13 December 2012
Honourable senators, I want to say a few things about this. Two excellent speeches have really covered the ground on the assault on democracy that this bill reflects.
I am quite interested in the fact that the two elected senators in this house today, Senator Brown just now and earlier Senator Unger, got up to talk about democracy in the context of the Senate and the hopefulness, which Senator Unger outlined, that, somehow, we will get Senate reform. As she was speaking, I thought it is very naive to think for one moment that, after seven years in power, this government is at all serious about Senate reform, or it would have done it. For sure, if it was serious about Senate reform, it would have put those Senate reform bills in the omnibus bill. If one ever needed a clear indication, Senator Brown and Senator Unger, that they are not in the least bit interested in Senate reform, then just ask yourselves why 60 acts are represented in this bill but those two are not. Sixty-two could have been put in.
Then I go to this idea that we vote as a bloc, and somehow, if we were elected, we would not. I ask Senator Brown — and maybe he has, but since I have been here I have not seen him ever vote against this government. Nor have I ever seen Senator Unger vote against this government. I do not think it follows immediately from the fact that someone is elected that they will vote against this government. In that context, I think there are some serious questions about this government's sense of democracy and its relationship to any way, shape or form of Senate reform, so do not lecture us on that.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
Senator Mitchell: I am just waiting. Before you retire, would you please vote against the government? Maybe you could start by voting against the government on this. Could you do that? Maybe you could even introduce an amendment and vote against the government on that.
In any event, a number of themes have been picked out and pointed out by my colleagues, but I want to draw on a couple of other themes. The other day I was at a round table, a meeting of women, largely, who represented various women's groups on a range of issues that affect women's equality in our society today. One of the women came in and pointed out that she had a purse with a strap and on the strap she had a number of buttons that would say one thing and another about a political statement. She pointed out that she had only about half as many buttons on the purse when she arrived at the meeting as she did when she arrived at the front door because her buttons were censored by the guards at the front door for being too provocative. I was absolutely stunned that someone could not walk into the Parliament of Canada — their Parliament of Canada — with a button the size of a loonie that said something that this government might find offensive, that they could have it taken off. What have we become? The omnibus bill is, in one sense, just a reflection of a far deeper problem. It is the tip of the iceberg.
As I was thinking of saying "tip of the iceberg," I was thinking about what analogy people will use to capture that idea 50 years from now, when there are no icebergs because they are all melted.
That brings me to a significant and specific theme of the erosion of democracy that we see in this government. It is very dangerous. This government denies science. It always ends badly when you see governments denying science. They also deny information. They shut down Statistics Canada, so they cannot measure half of the things that we need to measure to know if we are making progress and to change if we are not. Any time you see a government that denies science, denies information and shuts down their own experts, as has been described, then you know that it will end badly. That is a direct confrontation with proper democratic processes and democratic debate. You can never do it right if you hide and suppress information and ideas. It will never be right. Imagine what that young woman who comes into her Parliament and gets a button the size of a loonie taken off of her strap must feel about this place? Did any of us come to see that happen, to see that erosion and to witness a government that somehow thinks the people of this country are their enemies and that they have to fight them and put them down?
That brings me to another theme, the theme of the relationship of this government to the people of Canada. They do an MS study, a review of the MS bill, and will not allow individuals, patients, people who have this problem to come before their Parliament. That is the quintessential element of democracy. Those people were not asking for too much. They were asking for an hour of time to express something that is very important to them and maybe actually to help to solve a problem that is very important to many Canadians.
No, they were suppressed. It is so easy to give them that, so easy to extend that element of the democratic process to Canadians. No, they were viewed somehow as enemies because they may have an idea that we do not want to hear. They might cause a problem. They might be inconvenient. That really is what this comes down to.
The whole reason that Senator Brown and Senator Unger will never get Senate reform is because the Prime Minister of Canada would understand implicitly that if we were ever elected many of us would actually exercise the power that comes with that and would take power from the Prime Minister. He is all about power and control. Both of those things, exercised in that way, are a direct erosion of democracy.
What we have now is a government that thinks much of the parliamentary process is inconvenient. I know that they have this self-righteous belief that they have to fix things, that there is too much of this and not enough of that. What they are edging into, if not well past, is the ends justifying the means. If the suppression of science and information leads to no good, operating on the ends justifying the means leads to much worse than that.
What about some other themes? Showcase legislation in a way that I do not think I have ever seen before. It does not really do anything. It just sends a message that makes it look like you are doing something. These pooled pension plans — mark my words — will not do anything. They are not an improvement, an extension or a change to what already exists. This government can stand up and say, "We are really worried about people's retirements and have just brought in legislation." It will do nothing, but they will say, "We are on your side; we are helping you."
Now we see the suicide framework. They cannot even do a suicide plan. They cannot even do a national suicide prevention strategy. It is barely a framework. It will do almost nothing, but it sends a message. It is a showcase piece of legislation.
Then there is the elder abuse legislation, which really just reiterates what is in every province now. It is showcase legislation. It is doing nothing except sending a message that somehow this government cares. It makes it look like they are doing something, but they are not doing anything.
When it gets to the nitty-gritty of what needs to be done, the support, programs, policies and, yes, the money are not there. That is an abuse of the democratic process. It is even worse than that; it is a betrayal of the people who you are supposed to be representing.
What about attacks on charities? What about that? If you ever wanted to see a betrayal of democracy, an erosion of democracy, a vivid indication of the insecurity of a government, this government is so insecure that is does not want to broach the ideas of other people and would attack charities. Yes, they started on the environmental groups — because, of course, they do not like environmental groups — much to the detriment of ever getting a social licence to build any kind of pipeline that would allow us to diversify our markets. It morphed past that. It went on to churches. They started to attack churches for daring to engage in the democratic process with a little bit of help from the charitable taxation policies. Imagine the weakness of a government that is afraid to listen to churches entering the political debate. Imagine the weakness of a government that is afraid to hear people dedicated to making Canada cleaner and safer and sustaining its economy and its way of life and the world as well. Imagine that you are afraid to hear from them. What does it say about a government afraid to hear from five or six people with MS who could have their say in this parliamentary process? Imagine it. Imagine a government that will not let a young woman wear a button into the Parliament of Canada, her Parliament. It almost makes the omnibus bill look like a picnic, which it is not.
I want to talk about suppressing debate in many other ways. It is unprecedented.
The other thing that is so indicative of the kind of government we have that really has no respect for the institution is the way they treat committees and do things in camera. What are you afraid of? If you believed in things that you knew were right and that could be sustained, you would not have to be afraid of debate. You would not have to arbitrarily suppress it. You would not have to go in camera so that no one can know what you do. It is unprecedented. It is even done for observations, which are basically harmless.
We talk so much — as we should — about our forces defending democracy and fighting for democratic rights and values in different parts of the world. Then we come back to this place, which is the icon, the deep symbol of those democratic values, democratic initiatives and all that we are as a democracy, and we have a government that dismisses it, diminishes it and puts it down as some kind of inconvenience. The parliamentary system is not an inconvenience. What we do in here is not an inconvenience. It is a fundamentally important reason why we in this country are — or were, up to seven years ago — honoured and envied around the world. The ends never justify the means. In treating Parliament as an inconvenience and in operating as though the ends justify the means, you are not just hurting this country, but far worse, you are hurting its democracy and its people. That is unforgivable.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!