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Constitution Act, 1867 - Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Debate Continued

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator LeBreton, P.C., seconded by the Honourable Senator Comeau, for the second reading of Bill S-4, to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate tenure).

Hon. Serge Joyal: I would like to commend the Leader of the Government on having introduced this important bill in the Senate. It is proper that the Senate be first to consider it. I appreciate the initiative.

The honourable senator has referred on many occasions in her speech to the last "whereas" that deals with the maintenance, and states, "to maintain the essential characteristics of the Senate within Canada's parliamentary democracy..."

I understand, of course, that the honourable senator refers to the Constitution of Canada. In my opinion, the tenure of a senator is an essential characteristic of the Senate of Canada. In fact, there is a specific provision in the Constitution for it. It is section 29. As I read section 29 of the Constitution, the heading is "Tenure of Place in Senate." Then, of course, the two paragraphs of section 29. The tenure of place in the Senate is one of the essential characteristics as provided in the Constitution of Canada.

Therefore I want to ask of the honourable senator how she can contend that to change the tenure of place in the Senate that Canada as provided for in the present Constitution, as it is proposed in Bill S-4, does not change an essential characteristic of the Senate, because the Constitution originally had a very specific objective in providing for the tenure; a long-term tenure. How does the honourable senator contend that the change provided in Bill S-4 in fact does not substantially change an essential characteristic as provided in section 29?

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Senator Joyal: Again, in the same "whereas" that was quoted by the honourable senator, the honourable senator referred to the Senate as a chamber of independent, sober second thought. Nowhere in the Constitution of 1867 do we find those qualifications: "Independent, sober second thought." Those qualifications stem from the essential characteristic of the Senate, as provided in the Constitution.

(1530)

If the honourable senator contends that changing the senators' terms does not impinge on the independence or capacity of the institution to provide sober second thought, in fact, there is a direct relation to the nature of the Senate's independence. The Senate has a longer term than the other place; we are not dependent on the electoral cycle. The turnover in the Senate is not linked to an election. As you know, it is linked to retirement age or to a senator wilfully withdrawing from the Senate, as has happened in the past. Senators might resign for reasons such as health reasons or to pursue other careers.

The same applies to sober second thought. How can we portend to provide sober second thought? Because we come here at an age when most, if not all, of us, are of the average age of 50 or over. We come here having had the benefit of gaining professional experience prior to being called to this place by Her Majesty's representative. There is a link between the age factor to qualify at the beginning and the term. That is what provides the independence and the sober second thought.

In my opinion, the government cannot simply say we will make it six years, or eight years, or why not nine years, as has been quoted from various reports. To determine an age factor for this place, if we are to maintain it in its essential characteristic, as the honourable senator contends this bill does, we have to take into account the kind of work we expect from this chamber.

The honourable senator has not explained how the bill maintains that link. In other words, the age factor is very important for determining the type of people who are chosen, the kind of experience we expect of them, and, of course, the kind of outcome we expect this house to provide, which is different than the other place. No one thinks that the other place is independent and provides sober second thought.

There are reasons why this place provides independence and sober second thought in its deliberative function. That is essentially what we are. We are a deliberative chamber, and we bring to our deliberations certain qualifications that the other place does not provide. Why? Because the tenure of place to me is a determining factor. The moment you change that, it has an impact on the end result. In fact, I refer honourable senators to the Wakeham report by the Royal Commission in the Westminster Parliament, where we derive our principle. The Royal Commission on the reform of the House of Lords provides a very illuminating chapter on tenure and makes specific proposals as to the length of time, provided we respect the objectives and purpose of a second chamber.

I wish to hear from the honourable senator how the government is so convinced that what she proposes now does not in fact change the essential characteristics that command the kind of work that this house is expected to perform in their deliberative function