Speech – Quebec Motion
March 24, 2016
Honourable Senators, This motion is directly connected to my bill, S-221. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled, on April 25, 2014, that an Act of Parliament alone could remove the net worth requirements for all senators as well as repeal provisions requiring senators to own property valued at $4000 for all jurisdictions, except for Quebec. This is because each of the 24 Quebec senators are required to own property in one of the historic regional divisions they are chosen to represent. These divisions have not changed since confederation and reflect the boundaries of the province in 1867. This leads to cases like that of Senator Charlie Watt. Senator Watt has loyally and capably represented his home region of Nunavik in the Senate since 1984. However, Nunavik did not exist in 1867 and so he technically represents a region located along the St. Lawrence River but the only connection he has to that area is the $4000 worth of real property he owns there.
This runs contrary to the original impetus, aptly described by Senator Fraser in previous debates, for the creation of these 24 historical districts: they were put in place to ensure that senators protected the interests of Canada’s francophone minority and the anglophone minority in Quebec.
She went on to say:
If we get rid of the existing property and residence requirements in Quebec, which I agree are archaic and no longer reflect reality, we also need to address the question of how we will continue to uphold that principle of representation of minorities. The specific mechanism may have only a tenuous relation to that principle now. However, it is important to remember that one of the things we do here, and must never forget that we do here, is that we always stand for minorities.
I would respectfully submit, colleagues, that the Senate’s ability to represent minorities in Canada has not been diminished despite the fact that many Quebec appointees have no ties to the region they represent except for that piece of property. When former senator Tommy Banks introduced similar measures in the Senate between 2008 and 2009, he pointed out that “There are other senators present who I think it is safe to say consider that they are here representing the interests of Quebec, not necessarily of De la Durantaye, Milles Isles, Lauzon, Kennebec, Wellington, Bedford or Victoria, and who may not live in any of those senatorial divisions but still need to be here and are here quite properly.”
Colleagues, the mere idea of a property requirement is elitist, but the addition of a requirement that capable and competent individuals own land in a historic regional division that they may or may not even live in is an added and unnecessary stumbling block for potential senators as was evident on Tuesday when the news reports announced a delay in the swearing in of future senator André Pratte, who is, I understand, currently scrambling to meet his constitutional property requirement. My motion also respects the Supreme Court decision that Quebec has the clear right to determine whether the repeal of these property owning requirements would apply in Quebec. It would remove the real property requirements for Quebec senators by using the special arrangements procedure outlined in the Constitution Act of 1867 under section 43. This amending formula, known as amendment by proclamation, allows the Governor General, when authorized to do so by identical resolutions in the Senate, the other place, and the legislative assembly of a province or territory, to amend the Constitution for a particular jurisdiction. This formula was used to proclaim amendments in 1998 respecting religion in schools in Newfoundland and was used again in 2001 when the name of Newfoundland was changed to include Labrador.
Our eminent constitutional expert and historian, Senator Joyal, has pointed out to me that this provision was also employed in 1997 at the request of Quebec in order to enable the province to amend s.93(a), allowing them to replace denominational school boards with ones organized on linguistic lines.
The government of Canada, led by Prime Minister Chretien and the Parliament of Canada accepted that request and the constitution was accordingly amended. It is my hope that Quebec will meet this request from Canada with similar acceptance.
By accepting and voting in support of my bill S-221, you are saying that you believe that Canada must move beyond its historical elitism and remove the requirements that we judge a citizen’s fitness to serve as a senator by their wealth. By supporting this motion, you are saying that if that ideal is right for Canada, it should also be right for Quebec. Honourable senators, by adopting this motion, we would start down the path to ensuring that the elitist and antiquated real property requirements for senators be removed in Quebec as they would be in all other regions of Canada should bill S-221 be passed.