Mr. Speaker, I join my colleague from Toronto—Danforth in submitting a petition on the issue of victims of crime.
In my riding of Parkdale—High Park, there have been instances of gangs and crime. A number of citizens of Toronto have signed a petition calling for a meaningful country-wide system of public support for loved ones of murder victims and victims of crime, but also a long overdue, comprehensive anti-smuggling strategy to deal with the issue of guns and drugs coming across our borders.
Mr. Speaker, I have a question based on two comments by the member for Toronto—Danforth earlier today, both of which were wrong.
First, he said that my colleague, the member for Kings—Hants, said he was opposed to any increase in the size of the CPP. In fact he told me that he was in favour of a gradual increase, which is the same as what I said and the same as what the Liberal platform said in 2011.
Second, he said that the NDP plan was not to double the CPP, at which point I said, “Okay, then we are not so far apart.” However, I subsequently learned that the NDP platform of 2011 said the following:
We will work with the provinces to bring about increases to your Canada/Quebec Pension Plan benefit, with the eventual goal to double the benefits you receive....
There we have it, right in the NDP platform, saying that the eventual goal is to double the benefits people receive. They do not mention premiums, but presumably those would double too.
Why did the hon. member say that it was not the plan to double the CPP when the NDP's own platform says that is the plan?
Mr. Speaker, the Tamil Tigers have been listed as a terrorist organization since 2006 because of their involvement in violent extremism. I am shocked that the NDP member for Toronto—Danforth would take steps to lighten the sentence of a convicted terrorist who was involved in his election campaign.
It is time for the NDP leader to take responsibility. He needs to rein in the member for Toronto—Danforth and take disciplinary action.
Mr. Speaker, I want to turn to this very interesting motion put before us by the member for Toronto—Danforth. His motion reads:
That, in the opinion of this House, urgent steps must be taken to improve accountability in the Senate, and, therefore, this House call for the introduction of immediate measures to end Senators' partisan activities, including participation in Caucus meetings, and to limit Senators' travel allowances to those activities clearly and directly related to parliamentary business.
When I read the motion, I was put in mind of a very good book with which the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth will be familiar. Albert Venn Dicey's book Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution in which one does not figure out what it is about until one gets to the last word of the giant title. That is a bit of what is going on here. When we actually go through this very long motion, we are really talking about, first, senators should not, according to the motion, participate in caucus meetings; and second, senators' travel allowances should be limited to activities clearly and directly related to parliamentary business.
This is a small part of a larger question relating to the whole issue of Senate reform, or potentially Senate abolition as the New Democrats would favour. I want to deal with it in that context. Let me start by dealing with the travel issue that is proposed in part of the motion. Then I will deal with the suggestion about participation in caucus meetings, which, whether it was intended or not, does have the unavoidable consequence of involving some significant institutional/constitutional questions. Perhaps that was not the intention of the member, but that is the consequence of what he has done. I think those larger implications have to be addressed intelligently before we vote on this issue.
Starting with the whole travel allowance issue, the reason it was initially suggested that I participate in this debate is the fact that I am notorious for my very limited travel. In the last decade or so, I have repeatedly been either the bottom or the second from the bottom in terms of travel expenses. I was 308 out of 308 last year and this is something that happens year after year. I did a good annual report to my constituents, by the way, in which I outlined my expenses. My travel budget in 2006-07 was substantially below the average. My travel outside the constituency was $1,100 versus an $85,000 average. In 2008 my travel outside the constituency was $5,300 versus an $83,000 average. In 2009 my travel was $5,900 versus a $107,000 average.
Of course part of the reason for that is that my riding is fairly local. Another reason is that I take care to have my staff look for the least expensive flights when I do have to travel to keep things under control that way.
I also make it a habit of trying to keep my entertainment expenses as low as possible. This year they were $0, also making me 308 out of 308 in the House of Commons. As a result Terry Milewski referred to me as the “king of the skinflints”. He also complained that the Prime Minister only spent $29, so it takes work to be the king of the skinflints with a prime minister who is as frugal as that.
