Senate Reform Act

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, my question is surprisingly similar to that just put by the hon. member for Winnipeg North.

This is a complicated matter. It is not as simple as saying that we do not like the Senate, so we should end it.


We have constitutional issues embedded in how it is structured, and I share the view of the member for Beaches—East York and his caucus that there are significant problems with Bill C-7 as put forward by the government.

Having worked with the Senate over the years, I have seen the Senate take its own initiative and do some very good work, and we have seen examples here this morning. For instance, I point to the decision to not put bovine growth hormone into our milk. That was a done deal until the Senate committee, under Senators Mira Spivak and Eugene Whelan, subpoenaed scientists from Health Canada who were being muzzled and in that way made it possible for the information to get out.

Would the best way forward not be to have a real public consultation on the fundamental problems within our democracy, including the extreme power of the Prime Minister’s Office, the lack of sufficient role for individual members of Parliament, the proper balance between the House of Commons and the Senate and the question of whether the Senate should survive or not?

How does the hon. member feel about taking this to the people before we make it legislation?

Mr. Matthew Kellway: Mr. Speaker, as it is a multipartite question, I will approach it this way.

It is clear that good work has come out of the Senate in the past. A recent report about poverty in Canada comes to mind; many worthy recommendations came out of that report.

As my colleague for Vancouver Kingsway said in answering a very similar question previously, this is not an issue of whether the Senate ever does good work or whether senators have worthy opinions on matters of great importance to Canadians.

Like so many issues, this issue is reducible to simple issues. At the beginning of my speech, I spoke to some fundamental principles. That is what we are wrestling with. The fundamental principles are that we have a chamber here in our parliamentary institutions that is undemocratic. It has the power to block legislation. We have seen that happen with some very worthy representation that this elected House passed on to the Senate.

In response, I would say that at times the appropriate approach is to reduce matters to fundamental principles. If we look at an issue in those terms, it often becomes starkly simple. The starkly simple fact is that the upper chamber, the Senate, is not a democratic institution and should therefore be abolished.