Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Abolish Senate, but introduce democratic reform so that smaller provinces like NL have equal seat at Confederation table




I gave the followed 10-minute speech on Tuesday (March 5th) in the House of Commons.

Mr. Speaker,

I stand in support of today’s motion, as tabled by the honourable member for Toronto-Danforth, that immediate steps should be taken towards abolishing the Senate.

One of the debates in this country involving the Senate – a debate that I followed as a young journalist covering former Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Clyde Wells in the 1990s - was the debate over whether the Upper Chamber should be reformed into a Triple E model.

Elected, equal and effective - a Triple E Senate.

Today there’s no debate, Mr. Speaker, the Upper Chamber has become a Triple U Senate.

Triple U as in unaccountable, unelected and unapologetic.

Abolish it, Mr. Speaker.

There is no alternative, the Senate is too far gone to save.

It has become a gated country club, a political pasture, a golden handshake for friends of the Conservatives and Liberal parties, for fundraisers, for partisans, for failed politicians.

The Senators do the bidding of the parties they represent.

They are unelected; they are unaccountable to the people; they are unapologetic for the embarrassment they have become.

Yes, Mr. Speaker, the Senate is an embarrassment, an embarrassment to Canadians from one end of this country to the other.

An embarrassment to Canadian politicians – real ones, like elected Members of Parliament who stand before you today.

I have no excuses for the Mike Duffys of this country, for the Mike Duffys of this country who take months to figure out exactly where they live.

What a joke, what an embarrassment.

To quote Michael Bliss, a professor and historian at the University of Toronto: “This is a classic case of Canadians discovering that Senators have no clothes. They’ve turned themselves into our daily comic relief segment of politics.”

I was a journalist in my previous life, Mr. Speaker, and I have no defense for Mike Duffy or Pamela Wallin.

Wallin’s supposed to represent Saskatchewan, but her primary residence is in Toronto and she holds an Ontario Health Insurance card.

I find the Duffy and Wallin cases particularly appalling.

Journalists should know better when we spend our working lives holding politicians to account.

It is bred into us.

We know instinctively where the line is, where the line is that must NOT be crossed, and it has most definitely been crossed.

Then there’s Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau.

If it wasn’t bad enough that he’s facing allegations of abuse of his housing allowance, there have also been sexual assault complaints lodged against him.

The embarrassment has become constant, the embarrassment is daily.

The scandal over Senatorial housing allowances has led the Senate to seek legal advice, legal advice that says as long as Senators sign a declaration of qualification form that says they reside where they reside, that it’s OK.

The honourable MP for Timmons-James Bay stood in this House yesterday and equated that declaration to a pinky swear.

A pinky swear, Mr. Speaker.

In my home province of Newfoundland Labrador, there’s Senator Fabian Manning.

He was an MP. He lost his seat, and was appointed to the Senate.

Then he was cherry picked for the 2011 federal election to run again in the riding of Avalon.

Manning lost again, and then he was appointed to the Senate again.

So we have a Senator who was rejected by the people twice, speaking on behalf of the Conservative government all over my riding of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl.

Is Senator Manning supposed to be Newfoundland and Labrador’s voice?

Because he’s not.

We’re supposed to represent Newfoundland and Labrador in Ottawa.

We’re not supposed to represent Ottawa in Newfoundland and Labrador.

That’s now how it’s supposed to work, Mr. Speaker.

Senators are held to one level of account; Canadians are held to another.

EI claimants, for example, Mr. Speaker.

They have investigators knocking down their doors, while Senators HIDE behind their doors.

If you can find the doors.

The budget of the Canadian Senate is $92.5 million a year, Mr. Speaker.

Most Canadians can’t even fathom that much money, Mr. Speaker, so let me bring it home.  

Senator Wallin’s $350,000 in travel expenses would cover old-age security for 57 seniors a year.

Mike Duffy is eligible to collect another $1.3 million in salary before his mandatory retirement at age 75.

Patrick Brazeau will bring in another $7 million in salary before he turns 75.

These are basically jobs for life, Mr. Speaker, jobs for life.

Well, not really even jobs for life, Mr. Speaker, more like salaries for life.

The average number of work days in 2011/12 for a Canadian Senator was 56 days.

Fifty-six days, and an annual salary of $132,000 a year, plus living expenses, for a job they will hold until they’re 75.

You don’t have to run for election, you’re not accountable to anyone, you don’t have to apologize to anyone when you flees the taxpayer.

So yes, Mr. Speaker, the Senate should be abolished.

Senators vote according to the interests of the party they represent,  rather than the regions they are SUPPOSED to represent.

Mr. Speaker, the Senate was created as a chamber of sober second thought, it was created to offset the representation by population in the House of Commons.

Again, it was envisioned that Senators would vote according to the region they represent, to offset representation by population.

Small provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador have 7 seats in the Commons.

Small provinces like Prince Edward Island have 4 seats.

Altogether, the Atlantic provinces have 32 seats.  

Then you have provinces like Quebec with 75 seats, and Ontario with 106 seats.

The bigger provinces, with larger populations, have more seats in the Commons.

And those totals are destined to increase.

The number of Seats in the House of Commons will rise by 30 in the 2015 general election.

Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta – will all see their number of seats increase.

Meantime, provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador, provinces like the three that make up the Maritimes, won’t see any increase.

Our representation will be watered down.

The point I’m getting to, Mr. Speaker, is while I agree with the abolition of the Senate - 100 per cent, take it out.

There’s a bigger debate taking shape in this country, Mr. Speaker, over the need for democratic reform.

Let me cut to the chase: How do smaller provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador, with a population of about 514,000, half the population of Ottawa, how do we ensure we have an equal seat at the Confederation table with larger provinces like Ontario and Quebec that have more representation because they have more population.

How do we ensure that the interests of Newfoundland and Labrador are heard and acted on?

This week in my province, Mr. Speaker, we have news that three more groundfish plants will shut down, throwing 300 rural Newfoundlanders out of work.

More than 20 years after the northern cod moratorium and there’s still no recovery plan in place.

Ottawa’s handling of the fisheries has been a disgrace and an affront to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Again - how do we ensure that smaller provinces have an equal seat at the Confederation table?

From Newfoundland and Labrador’s perspective, from the perspective of smaller provinces across this country, that’s the debate that must happen, Mr. Speaker.

That’s a debate that’s destined to happen, Mr. Speaker.

Yes, the Senate must be abolished.

But the question must also be asked, how do we offset representation by population so that smaller provinces have an equal footing?

For the good of our culture, for the good of our identity, for the good of future generations.

So that smaller provinces, provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador, aren’t make to feel like they’re LESSER provinces.

So, Mr. Speaker, abolish the Senator and the abomination it has become, but then let’s get to the real work of democratic reform.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

1 comment:

Ken S from Ramara said...

Does the NL government support Senate abolition?