Canada coa_shield

Debate concerning Bill S-8
An Act respecting the selection of senators

Extract from the Hansard, 41th Parliament, 3rd session: March 1, 2011  2

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Brown, seconded by the Honourable Senator Runciman, for the second reading of Bill S-8, An Act respecting the selection of senators.  3

Hon. Andrée Champagne: Honourable senators, some people are giving all senators a very bad reputation.  4

We are accused of being old political hacks who were offered this prestigious appointment in return for services rendered to one of the two main political parties. Most importantly, people think we are overpaid to do nothing.  4-1

I cannot remember which one of our predecessors was caught dozing off during a sitting. It was surely the result of too much work to do or a bit too much to eat at lunch. These are things that can happen to anyone, anywhere. The photo made the rounds of the country and continues to sully our reputation and diminish the meaning of our work and the long hours that we spend preparing to fulfill our responsibilities in the Senate and on the various committees to which we are assigned.  4-2

I once offered to let a journalist follow me around for a typical week at work. I was turned down, which is not surprising. In addition to the hours we sit, who else would want to subject themselves to the amount of research, reading and writing that fills our days, our evenings and even our nights? One has to love this work to take it on with such enthusiasm and patience. And now our legitimacy is being called into question because we are not elected by the people in the provinces we represent.  4-3

I have to admit that I am very reluctant to support what is being proposed in Bill S-8 and all the issues it raises . . .  4-3

A few months ago, a bill to limit the number of years served by a senator in the upper chamber was defeated in the other place, which we do not even dare call by name. A term of office of 6, 8, or even 12 years was proposed.  4-5

I agree with Senator Nolin who says that we do not automatically become effective senators the day that we are sworn in. It takes time just to learn the very special procedures of this place. I had to forget a great deal of what I learned in my nine years as an MP and almost seven years spent in the big green chair in the other place.  4-6

Since arriving in the Senate, how many times have I checked with our clerks when the procedure was the opposite of what I had enforced at the other end of the hallway? I will take this opportunity to thank them for their patience and their clear explanations. I spent dozens of hours rereading and trying to learn the contents of our little red book, which is found in all our offices.  4-7

It has been proposed that a duly elected senator could only serve for six years. That is a very short time in which to acquire the knowledge and wisdom needed to make the best decisions for Canadians.  4-8

One of the things I am wondering about is this. After six years, could the senator ask that his term be renewed for another six years? If I am not mistaken, Senator Brown has been elected more than once in his native Alberta. An affirmative answer leads to another question. When the Senate was created, Quebec was already doing things its own way — this has not changed and I am not telling you anything new. The Fathers of Confederation, concerned that the senators chosen and appointed would all be from Montreal and Quebec City and that the welfare of remote regions would be neglected, established senatorial districts in Quebec. Each and every one of us from this province represents a Quebec region. I was assigned the region of Grandville, which is located in the Lower Saint Lawrence and stretches from the river to the U.S. border, far from Montérégie, where I have lived since my birth and where I have owned property since the 1960s.  4-9

In 2005, I received a call from Prime Minister Paul Martin asking if I would be interested in becoming your colleague. That was in mid-July, close to my birthday, and I will admit that it was a very much-appreciated gift. A few days later, I received by courier or fax a map of the region that I was going to be asked to represent and where I had to own property.  4-10

In July, throughout Quebec, the bell rings for what we call the "construction holiday." Needless to say, real estate agents take that opportunity to go away as well. How could I find a little piece of land more than 500 kilometres from my home without tipping anyone off, without the entire province knowing that I was being appointed to the Senate of Canada? I was warned that keeping this a secret was as important as becoming a landowner. I even hid the news from my father, who is in his 90s, until a few days before the swearing-in ceremony. It was no small feat, especially with phone calls from Ottawa every morning to find out whether the transaction had been completed.  4-11

Let us come back to Bill S-8. Should a senator representing a district in Quebec be elected by residents of the designated region during municipal elections or by Quebecers from every corner of the province during a provincial election? If the senator wanted to seek a second term, whom would he or she ask?  4-12

If senators from Quebec are to be elected during municipal elections, they will have to campaign in the assigned region. My region is a five- or six-hour drive from my home. Should I go there every weekend and try my best to do what MPs currently do, and travel throughout the region, getting to know the mayors and all the municipalities and familiarizing myself with their concerns?  4-13

