Second reading of Bill S-218, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (property qualifications of Senators)

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Castle Mountain, Alberta

Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: The $4,000 issue goes back a very long time — too long, sadly. As our colleague said, it represents an aristocratic position with regard to the prevailing notion of the country’s upper chamber. At the time, the objective was to have important people, landowners, sit in the Senate.

When I was asked to sit in the Senate, I calculated what that $4,000 might be worth in today’s dollars. Depending on the rates that are used, and they vary a lot — the Canadian dollar did not exist in 1867 and banknotes were issued by certain banks — the money needed to be converted into pounds sterling and then reconverted according to the conversion rate of the time. Based on the rates, today that amount represents between $2 million and $3 million. That is a significant amount of money and very few Canadians, not even me, would have the opportunity to sit here today if they were required to have that much money.

This measure was founded not on a democratic spirit, but at the behest of John A. Macdonald, who wanted to have a chamber that controlled democracy and tempered the will of elected members, who perhaps didn’t adequately represent the interests of landowners in the country. At the time, members of Parliament were elected by men only. What’s more, they may have been perceived as people who weren’t to be trusted.

I’m pleased that our colleague, Senator Patterson, is proposing eliminating this measure, which was essentially undemocratic. The measure’s intent was to make this chamber off limits to everyone except landowners or people with property interests to protect.

The time has come to address this issue. Unfortunately, senators from Quebec must not only own property worth $4,000, but they must also have land holdings in certain divisions. This also involves the province.

Senator Patterson, I invite you to move your motion and I thank you for your interest in this matter.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

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