One of the things I would point out is that the issue of travel expenses is really not a Senate issue. It is an issue that relates to us in our function as parliamentarians. The report that is made about me and all MPs is made in our capacity as members of Parliament and is made to the House of Commons, and as Speaker of the House of Commons, to you. Therefore, I am not sure we are in a position here to probe too deeply into the internal rules that govern the Senate in this regard.
If we were to do so, sooner or later we would probably find ourselves bumping up against this document, the Senators' Travel Policy, which was adopted by the Senate Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration on May 10 of last year. It is about a 30-page document with several appendices, including forms to fill out. It explains the rules on the purposes of travel. There is a 64-point travel system, which should sound familiar to members of Parliament, in section 2.7 of this manual. This includes a variety of different subsections, including a travel expense claim form that must be filled out. A senator who is travelling has to list the purpose of his or her travel on that form.
It states at section 2.7.3 that:
Senate resources shall not be used to fund travel that is incurred to pursue the private business or personal interests of a senator or alternate.
Therefore, to some degree the rules already exist. It may well be that there is a need for change to improve them. I am fully willing to accept that, and I gather the Senate is too, because there have been several tweaks to that policy since it was adopted in May 2012. However, the rules already exist in some form or another.
We examined somewhat and discussed what is happening in the Senate in the case of certain senators. We were discussing whether or not the rules were simply violated, and perhaps even egregiously, but not whether there is an absence of a rule that effectively states that senators' travel allowances be limited to, as the motion states, “those activities clearly and directly related to parliamentary business.” I think the rules already contain a version of that requirement, so I am not sure we are crossing some great divide in what we do here.
However, these are Senate rules. They pertain to the Senate and were adopted by the Senate. I suppose we can give them advice on what to do, but in the strictest sense it is beyond our jurisdiction. That is something I wanted to draw attention to.
I want to talk a bit about the broader issue of Senate reform. The reason I want to do this is because there are two substantive parts to the motion, the travel allowances part and, as it states here, a part that proposes to end the participation of senators in caucus meetings. Here we are moving into something else, which is a very substantial constitutional question of whether Senators should be non-partisan or outside of the partisan structure and, if so, how we enforce that, if we can enforce it.
Let me dwell on that a bit. The debate that has occurred in many countries that have senates is that an upper house in a federal system tends to be a senate that is seen in some respect as being a states' house, a cantons' house, a house of the Länders, to use the German term, or a provinces' house. In Canada we discussed that as a possibility, but it was not fully the model adopted here. It was the model that was adopted fully, overtly, and deliberately in both the United States in the 1780s and in Australia when it adopted its Constitution in 1901. Although that model was tied down with a large number of formal rules designed to prevent partisanship from creeping in, in both cases they became partisan houses.
This is particularly striking in the case of the Australian Senate, where the structure of the ballot for Senate elections is effectively a party list ballot. That has the effect of making the upper house more partisan, if anything, and less a voice of independent reasoning and thought than the lower house is. That was not the intention in either the Australian Senate or the American Senate, but a history of those Senates suggests that it is very difficult to reconcile having an upper house in which members are independent with restrictions on how they use that independence so as to ensure they merely represent some other set of interests. They merely represent geographical or provincial interests, religious or sectarian interests, or whatever the interests are that the founders seek to entrench in the constitution.
In the end, senators tend, just like people in this House, to resolve themselves into partisan groupings, and if individuals fail to do so, the tendency is that they are replaced by people who are more partisan. That seems to happen regardless of the type of system.
The system for appointments that we adopted in 1867 seems to have been adopted with the intention of ending the partisanship we had prior, in the elected upper house of the Province of Canada. We did not succeed.
