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.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle for his comments and his question.
If he wishes to talk about dead ends, then he will have to speak about the bill introduced by his own colleague from Toronto—Danforth, Bill C-470, to abolish the Clarity Act and thereby lead Canadians and francophones outside Quebec to think that our country could be split by a simple 50%+1 majority.
If he wants to talk about dead ends, then he should talk about his own motion—the NDP motion—which we have been discussing all day, about abolishing the Senate. The NDP, which claims to care so deeply about unemployment, young people and the environment, has decided to talk constitutional nonsense today. The motion may be welcomed by some, but New Democrats know very well that it will never see the light of day. The NDP might think that it could happen, but it is constitutionally impossible.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Charlottetown, so people can stay tuned and look forward to his comments.
I am happy to speak to the motion today from my colleague from the New Democratic Party, the member for Toronto—Danforth. I and my colleagues in the Liberal caucus will be voting against the motion when it comes up for a vote. In our view, not only is this motion constitutionally very naive, it may in fact even be a cynical attempt on the part of the New Democrats to change the channel on what will be a difficult evening for them tomorrow night when they are forced to get up and vote on a Bloc Québécois private member's bill, Bill C-457, with respect to the Clarity Act.
It is constitutionally naive because, although some NDP members in their comments have suggested otherwise, most constitutional experts acknowledge that not changing the character of the Senate but abolishing the Senate would require the unanimity of the provinces, and that is for a very important reason. At Confederation, the Senate was, as members will know, designed to offer the smaller provinces in our federation a chance to have some regional balance that would not necessarily be found in this chamber, which reflected the population of different provinces and different constituencies. The New Democrats realize that unanimity with respect to abolition of the Senate would be impossible and, if we are being generous, we might even say it would be very hard to achieve.
The member for Vancouver Kingsway offered examples of premiers who had been in favour of the abolition of the Senate, but they are from Canada's most populous provinces. That the premier of Ontario or the premier of British Columbia may favour the abolition of the Senate should not surprise many Canadians. It would surprise me if the premiers of small provinces such as the premier of Manitoba, the premier of my own province of New Brunswick or the New Democratic premier of Nova Scotia were in favour. These premiers correctly recognize that the Senate offers the smaller provinces in our federation a chance in the Canadian Parliament to have some balance.
The opening of the Constitution, as my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville so properly pointed out this morning, would offer a constitutional swamp that would see no end. There is the idea that we could have the partners in our federation come to a constitutional meeting. We know the Prime Minister certainly is averse to any meetings that would involve all first ministers in the federation, so we should not hold our breath for that ever to happen. It has not happened on issues as important as the economy, so I find it hard to imagine it would happen on an issue as complicated as abolishing the Senate. However, at that meeting, we know very well that first nations people would want to talk, correctly so, about self-government and aboriginal rights. Certainly the current separatist Government of Quebec would arrive with a laundry list, which would take up a two or three week meeting, of ridiculous grievances and complaints that it would fabricate to try to hijack the meeting.
As for the idea that we could ever get to a point, Canadians are not interested because we have been at that point. In the 1980s, under the leadership of a Progressive Conservative prime minister, Mr. Mulroney, Canadians remember Meech Lake and they remember the Charlottetown accord process. Canadians are correctly asking their elected parliamentarians to focus on issues that affect their daily lives, like the economy, youth unemployment and the environment. Those are the calls I get in my constituency office in Shediac. I have not had numerous people say to me that we need to convene a first ministers conference to discuss the issue of abolishing the Senate.
I understand why the NDP tried, somewhat cynically, to take advantage of some of the problems the Senate is having right now.
We have seen in reports from various media outlets that expenses have been called into question and that some senators seem to be having difficulty determining their place of residence.
Obviously, we are not in any way minimizing the importance of settling and resolving the situation and holding accountable anyone who acted inappropriately.
That is why the Standing Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration decided, on its own initiative, to refer certain cases to a major external audit that will be made public, and some cases involve certain senators appointed by the current Prime Minister. I have no doubt that if the external audit indicates potentially fraudulent circumstances, the senators will do the right thing and refer everything to the appropriate authorities. The Senate takes its financial responsibility seriously.
We are in no way minimizing the concerns of Canadian taxpayers about circumstances that are of significant concern to us. I must say that no one in the Liberal caucus will object to having people who may have done something inappropriate face serious consequences, including prosecution, if so required.
However, we cannot pretend that we need an endless constitutional discussion because there is currently an issue with residency or expenses. This problem may be resolved severely, appropriately and quickly, as the Senate itself has said. I think this is an attempt by the NDP to change the subject. Perhaps the NDP is thinking that tomorrow evening, with the vote on Bill C-457 , put forward by the Bloc Québécois, will be difficult for them. We know very well that the NDP opposed the Clarity Act. The NDP will have to be absent en masse tomorrow evening when we, the Liberals, will vote against this Bloc bill that makes no sense. Sort of along those same lines, the NDP is pretending that another constitutional crisis needs our attention.
The Senate at its very inception, as I said at the beginning of my comments, offers the regions of the country a chance to balance the obvious demographic weight of some of the larger provinces in this chamber. An unelected Senate will certainly never be able to play the effective and, I hope, regionally equal role that the Fathers of Confederation, almost 150 ago, thought this model might achieve.
We need to be clear. The Liberal Party has supported and continues to support the notion of an elected, effective and equal Senate. For us, that would be an appropriate Senate reform measure.
In our view the country is not ready to proceed to a constitutional conference to discuss that at this moment. However, if we were to accept that the abolition of the Senate was in fact the alternative, then smaller provinces like mine in New Brunswick, like Manitoba, where my colleague from Winnipeg North sits as a member of the House, would not have an opportunity to work with the other partners of the federation and hopefully a prime minister who would interested at some point in having a discussion, when the moment was right, on how we could achieve an elected, effective and equal Senate.
My colleague from Toronto—Danforth, a member for whom I have considerable respect, also has on the order paper his own private member's bill, Bill C-470, which seeks itself to abolish the Clarity Act and substitute this bizarre 50% plus one formula, which shocks many Canadians, as a threshold to break up the country.
I think some NDP MPs would also have difficulty voting, and I am thinking of my friend from Acadie—Bathurst, who represents so well francophone minorities outside Quebec. For him to get up and have to vote for a bill by the member for Toronto—Danforth would obviously be difficult. That is probably why it is so low on the order of precedence, with no possible hope of ever actually coming before the House to be debated.
