Before I go to the member, I would just remind all hon. members to direct their questions and comments to the Chair. I presume it is the member for Pontiac who he would like to hear the response from, not the Chair.
The hon. member for Pontiac.
On a point a order, the hon. member for Pontiac.
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.
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.
The electoral district of Pontiac (Quebec) has a population of 99,589 with 79,149 registered voters and 233 polling divisions.
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