My sense is that if we vote for an elected upper house, we probably also would not succeed in preventing people from becoming partisan representatives to some degree. That is the nature of the way electoral politics works, unless we want to adopt something really radical, such as abolishing the Senate and replacing it with some kind of referendum, which they have done to some degree in Switzerland, for example. Unless we try to do something that is really a radical departure, I suspect that we will not get away from some level of partisanship.
Now we are left with the question of how we actually go around enforcing something like this. In the case of participation in caucus meetings, does it mean we simply cannot go into the caucus meeting when it occurs? Caucuses are not creatures of the House of Commons; they are meetings that occur outside the House of Commons and are entirely conventional in their nature. How exactly would we enforce this ostensible expression of the will of the House of Commons? I do not think we could. I suppose one could design some kind of law, an actual statute, but I suspect that we would run into a fundamental problem of freedom of association. Freedom of association means we get to choose who goes into our caucuses, and each of the different parties does so. I do not see how one overcomes that fundamental constitutional flaw with this particular suggestion, so it fails at that level as well as at the level of utility. I cannot determine what public good is being achieved by doing that.
The fact is that some level of coordination between the upper and lower houses is of value. We all know from watching it that the upper house is very much not controlled by the lower house. Some people think that is a good thing and perhaps some think it is a bad thing, but it is a statement of reality.
Let me turn now to pointing out the fundamental problem that exists when we are talking about Senate reform, including the suggestions made by my colleague from Toronto—Danforth.
The problem is that the Senate is dysfunctional in several ways at several levels, and it is unclear which kind of constitutional formula or amending formula is required to make which change. The changes that are the most important are perhaps not the ones that are the easiest or the hardest to make. There is almost a random relationship between different aspects of the Senate and the amending formula that has been used.
This government is attempting to ask the Supreme Court to assign an amending formula to each of the different proposed changes that either are being proposed by the government, such as elections to the Senate, or that could be proposed by the government, such as the abolition of the Senate, because it is very unclear what rules apply.
One of the questions that has to be resolved, for example, if we try to move to an arrangement with elected senators, is the term of office for those elected senators, unless we make a term election for life, which I do not think anybody supports. At what point does the term become too short to allow the senator to be independent? Something we are told has a constitutional weight is the independence of senators, the assumption being that a senator elected for a one-year term would be unable to be fully independent.
The Supreme Court is being asked the following question:
In relation to each of the following proposed limits on the tenure of Senators, is it within the legislative authority of the Parliament of Canada, acting pursuant to section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982,
—which is another way of saying “under a certain section of the amending formula that lets the Parliament of Canada act unilaterally”—
to make amendments to section 29 of the Constitution Act, 1867, providing for
a. a fixed term of nine years for Senators [...];
b. a fixed term of ten years or more for Senators;
c. a fixed term of eight years or less for Senators;
Then it goes on to give
d. a fixed term of the life of two or three Parliaments for Senators;
as an alternative.
Further on it speaks of a renewable term for Senators, as opposed to a non-renewable term, and then:
(f) limits to the terms for Senators appointed after October 14, 2008 [...];
That refers, of course, to senators appointed by the present government or under the term of the present government.
The final one is:
g. retrospective limits to the terms for Senators appointed before October 14, 2008.
The reason for asking all of these questions is that in the past the Supreme Court indicated that a term that is too short or too limited is problematic in terms of the independence of senators, but it never specified what it meant by that statement. It said to ask it a specific question and it would give the answer.
The assumption then was to make the Supreme Court a proposal, try to enact a piece of legislation, and see what happened. However, when that was tried by the current government in 2006, the opposition said that if it did that, it would have constitutional issues because it would be unclear whether senators who have been elected to fixed terms are really elected to those fixed terms or if the terms could be extended in practice because the government would be unable to limit them. The government says it is electing senators for a term of x years, but within that term the senators could plausibly say they refuse to retire at the end of the term as they had to be appointed for a longer period, because it is unconstitutional to change the law to limit their terms to the length given.