It is a cynical attempt, from our perspective, to change the channel at a time when Canadians think we should be referring and discussing issues a lot more important to the daily lives of Canadians than a pipe dream that somehow we could convene a constitutional conference to abolish the Canadian Senate.
Mr. Speaker, I should mention at the beginning of my intervention that I will be sharing my time with the member for Vancouver Kingsway.
I really looked forward to this debate today, because as we know, it has been an ongoing debate since the beginning of our discussions about Confederation, going back to the 1800s. If members will recall, and there has been some mention by previous speakers, when we actually talked about an upper house, it was at a very different time.
One of the guiding principles in our Constitution, which guides us here in this place, is the notion of peace, order and good government. That idea was to help guide us in what we do. If members will recall, at the time peace, order and good government was actually contemplated, it was to ensure that we were going to be responsible in how we governed our country, our nascent country, at the time. If we are going to have this guiding principle of peace, order and good government work, it has to be tied to the notion of responsible government.
Inherent in the guiding principles of the Constitution is that each of us, as elected representatives representing our constituents, after having been duly elected, would come to this place and look for a group of people in this place to gain the confidence of the rest of the people in this place. That is basically how it works here. Elected people come here and organize themselves in such a way that one group, and we do it through political parties, gains the confidence of the rest of the House. They choose one person to be the first among equals and that person becomes our prime minister.
That is important to go over, because that is the notion of responsible government. We actually have the writ given to us by citizens. It is the notion that we actually have legitimacy given to us by our electors. That was something that was near and dear to the founders of Confederation. Going back to the conferences in Charlottetown and subsequently Quebec City, in 1864, the whole debate around the Senate took the most time. They were the most intense debates, certainly around the numbers, as we heard from my colleague. Should all provinces be given the same representation in the Senate?
There was actually another Macdonald, not Sir John A. Macdonald but Andrew Macdonald, from P.E.I., who said that we should fashion ourselves like the Americans and give each province the same number of senators. Of course, that did not fly. What we ended up with was based on regions, which we have already heard. In that case of the Maritimes, they would be equal to the other partners in Confederation. That was because we were looking at a very different setup. We were looking at provinces that were not fully vested with powers. They were not fully vested with what the provinces have been given through negotiations, constitutional debates and agreements over the years, such as oversight of natural resources and different revenue streams. These are all things provinces now have. That did not occur before. In 1864, it was the concern of the smaller provinces that they were going to have a voice.
Let us be clear. No one, during those debates, believed that the upper house, the way it was concocted, was a virtue. It was a compromise they had to have to get the Constitution agreed to.
Think of George Brown, the original reformer. George Brown, founder of The Globe and Mail, agreed to an appointed house at the time, simply because he did not want to give it legitimacy to challenge this House. I think that is important to acknowledge, because when we look back at the Reform Party of more recent times, it had this notion that we could just elect them and they would be equal. If we had that, we would have George Brown's worst nightmare; that is, we would have a lower house, with more legitimate representation, being challenged by the upper house.
Right now, both houses have primary mandates. That means that we are given the same powers, not through convention but by way of the Constitution.
The problem we have on this side is that we have to catch up with the times. Provinces now have strong constitutional responsibilities and revenues. The concerns that existed back in Quebec and Charlottetown in 1864, when we were discussing, debating and looking at putting Canada together, are not the same concerns we have now.
If we ask any of our constituents who their senators are, we would get a question mark. Some of them might know them now, because they have been in the press recently, but that is not the same thing. That is the controversy of the day. Ask them if they ever ask their senators to do anything and if they represent them. I think we would get a puzzled response. They would probably say that they are not aware of who their senators are and that they have never contacted them. That is important, because if we are talking about responsible government in 2013, it has to be based on the legitimacy that this House and the house next to us is given by citizens.
The house next to us is appointed by the government of the day. It is not elected by citizens. I am sorry to say, and I hate to put a damper on the government's attempt to come up with a quasi-legitimate process, that it just does not work. It does not work, because the essence of this is that we cannot have a selection process that can be ignored by the Prime Minister, because that is unconstitutional. The Prime Minister could easily ignore, and has in the past, the options given to him or her under the selection process at the provincial level.
Finally, it comes down to what Brown's point was. There cannot be a body that is not represented as thoroughly as this House challenging this House.
What do we need to do? It is clear that we need to abolish the Senate, not just because it does not belong in its current state but because we do not need it any more. The committee work is something we should actually be doing a better job of here. They should be given more resources here. The Library of Parliament should be given more resources to enable our committees to be as strong as what we see south of the border and in other jurisdictions.
I am told that the Senate provides an opportunity for people to have oversight in terms of the government of the day. We have, and I know my colleague from Toronto—Danforth has, many solid ideas on how we can reform affairs. That can be done.
At the end of the day, what we need to do is abolish the Senate. For those who wish to come up with something else, that will not happen until we start afresh. Those who want to come up with another construction of the Senate need to acknowledge that we have to abolish the existing Senate. If we are to adhere to that notion of peace, order and good government, of responsible government and what John Stuart Mill referred to, back in 1861, when he wrote that it is only from the people that governments receive their right to govern, then in 2013, we can no longer play this game and say that we have a legitimate body next to us. We have to acknowledge that it is no longer acceptable to have laws passed here killed in the house next to us.
The people who vote for us expect us to represent their interests. When people are appointed by the government of the day, that not only undermines our ability to do our jobs, it undermines democracy and responsible government. That is the critical piece.
As my colleague said before, it is not about the people over there, although some of them need to be more accountable. It is about the construct of the Senate in 2013.
I will just finish by saying this. When peace, order and good government was given to us, it meant that it was connected to responsible government. As long as we have an unelected and unaccountable Senate next to us, we do not have responsible government in this country.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her remarks.
Our esteemed colleague, the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth, said earlier today that if the Constitution requires unanimity in order to abolish the Senate, it would be difficult, but if it is 7/50 it might be possible. I hope the hon. member will give me a straight answer, because up to now I have not had any reply from the NDP.
Would the NDP be willing to abolish the Senate against the wishes of Quebec?
