02 November 2010
Honourable senators, I will speak about the election of senators. I
have made a few of these comments here before, so I want to apologize to
any of honourable senators who have already heard them, in case I am
boring them. I think I probably did not finish, though, so it is worth
another effort. Senators who have been appointed since I last spoke on
this issue have not heard my comments, and I know they particularly will
I want to leave members of the government with this thought. They are
accident prone on so many issues, for example, the budget deficit — who
would have thought we would reach $56 billion? — and losing the seat on
the United Nations Security Council. Who would have thought that they
would bungle foreign relations so dramatically that we would lose
something we never lost before?
Honourable senators, I am thinking about the United Arab Emirates,
the loss of Camp Mirage and the millions of dollars that has cost. As I
stood I thought, "At least I am trying to help this government not make a
similar mess of Senate elections, because they are accident prone."
An Hon. Senator: Good for you!
Senator Mitchell: Thank you. I am doing my best
here. I am not just helping the government. I am doing this, of course,
on behalf of the people of Alberta and the people of Canada.
I want to raise a number of issues, not about the matter of electing
senators — I think it is relatively difficult to argue against the
concept of elections in a democratic state, although it has become less
democratic over the last four years — but about the way that this bill
would implement Senate elections. The thought that I had, when reviewing
this bill over the number of times it has been presented, after delay
by prorogation and by other manoeuvres of this government, was this: Be
very careful what you wish for; you might just get it.
Two fundamental reasons that people, particularly in Alberta, argue
for an elected Senate are: First, it would make the process more
democratic; and, second, it would make Albertans' regional interests
more effectively represented in the national governing centre. Let me
address those two areas.
First, it will not make it more democratic. All of us in this house
know — and I think the new senators are probably up to speed on this
fact — that the Senate, on paper, has profound power. We can veto
practically everything that the House of Commons passes. The flip side
is that every piece of legislation — that is, every financial bill,
every cent they want to spend — must be passed by the Senate. The Senate
does not exercise that power as aggressively as it might, although in
the past we have certainly amended many bills. The Senate did that quite
regularly when we had governments that were open to suggestion, advice
and other ideas. The Senate has not been able to do so with this
government, of course, but we have done that in the past. We have
actually turned down bills from the government. Generally speaking, the
Senate does not exercise that power as aggressively as it might because
we are not elected and they are, and we understand the difference.
Honourable senators, let us imagine for a minute that the Senate
becomes an elected body. All of a sudden, senators will be inclined to
vote as we want and we will vote against that government — or I would,
on many occasions. Come to think of it, I am trying to imagine the
number of times that I would vote with this government; it would not be
many. Senators could absolutely hamstring the government if we began to
vote against and veto what they are trying to do. We would have the
obligation and the power to do that because we, too, would be elected.
Imagine if the Canadian people began to do, between the Senate and
the House of Commons, what they have inherently done between provinces
and the federal government; that is, they voted opposition. Let us
compound the problem and vote opposition at the Senate level. All of a
sudden, we hamstring government, we bog it down and we grind it to a
halt. Tell me how that would make this process more democratic? It would
not, unless you are of the ilk that hates government anyway and you
wanted it to grind down and do nothing. You forget all the great things
the government has done to make this country as great as it is, in
partnership with the Canadian people, with businesses and with
organizations. Maybe you would think twice about wanting it to grind
down because we are elected without having to determine a way to break
Australia has such a way to break an impasse. If their two houses
disagree on the same issue twice, there is an automatic election. I have
been an elected politician. I know how elections focus your attention.
That would break impasses. However, there would be no way to break
impasses once this bill is passed. This bill, therefore, is profoundly
premature. If you want to see what happens when you cannot break
impasses, go to the United States, where you will see a system of
government that is all but dysfunctional. It cannot do the obvious or
the right for much of the time. That is what happens.
My second point — and I know you want to hear this, Senator Duffy —
is that Albertans and some other provinces feel that, somehow, all of
our regional grievances will be redressed once we get an elected Senate.