That is the reason for this kind of question. We are simply listing all the different possible considerations that need to be taken into account so that there is no legal or constitutional limbo. That is just on the issue of Senate terms.
There were also questions—and I mentioned there were many dysfunctions in the Senate—relating to how consultations take place, questions on whether the kind of advisory elections proposed by the government would be constitutional, and questions on the abolition of the property qualification. Senators have to own or lease property worth about $4,000 within the province that they represent; can that be abolished unilaterally, or do we need to get the consent of seven provinces and half the population? Could we abolish the Senate? Of course we could abolish the Senate with the consent of all provinces—nobody questions that—but could we do so with the 7/50 formula or unilaterally, just through parliamentary action? That has to be established.
In the question asking the Supreme Court about that, there are three separate subquestions to deal with the different possible ways of abolishing the Senate. Those subquestions are there to make sure that we do not start down some constitutional road and then realize that we have in fact acted in a manner that, in the judgment of the Supreme Court, is unconstitutional.
Those are some of the issues that relate to the Senate. They are important issues and I think reflect the spirit that the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth was trying to get at in putting forward this motion. However, I have to say that despite his good intentions, I think he missed the mark. He has a proposal here that is outside of our jurisdiction; he is addressing major points in a roundabout way, which is unwise on something as complex as this; finally, if taken too seriously, it might potentially put us in a position where we would be violating the freedom of association protection in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That is to say nothing of the fact that I think all of this would actually be unenforceable in the end.
Those are some pretty significant objections, and some reasons that members should probably vote against this motion.
I would remind all members, including the member for Toronto—Danforth, to direct questions through the Chair rather than directly to members.
The hon. parliamentary secretary.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth.
I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition regarding Government Motion No. 2 that is standing on the order paper in the name of the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.
I would like to thank the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition for raising this matter and the hon. government House leader for his contribution to the discussion.
The opposition House leader argued that the motion, in calling for the House to reinstate government bills and re-adopt several orders of reference, with or without changes, from the previous session, and in calling for the adoption of new orders of reference with regard to the management of business in the current session, both in the House and in committee, constitutes a series of distinct proposals that require separate debates and separate votes. He then asked the Chair to divide the motion to allow for this.
For his part, the government House leader stated that in his view the motion represented a balanced attempt to ensure that everyone's business from the last session could be preserved. But he stressed that the motion's broad purpose was also to more generally arrange business in the House and its committees this autumn.
As has been alluded to, this is not the first time the House is confronted with a situation of this kind.
O’Brien and Bosc, at pages 562-3, explains that:
When a complicated motion comes before the House (for example, a motion containing two or more parts each capable of standing on its own), the Speaker has the authority to modify it in order to facilitate decision-making in the House. When any member objects to a motion containing two or more distinct propositions, he or she may request that the motion be divided and that each proposition be debated and voted on separately. The final decision, however, rests with the Chair.
While previous speakers have been faced with similar requests to divide motions, they have seldom done so, something Speaker Milliken, on October 4, 2002, at page 299 of Debates, remarked upon when he stated that “the Chair must exercise every caution before intervening in the deliberations of the House”. In that instance, Speaker Milliken did in fact determine that a motion contained three different proposals. In that case, the broad purpose of the motion was the “resumption and continuation of the business of the House begun in the previous Session of Parliament”. Accordingly, Speaker Milliken took the view that the first two proposals, which dealt with the reinstatement of business from a previous session, should be debated together but each get a separate vote. The third proposal, which concerned travel by the Standing Committee on Finance and was not found to be “strictly speaking, a matter of reinstating unfinished business”, became a separate motion. In making this decision to allow a separate debate, Speaker Milliken also stated, “Our usual practice is to adopt travel motions on a case-by-case basis.”
While government Motion No. 2 is similar to the 2002 motion, it is not identical. In adjudicating cases of this kind, the Chair must always be mindful to approach each new case with a fresh eye, taking into account the particular circumstances of the situation at hand. Often, there is little in the way of guidance for the speaker and a strict compliance with precedent is not always appropriate.
