Business of Supply
Mr. Speaker, ironically, although this motion from the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth decries the partisan activities in the Senate, who does he have to speak in the House for the NDP on the motion? He has the most hyperpartisan and flippant parliamentarian in Ottawa, the member for Timmins—James Bay.
I just sat through the member’s speech and heard him refer to parliamentarians as pancake flippers and sock puppets. These are words on a motion that is critical of partisanship and demands accountability. Well, I am demanding that same level of accountability and civility from the NDP. I truly hope that the member for Timmins—James Bay discovers a way to advocate for his constituents without diminishing the level of debate in the House and without slipping into name-calling and chicanery.
However, as my colleagues and I on this side will explain today, our government believes that the measures proposed in the motion are not the appropriate way to proceed. In fact, like many of the pronouncements made on the Senate by the NDP, this motion truly is flippant and is not a sincere measure to reform that institution.
Canadians want to see reform of the Senate and a meaningful role for that House in our bicameral parliamentary democracy. Canadians expect much from the men and women who serve them as parliamentarians. In fact, this debate reminds me of the famous Canadian political quote about what characteristics are needed for serving in public office: “You need the stamina of a water buffalo, the hide of a rhino, and the energy of a go-go dancer.” Who said that? It was Stan Waters, a retired lieutenant-general from the Canadian Forces, a distinguished World War II veteran, and most interestingly, the first elected senator in the Canadian Senate.
With that quote by the first elected senator in mind, I would like to devote my remarks to highlighting a major step taken by our government to ensure that Canadians’ desire for Senate reform becomes a reality. This major step is the reference on Senate reform that will be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada in November of this year.
Reference questions to the Supreme Court of Canada are an important part of our legal development as a nation. Section 53 of the Supreme Court Act provides for this ability, and there have been 75 federal references since 1892. Such questions have been posed for tax clarity, national securities regulation, individual rights, and numerous issues of national importance.
Reform of the Senate is another issue of national importance that only this side of the House is taking seriously. While the last 20 to 30 weeks have understandably led to some public disappointment in the Senate, we are actually sending this reference to the Supreme Court of Canada as a result of the last 20 to 30 years of desire for serious reform of the Senate.
I do not exaggerate when I suggest that Canadians have been demanding more accountability and modernity in the Senate for the last 20 to 30 years. I quoted Stan Waters earlier in my remarks. He was elected by voters in Alberta in 1991 and served in the Senate with distinction. One of my former colleagues, Senator Bert Brown, retired from the Senate just months ago. For 30 years, he led the campaign for a triple-E Senate that we will all remember. Bert was perhaps most famous for ploughing “Triple E or Else” into a farmer’s field in Alberta. Interestingly enough, it was actually his neighbour’s field, so hopefully he got permission before carving that message to Canadians. However, it really was a cry from a number of people who were not being heard in the national discourse in Ottawa, and for 20 to 30 years people like Bert Brown, Stan Waters, and the voters in Alberta have been asking for change.
What is the common thread between these Canadians pushing for the reform of the Senate over the last 30 years? They are all Conservatives.
The triple-E Senate proposals came out of Alberta during the early 1980s. These approaches called for changing the method of selecting senators to one based on elections and for changing the distribution of senators among the provinces, as well as changing the powers of the Senate. In other words, the triple-E Senate would have been elected, equal and effective. Truly, it would have been the reform of the Senate that has been called for over 30 years.
After many years of promoting this reform on the national stage, the movement truly took root in public discourse in Canada. First came the appointment of the elected Stan Waters by then-prime minister Brian Mulroney. Following that, in the early 1990s, many of the key elements raised by Bert Brown and Stan Waters in the triple-E discussions found their way into constitutional discussions in our country at that time surrounding the Meech Lake and Charlottetown constitutional accords.
In fact, the Charlottetown accord would have resulted in a fundamentally reformed Senate. It would have been elected with an equal number of senators for each province and with some limitations on the powers of the Senate. We all know what happened. The rejection of the Charlottetown accord in the 1992 referendum was a setback for the prospects of fundamental, constitutional and Senate reform for many years.
The public dialogue in discussion for Senate reform only ended, however, with the election of the Liberal government in 1993. The Chrétien Liberals did not continue the approach of appointing elected Albertan senators-in-waiting, despite the fact that Albertans had chosen people who they wanted to serve in the Senate. They returned to the older custom of appointing the few Albertans perhaps brave enough to declare themselves as Liberal supporters in Alberta at that time. While the 13 years of Liberal government saw the movement for an elected and accountable Senate sidelined for more than a decade, the desire for reform continued to germinate in the public consciousness and in public opinion.
Following the defeat of the Liberals in 2006, our government made Senate reform one of its key democratic reform priorities and brought forward proposals to implement term limits for senators and a process to consult Canadians on Senate nominees. In fact, the only province continuing to elect senators, Alberta, has seen some of those elected senators sit in our upper chamber because Prime Minister Harper appointed them as per the direction of the Albertans—