Motion Speech Senator Jane Cordy April 2nd, 2014
Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Government), pursuant to notice of April 1, 2014, moved:
That, pursuant to rule 7-2, not more than a further six hours of debate be allocated for the consideration of motion No. 26 under "Government business", concerning the pre-study of Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts.
Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, here we go again: another highly controversial and contentious government bill forced through Parliament by this government in an attempt to avoid proper public scrutiny. Unfortunately, complete disregard for the institution of Parliament and continued efforts to undermine the work of the Senate have become business as usual with this government. All too often, the Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate is on her feet moving time allocation motions to further limit the ability of the Senate to properly carry out its job as intended. That is sober second thought.
On the contrary, this government seems to operate with the belief that the less thought, the less discussion, the less consultation and the more times we have time allocation, the better it is for government legislation. Unfortunately, this way of doing business is not better for democracy. For the first time in history, we have time allocation on a pre-study.
Bill C-23, the proposed fair elections act, is the latest government legislation being rammed through the Senate. The bill is opposed in Canada by many Canadians. Almost every expert on the subject has publicly advised that this is bad legislation and it needs amendments to make it the right thing for Canadians.
Now we are told we will have to study Bill C-23 before it even passes through the other place. The Minister of Democratic Reform is saying that the bill may be amended. How are we to evaluate these amendments with expert advice if we are pre-studying the bill before it has passed the other place? The whole process shows contempt for this institution and is a serious disservice to Canadians. We are supposed to be the chamber of sober second thought. Why is this bill being rammed through the Senate? Why do we have time allocation motions when the next election will be in the fall of 2015? Why the big rush? Is Mr. Harper planning on breaking the fixed election day law and having an election perhaps this fall?
Honourable senators, if I believed a pre-study would make a difference, I would be the first in line to promote it; but I do not believe that it would make a difference. If I believed that the voices of Canadians would be listened to in a pre-study, I would be first in line to promote the pre-study; but I don't believe that a pre-study would do this. If I believed that the committee doing the pre-study would use the time to travel to the regions of Canada to let Canadians talk to them, I would promote the pre-study; but in light of Senator Carignan's comments to me last Thursday, I do not believe that this will happen.
If I believed that the committee would travel to the regions, I would certainly agree to this pre-study. If I believed that the majority on the committee would come back to the Senate with suggested changes or amendments to this bill as proposed by experts in Canada and by the current Chief Electoral Officer and former Chief Electoral Officer, I would agree to the pre-study. Unfortunately, I hold little hope that this will happen.
I have great respect for the studies that Senate committees have undertaken. As a member of the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets, and Administration that deals with budgets for committees, I'm always impressed by the variety of studies that are being done and being brought forward to our subcommittee.
The Agriculture Committee is doing an excellent study on bees, their importance to the agricultural community and the challenges that are faced when the bee population decreases.
The Fisheries Committee is doing an excellent study on aquaculture, and they are looking at the processes and regulatory regimes in Canada. They also hope to examine what other places, like Norway and Scotland, who have very successful aquaculture industries, are doing and they hope that these best practices could be used by the industry in Canada.
We know that the Transport and Communications Committee is doing a study on the CBC, which is of great interest to many Canadians.
The Energy Committee continues to do outstanding work, and their reports strike an excellent balance between industry and the environment.
The Social Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, has done a study on mental health and mental illness, which is still recognized and referred to by experts in Canada. The Social Affairs Committee has also done studies on autism, and today we had members of the autism community in our gallery. We now have a National Autism Awareness Day, thanks to the hard work of Senator Munson. We have done studies on poverty and clinical trials. We are currently studying the adverse effects of pharmaceutical drugs.
These are some of the excellent reports done by committees that demonstrate the outstanding work by committees, and senators should be proud of their work.
Unfortunately, when it comes to government legislation, we far too often see legislation with major flaws being pushed through committees without any amendments. For a while, our Social Affairs Committee wouldn't even allow observations to be included as an appendix to our reports on government bills.
Omnibus bills come to mind when I think of bills being pushed through. Bill C-38, for example, contained 452 pages, with over 700 provisions. Yet, there was time allocation for that bill, and it was pushed through the committee.
Honourable senators, we are supposed to be the chamber of sober second thought. When I am asked, quite often, what I believe are the most important responsibilities of the Senate, I say that we should be the chamber of sober second thought. I also say that we must represent our province and our region in the chamber.
Honourable senators, I have received countless emails and letters on Bill C-23. I've also spoken to many people from my province of Nova Scotia about this bill, this so-called fair elections bill. Canadians and the people in my province of Nova Scotia have great concerns about Bill C-23 and how it will affect democracy in our country. These concerns expressed by the people of Nova Scotia and by Canadians should be examined closely by the Senate of Canada. It is our responsibility.
If, as Sir John A. Macdonald stated, we are the chamber of sober second thought, if we are here to represent our regions, and if we are here to represent minorities and those who need a voice, then we should be examining Bill C-23 carefully. Instead, honourable senators, we are being asked, yet again, to fast-track the study of a bill. It is becoming routine that Senator Martin is rising, on behalf of the government, to bring forward a time allocation motion on the discussion of the government's motion for pre-study of Bill C-23.
We have a time allocation motion on a pre-study motion. It seems to me that pre-studies should be used sparingly, but pre-studies are also becoming the norm with this government. I believe that time allocation motions should also be used sparingly, but, yet again, time allocations are becoming the norm with this government. It seems that Senator Martin is rising weekly to bring forward a time allocation motion. That is unfortunate when we are supposedly the chamber of sober second thought. That is unfortunate when we are supposedly representing the people of our region. That is unfortunate when we are supposed to represent Canadians. Yet, once again, we have time allocation on a government motion. Yet, once again, we have the Conservative government doing everything in its power to fast-track legislation.
If this was good legislation, if a pre-study would lead to changes, then there would be no need to have time allocation. Unfortunately, it appears that time allocation is being used to silence the voices of Canadians. It is being used to silence the voices of the people of my province of Nova Scotia. The time allocation is being used to silence the voices of the many experts.
Historically, election bills get thoroughly vetted and consensus is reached among all parties. This is the way it has been, and this consultation and agreement by all political parties should be the way it is done. In fact, there wasn't even consultation for this bill with the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Mayrand.
As Senator Cowan said in his speech, it is ironic that an elections bill, Bill C-23, a bill dealing with voting and democracy, is before us, and we have a time allocation motion to deal with a bill on democracy. This motion is without precedent. No government has brought forward a closure motion on a pre-study motion. There is a reason for this; it is because it is wrong.