In this case, the Chair is acutely aware, as is stated at page 562 of O’Brien and Bosc, that to divide a motion is rare and that “only in exceptional circumstances should the Chair make this decision on its own initiative.”
At the same time, the Chair has listened very carefully to the interventions made on the nature of government Motion No. 2 and on the particular parts of it that have given rise to objections on the part of the opposition House leader. I have noted that he reserved his strongest objections for part (a) of the motion, which deals with the reinstatement of government bills, and indeed indicated that his party “supports” the other aspects of the motion.
In view of this unique set of circumstances, the Chair does not feel the very high threshold required for dividing the motion has been met and accordingly, I will allow the motion to be debated as a whole. However, the Chair understands the arguments raised by the opposition House leader as they relate to the very broad blanket provisions contained in part (a) of the motion. In that regard, I am directing that a separate vote be held on that part of government Motion No. 2. In proceeding in this manner, I trust that members will have satisfactory and practical means to express their views through debate, amendment and voting on the propositions contained in government Motion No. 2.
I thank all members for their attention.
I wish to inform the House that because of the ministerial statement, government orders will be extended by nine minutes.
The Chair has notice of a question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth.
Mr. Speaker, the question and comment of my colleague from Toronto—Danforth reminded me of his rather loquacious intervention that he made with respect to this question of privilege. He raises the nub of the issue from our perspective.
My colleague from Scarborough, in a conversation, said that perhaps we were looking for some sort of interim relief, some sort of temporary relief pending either, ultimately, the disposition by the Court of Queen's Bench of Manitoba or a decision of the House with respect to whether the member for Selkirk—Interlake should continue to sit and vote. From our perspective, the prudent thing would be for the member not to sit and vote, because as I said, the legislation is prescriptive. It does not say “may” or ”might”, it says “shall”. We think the legislation is very clear.
In the absence of either a court decision that the House chooses to enforce or a decision of the House itself, the member for Selkirk—Interlake should not be sitting or voting during proceedings of the House.
Mr. Speaker, if you will indulgence me a little, for more than six months, our committee has been looking at the electoral boundaries from coast to coast. I would like to thank the committee for its hard work and its teamwork on this project.
I would like to thank our clerk, Marie-France. She is the best. Michel and Andre, our analysts, got the report right and in as good a form as we possibly could. I would also like to thank our junior analyst, Charles, who was there for one day. All of the other committee supports and translations have been superb throughout the whole long process.
I would like to thank the more than 100 MPs who presented to our committee, and I would also like to thank the members of the committee, the members for Louis-Saint-Laurent, Hull—Aylmer, Skeena—Bulkley Valley, Toronto—Danforth, Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, Oxford, Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, Brampton—Springdale, Richmond Hill and Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley. They are a heck of a team, and they got it done well.
I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 61st report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in relation to the report on the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario.
Order, please. The hon. member for Toronto—Danforth.
I thank hon. members for their further contribution and I look forward to the intervention from the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth.
Order, please. The hon. member for Toronto—Danforth.
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.
Mr. Speaker, I can understand the New Democrats would not want to discuss the fact that under our government, families of four are better off right now with more than $3,200 a year. I know that is something I am very proud of.
Therefore, at a time when the economy is a top concern for Canadians, when it is so fragile, this is what the opposition members want to focus on, taking a wrecking ball to the Constitution. Canadians are concerned about the future of their own finances and the finances of this country. However, I just cannot connect the dots here. The New Democrats would rather debate a motion that they know has absolutely zero merit, that has absolutely zero chance of being remotely constitutional; a motion that looks like it has been written in their leader's dream diary. It is mind-boggling. Now we know the NDP plan.