In the Senate, we have enough time to conduct thorough reviews of bills and to prepare amendments, if necessary. Anyone who was the member of Parliament for an urban and rural riding for nine years knows full well, through experience, the tremendous amount of time it takes to properly cover a riding — without ever satisfying everyone. Who among us would be prepared to do that before hoping to become a senator or seeking a second term six years later?  4-14

The other proposal is that the list the provincial premiers would submit to the Prime Minister of Canada would be subject to a vote in the National Assembly of Quebec or the other provincial legislatures. The Premier of Quebec has said he wants to wash his hands of the matter, that this is the prerogative and duty of the Prime Minister of Canada. However, if — God forbid — there is a change in government in Quebec, what is to say that another government would see things the same way?  4-15

Some claim that our Senate is already too partisan. The vast majority of us represent one of the two established parties. Nonetheless, we all share a great ideology: we believe in Canada with all its provinces and all its territories.  4-16

Senator Brown's proposal opens the door to independence-seeking senators, who, like their PQ and Bloc Québécois colleagues, would dream only of ripping our country apart. Senator Brown pointed out that, if need be, the Prime Minister of Canada could simply choose someone else from the list submitted by the province. In my opinion, that poses another problem. If the final decision is not subject to the strict results of a vote, why should we even bother with a vote, which would be costly for whoever is in charge of organizing it and would only cause us to squabble even more?  4-17

As some of our colleagues have pointed out, would senators elected in that manner properly represent the interests of the various regions and the Aboriginal peoples? Would such an election ensure that as many women are included? Look at the small percentage of women elected to the other place and the number of women senators in this chamber and the response is very clear.  4-18

If senators were elected by the luck of the draw, would we find such a variety of skills and life experiences in such wide-ranging, yet specialized, domains?  4-19

Those are some of the questions I continue to ask myself regarding Bill S-8. Perhaps I will find some answers to my questions and some of my fears will be allayed before we proceed to a vote. There is also the question of how the elected members in the other place will react to such a bill.  4-20

Many members have yet to grasp the importance and significance of our work.  4-21

Although they sometimes agree with our suggestions or proposed amendments, they do not really appreciate the fact that we can always give their decisions one last and wiser look. They would rather we disappear, regardless of what it says in our Constitution, a document that some of them have never even bothered to read.  4-22

Contrary to the allegations of some, our Senate is not dysfunctional. Far from it. What are the actual symptoms of this illness with which some believe we are stricken?  4-23

Finally, what illness does Bill S-8 propose a cure for? A condition that no one seems to be able to specifically describe? Are we sure that a dose of electoral medicine will not do more harm than good?  4-24

For one thing, nothing and no one has yet to convince me that there is any need, a century and a half later, to start over from scratch, when the current system is still working very well. After second reading, will a thorough review by one of our committees find answers to my questions? I am keeping an open mind and will continue to listen with great interest to what you, honourable senators, have to say about it.  4-25

Hon. Joan Fraser: Will Senator Champagne take a question?  5

Senator Champagne: Of course.  6

Senator Fraser: First, I would like to commend the honourable senator on the questions she has raised, which are among the most important questions we have to answer on this topic.  7

I would like to ask Senator Champagne to take note of the information I am about to give. She spoke earlier of a senator who one day was photographed sleeping on the benches of the Senate. She said that perhaps he had worked too hard or had eaten too much for lunch. I knew that senator. He adored the Senate. He had the utmost respect for the Senate.  7-1

At that time, his wife was very ill. She passed away several months later. He spent his nights taking care of her and then he came here to try to do his job. That is why he was tired. It was not because he had too much to eat for lunch.  7-2

Senator Champagne: Thank you for enlightening me. I had a fleeting image in my mind but I could not remember who that was. I do, however, remember that many people said afterward that senators did no work and were even falling asleep on the job.  8

That is why I said I thought it was very unfair because all of us work very long hours to do the work we are asked to do as best we can.  8-1

I mentioned this little incident because of all those who always are under the impression that we are paid to do nothing and that we do not work. I do not know who took the photograph because a photographer must have permission to enter the Senate. However, that day, someone took a photograph and gave it to some people who obviously were not fond of senators or the work that is done in the Senate.  8-2

Hon. Claude Carignan: Honourable senators, I am pleased to speak today to Bill S-8, an act to change the selection process for senators.  9