That is, we will be in regional balance nirvana. It will all be right
again. Well, think twice about that. In fact, think three or four times
about that, because, you know what? If you have a look at the number of
seats in the House of Commons and in the Senate today, that will not be
the case. If elected, we would be exercising our power based on seats
that fundamentally will make the regional imbalances worse, certainly
from the Albertan and the western points of view. In the House of
Commons today, 9.3 per cent of the seats are from Alberta. That will go
up to 11 per cent when we get the new seats. In the Senate today, 5.7
per cent of the seats are from Alberta. This bill would dilute Alberta's
representation in this house, but we would be exercising power based on
that diluted representation. With those numbers, how could that
possibly improve regional representation? That is not a rhetorical
question. That is an empirical question. The answer is that it will not;
it cannot. It will damage that representation.
Let us compound that problem, honourable senators. Alberta has six
seats. Do you know how many seats Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have?
They each have 10 seats. I love Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. They will
get better regional representation. That is great, but it will not help
the West and it will not redress regional imbalance. How many seats
does the West have? They have 24. How many seats do Ontario and Quebec
have? Well, they have 24 each. How many seats do the Atlantic Provinces
have? They have 30 seats. I can see why the Maritimes would want to vote
for it. It will not redress regional imbalance. Until we find a way to
reallocate seats that is somehow more amenable to that issue, we are
compounding the problem. It will not make regional representation
better, it will exacerbate it. Albertans will be disadvantaged because
of that imbalance. That is another reason why I will not support this
Let us look at the restructuring of powers. Has anyone over there for
one moment considered the restructuring of power that this bill will
effect on the country? First, the Prime Minister will lose power. Many
people hope that this Prime Minister would lose power. God knows, he has
spent a lot of time and money increasing his budget so that he can have
more power because that is what he wants. I happen to think we need a
relatively powerful prime minister to govern this difficult country. I
do not want to see the Prime Minister necessarily weakened in this way.
However, if senators can stand up and vote against those government
bills which come from a powerful prime minister, then all of a sudden
the Prime Minister loses power. That makes me conclude one of two
things: Either he is not aware that it will happen, which I doubt,
because he knows he would lose power; or he knows that the bill will
never be implemented, which I am pretty sure he understands as well. He
is not doing this to redress regional imbalance and improve democracy.
The Prime Minister is doing this strictly to earn political points.
Otherwise, if he wanted to pass it fast, why did not he put it in the
Budget bill? It would have got jammed through that way. Everything else
was in it. If he really cared about it, why has he not talked to the 10
provinces and the 3 territories and got them to set up elections? We do
not even have elections happening. In fact, the one election that was to
happen, the one subsequent to Senator Brown's election, was just pushed
aside by Mr. Stelmach. Why? Because he was afraid the Wildrose Alliance
Party would win the seat and it would embarrass him. It had nothing to
do with the higher ideal of reforming this great institution to make it
more democratic and more regionally representative; absolutely not.
If the Prime Minister loses power for his or her bills, then the next
level of power, members of Parliament, will not be as powerful. I love
bumping into members of Parliament from Alberta, particularly on the
plane or in the airport, and saying, "What do you think? Who will be
more powerful after the Senate is elected: you or me?" They think a
minute, and then I say, "It will be senators, because there are only six
senators in Alberta. At worst, they represent one sixth of the
province. More than that, they represent the whole province. We
represent all three million Albertans, each one of us, and you represent
one twenty eighth, soon to be one thirty third, of the province. Who do
you think the press will come to? Who do you think the power brokers
will come to? Who do you think will have influence? It will not be you."
I then ask them to list five members of the House of Representatives
in the United States, who are their counterparts, and to name five
American senators. Most people can come up with five, because the Senate
is much more powerful than the House of Representatives. I then ask
what this would do to the power relationship between the premiers and
The Senate is responsible for representing regional interests, and
most of us work very hard at that, but the most obvious and powerful
spokespeople for regional representation are the premiers. However, once
we are elected we can take that power from the premiers. Do you think
the premiers will want to relinquish it?