What about the third party's plan? What have the Liberals offered up? Well it is the same as all their policies that we heard during the leadership campaign to be sergeant for the third party: nothing. The Liberals want the status quo. They want to cover their eyes and pretend the Senate does not need reforming, that somehow the magic of their new leader will make the Senate more accountable because he said it should be. Besides, why would the Liberal leader attempt to reform a place that he says is an advantage for Quebec? He wants it to remain unelected and unaccountable for no other reason than to attempt to divide regions of this country. That is not leadership. That is just cheap politics. This not about one region being better than the other, as the member for Papineau suggested. It definitely should not be about defending his Liberal buddies' entitlements, and we cannot allow it to be about the same old, same old.
We have the leader of the NDP proposing a ridiculous motion, and we have the leader of the Liberals sitting tight, careful not to breathe too heavily out of fear that it might come across as something that resembles an actual policy.
We need real proposals. We need a real plan, and clearly ours is the only serious plan.
I am going to circle back here and let the hon. members digest some of what I have just mentioned. It is such a clear difference between where we are and where we all stand. I saw in an article that one of the NDP members was interviewed on this motion and its merits. I was so surprised at how little he understood about the ramifications if this should actually pass. The reporter had him twisted and turned, and it was just obvious that his leader sent him out there to defend what is indefensible.
We know the NDP leader likes to pick fights with the provinces. We have seen it before, and this is just another clear-cut example. If he is not accusing premiers of being de facto spokespeople for the Prime Minister, he is attempting to shut them out of a debate that requires clear provincial co-operation. The Constitution is not a document any government can wilfully ignore at its convenience, and it is not a document one wants to open or edit without a clearly defined plan. This gimmick before us today by the NDP is just not doable. It is as simple as that.
My critic on the other side, the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth, is an experienced professor of law. Would he honestly take this to his students and say to them that this is action, that it is legitimate, that it is constitutional and not at all a gimmick? I highly doubt that this is something he would want to put his name to. He must be as frustrated as I am by this empty motion. He has previously said the New Democrats are open to any kind of reasonable reform. I think our plan goes further: it is reasonable and it is needed. We know why this is not possible, and why this is as risky as the NDP's economic plans for taxes and more taxes.
Part of the reasonable approach we know is needed is that the Senate should be elected, be accountable and have term limits. One of several questions we have put to the Supreme Court is, how do we do this? I, like many, am anxious to hear about the ruling.
The Senate reviews laws that affect the day-to-day lives of every Canadian. The Senate makes laws that affect the day-to-day lives of every Canadian. Lastly, it passes these laws. This is why the Senate should have a democratic mandate, a mandate to represent the people at the will of the people. It is a concrete proposal that we have.
Compare that to the proposal in front of us today and it is a case of apples and oranges. I encourage the Liberals to support us in moving forward on reforming the Senate and move away from lobbying for the status quo. I understand that they are still searching for policies, so why not borrow some of the ones that work and have ensured long-term prosperity for our country?
The status quo of the Senate is not good enough. I have long maintained and our government and party have long maintained that it is not transparent enough and it is not accountable enough. This is something that the Auditor General can maybe tend to, thanks to our Leader of the Government in the Senate taking firm and tough action on something that I know Canadians are proud to see happening.
To my third party colleagues in the corner, I say drop the status quo policy. It is not what Canadians want. Maybe some of my colleagues are hoping to make it their retirement plan, which makes this a tougher choice. However, we are elected by Canadians and, unlike the Senate, we have the responsibility to do what is right. That is to reform the Senate or, if that is not possible, to see that it is abolished. This is a policy that we should stand behind.
I can even offer up a policy to the NDP. If kids want to play soccer, support them. This is something that I take very seriously and I wish the NDP did too. If kids want to play sports or to be active, logic says that we want them to be healthy, so let them play. NDP logic, however, is to remain silent and hope that no one noticed, but people have noticed. It is another tick on the NDP's failed policy column.
Yes, if the policy is not being serious about the Senate or calling for the return of a wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry, or if it is not a $21-billion carbon tax, the NDP members just cannot seem to get it right. They refuse to acknowledge the real and present concerns of Canadians. That is their economic future.