With each new appointment to the Senate, the debate about abolishing or reforming it resurfaces for a few days and then fades away.  9-1

With a minority government in the House of Commons and a government majority in the Senate, debate about the legitimacy of the institution is likely to occur every time there is a Senate vote that goes against that of the duly elected members of Parliament.  9-2

Honourable senators, after more than a year in the Senate, I am more convinced than ever of the need for reform of the appointment process and the length of terms. Although some believe that abolishing the Senate is a valid option, it would have disastrous effects on regions of Canada, especially Quebec.  9-3

A number of federal states in the world, approximately 80 countries, have a bicameral legislature with a lower chamber — our House of Commons — with representation by population, and an upper chamber — our Senate — with regional representation.  9-4

In Canada, Quebec has 24 out of a total of 105 senators. Except for the Supreme Court, the Senate is the only federal institution where Quebec's representation is guaranteed by the Constitution, no matter what its population.  9-5

By 2036, the population of the rest of Canada will increase proportionally and more significantly than that of Quebec. Thus, the relative weight of Quebec in the House of Commons may be significantly reduced by the application of the constitutional principle of representation based on population. The number of senators will not change. In 1865, George Brown, then the Liberal leader of Upper Canada, statedé 9-6

    But the very essence of our compact is that the union shall be federal and not legislative. Our Lower Canada friends have agreed to give us representation by population in the Lower House, on the express condition that they shall have equality in the Upper House. On no other condition could we have advanced a step; and, for my part, I am quite willing they should have it.  9-7

That is why, honourable senators, Quebec feels it is so important to have a long-term vision, to legitimize senators and to base their selection on provincial concerns.  9-8

While abolishing the Senate would be an obvious mistake for the province of Quebec, the need for in-depth reforms to this institution is clear. In fact, it is surprising to note that even today Canada is one of the federal states, along with Bahrain, Jordan, Oman and Yemen, which form the limited group of countries where a single individual is responsible for selecting senators.  9-9

Prime Minister Stephen Harper rightfully hopes to democratize and modernize the Senate and, in this spirit, has introduced two bills, including Bill C-10, which aims to limit Senate terms to eight years. A second bill, Bill S-8, aims to have Senate nominees elected in provincial elections. These nominees would effectively be affiliated with provincial parties.  9-10

In so doing, the Prime Minister is using an old claim from Lower Canada predating the passage of the British North America Act, 1867. At the time, members of the legislative council of Lower Canada were elected, following a system in place since 1856.  9-11

In 1865, member Jean-Baptiste Dorion made a statement in support of reforming the now-defunct Legislative Council. His words still hold true 156 years later. He made the following statement opposing Confederationé 9-12

    I am opposed to the scheme of Confederation because it takes away from the people of this country political rights which they have won by many years of struggles; among others that of electing its representatives in the Legislative Council, as it does its representatives in the Assembly. Since 1856, we have enjoyed an elective Council. For more than half a century that reform had been asked for. Our claims were urged in the press, in public meetings, in petitions to Parliament and to the home Government, and in the form of direct motions in the House. The Legislative Council, as constituted previous to the Act of 1856, had become highly unpopular; it had also fallen into a state of utter insignificance. By infusing into it the popular element by means of periodical elections, it was galvanised into life and became quite another body in the estimation of the people.  9-13

Honourable senators, I find that last sentence so interesting that I want to repeat ité 9-14

    By infusing into it the popular element by means of periodical elections, it was galvanised into life and became quite another body in the estimation of the people.  9-15

What arguments were there in favour of an unelected Senate? Here are some examples.  9-16

Hector Langevin, a minister for Lower Canada, saidé 9-17

    The very nature of the system prevents a large number of men of talent, of men qualified in every respect and worthy to sit in the Legislative Council, from presenting themselves for the suffrages of the electors, in consequence of the trouble, the fatigue and enormous expense resulting from these electoral contests in enormous divisions.  9-18

Honourable senators, could we honestly support that position in this day and age?  9-19

George-Étienne Cartier was deeply opposed to universal suffrage. In 1850, he was singing the praises of property, saying that he was pleased that the 1840 constitution provided for a lower chamber made up of men who owned property. He declaredé 9-20

    We thus have the guarantee that they shall not act like the Socialists and Radicals of Paris.  9-21

In 1865, he said the following, regarding universal suffrage in the United States and its powerlessnessé 9-22