Mr. Speaker, institutional reform, if not done wisely, might create more bad than good. It is a well-known tenet of political science that tomorrow's political difficulties are often the result of today's ill-conceived institutional reforms.
I will show that this is exactly what will happen if the House makes the mistake of supporting the motion moved today by the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth on behalf of the NDP caucus. This motion urges the Government of Canada, in consultation with the provinces and territories, to take immediate steps towards abolishing the Senate of Canada.
Let us list all the problems that implementing this motion would cause. First, we would have to open the Constitution. In these times of economic uncertainty, where the governments in our federation have to work together to protect Canadians' jobs, the NDP is asking them to put a great deal of their energy into constitutional negotiations.
Second, the NDP must tell us whether it really believes that all the governments in our federation are willing to open the Constitution to deal solely with the issue of the Senate. If the NDP thinks that is true, then I suggest they go talk to the current Government of Quebec.
As Professor Benoît Pelletier, from the University of Ottawa, said to Hill Times on February 18, 2013:
I don't see the abolition of the Senate to be something that would get the approval of all the necessary provinces that would have to give their approval. I'm sure that different provinces, including Quebec, would like other subjects to be discussed at the same table. We would eventually get something as large, as wide, and as substantial as the Meech Lake Accord or even the Charlottetown agreement.
The NDP may want a new round of mega-constitutional negotiations, but Canadians put constitutional talks at the bottom of their current priorities, and rightly so.
Third, has the NDP taken into account the fact that the constitutional rule to abolish the Senate almost certainly requires the unanimous consent of the provinces? Most experts think that, if the 7-50 rule—seven provinces representing at least 50% of the population—is needed to change the nature of the Senate, then the consent of the House and the unanimity of the provinces is needed to abolish the Senate, and this would likely be confirmed by the Supreme Court.
In the February 18 edition of The Hill Times, Bruce Ryder, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, reminded us of this when he said that the support of 10 provinces was needed. In any case, I would like to remind all hon. members of something that has not yet been mentioned: the Parliament of Canada has passed regional veto legislation. The regional veto act would therefore have to be abolished so that none of the provinces would have the opportunity to veto changes to the Senate or its abolishment.
Fourth, since the NDP keeps saying that it wants to impose a costly referendum on Canadians on this issue, has the party considered what question should be asked and what majority would be required? A question that gives Canadians only one alternative—to abolish the Senate or not—would not do justice to the variety of opinions Canadians have about the Senate.
As for the majority required for abolition, is the NDP thinking of a simple majority at the national level? That will not do because the provincial governments and legislative assemblies that would have voted to keep the Senate would feel, with reason, that their constitutional duty is to have the wishes of their voters prevail.
So we are talking about a simple majority within each province. The probability of attaining such a majority 10 times from coast to coast is so low that you have to wonder why public funds should be spent on such a referendum.
Therefore, we see that abolishing the Senate would represent a major change to the federation, requiring the unanimous support of the provinces under the rules for amending the Constitution. This is very unlikely to happen. As a matter of fact, only three provinces have indicated they are currently in favour of abolishing the Senate.
I think the best conclusion we may reach on this ill-advised motion is the one given by Peter Russell, Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto. He was quoted in Hill Times on February 18, 2013. Dr. Russell said:
They [the NDP] really haven't done much homework on the pros and cons of bicameralism. I don't know if they honestly know how to spell the word.
Professor Russell said this. Indeed, if we followed the NDP's plan, Canada would become the only large federation in the world to have a single federal chamber. If we were to lose our upper chamber, then we would also lose the useful role it plays in our political system, which benefits Canadians, particularly the regions and minorities.
This is precisely the role that the Fathers of Confederation set out for the Senate, the role of sober second thought. Since senators are not elected, they play their role with moderation and almost always give the elected chamber, the House of Commons, the last word.
But with sober second thought, senators can detect mistakes and inaccuracies, and can ask members to amend their bills in the interest of taxpayers and citizens.
Allow me to cite some recent examples of sober second thought executed by our colleagues of the other chamber. In 2006, the House accepted 55 Senate amendments to improve the Federal Accountability Act. In 2008, the Senate convinced the government not to proceed with changes to the Canadian film tax credit. It was an infamous censorship provision that would have allowed the minister to deny a film tax credit where it would be, according to the minister, contrary to a vague notion of public policy. There was a huge outcry from everywhere in Canada. Thank God we had a Liberal senator who saw the mistake and corrected it in the House.
It was in 2012, after rejecting Liberal amendments to the Safe Streets and Communities Act in the House, that the amendments were made in the Senate and then accepted in the House. Currently, the NDP bill, Bill C-290, an act to amend the Criminal Code (sports betting), is being carefully scrutinized by the Senate after a number of sports leagues and several provinces raised concerns that the House had failed to provide the necessary level of scrutiny before passing it.
As we see, the Senate has always provided useful amendments and clarifications to bills passed by the House, while rarely obstructing the general will of this chamber. In fact, between 1945 and today, I have enough fingers to count the bills passed by the House of Commons that were rejected by the Senate. The Senate performs an important checking role in the Canadian federation by providing an opportunity for sober second thought on bills passed by the House, a complementary chamber of scrutiny and amendment. This is precisely why the Senate was created by the Fathers of Confederation. It would be particularly unwise to abolish a chamber of scrutiny, since we are currently dealing with the most secretive government in Canadian history. What federal institutions need is more oversight, not less oversight.
For the Senate to properly fulfill its role as a chamber of sober second thought, the Prime Minister has to choose good senators who are exceptional because of their hard-working nature, rigour, expertise and moral strength.
Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has made some very dubious appointments. Instead of appointing highly qualified individuals, he has chosen some people whose sole qualification was as Conservative Party partisans. The Prime Minister is to be held accountable for these bad choices, not the Senate as an institution. The Prime Minister must also be held accountable for the constitutional mess that his own Senate reform would create. He wants to elect senators without changing anything else in the Constitution. Let me describe how much damage that would do to our country.
Many Canadians would like their senators elected rather than appointed, and that is understandable. It would be more democratic. However, what would happen if, as proposed by the Conservative government, we changed the way Senate seats were filled, without changing our Constitution accordingly?