Our government has done very well in keeping the economy on track and, like I said, one of the best job growths in the G7. We will continue to take action when necessary and hope that, for once, the Liberals and the NDP put the economy first and support our efforts.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to build on the question asked by the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth and ask the member for Saint-Lambert to say more about this.
It was very worrisome to me when I discovered that in Bill C-60 we would have the government staff sitting on the boards of our crown corporations, vetting and making decisions. This would end an historic arm's-length status of companies like VIA Rail, Canada Post and the CBC—
Mr. Speaker, our colleague, the hon. member for Saskatoon—Humboldt, moved the following motion:
That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to: (a) consider the election of committee chairs by means of a preferential ballot system by all the members of the House of Commons, at the beginning of each session and prior to the establishment of the membership of the standing committees;...
This procedure would replace the current procedure, in force for the past 10 years, whereby committee chairs are selected by secret ballot within each committee. Of course, the goal of this reform would be to give all members greater powers relative to the pressure they may receive from their party leadership, and especially from the Prime Minister's Office, since we are operating under a majority government.
Indeed, it would be harder to control these secret ballots if there were hundreds of people voting, rather than just a dozen or so. It would be easier to conceal one's vote and therefore possible to vote more freely, without any pressure from party leadership or the Prime Minister.
I completely understand where this proposal is coming from. It is part of the democratic surge that has recently come from the government backbenches in response to the Prime Minister's authoritarianism and the PMO's heavy-handedness. This is a very compelling notion, and I wish to congratulate our colleague on this. However, as the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth said, there are other, more important reforms that need to be made in order to restore and rehabilitate our parliamentary democracy.
I would also like to emphasize the need to limit the right of the government majority to force committees to meet in camera. This right has been abused, which undermines the transparency of parliamentary activities.
I will also mention time allocation, which has been abused. It is not good for our parliamentary democracy. As well, the right of the government to avoid the House and prorogue when the government wants to should be limited, and there have been huge abuses of that recently. Also, there are the mammoth bills that prevent members of Parliament from debating and voting on specific issues, as we should do in a healthy parliamentary democracy. These areas are much more important to reform than what is being proposed. However, that being said, I want to congratulate my colleague on his motion and I think it would be helpful to consider it carefully.
The Liberal opposition will support this motion, but our support is motivated by the fact that the member for Saskatoon—Humboldt had the wisdom to recommend that his idea be studied closely before the House considers implementing it. Actually, as attractive as it may be, the idea of having committee chairs elected by the House raises some questions that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs will have to examine thoroughly prior to submitting its report to the House in six months.
Therefore, I am glad that this motion is only asking for the matter to be referred to committee for study since it does raise some questions in my mind, and I will list some of these questions.
First, is this a secret ballot or a recorded vote? Fortunately, our colleague made it clear in his speech that it was a secret ballot. If it were a recorded vote, the reform would be meaningless. However, the motion does not specify the type of vote. I am asking the question just to make sure. I am assuming that the hon. member really does have a secret ballot in mind, as he said in his speech. A recorded vote could very well end up being whipped.
In addition, a secret ballot is an easier way to hold a preferential vote, which is what the member for Saskatoon—Humboldt is advocating. At first glance, I think he is right to advocate a preferential ballot, but that is something that the committee will need to look at.
Second, are there any precedents? Our colleague has just mentioned the precedent of Great Britain, which is relatively recent. In addition, my understanding is that it has not been put in place yet, because the chairs were elected unanimously in that case. I am not aware of any other parliaments, with the exception of the British Parliament, that use this practice.
The motion asks us to study the practices of other Westminster-style parliaments. That is a good idea, but why stop there? Why limit ourselves? Why do we think that Great Britain, Australia or New Zealand are the only countries that can teach us something?