    On the other side of the line the dominant power is the will of the masses, of the populace.  9-23

Honourable senators, we all know the work we accomplish in this chamber is thorough, conscientious and fundamental for a better democracy. What does the public think of our work?  9-24

Personally, I think Senate reform proposes to legitimize this institution's existence in the eyes of our fellow Canadians. Indeed, the efficiency of senators and the Senate cannot be altered. However, the Senate's efficiency and role are currently being seriously questioned because of this institution's lack of legitimacy. Both the system and the institution are not aging well at all.  9-25

Take for example the dichotomy between the original intention and the effect today, even though it is a separate issue. In 1867, senators were appointed for life, but what was the life expectancy in 1867? In Canada, the data are difficult to obtain, but take for example the data from France. In 1867, life expectancy for a man was 43 years.  9-26

Another exampleéthe $4,000 worth of real property required to qualify us to be a senator would today, according to various indexes, be close to $1 million. Who among us would qualify?  9-27

Coming back to the election model, Mr. Dorion also said, during the Confederation debates, with regard to the legitimacy of the elected Legislative Councilé 9-28

    The electoral system completely restored its prestige, entitled it to the respect of the people, and gave it an importance it did not previously possess.  9-29

It took only 10 years, from 1856 to 1865, to give the elected Senate legitimacy and public respect.  9-30

Next, with regard to the relevance of the Senate, after studying the history and adoption of our Constitution, I studied part of the modern world. What countries in the world pass their legislation in a bicameral system? Almost every democratic society has a chamber of sober second thought. Every G8 country, every Commonwealth country and almost every G20 country has a regional chamber of sober second thought. I also noticed that 80 per cent of the other senates are elected in various ways and that senators in those chambers have renewable terms that rarely exceed five years.  9-31

Honourable senators, in my research on the world's senates, I was struck to see that our country is on a very short list of countries where senators are appointed by just one person. Here is this short listéBahrain, a monarchy; Bosnia-Herzegovina, a republic; Canada, a democracy; Jordan, a monarchy; Lesotho, a monarchy; Oman, a monarchy; Yemen, a republic. We can include the United Kingdom on the list if we do not consider the hereditary lords.  9-32

Honourable senators, out of roughly 80 countries with an upper chamber, only eight have senators appointed by just one person. All the other countries have direct or indirect public involvement in the selection of their senators and only two countries appoint senators for such a long period — 75 years and for life — Canada and the United Kingdom.  9-33

Furthermore, in that regard, I would invite my Liberal colleagues to draw inspiration from one of their Liberal predecessors, who, during a debate on the existence and nature of the Senate, made the following statement before the House of Commons on April 13, 1874, shortly after the Liberal Party had taken power. Seconded by Liberal MP Edward Blake, Liberal MP David Mills movedé 9-34

    That the present mode of constituting the Senate is inconsistent with the Federal principle in our system of government, makes the Senate alike independent of the people, and of the Crown, and is in other material respects defective, and our Constitution ought to be so amended as to confer upon each Province the power of selecting its own Senators, and of defining the mode of their election.  9-35

Although this proposal was not approved by Parliament or the government, it is interesting to note that, even at that time, the question of the legitimacy of the Senate was being raised.  9-36

In that sense, honourable senators, and from a more contemporary perspective, it is interesting to read the comments of the renowned constitutionalist Benoît Pelletier, who wroteé 9-37

    The Senate suffers from a double deficit. First, it lacks legitimacy, because the senators are not elected, but rather appointed to serve the purpose of the federal prime minister of the day, without consultation with the provincial premiers. Second, it has a representation deficit, because the senators do not represent their home provinces, but rather the political party with which they are affiliated through their appointment.  9-38

What does Professor Pelletier propose to correct the situation? Here is his answeré 9-39

    If the upper chamber in a federation is supposed to represent the interests of its federated entities, we should turn to those entities to ensure their proper representation. Two formulas are possibleéeither the federated entities elect the senators, or senators are elected during regional elections based on regional parties, where they exist. The second option presents a better response to the problem of legitimacy than the first option, but both aim to better represent regional interests at the federal level and to translate the political diversity that exists throughout the federation. By adopting the second solution, Canada would be a pioneer and would be demonstrating its real desire to represent regional interests at the federal level.  9-40