I then ask people to name five governors of the United States of
America. They can usually name Arnold Schwarzenegger, then they make a
couple of incorrect guesses. They do not know five governors. They do,
however, know five premiers.
Let us look at what this does to the power structure, which no one
over there has thought about. Think about the implications of that
restructuring of power for this country and then tell me if this
legislation, which is nothing but political spin, is worth the risk to
which it exposes this country. I do not think it is. In fact, I think it
is very dangerous.
I wish to address a few practicalities. Imagine that there are 52
Liberals and 52 Conservatives in here, that there is an election for the
one hundred and fifth member and that a Liberal wins the election. Does
anyone in this house think for one minute that prime minister of the
day would appoint a Liberal and give the Liberals a majority in the
Senate? Of course not. Therefore, it means nothing. It does not mean
more democracy; it simply gives the prime minister another chance to be
Speaking of capriciousness, Alberta was the only province to fulfil
its commitment to hold Senate elections, and now it has wiped that out.
Has the Prime Minister been asking these premiers for help in building
democracy? Did he offer them money to run the elections? Why would they
do it? This is a federal institution. Is he downloading that
responsibility on them, which they will not spend anyway? Of course not.
It will not happen.
Another capricious issue is rural-urban power. Let us imagine that
the ex-mayor of Edmonton runs to become a senator as does the ex-mayor
of Lloydminster, a fine town of 8,000 to 10,000 people. Who do you think
will win? The ex-mayor of Edmonton will win because there are 1 million
people in the Edmonton area. That ex-mayor will be well-known and will
have an overwhelming chance to win the election. That will create a
Has anyone thought about the money? Each MP can spend about $85,000
for an election. If we have the equivalent of 28 seats in Alberta, can
each senator, running in the whole province, spend $2.5 million? If so,
how will they raise that money? Are there any rules on that? If six are
running, that amounts to $14 million. If that is the case, the rich and
the connected will win. How will that represent minority rights and
Why would we limit the terms of senators if they are elected? Are we
going to limit the terms of MPs, MLAs, mayors and others? If we are
electing them, the Canadian people get to limit their terms if they want
to. If one never has to run again, how does that enhance
accountability? They will never have to have their accountability
questioned. This makes no sense; it is without any consistency.
Finally, with eight-year terms, one prime minister can appoint the
whole house. There are three people on this side who are younger than I
am. If this were to happen, which it will not because we will change the
government, the four of us would be sitting all by ourselves because,
unlike Paul Martin, I do not foresee this Prime Minister ever appointing
a Liberal to the Senate.
It is dangerous to proceed in this way without having worked out
these factors. All members of the Senate and the House Commons know in
their heart of hearts that this will not happen because the Prime
Minister will not get the support of the provinces and will probably not
get the support of the courts to do it.
Let us think about reforms that we could implement here with which we
have no problem. One is televising and podcasting this place so that
people all across the country can see what we are doing. That would
impose a bit of accountability. The Prime Minister keeps talking about
transparency with regard to things like the G8 and the G20. Let us give
the Canadian people some transparency right here.
Another thing that we could do is to give Senate committees more
power to do their jobs. We could allow them to hire their own staff. I
have never known a body that provides two bosses, one who hires them and
one for whom they work, to function particularly well. It does not
work. Everyone across the way who has ever run a business or managed
people knows that. We need to be able to hire our own communications,
research and writing staff and our own advisers of all kinds. In that
way we would have the power to do even better the jobs that we are now
doing very well. That would be an easy thing for us to do. We could do
We might want to implement the kind of review process about which
Senator Eggleton spoke. As well, we could do more work in Committee of
the Whole. Once we are televised, working in Committee of the Whole
could open this place up more to the people of Canada as well as giving
more of us a chance to have more input into more committee proceedings.
If you think that the deficit was bad, that losing the seat on the
Security Council was bad, that losing Camp Mirage was bad — and I could
go on — you wait to see what would happen if this bill is passed. It
could make this place inoperable. You may want that, but Canadians do