If we went along with the Conservative Senate reform proposal, we would have: no dispute settlement mechanism between the Senate and the House if both were elected; continued under-representation of Alberta and British Columbia with only six senators each, when New Brunswick and Nova Scotia hold 10 senators when they have five to six times less than Alberta and British Columbia; U.S.-style, now Italian-style and Mexican-style gridlock between two elected chambers unable to solve disagreements; and bitter constitutional disputes regarding the number of senatorial seats to which each province would be entitled. Fortunately, the Supreme Court is likely to confirm that such ill-conceived Senate reform cannot be done unilaterally by an act of Parliament alone.
Therefore, first things first: will the provinces be able to reach an agreement on the distribution of senatorial seats? If they do, we can then figure out which constitutional powers we should attribute to the Senate in order to create healthy complementarities with the House rather than paralyzing duplication, after which we can agree on the process to elect senators and federally amend the Constitution accordingly.
Abolition of the Senate would represent a major change to the federation requiring the unanimous support of the provinces under the rules for amending the Constitution. This is very unlikely to happen. Furthermore, the Senate serves a useful function by improving or correcting bills that pass through the House.
As long as the provinces fail to agree on the number of senators to which each one is entitled, we must avoid the kind of constitutional chaos that an elected Senate would cause.
Instead, let us keep the Prime Minister accountable for the quality of the individuals he appoints to the upper house. Let the Senate continue playing the role conferred upon it by the Fathers of Confederation, the chamber of scrutiny and the chamber of sober second thought.
Mr. Speaker, I stand in the House this morning to join in the debate on a motion put forward by the member for Toronto—Danforth.
I am always happy to discuss changes to the Senate, because the reality is that our government is the only party with a real plan to reform the Senate. We are the only ones taking legitimate action to bring greater accountability and democracy to the Senate. We are the only ones to have a clear plan in the form of a bill before the House.
The NDP talks about abolishing the Senate, yet it is just that: talk. Today those members say they want to “abolish” the Senate, yet just last month the same NDP member for Toronto—Danforth who put forward today's motion said, “...we're open to any kind of reasonable reform”.
The NDP's lead spokesperson on the Senate admitted not too long after that “I can't say exactly what [the Leader of the Opposition] will do in 2015...”. It is true that he cannot say, because the NDP leader refuses to say what he may do come 2015. Yesterday, when asked point blank whether he would appoint senators if his party formed the government, the Leader of the Opposition refused to answer. The real reason the NDP's lead spokesperson on the Senate cannot say what the Leader of the Opposition would do in 2015 is that the NDP has no intention of abolishing the Senate and has the full intention of appointing its own NDP members.
The NDP conspired to appoint its own senators once and it will do it again. When the Liberals, NDP and the Bloc conspired to form a coalition in 2008, the NDP worked out a deal to appoint its own senators. In fact, the NDP's own motion admits that it needs the support of provinces and territories, support it would not likely receive.
Abolishing the Senate requires reopening the Constitution. The NDP knows it cannot get the support of the provinces to abolish the Senate. That is why it has never put forward a legitimate plan in the form of a bill to do so. The NDP's real plan is to appoint its own senators. It will create a constitutional sideshow and appoint NDP senators while reform continues to be delayed by constitutional wrangling. Creating a constitutional sideshow not only helps the NDP hide behind the premiers so it can appoint its own senators; it also has the added benefit of distracting Canadians from its dangerous and reckless tax and spend schemes, like its $21 billion job-killing carbon tax.
If the NDP were serious about changes to the Senate, it would have put forward a real plan. Instead it resorts to an empty motion. Rather than discuss real and achievable Senate reform, like term limits and getting provinces to hold Senate elections, NDP members call for constitutional battles with the provinces, and the hypocrisy does not end there.
The Leader of the Opposition claims that he wants to abolish the Senate, yet he just recently tabled a private member's bill to increase the Senate's powers. The NDP leader's bill reads that “The Governor in Council shall...appoint a Parliamentary Budget Officer after consultation with the leader of every recognized party in both Houses of Parliament...”. If the NDP leader really supported abolition, then why did he put forward a plan to increase the Senate's powers? It is because the NDP knows that, when senators are selected by Canadians, it will no longer be able to appoint its own NDP senators, as it conspired to do in 2008.
Our government has always been clear about our commitment to bring reform to the Senate Chamber, including processes for Canadians to select their Senate representatives. We pledged to do this in our most recent election platform, and we repeated our promise in the Speech from the Throne. We even took another step toward a more democratic and accountable Senate by seeking clarification from the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Senate makes, reviews and passes laws that affect Canadians every day, and it is not right that senators have no democratic mandate from the people they represent, nor that they can sit in the other place for decades at a time.
The Senate can be a place where a broader range of experience and expertise can be brought to bear on the issues facing our country. Unfortunately, I believe that the contributions of the Senate are overshadowed by the fact that senators are selected and appointed through a process that is neither formal nor transparent, with no democratic mandate whatsoever from Canadians. Moreover, there are no strict limits on the number of years an individual can sit in the Senate. Taken together, the Senate's effectiveness and legitimacy suffer from its democratic deficit.
We must then ask ourselves this simple question: Is this good enough? Our answer is no. Our government has long believed that the Senate status quo is unacceptable, and therefore it must change in order to reach its full potential as an effective and democratic institution.
While recommendations on how to reform the Senate have differed, and differ still, there is one consistent theme that runs throughout. Nearly all reports and studies agree that the Senate is an important democratic institution and that reform is needed to increase legitimacy in the context of a modern democratic country.
It is clear that while there may be different approaches to solving the problem, reform is the best course of action to actually achieve change to the status quo of the Senate.
Senate reform of any kind has proven to be a complicated process. Under our constitution, reforming fundamental aspects of the Senate, such as its powers or the representation of the provinces, requires at least the support of seven provinces representing 50% of the population of the provinces.
Achieving the necessary level of provincial support for particular fundamental reforms is a complex and lengthy process with no guarantee of success. Abolishing the Senate, for example, at the very minimum requires the consent of at least seven out of ten provinces, if not unanimous consent of all provinces and territories.
Canadians do not want drawn-out constitutional battles, battles that would detract from what Canadians want their government to focus on: jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. At a time when the global economy is still fragile and Canadians are rightly worried about their savings, their retirement and their financial future, long drawn-out constitutional clashes with the provinces would be a recipe for sideshows distracting the government's attention from the economy.
Added to this is the fact that there is no consensus among provinces to pursue large wholesale reform. The NDP's own motion admits that it needs the support of the provinces and territories, support it knows it does not have.