The parliaments of France, Spain and Germany have committees. I do not understand this reluctance. This is the tendency not just of my colleague, but of our entire system. As a minister, I would ask for international comparisons, and all I would hear about was New Zealand. I really like that country, but I do not understand why we are so reluctant to venture outside our small circle to learn from the rest of the world.
I hope that we will consider more than just Westminster-style parliaments. I understand the fact that we have a long-standing relationship with those countries, but we can learn from other countries as well.
Third, does the committee not run the risk of losing some of its authority over its chair? That was studied.
Indeed, currently, should the committee lose confidence in its chair, it has the ability to pass a motion and remove the chair. The committee then elects a new chair from among its members.
If, however, the chair is elected by the full House of Commons, would the committee have any right to vote non-confidence in its chair? Would the committee have to send a motion to the House indicating it had lost that confidence and request that the House elect a new chair? This may be a solution, but it is something at which we will need to look.
Fourth, we have to consider the arrangement with the upper house.
Indeed, joint committees often have co-chairs, one from the House and one from the Senate. It would certainly not be a problem if MPs elect the Senate co-chair, but would the Senate co-chair selection be limited to a vote by senators on the committee, or by the whole Senate?
Would a co-chair of a joint committee elected by one of the two chambers have more authority than one elected only by committee members?
Fifth, we must protect the prerogatives of the opposition. I am pleased that our colleague mentioned that in his speech.
Indeed, some committees are required to have opposition MPs sit as their chair. This is especially important for committees that hold government to account for its spending, such as the Standing Committee on Public Accounts and the government operations committee.
The Standing Committee on the Status of Women and the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics are also chaired by opposition members.
Currently Standing Order 106(1) requires committee members to elect an opposition MP as chair of their committee.
However, the House is not bound by the decisions of previous Houses, and we will have to move very carefully to ensure this tradition is maintained.
Sixth, there is the opposite concern of protecting the government. It will need this protection when it is a minority in the House, and there is the risk that all chairs elected will be from the opposition. That is a concern my party has about the coming years.
Finally, there is the thoroughly Canadian concern for striking a balance when appointing committee chairs: we have to strike a balance between males and females, francophones and anglophones and also the regions. Not all chairs should be from Ontario, for example.
Would a preferential ballot of all members protect these balances?
In closing, these are questions that could help guide further study of this matter. Should committee chairs be elected by all members?
The Liberal opposition is willing to provide assistance in order for the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to report back in six months.
Yesterday, the members for Ottawa—Vanier and Toronto—Danforth both rose on a question of privilege regarding the possible premature disclosure of the contents of a government bill prior to its introduction in the House.
Both members referenced an article that appeared in the Globe and Mail newspaper that suggested that during the weekly Conservative Party caucus meeting, some Conservative members had expressed concerns about how specific sections of the bill were drafted and had asked that they be rewritten. The members for Ottawa—Vanier and Toronto—Danforth suggested that this demonstrated that the Conservative members may have been provided with the actual text of the draft bill in question. Both members emphasized the seriousness of the premature disclosure of bills and asked the Chair to investigate this matter.
In response, the Leader of the Government in the House assured the House that at the caucus meeting held by the Conservative Party that day, no draft copies of the bill or sections of it were circulated or displayed, nor were excerpts provided.
As members know, it is a well-established practice that the contents of a bill are kept confidential until introduced in Parliament, thus making their premature disclosure a serious matter. However, in this case, a careful reading of the arguments presented to the Chair about what transpired reveals that the concerns expressed appear to be based more on conjecture and supposition than on actual evidence.
Furthermore, the government House leader has stated categorically to the House that no copies, sections or excerpts of said bill were in any way made available to those who were in attendance at the caucus meeting. In other words, he challenges the supposition being made, and he insists that there was no breach of confidentiality regarding the bill.
In light of the lack of evidence and the minister's categorical assurances, the Chair considers the matter closed.
I thank members for their attention.
The electoral district of Toronto--Danforth (Ontario) has a population of 103,655 with 74,826 registered voters and 183 polling divisions.
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