Honourable senators, voices in favour of Senate reform have been heard since the establishment of this institution. However, one difference sets apart today's claimséSoon, a majority of senators will be advocating Senate reform. This intention is illustrated perfectly in Bill S-8. Not only does it reflect several arguments for the need to reform the Senate with a view to achieving greater legitimacy —  9-41

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: I regret to inform the honourable senator that his time has expired. Does the honourable senator wish to ask for more time?  10

Senator Carignan: Yes, please.  11

Some Hon. Senators: Five more minutes.  12

Senator Carignan: Honourable senators, Bill S-8 also respects provincial and territorial autonomy as it relates to the selection process of senators and takes into account their opinion and regional characteristics.  13

Clause 1 of Bill S-8 set outs the principle of appointing senators from a list provided by the provinces and territories.  13-1

Clause 2 sets out the different options that could be chosen by the provinces and territories to elect senators.  13-2

I believe that this bill is modern, dynamic and characterized by wisdom and a true desire to respect our different regions and our minorities.  13-3

The Senate's lack of legitimacy, in both its method of appointment and the length of senators' terms, hampers our effectiveness. Modern society will no longer tolerate being governed by any type of illegitimate institution. An illegitimate Senate is an ineffective one, even though we try to convince ourselves otherwise.  13-4

The debate surrounding Bill S-8 leads me to wonder whether I have set foot in an institution stuck in time, one that is impossible to modernize, or whether I have instead set foot in an institution composed of people who are open to the world, pragmatic, respectful of democracy and willing to modernize in order to maintain their true role of protecting the regions and minorities?  13-5

Without this legitimacy, the Senate is at risk of being abolished sooner or later. For minorities, the regions, Quebec and Canada, abolishing the Senate would be a clear mistake and the result of our refusal to face facts. A democracy must be governed by the people and for the people. The people are never wrong, and if for some reason they were, they would be the ones to suffer the consequences.  13-6

Honourable senators, I urge you to strongly support Bill S-8.  13-7

Hon. Art Eggleton: Will the honourable senator accept a question?  14

Senator Carignan: Yes.  15

Senator Eggleton: In asking this question, I first want to note the comments of Senator Champagne, which brought about some very legitimate questions in dealing with it, particularly about the diversity of this chamber — the various backgrounds represented by the people who sit here, many of whom would not be here in an elected Senate. That would not be the nature of what they would do, but they do make a valuable contribution to the consideration of sober second thought and the development of public policy. I think Senator Champagne has asked some legitimate questions.  16

However, I am surprised the honourable senator said he thought this was an illegitimate institution. I am surprised he accepted an appointment to it. However, he did note — and this is something I agree with — that it should not be the private purview of one individual to appoint people to this body. The prime minister of the day, whoever that is, is the person who appoints the people to this place, and I agree with him on that.  16-1

Is there not a third way, a way that does not involve going to a fully elected body, which would be more like the institution in the United States, where it would become a much more political body as opposed to the kind of diverse entity we have here? That would be to have people recommended by provinces or by a group of peers or eminent persons, or by a combination thereof. Such is the case of appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada, where the vetting has been quite successful in the history of this country. It could even be the Order of Canada, if one likes.  16-2

Is there not a third way we could consider to have this institution continue in a very representative way, without it being the appointment of one person?  16-3

Senator Carignan: With regard to my appointment, I believe that it is an extraordinary privilege to be appointed as a senator by the Prime Minister. However, I am also convinced that it would be just as significant to be elected by 250,000 people.  17

I made charts of the various appointment processes used by the 80 senates around the world. Clearly, there are different appointment processes but I believe that the one that is the noblest and the most respectful of modern democracy is election by the inhabitants of the region represented. Perhaps the study in committee could expound upon other ways of making a list of senators, whether it be by nomination or candidate suggestions.  17-1

A number of the countries that I named earlier are currently experiencing democratic turmoil. I therefore believe that senators should be chosen using an election process.  17-2

(On motion of Senator Cowan, debate adjourned.)  18

The space below serves to put any hyperlinked targets at the top of the window

Valid XHTML 1.0!     tux     mveMVE


Above space serves to put hyperlinked targets at the top of the window


Hon. Andrée Champagne
Hon. Joan Fraser
Senator Champagne
Senator Fraser
Senator Champagne
Hon. Claude Carignan
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore
Senator Carignan
Some Hon. Senators
Senator Carignan
Hon. Art Eggleton
Senator Carignan
Senator Eggleton
Senator Carignan