Our government believes that Senate reform is needed now. The NDP does not want reform now. It wants to delay, to keep the status quo and to keep Canadians from electing their own senators. Getting into constitutional battles with the provinces is a good way for the NDP to delay change to the Senate, so that the NDP can appoint its own senators.
Canadians deserve better. Canadians deserve a say in who represents them in the Senate. That is why we are moving forward with the Senate reform bill. Through this bill our government is taking immediate and concrete action to increase the democracy in our upper chamber and to work co-operatively with the provinces and territories.
The Senate reform bill includes two initiatives that would help bring real reform to the Senate. First, the bill provides a suggested framework to provinces and territories that wish to establish democratic consultation processes to give Canadians a say in who represents them in the Senate. Second, it introduces term limits for senators appointed after October 2008, which would ensure that the Senate is refreshed with new ideas on a more frequent basis and would allow Canadians to select their Senate representatives at regular intervals.
On Senate elections, we have consistently encouraged provinces and territories to implement a democratic process for the selection of Senate nominees.
The framework in the Senate reform act is meant to provide enough details to facilitate the development of provincial or territorial legislation without limiting provinces and territories in the establishment of a consultation process or the precise detail of such a process, which may differ between jurisdictions as local needs may demand. This is, after all, a co-operative venture. Provinces and territories would not be required to implement the framework precisely as written; rather, they would be encouraged to adapt the framework that best suits the needs of their unique circumstances. As we have seen with legislation introduced in New Brunswick, they have adapted the legislation to fit the realities of that province.
The approach proposed in the Senate reform act has already been successful, and this type of reform has already gained a toehold in our Senate. In 2007, the Prime Minister recommended the appointment of Bert Brown to the Senate. In 2012, he appointed the first female elected senator, Betty Unger, and in 2013, he appointed Doug Black to the Senate. Senators Brown, Unger and Black were elected as senators-in-waiting by Alberta voters in selection processes held under the authority of Alberta's Senatorial Selection Act, which was introduced in 1989.
Alberta may have been the first province to pass this type of legislation and to see its nominees appointed, but it is not the only province that has taken steps to facilitate reform. In 2009, Saskatchewan passed the Senate Nominee Election Act, which enables a provincial government to hold a constitutional process on Senate nominees. In British Columbia, a bill has been introduced that would provide the provincial government with the authority to hold consultation processes. In New Brunswick, a bill has been introduced in the legislature to hold Senate nominee processes by 2016. More broadly, I would encourage all our colleagues in all provincial and territorial legislatures and assemblies to consider supporting and moving forward with similar initiatives.
In addition to encouraging the implementation of democratic selection processes for Senate nominees, the Senate reform act would also limit Senate terms, which can span several decades under the current rules. Under the act, senators would be subject to a single nine-year non-renewable term. Limiting the terms of senators can be accomplished by Parliament through section 44 of the Constitution Act of 1982. Similarly, in 1965, Parliament, acting alone, introduced a mandatory retirement age of 75 for senators. Prior to that, senators were appointed for life.
I believe it is fair to say that while many in this House agree that changes to the Senate are necessary, we sometimes disagree on the way forward. In order to underline our commitment to Senate reform, our government has taken another step toward a more democratic and accountable Senate by seeking clarification from the Supreme Court of Canada.
In contrast to the position of other parties, it is clear that our government's approach is the practical and reasonable way forward. It is the approach that can truly achieve results. In fact, the stated positions of the opposition parties are essentially arguments in favour of the status quo. Their proposals have such a low chance of success that they might as well not even propose them at all.
For example, the official opposition claims to be for abolishing the Senate. Aside from the very obvious sideshow that the NDP is attempting to create, abolition is not possible for one major reason: there is no consensus among the provinces to abolish the Senate. Since the NDP members are unwilling or unable to put forward a real plan to abolish the Senate, we have done it for them by seeking clarity from the Supreme Court of Canada.
Then there is the Liberal Party, who in its 13 years in power did nothing to make the Senate more democratic or accountable. Even when it was given the chance to put senators elected by Canadians into the Senate, the Liberal Party refused—not once, but three times. The Liberals do not support Senate reform, and their 13-year record of inaction demonstrates their opposition. They have been clear about this.
In closing, we are the only party with a real plan to reform the Senate. Our government is dedicated to reforming the Senate so that hard-working Canadians across our great country can select their Senate representatives.
My constituents tell me that they want change. Canadians want change. I believe that the time for change in the Senate has come. Frankly, if the NDP wants to change the Senate, it would not be blocking the Senate reform act at every opportunity. In an attempt to filibuster our Senate reform bill, the NDP put up 40 speakers. Since 2006, the Senate reform act has been blocked 18 times by the NDP, including last week, when the NDP blocked a motion to pass the Senate reform act.
The NDP member who put forward the motion we are debating today stated that, “With any motion on an important subject, you have to get to the point where parties’ positions are clear”.
If the member for Toronto—Danforth is struggling with his party's position, as he seems to be, then he should look no further than the words of his own leader, who stated yesterday that “laws should only be made by people who are elected”.
The NDP members say that they want laws made by people who are elected. The NDP should stop dodging the issue and support our real Senate reform plan, which will provide for Senate elections. The NDP has blocked our attempts for an elected Senate 18 times. However, I am willing to give the NDP yet another chance to support our reasonable and achievable reform.
I would like unanimous consent to propose that notwithstanding any standing order or usual practice of the House, Bill C-7, An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits, be deemed to have been read the whole second time and referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read the third time and passed.
Resuming debate, there are six minutes remaining for the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth.
Questions and comments. The hon. member for Toronto—Danforth.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to begin by letting the House know that I will be splitting my time this afternoon with the member for Toronto—Danforth.
I rise today to speak on Bill S-12, An Act to amend the Statutory Instruments Act and to make consequential amendments to the Statutory Instruments Regulations.
As I said earlier, at this point people who are watching this debate on television are probably shaking their heads and wondering why we are not debating the important issues, like job creation, EI, health care, climate change or the growing income inequality in Canada. Those are the issues grabbing headlines these days, and I might add rightfully so.
