rest of my colleagues and many Canadians across the country, that the funding of $58,169,816 under the Senate program expenditures in the main estimates allocated for the funding of the Senate under vote 1 should cease to be provided to the Senate.
We are in the midst of a democratic crisis in this country, and Canadians across the country agree that there is no place for an unelected, unaccountable Senate in our democracy.
The origins of the Senate date back to Confederation. The members of the red chamber were asked to review and scrutinize legislation passed by the House of Commons. It was intended to ensure the representation of minorities and of provinces and regions in the federal legislative process.
As the member for Timmins—James Bay clearly articulated earlier, at the time that the Senate was created, these minorities were the wealthy people of this country. They were concerned that the interests of the wealthy few in this country might not be represented sufficiently in the elected House of Commons and wanted to make sure that people were appointed to represent the interests of the wealthy.
It was also intended to be less partisan. However, the Senate has never really played this role, as senators vote according to the party they represent rather than according to the interests of the regions they are supposed to be representing.
In the past few months, information has come to light about certain Liberal and Conservative senators that raises many questions and concerns about the use of public funds granted to those senators. Constituents and Canadians across the country are wondering about Mike Duffy and his $90,000. Fortunately, we have the Leader of the Opposition asking all the right questions, and Canadians are looking for real answers from the government.
Canadians deserve to know the details surrounding the $90,000 loan from former PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright to Mr. Duffy to repay housing allowances he falsely claimed. Despite his permanent residence being clearly in Ontario, Mr. Duffy declared that he lives in Prince Edward Island, where he owns a cottage. The $90,000 loan allowed Mr. Duffy to repay Canadians, and he now no longer participates in the audit. Mr. Duffy left the Conservative caucus, and on May 19 Nigel Wright also resigned for his actions. This transaction between Mr. Wright and Senator Duffy is now with the Ethics Commissioner to evaluate whether there was a violation of the Conflict of Interest Act. The RCMP is also investigating Mike Duffy's expenses.
Then we have Ms. Pamela Wallin, who is supposedly a representative from Saskatchewan, yet primarily resides in Toronto. Since 2010 Senator Wallin has claimed $300,000 worth of travel expenses not related to travel to her province of origin and has been seen at numerous Conservative fundraising events. The senator left the Conservative caucus and chose to sit as an independent as of May 17 of this year.
Then we have Mr. Patrick Brazeau, an even bigger embarrassment, who found himself in the middle of many controversies, including repeated absences from the Senate, an allegation of abuse of his housing allowance and charges of sexual assault. In 2012 Mr. Patrick Brazeau declared that his primary residence was in in Maniwaki, Quebec, which enabled him to receive a housing allowance for a secondary residence in the national capital region. However, we have all learned that media reports indicate the Maniwaki residence is actually the home of Patrick Brazeau's father. On May 9, Deloitte's audit and the report of the Senate committee on the internal economy ordered Patrick Brazeau to repay $48,000 in unjustifiable claims. The senator resigned from the Conservative caucus. We are seeing a trend here.
Abuse of privileges does not rest only with the Conservative caucus but with Liberal senators as well.
These are only some of the abuses of power that we are aware of at the moment. We do not know what else is to come. While we certainly need an independent audit of residency requirements, housing allowances and travel expenses in order to find out whether certain senators are abusing public funds, at the end of the day we need to abolish an institution that no longer serves Canadians.
In any other Canadian workplace, this type of behaviour and lack of responsibility and accountability would result in disciplinary action and, quite possibly, the cessation of the employment relationship, but here what we see are senators stepping away from caucus while maintaining all of their other privileges.
It is outrageous that according to Conservatives, senators are presumed innocent, but unemployed Canadians are guilty by default. It is clear that the Senate is incapable of rectifying its own problems.
While the Senate asked Deloitte to review the expenses of former Conservative Senator Mike Duffy, former Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin, Liberal Senator Mac Harb and former Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau, the firm is still in the process of completing its audit.
The leader of the government in the Senate has stated that the Senate would make the audit public, but we know there is no guarantee that this will actually happen. Moreover, the Senate committee on internal economy removed paragraphs in its report that criticized Mike Duffy because he had reimbursed the amount he owed. It clear that all public funding for this institution must end.
In 2005, the current Prime Minister campaigned on a promise to reform the Senate, to make it the three Es, equal, elected and effective. He went on to table several bills on Senate reform on behalf of this so-called commitment from his government for change, yet the bills went nowhere. They never rose to the top of the priority list. Even further, the Prime Minister broke his promise not to appoint senators and in fact appointed a whopping 59 senators.
The Senate is a fundamentally undemocratic institution, used by both the Liberals and Conservatives to thank their friends, defeated candidates and donors. They are appointed not because of merit, but as a reward for loyal service to the party in power. The Prime Minister's so-called Senate reform is without a doubt, a complete failure. Like the Liberals, the Conservatives are only part of the problem.
It was not until February 1, that the Prime Minister referred the issue to the Supreme Court of Canada. The court will give its legal opinion on the processes to follow under the constitution to limit the terms of senators, elect senators, eliminate the requirements for senators to have a residence in the province that they represent and, of course, the abolishment of the Senate. The Supreme Court decision may take years to come, but Canadians want and Canadians deserve action today.
While the Conservatives and Liberals rise in their places to defend the status quo and their senators, the NDP is proud to stand up for Canadians and their tax dollars.
The Senate is outdated and fundamentally anti-democratic. We have senators who abuse the public purse. Also, that place is supposed to be the place of sober second thought. However, in fact, it is allowing partisan lines, as well as blocking legislation that is passed in the House of Commons a number of times, such as the NDP bill, Bill C-311, which would have ensured responsibility and action from Canada to prevent climate change. It passed the House of Commons, but the Senate stopped it.
Premiers, including Saskatchewan's Brad Wall, and many Canadians across the country, agree with us. It costs $92.5 million a year to run the Senate, over $90 million a year to cover the costs of salaries and travel for political organizers and people responsible for raising funds for the Liberals and the Conservatives. This is outrageous. The Senate is an archaic institution with appointed senators, some of whom, as we know, abuse their privileges and do not represent the interests or values of Canadians.
I know in my riding of Scarborough—Rouge River, this is a lot of money that could be put to much better use, yet it will take the annual taxes of over 8,000 average families to pay the Senate's tab. Senator Duffy will be collecting another $1.3 million in salary, while Patrick Brazeau will be collecting $7 million over the course of the remainder of his appointment.
There are many residents of Scarborough—Rouge River struggling to provide for themselves and their families. There are much more important uses for our taxpayer money. Youth unemployment in the GTA is double that of the national average. Where is the real job creation strategy? Canadians across the country are in need of affordable housing. Investments in housing are what Canadians are looking for. In my riding, greater investment for the crumbling infrastructure and investment in public transit services are needed. This $90 million could go very far in investment in public transit in Scarborough.
Neither the Conservatives, nor the Liberals, are taking this issue seriously.
On one hand, we have the Conservatives' so-called reform that is going nowhere. On the other hand, the Liberals are supporting the status quo. Fortunately—