Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Senate — a Canadian embarrassment



I gave the following speech in the House of Commons today (Tuesday, Oct. 22nd). 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to speak in support of the Opposition Day Motion put forward by the honourable Member for Toronto Danforth.

And a very fine member he is, Mr. Speaker.

There needs to be accountability in the Senate — that’s obvious.

Measures must also be taken to END partisan activities of Senators — including participation in caucus meetings, and to limit Senators’ travel allowances to those activities CLEARLY and DIRECTLY related to parliamentary business.

I don’t think that’s asking too much, Mr. Speaker.

I see this motion as common sense.

I see this motion as for the good of Canadian democracy.

I see this motion as asking for what’s right.

Mr. Speaker, as Member of Parliament for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, I tend to view the world — the parliamentary world — through a Newfoundland and Labrador lens.

I make it my mission, actually.

It’s how I’m wired.

How does this legislation; how does this bill; how does this government body; how does this agreement; how does this discussion; how does THIS debate; how does ANYTHING impact Newfoundland and Labrador.

Including this question, Mr. Speaker: How do the partisan activities of Senators impact Newfoundland and Labrador?

In so many ways, Mr. Speaker.

Let me give you a glimpse through the Newfoundland and Labrador lens at one Senator — Conservative Senator Fabian Manning.

He was a Conservative Member of Parliament.

He lost his seat after he was defeated in the 2008 election.

He was appointed to the Senate.

Then Fabian Manning was cherry picked for the 2011 election to run AGAIN for the Conservatives in the federal riding of Avalon.

Manning lost AGAIN in that general election.

Then he was appointed AGAIN to the Senate.

So, let me summarize: We have a sitting Senator who was rejected by the people, not once, but TWICE, speaking on behalf of the Conservative government all over my riding of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl.

Yes, Mr. Speaker, Senator Manning represents the Government of Canada in my riding at funding announcements and at official functions.

I have asked this question in this House before, Mr. Speaker: Is Senator Manning supposed to be Newfoundland and Labrador’s voice?

Because he is not.

We are supposed to represent Newfoundland and Labrador in Ottawa.

We are NOT supposed to be representatives of Ottawa in Newfoundland and Labrador.

It’s NOT supposed to work that way, but it does — that’s the reality.

The reality is that Senators represent the party that put them there.

Liberal Senators for Newfoundland and Labrador represent the Liberal Party of Canada — not necessarily the best interests of my province.

Conservative Senators for Newfoundland and Labrador represent the Conservative Party of Canada — not necessarily the best interests of my province.

I’ve heard the question asked, Mr. Speaker: Why would New Democrats want to abolish the Senate, to eliminate the Upper House, when Newfoundland and Labrador will end up with fewer voices.

But that’s not the case, Mr. Speaker.

Senators represent the parties — Liberal and Conservative — that put them there.

Their voice is NOT the voice of the people.

Their voice is not the voice of Canadians, of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

When the Fathers of Confederation assigned the Senate to review and scrutinize legislation passed by the House of Commons — this House of Commons, the Senate was supposed to act as a chamber of sober second thought.

The Senate was supposed to be LESS partisan and to ensure representation of minorities and of provinces and regions.

The Senate was supposed to offset the House of Commons and its representation by population so that the interests of smaller provinces — like Newfoundland and Labrador — would be protected, would be defended, would be looked after.  

That’s not the way it works, Mr. Speaker.

Senators vote according to the interests of the party they represent RATHER than the regions they are supposed to represent.

The Senate has become a home for Conservative and Liberal Party organizers, bagmen and failed candidates.

Senators act in the narrow interests of their political party.

Senators attend weekly party caucuses where they are handed their party lines.

That should stop, Mr. Speaker.

Senators participate in fundraising.

That should stop, Mr. Speaker.

Senators have publicly advocated on behalf of a political party using Senate resources.

That should stop, Mr. Speaker.

For the good of democracy.

For the health of Canadian democracy.

I used to say that we have a Triple U Senate.

Triple U as in unaccountable, unelected and under investigation.

But there are two more Us, Mr. Speaker.

No. 4 — unapologetic.

And No. 5, Mr. Speaker — useless.

Unaccountable. Unelected. Under investigation. Unapologetic. Useless.

Five Us, Mr. Speaker.

Now it’s time for a U turn.

A U turn towards abolishment of the Senate.

That’s our firm commitment.

At the same time, Mr. Speaker, we do not believe that Canadians should be forced to wait for accountability.

Not when things could be done right NOW.

Mr. Speaker, the Senate will cost taxpayers $92.5 million this year.

$92.5 million for a gold-played retirement home, a gated country club, a political pasture and golden handshake for the politically connected.  

$92.5 million for party bagmen and women.

$92.5 million for failed candidates and party lackies — yes-men and yes-women.

$92.5 million that could be better spent on seniors, on the unemployed, on student debt.

The list is endless — that list does NOT include the Senate.

The Senate is an embarrassment.

An embarrassment to Canadians from one end of this country to the other.

It is an embarrassment to REAL politicians like the elected members of Parliament in this House today.

Senators do not have to run for election.

They are not accountable to anyone.

They do not have to apologize to anyone when they fleece the taxpayer.

The Senate absolutely should be abolished.

Meantime, Canadians should not be forced to wait for accountability when things could be done RIGHT NOW.  

Finally, Mr. Speaker, there is a bigger debate taking shape in this country over the need for democratic reform.

A bigger debate about how smaller provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador — with a population of 514,000 people, about half the population of Ottawa — can have an equal seat at the Confederation table with larger provinces like Ontario and Quebec that have more representation because they have larger populations.

How do we ensure that smaller provinces have an equal say at the Confederation table?

From Newfoundland and Labrador’s perspective, and from the perspective of small provinces, that is a debate that must happen.

That is a debate that is destined to happen.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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