There is also a sub-theme to much of the recent media coverage, which focuses on this Prime Minister's repeated thwarting of the democratic process and the threat this represents to the institution of Parliament. Bill S-12 adds fuel to that fire. As dry as the title might seem, this bill will legitimize the ability of governments to do things by regulation without the express authorization of Parliament. Without being overly dramatic, this bill will undermine democratic values and risk turning law-abiding citizens into criminals.
Let me go back to try to explain the genesis of this bill. At issue is the proper process for creating rules of law through regulations. Regulations are a delegated form of law-making that is derived from and authorized by Parliament's ultimate legislative authority. As a result, it is particularly important that regulations are written and communicated in such a way that members of the public clearly know their rights and obligations. To that end, regulations must go through a legal examination, be registered, get published in the Gazette and are then referred to the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations for parliamentary oversight.
At times, other documents are referenced into regulations simply by naming them. The legal effect is the same as repeating the material word for word in the regulation. When the material that is being incorporated is static, such incorporations by reference do not pose a problem because the regulation has gone through the proper approval procedures. It becomes tricky when that incorporated material changes. For example, the document could contain a provision that allows it to be amended from time to time. In essence, then, future changes automatically become part of the regulation without any oversight.
Such incorporations by reference are called ambulatory or open incorporations by reference because their content is not static. It is this type of regulation making that poses the legal conundrum. Is it appropriate to allow rules to be imposed without those rules having gone through the proper regulatory process?
Given the proliferation of regulations in recent years, this is more than a theoretical question. There are, at the federal level alone, approximately 3,000 regulations comprising over 30,000 pages. That compares with some 450 statutes comprising about 13,000 pages. On top of that, departments and agencies submit to the regulations section, on average, about 1,000 draft regulations each and every year; whereas Parliament enacts about 80 bills during the same period. Regulations, therefore, play a major role in setting the rules of law that apply to Canadian citizens.
Canadians must be able to have confidence that the regulations that govern them have been duly authorized by Parliament. For that reason, the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations adopted a unanimous report in 2007 that called on the government to stop using unauthorized open incorporation by reference without the permission of Parliament.
The position of the joint committee was, and is, that absent an express grant of authority or a clear indication to the contrary in the enabling statute, the incorporation by reference of external material is proper only where a fixed text is incorporated, as opposed to a text that is amended from time to time. In fact, the use of incorporation by reference as amended from time to time has been deemed improper and illegal because it is a regulation without the express authorization of Parliament. The government knows that.
In the other place, Conservative Linda Frum noted in her speech on this bill that “Incorporation by reference is a widely used drafting technique currently, but this bill would legitimize it...”. Those are important words: “this bill would legitimize it”. With those five words she is confirming that the government knows it has been acting illegally every time it used the technique without explicit parliamentary authorization. Let us not kid ourselves; it did not just happen once or twice.
The Conservatives have used ambulatory incorporation by reference 170 times since 2006. Bill S-12 is essentially designed to give the government legal cover after the fact for its prior and ongoing illegal activities. Put differently and more specifically, proposed section 18.7 would retroactively validate a large number of provisions that were made without lawful authority.
This goes to the very heart of Parliament's authority to delegate its power and choose who can make rules on its behalf. It is mind-boggling that any MP would not be troubled by that prospect. However, party discipline, as enforced by the executive branch in this House, will almost certainly ensure the bill will pass unamended.
Apart from the concerns of allocation of power posed by the open incorporation by reference, I will now turn to the question of accessibility. If ignorance of the law is no excuse, then the law must be available. The problem with incorporations by reference is that the text of the incorporated material is not found in the regulation itself.
Where do Canadians turn to find out about their rights and obligations? The material that is being referenced may be obscure or hard to find. If it involves standards developed by private organizations, there may even be a charge for accessing the material. Nowhere does the bill suggest that departments have to make the material available, nor do they even have to provide information as to where that material might be. When the incorporated material can be amended from time to time, how can citizens know that a change has come into effect? Will past versions of the text always be available? Finally, what happens when the material being incorporated is a law, standard, or agreement from another jurisdiction that may not be bilingual? Would this be a way for the government to circumvent our Official Languages Act?
Proposed subsection 18.3(1) of the bill states, “The regulation-making authority shall ensure that a document, index, rate or number that is incorporated by reference is accessible”. However, what exactly does “accessible” mean? Will it be equally accessible for aboriginal or rural Canadians? Will people have to travel in order to obtain the text, or will the text only be available on the Internet? Would that satisfy the definition of “accessibility”?
Given all of these questions, it would seem likely that it would be left to the courts to define “accessible” in terms of incorporated materials. However, should the onus not be on us as legislators to provide that clarity? I simply do not believe that citizens should have to go to the time and expense of judicial proceedings to determine their rights and obligations. Surely we can, and must, provide that clarity in this House.
At this point, I do not think we need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I do indeed have serious concerns about Bill S-12, and I have expressed many of them in the brief time afforded to me here today. However, as co-chair of the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations, I know that many of the issues I have raised today are concerns shared by members from all sides of the House and we could bring these perspectives to bear by studying the bill at greater length in committee.
The principle of the subdelegation of power will be of concern to all of my elected colleagues. As parliamentarians, it fundamentally impacts our role and authority. Similarly, issues of accessibility are critical to the interests of our constituents whom we are here to represent. Given the sheer volume of regulations that are submitted each year, it is essential that we maintain the integrity of the regulatory process.
If we can find common cause on each of these three broad-brush issues, I am confident we can amend Bill S-12 to make it palatable to all parliamentarians. If not, I will have to vote against the bill when it comes back to this House for its third and final reading. Until then, however, I will remain hopeful and optimistic.
Order, please. The hon. member for Toronto—Danforth has the floor.
Mr. Speaker, I wish we could have been talking about the economy, jobs and poverty today. Those issues are of great concern to Canadians. But that is not what the Bloc wants to talk about today. The Bloc would rather reignite old debates from the past.
It seems that the Bloc does not understand what Quebeckers were trying to say in the last election. I would remind the House that in that election, the NDP received record levels of support and a historic mandate here in Ottawa. On May 2, 2011, four and a half million Canadians voted for the unifying vision put forward by my friend, Jack Layton. It is a vision of a Canada that is more inclusive, greener and more prosperous, a Canada that respects Quebec.
As a result, the NDP elected over 100 members, creating the largest official opposition the House of Commons has seen in 40 years.
The New Democratic Party has succeeded where the Liberals and Conservatives failed again and again. For the first time since 1988, the people of Quebec have elected a federalist majority in the House of Commons, thanks to the NDP. That was one of the winning conditions for Canada in Quebec that Jack Layton and our team fought so hard for.
Quebeckers massively rejected the parties that had disappointed them in the past and those that took them for granted from one election to the next. The people expressed a desire for deep and sincere change. That is what the NDP offers. It promises to unite people around an optimistic and progressive vision, to restore the hope that Ottawa will respect Quebeckers and work together with them to build a better Canada for everyone.
Quebeckers do not want to move backward. They have had enough of the old disputes that were the trademark of the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois. We must put an end to those pointless quarrels and move forward. That is what the NDP is committed to doing.
Our team has managed to restore hope among Quebeckers, the hope that they can be listened to, understood and respected in their own country and the hope that their values will be shared by other Canadians and that they may soon guide our government's actions.
Unfortunately, some people are prepared to stifle that hope merely to score political points, because that is precisely what the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois are trying to do by reopening their old debates. Quebeckers deserve better than the Bloc's desperate efforts and definitely better than having to pay for the irresponsible political games of the Liberal Party, which wants to manufacture a national unity crisis where there is none. This lack of respect for Quebec began under Pierre Trudeau. It continued under Jean Chrétien and led Canada to the brink of disaster in the 1995 referendum.
Even after the 1995 referendum, which brought Canada to the brink, what did the Liberals do? They tried to buy Quebeckers with their disastrous, corrupt sponsorship scandal. In the process, they managed to renew the sovereignist movement and gave a boost to the Bloc Québécois.
In 2011, Quebeckers said loud and clear that they were tired of the politics of division. They said it was time to do better, and that is why they chose the NDP. Yet today in Ottawa we face a Prime Minister who did not get the message. Under his government, old debates have once again resumed.
The Conservatives' record in Quebec has given Quebeckers every reason to view the federal government as an adversary rather than an ally. There is a reason why the Parti Québécois campaigned against the Conservative Party and against this Prime Minister. There is still time to change the situation, to show Quebeckers that we belong to one big family that shares fundamental values regardless of political leanings. One need only look at the history of our country to realize that.
The history of our country is filled with examples of what is possible when we work together and stay true to our values. Universal public health care for the sick, retirement security for our seniors, these are the institutions that define us and unite us.
We in the NDP are well aware of the great things we can achieve when we work together. That is why we oppose this attempt by the Bloc to plunge people back into the quarrels of the past.
New Democrats understand that there is more in our country to unite us than there is to divide us. That is why we are proposing practical solutions to improve the lives of all Canadians. That is why we are fighting for a balanced 21st century economy that is based on the principles of sustainable development, an economy that creates wealth not only for a handful of industries and regions but for communities from coast to coast to coast.
Apart from our economic vision, our leadership style would also help us establish a lasting relationship of trust with the people and particularly with Quebeckers. Like my colleagues, I remember the time when the Conservatives advocated open federalism. They have just done it again. What have Quebeckers received instead? Nothing but than a door shut and locked in their face.
Compare the Conservatives' closed attitude to the openness of the Sherbrooke declaration and to the NDP vision of a Canada in which Quebec is respected. The Sherbrooke declaration was adopted at the first NDP convention I had the honour to attend in 2006, and it inspired me as it did many people in Quebec. Its positive and confident vision is that of a successful future for all of us, together.
Since that declaration was adopted, the NDP has undertaken to implement the principles of asymmetrical federalism, with recognition of Quebec's right to opt out, with compensation, of all federal programs that encroach on the Quebec government's areas of constitutional jurisdiction.
The Sherbrooke declaration also expresses a willingness to establish a federalism based on good faith, a federalism that acknowledges that Quebeckers have a right to make democratic decisions about their own future, a federalism that recognizes that, in the undesired event of a referendum on the question in Quebec, that referendum would be won by a majority of ballots cast, a rule on which there is a strong consensus in Quebec.
A simple majority to express the will of Quebeckers was the ground rule in both the 1980 and the 1995 referendums when I was fighting to keep Quebec in Canada.
While the current Prime Minister was proposing the construction of “firewalls” between provinces, I was working to build bridges.
Ironically, it was the same Prime Minister who tabled a private member's bill in 1996, Bill C-341, the Quebec Contingency Act, recognizing the majority threshold for a Quebec referendum.
Robert Bourassa, one of the greatest federalists in Quebec history, said:
...no matter what, Quebec is today and for all times a distinct society, free and capable of taking charge of its own destiny and development.
When it came time to vote, Quebeckers chose Canada twice. The NDP will continue to do everything it can to prove to Quebeckers that their future is within Canada, because our country cannot be built on threats. It takes mutual understanding and respect.
The NDP team has already shown what it is capable of doing in opposition. For example, my colleague from Trois-Rivières put forward a bill to guarantee language rights for employees of companies under federal jurisdiction. Furthermore, my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent has introduced a bill to recognize the bilingual nature of our institutions and to make it mandatory to appoint judges and officers of Parliament who understand both official languages.
Since its founding more than 50 years ago, the NDP has taken a positive and constructive approach to politics, an approach based on good faith, which is the very culture of our party. This is the approach that will define a future New Democratic government. It is also in good faith that my colleague from Toronto—Danforth has put a bill on the order paper, a unity act, to implement both the Sherbrooke Declaration and the Supreme Court secession reference.
Anyone who reads the Clarity Act can immediately see one thing: the Clarity Act is not clear, and it therefore does not fix anything.
Good faith dictates that once subjective clarity is established, objective clarity is obtained by a majority of the votes. That is why former NDP House leader Bill Blaikie tabled an amendment to put this concept in the Clarity Act. The Liberals rejected that amendment and, instead, the Liberals decided to abandon the political fight for Canada in favour of a purely legalistic approach, a losing approach.
I fought from the trenches in both the 1980 and 1995 referendums. I am proud of the active role I played in convincing my fellow Quebeckers to choose Canada.
The NDP believes in Canada and also believes that the vast majority of Quebeckers want to remain in Canada. We believe in the political maturity of Quebeckers. We trust Quebeckers and Quebeckers trust us. We will continue to work together. Together we will build a fairer and more inclusive Canada that respects Quebec and Quebeckers.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the very hard-working member for Beaches—East York for sharing his time with me. He has done a tremendous amount of work in the House around the F-35 file and his speech today reflects his commitment to looking at some of these matters.
I also want to acknowledge the member for Gatineau and the member for Toronto—Danforth who spoke previously and very ably outlined some of the technical aspects of the bill. I will read from the legislative summary so that people who are watching are clear about the bill we are speaking about. It reads:
Bill S-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (short title: Nuclear Terrorism Act), is a 10-clause bill that introduces four new indictable offences into Part II of the Criminal Code, which deals with offences against public order. Adding these new offences, with respect to certain activities in relation to nuclear or radioactive material, nuclear or radioactive devices or nuclear facilities makes it illegal to
possess, use or dispose of nuclear or radioactive material or a nuclear or radioactive device, or commit an act against a nuclear facility or its operations, with the intent to cause death, serious bodily harm or substantial damage to property or the environment;
use or alter nuclear or radioactive material or a nuclear or radioactive device, or commit an act against a nuclear facility or its operation, with the intent to compel a person, government or international organization to do or refrain from doing anything;
commit an indictable offence under federal law for the purpose of obtaining nuclear or radioactive material, a nuclear or radioactive device, or access or control of a nuclear facility; and
threaten to commit any of the other three offences.
The bill would fulfill Canada's treaty obligations under the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, also known as CPPNM, and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, ICSANT. This includes extending international measures beyond protecting against proliferation of nuclear materials to now include protection of nuclear facilities and it reinforces Canada's obligation under UN Security Council Resolution 1540 from 2004 to take and enforce effective measures to prevent the proliferation of nuclear materials as well as chemical and biological weapons.
In a case where the implementation of a treaty requires amendment to Canadian legislation, the treaty is ratified only when such amendments or new legislation has been passed. As the member for Beaches—East York very ably pointed out, Canada has not ratified even though it has signed on and it has been five years. The question is why the government did not take steps before. I know the parliamentary secretary mentioned in his speech that it was because of a minority Parliament, but there is broad agreement in the House about the need to ratify this treaty and for Canada to fulfill both its domestic and international obligations.
To date, Canada has not ratified either the ICSANT or the CPPNM amendment. This is because Canada does not yet have legislation in place to criminalize the offences outlined in the ICSANT or some of the offences outlined in the CPPNM amendment. The amendments Bill S-9 introduces into the Criminal Code represents Canada's efforts to align its domestic legislation with what is required by both conventions. If these amendments become law, Canada will presumably be in a position to ratify both the ICSANT and the CPPNM amendment. One would hope that Canada would move expeditiously to do that once this law has passed through both Houses.
I will quote from a handbook for parliamentarians supporting nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament because the bill has a larger context. It is important to note the larger context and why it is important for Canada to move ahead and ratify these treaties. This handbook was just released at the interparliamentary union last week in Quebec City. There was an address from the United Nations Secretary-General, a message dated July 2012, that was at the outset of this book. It reads:
The rule of law is coming to nuclear disarmament, and parliamentarians have important contributions to make in advancing this historic process.
Inspired or assisted by the efforts of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, parliaments are showing an increased interest in promoting nuclear disarmament. This should come as no surprise. Parliaments represent the people, and across the world today we are seeing a groundswell of opinion among diverse sectors of civil society--doctors, lawyers, religious leaders, mayors, human rights activists, women’s groups, environmentalists, economists and educators in countless fields--demanding concrete steps to control and eliminate these deadly, costly, wasteful weapons.
The core role of parliaments in ratifying treaties and adopting implementing legislation gives them tremendous potential to extend the rule of law even more deeply into the domain of disarmament.
This is part of what Canada can do in terms of fulfilling some of those international obligations. There is an important context, though, for this, and again in the Supporting Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament handbook, they quote from the 7th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates who concluded that:
The failure to address the nuclear threat and to strengthen existing treaty obligations to work for nuclear weapons abolition shreds the fabric of cooperative security. A world with nuclear haves and have-nots is fragmented and unstable, a fact underscored by the current threats of proliferation. In such an environment cooperation fails. Thus, nations are unable to address effectively the real threats of poverty, environmental degradation and nuclear catastrophe.
They go on to talk about the economic dimensions. I think this is also an important note about why it is so important for Canada to move forward. It goes on to state:
In December 2010, Global Zero released an analysis indicating that approximately US $100 billion per year was being spent globally on nuclear weapons, with almost 50 per cent of that being spent in the United States alone. In comparison, the biennial United Nations budget for 2012/2013 is US $5.1 billion, or 5 per cent of the yearly global nuclear weapons budget. The costs of meeting the Millennium Development Goals--of basic education, primary health care, minimum food, clean water, and environmental protection (including climate change prevention and alleviation)--are estimated at US $120 billion per year, just slightly more than the nuclear weapons budget.
We can imagine what a different world we could live in if all the money that was being spent on nuclear weapons was actually being spent on health care, education, poverty reduction measures and climate change.
The handbook goes on to say:
Allocating such massive budgets to weapons systems designed in the hope they will never be used not only steals economic resources from other vital programmes, it also drains the social capital required to stimulate economies. Dollar for dollar, investing in nuclear weapons creates far fewer jobs than virtually any other industry; nuclear weapon systems are high-tech and have virtually no economic flow-on to other industries or other economic activities. In addition, the intellectual activity devoted to modernizing and developing nuclear weapon systems steals such intellect from areas of social and economic need. The nuclear-weapon corporations might get richer, but everyone else gets poorer.
In the same handbook, it reads:
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a letter addressed to all parliaments in February 2010, noted that:
“At a time when the international community is facing unprecedented global challenges, parliamentarians can take on leading roles in ensuring sustainable global security, while reducing the diversion of precious resources from human needs. As parliaments set the fiscal priorities for their respective countries, they can determine how much to invest in the pursuit of peace and cooperative security.”
I have a quote that reads:
Dwight D. Eisenhower, from a speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors,16 April 1953:
It is “The opportunity-cost of militarism....”
I think it is timely for us to remind ourselves of that in the context of this debate today. Mr. Eisenhower went on to say:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
The New Democrats are supporting getting this bill to committee for study because it is a very technical bill. There was one clause that needed to be amended at the Senate. We want to ensure that the bill reflects Canada's obligation under these international conventions.
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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